Our Last Books of 2021

Hi readers, and welcome to my (and quite a few of your) favorite time of year!
This post will include some important details in regard to our upcoming meetings and the Secret Santa, so please read. 😊
Thank you, as always, for being such dedicated members of this group. Whether you show up every single meeting or just once every few months, I have so much gratitude for you.

First, book things!

Whew, this past month has been a heavy one in terms of our reading material. We tackled some incredibly difficult topics. I think we’re all in agreement that a month of lightheartedness is in order.
To that end, I’ve selected four books from which to choose. I am almost certain I know which two are going to win, but in case you want some extras to throw into your own TBR pile, have at it.
As it stands, our meetings will fall on November 27th for the first book and December 11th for the second. We won’t meet again for a book meeting until January 8th. We will have our regularly scheduled socials on Tuesdays and Saturdays in the interim for anyone who would like to be there.
If you’d like there to be a book meeting during that month, let me know and we can organize something. I’m happy to accommodate whatever you want to happen.
Finally in terms of books, are there any genres you’d like to read that we haven’t? Are there any you’d like us to revisit, perhaps at a different angle? This is your chance to throw anything at me (metaphorically, but I suppose literally if you are so inclined and determined). You can write in anything at all that you’d like me to know.

Secret Santa

Thank you to all of you who signed up for our Secret Santa event! There was a much higher turn out than I had expected there to be, and I am so excited to see how this goes. Please keep the following in mind if you are a participant:
1. Fill out your wishlist! There are a few new people who some may not know very well yet. More info is better to help them get you a gift you will like.
2. Prepare to have gifts delivered by December 21st. I’m hoping to have our social that night (Tuesday) be one where we open our gifts together, if you are interested. I’m perfectly happy not doing this if you would rather not!
3. Mark your gift as sent and received on the Elfster website so that your giftee and gifter know that everything is on track. You can also provide tracking details or additional notes when you mark one as sent.
4. You can send your giftee anonymous notes via the website if you need info from them about a gift.
5. You can also reach out to me if you need a go-between. I’m happy to help in any way that I can.
6. Finally, if you signed up, please participate. If for any reason you can’t get your person a gift, please get in touch with me so I can organize something. I don’t want anyone to not receive something.

Finally, book options!

The Lightning-Struck Heart by T.J. Klune

Once upon a time, in an alleyway in the slums of the City of Lockes, a young and somewhat lonely boy named Sam Haversford turns a group of teenage douchebags into stone completely by accident.

Of course, this catches the attention of a higher power, and Sam’s pulled from the only world he knows to become an apprentice to the King’s Wizard, Morgan of Shadows.

When Sam is fourteen, he enters the Dark Woods and returns with Gary, the hornless gay unicorn, and a half-giant named Tiggy, earning the moniker Sam of Wilds.

At fifteen, Sam learns what love truly is when a new knight arrives at the castle. Sir Ryan Foxheart, the dreamiest dream to have ever been dreamed.

Naturally, it all goes to hell through the years when Ryan dates the reprehensible Prince Justin, Sam can’t control his magic, a sexually aggressive dragon kidnaps the prince, and the King sends them on an epic quest to save Ryan’s boyfriend, all while Sam falls more in love with someone he can never have.

Or so he thinks.

Notable Review by Wesley

First of all, I just want to let it be known that this book deserves to have a sequel, no matter how obvious it was that it certainly will. But just so there’s no sliver of doubt and I can have peace of mind, I’ll say it again: The Lightning-Struck Heart must have a sequel. No, scratch that. The Lightning-Struck Heart cannot not have sequelssss. You hear me T.J. Klune? Huh? Huh?! (I’m not really good at taunting authors.)
Give it to me
Now that I’ve finally let it out, onto the review!
If you are a hardcore fan of fantasy books, magic, wizards, and medieval kingdoms, you may think, “Pffft! Puh-lease! I’ve seen (or read) it all.” But if you haven’t read this book, I can assure you that you haven’t seen it all. And that’s probably my cue to throw the book right on your smug face. Although, I’m not really a fan of violence and that’s kind of cruel to the book, and I only have my iPhone for a reading device so that would be unwise and stupid. But you get the point, yeah?
To say that this book is epic and awesome would be an understatement. So to give it justice, I’ll follow Sam of Wilds with the whole capitalization thing such that this book officially is The Most Awesome and Epic Fantasy Book of All Time! God, that felt great.
In all honesty though, I’ve never had the pleasure of reading a book of this caliber. It felt like being high all the time. Okay, not a good metaphor but still! Everything was just amped up – like every time your favorite song comes on the radio and you can’t help turning the volume to max.
And I dare ask: How does T.J. do that? This was beyond any normal level of hilarious and witty. I was worried I’d have bad gas from the nonstop laughing. I was practically crying and wheezing. It was like this book was written especially for my generation. Make no mistake, the book was set during the medieval times but it was more like being in an alternate universe where the medieval people are updated with everything happening on social media and the contemporary gibberish of our era.
“You mad, bro?”
“Love you, boo!”
“Dat. Ass.”
“Baby. Look at me. Hey. Baby. Listen.”
“Ooooh, girl!”
“Don’t need no mens.”
And the sarcasm? The banter? The cursing and the dirty talk? The sex puns? Never forget the sex puns.
Genius and uncensored! Exasperatingly funny, but genius nonetheless. I think this broke all literary conventions. It was practicing poetic license at its finest.
And I see where your mind is going. I know you’re thinking, “If the 171K of words is mostly this kind of shit, where’s the story? Is there any substance at all?” Yeah, I read your mind, buddy. I’m also a wizard. No, I’m not. But if you’re worried there’s no concrete plot, I’m quoting Sam when he reflected on the many (and I say that exaggeratedly) twists he went through:
That night, I lay on my back on the roof of the keep, watching the stars above, wondering just how in the hell my life had gotten to this point.

Then I realized it was mostly my fault, and that made me sort of depressed and happy all at the same time.

I told myself that it was because I was extraordinarily complex.
I’m stopping there because you don’t want to know the rest of what he said (spoiler: he contradicted the whole thing). But I do agree (before he contradicted himself). Despite the shenanigans and the madfuckery that this book contain, the story was extraordinarily complex. It was unpredictable and unconventional. Each chapter practically a subplot of epic proportions. And the characters? Dynamic and non-stereotypical. All of them, even the secondary characters, were unique and bursting with vibrant personality. Reading their banter was endearing. Well, in the case of Sam and Ryan – frustratingly arousing and coated with deep sexual tension. I never expected to be affected by it so much, I had the case of blue balls for 3 days. Yes, imagine! Or don’t imagine. But foreplay with just words? Talk about enlightening!
Okay, I got a little sidetracked there. But yeah, if you’re worried about the storyline, don’t. I assure you, this has the right mix of humor and a great plot going on. You have to hand it to Sam though. I was mostly drawn to him. Yeah, he was badass and all kinds of awesome but that’s not the reason you will love him. Even though he will probably be the greatest wizard of all time, I was warmed by his vulnerability. He is an underdog through and through and I can’t help but empathize with him. He is the epitome of martyrdom and the face of unrequited love. He is a walking irony – powerful and helpless at the same time. He is the heart of this story because it’s his very humanity for which you will feel that deep, resounding connection.
sam of wilds
We’ve all been down that road at one point in our life. The endless pining and the insecurities? Been there, done that.
“There’s someone out there for you. Someone who will love your hair and your words and your eyes and the way you scrunch up your nose when you’re thinking hard on something. He will love you for all of the things that you are and all of the things you aren’t. He’ll love you beyond all reason and will be convinced that you hung the sun and the moon. He will see the stars and wish for only you. Someone will love every single part of who you are, and my gods, I can’t wait for the day to meet him to tell him thank you.”
As much as this book made me laugh, I can’t count the number of times I also cried because don’t we all deserve that love? I realized we were (or are or will be) Sam of Wilds at some point in our also badass lives. We also wish the same things he did. We also give it everything we’ve got. Because of this, Sam will probably be one of my most favorite protagonists of all time.
T.J. Klune, you are my new hero! Thank you for sharing your literary gift to the world. If there are Sam Girls, then I can unabashedly say that I am most definitely a T.J. Girl from here on. Secret fan meetings? I’m so down with that!

The Tea Dragon Society by Kay O’Neill

From the award-winning author of Princess Princess Ever After comes The Tea Dragon Society, a charming all-ages book that follows the story of Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons.

After discovering a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta learns about the dying art form of tea dragon care-taking from the kind tea shop owners, Hesekiel and Erik. As she befriends them and their shy ward, Minette, Greta sees how the craft enriches their lives—and eventually her own.

Notable Review by Melanie

“Memories don’t just live inside you, Minette. They live in all the people and objects you share your life with.”

Friends, this was the literally cutest and most heartwarming book I’ve read all year. Also, the art in this book is probably my favorite art style of all time. I recommend this with my entire heart and soul.

This story is broken down into five parts; one for each season and then an epilogue. And during Spring, an apprentice blacksmith, Greta (who is getting trained by her mother), rescues a little dragon outside! Greta’s father recognizes the little dragon and knows who his owner is. And once Greta goes to return the little dragon, she gets an invite from the owner, Hesekiel, to come and learn all about the Tea Dragons!

Tea Dragons are basically just mini dragons that grow different herbs alongside their horns! And all the names of the dragons are because of their different herbs. The dragon that Greta saves is named Jasmine, but we also meet Rooibos, Chamomile, and a few others during the duration of this book.

Greta learns all about Tea Dragons, but also learns about a society that Hesekiel and his husband, Erik, are the last remaining members of. Greta also meets Minette, who is a young girl who was training to be a prophetess and is now having trouble remembering things. She left home, and is now working with Hesekiel and Erik, while also making a beautiful friendship with Greta.

But this story is truly about friendship, and how important it is to find a place in the world that will surround you with unconditional love. This is also a story about honoring the past, and traditions, and cultures, and not forgetting where you come from. And ultimately, this is a story about balancing those two aspects and living a life that you’re proud of and that makes you happy.

Overall, I loved this more than any word combination I could come up with. Friends, if you are looking for a beautiful book, with even more beautiful messages, that star people of color, and people with disabilities (someone in a wheelchair and someone living with memory loss), and LBGTQIAP+ characters, then look no further. This was nothing short of a treat to read, and I hope you all pick it up. Also, I desperately want my own Tea Dragon companion now.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style. Readers and critics were enchanted; as NPR commented, “Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.”

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humour, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavour to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

Notable Review by Bill Gates

Melinda and I sometimes read the same book at the same time. It’s usually a lot of fun, but it can get us in trouble when one of us is further along than the other—which recently happened when we were both reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

At one point, I got teary-eyed because one of the characters gets hurt and must go to the hospital. Melinda was a couple chapters behind me. When she saw me crying, she became worried that a character she loved was going to die. I didn’t want to spoil anything for her, so I just had to wait until she caught up to me.

That one scene aside, A Gentleman in Moscow is a fun, clever, and surprisingly upbeat look at Russian history through the eyes of one man. At the beginning of the book, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to spend his life under house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. It’s 1922, and the Bolsheviks have just taken power of the newly formed Soviet Union. The book follows the Count for the next thirty years as he makes the most of his life despite its limitations.

Although the book is fictional, the Metropol is a real hotel. I’ve even been lucky enough to stay there (and it looked mostly the same as Towles describes in the book). It’s the kind of place where you can’t help but picture what it was like at different points in time. The hotel is located across the street from the Kremlin and managed to survive the Bolshevik revolution and the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. That’s a lot of history for one building.

Many scenes in the book never happened in real life (as far as I know), but they’re easy to imagine given the Metropol’s history. In one memorable chapter, Bolshevik officials decide that the hotel’s wine cellar is “counter to the ideals of the Revolution.” The hotel staff is forced to remove labels from more than 100,000 bottles, and the restaurant must sell all wine for the same price. The Count—who sees himself as a wine expert—is horrified.

Count Rostov is an observer frozen in time, watching these changes come and go. He felt to me like he was from a different era from the other characters in the book. Throughout all the political turmoil, he manages to survive because, well, he’s good at everything.

He’s read seemingly every book and can identify any piece of music. When he’s forced to become a waiter at the hotel restaurant, he does it with this panache that is incredible. He knows his liquor better than anyone, and he’s not shy about sharing his opinions. The Count should be an insufferable character, but the whole thing works because he’s so charming.

Towles has a talent for quirky details. Early-ish in the book, he says the Count “reviewed the menu in reverse order as was his habit, having learned from experience that giving consideration to appetizers before entrees can only lead to regret.” A description like that tells you so much about a character. By the end of the book, I felt like the Count was an old friend.

You don’t have to be a Russophile to enjoy the book, but if you are, it’s essential reading. I think early 20th century Russian history is super interesting, so I’ve read a bunch of books about Lenin and Stalin. A Gentleman in Moscow gave me a new perspective on the era, even though it’s fictional. Towles keeps the focus on the Count, so most major historical events (like World War II) get little more than a passing mention. But I loved seeing how these events still shifted the world of the Metropol in ways big and small. It gives you a sense of how political turmoil affects everyone, not just those directly involved with it.

A Gentleman in Moscow is an amazing story because it manages to be a little bit of everything. There’s fantastical romance, politics, espionage, parenthood, and poetry. The book is technically historical fiction, but you’d be just as accurate calling it a thriller or a love story. Even if Russia isn’t on your must-visit list, I think everyone can enjoy Towles’s trip to Moscow this summer.

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

Delve into the magical, unforgettable world of James Herriot, the world’s most beloved veterinarian, and his menagerie of heartwarming, funny, and tragic animal patients.

For over forty years, generations of readers have thrilled to Herriot’s marvelous tales, deep love of life, and extraordinary storytelling abilities. For decades, Herriot roamed the remote, beautiful Yorkshire Dales, treating every patient that came his way from smallest to largest, and observing animals and humans alike with his keen, loving eye.

In All Creatures Great and Small, we meet the young Herriot as he takes up his calling and discovers that the realities of veterinary practice in rural Yorkshire are very different from the sterile setting of veterinary school. Some visits are heart-wrenchingly difficult, such as one to an old man in the village whose very ill dog is his only friend and companion, some are lighthearted and fun, such as Herriot’s periodic visits to the overfed and pampered Pekinese Tricki Woo who throws parties and has his own stationery, and yet others are inspirational and enlightening, such as Herriot’s recollections of poor farmers who will scrape their meager earnings together to be able to get proper care for their working animals. From seeing to his patients in the depths of winter on the remotest homesteads to dealing with uncooperative owners and critically ill animals, Herriot discovers the wondrous variety and never-ending challenges of veterinary practice as his humor, compassion, and love of the animal world shine forth.

Notable Review by Meagan Houle

Every October, darkness descends and I go in search of comforting books to carry me through to Christmas. Sometimes I choose new reads, but this year the seasonal depression is pressing down harder than usual. I needed an old favourite that wouldn’t disappoint. And if you’re looking to create an atmosphere of cozy contentment inside your own head, “All Creatures Great and Small,” and the entire series really, is an obvious choice. I particularly recommend the audio version, which brings the characters to life in ways my own imagination could never manage. As it always does, this book brought me a deep sense of rest and plenty of laughs. I think I’ll continue with the next few volumes, just to keep the magic going.

Vote Here

What would you like to read next? (Choose 2)

  • The Lightning-Struck Heart by T.J. Klune (36%, 8 Votes)
  • The Tea Dragon Society by Kay O'Neill (27%, 6 Votes)
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (23%, 5 Votes)
  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (14%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 12

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