I am one of the most regimented readers I know. I follow the same pattern every month: I read three books for review, read my book club book, and use whatever’s left of the month to read whatever I want to read. It sounds rigid, but I’m an order muppet, and this schedule nearly always suits me. In fact, I believe I’ve only taken a month off from reviewing twice in fourteen years. Last month was one of those. With various stresses in my life, I’d had little free reading time over the last several months, and I decided I needed a mental health break. So I allowed myself a month full of the heady freedom most adults experience all the time, and spent July reading whatever struck my fancy. Here’s what I read (mostly) for fun and just for me:

Timeless by Gail Carriger: I actually started this at the end of April, but kept running out of free reading time (hence my need for a little vacation). I have been faithfully following The Parasol Protectorate, but it took me a while to get into this one, which is why I probably spent three months reading the first half and then finished the second half in a matter of days. I enjoyed it, but the series is starting to feel a little top heavy to me; I felt like I was losing track of people and details, and I was current! My understanding is that the focus of the books will shift to Alexia’s friend Ivy. That might be a good thing.

Delusion in Death by J.D. Robb: Robb books are the only books I sneak a peek at before I send them on to another reviewer. I know I can read them quickly, and I’m always eager for the next one. But after reading this one, I realized that I was the reviewer; we take turns among the reviewers that follow the series. Vacation fail! So you’ll hear my reaction to this one in the full review, which should be posted soon.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James: My friend Danielle told me I had to read it. My barista told me I had to read it. Everyone who knows I read romance asked me what I thought of it. I knew it started life as a Twilight fan fic, and I’m not a Twilight fan. But I asked my AAR colleagues whether I needed to read it to be culturally relevant, and they said yes. So I did. My reaction was neither hatred nor adoration. The writing is less than spectacular, and as the aforementioned barista pointed out, Ana says either “Holy Crap” or “Holy Shit” about every five seconds. I alternated between finding Christian sort of hot and wanting to punch him in his stalkerish face. And for the love of all that is good and holy, why would anyone write a college graduate heroine in 2011 who has no email address until Christian gives her a computer? This is actually impossible for any college student in America (or anywhere else, probably), and is the type of stupid mistake that drives me absolutely crazy. But then I got to the end of the book and encountered the cliffhanger. Or more accurately, kept flicking my finger at the side of my nook, completely unable to believe the book had ended. Which led to my next read…

Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James: Which is more of the same. More of Ana’s inner goddess, more sex, and then still more sex. I gobbled it up in the same fashion I had the first, and couldn’t help laughing out loud at the ending (was that supposed to be funny?). I couldn’t quite decide what I thought, until someone else (credit Lulu Belle from Wicked Lil Pixie) expressed it perfectly at an RWA cocktail party. I’m paraphrasing, but she said, “Oh, the writing is terrible, but they’re just great! A total hoot!” And suddenly I got it. They are a hoot. As farce, they work for me, and then maybe it doesn’t matter if Ana doesn’t have an email address and Christian is 27 and makes $100,000 an hour. Nonetheless, I needed something a little palate cleansing after that, so I turned to…

A Night Like This by Julia Quinn: Julia Quinn books are a major comfort read for me. Like cozy, furry Regency bunny slippers. I liked this one, but not as well as the first Smythe-Smith book.

At Your Pleasure by Meredith Duran: Which I haven’t finished. But there’s always the end of August.

Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts on any or all of these books, or the order muppet/chaos muppet classification.

– Blythe Barnhill