Rearview Mirror // February 2023

Currently standing at 66 books awaiting review.  Considering I started the year at over 90, I am making progress!

Favorite February Read

I think this slot goes to The Bear and the NightingaleI didn’t really know what to expect with that one, and it completely sucked me.  It had been quite some time since a fantasy book hooked me so hard!!

Most Disappointing February Read

I actually had multiple bust reads in February, but probably Anne of ManhattanThere was so much potential here for a fun, modern update of Anne of the Island, and it just failed miserably on so many levels.

Other February Reads

Total Books Read in February:  21

Total Pages Read in February:  6326

February Challenge Updates:

  • New States Visited: Alaska, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington (YTD: 14)
  • 100 Years of Books: 10 (YTD: 26)
  • Roll 100 List:  2 (YTD: 9)

TBR Update

This is current as of today, not the end of February!!

  • Standalones:  498 (down two)
  • Nonfiction:  132 (holding steady… I just never seem to read these, even though they do sound interesting!)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  595 (holding steady)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  250 (down one)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 114 (up two)
  • New Arrivals – (I have a lot of books that I have been gifted or that I pick up somewhere and they get put on my “oh I’m so excited about this shiny new book” shelf… and then of course don’t actually get read.): 189 (up ten!! Went to the library booksale LOL)

Current Reads

We just finished The Long Winter yesterday and will be starting Little Town on the Prairie tomorrow, so the Little House series is progressing nicely.  I’m reading Walden, which was my classic earlier this year and I never got through it.  The copy I had had really, really tiny print, so I checked out an edition from the library with big pages and lots of photographs and that’s helping me actually get through it.  I just think Thoreau is sooooo pretentious.  This month’s classic is The Prince and the Pauper and it’s been far more adventurous than I remember!!  My main book that I’m reading is The Comeback by Lily Chu.  The Stand-In was a surprise win for me last year, so I’m interested to see what happens in Chu’s sophomore book.  I’m enjoying it so far, with some reservations, so we’ll see.

Last Time on “Up Next”

Did I read my probable next five reads from last time?

  • Auntie Marnie by Patrick Dennis – Yes!  And it was a weird one!
  • Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not-Dating by Christina Lauren – Yes!  Quite bland.
  • The Captain’s Confidant by Ashtyn Newbold – Yes!  Unbelievably, I actually finished this whole series! Go me!
  • The Way of the Wilderness by Martha Reben – Nope!  However, it’s still on the windowsill.  I’ll get to it…sometime lol
  • Spider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman – Yes!  Just this past week, actually.

Up Next…

My probable next five reads…

  • The Gift by Louise Jensen – a random thriller from my TBR
  • Lakeside Sweethearts by Lisa Jordon – remember a long time ago when I inherited a laundry basket full of “Love Inspired” romances from my great-aunt?  I got rid of most of them, but still have a few lurking around, including this one.
  • Anxious People by Fredrik Backman – I weirdly did like Beartown and loved A Man Called Ove, so I’ve been meaning to read this one for quite some time.
  • Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton – Every year on Litsy a group of ladies host a “summer camp” where everyone votes on and then reads six books throughout the summer.  This is the first one on the docket.  I don’t know if I’ll read all six, and there is a good chance I may start a couple of them and not finish, but sometimes it’s good to test out a few books that I wouldn’t pick up on my own.
  • Miranda the Great by Eleanor Estes – I’ve owned this book forever and actually love Eleanor Estes, yet haven’t read it!

So that’s the February update!!  On to March!! Maybe even before June!!  :-D

The Winternight Trilogy // by Katherine Arden

I know I said I was going to do the February Rearview next, but I kind of forgot that I was going to review this trilogy first.  I read the first book at the end of February, and then the rest of the trilogy at the beginning of March.  But since this ended up being my favorite book of the month, it seemed like I should review it with the February books!!

  • The Bear and the Nightingale
  • The Girl in the Tower
  • The Winter of the Witch

I’ve had these books on my radar for a while and have heard a lot of good things about them.  But sometimes that doesn’t match up to my expectations, so I wasn’t completely sure what I was going to get.

These books are a bit too complicated for a brief synopsis, but they are medieval Russian in setting and focus on a young woman who can see and speak with “the old gods” aka household spirits.  At this time, the Church is moving through the countryside and telling people they need to stop believing in/praying to/etc the old ones.  But because Vasya can see and speak with them, she knows that these creatures play an important part in the wellbeing of the people, and that it is belief that keeps them alive.  As fewer people believe in them, they are fading away, leaving homes and villages unprotected.  There was a LOT going on here, and I absolutely raced through these books.  While the second book did suffer a bit from second-book syndrome, overall the action just didn’t let up – honestly, these books genuinely stressed me out!!!  There were times I just wanted to grab Vasya to keep her from making the wrong choice!!!  And look, if someone constantly threatens you and your family and everyone you love and wants to destroy all of you, I’m not saying you should go out and kill that guy but… maybe stop saving his life?!?!

Here was the biggest issue I had with these books, and it may sound nit-picky to some, but hey, this is my blog.  These magical creatures are just that – magical creatures.  They aren’t gods, and the people don’t really worship them per se, they just do things like leave out a bowl of milk in exchange for the creature protecting the house, that sort of thing.  In short, I didn’t think of these beings as being religious in any way, good or evil.  Consequently, it really bothered me that Arden referred to them almost uniformly as “demons.”  I understood why the people who couldn’t see the creatures would think of them that way – invisible beings lurking about.  But demons are, you know, connected to hell and serve satan, and these creatures did not do that.  So, in fact, they were not demons, and it annoyed me that they were called that constantly.  In the end, Vasya works hard to help the church people see how the household magic creatures actually help the people and do not detract from the people worshiping God.  I could honestly 100% get behind the church working with magical beings, but the church working with demons??  NO.  Literally the OPPOSITE of all church teachings!  I would have loved this story so much more if the word “demon” had only been used by ignorant people who didn’t really understand the nature of the magic creatures.  Here’s the thing – if you’re reading a story that involves dryads or naiads, you don’t consider them demonic – and that’s literally the same type of thing that these creatures were.  I honestly believe that if God wanted, He could have (and who knows, maybe He did!) create magic and creatures who are magic.  But by calling them demons, you have automatically placed them in the anti-God category, which means I can’t exactly get excited about the church working with them, if that makes sense.

So anyway, that got super rambly, but it was honestly my biggest (and almost my only) issue with these books.  I loved these characters, loved the concept, loved the execution, loved the setting, loved the pacing.  I’ll definitely reread these at some point as well.  If you enjoy fantasy, these are definitely worth a read.

The Secret to Happiness // by Suzanne Woods Fisher

I’m still here!!! Things have just gotten a little crazy again, as they do haha  I’m hoping to post my February Rearview soon, but in the meantime, here is a review from a book I just read!!

//published 2023//

After reading the first book in this series, The Sweet Life, last year, I was honestly excited for a chance to revisit these characters in book two. In book one, Dawn and her mother, Marnie, open an ice cream shop in a small Cape Cod town. Here in book two, they are now in the middle of winter when business isn’t as brisk, still trying to find their way to a successful business. Meanwhile, Dawn’s cousin, Callie, has gotten fired from her job as a top chef because her error led to giving an entire conference of people food poisoning. With her life in shambles and her dad constantly nagging her to “get back out there,” Callie invites herself to stay with Marnie and Dawn.

While I sometimes found some of these characters to be annoying, they honestly annoyed me in realistic ways so I didn’t mind as much, if that makes sense haha I felt like these characters worked together and communicated like real people would in their situations. I really enjoyed the way that the two cousins had completely different perspectives on their relationship – I think that we often make assumptions about how other people feel about something because of the way we feel about it, when that person may have had a completely different takeaway. Starting to realize that the other person didn’t view that relationship and events from the past in the same way really helped Dawn and Callie to grow closer.

A lot of this book is about depression and dealing with it, and there were times that the book bogged down a little into self-help territory. Dawn convinces Callie to attend a class about “happiness” and throughout the story Callie is reading the book written by the class’s teacher. So there were frequently quotes from this book or from the class, and while I mostly agreed with what was being taught, it did come through a little heavy-handed at times.

But I did feel like the subject was handled well. You can’t just “be happy,” it’s true, but there are ways to help train your brain and get out of negative spirals and I felt like this book handled that small-step method really well, although I did find the little “summary” of what Callie had learned at the very end of the book to be a bit much.

This may sound a little dumb, but I was actually quite glad that Callie showed up and eventually was able to get the creamery’s kitchen into order. I’ve worked in the food industry a lot, and Dawn’s methods absolutely gave me the heebie jeebies so I feel a lot better about their chances of success haha

This is a Revell book, so there is a Christian perspective to the story that I appreciated, although I honestly wanted it to be a little stronger. Still, there is a solid message here that God doesn’t “fix” you problems, but He does help you to see the purpose of what life is bringing you.

All in all, an enjoyable read. It looks like there will be a third book next year, and I definitely plan to read it.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me this book in exchange for an honest review.

February Minireviews // Part 3

The final February batch!!!  I also read The Bear and the Nightingale in February (and it honestly was probably my favorite book of the month), but since I read the other two books in the trilogy in March, I’m going to review them all together in a separate post.  So here are the rest of February’s reads!!

Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers – 3.5*

//published 1923//

A group on Litsy is reading some various vintage/Golden Age crime books.  I’ve always meant to pick up Lord Peter Wimsey, so I thought I’d read the first book in this series along with the group.  This one was fun with a good mystery. I got a little tired of the constant dropping of the letter g in the dialogue (“I’m just sayin’ that you must get goin’ if you want to be there on time”) and there were times where there were odd shifts in location in the narrative that felt a little confusing. For instance, at one point Peter and two other people are one place, then in the next scene Peter is at his mother’s house talking with her – when did he go there? Are the two people who were with him earlier now at his mother’s house as well? As the conversation progresses, we find out this information, but the initial shift feels rather jolting, and this happened a few times.

Overall, a decent start to a series, but one with a definite “first book feel” to it. However, I have the second book on my shelf as I definitely intend to give Sir Peter another try.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust – 2.5*

//published 2017//

Honestly, this book was just boring. There was a lot of potential here, but I never felt any kind of connection with the characters. Everyone was very cardboardy, especially the two main male characters, Mina’s father/the magician, and the king/Lynet’s father/Mina’s husband. Why was the magician so evil? Just for fun, I guess. We get nothing of his motivations, he’s just this dreadful, mean person lurking about in the background. Ditto for the king – why is he so obsessed the memory of his wife, to the point that he can’t bear to care about Mina? Why wouldn’t he be happy to let Lynet have a mother? Why would he rather pit them against each other? No clue, he just does and says stuff that doesn’t really make sense. There are only three men in this entire story. Two of them are emotionally abusive, creepy, selfish, and completely unlikable. The third one turns out okay, but he was literally created by a woman, so this book definitely has an anti-man taste that is always going to turn me off. Why does “feminist” in a book description always end up meaning “all the male characters suck”?

It’s a sad book, too. I liked the ending, but what a lot of wasted time, with everyone (especially Mina) assuming the worst about everyone else! I was so tired of listening to Mina go on about how no one could love her, even when people explicitly said that they loved her. I get that she was emotionally abused by her father (you know, the one that was a jerk for no reason that was ever explained… I guess because he’s a man?), but at the same time… oh my gosh, can you stop staring at your own navel for like half a second?? Please?? The author wanted so badly for Mina to be both the catalyst and still be a good guy that in the end she just annoyed the heck out of me.

Lynet is also boring and self-absorbed. It also felt a little creepy that she’s been living in a fairly insulated and isolated society, yet we’re supposed to believe that the first person she’s ever met who is around her age is also the perfect person for her to fall in love with. I’m sure that makes more sense than her just having a crush on the first attractive person her age to show up since she’s been a teenager. I think the story would have been a lot stronger with a friendship between these two instead of “love.”

I also found myself wondering throughout the entire book why any not-rich people are still living north of the frost line? It’s been snowing for literally years and years and years. Why would these people not have immigrated south by this time? What are they living on? How do they make any kind of living? What is keeping them here??

In the end, there was a lot of potential here, but none of these characters worked for me. In turn, that made the action feel clunky because none of the characters felt like they were speaking or acting naturally. I wanted to like this one, but mostly found myself bored.

Not the Witch You Wed by April Asher – 3.5*

//published 2022//

This one was gifted to me in a swap box, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.  It ended up being pretty funny with some good banter and likable main characters, and I’m always here for a fun fake dating trope.  However, while I do enjoy supernatural romances from time to time, I don’t care for one that also include angels/demons.  I believe angels and demons are real; shifters aren’t.  So stories that make demons out to be good, or even regular/just like people, are always going to be a turn-off for me.  So this was okay as a one-time read, but I won’t be reading the sequel, since it’s literally about one the sisters dating a “half-demon.”

Mystery by Moonlight by Mary C. Jane – 3.5*

//published 1963//

This is another one of those children’s mystery books that I bought at a booksale back in the mists of time.  This was a fun, if somewhat forgettable, little story involving some kids and the neighborhood “haunted” house.  It was pretty cute.  I’ve read and enjoyed several of Jane’s mysteries – while they are somewhat simplistic for adult reading, I know I would have loved them as a kid!

Running Total: Books that I’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet: 58!!!  High/Low: 97/58

Chesapeake Shores Series – Books 10-14

  • A Seaside Christmas (2013)
  • The Christmas Bouquet (2014)
  • Dogwood Hill (2015)
  • Bayside Retreat (2015)
  • Willow Brook Road (2015)
  • Lilac Lane (2017)

So in mid-February I decided I was going to finish off this series once and for all.  I have been poking along through them since March 2022 and while the series has had its ups and downs, it was just pretty average all the way through.  I owned some of these later books, which is why I started reading the series in the first place, but it really wasn’t doing much for me so I was ready to check it off the list lol

My biggest issue with this series was illustrated in A Seaside Christmas.  Woods would do this great job of introducing a reasonable, thoughtful controversy between the two main characters.  We would spend the whole book agonizing over it.  And then everything is just magically resolved in a “oh we love each other!!!” two-sentence conversation at the end!  So freaking frustrating!!

The rest of these books (Bayside Retreat was a bonus story at the end of one of the books), with the exception of The Christmas Bouquet, were solid 3.5* reads.  Just.  Mediocre.  Genuinely unsure why I continued them, other than my mild obsession with finishing series.

The Christmas Bouquet was an absolute DISASTER.  The main character was the most spoiled, whiny, obnoxious, self-absorbed, entitled, annoying, pouty, self-centered brat I’ve just about ever read about.  She was just.  Wow.  Stunningly unreasonable.  She refused to have a single adult conversation and spent the whole book complaining about how she couldn’t have everything.  You know what?  You can’t.  That’s what life is about.  Things come at you that are different than what you planned, and being an adult is learning to adjust your plans and take on the new challenges you weren’t expecting.  No one hopes for things like people dying, car wrecks, getting fired, cancer, etc etc.  These things just happen, and you have to deal with them.  Life is about making the best choices you can make, and every choice means that you are actually closing doors on other choices, and that’s okay.  You can’t spend your entire life trying to keep every door open – the whole point is that you have to pick a door and go through it, and Cait just literally refused to do that.  The problem is, if you don’t pick a door – life picks one for you, and it’s usually not the best option.  So not only did Cait make me want to push her down a flight of stairs, I was also annoyed by everyone in her life that kept reassuring her that she could have everything!!!  No, you can’t.

But beyond that, none of these books particularly struck any real emotion in me, other than relief when I was finally finished with them.  Part of the reason I read these was because Woods is a pretty prolific writer and I love finding contemporary romance that I actually enjoy, but she is OFF my list.  Ah well.

February Minireviews // Part 2

The Horse-Tamer by Walter Farley – 4*

//published 1958//

While technically a part of The Black Stallion series, this Farley story reads quite well on its own.  In the first chapter, Alec and his horse trainer/friend, Henry, are waiting to take off in an airplane with The Black.  While they are killing time, Henry recounts a time from when he was growing up and went to live with his older brother, Bill – and this reminiscing is the rest of the book.   Originally a carriage-maker, during the course of the story Bill begins to travel around and teach people some of his methods for dealing with recalcitrant horses (during a time period when basically everyone had or worked with horses).  The more adventurous part involves a shyster who is doing the same thing as a big, money-making production, but uses cruel and unsafe methods, so Henry’s brother is determined to expose him for the fraud that he is.

This was one of my favorites growing up, and I still have a bit soft spot for it.  There are some fun stories about the methods Bill uses to break horses of bad habits, and the final scene (with a vicious zebra!!!!!) is still pretty exciting.  It’s geared for younger readers, so you can’t expect too much from it, but it’s a fun and engaging read.

The Time-Traveler’s Guide to Regency Britain by Ian Mortimer – 4*

//published 2022//

The PemberLittens read The Jane Austen Project in January, which was a fictional story about two people traveling back in time to meet/befriend/steal from Jane Austen.  So when we were choosing our nonfiction read for February, this one seemed to be a natural choice!  Apparently Mortimer has done an entire series of these books covering various time periods in Britain, and I may try some more as this one was very readable and engaging.  It was a little difficult for me to get into at first.  Mortimer is writing as though you, the reader, are a time traveler and are using this book to help you navigate through Regency Britain.  Thus, the entire book is written in the second person, with Mortimer telling you things that you shouldn’t miss seeing, or things you are likely to smell, or people you may run into, etc.  Even though you’re taking in a lot of legitimate information, it feels somewhat casual and a little silly at first (to me anyway) because of the informal use of “you” throughout.  But as I got used to it, it did make the book feel friendly and welcoming.

I didn’t 100% agree with all of his conclusions about society, and felt that he did make sure to emphasize all the negatives of religion at the time without any of the positives. In the same chapter, within a few paragraphs, to claim that “all” Christians at the time were satisfied with the status quo because “it’s God’s will for some people to be poor,” and then turn around and immediately start talking about William Wilberforce with barely any acknowledgement that Wilberforce’s entire driving force were his strong Christian beliefs, was genuinely a bit offensive. He does mention that Quakers were the founders of most of the prison and insane asylum reform at the time, but without acknowledging that it was literally their Christian beliefs in the value of all human life that led them to do so. Yet he somehow manages to mention not infrequently the hypocrisy abundant among members of a society who pretty much all attended church, yet lived lives that involved ignoring what we would consider basic human decency. It’s almost as though many people went to church because it was expected, not because their faith was in any way personal or important to them, but that those who did have a strong, personal faith frequently found the motivation to fight to improve the lives of those around them. Hmm.

Despite Mortimer’s religious prejudices, I still found this to be an engaging, informative, interesting read.  It’s friendly and accessible, yet still well-organized and educational.  This book did a great job providing an overview of the era that was the right amount of detailed and has given me loads of background information for many of the books I read and love.

Brave New World by Aldous  Huxley – 3.5*

//published 1932//

This is definitely one of those classics that I have “always” meant to read, so I was rather pleased when it was drawn as my random classic for February.  It’s a hard book for me to review.  As a story, it was definitely lacking.  As a look into human nature – rather more interesting, even if I didn’t agree with the conclusions.  Because I so often see this book paired with 1984, I couldn’t help but compare the two of them as I read them.  This is probably a great place for a reminder that this is just my opinion, not a educational analysis haha  To me, Huxley weirdly comes through as more optimistic than Orwell.  In Huxley’s world, the government is working for the good of the people.  Those who dissent are allowed to go off and live their own quiet lives on various islands and reservations, separate from the more “forward thinking” population.  The government does everything it can to keep everyone happy and contented, but there doesn’t really seem much of a motivation for them to do so, because they don’t really seem to need the “upper class” of people to do much – because they’ve developed ways to create “lower classes” who have been manipulated to want to do what they are needed to do (generally all the jobs no one really wants in real life), it seemed a little odd to me that the government would keep around this “superior” class at all, much less go through so much effort to keep them content.  Orwell’s future, where people are controlled by fear, mind games, and the complete lack of privacy/freedom, makes much more sense to me.  Part of that is my perspective of human nature: I don’t believe people are inherently good; I believe we are programmed to care for ourselves and our intimate family group/tribe/whatever you want to call them first, which is why systems like communism sound good but never work in the real world.  People in power always want more power, so to me Orwell’s version, with the Party doing whatever it took, up to and including elimination of anyone who dissents, seems much more realistic than Huxley’s government that is working, in its own twisted way, to continue to serve the people.

That said, Huxley’s version is still a very interesting conversation about human nature.  I didn’t agree with a lot of the conclusions, but there was plenty to think about.  I’m quite disappointed in myself because I really thought I took some notes on this when I read it, but I can’t find them so… all you’re getting are my three-months-later vague memories haha  In the end, I found this a worthwhile read, but not necessarily one I would revisit, and while 1984 felt like an ominous warning, Huxley’s future felt more like a strange, unlikely mind game.

Running Total: Books that I’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet: 66!!!  High/Low: 97/59

Anne of Manhattan // by Brina Starler

//published 2021//

Do you ever read a book and you have no idea why you even finished it?  That’s where I was with February’s pick for the Kindred Spirits Buddy Read group.  Part of the problem was I was just reading a chapter a day, so while I hated it, it was like taking one little pill of bitterness each day so I just kept doing it haha  But it really was just dreadful from beginning to end.

FYI: I gave this book 1* and wished I didn’t finish it. This review is very ranty.  It’s also one of the few books I really ranted about on GoodReads when I read it, so most of this is copied from there onto this blog for my personal records LOL

As a story, this book was okay, although amazingly dull. But as a retelling of Anne of Green Gables/Anne of the Island, it fails on basically every level, for reasons I will elaborate on below. Some of the reasons could probably be categorized as petty/nit-picky, but you know what? If you write a retelling of one of the most beloved stories of all time, you should be prepared for people calling you out when you 100% change the characters.

The Anne series is comprised of some of my all-time favorite books, stories I have read over and over. I first read them when I was around the age of 10, and absolutely fell in love with Anne and Gilbert as a couple. Their romance is developed so perfectly throughout the series, that it really is laughable to think that anyone else could even kind of get it right, so it’s kind of my own fault for trying to read this. Just.  Ew.

The rest of this review involves lots of spoilers!!!!  Not that there is much to spoil because it’s a pretty straightforward story, but still.  If you want to read this book without being influenced by my intense dislike for it ahead of time, stop reading now!!!  Also, I copied a lot of this over from GR and then edited it so who even knows what kind of wonky formatting is going to occur!

Rant List:

-Anne herself is such a wooden, generic character here. She doesn’t get into any “scrapes” or have any adventures. She doesn’t imagine anything. She’s just a stereotypical, hard-working, hard-studying college student. I can’t tell you how boring she is. Even as an adult, the original Anne is always getting into shenanigans, but they are totally lacking here. In general, Anne doesn’t do anything in this story that doesn’t involve the Gil storyline in some way. Like I get that the author has limited space and that the “romance” is the main drive of her story, but I needed to see Anne doing ANYTHING on her own besides going to work and writing papers and fending off unwanted sexual advances from her professor. The glimpses of Anne’s childhood that we do get also don’t work. I was especially put off by the story of her getting revenge on another girl in the group home. Original Anne is not vindictive and she is not a prankster. I can’t imagine her putting ink in someone’s shampoo to get back at them. No.
-The whole story is set in New York. I get it, she’s in college. But at the same time – original Anne is 100% a country/nature girl. Any time she lives in town, she yearns for the countryside, the sea, the trees – especially the trees. Here, she seems perfectly content to live in a tiny, cramped apartment. In the end she takes a job that will keep her living in the city forever. She never talks about nature or trees or goes to a park or takes a walk through a cemetery. Original Anne’s love and passion for the outdoors is a HUGE part of who she is, a part that is completely ignored in this update.
-Green Gables is a WINERY?! That’s the best update you could find??? I felt like poor Marilla, who was known for her strong views against alcohol, would have been absolutely horrified.
-Speaking of things that would horrify Marilla, I was genuinely offended that she and Rachel are turned into lesbian lovers in this update. In fact, if I had to pick one specific thing that annoyed me the most, this would be it. In the original story, Rachel loves her husband and her family and is devastated when her husband dies. She and Marilla are life-time friends and move in together to pool resources, carefully arranging things so that they can each have their own individual space so that they can maintain their independence. Turning them into lovers just completely devalues their beautiful friendship. I’m so tired of being told that women can’t be friends – they must be lovers, or wishing they could be lovers. It was also so unnecessary to even have this happen as far as moving the story along. Rachel didn’t even need to be a part of this story, so the entire thing was just shoehorned in for more “diversity.” So. Gross. One of the things I have always loved about the original stories is the genuine friendship between these two very different women, and I absolutely hated the implication that that’s actually just secret pining. Ugh.
-Diana. Where do I even start with Diana? Original Diana is sweet, a little shy, not remotely ambitious, not daring or courageous, and definitely not athletic. (And I say all these as positives – I LOVE original Diana and actually related to her so much more than Anne in many ways.) But here she’s brassy, sassy, tall, plays sports, swears, threatens people, and is in general bold, out-going, and borderline obnoxious. I hated every facet of her “updated” character. The story of her knocking someone over while playing an outdoor game as a little revenge for the girl being a jerk… just no. It’s hard to decide which character was updated the most poorly, because they literally all suck, but Diana is definitely up there.  It’s like Starler wrote down a list of the original Diana’s attributes and then made her new, updated Diana the opposite of every single one of them.
-Why is Phil even in this story?? She’s such a fun secondary character in the original story, but here she just sort of shows up every once in a while, says something supportive, and then disappears again. Why???
-Gilbert. Oh my dear, sweet Gilbert. What has this horrible woman done to you?? (Please note, I’m sure this author is actually a perfectly nice person. But what she did to Gilbert…!!!!) First off, Gilbert IS a doctor. That’s a huge part of who he is as a person. He doesn’t become a doctor because he’s ambitious or wants money, he does it because he wants to help people and make a difference in a community. So in some ways I guess Starler captures that by deciding that he’s going to found a reading center or whatever his random plan is that he comes up with, but she manages to do it by making Gil feel directionless and unambitious, and also while kind of insulting Gil’s dad for ever wanting Gil to be a doctor, acting like that would just be a completely self-absorbed choice to make. He even says something like Anne always knew what she wanted to do and he’s just been drifting along. That is so un-Gilbert-like. But the real problem is, like with this updated version of Anne, new-Gil is just so, so, SO boring. He works, he studies, and thinks about having sex with Anne. Later, he actually does have sex with Anne, so you can add that to his list of things he does in this story. Like Anne, we get basically nothing about him outside of their relationship. Nothing about what really makes him tick. Just, he wants to bang Anne because he’s always loved her. Okay then, I guess. Oh and he has dimples and he’s really hot. Blah blah blah.  The character is made of CARDBOARD.
-Anne and Gilbert were truly my first “ship” when I was growing up, back before “shipping” was even a thing. Reading sex scenes between the two of them was dreadful. If my parents started talking about they do when they have sex, I think it would give me similar feelings. I know it happens; I want it to happen; it’s healthy that it happens; I don’t want to hear about it AT ALL. This story felt like it was way more about getting Gil and Anne to have sex with each other than it was about them actually developing a life-long relationship together.  It was honestly icky.  Did Starler just write this entire book so she could write sex scenes about Gilbert and Anne??  Ugh.
-I think that kind of ties in to a big part of what bothered me about this story. And I totally understand that Starler is trying to jam like three books of material into one book, but still. In the original stories, Anne and Gilbert become FRIENDS and are friends for years. They share so many good memories together. The reason they stop being friends is because Gilbert wants to move their relationship into romantic territory, and Anne doesn’t. The reason Anne doesn’t is because she’s hanging on to these romantic ideals. That’s when she starts dating Roy – he’s the exact romantic hero of her imagination. But in the end, Anne breaks up with Roy because they aren’t friends; they don’t laugh together; they want different things from life; he sees her little “flights of fancy” and imagination as things that need to be curbed, not loved; and she realizes that a truly happy marriage is based on being with someone who makes you laugh, someone you can share your deepest hopes, dreams, and fears with because they get you and love you all the more for them. When Gilbert gets sick and almost dies, Anne knows that she genuinely loves him, but that’s because of this amazing friendship that they have had. Contrast that with this story: Anne and Gil argue like petty children throughout high school, which is fine because they are petty children in high school lol But then Gil leaves for college across the country and they don’t see each other for a few years. Now they are back in the same town and working together and because they are no longer petty children they actually get along just fine. They find each other attractive and start having sex. They fight about something stupid and break up. Gil almost dies and Anne realizes she really does love him after all, so they decide to move in together. Friends, that is NOT romantic. Like, not even kind of. So much of this relationship is just about sex and attraction. We’re TOLD that they have conversations about other stuff, but we only ever SEE sex and them thinking about sex. I never felt like they were actual friends. They never do anything together except study, work on their school project, and bang (or cuddle somewhere talking about banging). It felt so hollow and pointless. And sorrynotsorry, concluding a romance with “oh we should live together” will literally never be romantic. That’s not actually a commitment, it’s just a sexual convenience.

In the end, this one was a big, giant NOPE for me. This didn’t feel like an adaptation as much as it felt like a shortcut – by using names of characters with which the reader was already familiar, the author didn’t have to bother giving us much background or connections, or worry about character development or growth. But instead of treating those characters with love and updating them in a way that accurately reflected their originals, she just slapped names on cardboard cutouts and went with it. Hugely disappointing.

February Minireviews // Part 1

Oof, I was doing so well and then, as always, fell off the bandwagon!!  Things got really crazy around here as we decided to jump into the exciting project of putting down vinyl plank flooring all over pretty much our whole house!! Ourselves!!  So yeah, that was lively, but we are DONE and it looks FABULOUS! But it took two full weekends and some evenings and here we are haha

And, more importantly, here are some FEBRUARY reviews!!

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik – 4*

//published 2006//

I liked the second book in this series better than the first, mainly because Laurence isn’t as much of a prig.  Still, the story is rather dense, with a lot of characters to track.  I had to print off a character list – it really annoys me when authors have huge, complicated worlds with a zillion characters but don’t  bother giving any kind of information.  This series desperately needs a glossary, a drawing of how the dragon battle harnesses work, explanations about the different kinds of dragons, and character lists.  I think the main reason it annoys me is that I know the author has to have these things in order to write the story, so why not share so the rest of us can get our heads around what you’re writing???  A solid story, and I am planning to continue the series, but I do keep kind of putting off book three, so that may be an indication of how much I am really enjoying these haha

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart – 4*

//published 2016//

I really love The Secret Benedict Society books, and this story (by the same author) has a similar vibe.  Reuben and his mother are on their own, and struggling financially.  Reuben’s mother has to work two jobs, which means Reuben spends a lot of time on his own, exploring the city even though he’s supposed to stick to approved areas.  One day, he discovers a mysterious device.  While trying to find out what it is and how it works, he gets drawn into a complicated plot as it becomes apparent that he isn’t the only person who wants this item.  There were times that this story dragged a little, or that Reuben made such a cloth-headed decision that I wanted to bop him on the head, but overall this was a fun middle grade read with a likable protagonist and plenty of excitement to keep the pages turning.  And nothing like a villain who can go invisible to keep things scary!

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder – 4*

//published 1935//

I thoroughly enjoyed my reread of this one.  As a kid, I remember thinking it was exciting and full of adventures.  As an adult, I was absolutely terrified by everything they went through!  And sometimes frustrated with the parents who made some decisions that I found a little questionable, all things considered.  It was very interesting to read this with the Litsy group, as a few of our fellow readers were so inclined to take offense at everything that I was a smidge confused as to why they were reading this book to begin with.  While yes, Ma especially had a strong prejudice against the Native Americans in the region (and I realize that they were illegally homesteading in Indian Territory), I was honestly amazed at how callous some of the modern readers were about the very real dangers and fears the family faced.  In particular, there is one chapter where Pa has had to ride to the nearest town, a multi-day journey, leaving Ma and three small girls all alone in their cabin.  Two Native American men come into the house, force Ma to cook them dinner, stead multiple things from the home, and leave.  Several of our readers had the audacity to think Ma had overreacted by being absolutely terrified by this event!  Setting aside race, in what world is it not absolutely horrifying to imagine two strange men, who don’t even speak the same language as you, coming into your home where it is just you and your three small daughters and no way of protecting yourself??  Personally, I think there is simply a great deal to discuss and learn from in this story, as from other historical pieces.  The Ingalls’s story is only one side of the story, yes, but it IS a side and still worth understanding, as is the perspective of the native people whose land was being stolen at the time.  Both are valid and both are a real part of our history.  All I know is that I would have spent all of my time perpetually petrified by all the dangers to be faced!

Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2018//

Wow, this was kind of a tough one.  It’s a great story and I really grew attached to the characters.  However, the material is tough to get through – the story starts with a terrifying killing spree, with three teens shooting up a busy shopping mall.  This part of the story is handled well – it didn’t feel unnecessarily gruesome, but it did capture the absolute horror and helplessness of the victims.  The story then jumps forward in time, focusing on the lives of two of the people who lived through the event – one young man who went into law enforcement because of his experience that night, and a young woman who was one of the first people to call 911 during the shooting.  The biggest reason that I don’t see myself rereading this one is because the whole point is that the mastermind behind the shooting wasn’t actually there that night – and now is going on to kill people who survived that night who “should” have died.  The shooting itself was pretty horrific, but then to watch people who survived and changed their lives after living through it still get senselessly murdered – that was just so hard to read.  It made for a great, suspenseful story, but parts of it were just so incredibly sad.  In some ways, this was one of my favorite of her books that I’ve read, just because it was written so well, with the sensitive material handled deftly, but I doubt it’s one that I’ll revisit.

The Provincial Lady in London by E.M. Delafield – 3.5*

//published 1933//

In completely contrast to Shelter in Place are the lighthearted adventures of the Provincial Lady.  In this, the second volume, the PL has come into some money from selling her first book (Diary of a Provincial Lady) and is convinced by her friends that she should rent a small flat in London where she can escape from the daily cares of life and focus on writing her second book – except every time she goes to London, she seems to get more distracted than ever!  I read the first volume of this series with the Traveling Book Club, and because the same group of us decided to read together again for another round, we chose this second volume as one of our books.  However, this one fell just a little flat – some of the situations felt a little forced, and it’s obviously that the PL has learned nothing when it comes to things like living with her budget, appreciating her life, and not trying to impress others by exaggerating her accomplishments!  I did enjoy parts of this – there were some very fun little shenanigans and whatnot, but it lacked some of the sparkle that the first volume had, and the little undertone of bitterness and discontent that would flash from time to time in the first book felt even more prevalent here.  I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the third volume – although in it the PL does come to America! – and even though I’m reading with this same group of ladies for another round of Traveling Book Club, we decided not to continue the PL’s adventures together.

Rearview Mirror // January 2023

Woohoo!! This also makes something like ten days in a row of posting, which may be a new record for me!!

Favorite January Read

I read some great books in January, including a reread of Farmer Boy that was a delight, plus revisiting one of my favorite Heyer novels, but out of my new books, I have to go with Wallace the BraveI just love these comics!!

Most Disappointing January Read

Probably Twelve Percent DreadI really liked this concept but was so disappointed with the abrupt, inconclusive ending.

Other January Reads

Total Books Read in January:  27

Total Pages Read in January: 6780

January Challenge Updates:

  • New States Visited: Arizona, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia
  • 100 Years of Books: 16
  • Roll 100 List:  7

TBR Update

This is current as of today, not the end of January!!

  • Standalones:  500 (up three)
  • Nonfiction:  132 (holding steady… I just never seem to read these, even though they do sound interesting!)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  595 (holding steady)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  251 (holding steady)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 112 (holding steady)
  • New Arrivals – (I have a lot of books that I have been gifted or that I pick up somewhere and they get put on my “oh I’m so excited about this shiny new book” shelf… and then of course don’t actually get read.): 179 (up one)

Current Reads

I’m still reading all the same buddy reads as I was during my last Rearview (two weeks ago) – Agnes Grey, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Once and Future King, and Life of Pi.  However, a couple of those are almost finished!! I’m also reading Forever and a Day by Jill Shalvis – I seem to have accumulated a lot of her books, so I’m working my way through the Lucky Harbor series.

Last Time on “Up Next”

Did I read my probable next five reads from last time?

  • The Honk and Holler Opening Soon – Not yet! But it is high on the priority list as I need to get it in the mail to the next person next week!!
  • The Alpine Path by L.M. Montgomery – Also not yet, but also on the list for this coming week as our group discussion is next Saturday!
  • The Ace of Hearts by Ashtyn Newbold – Yes! I actually did enjoy this one and am planning to read the next book in the series.
  • The Secret Bridesmaid by Katy Birchall – Nope! Still hoping to get to this one next month, but it isn’t on the critical list like the first two up there!
  • I Will Repay by Emmuska Orczy – Nope! But this next Scarlet Pimpernel book is staying in the queue until I get to it!!

Up Next…

My probable next five reads…  (besides the first two books on the list above…)

  • Auntie Marnie by Patrick Dennis – I’m actually involved in two traveling book clubs right now, so The Honk and Holler is my read for one of them, and this is my read for the other.
  • Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not-Dating by Christina Lauren – I’ve had this one on my shelf forever!!
  • The Captain’s Confidant by Ashtyn Newbold – the next book in the Larkhall Letters series
  • The Way of the Wilderness by Martha Reben – the sequel to The Healing Woods, which was a surprise win for me!
  • Spider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman – the next book in the Leaphorn & Chee series is the debut novel of Tony Hillerman’s daughter.  I’m very interested to see where she takes the series.  I’ve not always had the best of luck with children taking over the writing of their parents, so I’m a smidge apprehensive!!

So that’s the update on January!! At this rate, I’ll be caught up in… well… another month!! LOL

January Minireviews // Part 4

Final batch for January!!

Twelve Percent Dread by Emily McGovern – 2*

//published 2022//

This graphic novel started strong, with an fun story and likable characters, but the story went literally nowhere.  There is a bunch of build-up and then it just… ends.  No resolution.  Every single character is left hanging.  It was incredibly frustrating.  I also struggled with this one because the writing is SO tiny and hard to read, and because many of panels are so small, it could sometime be difficult (especially at first) to tell characters apart.  And also, I’m sorry but this is just the way it is, having someone’s pronouns be they/them can make it SO hard to follow a narrative when you can’t tell if the narrator is referring to one person or several.  I really like McGovern’s artwork, and many of her short-form comics (especially the Background Slytherin comics), but this book just really fell short of the mark.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – 3.5*

//published 1818//

I had never read this classic before and was honestly quite intrigued to pick it up, considering that it is such a foundational piece of literature.  However, it wasn’t really for me.  The narrative structure can definitely be confusing (it’s someone writing a letter telling a story, and then he starts quoting someone else telling a story, who frequently quotes someone else telling a story… I mean, seriously), and while I understood why Shelley wrote it that way, it was sometimes difficult to remember who was telling who what.  Frankenstein himself drove me a little crazy and frequently did and said things that made no sense to me.  I was especially aggravated with (1) the fact that he creates the monster and then literally runs away immediately without a moment’s hesitation – seriously???  and (2) how long it takes him to actually take up arms against the monster, like literal months trailing this thing around and not actually figuring out a battle plan against it.  I also found the monster to be a bit unbelievable – I could buy him teaching himself to speak and read, but to be able to eloquently quote from ancient classics, and to formulate the kinds of arguments he did?  Well.

As a story warning about the dangers of dabbling in things we really don’t understand, and claiming that “science” justifies things like creating the atom bomb or seeing what kind of horrific diseases we can create in a lab, this reads great. As gothic horror, it reads okay.  It was definitely worth the one-time read, and I think it deserves its status as a classic, but it isn’t one I see myself rereading.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach – 2*

//published 1970//

My husband was given this book to read at an influential age, and would mention it from time to time as the first time he ever considered the concept of transcendence, so I got him his own copy for his birthday.  It’s the story of a seagull who isn’t content to just hang out on the beach and eat stuff like the rest of the flock – he wants to pursue the true magic of flight, beyond just the necessities.  Of course, this kind of attitude can’t be tolerated (for some unknown reason) so he is cast out from the rest of the flock.  Over time, Jonathan Livingston Seagull uses his extreme flight speeds to achieve another level of existence, which he teaches to the other young, rebellious seagulls as well, as they all pursue their flying nirvana, much to the horror of those boring, traditional seagulls who just want to do regular seagull stuff.

My husband enjoyed the nostalgia trip, although he wasn’t quite as enamored with the story as he was when he was 13.  That said, he did write, “Seagull is to flying as I am to _____” on our chalkboard as he contemplated what it is in his life that makes him fly haha  However, I’m not as “heady” as my husband, so I honestly just found the entire parable to be quite aggravating.  What’s the big problem with wanting to just hang out on the beach and eat breakfast?  Why does everyone have to suffer and struggle to try and transcend to the next level?  At the end of the day, it wasn’t a bad book, it just wasn’t a match for me.  I like doughnuts and sitting in the sunshine too much to spend my days trying to transcend!

Ben and Me by Robert Lawson – 4*

//published 1939//

Lawson wrote a few of these books, taking historical figures, putting some kind of animal in their life, and then telling the person’s story from the perspective of the animal.  This is the most well-known of them, with the life of Ben Franklin told from the perspective of his friend and companion, Amos the mouse.  Amos helps Ben make most of his discoveries and inventions, and helps him become a renown diplomat as well.  Amos lives in Ben’s hat, where it’s convenient for him to take notes and give Ben advice on the fly.  My favorite part was how many other famous people from the time had their own secret mouse-companions helping them along.  This one is fun and silly with fabulous illustrations by the author.  An all-around good time.

The Roundhill by Dick King-Smith – 3*

//published 1999//

King-Smith was incredibly prolife, writing, I don’t know, probably close to a hundred children’s books over his lifetime.  (I mean seriously, look at his list of published works on Wiki!)  I pick up his books whenever I come across them on the cheap, and have quite a few of them sitting unread on my shelves, despite most of them only being around 75-100 pages long.  With such a large body of work, some are definitely stronger than others (he’s best known for The Sheep-Pig, which is what the movie Babe the Gallant Pig is based from; I personally have a soft spot for the first of his books I ever read, The Fox Busters.)  All that to say, while this story was okay, it wasn’t one of his best (in my opinion).

Evan is a rather lonely boy who has a love for his special, secret place, which he calls The Roundhill. One day, he finds a girl there, who tells him her name is Alice.  At first annoyed that someone else has invaded his space, over the next few meetings Evan finds himself drawn to her.  However, she is also rather mysterious – to the point that Evan begins to wonder if she is even real.  This book is weirdly sad and doesn’t exactly go anywhere.  I never could particularly like Evan, who is rather mean to his visiting cousin at one point, and whom I just never quite connected to.  At the end of the book he is an elderly adult reflecting on his life, and I felt quite sad for him as he said he wished he could believe in God but just couldn’t.  All in all, there is a sad undertone to the story that kept me from really enjoying it.  At only 84 pages long it didn’t take me long to read, but I doubt I’ll pick this one up again.

Mr. Mulliner Speaking by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1929//

Like Meet Mr. Mulliner, this collection of short stories are all told by Mr. Mulliner from his usual spot in the Angler’s Rest.  With so many relatives inclined to get entangled in all sorts of adventures, Mr. Mulliner has a tale for every occasion.  These stories are fun and silly, and delightful Wodehouse fare.

Salute by C.W. Anderson – 4*

//published 1940//

Anderson’s Billy and Blaze books were some of my first introductions into the joys of horse stories, and I still snatch up any book written and/or illustrated by him that I can find.  He wrote several books for younger readers that are short chapter books (so a step up from the Billy and Blaze picture books, difficulty-wise), and Salute is one of those.  At only 64 pages, many of which are illustrated, it’s not a very in-depth book, but is still a fun story about a boy who is given a retired racehorse.  The odd part about this story is that Salute himself doesn’t show up until the very end of the story – it’s more about this first horse that the boy owns, helps restore to health, and then retrains to race.  Still, a nice little story that definitely added to my conviction as a child that someone would just show up and give me a horse someday!  LOL

Running Total: Books that I’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet: 59!!!  High/Low: 97/59