April Minireviews – Part 1

Still catching up on a bajillion reviews!  Now that I’ve checked off February (ha!), it’s on to March!!

Coot Club by Arthur Ransome – 5* – finished March 5

//published 1934//

So it may not come as a surprise to learn that I am still in love with these books!  I’m reading this series very slowly, savoring each one.  I’ve also been purchasing them as I go in the Jonathan Cape editions, which come with amazing end maps that I love.  This story was about a gang of children on a sailing expedition.  I usually think of sailboats (when I think of them, which, if I’m honest, is rarely) in association with large, open bodies of water, but in this story the characters are sailing on a river!  There was loads of adventures and excitement, the most adorable characters, and just so many happy things.  I loved every single page, as always.

Wild Horse Running by Sam Savitt – 4* – finished March 5

//published 1973//

This is another children’s books, and a fairly short read with loads of gorgeous illustrations by the author, who is one of my favorites.  This is a story about a wild horse, and like the countryside the horse roams, the story is a bit sparse.  Although it was choppy at times, Savitt still pulls together a tale that tugs at your heartstrings.  Published at a time – tragically not very long ago! – when it was still legal to pursue wild horses by car and plane, run them to exhaustion, and then ship them off to make dog food, it’s obvious that part of the reason Savitt is writing is to shine a light on this horrific practice, but his writing never feels polemic.  If you like horse stories, than you’ll enjoy this one.  If you don’t, this one probably isn’t for you, as there isn’t a great deal of human interest aspect.

Mystery in the Pirate Oak by Helen Fuller Orton – 3* – finished March 6

//published 1949//

As you may be able to tell, I was on a run of children’s books at the beginning of the month, looking for some light, fast reads.  (Although Coot Club was particularly fast – it was 352 pages and still not long enough for me!)  This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I picked up at a booksale back in 1997!  Considering it’s barely 100 pages long, you think I would have bothered to read it sometime in the last 20+ years, but here we are.  This was overall a pretty average, if someone haphazard story, but what really blew my mind was the historical context – published in 1949, yet the characters’ grandma went west in a covered wagon.  It just never ceases to amaze me how actually close we are to that kind of history.

Watership Down by Richard Adams – 4.5* – finished March 6

//published 1972//

It had been years since I last read this classic, so I was rather excited that one of my group members chose it as her book to mail for #LMPBC (Litsy Markup Postal Book Club – four people in a group – each person picks a book to read and annotate – every month everyone mails whichever book they have to the next person until you get your own back).  Not only did I get the pleasure of reading it, I got to read notes and thoughts from the other members as well, which was super fun!

Anyway, if you enjoy animal stories, you have to read this one.  An epic adventure of a small group of wild rabbits who leave their home warren in search of someplace new.  Like truly great animal tales, the rabbits don’t behave unnaturally, other than their ability to converse with one another. (And who is to say they can’t do that in real life anyway?)  Adams even uses words that are part of the rabbits’ language that are “not translatable” into English, which somehow adds to the authenticity.  While this is an animal story, there is a lot of depth to the characters and world-building, and some thought-provoking lessons as well.

Fallen Into the Pit by Ellis Peters – 3.5* – finished March 8

//published 1951//

Ellis Peters wrote the Cadfael mysteries, which are some of my favorite books of all time.  Fallen Into the Pit is one of her much earlier books, and is a “modern” mystery (set just after WWII, which is when it was published) rather than a historical mystery like Cadfael.  While this was a perfectly enjoyable book, I didn’t love it, or particularly bond with any of the characters.  It was an interesting concept – a look at the way that WWII German POWs were being assimilated into Britain by sending them out to live in small villages.  I think part of the reason that I struggled with this book is because the German is definitely one of the bad guys, and was SUCH a jerk, so in a way it felt like the lesson of the book was that Yes, you SHOULD be paranoid about Germans living among us because they SUCK.  So the whole thing felt vaguely racist against Germans, if that makes sense.  Still, a decent if not stellar mystery, and with a likable enough protagonist that I reserved the next two books in the series from the library.  Of course, they are still there because the libraries have been shut down what feels like years, but someday!

The Last Waltz by Dorothy Mack – 3.5* – finished March 10

//published 1986//

Another paperback out of the box of random Regency romances, this one was set in Brussels rather than England, which was a fun switch.  With Napoleon closing in, the setting was more interesting than the actual story, which was incredibly bland.  Truly nothing unpredictable happened in this book, to the point that I can only vaguely remember it a month later!

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward – 3.5* – finished March 12

//published 2015//

This is the first in a series revolving around a group of (modern) detectives in Derbyshire.  While this was a decent read, it was a bit garbled since one of the characters was doing her own research about the killer at the same time as the police, and it was easy to get confused about which people knew what – something that always frustrates me a little.  There were also SO MANY illegitimate babies.  SO MANY.  Basically every time there was a plot twist, it was because someone had had an unexpected pregnancy, and that got old after a while, especially with the not-so-subtle “if only they could have gotten an abortion at the time all their problems would have been solved!” message.  That’s right, because killing your baby solves all your issues and definitely doesn’t create any others. *eye roll*  Anyway, it was a fine mystery, but nothing about it inspired me to pick up the next book in the series.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold – 3.5* – finished March 15

//published 2015//

Quite a while ago I read another of Arnold’s books, Kids of Appetitewhich I genuinely loved.  I’ve been meaning to read Mosquitoland ever since, so I decided to choose it for one of my #LMPBC picks this round.  While I did like it, it just didn’t have the magic of Kids of Appetite.  In this story, teenager Mim has been forced to move with her dad and stepmom from northern Ohio to Mississippi, leaving her mother behind.  Lately, even letters and phone calls from her mom have stopped coming in, and when Mim overhears part of a conversation between her dad and stepmom, implying that Mim’s mom is sick, she steals some cash from her stepmom, jumps on a Greyhound bus, and starts heading north.  The book is journey, with plenty of adventures throughout.

My two main issues with this book – the first was just that most of it was way over-the-top.  I never really believed that any of these things happened to Mim.  There were way too many coincidences and genuinely ridiculously crazy characters.  While some of the episodes were entertaining, most of them just had me rolling my eyes in disbelief.  The book is very episodic in nature, which added to the overall choppy feel.

My second big issue is just that Mim’s dad didn’t tell her what was really going on with her mom.  Mim is 16, not 6, and there wasn’t really any reason that she shouldn’t have been told the truth immediately.  Literally all of Mim’s problems could have been avoided if her dad had had ONE honest conversation with her – and there was literally no reason for him not to, which I found frustrating.

All in all, Mosquitoland was interesting as a one-time read, and I am definitely curious to get it back in a few months and see what notes my fellow #LMPBC readers have left, as it does have a lot of potential discussion points, but it wasn’t a book that I really bonded with.  I do love the cover, though!

The Happy Camper // by Melody Carlson

//published 2020//

Revell very kindly sent me a review copy of this book, which doesn’t impact my opinions.  I do apologize that this review is later than the due date assigned, but life has been a little topsy-turvey lately!

The story begins with Dillon quitting her job, breaking up with her noncommittal boyfriend, and heading back home to stay with her grandpa in a small town in eastern Oregon.  She knows her grandpa has been lonely since his wife died, and she’s hoping that she’ll have some time to figure out what she wants to do with her own life, while helping her grandpa out on his farm.  Dillon was basically raised by her grandparents since her mom, Margot, is a “free spirit” type who didn’t really want to be tied down to motherhood.  But when Dillon arrives at the farm, it turns out that her mom has also decided she needs a break from life, and is already living in Dillon’s old room.  As always, Margot has come up with a new, brilliant, money-making scheme and is determined to stay at the farm so she can get her new business off the ground.  Throughout the course of the story, Dillon comes to grips with herself, her mom, and her life, as she fixes up a vintage pull-behind trailer to live in.

So overall I really enjoyed this story.  It’s fluffy and easy to read.  Dillon is a pretty likable main character, and I appreciated that she was the one who made the decisions to uproot her life – so often these types of stories start with the main character hitting a string of absurdly bad luck.  But in this instance, Dillon herself is the one who decides that she wants more from life, and she’s the one who quits her job and tells her boyfriend that it’s over, and I liked that.  I also appreciated that the book wasn’t entirely romance – a lot of the story is about Dillon dealing with some of the issues between her and her mom, and I honestly would have liked even more of that aspect of the story.

However, the story suffers from lack of direction.  Things move along pretty well up to the point where Dillon receives and starts renovating the trailer, but that’s also the point that she really gets to know the potential love interest, Jordan.  There’s another woman who likes Jordan, and who has known him a lot longer, so Dillon keeps seeing them together and misinterpreting the situation, and then being reassured by Jordan that he really is interested in her (Dillon), etc.  At the same time, Dillon’s (truly) obnoxious ex-boyfriend shows up and is very persistently trying to prove to Dillon that he isn’t afraid of commitment – this means that Jordan keeps seeing them together and misinterpreting the situation, and then being reassured by Dillon that she really is interested in him (Jordan), etc.  It was okay the first few times that this misunderstanding occurred, but it began to get very repetitive and uninteresting as that aspect of the story felt like it went on forever.

Also, as someone who owns a vintage motorhome – one that was in pretty good shape when we bought it – I was a little eye-roll-y on how easily and quickly Dillon was able to get her trailer completely road-and-living-worthy.  But hey, that’s fiction.

And one more completely unreasonable thing to be annoyed about?  Dillon names her trailer and her truck – but it’s super obvious that the author doesn’t really understand the concept of naming cars, because she italicizes the names as though they are boats – you know, like The Minnow.  Except when you name a car, it’s more like naming a pet.  My car is Pruitt, not Pruitt.  No idea why, but it genuinely aggravated me to see the constant references to the names in sentences like this – “Yes, I wanted to get Jack looking good.  Couldn’t let Rose show him up.”  WHY.

In the end, this was a really relaxing one-time read that I liked and can recommend, but it wasn’t a book that I’ll keep and cherish and reread forever.

PS Also mildly confused by the cover image.  Considering the camper is a HUGE part of the story, how hard would it have been to put a picture of the actual kind of trailer that Dillon owns??  It’s VERY specifically named as a 1964 Aloha Oasis with a cab-over, like this one –

Rearview Mirror // February 2020

Wait, you may be saying – didn’t we just finish March, not February?  Yes, you are correct!  However, here on TheAromaofBooks, I’ve only just finished reviewing the books I read in February!  So one month at a time!

Favorite February Read

I think I’m going with Free to Fall.  This book was surprisingly deep, and while it didn’t fall into a few cliches, I found myself really engaged with this on-the-brink-of-dystopia novel.

Most Disappointing February Read

The Intuitionist is going to slot in here.  It was just an odd book that I was never really able to connect with.

Other February Reads

February Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  19 (15 physical; 4 Kindle)
  • Total Pages Read:  5668 (BIG drop from January)
  • Average Star Rating for January:  3.66
  • Longest Book:  The Starless Sea  (494 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  Hail to the Chief (151 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  The Secret of Chimneys (published 1925)
  • Newest Book:  Lucky Caller (published 2020)
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  3

February DNFs

Only one for February – The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons.  I think part of the problem was that I just wasn’t in the mood for this one.  It’s 560 pages long, an epic fantasy with complicated dual storylines, more footnotes than most nonfiction, multiple pages of glossary terms in the back, etc.  Sometimes I really enjoy immersing myself in a world like this, but other times I just don’t have the patience for it, and this was one of the impatience times.  It’s a shame because I own a beautiful hardcover copy of this one that I got in a random book box, but I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to it.  The dual timeline was a real turn-off, with multiple characters overlapping in both, some in first person, some in third person – it was just toooo much.

TBR Update

This I keep updated as I go, so it’s current as of today, rather than as of the end of February.  I’m sure it’s off-kilter, though, because I get most of my TBR additions from reading book reviews on all of your lovely blogs, and I haven’t read anything in weeks!!

For those of you who don’t know, I’m weirdly obsessive with organizing the TBR, and have it on a spreadsheet divided into five different tabs:

  • Standalones:  480 (down three)
  • Nonfiction:  117 (up two – it would probably help if I read nonfiction like ever)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  672 (up twelve– mostly Kindle books and old gardening books from my grandma’s house)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  242 (down one)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 114 (down one)

So overall some downward trends… although I’m sure that will change whenever I get around to reading blog posts!

Reading Challenge Updates

  • #ReadingEurope2020 – visited zero countries (total 2/46 complete – this is definitely my weakest challenge so far!)
  • #ReadtheUSA2020 – visited four states: Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, and North Carolina (total 11/50 complete)
  • #SeparatedbyaPondTour – visited the four states above, plus two English counties (Gloucestershire and Hertfordshire). (Total 20/159 complete.)
  • #LitsyAtoZ – 1 book (18/26 complete)
  • #BackwardsAtoZ – 8 books (No L – No S complete – I’m trying to do this one in order)

I’ve also been doing a bunch of book bingos, which are kind of my new favorite thing!

Current Reads

Just one – I’m reading my way through an old children’s series from the 1960’s, the Robin Kane books.  Currently I’m on book #4 out of 6 – The Candle Shop Mystery.

Up Next

Besides finishing the Robin Kane books, the next few reads will probably be –

  • White Tiger by Kylie Chan – for another Litsy challenge I’m trying to read my five oldest unread Kindle books – this one is from 2016!
  • The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg – an #LMPBC book
  • The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nora Jacobs – a random TBR book
  • Moonlight Becomes You by Mary Higgins Clark – someone gave me an entire box of mysteries, including a bunch by Clark
  • Leave It to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse – I’m still (very) slowly working my way through all of Wodehouse’s books in published order.  I’m looking forward to this reread as I always find Psmith particularly entertaining.

Well, that’s the February update – up next, minireviews from the books I read in March!  I may catch up one of these days!!

March Minireviews – Part 2

I’m back, with another lightning round of minireviews!!

Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter – 3* – read February 22

//published 2019//

Hunter can be hit or miss for me, and this one was mostly a miss.  SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THIS REVIEW.  The main thing that frustrated me about this book was that every single guy in the story was a jerk except for the main romance.  I found it ridiculous that the main character finds out that not only was her dad a serial cheater, but her grandpa was, too.  I mean, seriously?  And what exactly did that add to the story??  The reason her sisters don’t get along is because back in college they both fell in love with the same guy – guy was engaged to Sister A, but then leaves her and marries Sister B, which pretty much puts him in the jerk category, too.  Then we think that at least Sister A eventually found love – but no, her guy is a white collar thief who’s in jail now.  Sister B’s marriage is on the rocks, too, although at least he shows up at the end and they seem to be getting back together.  I’m just really over the “all guys are cheating jerks trope.”

On the other hand, the story had its moments.  I liked the grandma and her sneaky way of bringing her granddaughters together, and I did like the build of the romance between the two main characters.  However, I got frustrated by the sisters, who both needed their heads smacked together on more than one occasion.  All in all, this was a so-so read for me, that I would have enjoyed more if there had more than one nice guy in the entire story.

How to Save Your Child From Ostrich Attacks, Accidental Time Travel, and Anything Else That May Happen on an Average Tuesday by James Breakwell – 3.5* – read February 24

//published 2019//

I follow Breakwell on a few different social media platforms and really appreciate his humor.  I highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter – I think that length is the absolutely best for his humor.  How to Save Your Child is his third “parenting” guide, and probably my least favorite of the three.  While there were some entertaining moments and quotes, the overall book got a little repetitive.  Still, if you’ve enjoyed his other books, you’ll like this one, too.  Below, my three favorite quotes:

If your child falls off the bed and hits their head, you might wonder if you need to take your kid to the emergency room.  You don’t.  If it were a real emergency, you would know, because you would be on your way to the emergency room instead of wondering if you could keep your kid home to save some money.  In a real crisis, your survival genes override your cheapness genes.

When Godzilla starts a rampage, calmly move your child away from the destruction zone and head out to the countryside.  Godzilla is mainly concerned with demolishing tall buildings.  That’s why there’s no footage of him pointlessly stomping around empty farm fields.  If you already live in a rural area, congratulations:  Nothing in your life is worth destroying.  Sit back and watch as those condescending city-dwellers get their comeuppance.  Not that it will bother them.  Like crime and traffic, radioactive monsters are just a part of city life.

The world of Harry Potter is filled with dangers.  I’m talking about the version described in the books and movies, not the version J.K. Rowling retroactively changes on a daily basis to confuse and annoy the internet.  By the time my book goes to print, Dumbledore and Grindelwald could have an entire secret family together and the main character of books one through seven might be a frozen treat from Dairy Queen.  You’re a Blizzard, Harry.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – 4* – read February 25

//published 2019//

Wow, I don’t even know how to review this book.  Overall, I liked it, although I sometimes felt like it was trying a little too hard to be clever, with all the layers upon layers and stories within stories.  I also don’t feel like I should have to read a 500-page book twice to “get” it, but because of the way that all the stories are interconnected and the way time flips around, I was definitely left feeling like I would have to read it a second time to really grasp what was going on.  While much of the world-building and description was fantastic, I weirdly never felt particularly connected to any of the characters, and really didn’t buy the romance between the two main characters, which was definitely quite insta-love-y.  There also was basically not an actual plot, which added the dream-like feel of the whole thing.  Overall, there were a lot of things about this book that I really loved, but it still felt a little flat.  Worth reading, and I’ll probably even read it again sometime, but definitely not the instant winner that The Night Circus was.

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie – 4.5* – read February 27

//published 1925//

Christie rarely lets me down, especially in her pre-1930’s books.  A group on Litsy is reading and discussing one Christie book per month, and this was February’s book.  I’ve read all of them before, so this was obviously a reread, but it had been quite a while and I couldn’t remember all the details of what was going to happen.  This is one of her spy thriller-ish books, so strong on humor with a dash of campiness, but still a fun romp.

For a more detailed review on this one, check out my review from when I read it back in 2016.

Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck – 3* – read February 29

//published 2011//

I read this series several years ago and remember finding them entertaining if a bit too YA (even though the main character is 18).  Since then, Houck has published another book in the series, so I thought I would give it another go.  However, I found this really difficult to get through this time.  Kelsey, who narrates the books, is just too annoying for words, and I had also forgotten how the love triangle really plays a very prominent part in the plot.  So even though I really do want to read a story with handsome princes who are cursed to be tigers, I just couldn’t handle wading through 2000 pages of Kelsey dithering about which perfect brother she loves the most.

*****

Okay!!  That brings us to the end of February’s reviews!  I think I’m going to write a February Rearview post – despite the fact that it’s basically April – and then start minireviewing March’s books in a continued effort to catch up!

March Minireviews – Part 1

Wow, friends, it has been over a month since I posted here!  I would love to be able to give you some dramatic reason why, but the truth of the matter is that my brother introduced me to the joys of playing Stardew Valley and I have become a total addict.  So most of my extra computer time is spent doing chores on my computer farm that I also do in real life.  I may need help! :D

Anyway, I have been reading, even if I haven’t been reviewing.  I’m going to see if I can get a few batches of minireviews out the door and get somewhat caught up.  I never even got around to doing a February Rearview, and now it’s time for March’s!  I haven’t READ a single blog post in weeks!  I really miss all of you and am sad that I have no idea what is going on in your lives!

Since I last posted, all the corona craziness began.  At this point, I’m still considered an “essential” worker (agriculture) so I have been super busy at work.  We aren’t exactly sure what is going to happen with all the plants we are transplanting (most of our business is wholesale and thus dependent on what our customers decide/are required to do) but we are still transplanting them like crazy!!  Despite the stress of everyday life right now, and even though working in a greenhouse can sometimes be stupidly hot and frustrating, I still really like it there and love coming home smelling like basil and lavender, since the majority of the plants we raise are herbs.

Anyway, that’s the skinny.  Here are some book reviews, and maybe I’ll post some more soon…

Well Met by Jen DeLuca – 4* – read February 8

//published 2019//

This is a happy little piece of chick lit, although it’s a bit obvious that it’s a debut as well, as there were places where the story dragged a bit.  The setting – a Renaissance fair – was fun, unique, and done well.  Anyone who has ever worked behind the scenes for an event even somewhat similar to this will find plenty to relate to.  Emily was a likable character, although a bit slow on the uptake at times.  However, I had mixed feelings about Simon.  The idea is that he’s a bit strict and cranky in real life, but when he is playing his character he becomes more more relaxed and dashing… okay, except that still leaves him being a bit of a jerk the rest of the time, and I wasn’t ever quite convinced that the relaxed and dashing version was the “real” Simon, if that makes sense.  I also get annoyed when a female character complains about men “ogling” women, but then proceeds to go on and on and ON about how attractive a man is.

Still, this was overall a great deal of fun, and I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel.

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead – 2.5* – read February 11

//published 1999//

This is a book I picked up for Litsy’s #AuthoraMonth challenge – each month all the participants try to read at least one book by that month’s author.  I hadn’t read anything by Colson before, but was rather attracted to the premise of an elevator inspector, simply because of the complete randomness of it.  However, I just never really got into this story.  Long stretches of it were incredibly boring and wordy.  The whole things feels like an overwrought allegory, with Whitehead trying to make some kind of point about racism but never actually getting there.  Also, I’m not sure if it’s just because of my ignorance about elevators, but it was really hard to tell where reality stopped and Whitehead’s made-up world began, which added to the confusion of the story (for me, anyway).  I also always get aggravated when people mix up racism and classism – was the character really being ignored because she was black, or was she being ignored because she was a waitress?  Because whenever she was dressed in her professional suit/office attire, everyone paid attention to her as much as anyone else, so it seems like the difference was the societal position, not the color of her skin.

At any rate, this was an alright read, but not one that remotely encouraged me to pick up another of Whitehead’s books, despite glowing reviews for several others that I saw on Litsy, especially for his most recent release, The Underground Railroad.  I’m really just not a fan of serious novels that work too hard to make a point, and this definitely fell into that category.

Particular Intentions by L.L. Diamond – 4* – read February 12

//published 2016//

We all know that I love P&P variations.  In this one, Elizabeth overhears Darcy and Bingley discussing the Bennett family, and Darcy actually defends them, rather than insults them, meaning that Elizabeth becomes much more open to Darcy as a person.  This was a fun little romp of a variation.  However, there was a lot of missed potential with the Wickham angle – instead, Diamond decides to create all her drama with some random chick who is desperate to marry Darcy, and that all felt unrealistic and melodramatic.  Overall, though, the characters were likable and the story not too terrible.

Particular Attachments by L.L. Diamond – 3.5* – read February 13

This is the sequel to Particular Intentions, set after Darcy and Elizabeth are married, and focusing more on Georgianna.  This one was a lot slower than the other.  Basically, this fellow shows up whose family has known the Darcys for a long time and he has always secretly been in love with Georgianna.  However, his life-long devotion seemed a little unbelievable since he hasn’t really seen her much since she was basically a little girl.  I could have understood him wanting to get to know her better, but to immediately jump to “We were meant for each other and I’ve never loved another!” just made me roll my eyes.  A lot.  The middle of the book dragged, with Georgianna dithering about telling Nathaniel about Wickham – because obviously Nathaniel isn’t going to actually reject her no matter what she says, so that all felt a tad overwrought.  Still, a perfectly pleasant sequel, even if it wasn’t anything groundbreaking.

Falling for Mr. Darcy by Karalynne MacRory – 3.5* – read February 17

I tend to read multiple P&P variations in a row, and this one was on Kindle Unlimited so I picked it up, since I had read another MacRory variation before and enjoyed it.  This one was fine, but not particularly memorable.  Elizabeth hurts her ankle while on a walk, and Darcy is the one who finds and rescues her, which means they actually have a conversation like adults.  It also means that Elizabeth doesn’t walk into town and meet Wickham.  This was fine for a KU read, but one I was glad I hadn’t spent any money to read.

The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy – 4* – read February 20

//published 2012//

I don’t exactly remember where I heard about this book, but I ended up being quite surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  Part of my enjoyment was because I really enjoy animal stories (think Black Beauty, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, etc.).  Set in India, this story is about a clan of stray cats who live there.  Cats can communicate with one another even over a reasonable distance via the “whisker network” but every once in a while a cat is born who is called a Sender, who can communicate not just with other cats, but with all other animals, over far great distances.  At the beginning of the story, a Sender appears in the clan’s territory, causing much consternation, especially since the legend is that Senders are only born during times of great needs – and the clan is actually experiencing a time of great prosperity.  Meanwhile, there is a creepy house in the middle of the territory where an old man lives with his band of house cats, who are all terrifyingly evil.  Roy does an amazing job pacing this story, and while her cats may talk with one another, they never behave in any way other than how cats would behave, which makes the story believable at some level.  I was completely caught up in this adventure, and actually have the sequel on my shelf to read very soon.

Lucky Caller by Emma Mills – 3.5* – read February 21

//published 2020//

While I have enjoyed a lot of Mills’s other books, this one didn’t really spark anything for me.  It almost felt like Mills had an idea for a story, but then rushed to finish it and left some stuff just dangling.  A lot of the concepts were really disjointed, and the whole point of the story – the radio program – was really underdeveloped.  Even the tie-in to the title was a little weak, and there was a whole side story with Nina’s sister that just kind of … was there.  This is probably my least favorite of her books so far.  It wasn’t bad, it was just pretty meh, and even the moments of friendly banter – the reason I always come back to Mills’s books – wasn’t quite enough to bring this up any further in my ratings.

Also, as a side note, I was also sad to see a departure of the cover style of all of Mills’s other books.

Free to Fall // by Lauren Miller

//published 2014//

Several years ago, I read Parallel by Lauren Miller.  While I overall didn’t love it because of some logic-lacking scenarios, I still really enjoyed the concept, the characters, and even some of the philosophizing – basically everything except for the fact that some of her plot lines just didn’t make sense.  Still, I thought I’d see if she had written anything else, and all the way back in 2016 when I read Parallel, I added Free to Fall to my TBR.  And, four years later, I actually read it!

Set in the not-so-distant future, Rory’s world doesn’t look super different from ours.  It’s no big surprise to learn that people have become even more addicted to their cell phones than ever (now mostly called “handhelds”).  In particular, over the last several years a specific app has grown in popularity – Lux analyzes everything to give the optimal results to every decision.  Instead of wondering what to wear, just ask Lux.  No more agonizing over what to have for lunch, what time to leave for your dentist appointment, or trying to decide which classes you should take next semester – Lux’s algorithm means it’s conclusion is never wrong.  While not every depends on Lux (Rory’s best friend routinely does the opposite of whatever Lux suggests, just for kicks), it’s a big part of everyday lives.

The story begins when Rory is accepted to a prestigious high school.  A boarding school for juniors and seniors in high school, it has a reputation for sending its students on to colleges and careers that most people only dream of having.  Getting into the school means that Rory has to move from her home in the Pacific Northwest to the campus in western Massachusetts.  Just before she leaves, her dad takes her out for a farewell supper – and tells her that Rory’s mother, who died when Rory was born, also attended Theden.  He gives Rory a mysterious letter, leaving Rory with more questions than answers.

When she arrives on campus, Rory does her best to settle in, but in between meeting up with a townie boy and being initiated into a secret society, things are a lot busier than she anticipated – especially when things begin to take a more sinister turn.

There were a lot of things that I enjoyed about this book.  At 469 pages it did have its slow spots, but overall the pacing was good.  Rory herself was a likable protagonist, although a bit slow on the uptake from time to time.  I enjoyed the concept of stopping the dystopian society before it began.

Negatives – a weirdly high body count, some logical flaws, and one of those Snape-scenarios where the adult who has been hating on you actually turns out to be your behind-the-scenes ally!  Um.  No thank you.

However, once again I appreciated Miller’s philosophy.  This book felt weirdly religious, but not preachy, if that makes sense.  Part of the introduction of Lux to society at large is tied in with discouraging people from listening to that small voice inside – now called the Doubt, people who hear/listen to that voice are considered mentally ill.  After all, who would listen to a voice that tells you to do crazy, selfless things?  But listening to that voice is a huge part of what makes us human.  And, as one of the characters points out – “Selfless people are impossible to control.”  When people start doing illogical things that benefit others instead of themselves, the entire algorithm for controlling that population begins to fall apart.

Not a perfect book, but one I felt was well worth reading.  It got a little ridiculous and rushed at the end, but overall an enjoyable 4* read.

Take a Chance On Me // by Jill Mansell

//published 2010//

This was another #LMPBC book (thankfully much better than Not the Girl You Marry!)and yet another book that I’m not completely sure I would have picked up on my own.  I tried a Mansell book once and didn’t really warm to it, and while I haven’t been actively avoiding her since then, I haven’t been especially keen to pick up another of her titles.  All in all, while Take a Chance On Me had it’s slower moments, it still ended up being an enjoyable read, mainly because I found the main character to be likable – something that, for some reason, many authors don’t seem to think is an important characteristic for their leads!

Cleo is one of those people who hasn’t quite done much with her life.  It isn’t bad, but she still lives in her hometown, she doesn’t have a college degree, and she’s single.  These aren’t necessarily negatives, and I liked the fact that Mansell didn’t paint Cleo as a loser.  Instead, she’s a hard worker (with a completely random job – she’s a driver for a company that picks up and drops off people, so she gets to drive limos and other fun, fancy cars) and lives an overall contented life in her small town, next door to her best friend who is a guy but who (surprisingly, honestly) isn’t gay.  Still, like most people, Cleo yearns for that special relationship, and is wondering if she may have found it with Will, a dashing, handsome fellow she’s been dating for a few months.

Of course, romance novels being what they are, things go sideways pretty quickly.  Turns out that Will is a bit of a stinker, but because the rest of the men in this book are actually decent and likable human beings, I didn’t mind the fact that Will was a jerk.  I was also concerned because from the synopsis it sort of sounds like Cleo is mentally-cheating on Will when her old childhood nemesis, Johnny, moves back into town, but Will is actually out of the romance picture pretty early in the story, which made the slow burn between Cleo and Johnny much more enjoyable for me.

This is a chunkier book than a lot of romances I’ve read, mainly because there are multiple stories going on.  While Cleo is the main character, a large part of the book is devoted to her sister, Abby, who is about ten years older than Cleo and has been married for a long time to Tom.  This was another storyline that I was leery of because, as my readers may have picked up, I really don’t like reading about cheating, but Mansell handled this entire situation deftly, creating the necessary drama without actually making anyone a bad person somehow.  Abby frustrated me a LOT more than Cleo – it really felt like, after all these years of marriage, she should have been more trusting of/had better communication with her husband – it was still an interesting part of the book.

The third love story is about Cloe’s neighbor/best friend, Ash, who is kind of a nerd.  He isn’t particularly good looking, but he jokes that that doesn’t matter since his job is working as a radio host.  While he is witty and entertaining on the radio and with people he knows well, he’s extremely shy when it comes to girls, so much of his love story is a series of miscommunications between him and his crush.  Mansell manages to not make it horrifically embarrassing, though, so I could roll with it for the most part.

Like I said, Cleo’s story is the main thrust, and I really loved watching not just love, but friendship grow between her and Johnny.  They have some history to overcome and discuss, but for the most part it felt natural.

There were a few times where the drama just got to be a bit much, a few times where I was incredibly frustrated with the lack of communication between various characters, and spots where the pacing seemed to drag, which means this read hovered between 3.5* and 4*.  But I rounded up to 4* because I think I will give Mansell another go, especially since this book stayed out of the bedroom (yay), which is getting harder to find these days.

While Take a Chance On Me didn’t blow me away, it was still a perfectly enjoyable and pleasant read, and I’ll keep an eye out for more Mansell titles in the future.