I just realized that in my September Rearview post I forgot to actually post the picture of the Zeppelin. And that’s a shame, because it’s actually quite awesome. So here are so pics for you to make up for it; it’s a 1981 Chevy motorhome and is actually in very good shape for its age –
September has been a really busy month. I work at an orchard, so we are in top gear there, plus the husband had a week off for vacation (which I took off, too) – we mostly spent it working around the house, although we did get a chance to camp for a couple of nights in the newest addition to the McCafferty clan – the Zeppelin:
Through it all, I have been doing some reading, but mostly short, snappy reads that don’t require a great deal of concentration. I’ve finished the month strong with Maria V. Snyder’s books set in Ixia/Sitia – only three books left before I finish those. It’s been good to dig into a solid fantasy series.
Favorite September Read:
Despite finding the Study series to be really good, I think I’m going with Vertigo for this slot. It was a classic that I knew very little about, so I was completely sucked into the story with no idea where it was going. At first I thought it was a little slow, but by about 2/3 through, I realized that I wasn’t actually getting anything done besides reading this book – and the ending was perfect.
Most Disappointing September Read:
I had a lot of pretty meh reads in September, but none of them were particularly disappointing as I didn’t have particularly high expectations to start! But I guess I would go with A Season to Wed. I really enjoyed the first Year of Wedding novellas series, but the second year, which starts with Season, was really quite terrible overall, with low-quality writing, obnoxious main characters, and disjointed storytelling.
Other September Reads:
- Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder – 4/5 – very enjoyable third book that had me scrambling to get to the end.
- Fireman Dad by Betsy St. Amant – 2.5/5 – a story that could have been a lot better if the main character had just been a little more chill. Way too much drama.
- Homecoming Hero by Renee Ryan – 3/5 – a decent story that handled a few sensitive topics well, but that was just not terribly engaging.
- Kiss the Bride by Melissa McClone, Robin Lee Hatcher, and Kathryn Springer – 3/5 – a decent trio of novellas that were ultimately forgettable.
- The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – 3.5/5 – beautifully told with an amazing setting, but just a little too sad for my personal taste.
- The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler – 3.5/5 – Snarky and engaging.
- Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder – 3.5/5 – a good second book, although it definitely felt like the ‘growing pains’ installment where I spent a lot of the story wanting to give the heroine a good shake.
- Oklahoma Reunion by Tina Radcliffe – 2.5/5 – a really bland but ultimately inoffensive romance featuring one of my least-favorite tropes.
- The Perfect Gift by Lenora Worth – 3/5 – a fine little fluff piece, even if it was lacking in basic logic at times.
- Playback by Raymond Chandler – 3/5 – an entertaining mystery that lost at least half a star because of all the random sex.
- Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder – 4/5 – really great start to a series that has solid world-building and an engaging protagonist.
- Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker – 3/5 – a good conclusion to the Phillip Marlowe stories, but Parker tended to make Marlowe a bit too bumbling for my taste.
- Toss the Bouquet by Ruth Logan Herne, Amy Matayo, and Janice Thompson – 2.5/5 – a trio of novellas that were alright but honestly were so lacking in logic that it made them rather unenjoyable.
- An Unlikely Duet by Lelia M. Silver – DNF – super boring P&P sequel. Like so boring.
In Septembers Past…
Now that I’ve been doing my Rearview Mirrors for two years, I thought it would be fun to see what my favorite and least-favorite reads were from those years.
In 2015, my favorite read was a haunting fantasy by Patricia McKillup – Solstice Wood. My most disappointing read was Donna Leon’s Quietly in Their Sleep. It was especially disappointing because I really wanted to like this mystery series, and actually did really like the main character and the setting a great deal. But Quietly, and the book just prior to it (Acqua Alta) both just had really, really weak mysteries, which meant I basically just had to sit through a couple hundred pages of Leon ranting about the hypocrisy and stupidity of Christians without a whole lot of story to make up for it.
Last year, I was gearing myself up for the emotional devastation of reading the final Codex Alera book. In the meantime, my favorite book of the month was Stormy, Misty’s Foal by Marguerite Henry – a surprisingly deep read for a children’s book, one that actually did bring tears to my eyes. My most disappointing reading was definitely Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott. I really wanted to love this book, a retelling of Cinderella set in an AU ancient Japan, but it was just too, too terrible – the story made no sense, the main character was dreadful, and Marriott definitely gave a thumbs up to casual extra-marital sex and also self-harming as an A-OK way to deal with problems: I just couldn’t get past those genuinely awful messages in a YA (or any other) book. (Although I have to say that the cover is gorgeous!)
I haven’t compared my TBR numbers lately, but I’m willing to bet that they aren’t good….
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: 813 (up eleven!)
- Nonfiction: 82 (up three)
- Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…): 613 (up fifteen… curse you, irresistible free Kindle books!)
- Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 227 (up one)
- Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 105 (up two)
- The Glass Trilogy by Maria V. Snyder – Storm Glass, Sea Glass, and Spy Glass. Solid reads, but I didn’t like Opal as well as Yelena, so I didn’t enjoy them as much as the Study books.
- A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup – I really enjoyed this nonfiction read, even if it made my husband nervous.
- Thirty Days to Thirty by Courtney Psak – I started this yesterday when I was stranded at the doctor’s office; it’s been a free Kindle book that’s languished for a while. So far, nothing noteworthy – just eye-rolling fluff.
- Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse by James Breakwell – I follow this guy on Twitter and Instagram, and figured that since he makes me laugh almost every day, I should buy his book. Luckily for me, it’s actually quite entertaining.
- The Turtles of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye – a Bethany Beach Box book that’s pretty boring.
- Lodestar Anthology #8 – New Zealand – not a book at all, but a sort of travel journal/magazine that I first heard about through my subscription to Slightly Foxed. LA comes out three times a year, and each issue focuses on a single country. I was very pleased when I received my issue because it is gorgeous! However, you will have to wait until I finish and review it for more details… mustn’t get too carried away here!
Approaching the Top of the Pile:
The probable next five reads…
- The Soulfinders Trilogy by Maria V. Snyder – Shadow Study, Night Study, and Dawn Study – super excited to read this, and super sad to realize that’s all I have left!
- Lion of Liberty by Harlow Giles Unger – a biography of Patrick Henry that I found secondhand.
- Miss Billy by Eleanor H. Porter – an old book that I’ve had on my shelf for quite some time, written by the author of Pollyanna.
- Indian Paint by Glenn Balch – still haven’t read this Famous Horse Story yet.
- The Jackaby Series – Jackaby, Beastly Bones, Ghostly Echoes, and The Dire King by William Ritter – rereads for the first three books so that I can thoroughly enjoy the concluding book that just came out at the end of August.
I’m not really sure where I first heard about the Study series, but Poison Study came across my radar at some point and has been languishing on the the TBR for eons. I finally got around to requesting it from the library. I like to get the first book from a series, and if I like it, then I request the rest. I reserved the rest of the series about three chapters into Poison Study.
According to Goodreads, this is a series of six books, followed by the Glass series, and there are several short stories interspersed throughout. Since I decided to read the shorts, I happened to actually be on Snyder’s website, where I found out that Goodreads really has the order wrong: Snyder wrote the first three Study books, then the three Glass books, and finally the three Soulfinder books, which, because they have the same main character as the Study series, have now been lumped in with those first three books, despite the fact that the Glass books fall in between, both in publishing order and chronologically within the series.
Since one of my few obsessions in life is reading all the books in a series in the order they were meant to be read, I was pretty tickled that I discovered this after finishing the third of the Study books, allowing me to jump right into the Glass trilogy on schedule, even though it did mean that I had to check them out as Kindle books instead of getting the hard copies like I prefer.
This is a lot of digression. The point is – I am really enjoying these books. And what this post is SUPPOSED to be about is the first three Study books: Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study.
The trilogy focuses on Yelena, a young woman who, at the beginning of the tale, is in prison awaiting execution. But she is presented with a choice: die as scheduled, or die… later. In the meantime, if she chooses, she can become the Commander’s new food taster. Yelena accepts the position, and soon is in training by the Commander’s second-in-command, Valek.
Snyder paces this book quite well, and does an excellent job with world-building. I was completely drawn into the story, mostly because I actually really liked Yelena. So often in YA, female protagonists (who are all the rage) are quite obnoxious. I found Yelena to be refreshing. She was intelligent and athletic, but not at the expense of being a girl. Throughout Snyder’s world, women are in positions of power, and there is no real fuss made over it, which I really liked! I’m quite tired of heavy-handed attempts to ‘rebel against the patriarchy’ within YA (especially fantasy), wherein authors create worlds in which women have no rights, and then spend the entire time complaining about. I much, MUCH prefer this method, where a world has been created where women and men work equally, side by side, and individuals are chosen by whether they are best for the position, not whether they are male or female. In the next two books, which take place mostly in the neighboring country where there is magic, there are multiple clans of people – but again, instead of creating a world with different races and lots of racism and then griping about it, Snyder has created a world with several clans of people (with different physical aspects, cultures, and skills) – who actually all work together and treat one another as equals. Delightful!
I also loved the complete absence of a love triangle! Yelena falls in love in the first book, but is separated from her heart-mate (such a lovely term) in the second book. Towards the beginning, she runs into this other guy, and I was super scared that he was going to become this other love interest, but in a refreshing twist, Yelena stays true to her original love and completely sees through the second guy’s act. Fabulous.
These books aren’t perfect. At times they felt rushed and a bit chaotic, but overall I found the pacing to be good and the characters felt real and reasonable. I’m kind of in love with Valek, and I’m sooo excited that Yelena and her brother start working together, because sibling teams are one of my favorite things. I really liked watching Yelena grow, especially as she learns about her magical powers and how to wield them. She was a bit obnoxiously independent at times, which got a little old, but on the other hand, I felt like it fit with her background.
I think these are probably considered YA, but Yelena is a bit older than the traditional YA protagonist, being around 19-22 throughout the course of the books. I much preferred this and found everything far more believable at this age. It also meant that even though there is some sex in these books (100% off-screen, hurrah!), while I wasn’t exactly okay with it, I was way more okay with it than I am when it’s a couple of 16-year-olds pledging their undying love.
However, I will say that I feel like Snyder really uses the whole kidnapping/rape scenario a bit too freely. I kept remembering that viral video from a while back – ‘Hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife, cuz they rapin’ ever’body up in here!’ Legit, like how many people can get kidnapped and raped in a three-book period of time…???
My other big beef with these books is none of the covers are very good. There’s so much potential for some really fabulous cover art with these, and they are all super bleh.
Overall, 4/5 for the trilogy. I’m almost done with the third Glass book – I haven’t liked that trilogy quite as well, but it’s been alright. I’m looking forward to rejoining Yelena, though!
Also, I’m having a bit of a personal dilemma. A couple of weeks ago, puppy Paisley rooted through my library book basket while I was gone and completely destroyed a paperback, so I had to pay for it and it was all quite embarrassing. Now, would you believe that she swiped Poison Study OFF THE COUNTER while I was at work the other day, and destroyed that one, too!? It is at least still readable (which was a good thing, because I wasn’t actually done reading it at the time), but I’m quite embarrassed to take it in and confess to yet ANOTHER dog fiasco! I’m thinking about just continuing to renew it forever….
A while back my great-aunt passed away, and somehow my grandpa ended up with two boxes full of books. Almost all of them are ‘inspirational’ romances published by Harlequin as ‘Love Inspired’. At one point (not sure if you still can) you could subscribe and have a new book mailed to you every month. Aunt Darby did just that, and now I’m in possession of somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 or so of these ‘Love Inspired’ titles. Most of them are pretty cheesy but alright for a one-time fluff read. I’m sure that I’ll binge through some of them periodically. They’re perfect to grab out of the crate when I’m just looking for a quick, no-brainer book. However, most of them will probably end up exiting this house after that one-time read, because they just aren’t worth the shelf space to me. So if there’s one that sounds especially appealing to you… let me know, and I’ll be quite happy to mail you a gift! ;-)
Oklahoma Reunion by Tina Radcliffe
This book has what is basically my least-favorite trope of all time – the one where a woman shows up and tells a fellow, ‘oh, by the way, I had your baby years ago and never got around to telling you about it.’ It always fills me with rage when women act like it’s perfectly okay to make these sorts of decisions, especially when the baby was created when the people were in a loving relationship. How is it ever okay to not tell a man that he’s a father?!?!!?
Still, Radcliffe manages to work around this problem in a way that seems plausible if still aggravating. Unfortunately, this book was bland as plain potatoes – zero surprises, zero twists, zero anything remotely interesting. Everyone just got back together and had a few adult conversations and then got along just fine. Very mature and admirable, but not particularly exciting…
Homecoming Hero by Renee Ryan
Dude has just returned from an overseas tour in the Middle East. While he was there, a truck he was in got blown up and he is the only one who survived. One of his best friends died in the incident, and the dude promised his friend that he would look up the friend’s sister and pass on a message. Sister is determined to be a missionary in the Middle East, inspired by the life of her brother. Unfortunately, the final message from her brother, as delivered by the dude, is that the brother didn’t want her to ever come the Middle East, as things are a bit uncomfortable there.
Overall, this was actually a pretty decent story. Ryan handled a lot of different issues really well. I wasn’t sure where she was going with the tension over whether or not the sister should become a missionary, but she did a good job of balancing different perspectives on the issues. Dude is also (understandably) suffering from PTSD, which I felt was handled sensitively.
But while the issues were done well, the story itself was a little weak, and I just didn’t ship Dude and Sister as much as I wanted to. Plus, I felt a little let down that the puppy on the cover doesn’t show up until the VERY end of the book. I mean seriously. A decent 3/5 read, but not a favorite.
Fireman Dad by Betsy St. Amant
Marissa is a widow raising her young son on her own. Her husband was a firefighter and died in a fire; Marissa also grew up with her dad as the town’s fire chief and felt like he was never there for her as he always prioritized work. When Marissa meets Jacob, she is immediately attracted to him and begins to wonder if maybe there could be romance in her future. But when she finds out that he’s a firefighter, she’s determined to not get at involved with him, as she’s sworn off of firefighters forever.
Honestly, this book aggravated me quite a bit as Marissa was just a tad too ridiculous. She was so bitter and obnoxious about her dad, and I kept wondering that if the whole ‘firefighters work too much’ thing bothered her so much, why did she marry one the first time around? She’s completely unreasonable on the subject, and when her son, who is in kindergarten or first grade, I can’t remember, talks about wanting to be a firefighter, she basically flips out. Hello? He’s six? How many of us have followed our six-year-old dreams – or even remember them?? I skimmed through large portions of this story hoping that Marissa would become less aggravating, but she really didn’t. A 2.5/5, and another book off my shelves and off to someone else’s!
The Perfect Gift by Lenora Worth
Goldie is in a car wreck and, dazed and disoriented, stumbles to – and into the nearest house, where she collapses on the couch. Luckily, the couch doesn’t belong to a serial killer, but a super nice guy, widower Rory who is the father to two sons. Turns out that Rory knows Goldie’s grandma, and after Goldie recovers from her head-whacking, everyone is on their way to being friends – or maybe more.
I really liked Rory and Goldie’s grandma, and I even liked Goldie – except when she did things that made no sense, like deciding that even though Rory is A+ Awesome, she can’t even go on a single date with him because she is planning to go back to her home in Baton Rouge (she is staying with her grandma during this story) – which is only like an hour away, so it really didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Goldie’s motivations never felt natural, so it made the whole story feel a little wonky.
There were also random errors in logic. At one point, Goldie is helping babysit Rory’s sons and nieces, because he has had a family emergency. However, she can’t find the one son and starts to look around:
I can’t call Rory, she thought. She’s just look around the house and yard. Maybe Sam had gone outside. But she would have seen him coming through the house since both the front and back doors were in plain sight of the open den and kitchen.
So, having determined that Sam couldn’t have gone outside without her noticing him, obviously Goldie starts by looking through the house, right? No, of course not – she goes right outside and wanders around in the yard, the driveway, the storage shed, the bayou – for a couple of hours?! Which would have been fine if she hadn’t JUST TOLD ME that there was no way that Sam could have gone outside to begin with!
Anyway, this was a nice little 3/5 read that was overall pretty relaxing and perfectly fine, but there were little glitches like that that just disproportionately aggravated me.
So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about. However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something. So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.
Recently, life has felt crazy, so I’m attempting to catch up on some reviews…!!!
The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
This book definitely felt like Chandler had his footing back. While it wasn’t quite as hilarious as the first couple of books, it was way better than The Little Sister, which was downright depressing. In this book, a lot of Marlowe’s snarky narration is back, and there was a nice trick to the mystery. It did at times feel like everyone was a bit too casual with the body count, but you’ll have that.
Kiss the Bride by Melissa McClone, Robin Lee Hatcher, and Kathryn Springer
These three novellas were basically all very average. Each one had some niggling thing that really aggravated me, but overall worked alright. On the whole they were just pretty forgettable.
Playback by Raymond Chandler
This is the final Phillip Marlowe book that Chandler wrote (although he left another incomplete at the time of his death – more on that to come), and fell more along the lines of the earlier couple of books, with a lot of snark and dry humor. The mystery had a good tempo to start and I was completely engaged as Marlowe is hired to follow a mysterious woman. However, this story had 100% more sex than the other books – in other books it’s either been bypassed (woman always seem to want Marlowe more than he wants them) or glossed over, but in this one it felt like Marlowe was having sex every couple of chapters, and it happened with at least three different women. So that felt really weird, and through it all he keeps quietly pining for this woman he met in The Long Goodbye. In the end, the mystery sort of fizzled out, and Marlowe suddenly gets back together with The Long Goodbye woman. All in all, another 3/5 for an interesting read, but not one I’d visit again.
An Unlikely Duet by Lelia M. Silver
This one is a DNF at around halfway, just because it’s become so boring. I really liked the idea of just a straightforward sequel to Pride & Prejudice that focuses on Georgiana. The story starts well, with her meeting a charming young man while visiting Charles and Jane Bingley. However, despite the fact that they talk all the time, the two never really seem to talk. At one point, it seemed to me that he had stated his intentions to court Georgiana pretty clearly to her brother, but then there are misunderstandings and everyone is spirited away and they never get to talk……. the book just never really engaged me and since I haven’t picked it up in a least three weeks, I don’t think it is ever going to.
Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker
When Chandler died, he left four chapters written of his next Marlowe book. In 1989, thirty years after Chandler’s death, Poodle Springs was finished by Robert Parker. Overall, I thought that Parker did a decent job with this book, capturing the essence of Marlowe’s narrative voice and keeping the mystery nice and twisty. The biggest difference to me was that in Chandler’s books, Marlowe is always one step ahead. He may get caught and beaten up, but he still knows what’s what – he may appear to be wandering aimlessly, but in the end we find out exactly what he was up to. But in Poodle Springs, it kind of felt Marlowe really was wandering aimlessly, always a few steps behind what’s going on. In multiple places he says things like, ‘I wish I knew what was going on; none of this makes any sense.’ So Marlowe felt a lot more like a stooge than an intelligent investigator.
I enjoyed the book, even if I felt like the conclusion to Marlowe’s romance was quite weird and, frankly, illogical (‘We love each other too much to get married’???), and it ranked a solid 3/5 for me.
All in all, I’ve enjoyed my foray into the gritty detective world, but if I ever come back to these books, it will only be to the first four. They were funnier and more engaging than the second half of the series.
Despite the fact that I do love a good Hitchcock film, I’ve somehow never actually watched Vertigo – I think possibly because I don’t really care for heights myself, and my least favorite part of any movie is the bit where someone is up high and on the verge of falling. Going into this book I knew genuinely nothing about the plot – and it turns out that it isn’t really all that much about falling off of something tall (although it does play a part)!
The writing in this story was excellent, and the pacing virtually perfect. I found myself gradually sucked into the story, and the setting – France at the beginning of WWII – added a perfect level of tension in the background that really gave the story depth. It wasn’t a story that was incredibly exciting, but I found myself compelled to keep reading nonetheless. And when the ending was revealed, my mind was genuinely blown. It was a conclusion that made completely and total sense – but that I would never have guessed.
It was interesting to read a book that was centered on a character who wasn’t really at all likable. Flavieres is weak and rather sly, and the kind of person who always believes his troubles are because of circumstances beyond his control. His growing obsession with Madeline was super creepy; I loved it.
Madeline’s story, the possibility that she is her ancestress come back to life, is done so well. As the reader, you know this cannot be true. Flavieres knows it cannot be true. And yet – what other explanation can there be for the things happening to Madeline? Brilliant.
The ending was completely satisfactory, although I felt like it was a bit rushed. So much information all at once – and then it was over. I found myself almost startled that I had reached the ending already.
One annoyance was that, despite the fact that this book was translated from its original French, for some reason the translators didn’t bother translating everything…??? So I would get something like this –
He had only to think of her to lose his sense of proportion. La femme a la tulipe!
And while I’m pretty sure that that means ‘the woman with the tulip,’ I’ve never actually studied French, and many of the other phrases/words weren’t so obvious. It was rather aggravating to have to stop and try to find a quick translation from time to time. Like I got that a lot of those instances were when Flavieres was going off on a flowery ramble and was ‘titling’ a moment of Madeline’s life as though she was portrait, but it seemed like that could have been accomplished in English by using capital letters or italics or both – Woman With a Tulip! Although maybe it’s because leaving it in French makes it sound much more poetic than our poor prosaic English…
Anyway, Vertigo was well worth the read, and it’s one that I may read again sometime now that I know the trick, to see if I can find the clues that I missed the first time around.
Special thanks to FictionFan, whose review of this classic inspired me to add it to the list!
The spring installment of the second Year of Weddings was marginally better than the first (A Season to Wed), but only marginally, as I didn’t even finish the second story in this collection. Overall, sometimes it feels like the authors are just trying to hard.
All Dressed Up in Love by Ruth Logan Herne – 3/5 – While this wasn’t a bad little story, legit the ENTIRE time Tara keeps going on and on and ON in her head about all the reasons why Greg isn’t a good match for her – and a lot of her thoughts are really reasonable! Then she finds out ONE small good thing that Greg has been doing – and decides that all of her other thinking was ridiculous – and then all of a sudden, in front of a whole bunch of people, Greg proposes?!?! They’ve barely even talked during the entire story! Like, if he had come back from his trip and been like, “Hey, we should definitely be a serious couple,” then I could have gotten behind the whole thing, but there was no way that I could believe that they were going to go off and have a great marriage – the epilogue made me roll my eyes so hard they almost fell out of my head.
In Tune With Love by Amy Matayo – DNF – I flat out hated April, who was obnoxious and annoying. It also unreasonably aggravated me that she was always writing song lyrics down on all sorts of things, like okay I can understand a napkin in a pinch, but using ALL the toilet paper???? Buy a freaking notebook for pity’s sake! Overall, she was just so unforgiving and ridiculous. Her sister was supposed to be this horrible selfish person, but she was the only person giving April any kind of reasonable advice. None of the characters’ actions matched who they supposedly were as people, so the whole story felt dumb and disjointed and I gave up about halfway through.
Never a Bridesmaid by Janice Thompson – 3/5 – This was actually a really fun little story, but the entire premise is built around the fact that Mari sister doesn’t choose Mari as her maid of honor – and it made NO sense. Mari and Crystal are super close and really genuinely good friends as well as sisters, so while I can accept that MAYBE Crystal let her future mother-in-law pressure her into choosing someone else as her maid of honor, I couldn’t believe that she put six other friends ahead of Mari in the line. So while I wanted to like this story better, there was this huge illogical jump from the get-go that really annoyed me.