Rearview Mirror // December 2020

Well, I am at least getting to this before the end of January – and maybe I’ll actually get 2020’s wrap-up done before we finish the first month of 2021?? We shall see…

I’m very sad because it’s been so long since I’ve read anyone else’s blog. I subscribe to everyone’s blogs via email and when new posts arrive, I chuck them into a folder to be read later… except now I’m months (and almost 2000) emails behind. The truth is, I probably won’t actually get to read them all, which means I’ve missed out on some fabulous posts. But I really want to get back into the groove of this community, so we’ll see what happens next. I appreciate you all sticking with me even when I haven’t been good at reciprocating interactions!!

Favorite December Read

I think I’m going to go with The Christmas Sisters, although pretty much any of the 4* reads below could have taken this slot. My higher-ranked reads this month were rereads and I like to choose a new book for this spot when I can.

Most Disappointing December Read

Probably Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, just because I expected something more out of P&P retelling.

Other December Reads

December Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  29 (3 Kindle, 26 physical)
  • Total Pages Read:  9122
  • Average Star Rating for September:  3.6
  • Longest Book: Ready Player One (579 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  Foxes in Love (103 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  These Old Shades (published 1926)
  • Newest Book:  Ready Player Two, Holding Out for Christmas, The Twelve Dates of Christmas, Christmas Comes to Dickens, and Foxes in Love (all published 2020)
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  12, plus several more in the compilations

December DNFs

The only one I had this month was Christmas in Paris by Anita Hughes. I really wanted to get on with this book and I just couldn’t. Isabel has called off her wedding at the last minute and gone on her honeymoon trip to Paris on her own. In the suite next to hers, Alec’s fiancee eloped with someone else just before their wedding so he’s also honeymooning on his own. This could have been a fun and gentle story of second chances, but instead it was mostly about Isabel’s just mind-boggling levels of self-centeredness. First off, we find out that the reason that she called off the wedding was because her fiance decided that he wanted to leave his job in the city and take over his family’s horse farm. The implication is that this is one of those gigantic, multi-million-dollar horse farms, not some little shack in the boonies, but it’s not good enough for Isabel, despite the fact that we find out that her fiance has always said that taking over the horse farm is his ultimate goal in life. But Isabel LOVES her job and LOVES living in the city so she doesn’t even bother to try to work things out with her man because why bother? It’s not like they’ve been in a relationship for several years or anything. The author does this bizarre thing where she has Isabel bring along her “engagement journal” that she started when she first got engaged. Throughout the story, Isabel reads random sections of it, recalling how excited she was at the beginning, and WOW did that make this book significantly more depressing because we’re basically reading about how happy and full of love she is for a relationship that we know is going to fail a year later. Talk about a downer, plus it honestly just emphasized how completely self-absorbed she is. Throughout all the preparations for the wedding that didn’t happen, it’s all about her and if her fiance doesn’t agree with her, it’s because he just doesn’t “get” her like he used to. I got about halfway through this one before giving up because Isabel got more unlikable, not less. She’s a total snob, obsessed with wealth, position, and jobs. She kind of dates another guy but when she finds out that he’s “just” rich and titled and doesn’t actually do much in his day-to-day job, she blows him off. Heaven forbid someone who’s a millionaire just kick back and enjoy life instead of working in finance all day. What even. Plus the whole “he doesn’t work hard enough for me” thing just didn’t ring all that true considering she broke up with the other guy because he was “just” going to be a farmer. Oh my gosh. I just couldn’t deal with her whiny, entitled attitude for a second longer.

TBR Update

This I keep updated as I go, so it’s current as of today, rather than as of the end of December. Still a million years behind on reading blog posts, though! :-/

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

  • Standalones:  515 (up 2)
  • Nonfiction:  124 (holding steady)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  647 (up one)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  255 (down one)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 118 (holding steady)
  • New Arrivals – if you actually pay attention to this section, you’ll know this is a new slot. 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. I didn’t have this as its own list for quite a while because there’s a lot of overlap (sometimes I buy a book because it’s on my TBR, so now it’s both on the TBR and on the New Arrivals) but that just means reading a book from this shelf will make multiple lists drop!!: 115

Reading Challenges Updates

  • #ReadingEurope2020 – visited no where – this challenge is NOT going to get completed this year but I’m still tracking it for fun (total 9/46 complete)
  • #ReadtheUSA2020 – visited New Hampshire & Oklahoma (total 35/50 complete – this one isn’t getting done this year, but I’m going to try again in 2021!!)
  • #SeparatedbyaPondTour – visited the states above plus Alberta (Canada), Aberdeen (Scotland), & the City of London. (Total 63/159 complete – this is still on the 3-year track. If anyone has books they love set in Canada, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, let me know!!)
  • #LitsyAtoZ – 2 books – got both Y & Z at the last minute!! (24/26 complete – only weird letters left. Specifically Q & X)
  • #BackwardsAtoZ – 22 books (No V on my fifth list through No Q on my sixth list – I’m trying to do this one in order and to see how many times I can get through the alphabet!)

Current Reads

Working my way through The Pioneers by David McCullough, which is pretty interesting nonfiction so far. It’s focused on the settlement of Marietta, Ohio, which is only a couple hours from here. It’s fun and interesting to read about places I’ve seen in real life.

To balance that out, I’m reading The Mislaid Magician by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. It’s a reread, but so much fun!

Up Next

The probable next five (ish) reads…

  • The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack – not one I would have necessarily picked up on my own, but it’s my next read for the traveling book club. I’m actually in two groups right now, but my other book for this group hasn’t arrived (wow the postal service has been crazy, that’s a whole other topic, but my books for the traveling book clubs were heading to Massachusetts and Connecticut respectively (from here in Ohio) yet went to DES MOINES and sat there for almost two weeks…!!!!) and I can’t even remember which one it is, so that’s a surprise title that will get read whenever it arrives!
  • Miss Eleanor Tilney by Sherwood Smith – After reading Northanger Abbey I realized that what I really wanted was a book about Henry’s sister!! This is the only one I’ve found and since it’s free on Kindle Unlimited I’ll probably give it a whirl even though the reviews aren’t that great.
  • Bill the Conqueror by P.G. Wodehouse – I haven’t forgotten my goal to read through all of Wodehouse’s works in published order, but other reads keep getting in the way!
  • The Boden Birthright by Mary Connealy – frankly, I don’t even remember what this book is about, but something possessed me to download it for free to my Kindle at some point! This is the next book in my attempt to wade through my neverending Kindle backlog.
  • Time and Time Again by Ben Elton – a random book from my TBR – it’s been there forever – I’m not a huge fan of time travel-y books, but I’m willing to give this one a try.

Well, my friends, that’s finally all the reviews for 2020!!! Hopefully I’ll post a wrap up for the year sometime soon and then – on to 2021!! Happy new year!!

December Minireviews – Part 5

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

My friends, this is the FINAL post of December reviews!!!

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz – 2.5*

//published 2017//

I’m always up for a P&P variation and even though I had heard a lot of mixed reviews about this one I decided to give it a try. This one wasn’t for me, though – I ended up skimming the entire second half just to get through it. The main issue was – this shouldn’t have been written, labeled, or marketed as a P&P retelling because it was drawing the comparisons between the two stories that left me feeling aggravated the entire time I was reading this. This story is a gender-swapped tale, with (first name) Darcy coming home to see her family and running into her old high school nemesis Luke Bennet. But if it wasn’t for the names, I would never have assumed this was supposed to have anything to do with P&P. P&P’s Darcy’s driving motivation is his intense commitment to caring for his family, estate, and the many people who depend on his responsibility. Mistletoe’s Darcy is a selfish, whiny little brat who decided her family was too “unsupportive” of her life choices (because of course anyone’s parents would be SO ANGRY if their daughter decided to have a successful career) and so left to strike out on her own. The implication is that she refused any and all money from her family, yet somehow now she’s one of the richest women in the country…??? P&P’s Darcy has no immediate family left besides his sister, and the tragedy of this is a huge part of what has left him cautious about relationships. Mistletoe’s Darcy still has both her parents plus multiple siblings, all of whom she treats like trash. P&P’s Charlotte is Elizabeth’s practical best friend – Mistletoe’s Charlotte is Luke’s bitter, obnoxious girlfriend. P&P’s Darcy had semi-legitimate reasons for being concerned about Bingley’s crush on Jane – there was no good reason for Mistletoe’s Bingley (Darcy’s gay best friend) to not like Luke’s brother, so we had this weird thing where Darcy just says she thinks they’re “going too fast” leading to completely contrived and almost immediately resolved conflict between Bingley and Luke’s brother. In P&P we have a fabulous slow burn between the two main characters where they both can’t stand and yet are drawn to each other. In Mistletoe, Darcy and Luke start snogging in basically the first chapter and other than Darcy remembering their past animosity, we really don’t get any reason for why the two of them shouldn’t like each other.

This wasn’t the worst book I read in December, but it was close. I think the entire story would have been SO much better if de la Cruz had just written a fun romcom about a bratty rich girl who gets her comeuppance. Instead, she tried to force a lot of P&P characters into the story, which made everything she was writing come up short.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – 3.5*

//published 2014//

At this point in December (the 27th, to be exact) I ran out of Christmas books!! It was sad because I actually still wanted to read more. (I’m not sure if it was sadder that I was out of them when I wanted to read them, or that I’d already read so many and still wanted to read more haha) So I picked up the next book on my TBR instead, which happened to be this one. It’s about a grumpy widower who runs a small bookshop on an island in New England. The story opens when one of the publishing companies sends a new sales rep to see him and he’s super rude to her. From there the story meanders around through AJ’s backstory, showing how he got to this point. It also moves forward in time to the moment when he someone leaves a baby in his bookstore with a note asking him to take care of her. AJ ends up adopting the baby (which honestly felt like a big weak point of the story, considering he just keeps the kid the entire time the process is ongoing… it really felt like she should have been put into an official foster home at first considering he’s just technically some dude not at all related to her) and of course his life changes as he softens up and opens up and ends up marrying the sales rep etc etc. I wasn’t expecting this book to cover so much time, but it continues right up through the baby becoming an adult and AJ’s eventual death and what happens to the bookstore after that. All in all, this wasn’t a bad story in any way and I found it perfectly pleasant to read, but it almost tried to cover too much time and too many characters, since we’re also following the life of AJ’s first wife’s sister and her husband and also a random policeman and maybe someone else that I’m forgetting right now. It’s not actually that long of a book (258 pages) so it kind of felt like we were skimming through a lot of things, and despite the main focus being on AJ, I never felt like I knew him all that well.

This is sort of literary fiction lite, so for people who like those types of stories they’ll like this one as well. It wasn’t a great fit for me, but that’s more on me than the book.

Foxes in Love by Toivo Kaarinen – 4.5*

//published 2020//

I follow this comic on Instagram and honestly love it so hard. The foxes remind me of Tom and me all the time. I try to support artists whose work I usually enjoy for free by buying their books when they appear, so I preordered this one and was delighted when it arrived on my doorstep a few months later.

I will say that apparently the foxes are based on the artist and his boyfriend, but their sexual orientation is not really a part of the comics – I didn’t even know they were both guys for a long time – for the most part it’s just about their every day lives and it makes me quite happy.

Christmas Weddings by various authors – 3* average

//published 2007//

I know I said I ran out of Christmas books but THEN two of them came in the mail from Paperback Swap! The day was saved!!!

This one has three stories in it and they pretty much went from terrible to regular. The first was His Christmas Eve Proposal by Carole Mortimer and it was one of the worst stories I read all month. First off, the author used exclamation points constantly! She would use them just for regular sentences! He made her a cup of coffee! She refused to drink the coffee! He didn’t know what to do with the cup of coffee! If she wasn’t using exclamation points, she was fading away with ellipsis… Slowly he walked back to the kitchen… Apparently he would just have to pour the coffee down the drain… IT WAS HORRIBLE. Plus, to top it off, they also win the instalove award of the month since they had known each other TWENTY-FOUR HOURS before he PROPOSED MARRIAGE! Oh my gosh.

Next was Snowbound Bride by Shirley Jump. This one was a little more regular. The female MC designs wedding dresses and is flying her most expensive, fanciest one yet in person to California – but she gets stranded in the Chicago airport because of a snowstorm. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she runs into her old exboyfriend, and he’s looking pretty delicious.

The final story was my favorite, Their Christmas Vows by Margaret McDonagh. I guess this one is loosely part of a story about a group of medical professionals at a Scottish hospital. In this one, the female MC has just started a new job as an helicopter EMT which means she has to work with this one doctor a lot. He has a reputation for being a big flirt and she’s super suspicious of him. She’s coming out of a bad relationship where her husband of less than a year left her when she had to have her breast removed because of cancer. The entire part about her cancer recovery, surgery, and how she felt about herself afterwards was handled really sensitively and well and added some depth to story.

In the end, 1* for His Christmas Eve Proposal, 3* for Snowbound Bride, and 4* for Their Christmas Vows.

White Christmas Wedding by Celeste Winters – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Beth has lived in NYC for several years and is getting ready to marry a rich guy from the city. Through various circumstances, however, the wedding is being held back in her small town hometown in Michigan. Beth’s best friend from her hometown, Jen, has taken on the role of wedding planner, with hopes that if this goes well she can continue to build her own business from there, using her family’s barn as an event center. As everyone arrives from NYC, a huge snowstorm hits, adding a lot of complications to the situation.

I really ended up enjoying this one, which was definitely more novel-y than it was romcom-y. What I liked the best was also the book’s biggest weakness – Winters decides to tell a LOT of stories here. Not only do we learn a lot about Beth and Jen, but Beth’s soon-to-be mother-in-law, both Beth and Jen’s parents, and both of Beth’s bridesmaids. For the most part, Winters manages to weave it into a coherent whole and I felt like she chose good topics to tackle for each woman, but this book is only 244 pages long, so in some situations it felt like we barely skimmed along the surface of what was happening.

It also felt like at times she suddenly realized that she wanted to write a romcom, so she would create some kind of “omg!” situation. The one that was the most ridiculous was when snow blew into the barn overnight – it seemed completely absurd to think that the barn door that was “cracked” open when Jen arrived would somehow let in enough snow to cover the ENTIRE barn in “inches” of snow. Even if the door was wide open, a barn large enough to comfortably seat a hundred or so people would not be buried in several inches of snow in the entire building. That was the most dramatic one, but there were a few other scenes that just made me roll my eyes instead of feel like there was a legitimate crisis and/or humorous situation.

But for all that it was still an enjoyable book – probably not one I’ll reread, but a nice way to conclude my December of romance!!

December Minireviews – Part 4

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Someday, my friends, I will be caught up on December reviews!! …but today is not that day!

The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss – 4*

//published 2020//

This was one of my favorite reads this month. Kate lives in a small town where there aren’t a lot of dating prospects, so she’s pretty much ready to resign herself to a peaceful life of singleness. However, she decides to give love one last chance when her best friend convinces her to sign up for a holiday blind-date event – 12 different dates with 12 different people in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

There’s always a danger that this type of story is going to lead to something super weird (plus I was extra paranoid after the train-wreck read of Match Made in Manhattan with its complicated timelines that made it basically feel like the MC was cheating on all the guys she was dating) but here it was exactly as it should be – fun and fluffy with a likable character and a good balance of guys on the dates instead of “wow every dude out there is a jerk.”

My biggest complaint about this book is that because it’s set in a small town everyone knows everyone – but I do not know everyone! Bayliss would casually mention someone’s name and how they were connected to someone else, and then just expect me to remember that person two chapters later. There were a LOT of names going on and it got a little confusing for me. But overall, a mild complaint for what was, on the whole, a fun and enjoyable read that I’ll probably revisit again next year.

Sorcery & Cecelia by Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer – 4.5*

//published 2003//

This one isn’t Christmasy, but it was my other traveling book club book for December. A reread for me, this is actually an old favorite of mine. It’s set in early 1800s England (just after the Napoleonic wars) except in an AU where magic is just a part of life. Cecelia’s cousin Kate has just gone up to London for her first Season, leading to a great deal of correspondence between the two, who are close in age and best friends. Shenanigans both magical and romantic in nature take place, making this one just a great deal of all-around fun. I also read this one back in 2016, if you want a more detailed review.

Christmas Camp by Karen Schaler – 3*

//published 2018//

This one was trying just a little too hard, and I wasn’t surprised to find out that it was written by one of Netflix’s screenwriters rather than an actual author, as the entire story felt like someone was telling me about a movie they watched, and I can’t even exactly explain why. The sentence structure and dialogue was just off somehow, making it really difficult for me to get into the story and actually embrace the cheesiness. Instead, it was just toooo much, like a sugar overload. Every Christmas movie cliche possible was jammed into this one book. Decent writing could have overcome it, but the whole thing just felt stilted. Ironically, I think it would make a fun movie (and actually it may already have done so) but the writing wasn’t good enough to make it work as a book for me.

Snowflakes at the Little Christmas Tree Farm by Jamie Admans – 4*

//published 2019//

One would expect that if I was so willing to pooh-pooh Christmas Camp for being too cheesy, that I would be ready to completely tear apart a book whose premise is that the MC accidentally purchases a Christmas tree farm in Scotland and then has to depend on the goodwill of the hunky pumpkin farmer who lives next door to help her get everything organized, but this was actually a super fun story and ended up being one of my favorites for the month. Leah is a really likable character who has been struggling somewhat with her life after the sudden death of her parents in a car wreck the year before. While drunkenly purchasing a Christmas tree farm sight-unseen is, in fact, a crazy thing to do, Admans makes it work with Leah’s character, especially as we learn more about her parents, their dreams, and Leah’s background. I really liked the male MC as well, and while this was definitely a fluffy romance, Admans balances it with some more serious themes about grief and loss (the guy’s dad died of cancer when the guy was in his teens… sorry, can’t remember the guy’s name right now haha), and just about how you move on when a huge chunk of your life is suddenly not there any more. There were times that this book got a little too silly (and Admans was OBSESSED with having Leah be obsessed with the guy’s lip piercing; she mentions it CONSTANTLY, like okay, I get it, even though he’s a Scottish pumpkin farmer in a remote corner of the country he’s still HIP and HOT because he has a PIERCING!) but on the whole this one really hit the spot.

Three Christmas Wishes by Sheila Roberts – 4*

//published 2016//

While I don’t see myself returning to this one again and again, it was really fun as a one-off read. Much like The Christmas Sisters, it balances the fun and fluffy with some more serious storylines that made it a story of substance as well as entertainment. Riley’s fiance dumps her in the first chapter of the book – three weeks before their Christmas wedding. Riley’s best friend, Noel, and Riley’s older sister, Jo, convince her to come to the mall with them for some shopping therapy. While there, they decide to visit the mall Santa on a lark – except this Santa seems strangely omniscient…

All three of the story lines were good fun. I related the most to Jo, who has been married several years and is due to have a baby at any minute. Her husband is in the Navy and so is gone on tour for large chunks of time and she’s struggling with his decision to re-up when what she really wants is for him to be home now that a baby is in the picture. While my life doesn’t look anything like Jo’s, I found Roberts’s handling of trying to find balance within marriage to be done really well.

My biggest issue with this one was with Noel’s story – Noel writes children’s books about a character named Marvella, and Marvella frequently “talks” with Noel in Noel’s mind – “Marvella” is rather obnoxious and I was pretty over the internal monologue. But on the whole this was a fun one that I enjoyed.

Christmas Comes to Dickens by various authors – 3.5* average

//published 2020//

This is a collection of ten stories, each one by a different author, but all set in the same New England town of Dickens, famous for their celebration of Christmas. On the whole these were pretty regular, for lack of a better term. I was hoping for a little more continuity between the stories, but other than mentioning the same stores along the main drag, they didn’t feel connected in any way – I wasn’t even sure if they were supposed to be happening during the same Christmas season or not. Some were pretty terrible and some were decent, but none were outstanding. Entertaining but not enthralling.

December Minireviews – Part 3

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Will I finish December reviews before the end of January???

The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith – 5*

//published 1956//

I always think of this as a Christmasy book, as that’s when the bulk of the action takes place, and since this is one of my all-time favorites, it seemed like a lovely time to revisit it yet again. Smith is so clever and humorous, with characters that are easy to love and a villain that’s easy to hate. As always, one of the most important parts of this story are the absolutely magical illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnston – I can’t imagine reading this story without them! If you’ve never picked up this story, you absolutely should.

The Starlight Barking by Dodie Smith – 4*

//published 1967//

I only discovered this sequel a few years ago, and while I don’t love it nearly as much as the original story, it is fun to see where Pongo and Missis’s children have ended up!! Again the illustrations make the story, and while this one definitely leans more heavily on magic (which was nonexistent in the first story), it’s still a great deal of fun.

Christmas With You by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1989, 1986//

One would expect the first (and longest) story in an anthology entitled Christmas With You and composed of only two stories to actually be, you know, Christmasy, but I honestly think some editor someone saw the title of this one (Gabriel’s Angel) and saw that there was a snowstorm in the first chapter and just assumed that it must have something to do with Christmas! In truth, the snowstorm is a freak spring blizzard and the entire story wraps up by the following fall, so there is literally not a single Christmas event in the entire tale! Setting that aside, I did enjoy this story (we all know I’m a sucker for a marriage of convenience) although there were some aspects that got a little too drama-y for me. Still a good time.

When I started reading the second story, Home for Christmas, I realized that I had already read it in the past and it employs my LEAST favorite trope (teehee oh btw I had your baby years ago but I never bothered to tell you because I’m pretending like I have your best interests at heart) BUT it takes place in New Hampshire, which I hadn’t visited yet for my #ReadtheUSA2020 challenge and it was less than a hundred pages long, so I rolled my eyes a lot and got through it. Despite the trope making me want to smack the female lead in the face, it wasn’t that bad of a story. However, I can’t believe I’ve ended up reading this one twice!

Santa’s On His Way (various authors)

//published 2018, just like all the Christmas books I read this year for some reason//

Another anthology, this one had four stories in it. Lisa Jackson’s name is in the biggest letters on the cover, so apparently she’s the keynote writer, but hers was the one story (A Baby for Christmas) that I didn’t finish – the characters just weren’t working for me. It was also weird because the other three stories were all published in 2018, but this one was from 1997??

What the Cowboy Wants for Christmas by Maisey Yates and A Cowboy for Christmas by Nicole Helm were solid 3.5* reads – nothing terrible innovative but perfectly pleasant. I’m not a big cowboy-romance reader, but these weren’t too bad.

Snowed In by Stacy Finz was my favorite of the collection (even though I would still give it 3.5* haha) It’s a fun trope and it was done well here. Plus, I liked the way it all came together in the end.

All in all, I probably won’t revisit this anthology again next year, but I may see if Finz has written any full-length novels.

Mutts and Mistletoe by Natalie Cox – 4*

//oh look, this one was also published in 2018//

Sometimes Hallmark-movie-type reads are just predictable and annoying, but other times they are predictable and fun, and this one was the latter category for me. It’s absolutely ridiculous that Charlie’s apartment just happens to be rendered uninhabitable at the same time that her cousin decides to dash off to meet her online-girlfriend, meaning that it’s the perfect situation for Charlie to take over the cousin’s upscale dog boarding business, especially considering that Charlie doesn’t even like dogs. But somehow Cox makes the whole thing work, keeping things light and fun and the scenarios mostly on the right side of believable. Charlie is overall likable and not too stupid despite her lack of knowledge about dogs and country life, and who doesn’t love a grump veterinarian hero? While not perfect, this was the exact kind of fluff I was looking for, and I kept this one for a reread next year.

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer – 3.5*

//published 1926//

This was borderline between 3.5* and 4*. It’s one Heyer’s earliest books, and it shows. Compared to most of her stories, the action in this one is choppy, the dialogue sometimes stilted (especially because most of the story is set in France with a French heroine who is constantly exclaiming things in French except I have no idea what she’s saying so I had to keep stopping to look things up because sometimes it was actually important to the plot of the conversation…), and the age gap between the two main characters was so great that I was honestly a little surprised that that was the direction the romance was headed. Despite all this, the bones of a good Heyer story are still here. It’s a fun story and when Leonie wasn’t shouting in French she was a likable character. The duke is a little over-the-top but I still ended up liking him and I absolutely loved his brother and sister and the family dynamics at work. So while I didn’t love this one, I did still enjoy it. It’s not where I would recommend someone to start if they’ve never read a Heyer story before, but if you already love her books you’ll probably enjoy this one as well.

Also, I just finished Devil’s Cub which is actually about the duke and Leonie’s now-adult son and it was absolutely delightful, so if nothing else it’s worth reading Shades just to get the full impact of the fun in Devil’s Cub.

This wasn’t a Christmas read, but it was December’s book for one of my traveling book clubs and thankfully still fit into my theme of an all-fluff month!!

December Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Onward with more December fluff reads!!

The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan – 4*

//published 2018//

While this one was a little more “novel-y” that I usually like, it ended up being one of my favorite reads of the month. At first, I was afraid that it was just going to be super angsty with a bunch of discontented, whiny women who have perfectly nice lives except they spend all of their time complaining about them. But I was pleasantly surprised by this story about three sisters who love one another but have grown apart. As we come to learn more about their childhood and the circumstances that have shaped them, I was completely drawn to the entire family. While yes, this is a feel-good Christmas story, it’s also a really lovely story about forgiveness, family, and realizing that even the people that we love the most have parts of themselves that we don’t know – everyone has something in their life that’s hard, no matter how perfect that life may look from the outside. I really enjoyed this one and will definitely be on the lookout for more books by this author.

Silent Night by Mary Higgins Clark – 3.5*

//published 1995//

Just to keep things lively, I picked up this short thriller. Clark does a great job giving motivation to multiple characters, which is what keeps this story from feeling completely ridiculous. It’s a fast read – nothing incredibly ground-breaking, but intense and hard to put down.

Christmas Gifts Collection by Elena Aitken – 3.5*

//published 2018//

In my mind, a “stand-alone” book is one that is not part of a series. However, some people use that term to label a book that theoretically can be read independently of the series of which it is a part. So while this collection was billed as a group of stand-alone stories, they were actually all part of a series that centers around a hotel called Castle Lodge. I hate reading books out of order but didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late, so for once I just went along with it. These were perfectly enjoyable stories, although I will say that the last story in the trio was the weakest – supposedly she, as the maid of honor, is helping her best friend plan her best friend’s wedding, but then in end – surprise! It’s her wedding! Except… literally the original bride was the one who was going to get married?? I just ended up feeling annoyed that the original bridesmaid was stealing the beautiful day away from the woman who was supposed to be the bride.

But anyway, they were fine stories, but didn’t make me feel like I wanted to jump in and read the whole series.

Husband Under Construction by Karen Templeton – 2.5*

//published 2011//I didn’t even read the other book in this anthology… I don’t do the ‘surprise baby’ trope lol//

I should have been warned from the title that this wasn’t going to be my kind of book. The problem was that Templeton creates two perfectly likable characters that I totally shipped, and puts them in a no-win situation. Either the female MC is going to have sacrifice her dream job, or the male MC is going to have to leave behind his wonderful, warm-hearted family AND family business to move hours away. I’m sorry, but that just isn’t my idea of a happy ending. Yeah, they end up together, but they do the one where the leave behind Noah’s entire family so they can live where the woman’s new job is – which okay, except literally the female MC goes on and on and on and on about how what she wants to do is have a huge family with lots of kids and spend her time hanging out with them etc etc so – in the epilogue now they have several kids and she’s only working part time here and there. So Noah sacrificed his spot in his family business AND left behind his completely awesome family (and the female MC – sorry, can’t remember her name haha – only has one living relative who also lives in the same town as Noah’s family) so that they could be close to the job that she isn’t even really doing?!?! It felt like a completely stupid way to end the book.

How the Dukes Stole Christmas 3*

//published 2018//

This one had four stories written by different authors – Meet Me in Mayfair by Tessa Dare, The Duke of Christmas Present by Sarah MacLean, Heiress Alone by Sophie Jordan, and Christmas in Central Park by Joanna Shupe. All of them were pretty lame, although Dare’s was probably the best of the bunch. They weren’t horrible as one-off reads, but I already passed this book on because it’s not one I see myself rereading for next year’s Christmas binge.

The Christmas Wish by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1994, 1984//

Two stories here – All I Want for Christmas and First Impressions – both of which were pretty standard Roberts fare. I had read the first story before, about twin brothers writing a letter to Santa for a new mother since theirs died several years earlier. It’s pretty adorable and I really liked the two main characters. First Impressions was published in 1984 so it has that 80s edge to it, but was still fun and frolicky even if the male MC is a little over-the-top grumpy.

December Minireviews – Part 1

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

So I had a pretty stressful fall for multiple reasons and was kind of over life by the time December rolled around haha I usually try to read a mix of books from my various TBRs, but I decided that for the entire month of December (or until I burned out on them) I was just going to read nothing but Christmas fluff! I found some at the library, some from a box of books on eBay (love typing in what I’m looking for and adding the word “lot” at the end – I got books for less $2/ea!), and a few from Kindle. I honestly thought I would get tired of them after a few because they are all quite samey, but it turned out that it was exactly the brain vacation I needed! I read around 4000 pages MORE in December than I did in November! Only a few of these are books I would ever revisit, but the flip side of that is that there were only a few I wished I hadn’t read at all!! And only one DNF for the month, which is pretty solid on the whole.

And so – here’s the first batch!!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – 4*

//published 2011//

Okay, so after all that big introduction, I kind of forgot that my first two books of the month weren’t actually fluff!! Cline’s sequel to this one, Ready Player Two, came in at the library right at the end of November, and was going to need to be returned pretty quickly since it’s a new book. So I reread RP1 first. I’d only read it once (and seen the movie once) so some parts of it I didn’t remember, but on the whole it was still just such a fun, readable story. The pacing is good and although the 80s references can get a little repetitive, Cline usually does a pretty good job of making his explanations about them feel organic to the tale. This one held up to the reread and I’ll probably visit it again in the future – and I’d also like the see the movie again sometime!

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline – 3*

//published 2020//

While this sequel – published 9 years after the original – wasn’t terrible, it also wasn’t great. Where various 80s/video game references felt organic in the original, they felt gimmicky here. The main character has to complete a series of quests, much like in the first story, but for some reason it felt more tedious in this story. The action bogged down a lot – for instance, there’s a torturous number of pages spent on the Prince planet, and another huge section on a planet inspired by the guy who directed (wrote?? I can’t remember) movies like Ferris Buehler’s Day Off and Breakfast Club – except I haven’t seen all those movies, so a lot of that didn’t make sense. I also haven’t really listened to Prince or paid any attention to any of the lore that surrounds him, so that was pretty boring, too. Somehow, the first book managed to keep things moving so even though I hadn’t played many of the video games referenced, I still enjoyed the story. But in the sequel, I found myself frequently bored as the characters spent time with media that I haven’t really listened to/watched/played. It felt like Cline had done a bunch of research on a few really specific things and then just regurgitated it all onto the page.

I don’t want to give away anything big, but there is also a huge opportunity in this book to explore what it really means to be human, what it is that makes us human, but Cline glosses over the whole thing. The story had a chance to be really meaningful or at least thoughtful, but instead just comes through as yet another gimmick. At the end of the day, I think a big part of it comes down to a huge gap in life philosophy between Cline and myself. Sometimes this doesn’t matter when I’m reading a book, but it mattered here. Cline obviously thinks that there is nothing after we die, that all of religion is a crutch to help people who can’t handle the real world (he makes several snide remarks to this effect, which is pretty bold for characters that literally spend their entire lives in a made-up world because the real world is too icky for them…), and that trying to make our world a better place is basically useless because everything already sucks too much. I disagree with all of those things, so a lot of this book’s commentary just really got on my nerves.

In the end, it was still a readable book and I wanted to see how things came out. Parts of it were still funny and engaging. But it wasn’t a good fit for me, and although I’ll probably reread RP1 again in the future, I think I’ll give this one a miss.

My Kind of Christmas by Janet Dailey – 3* (Christmas Tree Ranch)

//published 2018//

Okay NOW it’s time for Christmas fluff!! I kicked it off with a trilogy of books set at a ranch in Texas. Here in the first book, it’s the typical story of a rough-around-the-edges man forced to return to his hometown. Travis was born here but his mother left his alcoholic father while Travis was still pretty young. Most recently, Travis was working as a law enforcement officer and was involved in a shooting that led to him being imprisoned for a few years. Unable to return to his job because of his prison record, he’s come to stay at the old ranch that belonged to his mother’s family. Grumpy and disinterested in becoming a part of the community, he’s rather aggravated to find himself inheriting not just a pair of elderly draft horses and a hand-made sleigh, but the role of Santa Claus from his neighbor who is moving to Colorado to be with his kids. With the town’s sassy mayor unwilling to leave Travis alone, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a part of the community.

Biggest issue with this story? The part involve Travis and his dad, Hank, who has cleaned up his act and now owns a small store in town. As we learn more about the backstory between these two, Hank really was a total jerk to Travis back in the day, but literally everyone acts like Travis is being ridiculous for not immediately forgiving his dad and wanting to be all buddy-buddy with him. Hank never does apologize! Everyone else is just like, “Aw, Hank is such a great guy! Travis is such a jerk for not forgiving him!” It really got on my nerves. Just because Hank is a good guy now doesn’t erase him being a horrible person in the past, and Travis’s unwillingness to forgive/trust Hank didn’t feel unreasonable to me at all. Yes, I wanted Travis to eventually forgive Hank so that everyone could be one big happy family, but I wanted that to come from an honest conversation about the past wherein Hank admits that what he did and said was completely wrong, and that never happened.

HOWEVER overall it was fluffy and fun and since I already had the other two books from the library, I decided to give them a shot. My only other issue? This book clearly describes the dog as being a border collie mix that looks like a border collies and the dog on the cover does not remotely look like a border collie! What even!

It’s a Christmas Thing by Janet Dailey (Christmas Tree Ranch) – 3.5*

//published 2019//

So throughout the course of the first book, we end up with two other eligible bachelors living at Travis’s ranch, Rush (a veterinarian) and Conner (used to be a rodeo rider). This one focuses on Rush, who falls in love with a lovely lady who has recently ended up with a stray cat – who had kittens. There wasn’t anything crazy in this one, just some regular fluff with no surprises.

Cover complaint: The author specifically talks about how none of these guys can ride a horse and that the only two horses they have are the old draft horses that pull the sleigh. There’s also only one dog. Who designs these covers?!

Holding Out for Christmas by Janet Daily – 3.5* (Christmas Tree Ranch)

//published 2020//

Side note, I don’t know exactly where in Texas this place is, but they get a LOT of snow. It really seemed like this ranch should have been in like Nebraska or South Dakota or something. Anyway. Book three is of course about bachelor #3, Connor, who used to ride the rodeo circuit until a bad injury made him unable to ever ride a horse again. Connor’s the flirty one out of the three, so that’s his big drama. There weren’t any surprises here, but it was still a fun read.

Conclusion: I won’t ever reread this trilogy, but they were fun for a one-off read.

Cover complain: What’s on this cover? A pile of puppies?? Do you know how many puppies are in this book? ZERO! NO PUPPIES! ABSOLUTELY ZERO PUPPIES APPEAR IN THIS STORY!? WHAT KIND OF HORRIBLE PERSON PUTS PUPPIES ON THE COVER OF A STORY IN WHICH THERE ARE NO PUPPIES?!?!?!?!

Rearview Mirror // November 2020

Well, I didn’t quite make my goal of being caught up with reviews by the end of the year, but I’m only a month behind so that’s something, right? :-D

December has been a lovely month for the most part – lots of just chilling, reading complete fluff, and riding the range on Red Dead Redemption 2 with my husband. January is also hopefully going to be a quiet one before the greenhouse work starts in February.

Favorite November Read

For first-time reads, definitely Bellewether, which actually ended up being one of my favorite reads of the year. Rilla of Ingleside is close behind, but since it’s a reread I’m letting Kearsley’s book take the slot.

Most Disappointing November Read

Even though it isn’t my lowest star-rating for the month, I think The Illyrian Adventure takes this spot, mostly because I love the Prydain Chronicles so much, so it was pretty disappointing that this one was a bust.

Other November Reads

November Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  18 (all physical)
  • Total Pages Read:  5799
  • Average Star Rating for September:  3.7
  • Longest Book: Moby-Dick (663 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  The Illyrian Adventure (132 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  Northanger Abbey (published 1817)
  • Newest Book:  Point of Danger, The Tea Dragon Tapestry, The Wild Path, Swamp Thing: Twin Branches, and Room-Maid (all published 2020)
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  5

November DNFs

  • The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu was my original choice for my traveling book club book, but I just literally couldn’t get through it. I think my notes say it all: First off, dead boring. Secondly, just all problems are because of the “THE PATRIARCHY!!!!” Thirdly, Nannerl is a self-absorbed b****. Fourthly, their dad is a JERK. Finally, B O R I N G!
  • Forced Alliance by Lenora Worth was a Love Inspired Suspense book that I just couldn’t get into.
  • Lord Fairchild’s Daughter by Maggie MacKeever was from that box of Regency romances I got on eBay back in the day. Most of them have been mildly entertaining, but I couldn’t deal with this one. The names were just ludicrous, the plot unbelievable, and by the time I got to a character named Mrs. Snugglebutt (yes, seriously) I just couldn’t go on any more.

TBR Update

This I keep updated as I go, so it’s current as of today, rather than as of the end of November. Still a million years behind on reading blog posts, though!

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:  513 (up 20!!!)
  • Nonfiction:  124 (holding steady)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  646 (down six)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  256 (holding steady)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 118 (holding steady)

Reading Challenges Updates

  • #ReadingEurope2020 – visited Greece – this challenge is NOT going to get completed this year but I’m still tracking it for fun (total 9/46 complete)
  • #ReadtheUSA2020 – visited nowhere new (total 33/50 complete – this one isn’t getting done this year, but I’m going to try again in 2021!!)
  • #SeparatedbyaPondTour – visited Somerset, England. (Total 58/159 complete – this is still on the 3-year track. If anyone has books they love set in Canada, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, let me know!!)
  • #LitsyAtoZ – 0 books (22/26 complete – only weird letters left. Specifically Q, X, Y, and Z, so let me know if you have suggestions for titles or author last names that start with those letters!)
  • #BackwardsAtoZ – 17 books (No N through No U on my fifth list – I’m trying to do this one in order and to see how many times I can get through the alphabet!)

Current Reads

My last day of December fluff-binging and I’m almost finished with White Christmas Wedding by Celeste Winters.

Up Next

The probable next five(ish) reads –

More challenges set up for 2021, which I’ll get into in a separate post, but I’m focusing on monthly challenge books at the beginning of the month and then everything else once those are done.

  • Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer – okay, actually I lied because this one isn’t for a challenge, but Heyer rarely did sequels, so when I read These Old Shades recently I was surprised to see this one listed as a sequel to it! Apparently this one is about the son of the couple who got married in Shades, so I think it will be fun.
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – on Litsy there is an #AuthoraMonth challenge where participants voted on authors they wanted to read this year and the top 12 each got assigned a month. I’m focusing on trying to read books that are already on my TBR by each author and was surprised to find that I have the Broken Earth Trilogy by Jemisin (January’s author) on my list. The Fifth Season is the first book in that trilogy, but if I like I’ll read all three.
  • Active Defense by Lynette Eason – I don’t read a lot of ARCs, but since I’ve already read and reviewed the other two books in this series this past year, it only seemed natural to request the third installment as well.
  • The Flip Side by James Bailey – I signed up for the #NewYearWhoDis match on Litsy as well – one of the members matches the people who sign up with each other and each pair trades their lists of favorite books from the past year. The host does a great job of pairing you with someone whose tastes match your own. Last year I tried to read a bunch of the books all in January, but this year I’m just going to try reading one a month. This one looks pretty cute.
  • Brazil by Eyewitness – Yet another Litsy challenge this year is #FoodandLit. We’ve chosen a different country for each month and are trying to read books and try recipes from that country. There’s a great world-wide community on Litsy so we also have members who live in each of the countries who are posting various aspects of their culture to share throughout the month. My goal is to read one nonfiction and one fiction book from each country each month and see how that goes.

So that’s a wrap for November – up next, loads of Christmas fluff reviews!!!

November Minireviews – Part 3

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Well, here’s the last batch of November reviews – at least I’m getting them done before January!!

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – 5*

//published 1817//

This was only my second time reading this gem, and I was struck afresh by Austen’s snarky humor throughout. Catherine isn’t my favorite Austen heroine, but Henry may be my favorite Austen hero. Also, for some reason I didn’t really notice last time how Henry’s sister gets this entire complicated story in a few paragraphs at the very end of the book – she’s been secretly engaged this entire time?? Where’s my Eleanor Tilney story?! I need one!

Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West – 3.5*

//published 2018//

West is pretty much always good for some clean YA entertainment, so while this one wasn’t particularly memorable, it was still perfectly enjoyable. I did think that Abby’s reaction to the whole art show thing was completely over-the-top… but on the other hand, she’s 17 so maybe West is just being realistic. I really appreciate that West likes to include adults in her stories who aren’t total losers, and Abby’s relationship with her parents and grandpa really made this story for me.

The Illyrian Adventure by Lloyd Alexander – 2.5*

//published 1986//

I really, really love Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, but haven’t really tried any of his other books. This one is the first in a series about a character name Vesper Holly. First off, the cover is completely misleading, as it appears to be a modern girl, so I was thinking that this was going to be a time-travel book or something – but no, it’s set in 1872 and Vesper is supposed to be a “normal” young woman from that era – except she isn’t, she’s super obnoxious. Recently orphaned when we meet her, she doesn’t act remotely sorrowful or sad, but instead bosses everyone around and decides that they should go on an adventure to the other side of the world to continue her father’s research. The entire book is told from the point of view of Holly’s new guardian, which was the other thing that made this book clunky and awkward – Holly is the main character, but we are completely cut off from her thoughts/motives – everything is viewed through the lens of middle-aged Brinnie, who spends much of his time being completely thick-headed and naïve and completely startled whenever Vesper does something unladylike, despite the fact that pretty much is always doing something unladylike.

This book is aimed for the middle grade audience, so perhaps for them the plot would not be so painfully obvious, but there was absolutely no surprise, twist, or anything unexpected in this entire story. The villain is obviously the villain, the hero obviously the hero, and the only person who can’t figure it out is poor old Brinnie who insists on trusting the wrong people and saying the wrong thing to them at the wrong time so everyone ends up in hot water from which Vesper must once again rescue everyone.

In short, formulaic, boring, and a narrator so dumb I can’t believe he made it to adulthood. On the brightside, a book off my shelf and a series I don’t need to read.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville – 3.5*

//published 1851//

This is one of those books that I’ve always felt like I “should” read but never really had any desire to do so. But a fellow Litten had a buddy read for this book scheduled in November, reading the book across the entire month, so I thought it was a good time to give it a go. In the end, I can appreciate what makes it a classic, but it definitely isn’t for me. I was mostly surprised at the complete and total lack of action for 95% of this book. I was expecting a roaring Captain Ahab pursuing his nemesis across the open seas, but instead it’s just a regular whaler drifting about and every once in a while they come across another boat and Ahab demands to know if they’ve seen the white whale and sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it’s no and it doesn’t really matter because they don’t know where he is right now anyway so they just keep cruising along and then they hunt a regular whale because they do need to make some money so we spend a chapter chopping it up and then another five chapters listening the narrator natter on about whales and philosophy and random pointless stories that go nowhere and have nothing to do with anything else.

I don’t exactly regret reading this one but I would never read it again. Someone else told me that they love this book because the rhythm of it reminds them of being at sea – long stretches of quietude followed by a short frenzy of activity. In that way I can appreciate the book, but on the whole it just wasn’t for me.

Room-Maid by Sariah Wilson – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This is one of those “rich girl has to work for a living but doesn’t know how to do anything” stories, which can sometimes be annoying but overall here was good fun, mostly because the main character is a genuinely nice person, although she is a little too air-headed for my personal taste. (Like, I get that you may not look up everything you don’t know how to do because some things seem obvious, but when you’re faced with a major crisis, like spilling something on a couch that you have no idea how to get out, why would you not Google it first??? Multiple catastrophes could have been avoided with the power of the internet.) The pros here were that this book was completely clean and there wasn’t even any “grey area” cheating – not sure why these things are so difficult to find in modern romcoms, but here we are.

While this wasn’t my new favorite, it was still a fun and fluffy story that made for a relaxing read.

November Minireviews // Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Cats of the Louvre by Taiyo Matsumoto – 2*

//published 2017// Also originally published in Japan so it reads “backwards” for me… which the library apparently didn’t realize as they stuck the barcode directly over the title!! //

Lately, if I see a review of a graphic novel that I think looks interesting, I just check it out of the library right then. This was one of those cases, but here it was a complete fail as Cats ended up being way more bizarre than I had bargained for, although maybe I should have been forewarned since it was a book originally written in Japanese about a French museum and translated into English…

The story is supposedly about these cats that secretly live in the Louvre, which is what drew me in – doesn’t that sound fun?? But it turns out that these are like cat/human hybrid things?? Or maybe not and the artist just drew them that way to give them more personability?? Either way they completely weirded me out and made the whole story feel strange and creepy. Part of the story is also about a little girl who got sucked into a painting decades ago, and then one of the kitten children also gets sucked in… I can’t even describe it, the whole thing was just so weird. I did finish it because it’s a graphic novel so it goes really fast, but was left feeling like I’d had a incredibly bizarre dream. This one just wasn’t for me.

A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Perry – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was another case of cover love for me. Based on the true story of a wolf who (we know through tracking devices) left his home range in northeast Oregon to end up in southwest Oregon in an area that had not previously had wolves (at least not in recent history). This was a decent middle grade read, although not one that I fell in love with, mainly because Perry somewhat romanticizes wolves. For example, at one point Wander is very judgy about another pair of wolves who have killed a cow – or maybe it was a sheep, can’t remember – because obviously their pack leader hadn’t taught them any sense of “honor”… I’m just not convinced that “honor” really comes into it, although wolves do tend to prefer to hunt whatever their parents taught them to hunt.

My only other bit of confusion is that the title of the story is A Wolf Called Wander, but she actually names the wolf Swift, which is his name for most of the story until he chooses to change it, and in real life the wolf’s nickname was actually Journey. It just felt like a lot of names for one wolf. And yes, it makes sense that a wolf wouldn’t have chosen the same name for himself as the humans did, but why wouldn’t you just name the wolf Journey anyway???

But overall minor complaints. On the whole I did enjoy this book and if you have a younger reader who is intrigued by wolves/wildlife, they would probably like this one as well.

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater – 2.5*

//published 2020//

Another graphic novel to add to the “didn’t work for me” pile – while I haven’t read all of Stiefvater’s books, I’ve read enough to know that she’s an author I generally enjoy, so I checked out her graphic novel (illustrated by Morgan Beem) and it just ended up being another story that didn’t jive with me.

Twin brothers – one introverted and obsessed with plants/biology, the other extroverted and easygoing – head out to the swamplands to stay with their honestly bizarre cousins in a “we’re in redneck country” way that made me a little uncomfortable and felt out of character for Stiefvater’s writing. Sciencey brother’s experiments start getting weird when they turn things into plants that are still able to think and move like the people/animals they were before they were changed, and it’s a little vague as to whether they’re just going to be plants forever or… The story was just odd and choppy and hard to follow. I’ll also admit that the artwork style wasn’t for me, either, and if you don’t like the artwork of a graphic novel, it makes the whole experience somewhat negative as well.

Definitely my least-favorite Stiefvater book I’ve read to date. I’m not sure if there is supposed to be a sequel at some point, but this one ended quite abruptly. I think it was also supposed to be somewhat based on the comic book creature Swamp Thing, but I know literally nothing about comic book stories/heroes/villains/etc so I can’t say whether or not it even vaguely resembled the original or not. This one wasn’t for me, but people who enjoy the horror vibe and also think everyone who lives in the south is a stupid redneck may enjoy this one more.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1932//

It had been quite a long time since I read this one, so I couldn’t remember exactly how it came out. The plotting was brilliant as always, and I have a soft spot for Hastings so I was glad to see him here in this one. Christie is pretty much always a win for me, and I’ve been enjoying revisiting some of her earlier books.

Two of a Kind by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

This book contained two stories, Impulse (published 1989) and The Best Mistake (published 1994) and were pretty typical Roberts fare for that era.

In Impulse, the heroine spontaneously sells everything she owns, quits her job, and goes to Europe to travel until her money runs out. It will come to no surprise that she finds an insanely rich Greek to marry. Predictable and a bit ridiculous, but all in good fun.

I really enjoy stories about women who “should” have gotten an abortion, but instead decided to keep their child, a reminder that women are strong enough to be successful and accomplish whatever they want to without having to sacrifice their offspring to get there. The heroine in The Best Mistake was a model on the fast-track to big money when she got pregnant. Now, several years later, she’s living a quieter but still successful life raising her child with no regrets for the career she left behind. She decides to take in a renter in her over-the-garage apartment, and readers will be shocked to discover that he’s both good-looking AND single!!! No one knows what will happen next!!

These weren’t stories I want to read again and again but they were fun as one-off reads.

Rilla of Ingleside // by L.M. Montgomery

It’s possible that Rilla is my favorite from the series, despite the fact that it isn’t centered on Anne at all (as the title implies). In many ways, you could probably read it as a stand-alone, although it’s much more meaningful when you know all the characters and their backstories. The story begins just as Rilla is turning 15. On the cusp of womanhood, she looks forward to the next few years being full of fun and frivolity. She freely admits that she doesn’t really have any “dreams” like her older siblings (she’s the youngest of Gilbert and Anne’s children), no particular talents or inclinations. She doesn’t even like babies! But Rilla is a wee bit spoiled and is confident that life will continue to fall into place as it always has. But then – World War I begins and everything changes.

//published 1921//

This book works on so many levels. It’s just a plain good story, and a wonderful glimpse at life “at home” during the war. In many ways, it’s a book about women and how, so often, their job through the ages has been to wait and keep the home fires burning. I think what I love about this story is that Rilla doesn’t disguise herself and sneak into war as a boy. She doesn’t even join up with the Red Cross and become a heroic nurse on the front lines. Instead, she just does her best to work hard and be a better person at home. For me, there’s a paragraph towards the end of the book that summarizes the spirit of the story. Victory has just been announced, and Susan, the older woman who works for the Blythes, runs up the flag –

As [the flag] caught the breeze and swelled gallantly above her, Susan lifted her hand and saluted it … “We’ve all given something to keep you flying,” she said. “Four hundred thousand of our boys gone overseas – fifty thousand of them killed. But – you are worth it!” The wind whipped her gray hair about her face and gingham apron that shrouded her from head to food was cut in lines of economy, not of grace; yet, somehow, just then Susan made an imposing figure. She was one of the women – courageous, unquailing, patient, heroic – who had made victory possible.

Montgomery lived through this war – Rilla was published in 1921 – and I think that in many ways this was her ode to the women who stayed behind.

I highly recommend this series on the whole, and Rilla in particular. Montgomery has a wonderful knack for writing about people who feel real, and for writing about everyday circumstances in a way that emphasizes the beauty, heartache, joy, and sorrow that encompasses everyone’s lives, even those of us who are “regular.” Some books that are classics just don’t seem to deserve that classification to me, but the Anne series does – wonderful books that capture a time, place, and people in a way that is still relatable to read about a century later.