Summer of Lost and Found // by Rebecca Behrens

//published 2016//

I really wanted to like this children’s book (I mean, look at that gorgeous cover!), but in the end it was just a middling read for me, and not one that I’ll ever bother with again.

The story focuses on Nell, whose father is an author and whose mother is a botanist.  At the beginning of the tale, Nell’s father disappears – except he doesn’t really disappear; he’s left, and Nell’s mother is super cagey about where he is and when/if he is coming back.  So this means that instead of spending the summer at home in New York City, Nell has to go with her mom to do some research on Roanoke Island in North Carolina.  Nell isn’t super happy about giving up all the plans she had for hanging out with her best friend, but slowly finds herself drawn into the small town life on the island, as her mom researches some kind of really old grapevine that may possibly have been on the island at the time of the arrival of the original British colonists (the ones who disappeared).  Nell becomes intrigued by the missing colonists and begins trying to do some research with the aid of a boy, Ambrose, she met at one of the historical parks.  She also meets a girl about her own age whom she immediately dislikes, because the other girl, Lila, is super bossy and annoying.  Throughout the story there are also journal entries written by a boy from the lost colony.

Somehow, though, this book just wasn’t magical.  Children’s books especially have that potential (and it has nothing to do with whether or not there is actual magic in the story – its the essence of the story itself that is or isn’t magical), and this was just fell flat.  Part of it was the very muddy historical fiction aspect – for instance, in the end, Nell and her friends solve the mystery of the lost colony… except no one has ever really solved that, and it felt like if I was just a kid reading this book I would get to the end and assume that maybe that mystery had really been solved in real life?  I don’t know, it just felt strange that that was the way she decided to go, having a couple of kids solve a historical mystery that’s been around a couple centuries.

The whole situation with Nell’s dad felt extremely contrived, and it also seemed unnatural that Nell wouldn’t have actually confronted at least one of her parents way earlier in the story.  If Nell’s  mom felt like she needed to ‘take a break’ from Nell’s dad, what was the point of sending him away like two days before she’s leaving for the summer anyway?  It already felt like they were going to take a break, so the whole ‘disappearance’ was really just a way of making Nell have to go with her mom.

A lot of the story felt that way, like Behrens had an idea of where she wanted the story to go, but had to be rather heavy-handed in making it happen.

I appreciated that Behrens was trying to make Nell a sort of modern-day girl, and I didn’t mind the fact that some of the story was her texting or emailing people.  However, it seemed odd to have her texting during actual face-to-face conversations with other people.  Like when she meets Lila, they’re sitting in front of the bookstore talking, and Nell literally starts texting her best friend in the middle of the conversation, things like, “Met this girl in the bookstore – might be kind of cool” or “Nevermind.  The girl’s kind of full of herself.”  I think Behrens was trying to make sure we knew about Nell’s feelings towards Lila, but the texting felt like an extremely awkward way to express that.  Like, is she texting while Lila is still talking?  Does Lila pause the conversation so Nell can pull out her phone and send a message to someone else?  It was weird, and it happened on more than one occasion.

Finally, and this is a spoiler, so don’t read this paragraph if you want to read the book (or maybe do, because this was something that annoyed me throughout the whole book and I actually skipped to the end to find out if I was right, which is something I pretty much never do) – Ambrose is a ghost!?  And it’s just kind of like…  oh, okay, he’s a ghost!  So now everything makes sense.  It really, really felt like a cop-out, and I’m not really sure if like Behrens herself just believes in ghosts so presenting one as a reasonable solution is a sensible conclusion for her?  Because legit everyone, including adults, just say “Ohhhh, he’s a ghost!” and then that’s about it.  Also, I was hoping that there would be some good reason for why Nell can see/talk with Ambrose but other people can’t – like it would have made so much sense for it turn out that she’s a distant relative or something but… nothing.  No explanation.  Apparently Ambrose just liked the looks of her…???

Overall, there were just too many jumps/gaps in logic for me to get on board with this book.  I realize it’s children’s literature, but I think it’s just as important for children’s books to make sense (within their own world – I realize the rules of Narnia are different from the rules of The Secret Garden which are different from the rules in Babe: The Gallant Pig but each book still makes sense within its own context, and that’s the key) as it is for adult books, because having those rules flow together is what makes it easy to immerse oneself into the story.  There were way too many times that I felt jarred out of the story by a ?!??! moment.

A 3/5 for a pleasant read, but Summer of Lost and Found isn’t a book I’ll be rereading.

Summer Brides // by Marybeth Whalen, Beth Wiseman, and Debra Clopton

The third season in A Year of Weddings (Winter and Spring have also been reviewed) was another reasonably enjoyable outing.  While nothing came across as wildly innovative and engaging, they were still pleasant reads on the whole, even if they did kind of make my eyes roll more than usual.  Of course, that could be me because I have been quite discontented with my reading this month.

June Bride by Marybeth Whalen – 2.5/5 – This was my least favorite of the three.  Supposedly, Wynne has just finished a season on a reality show that focuses on people who have just been through a bad breakup and helps them find a new love.  When the story opens, the show has finished and Wynne is engaged to one of the guys she met on the show, Andy.  However, Wynne’s ex shows up almost immediately, and it’s obvious that he and Wynne are going to end up together, so I never had any kind of investment in the Wynne/Andy relationship, and it felt completely absurd that Wynne would have agreed to marry this guy without talking about things like going to church and having children.  I mean seriously.  There was also this other random character whose actions and presence made almost no sense and definitely felt like filler.  Basically I just felt annoyed at everyone the whole time I was reading this story, even if it did have its cute moments.

July Bride by Beth Wiseman – 3/5 – This story was alright.  Alyssa’s fiancee, Brendan, leaves her at the altar, which is pretty darn embarrassing.  Even more embarrassing is that afterwards he feels really bad and starts trying to win her back, when all she wants to do is move on.  Unfortunately, she starts dating another guy and Wiseman obviously wanted to make the other guy a bad guy, but she was really bad at it, so he just came across as not really making a lot of sense.  Like he thinks about seducing Alyssa, but then completely respects her request to wait until they’re married to have sex?  I wasn’t expecting him to rape her or anything, but it definitely seemed like if you wanted to convince me that he was not a nice guy, he should have been using a lot more peer pressure or something.  It was like she wanted everyone to root for Brenden so she had to make the other guy not nice, but she also didn’t want anything actually distressing to happen in her story, so the bad guy was just kind of … a guy.  The whole story would have made much better sense without  the love triangle – there still could have been plenty of story just with Alyssa and Brenden working out their lives.

August Bride by Debra Clopton – 3.5/5 – My favorite out of the three, even though it’s really not my ‘type’ of romance, as it definitely involved a cowboy, which generally makes me roll my eyes really hard.  But the chemistry between the two main characters was really good, and I loved the involvement of the crazy match-making aunts (who apparently are actually in a whole series of books that Clopton wrote, and right after I read this novella I got the first book in that series for free!).  I also felt like the give and take between the main characters was done really well.  All in all, this would have been a 4/5, except after knowing each other for only three weeks (and a lot of that time spent not convinced that they should be dating at all) they leap directly into being engaged to get married?!  The story would have made WAY more sense if they had decided to start dating each other, and then we had a nice little epilogue set in the future where they get all happily married.  Like I met my husband in April and married him in July of the same year, so I understand the concept of knowing when someone is the right person and not messing about, but my real-life story of three months already seems like a stretch, and I just couldn’t buy a fictional three week relationship that leads directly to getting married.

All in all, another pleasant set of three, but nothing that really captured my fancy.

Ramblings

I’ve been in one of my rather rare reading slumps lately, still reading (of course) but halfheartedly and without a lot of awesomeness to show for it.  In turn, reviewing also seems unappealing when I’m  basically just saying, “Eh, it was alright” over and over again.  I’m sure that someday I’ll stumble into the next book that really gets me going again.  I am, quite literally, surrounded by piles of books right now, so it seems like there should be something out there for me…

*****

Possibly I’ve been a bit depressed by the discovery that I’m suddenly a white supremacist.  I didn’t realize it before, because I thought to be one you had to believe that all Caucasians are inherently better than all other skin tones (which I don’t think is true), but apparently the actual definition is anyone who doesn’t completely conform to the beliefs and opinions of Black Lives Matter and Antifa.  So it’s a bit awkward to find out that believing that it’s wrong for any public monuments to be destroyed by a mob is apparently the moral equivalent of wanting to enslave people and slaughter Jews.  Ah well.

*****

In happier news, I went to a concert on Tuesday night that was so good it was almost a spiritual experience.  Several months ago my brother-in-law told us to check out a single released by a band of teenage guys from a small rural town in Michigan.  The first time I heard my husband play it, I thought he was playing another one of those previously unreleased tracks from Led Zeppelin – not only does the lead singer for Greta Van Fleet sound eerily like Robert Plant, the other band members have captured a lot of the depth, creativity, and joy of that band.

The group, consisting of a set of twin brothers, their younger brother, and a high school buddy, have since released a four-track EP that Tom and I have been listening to on heavy rotation ever since.  When we heard that they were going on tour and that their first stop would be here in Columbus, we bought tickets the first day they went on sale – a mere $10 a pop for general admittance to a small venue called The Basement.  (It’s literally a basement and kind of my least favorite place to ever go to a concert, as it’s small, dark, stuffy, and crowded; has terrible acoustics; and is nearly impossible to actually see the band.  But, you know.)  After we purchased our tickets, the band kind of exploded in popularity, and their original single, ‘Highway Tune‘, has been playing on the radio quite a lot.  At the concert, we overheard some people talking about purchasing scalped tickets for over $100!  (And seriously, no matter how much I wanted to see them, I’m not convinced I would pay that much for a general admin ticket…)

Tom and I went with his brother and the brother’s wife.  It was one of those perfect summer evenings and had been a while since Tom and I had gone out to do something (we’re very contented introverts as a rule), so it was fun to get out and people watch for a bit.  The Basement was, of course, a million degrees and stuffed full of people, so we took our drinks back outside to the patio and pretended to be smokers.  (I mean seriously, there’s something wrong with your venue when it’s easier to breathe in the smoking area than it is inside.)  There was a bench along the stairwell railing, and while we were sitting there, the opening band began to play – and we realized we could actually see them!  So we ended up staying there for the entire evening.  We could hear, breathe, and see better than we could inside, so it actually worked great.

The band itself was a joy to hear.  Like I said, they’ve only release four tracks so far, so I was a bit leery of listening to a concert where I wouldn’t know most of the songs.  However, they are so talented that I could have listened to them all night.  I’m kind of in love with their bassist, who also plays the keyboards – he’s absolutely brilliant.  Lots of bands have a good singer and a good guitarist, but the quality of the bass and percussion in GVF really gives them a boost.  It means that their music is interesting on multiple levels, well worth listening to time and again.

If you like classic rock, I can’t recommend checking out these guys highly enough.  While yes, their music definitely has Zeppelin undertones, they are still their own thing.  Tom says he thinks they sound similar because they’re ‘mining the same musical vein’ – Zeppelin would talk a lot about the importance of the blues and how much that influenced their sound, and GVF has said the same thing.  Their encore was a blues medley that was just so much fun.  These guys have a confidence playing together that only comes from a lifetime of jamming together.  I love seeing siblings working together like this.  Despite how young they all are, their music has such a full, mature sound.

All in all, it was the sheer joy that came through their music that made this concert one of the best I’ve ever attended.  They love to play, and they love their music.  It’s something you just can’t fake, and these guys don’t have to.  Their camaraderie and contentedness sounded in every note.  They’re definitely a band to watch, and one I’m positive I’ll have to pay more than $10 to see next time they’re in town.

*****

I’ve also been working quite a lot, which is taking time away from reading/reviewing time.  In the last month I’ve helped pick, sort, and sell several hundred bushels of peaches, and it actually hasn’t been as bad as you may think.  I really love the people I work for at the orchard, and it’s only about two minutes away from my house, so I can come home at lunch and that sort of thing.  The peaches are almost done, but the guys are picking apples already, so we are basically going to be rolling right into the busiest part of the season.  It won’t be long before I start driving my little delivery truck again – I get the joy of running the wholesale route.  I’m kind of like Santa Claus, except with apples and cider and I come every week for an entire season.  ;-)

*****

This week, I made my first attempt at canning – and it worked!  I canned some pickles, and it was very exciting.  The pickle recipe itself needs a little bit of adjustment as it came out quite dill-y, but the canning process was successful and not as difficult as I feared it would be.  I don’t think I’m quite ready to do jams and jellies or anything that complicated, but the pickles are pretty straightforward.  I also cooked down tomatoes into a sauce that I froze, and have more of those to put up this weekend sometime.  And now that the apples are coming on, I’ll be making applesauce, too – also quite easy to make and freeze and SO delicious!

My mom was never really into growing veggies or putting up food, so a lot of this is self-taught for me.  Of course, I have lots of books to use as reference material!  My favorite for food preservation is one published by, of course, Storey Publishers – Put ‘Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton.  It has tons of practical advice and recipes, plus step-by-step instructions for different preservation methods, like canning, freezing, and drying.  I love the way that it’s divided by produce type, so whatever you have a pile of on your counter, it’s easy to find a recipe and method for dealing with it!

*****

My little Etsy shop is keeping me busy as well.  I’ve been making lots of notebooks, and have ideas for some different items to add to my shop. I also ordered some wholesale washi tape that I am going to try to sell, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m expecting it to take another month to get here, since I ordered it from some crazy place in China somewhere.  As long as it comes at some point, I’ll be content!  In the meantime, it’s pretty fun to make notebooks, especially when people tell me they need them for special occasions – one lady just ordered some to take with her on a vacation to Denmark and Sweden!  It’s kind of exciting that my notebooks get to go off and have adventures, even if I’m still just chillaxin’ in Ohio!

*****

We’re mostly hanging in Ohio because we have sooo many ongoing house projects right now.  We closed in our back porch to make a sun room (or, as we like to call it, the Conservatory), and Pop has been busy finishing up the outside of that, a project that has involved several unnecessarily complicated trips to Menard’s.  We are FINALLY almost done fencing in the vegetable garden, which is also a run for the dogs and an extra run for the chickens (although not at the same time).  One of these days we are also going to finish the pantry project, at which point all of our food, currently in neat stacks and crates in the lower room, will be able to go to its new home, which will definitely help make this house feel less cluttered!

*****

My brother is coming in town from Seattle next week, so that will probably lead to several more hijinks.  We already have many plans.  His visits are always a crazy whirlwind of excitement and adventure, so hopefully we all survive.

*****

In a bit of actual bookish news, I did purchase the Hufflepuff edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  The binding itself is fantastic – honestly, it’s a perfect book: wonderful size, pages just the right weight, lovely font, delightfully bound – and the Hufflepuff facts not as lame as I feared they might be.  It’s also very nice to have the British edition – it’s amazing to me how much changes between the two, despite being written in (theoretically) the same language.  I went ahead and ordered the other house editions as well – weirdly, the four oldest siblings in my family each belong to a different house, so I’m excited about distributing them properly.

*****

In conclusion, one of these days I’ll get back to book blogging, and it will be fantastic.  I used to feel a little stressed when I went through these down phases, but I’ve since realized that I blog for myself and my own enjoyment, so if I’m not enjoying it, why bother?  The urge to express my bookish opinions always returns eventually.  And when it does, you all will be the first to know.  ;-)

Happy reading!

Nimona // by Noelle Stevenson

//published 2015//

I picked up this graphic novel to just sort of flip through it and see what the pictures were like, and before I knew it I was about a third of the way through and completely engrossed in the story.  Nimona was a surprisingly enjoyable read for me.  To date, I haven’t been much into graphic novels, but I’m starting to think that that’s just because I haven’t found any good ones before this.

Originally a webcomic, Nimona is about a villain, Ballister Blackheart, who, in the first chapter, is joined by a new sidekick: Nimona.  Ballister isn’t too excited about having a tagalong at first, but it turns out that Nimona is a shapeshifter, and soon the pair is working together to wreck havoc.

What I LOVED about this story was the fabulous world-building.  The setting for this story is sort of medieval, with knights and villages and dragnos and stuff, except with modern technology (and beyond), like video calls and tiny walkie-talkies.  So it’s actually kind of a sci-fi story, except with knights.  I was completely in love with the setting and was delighted with how well everything blended together even though it felt like it should have been ridiculous – like a science fair that actually looks like a medieval fair, or jousting knights who also have illegal laser guns.

The characters were also fantastic.  I fell in love with Ballister basically immediately.  He’s the perfect villain-who-isn’t, and his relationship with Nimona is a delight.  I totally wanted Ballister to be my uncle.  Nimona herself has a lot more layers than it appears at first, and honestly my biggest beef about this whole story is just that I want MORE NIMONA (and more everything if I’m honest… I need like three sequels at least).  Ambrosius Goldenloin is the other main character – the official hero/arch-nemesis of Ballister.  Of course, they were erstwhile friends, wrenched apart by a terrible tragedy, and now fight against each other.  I actually really felt like their relationship was done well, too – their being more than friends felt like a natural part of the story, not THE story.

Of course, the artwork is also amazing.  It’s colorful and engaging, and I really loved Stevenson’s style.  There are so many expressions, not just from the people, but from the various animals Nimona shifts into as well.  I feel like I could easily reread this story and get so much more out of the pictures now that I already know where the story is heading.

Overall, this story was an easy 4/5.  I felt like some aspects of the plot could have been tightened up, and I really wanted a more concrete ending for Nimona herself, but I couldn’t believe how this story completely sucked me in.  I enjoyed every page and wanted about five times more.

It also made me interested to read some more graphic novels, so if anyone has some good suggestions, do let me know!  Nimona came to my attention via an excellent review by ChrissiReads last year.

Spring Brides // by various authors

The next season in the year of weddings was not quite as enjoyable as the first (Winter Brides), but still had two good stories – the third I really didn’t care for at all.  However, I can’t necessarily expect to like all twelve stories, written by twelve different authors, so I wasn’t too fussed about one bum.

March Bride by Rachel Hauck – 3.5/5 – I know that Hauck has written a ‘Royal Weddings’ series because it has actually been on my TBR for a while.  This story is set in that world, and is actually listed as Book 1.5 in the series.  However, even though my guess is that I would have enjoyed this story a lot more if I had read Once Upon a Prince, it still held up well as a standalone.  Hauck did a good job of (re)introducing characters from the earlier story in a way that helped me, a new reader, understand their relationships, but also in a way that I don’t think would have bored someone who had already read the first book.

I really liked the characters in this story, and felt that their development was done well.  I also liked the way that the Christian themes were handled – it didn’t feel heavy-handed at all, yet was still a crucial part of the tale.  A very enjoyable little story, and one that has me quite intrigued to read the actual series.

April Bride by Lenora Worth – 3/5 – this was probably my favorite premise so far from these novellas.  The main characters have been engaged to be married for a while, and have known each other all their lives.  However, Mitchell wanted to completely his tour in the Middle East before their wedding, something that Stella fully supported.  When Mitchell comes back, he’s suffered a major head injury after an explosion that killed several of his mates.

I felt like Worth handled Mitchell’s PTSD really sensitively, but I wish that he had shared more with Stella of what was going on.  In the end, this dropped from 3.5 to a 3 because it got just a little too angsty/there were some issues that could have been resolved with one decent conversation, but it was still an engaging story.

May Bride by Meg Moseley – 2/5 – mostly, I didn’t like the main dude for this story, Gray.  I felt like he was really pushy and overbearing.  Ellie definitely had some issues she needed to work through with her mom, but it really seemed like Gray assumed way too quickly that his demands on Ellie’s time should take precedence.  The scene where I was basically over this story was when Gray wants Ellie to come with him horseback riding in two days, and she says that she already has plans to take her mom somewhere.  Gray somehow manages to turn the fact that Ellie is being a kind and responsible daughter into this  being another situation where Ellie’s mom is manipulating her.  Later, he kind of apologizes, but it’s this big ‘turning point’ of their relationship, with Ellie realizing how she needs to ‘stand up’ to her mom, etc., that left me honestly a bit livid.  If it Ellie’s mom is taking up too much of Ellie’s time, she needs to start with not agreeing to do stuff to begin with, not cancelling on plans where her mom is dependent on her help.  Gray’s character throughout was just so unreasonable, and it really felt like Ellie was just trading one annoying, overbearing, bossy person in her life for another.

Ellie’s mom was such a caricature anyway that it didn’t really matter.  Despite the fact that these are supposedly Christian fiction, Moseley managed to make Ellie’s mom the most annoying, hypocritical, ridiculous person, and that was quite frustrating.  To top it off, one of the supposed big ‘character flaws’ was that Ellie’s mom doesn’t drive in Atlanta, where Ellie lives, so Ellie always has to go visit her.  Gray continually acted like this was just completely ridiculous, but as someone whose mom doesn’t drive in our big city (and it’s no where as big or confusing as Atlanta), I never could agree with Gray’s opinion, especially since he grew up in Atlanta and has been driving there his whole life.  Complicated city driving isn’t for everyone, and I would personally prefer someone who is terrified and confused to not attempt it!

Anyway, all that to say I really just skimmed through the last half of this story as it continued to get more and more ridiculous and melodramatic.  2/5 for the story and 0/5 chance of Ellie’s future happiness.

The Tottering TBR // Episode XIX

A weekly(ish) post wherein I pretend to lament the fact that I have so many books on my TBR… but in fact am secretly rubbing my hands together with delight that there are so many amazing books left to be discovered…

This week felt strangely ‘normal’ – nothing weird or exciting happened – and it was fabulous!  I went to work, I cleaned house and worked in the garden, we grilled out a few times, and I visited with my family most of the day on Thursday.  I’ve still been doing quite a lot of reading, but while I’ve kept up the volume of reading, I don’t really feel like I’ve read anything really good. There haven’t been any books in quite a long while that have given me a genuine thrill.  I really felt like that was emphasized by the July Rearview I published this week – it was difficult to choose which book I liked the least, because there were quite a few I didn’t like, but picking out a favorite was difficult because there weren’t really any books in July that I loved – and I reviewed twenty books!

The pattern is continuing into August.  I’ve already published a post of minireviews just from the last two days of July and the first week of this month, because it feels like everything I’m reading isn’t really bad or really awesome – just kind of meh.  Hopefully I’ll stumble into a read that mixes that up soon…

Added to the General TBR:

Only two additions this week (maybe triggered by my jaded attitude towards reading right now haha).  Stephanie said that even though she wasn’t sure at first about What To Say Next, she ended up really enjoying it.  Fictionophile reminisced about an old favorite during Throwback Thursday – she originally reviewed Three Graves Full back in 2012 and still remembers it as a 5* read.

Off the General TBR:

I didn’t actually read/review anything from the General TBR this week, but I did remove three titles while reserving my  next three books from the library – sometimes I add books and then, later, when I am rereading the synopsis and such, I change my mind about even bothering haha

Total for the General TBR:  791 (down one!)

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Added to the Personal TBR:

Free Kindle books continue to beguile me/ruin my life – I added five this week!

Off the Personal TBR:

Luckily, I did get a few titles checked off this week, too.  I read and reviewed A Dark Lurewhich was a pretty meh free Kindle book from a while back, and also a childhood favorite – The Cat Sitter Mystery by Carol Adorjan.  As an aside, rereading that book made me wonder if Adorjan had written anything else – and of course she had!  One of the books looked like it might be a sequel to The Cat Sitter Mystery, so I found a cheap secondhand copy on eBay, and it’s on its way!  I also read and reviewed a biography of Amelia Earhart that has been on the shelf for a while.

Total for the Personal TBR:  595 (up two)

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Total for the Series TBR:  No change this week – steady at 222.

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Total for the Mystery Series TBR:  No change this week – holding steady at 103.

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Added to the Nonfiction TBR:

Reading Amelia Earhart’s biography inspired me to find some of the books that she herself wrote.  I added her personal account of the flight across the Atlantic, 20 Hrs., 40 Min., to the list.

Off the Nonfiction TBR:  

Even though I did review a nonfiction book this week, it came off the Personal tab rather than this one, so none off.

Total for the Nonfiction TBR:  80 (up one).

*********************

Grand Total for the Week:  Eight on and six off, so up a net of two – not bad!  :-D

August Minireviews – Part 1

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.

The High Window by Raymond Chandler

//published 1942//

In this outing for PI Phillip Marlowe, the tough-talking-but-soft-hearted detective finds himself working for a rich but rather dreadful old widow.  Per usual, Marlowe is pulled into all sorts of shenanigans, most of which would seem unrelated to someone more optimistic than our hero.  The mystery in this one seemed stronger to me than the first few books, and I really enjoyed the story.  These books are pretty fast reads and I am finding them to be thoroughly engaging.  3.5/5.

Once Upon a Kiss by various authors

//published 2017//

This collection of short stories are all retellings of fairy tales by random YA authors.  I picked it up as a free Kindle book in hopes of maybe finding some new authors to check out.  However, none of the stories in this collection rated higher than a 3/5 for me, and some I didn’t even bother to finish.  To me, a short story should still have a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and end, and some kind of driving force for the protagonists, but a lot of these stories just came across as ‘sample’ writing – a few stories literally just stopped and were like, ‘If you want to find out more about what happens next, be sure to check out my book!’ which annoyed me so much that I won’t be checking out their books.

Overall, not a complete waste of time, but almost.

The Cat Sitter Mystery by Carol Adorjan

//published 1973//

This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I’ve had around for as long as I can remember.  I read this book when I was pretty little – it was possibly one of the first mysteries I ever read.  I was quite enthralled with the exciting and mysterious events surrounding Beth’s neighbor’s house!

Rereading as an adult, this story about a girl who moves into a new neighborhood and then ends up taking care of her eccentric neighbors’ cats, doesn’t really have a great deal of depth, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.  Adorjan does a really great job of making the whole story plausible, and also setting up reasonable explanations for all of the shenanigans.  The side story about Beth trying to settle into her new neighborhood in the middle of summer is also done well.

My edition is fabulously illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush, who illustrated several other childhood favorites, like Magic Elizabeth and Miracles on Maple Hill.  They are probably most famous for their work with the original editions of The Borrowers and their sequels.  The Krush’s line drawings are just perfect, especially of the cats.

All in all, a comfortable 4/5 for this short children’s book, an old favorite that held up quite well to an adult reread.

The Story of Amelia Earhart by Adele de Leeuw

//published 1955//

Back in the 1950’s, Grosset & Dunlap published a series of children’s biographies called ‘Signature’ books – each one has a copy of the famous person’s signature on the front, and an illustrated timeline of ‘Great Events in the Life of…’ inside the front cover.  I really enjoy history books that are aimed at the middle school range because they usually hit all the high points without getting bogged down with a lot of details and political opinions.  It’s a great way to get a basic introduction to a person or event.  I’ve collected a lot of these Signature books over the years – they have those delightful cloth covers from the era and are just a perfect size to read.

That said, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this one.  While it was a fine read, de Leeuw’s choices about what random vignettes from Earhart’s life to include seemed really random.  For instance, an entire chapter is devoted to a random event in Earhart’s life involving a neighbor who treats his horse cruelly – and in the end, Earhart and her sister don’t actually get to rescue the horse – instead, it escapes and then dies leaping over a creek?!  It just felt incredibly random and didn’t really add any information about Earhart – it never came back as this big influential event or anything.  There were several other, smaller stories like that throughout, like de Leeuw had collected tons of tales and then just pulled out of a hat which ones to include.  It was definitely much choppier than other Signature books that I’ve read.

Still, Earhart had an amazing and fascinating life.  I really loved how so much of what she did wasn’t amazing because she was the first woman to do it – but just the first person.  I love biographies that emphasize a woman’s abilities, intelligence, and skills as those of a person instead of those as a woman.  No one is going to believe that women are just as capable as men if we constantly act like being a woman was a weakness they had to overcome.

All in all, this was a fun and interesting book.  I’m not particularly into aviation, but apparently Earhart herself wrote a couple of books – I’m especially interesting to check out her book 20 Hrs., 40 Min. about flying over the Atlantic – I’m curious to see how it compares to Charles Lindbergh’s account, which I ended up really enjoying a lot.

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

//published 1943//

The fourth Phillip Marlowe felt a little darker than the first three.  Marlowe seems a little jaded, and while he still manages to make fun of many of the terrible people he meets (usually everyone he meets is pretty terrible), sometimes it felt a little serious, like Chandler genuinely was starting to think that everyone out there really is terrible.  There is also a rather gruesome scene when a body is found – not exactly graphic, but so well implied that it didn’t need to be in order to make me feel a little queasy (possibly because I was trying to eat a baloney sandwich at the time).

However, the mystery itself was, I felt, the strongest yet.  The reader has access to all the same information as Marlowe, and while I was able to connect some of the dots, I didn’t hit them all.  I really enjoyed watching everything come together, but the ending was just a bit too abrupt to feel completely satisfactory.

Still, a really great read, if a bit darker than the earlier fare.  3.5/5.