Rearview Mirror // January 2021

Okay so yes it’s April, but sometimes life just gets behind, so hear I am with a throwback to January!!

Favorite January Read

Although I had a couple of rereads that I enjoyed more, I think that Time and Time Again was my favorite new read of the month.  It was such a fun concept and so well done.

Most Disappointing January Read

I’m going with Circles in the Snow for this one.  It was the final book in Patrick McManus’s Bo Tully series and it just… was weird?? It also lacked some continuity with the earlier books, which felt awkward.

Other January Reads 

January Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  29 (4 Kindle, 25 physical)
  • Total Pages Read:  8694
  • Average Star Rating for September:  3.7
  • Longest Book: The Grand Tour (469 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  An Officer & a Rebel (106 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  Alice in Wonderland (published 1865)
  • Newest Book: Active Defense (published 2021)
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  5

January DNFs

The only one I bailed on this month was a random Kindle book I got for free at some point, The Boden Birthright by Mary Conneally.  It wasn’t exactly a bad book, but, as my notes say – “Why did I even download this book?? It’s a Christian western?? What was I thinking??”  …just not my style!!

TBR Update

This I keep updated as I go, so it’s current as of today, rather than as of the end of January. 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:  513 (down two)
  • Nonfiction:  125 (up one)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  638 (down nine!!!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  253 (down two)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 115 (down three)
  • New Arrivals – (I have a lot of books that I have been gifted or that I pick up somewhere and they get put on my “oh I’m so excited about this shiny new book” shelf… and then of course don’t actually get read.): 128 (up thirteen!!)

Current Read

I’m reading Shoot the Moon by Kate Watson, the sequel to Seeking Mansfield.  While I really enjoyed the first book, I’m finding this one to be a bit of a drag.

Up Next

The probable next five(ish) reads…

  • Off Script, the third book in the series by Kate Watson that I’m reading
  • A Lady’s Guide to Mischief & Mayhem by Manda Collins – this month’s book for my traveling book club!
  • Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie – still working my way through all Christie’s books (again)
  • The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Rauf – a little outside my usual zone, but this one was recommended to me by a friend.
  • Mansfield Park Revisited by Joan Aiken – I reread Mansfield Park last month, so I’m hitting a few variations/retellings this month.  I really enjoyed Aiken’s variation on Emma (she tells the story from the perspective of Jane Fairfax) so I’m interested to read this one.

Final notes – I think I finally have my WordPress editor back to “normal”, which means I can still access the Classic editor!!! Life is good again!!! I really appreciate everyone’s patience with all my whining lately.  I’ll try to focus on reviews going forward!!!

Happy spring – I’ll be back soon with some February book reviews!!!

January Minireviews – Part 3

Oh my gosh.  Okay.  I’m still here.  I had a mild breakdown today because freaking WordPress changing literally E V E R Y T H I N G on top of my already crappy week was just more than I could take.  I even started to set up a new blog on Blogspot.  But for now I am going TRY to continue working with this stupid website because I feel like I have so much invested here!

A bit of whining first, then book reviews.  Feel free to skip this paragraph.  I’m in a Mood haha  So besides the fact that the entire dashboard is just stupid now, my biggest issue is that the Pages are just in some kind of random order.  (Maybe what’s been edited recently?  But it doesn’t really seem to be that.  Definitely not alphabetical.  Definitely not in the order they are on my site, or anything else that I can figure that actually makes sense.)  I use these pages every time I make a post because it’s how I index everything.  Each book I review then has a link filed on at least three index pages – the ones you can see at the top of the website.  However, even though I can’t sort those pages and the whole thing looks stupid I can apparently “search” them so I think I can use the search function to find the pages I want when I want them… maybe.  Mostly.  Honestly I’m just flat pissed at how horrible the new set up is.  It’s so, so horrible.  

But onward, right?  I’m going to try to see if I can make this stupid website do what it’s always done for me, even if it now takes about 15 extra steps and makes no sense.  At least I can now “seamlessly create a podcast” from my website.  Because that’s definitely what I want to do.  Oh my GOSH.

As a side note I can “kind of” use the Classic editor by choosing it as a block in the Block editor.  Because that makes sense, right? *HUGE EYE ROLL*

EDIT EDIT EDIT EDIT

I FIGURED IT OUT!!!!!  Okay, sorry, this almost feels like it should be its own post instead of one with reviews but whatever haha  OKAY so if your dashboard has also gone completely wonky – I went to My Profile and then on the left sidebar clicked Account Settings.  Now here’s the stupid part.  Just the other day I had to UNCLICK the button that says “Show advanced dashboard pages” so that the update would NOT show up.  Today I turned it ON and now everything is back to normal.  WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!

I’m SO SORRY that I’ve been whining about WordPress so much lately!!!  I’m going to try to go back to being the upbeat person that I usually am haha  Thanks so much for listening to me rant lately and for giving me helpful possible solutions!!!  Maybe this whole thing is back under control!?!?  Time will tell…  For now – on to a few reviews!!

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.

Time & Time Again by Ben Elton – 4*

The sad part about being way behind on reviews is that books that I really found interesting and thought-provoking at the time have now faded into the distance.  When I read this book back in January, it completely sucked me in.  A fantastic concept well-executed with a great twist – it honestly doesn’t fit my usual style of reading as it wasn’t a particularly happy book, but it was done so well that I didn’t mind.  If you’re someone with a rosier view of the human race than I have (i.e., if you think people are on a generally upward trajectory and are constantly improving rather than devolving), you may not like this book as well.  But since I actually think people are on a cyclical but steady downward trend, this book rather fit with my life philosophy in many ways.  

There were a few too many unanswered questions for me to rank this more than 4*, but all in all it was a solid and engaging read a bit outside of my normal parameters.  

Sheriff Bo Tully mysteries by Patrick McManus

  • The Blight Way – 4*
  • Avalanche – 3.5*
  • The Double-Jack Murders – 3.5*
  • The Huckleberry Murders – 3.5*
  • The Tamarack Murders – 3*
  •  Circles in the Snow – 2.5*
I usually give a series its own post, but I’m so far behind on reviews that I’m not even going to do that haha  
 
I grew up on McManus’s collections of essays/articles and many of my life philosophies are based on his theories.  This series was written late in his life and was one of his few forays into fiction.  Set in a small town in Idaho, the books focus on the county sheriff, Bo Tully, and various murders/adventures/shenanigans that occur in Blight County.  While the series started well with a likable group of characters, the last couple of books fell off sharply, with the stories getting weirder and the final book not even including most of the characters who had been regulars in the earlier books.  I can see myself reading the first two or three books again, but not the whole series.
 
Susannah the Pioneer Cow by Miriam Mason – 3.5*
 
Susannah the Pioneer Cow

//published 1941//

This is a simple children’s story about a pioneer family who moves west (all the way to Indiana haha) in a covered wagon but told from the (third person) perspective of the family cow, Susannah.  It was a happy little story but since it was focused on the cow it was lacking in a lot of details about pioneer life.  I think I would have loved this book when I was an early reader, though, because Susannah does have some exciting adventures.


Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

A fun little collection of short stories based around Miss Marple.  I actually rather enjoyed these because I quite like Miss Marple’s random-yet-somehow-make-sense connections between different people/situations, and those really shine in these shorts.  Not the best Christie has to offer, but still rather fun.

Oh my gosh not only did WordPress change it’s editing layout AGAIN now the entire dashboard is completely wonk and I HATE IT.  Seriously, please let me know if you are working on a blog layout that actually makes sense instead of this god-forsaken hellscape that WordPress’s dashboard has become.

Unknown Threat // by Lynn Blackburn

//published 2021//

For a moment, I’m going to take a break from my January reviews (lol) and talk about a book I read more recently, mainly because the publishers were kind enough to gift me a copy in exchange for my insightful opinions.  :-D

It appears that someone may have a vendetta against the Secret Service office in Raleigh – one agent was killed a few months prior to the opening of the book, and in the first chapter more agents are attacked.  Although there is always some inter-office friction between the FBI and the Secret Service, the FBI is called in to help work through the case, with Faith in charge of the investigation.  Working in close contact with Secret Service Agent Luke, there is some romance in the story, but the main focus is the mystery of who could be staging these horrific attacks and why.

There was a lot to enjoy in this story.  I really liked the characters and felt like Blackburn gave them a believable amount of backstory/issues without it getting ridiculous.  Both Luke and Faith have aspects of their past that they need to overcome, both to help them through the case and to help them come together as a couple.  This is published by Revell so there is a Christian message to the story, but the conversations about Christianity, prayer, doubt, and faith felt organic to the story rather than shoehorned in as is so often the case.  However, on that note, it did feel a little too tidy at the end – I would have liked some more specific resolution concerning Faith’s issues with her faith.  The ending of the story also felt a little too… complicated?  It did make sense, but in a somewhat convoluted manner.

Still, on the whole I really enjoyed this one.  It was an easy 4* read for me, and I’m looking forward to checking out the next book in the series when it appears.

The Newark Earthworks // by various authors

//published 2016//

I’ve always been intrigued by the Moundbuilders, possibly because my area of Ohio is rich with mounds, so it was always something we studied growing up. We’re only about half an hour away from Newark and have been to the Great Circle Mound several times. Once, when I was taking a class, I also was able to visit the Octagon Mound, which, although owned by Licking County, is under a long-term lease to a private golf course and so is unavailable for the general public to visit most of the time. For people who didn’t grow up in this area, or who aren’t particularly interested in this aspect of history, you may be unfamiliar with the ancient Native American cultures about which we know almost nothing for sure – likely ancestors of the tribes living here when the Europeans arrived, but even that cannot be known for sure, especially since those tribes had no particular oral history associated with the mounds.

The Great Serpent Mound and Fort Ancient are probably the most famous of Ohio’s earthworks, and are both well-worth looking up and visiting if the opportunity arises. But I’ve always had a soft spot for Newark’s earthworks, partially because they are so close to home and partially because they always seem somewhat neglected by historians. When I was in college (almost 20 years ago!) I took an Ohio history class with my favorite professor. He assigned us various famous Ohioans about whom we had to write a report and also give a lesson about to the rest of the class (since the course was a required one for education majors, he liked having us do some of the teaching). One of my Ohioans was “Oog – a Moundbuilder,” and the professor told me later that he had specifically given me the assignment because he knew that I absolutely HATE the way people make assumptions about ancient history and then state them as facts. The truth of the matter is that we know incredibly little about past cultures for certain. We can make guesses and assumptions about them, but literally KNOW almost nothing. The way theories and actual guesses are presented as facts fills me with rage, so I had a great time with my Moundbuilders report, which turned into a bit of a lecture on the importance of separating theories from facts haha

//The Great Serpent Mound// It’s unknown if the same people built this mound as built the Newark Earthworks //

ALL THAT TO SAY – a while ago I stumbled across this book and was genuinely excited because when I did my college report back in 2003, this book didn’t exist – in fact, the number of books about the Newark Earthworks at that time numbered exactly zero. (For the record, it now numbers exactly one, so while progress has been made, it isn’t much!) This book, published just a few years ago, is actually a collection of essays, each written by a scholar in a field related to history/ancient cultures/archeology/etc. The subtitle for the book is Enduring Monuments, Contested Meanings and in the introduction the editor explains that while they wanted to hear from a variety of voices on the topic of the earthworks, they also wanted to recognize the fact that there are different theories about both the mounds’ past and future. Thus, not all of the essays are in accord with one another, and I really appreciated the acknowledgement that that’s okay. It’s important to explore different theories and ideas in order to see what pieces fit together.

This book was written because the Earthworks are being considered (or at least were at the time – I’m not sure where they are in the process five years later) as a UNESCO World Heritage site, a title that I think that they deserve. So the idea for the book was to provide an introduction to the Earthworks, their known history, their theoretical ancient history, and various ideas for their future. While I did overall enjoy this book and I learned a lot, it’s an incredibly scholarly book in tone. It wasn’t particularly friendly to the layman and there were many areas that went over my head because I’m not actually any kind of expert in archeology (or math). I understand why they went the route they did with this book, but it would be amazing if someone would write a book on the topic that was more approachable for an everyday person.

Part One of the book is titled “The Newark Earthworks in the Context of American and Ohio History” and the essays in that section look at the known/recorded history of the Earthworks, discussing what parts of them were destroyed as the city of Newark was being built and what areas have been preserved (and how) and the basic original layout of the mounds. The main section of the mounds consist of a gigantic circle (3309 feet in circumference) which was originally connected to a large square by means of a road between oblong mounds. The square, in turn, was connected by a much longer road to an octagon linked to a smaller circle. There were also various other smaller mounds and roads that were part of the original complex. All that now remains are the Great Circle, the Octagon plus its smaller circle, a small piece of the Square, a few other odd and end mounds. The rest have tragically been destroyed over the years.

//Map of the Newark Earthworks before the widespread destruction began of many of the mounds. The circle/octagon towards the top left and circle towards the bottom are the main mound structures still standing today //

My favorite essay of the entire book was by Ray Hively and Robert Horn and is titled “The Newark Earthworks: A Grand Unification of Earth, Sky, and Mind.” This essay delves into the connections between the Earthworks and the moon and is absolutely fascinating, even if much of the math went over my head. The authors talk about how we can’t assume that just because one aspect of an ancient creation lines up with something in the sky that it means it was meant to do so – but when multiple things connect, we can start to assume that it was purposeful. In Newark, the Octagon has a complicated but precise relationship with the lunar cycle –

The moon completes its north-to-south-and-back excursion in only 27.3 days. A more careful and persistent observer would note over time that the precise location of the lunar extreme rise and set points oscillates much more slowly between maximum and minimum extremes, spanning a period of 18.6 years.

Despite the fact that this lunar pattern only repeats once every two decades, the mounds that comprise the Octagon correlate with the maximum and minimum northern and southern rises to an amazing degree of accuracy. This type of observation is something that would have to take place over many years in order to make sure that the mounds were being placed directly. Further, Hively and Horn go on to explain how the actual location for the earthworks complex is ideal in association with not just the lunar observations, but with various solar notations as well.

This post is already getting completely out of control length-wise, but I still have so much I want to discuss!  Several essays connected the mounds to other mysterious works of the ancients around the world – these connections were also tenuous – they were an attempt to compare things that have been learned about other locations and also methods that have been used in the preservation and current usage and then connect those things to the Newark mounds.  However, since I had picked up this book to learn more about the Newark earthworks, I found myself losing interest at page after page talking about about earthworks and buildings in other places around the world, especially when the emphasis was on how those locations were “definitely” used by the ancients so now we can “definitely” know how the Newark earthworks were used as well.  I’m sorry, but you simply weren’t there.  We can make many educated guesses and create complex theories, but that’s as far as we can go – and we literally will NEVER know the answer.

Another section of the book contained essays arguing that Native Americans should have more/complete control over the future of the Newark Earthworks.  While I could appreciate the spirit of these essays, I couldn’t bring myself to completely agree with them.  There is no actual oral history connecting the modern American Tribes with the moundbuilders – the mounds were not being utilized for ceremonial or other uses when the settlers moved into this region.  I’m not convinced that the Shawnees, currently living in Oklahoma, should have more to say about how the mounds should be used than the actual people who currently live around them.  There is no doubt that many horrific things happened in the past to the Native Americans and to their sacred places and burial locations, but there is also no evidence that the Newark Earthworks were either of those things for any people still living.

Consequently, essays that took the traditions of modern Native Americans and retrospectively applied them to the builders of the Earthworks also annoyed me.  Thousands of years have passed, there is absolutely no oral history recorded that explains the mounds, and we have no idea what the actual beliefs or political systems of these people were, so condescendingly explaining to me that “obviously” the moundbuilders had similar beliefs concerning the (non) ownership of land as did the native tribes that lived in the area when the Europeans arrived doesn’t really fly with me.  Ideas on land ownership, political hierarchy,  and religion are constantly evolving and shifting – do you really think that the people themselves died out so completely so as to not be remembered by their descendants, yet somehow all of their beliefs passed down through those same generations completely unchanged?

For instance, one essay discusses “Indigenous Views on Land and Place” and goes on to explain that, “Land and spiritual places are of central importance to indigenous nations. … Indigenous peoples did not own land in the Western sense of fee-simple holding. Rather the people belong to the land, like the plants, animals, places, and sacred bundles. ‘We do not own the land, we are of the land, we belong to it,’ according to Lenape teachings.” The essay goes on to claim that, because of this, only indigenous people have the right to say what should happen with the earthworks (in Newark and elsewhere) because those are sacred places. This is all well and good but… there is literally no evidence to show that the people who built the earthworks had the same feeling about land and its relationship to people as the beliefs of current Native tribes.

//Overhead view of the Great Circle Mound//


I’m also always amazed at how modern interpretations of the ancients ALWAYS uses some form of religion as an explanation for EVERYTHING.  Because obviously the only reason anyone would ever want to study the lunar cycle is because they worship the moon, apparently.  This modern-day arrogance that states that no earlier cultures could have ever been interested in science for the sake of science really grates on my nerves.  It comes from a place of insisting that humanity itself is growing ever better, stronger, and more intelligent – when I actually believe that the opposite is true.  At best, we cycle through highs and lows, and there is absolutely no reason why there could not have been a high point of civilization, science, and society during the time that the Earthworks were constructed – that things could have been built and studied from the sheer curiosity and interest of doing so rather than from some deep need to appease a god or usher the spirits of dead ones into the afterworld.  Yet this concept is virtually NEVER explored in anything I read about any ancient cultures.  Our modern day superiority insists that even though these cultures may have been “intelligent”, the only thing that could actually drive them to accomplish anything so amazing and involving such intricate and dedicated long-term study is… religion.  (And I say this as a religious person!)

In the end, this was an interesting read, especially for someone with an interest in ancient cultures in general and the Newark Earthworks in particular, but I felt that far too much emphasis and weight was placed on the interpretation of these mounds rather than what we actually KNOW and can observe for ourselves.  I would have loved more information about the lunar cycle and the connections to other high points in the region – basically, I wanted the first section to be the entire book lol  This is a book worth looking into if the topic really interests you, but someone needs to write a version that is more accessible for everyday readers if they actually want to interest “regular” people in the earthworks and their future.

January Minireviews – Part 2

Lately, I’ve considered giving up book blogging since I’ve been quite terrible at keeping up with it. Life is busy and I have a lot of other commitments. Plus, I’m not going to lie, I hate the new WordPress block editor with a seething passion. HATE. IT. It’s so counter-intuitive, overly-complicated, and absolutely nonsense when you just are trying to have a regular blog where you write stuff and stick in a few pictures – I’m not attempting to create an actual webpage here, I’m trying to write a BLOG. Every time I start to write a new post, I just remember how much I hate working on WordPress now, which makes me extra depressed because I’ve always been such a huge fan of this site and have had several different blogs here over the years. Is anyone using a different host that they like better? I’m up for exploration because WordPress now SUCKS.

But anyway, all that to say, at the end of the day I actually use this blog to track what I read and whether I liked it, so even if other people don’t read my reviews, I actually use them as a reference point all the time haha So for now, even though I’m always a couple months behind, I’m going to keep at it. I do enjoy writing the actual reviews (usually) (except for the part where I have to use WordPress’s stupid new editor) so I’m going to keep posting a few reviews whenever I get the chance.

And so – here are some books I read back in January!!!

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.

Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll – 3.5*

//published 1865, 1872//

These books (generally published together now, although originally published seven years apart) are classics that I hadn’t read in decades. There’s a group on Litsy visiting one fairy tale per month, the original and then whatever variations or retellings anyone wants to read, so it seemed like a good way to hit up some of the stories I either haven’t read or haven’t read in a long time, starting with Alice. As I had vaguely remembered, I didn’t particularly enjoy these stories. They’re okay, but they are just a little too frenetic for my personal tastes. I’m consistently intrigued by what books become classics. Why are these books, published way back in 1865 and 1872 still considered childhood classics that everyone should read? I honestly don’t know because while they’re fine stories, I really don’t find them particularly inspiring or engaging. I didn’t mind reading them, but don’t particularly see myself returning to them again.

Thirteen at Dinner AKA Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1933//

This is a crafty little Christie starring Poirot and the faithful Hastings. It’s kind of impossible to talk about this one without using spoilers, but I’m still, after all these years and rereads, consistently impressed with Christie’s story-crafting abilities. It isn’t just the mystery, which was solid, but her ability to make the reader care about what happens to various characters. She pretty much always “plays fair”, giving the reader the facts needs to solve the case… but I pretty much never do. Some of the time for my rereads, as with this one, I remember who the villain is, but still enjoy watching Christie line up the red herrings .

The Pioneers by David McCullough – 4*

//published 2019//

This is a nonfiction book that originally drew my attention because its focus is on the settling of Marietta, Ohio, and the impact that that had on the push of settlers into the Northwest Territory. I’ve read maybe one other McCullough book, but can see myself checking out some of his other titles. Overall, this was a solid read, but at less than 300 pages, not particularly a deep one. While I enjoyed the quotes and diary entries that made the text more personable, I also sometimes felt like McCullough let them dictate the direction of his book a little too much. The last section, especially, wanders away from Marietta and kind of all over the place, almost as though he still had some good quotes but didn’t know how to work them in. But there were loads of fun facts, like how there is a recorded instance of the settlers cutting down a tree that was TWENTY-ONE FEET in diameter, or how one community was so determined to establish a library that they collected animal pelts and sold them to buy their books – Amesville still bills itself as the home of the Coonskin Library. I’ve been to Marietta several times and visited the museums there, but it was interesting to hear about some of the other settlers, as much of the information in Marietta is focused on the most famous of them, Rufus Putnam.

All in all, a decent read about pioneer history, but one that I would label as a starting point rather than all-inclusive.

Bill the Conqueror by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

I’m always in the mood for Wodehouse even when I think I’m not in the mood for Wodehouse. As always, this book followed Wodehouse’s classic formula, but he does it so well and with such funny, funny one-liners that I always enjoy every page. With a whole slew of likable and unlikable characters all engaged to the wrong people, this was another fun read by my favorite author.

The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack – 3*

//published 2017//

This is where waiting two months to write a book review really does the book an injustice. At the time that I read this one, I had a LOT of opinions about it, but now most of them have fizzled away. Basically, the main character works for an auction house that sells incredibly high-quality, expensive stuff. She’s an appraiser, and the story opens with her assessing a collection of books and documents. In them, she finds a manuscript that claims to have been written by a woman from the time of Cleopatra, but what really shocks the MC is when she comes across HER NAME in the manuscript. As things unwind, we discover that the manuscript’s author was a seer and she is writing this entire thing about various future descendants of herself.

I wanted to like this book, and if I turned off the logic side of my brain I did like it, but there were just too many gaps and issues for me to really get behind it. The MC herself is super annoying and a total user of everyone around here. She’s recently found out that she was adopted and is acting like a petty, spoiled child about it and at times is downright cruel to her adopted mother. For someone supposedly in her late 20s/early 30s, she frequently sounded like a petulant, sulky teenager. Even if I accepted the fact that the author of the manuscript was a seer with the ability to look to the future, I couldn’t believe that she would have the mental capacity to understand everything that she was seeing. Could someone from Cleopatra’s time have a vision that involved airplanes and cars and understand them – and have words for them?? The stories that the seer was writing were far too complete to actually make sense as a prophetic manuscript, although the stories themselves were engaging.

The plot with the missing tarot cards was convoluted and choppy and still didn’t make sense at the end. This was one of my traveling book club books, which is why I read it – it wasn’t particularly a book I would have picked for myself, or finished reading if I had. Not a terrible book by any means, but it didn’t really inspire me to find out if Womack has written anything else.

Accidentally In Love Series // by Cindi Madsen

  • Falling for Her Fiance (2013)
  • Act Like You Love Me (2013)
  • An Officer & a Rebel (2014)
  • Resisting the Hero (2014)

Madsen has been on my radar for a while, but for some reason I hadn’t gotten around to any of her books before. I’m always a sucker for a fake relationship trope, so this series seemed like a fun place to start.

In the first book, Dani and Wes have been best friends since college and decide to be fake-engaged for a variety of reasons. There was all of the fun that usually surrounds this type of scheme, and the main characters were overall super likable. My biggest issue was that both of them had had serious relationships with other people in the past, but part of the reason that those relationships didn’t work out was because the exes didn’t like the close friendship between Dani and Wes, both of whom acted like that was super ridiculous since they were “just friends.” And just… (a) if my husband had a female friend that he’d known longer than me and that he spent hours talking to on the phone every week, I would not be comfortable with it, so I don’t feel like that’s an absurd thing to raise objections in a relationship and (b) the exes were right! Deep down Wes and Dani really were in love, but they never acknowledge that, instead acting like the exes were just soooo clingy and jealous! It really got on my nerves whenever they would bring it up. But for all that, the overall story was honestly good fun and an easy 3.5* read.

In Act Like You Love Me, Brynn used to be the awkward “ugly” girl in high school, so when her crush not only moves back into town, but ends up being the director for the community play she’s in, she’s quite nervous about what he’ll think of her – except Sawyer doesn’t even recognize her! Instead, he mistakenly assumes that she’s a spoiled actress here for some R&R – and Brynn lets him think it. Even though this was overall relaxing fluff, I’m never a huge fan of a story where lying is the central drama. There were multiple times when a simple conversation could have cleared up some big misunderstandings, and it just doesn’t happen when it should. 3* because I wanted to shake both these characters several times. PS, asking someone to move in with you is not a romantic ending.

An Officer and a Rebel is actually a novella, so this was an even faster read than the main books. It’s Christmastime and Kelsey is driving to Kentucky to visit her mother, but decides to take a side detour to the town where she lived in high school. Unfortunately, a snowstorm makes the roads treacherous, and she slides into a ditch, only to be rescued by her ex-boyfriend’s starchy older brother, Nate. Because of the bad weather, Nate takes Kelsey home and they end up snowed in together. Nate’s always had a thing for Kelsey but doesn’t want to make a move on his brother’s ex – plus, he’s a police officer and Kelsey has always been a bit… free-spirited. This was a fast read and pretty fun even if there wasn’t a lot of depth.

The final book in the series was pretty much in line with the others. Faith’s father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty when she was growing up. Her brother is a police officer now and has recently joined the SWAT team, meaning he’ll be in even more potentially dangerous situations. Faith lays the blame for his decision at the feet of her brother’s best friend/fellow officer Connor, and is pretty salty whenever he’s around. Even when sparks fly between them, she’s determined to resist them because she doesn’t want to be in a relationship with a cop. Like the others, fun and fluffy and ultimately pretty forgettable.

Overall, I enjoyed this series enough to check out some more of Madsen’s books, but I don’t really see myself returning to these again and again. They were fun as one-off reads, all in the 3.5* zone, but didn’t really hit me as instant classics.

January 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.

Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer – 4*

//published 1932//

Heyer didn’t tend to write sequels/connected books, so I was bit surprised when I read These Old Shades and then discovered that there was actually a sequel. Devil’s Cub is set a generation later – focusing on the son of the main couple from Shades. You don’t necessarily have to read Shades first, but it did add a level of fun, knowing more about the various characters. This wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was good, fluffy, Heyer fun with plenty of snappy dialogue, likable characters, and slightly-absurd adventures.

The Flip Side by James Bailey – 3.5*

//published 2020//

Most romcoms are written by women, and focus on the woman as the main character, but I genuinely appreciated Bailey’s story, which focuses on a guy, and puts that guy in the situation that so many female characters start with. Josh has arranged an incredibly romantic date with his girlfriend with the intention of proposing. Except not only does she turn him down – she confesses that she’s been cheating on him and no longer “feels the magic.” Within the first chapter, Josh is single, jobless, and back to living with his parents in the suburbs. As he looks at his life, he feels completely overwhelmed by all the choices he has to make, and all the choices he has made to get where he is – he feels like a failure and can’t see a way forward. And so, he decides to stop making decisions. Instead, he starts flipping a coin and letting fate decide what happens next. And as one might expect – shenanigans ensue.

There was a lot to enjoy about this story. There are fun and slightly-ridiculous scenarios, mostly likable characters, and a little bit of thoughtfulness about life choices and where they take us. On the other hand, a lot of the pacing felt stuttered, a few of the characters were extremely underdeveloped, and there’s this whole weird thing where Josh gets a ride with a taxi driver named Jesus, which leads to this whole conversation/scenario that felt kind of sacrilegious to me.

At the end of the day – an entertaining and overall enjoyable, but it isn’t one I see myself reading again and again.

The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer – 4.5*

//published 2004// Also, the cards are for another Litsy challenge haha //

These are the sequels to Sorcery and Cecelia, which I reread in December. Like the first book, they are fun and happy epistolary novels. In The Grand Tour, the two couples from Cecelia have just gotten married and are off on a joint honeymoon around the Continent, where they run into another magical mystery. The Mislaid Magician takes place about ten years later – both families now have several children, adding to the fun. This one is extra entertaining as there are letters between the husbands as well.

All in all, these are just such fun books with enjoyable characters and a very fun world-building concept – highly recommended.

Eyewitness Guides: Brazil4*

//published 2020//

Another challenge on Litsy this year is #FoodandLit – there’s a country each month, and participants try to read some books set in that country or written by authors from it, and we also share recipes, although I’m not particularly good at that aspect haha Because I’m really trying to keep my challenges focused on reading books already on my TBR, my goal is to read two books for each country – one nonfiction, most likely a travel guide of some sort – and one fiction, mostly based on what’s available at the library! These Eyewitness guides are great fun – super colorful, full of photographs and maps, and I learned all sorts of things about Brazil, which is actually a HUGE country. It was also fun to read this one before I read my fiction choice (next review) since I had a much better grasp on the geography of the country by the time I got to Ways to Disappear, in which the characters hop around the country quite a bit.

A fun way to armchair travel, especially to countries I’ll probably never visit in person.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This was a weird book that I would never have picked up if it wasn’t for the #FoodandLit challenge. The story is about Emma, who works as a translator. Her main focus for several years has been translating novels by a Brazilian author named Beatriz Yagoda. The story opens with Beatriz climbing up a tree with a suitcase – and that’s the last anyone sees of her. Emma, in snowy Pittsburgh, receives an email that she thinks is from someone connected to Beatriz’s publishing house, and spontaneously decides to go to Brazil to see if she can help locate Beatriz, a decision that makes Emma’s live-in boyfriend/almost fiance quite annoyed. In Brazil, everything is as opposite to Pittsburgh as it can be. It turns out that the email was actually from a mafia-like guy to whom Beatriz owes thousands of dollars in gambling debts. The story wanders through Brazil as Emma and Beatriz’s adult children try to find the missing author all while dodging the increasingly intense threats of the loan shark. The entire book has an almost dream-like quality to it, with an emphasis on the hot, sticky weather (in contrast to wintry Pittsburgh). Emma has an affair with Beatriz’s son, struggling with feeling conflicted about the marriage proposal she knows is coming from her boyfriend back home. Beatriz’s daughter, Beatriz’s opposite in almost every way, is frustrated that Emma is there at all, much less than Emma thinks she knows so much more about Beatriz than anyone else. The whole novel meanders around – it feels like, with the whole loan-shark-deadline-if-you-miss-it-we’re-going-to-kill-you thing, that there should be more of a sense of urgency, but there just isn’t. The ending is odd, but not necessarily out of character for the rest. A book I’m not exactly glad I read, but also not mad that I did, either. It was a fairly quick read, which helped, because I’m not sure how long I could have put up with the complete bizarreness of the whole thing.

The Broken Earth Trilogy // by N.K. Jemison

Oh man, I was SO CLOSE to actually being caught up on book reviews and stuff… and then somehow the entire end of January just disappeared!!! So here I am in February, writing up some January reviews!

  • The Fifth Season
  • The Obelisk Gate
  • The Stone Sky

I’ve had this series on my TBR for quite some time, so when Jemison came up as January’s #AuthoraMonth on Litsy, I decided it was time to finally read them. While the world-building was excellent and the concept quite good, this story was also relentlessly depressing, which made it a difficult read for me. There is also one view of the narrative that’s told in second person – it was annoying to start with and only got more annoying as the story progressed. Even when I found out who was talking and why – I was still aggravated because not only was it second person, it was second person present tense, which literally made ZERO sense within the context of the tale. Finally, the conclusion of the story really depends on the motivations and actions of one character who I felt was entirely too young for that scenario to make sense – and even if she was older, I still wouldn’t have really believed that she was willing to destroy the world because of this one certain situation, which meant that the entire third book/conclusion to the story arc left me feeling a little so-so about the entire series.

I was going to say some more about these books (mostly complain about the second person thing), but now it’s been a month since I read them and a lot of my stronger feelings have faded haha In the end – interesting but so depressing that I’m not really planning to read any more of Jemison’s books. I also felt like there was a strongly polemic undertone about racism that at times felt a little like I was getting clunked in the head with it, and that wore on me after a while.

All in all, I don’t exactly recommend this trilogy, but if it sounds intriguing to you, it’s worth giving it a try. In retrospect, the story telling really must have been pretty strong for me to stick out even though all that second person nonsense, but that really did drive me absolutely crazy.

Active Defense // by Lynette Eason

YAY!! Reviews for January IN January!! A momentous occasion! While Active Defense wasn’t the first book I read in January, it was a book that I received from the publisher so I wanted to get this review written before I delved into the rest of this month’s books.

Third in Eason’s Danger Never Sleeps series, this story focuses on Heather and was probably my favorite of the series so far. All of these books are centered on a group of friends who met/served together in the military in Afghanistan, but I appreciate the fact that Eason doesn’t try to politicize her stories. Most of the action takes place stateside, but Eason uses the military and Afghanistan as a backdrop that is effective and engaging.

//published 2021//

Heather worked as a field surgeon when she was in Afghanistan, and is now back home in South Carolina as a civilian, working in a hospital there. However, she’s recently become convinced that someone is following her – and she can’t figure out why. She confesses her concern to her friends one night when they’ve gathered for a cookout. Present are several characters from the last two books, including Travis, who owns a security agency and employs a couple of the other characters. That night, when Heather gets home, she notices several things out of place at her house and even though her alarm hasn’t been triggered, believes someone is hiding in her house. When she sees a picture of her and her closest friends on the refrigerator, each of them now sporting a red dot on their foreheads that weren’t there earlier, she grabs her emergency cash and emergency gun and bails, only letting her friends know that she’s going into hiding and that they may be in danger, not telling them where she’s headed.

The action in this one felt well-paced and (for the situation) believable. Now that more relationships have been established within the group of friends, the story was more cohesive than the earlier books – originally the readers were just told that these people all trusted one another, but now we’ve seen them working together and have watched that trust develop.

Sometimes the “side story” feels extraneous and distracting, but here I liked the addition of Ryker’s story. His background with an abusive father tied in well to Heather’s background, giving her more depth and helping us to better understand some of her actions, while also showing how situations where someone is being abused are frequently nuanced – not because the abuse is ever justified, but because it can be so difficult for victims to extract themselves from these horrible situations.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read – what I would call “lite” thriller – definitely a thriller, but not necessarily with the dark intensity that that term generally conjures up. While this reads best within the context of the earlier two books, it still stands independently and can be read that way, although you’ll miss some of the background connections between other characters. I’ve liked Heather from the beginning of the series and was glad to see her get her own story. Also, while I originally thought this was going to be a trilogy (mainly because Eason seems to favor them) but it appears that a fourth book is scheduled to be published this year.

Conclusion – 4* for an engaging and enjoyable read. Special thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy, which didn’t impact my opinions at all.