Rearview Mirror: February 2015

Gahhh okay so February ended up being super crazy.  Remember back on the January Rearview post, and I was all like, “Ah, life! So peaceful!”  Well, don’t tempt fate.  February was insane.

My mother-in-law was in and out of the hospital a few times, so I ended up spending a lot of time hanging out there.  While, of course, it’s all sad and she has been unwell (although she is responding quite well to the most recent treatment), I’m pretty good at silver linings.  The hospital itself is lovely, so open and light and clean – it’s brand new and absolutely fantastic and the cafeteria serves superb pizza (yeah, so much for January’s diet/exercise program, too!).  And, of course, being in hospital as a companion means – loads of reading time.

And it’s actually very nice reading time, because you don’t have this nagging feeling that you ought to be somewhere else or doing something else.  Sitting there is the thing you’re supposed to be doing, so the reading is guilt-free.  I’ve always been the hospital-companion of the family, so I’m really rather comfortable there with my bag of books.

All that to say, lots of books in February!!

Other February news…  okay, well, this has nothing to do with reading but I got a new stove and it is so wonderful that I’m telling my book blog about!  I LOVE MY STOVE!  It’s beautiful!  It’s gas!  It has five burners!  It has an oven that heats quickly and evenly!  Gah, it’s gorgeous.  Between that and my new sink, I find myself standing in my kitchen, petting things.  So pretty.  ::happy sigh::

Also, February here has been VERY COLD and we got snow!  Legit snow!  Like eight inches of it!  I was actually pretty excited about that. I love snow, especially when it’s all fluffy and happy and it happens on a Saturday and we can stay home in our pajamas and just enjoy life.

Okay, anyway, other February book news!  Besides reading a ridiculous number of reviews and adding sixteen books to the TBR (not including like three more series), I also made another huge step in my life………………..  I bought a Kindle!  I’m almost ashamed.  Here’s the thing: I really, really, really love books.  Like actual physical, real books.  I love them.  I love the way they smell, the way they feel, the weight of them, the way that perfect book fits into your hand and falls open in just the right way…  seriously, I love books.  I have purchased books just because I like the way they look or feel.

BUT when I was spending all that time at the hospital, I also spent a lot of time on my phone, just messing about, playing games and, yes, reading via the Kindle app.  See, I have this paranoia, this horrible fear, and it haunts me everywhere I go…  what if I get trapped somewhere without a book?!?  And it’s worse when I’m going somewhere where I know I’ll be doing a lot of reading.  The Kindle means I don’t have to take eight books with me everywhere…  just the one I’m reading and the Kindle for backup.

So we’ll see how it goes.  I do like this little thing.  I got the 6″, so it’s small and adorable and quite happy.

Alrighty, so much for my (not really) interesting life.  This month, I did come across two especially fun posts to share.  MyLittleBookBlog talked about her thought process while writing a blog post (oh-so familiar!), while FictionFan shared some things she’s never read in a book review (so why do writers keep doing them??).

For February, I posted twelve book reviews (woohoo!) and only have two books in the Need Reviewed Pile, so that’s staying under control, mainly because I bothered to finally figure out how to schedule posts, which means I can review a whole bunch of books while I’m in the groove, but not have to bombard all of you with all the reviews at once!  I also figured out how to link to Twitter!  Say what!  Now my Twitter actually has twitterings!

Favorite February Read:  Okay, actually a really hard choice, but I think I’m going to go with A Monster Callsbecause I really feel like everyone should read this book.  It slayed me. The writing is amazing, the illustrations are perfect, the story is beautiful.  This book was genuinely close to a perfect read for me.  READ IT.  Oh, and make sure you get the physical copy – the illustrations are truly part of the story (or at least they were for me), but when my sister checked it out of the library on her Kindle, no illustrations?!?  So get the real book and set aside an hour and read it straight through.  Beautiful.

Favorite February Read #2:  Yeah, Pollyanna of the Orange Blossoms was actually a very close second.  It’s just so happy!  I love to read a story about a happily married couple, and Pollyanna and Jimmy are just too adorable for words.  This book has definitely been added to my list of I’m-tired-and-grumpy-and-just-need-a-happy-book-to-read.

Most Disappointing February Read:  I guess I’m going with Dan Brown’s Deception Point.  This book totally gave me book deja vu.  It felt like it was the same the story I had already read in Digital Fortress except with different names and locations.  While not a bad read, per se (actually, it kept me up for hours reading it!), I was hoping for something a little more innovative.

Other February Reviews:

  • Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund – YA – 4/5 – fantastic retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel.  And oh, by the way.  It’s a sequel to another book.  Don’t bother telling me ahead of time, though.
  • The Far-Off Land by Rebecca Cauldill – YA/Historical Fiction – 4/5 – a thought-provoking frontier tale.
  • The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie – mystery – 3/5 – solid but not striking.
  • Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter – YA/children’s – 4/5 – very solid sequel to Pollyannabut not as good as the third in the series!
  • A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie – mystery – 3/5 – a bit meh.  And no, I didn’t spell “Caribbean” right on the first try.  I never do.
  • A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall – YA/NA/chick lit – 4/5 – a surprisingly adorable and happy little piece of chick lit.  I actually loved it!
  • Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling – children’s – 4/5 – classic Kipling.  His illustrations are hilarious.
  • At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie – mystery – 3/5 – a bit overly complicated, but I would love to stay at Bertram’s!
  • Barefoot Summer by Denise Hunter – chick lit – 3/5 – warm and happy, but nothing unexpected.
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – YA – 4/5 – surprisingly thoughtful teen romance.

Was this girl busy writing reviews in February??  You bet I was!

Added to the TBR:

Since I got so many books read, that means I can add even more, right??  Even though I added a lot, here are the highlights, as inspired by reviews around WordPress…

  • Reading, Writing & Riesling added two books to the list – both Monday’s Lie by Jamie Mason and Crash and Burn by Lisa Gardner sound like brilliant thrillers.
  • Cleopatra Loves Books also did some damage by adding Taunting the Dead (plus, of course, its sequel, Follow the Leader) by Mel Sharratt and The Exit by Helen FitzGerald.  Apparently, I’m really yearning for some good mystery/thrillers….
  • FictionFan tempted me with the first in another mystery series, The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg.  I’m not 100% sure I’ll be able to get these, since they are Swedish (??) and haven’t all been translated, but since I probably won’t actually read them for another three years, maybe we’ll be all set by then??
  • FictionFan also scored with her review of Dune by Frank Herbert.  Sci-fi/fantasy/political??  Does it get more fun than that??  Of course, there are like eight books in the series so……
  • And finally, Sophie inspired me to read a really fluffy-sounding chick lit (all the better because she doesn’t recommend much from that genre!) – Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen.

So thanks for reading with me in February, and here’s to a happy March!!

Eleanor & Park

//by Rainbow Rowell//published 2013//

71LkLmxqgjLSo Rainbow Rowell is one of those authors that I keep hearing people go on about and keeping thinking that I should read.  I actually did read her book Landline back in the early summer, but that was right before the house-buying chaos broke loose, and I just never reviewed it.  But I found the writing to be engaging, and decided that it would be worthwhile to check out her other titles, which brings us to Eleanor & Park.  

First things first: I actually enjoyed this book.  The word that keeps coming to me while I’m thinking about this book is thoughtful.  Not quite to “profound,” but definitely a book that gives you something to chew on.  There is more going on than just the bare bones of the story.

But here are the bare bones of the story nonetheless:  Eleanor is the new girl in high school, and she’s all wrong.  Her hair is crazy, her clothes are crazy, she says things that are crazy.  In high school, where the mantra is blend in, Eleanor does her own thing.  Park is one of those quiet, middle-ground guys.  Not popular, but no one messes with him, either.  But when he ends up sharing his seat on the bus with Eleanor, both of their lives change.

The book cover says “This is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.”  And really, that’s the type of sentence to make me back away from a book as quickly as possible, but I’m glad I looked past it, because it’s truly an incredibly inaccurate statement.

Eleanor & Park is so much more than a teenage love story.  I walked away from this book with a strong conviction, a reminder that there is so much more to people than we can see.  We see someone around and wonder why they dress or talk or act a certain way, a way that, to us, seems really rather absurd.  But the truth of the matter is that we have no idea what has brought that person to where they are now.  We have no idea what forces have shaped them, what circumstances face them at home, or what fears haunt them.

For me, that was what this book was about.  About two teens who at least got a glimmer of the importance of learning to accept people where they are and for who they are, instead of expecting them to conform to some preconceived idea of what a certain person should look like.

The story itself was engaging.  Eleanor and Park are both very likable, despite (because of?) their flaws.  I loved the fact that Park comes from a happy family, with parents who are still married and still love each other. So refreshing.  Especially since Park recognizes it as something really great, as something that he wants for himself someday –

His parents never talked about how they met, but when Park was younger, he used to try to imagine it.

He loved how much they loved each other.  It was the thing he thought about what he woke up scared in the middle of the night.  Not that they loved him – they were his parents, they had to love him.  That they loved each other.  They didn’t have to do that.

None of his friends’ parents were still together, and in every case, that seemed like the number one thing that had gone wrong with his friends’ lives.

But Park’s parents loved each other.  They kissed each other on the mouth, no matter who was watching.

And Park’s happy home life felt every bit as realistic as Eleanor’s bleak one.  It never felt like Park’s parents were special, or superhumans, to have stayed married all this time.  One gets the strong sense of choice.  Eleanor’s parents made very bad ones, while Park’s have tried to make good ones, starting with the choice to stay together, and, more, to stay in love.

I also appreciated that the physical aspect of Park and Eleanor’s relationship was not the main focus.  They become friends first.  This isn’t a story of instalove, and it isn’t a story of passionate necking whenever they get a spare second (although there is a bit of it), it’s a story of friendship.

He tried to remember how this had happened – how she went from someone he’d never met to the only one who mattered.

It’s a story that sounds like it should be a bit cheesy, but somehow isn’t.  It’s a story that sounds like it should be overly-dramatic and depressing, but somehow isn’t.  It’s a story that sounds like something I would hate, but somehow isn’t.

Eleanor & Park comes away with 4/5 and as a recommended read – a narrative that manages to be thoughtful and engaging, despite being a teenage love story.

Barefoot Summer

//by Denise Hunter//published 2013//

51QInb3eE4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Sooooo guess what!  This is my first book I am reviewing that I read on my phone!  This is a big deal for me.  Still not super into not having a physical book, but I have to admit that it is very convenient to always have a book in my pocket.  It means I don’t have to carry around 3-7 back-up books with me everywhere I go!  I mostly read books on my phone that I don’t end up reviewing, because they’re terrible Pride & Prejudice retellings and whathaveyou, but the other day there was a perk and Barefoot Summer was free, so I downloaded it.

Back in the summer I read Dancing with Fireflies.  While it wasn’t the best book ever, it was a happy little piece of chick lit.  Of course, turns out that, go figure, it’s a sequel.  Seriously, people, why is it so hard to note that a book is part of a series?!?!?!?!?!?!  So Barefoot Summer is actually the first of the Chapel Spring romances, and now I kind of want to read Dancing with Fireflies again, because I wasn’t really paying much attention to Beckett and Maddy when I read it the first time – now I am way more vested in their future lives.  ;-)

In this story, 26-year-old Maddy is determined to win the annual boat race.  Her twin brother died when they were 17, but he dreamed of becoming the youngest winner of the race, and had just purchased a boat to race.  But if Maddy wants to live her brother’s dream, it has to be this summer – the current youngest winner was 27.  Of course, it’s a bit awkward because not only does Maddy not know how to sail a boat, she’s terrified of the water completely.  Still, she’s taking lessons from one of the town’s most accomplished sailors…  or at least, that was the plan.  At the last minute, Evan is unable to make it, and sends his friend Beckett instead.  Of course, Maddy and Beckett have some history, and there is lots of romantical tension between them, and just enough misunderstandings to keep things going along, and then there is a super happy ending that everyone saw coming.

So I actually liked this book better than the sequel.  The motivation for the characters felt more believable, and I really liked Maddy a lot.  Beckett, of course, is a total dish.  Maddy’s family is a strong part of why the book is so readable; they were my favorite part in Dancing with Fireflies as well.  There were a few minor ???? kind of issues (mostly because one sister has dashed off to no-one-knows-where but even though this book seems to be set in current 2010’s, she has no cell phone?????), but overall the story flowed well.

While Barefoot Summer isn’t a book that I want to read again and again, it’s definitely a warm and fuzzy chick lit, a super relaxing read for a quiet day at home.  3/5.

At Bertram’s Hotel

//by Agatha Christie//published 1965//

746398In this Miss Marple mystery, she is once again on a nephew-Raymond sponsored holiday.  This time, Miss Marple has gone to London to stay at Bertram’s.  Bertram’s has been around forever.  A quiet, respectable hotel that, somehow, time has touched very lightly.  Everything about Bertram’s is really quite perfect, and Miss Marple is delighted to see how little it has changed since she was there as a girl.

This mystery is a bit odd because the murder is towards the end of the story and is, in many ways, rather anticlimactic.  The real mystery is more about a criminal ring that has been pulling have fantastic heists all around the countryside.  While we start and end with Miss Marple, much of the middle bit follows Chief Inspector Davy, who meanders around collecting bits and pieces of information.  Of course, Miss Marple frequently just so happens to be at the right place at the right time, and hears some critical conversations and makes some critical deductions.

At Bertram’s Hotel was a solid read, but, as with most of Miss Marple’s books, not really one that struck me as amazing.  I’m really just not as huge of a fan of Christie’s later works,  as they so often seem to lack the zing of her earlier stories.  Still, this was a perfectly acceptable installment in the Miss Marple series.  3/5.

Pollyanna of the Orange Blossoms

//by Harriet Lummis Smith//published 1924//

potobOkay, so I just spent like five minutes trying to find out more information about the Glad Series as a whole, and how they went from Eleanor Porter to having several other people writing sequels, but came up pretty much empty.  Anyone else know??

All I know is that the third book in the Pollyanna series is written, not by the original author – Eleanor H. Porter – but by Harriet Lummis Smith.  And while I really enjoyed Porter’s books, I actually found Pollyanna of the Orange Blossoms to be my favorite so far.

We begin with Jimmy and Pollyanna’s wedding and go from there, through the first year or so of their married life.  They move to Boston so Jimmy can begin his new engineering career, and Pollyanna settles into homemaking joyously.  I had read this book before, but had been several years – this is the first time I’ve read this book since I got married, and I actually found myself in sympathy with Pollyanna several times as she tried to figure out the strange mystery of her much-loved husband!

Jimmy and Pollyanna are a delightful couple.  While by no means perfect, they sincerely work together as a team to make their marriage work.  Jimmy works six-and-a-half days a week (and calls it normal), and Pollyanna, despite living in town, does her own canning and sewing.  They are happy, industrious, and productive.  They make friends, have little adventures, and Pollyanna continues to live by her central theme of finding silver linings to every cloud.

It felt as though her tendency towards constant gladness could get old or annoying as Pollyanna grew into adulthood, but Smith transitions our heroine well.  While Pollyanna doesn’t talk about her “game” as much, she lives it, which is very effective preaching.

I absolutely love the relationship between these two, and love the way that they grow from that early ecstatic love to the calmer-but-still-passionate enduring kind of love that is built on friendship, camaraderie, and the complete confidence that you are on the same team.

Actually, Pollyanna has a bit of an epiphany in that regards – Jimmy accidentally does something that completely messes up Pollyanna’s careful household planning, and she is understandably upset.  As Jimmy is trying to explain his perspective –

Pollyanna suddenly realized that Jimmy was pleading his cause as if she had been a judge, and he the prisoner at the bar.  And with that realization came the knowledge that this was no way to face the situation.  The problem was not hers, complicated by his blunder, but a partnership affair.

When Pollyanna is able to recognize and accept that the best way to tackle their problem is not by blaming – even justified – Jimmy, but by standing shoulder to shoulder and working through the problem together.  This kind of teamwork is echoed throughout the story, as both of them learn the importance of letting go of personal petty hurts for the good of the team.

Much of Pollyanna’s character is seen through the eyes of her new neighbor and friend, Judith.  Judith is a new bride as well, but comes to her housekeeping with a completely different attitude.  It is so interesting to me how Smith handles the differences in the two marriages, skillfully showing how two couples, similar in age, location, background, and financial situation, are completely different because of their attitudes.  Jimmy tells Pollyanna regularly that she is what makes it easy to be a patient husband, and that if he was married to someone like Judith! Well!  And Pollyanna says the same of Jimmy.  Judith, who eventually hears about Pollyanna’s Glad Game, is slow to make changes, but does have a bit of an epiphany one day –

She realized that Pollyanna’s sunny cheerfulness was not due to her having an easier time than other people, but because she had made a life-long habit of looking for the cheerful side of the most unpromising situations. …  she realized more and more that drudgery is not dependent on the amount of work to be done, but is altogether concerned with the spirit.

Judith’s growth is a wonderful little side story.

In the second half of the book or so, the States enters World War I, and Jimmy goes off to be a soldier.  And here occurred the one thing about this story that really, really irritated me…  Pollyanna doesn’t tell Jimmy that she’s going to have a baby because she doesn’t want it to impact his choice/make him more hesitant to go to war.  Women not telling their men that they’re having that man’s baby REALLY gets on my nerves.  Pollyanna’s pregnancy absolutely should impact Jimmy’s decision and deserves to know that she is having his baby.  For a book that emphasizes the teamwork in marriage all throughout, the message falls flat when it comes to the baby – it is Pollyanna’s baby and Pollyanna’s decision about when/if the father should know.  Gah.

However, that is a very minor complaint.  Overall, I absolutely loved this book and found it completely delightful.  While it would make more sense to read it if you’ve read the first two books, I also think that it could pretty comfortably stand on its own.  I definitely recommend Pollyanna of the Orange Blossoms.

Deception Point

//by Dan Brown//published 2001//

download (3)A while back I read Digital Fortressmy first Dan Brown read.  I really enjoyed it and added some of his other books to the TBR.  While Deception Point was a gripping read (and Brown is now 2/2 for making me stay up until the book is finished because no matter how tired I am, I can’t stop reading), it had some very similar plot lines to Digital Fortress, which means that I wasn’t really all that surprised by the ending.  It was still an engaging read, and I enjoyed seeing how he was getting where he was going, but it lacked the complete WHOA factor that Digital Fortress had for me, leaving this one more of a 3/5.

Also, so much dying.  I really don’t like gruesome deaths, and this book had a couple.  One in particular…  not interested in hearing about someone getting torn apart by a shark, especially from the perspective of the person who is being torn apart.  Ugh.  Brown seems to get on these kicks where he kills off everyone he can find, and I find myself thinking, “Okay, just calm down.”  

So yes.  I’m bad at synopsis-ing, so here it is from the cover flap:

When a new NASA satellite spots evidence of an astonishingly rare object buried deep in the Arctic ice, the floundering space agency proclaims a  much-needed victory… a victory that has profound implications for a U.S. space policy and the impending presidential election.  With the Oval Office in the balance, the President dispatches White House Intelligence analyst Rachel Sexton to the Milne Ice Shelf to verify the authenticity of the find.  Accompanied by a team of experts, including the charismatic academic Michael Tolland, Rachel uncovers the unthinkable:  evidence of scientific trickery – a bold deception that threatens to plunge the world into controversy.

But before Rachel can contact the President, she and Michael are attacked by a deadly team of assassins controlled by a mysterious power broker who will stop at nothing to hide the truth.  Fleeing for their lives in an environment as desolate as it is lethal, their only hope for survival  is to find out who is behind this masterful ploy.  The truth, they will learn, is the most shocking deception of all.

Rachel is a great protagonist, except she’s basically exactly like Susan from Digital Fortress.  Her boss is exactly like Susan’s boss.  And several other people are exactly like other people.  It was like reading a doppelganger novel.

And, of course, the president is the good guy, the liberal Democrat who is the only one who stands between the money-hungry Republican capitalists and the complete destruction of our society as we know it, while his challenger, the conservative Republican, is the worst kind of sneaky, crafty hypocrite who sleeps around, accepts bribes, and does whatever it takes to get ahead, all while spouting conservative platitudes.  It does get a bit old to be told repeatedly that there are no truly pious people in the world – only honest atheists and hypocritical people who pretend to be religious so they can take advantage of people.

For me, the honest, forthright, I’m-here-for-the-people-not-personal-gain president was the most unbelievable character out of all of them.  You don’t get that high in politics without being a bit of a scuzzer, let’s be real.

But Brown must have something going for him, because despite all this, and despite the fact that I was already 98% confident of how this was all going to play out, I couldn’t stop reading.  I blame the short chapters.  I really have a problem with short chapters. I was also a little bit in love with the third member of the we’ve-discovered-the-truth posse (who for some reason isn’t even mentioned on the jacket cover review??  It’s definitely Rachel, Michael, and Corky running for their lives), who was funny, engaging, intelligent, and a great deal of fun.  He gave an otherwise rather  intense book some great dialogue.

Final beef – throughout, Rachel and Michael obviously have a thing, but they’re so busy running for their lives that they don’t really get into it.  Yet suddenly, the very end of the book they’re all like, “Yay, now that we’re done fleeing assassins, we can bang!  Even though we’ve still only known each other like three days!  Woot!”  It didn’t feel weird that they were going to pursue their relationship, but it did feel weird that they were just immediately sleeping together.  It didn’t jive for me.  Ah well.

So, Deception Point:  engaging read, but a little too much like Digital Fortress to really impress me.  Still, I have some other Dan Brown reads on the TBR, so we’ll see how they hold up.

Just So Stories

//by Rudyard Kipling//published 1912//

loon_justsoBooyah, all about alternating sides for the book cover now.  I am also really getting into this queue thing, and I’ve figured out how to link my posts over to Twitter, so go me!

So, while I’ve read both The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Bookplus Kipling’s autobiography (all back in the day when I was really quite terrible at writing book reviews; please don’t judge me), I’ve never really read much of Kipling’s other works.  I seem to have both Just So Stories, as well as Captains Courageous (which I just started today) on my shelf, so I thought I would give them a whirl.

I personally found Just So Stories hilarious, although they definitely have to be read with a strong dose of “remember when these were originally published.”  While I had heard some of the stories before (especially “The Elephant’s Child”), some of them were completely new to me.  All of the stories were written as bedtime tales to Kipling’s daughter (I don’t necessarily mean they were literally written as bedtime tales; I have no idea about that; but they were presented as such), and are definitely stories originally intended for younger readers.  Kipling infuses lessons of humility and the importance of obedience, but manages to do so almost tongue-in-cheek, as sometimes his most naughty characters are the ones most rewarded!

The best part of this book are definitely the black-and-white illustrations by Kipling himself.  Not only does he draw at least one illustration for each story, he writes at least a paragraph, sometimes more, of description of said picture.  Sometimes the descriptions had more of the story than the story, and they were my favorite part, especially when Kipling would explain, in a rather hurt tone, that the pictures would look much better if he were “allowed” to paint them in color rather than having to draw them in black and white.


The caption for this picture, for instance, reads:

This is the Elephant’s Child having his nose pulled by the Crocodile.  He is much surprised and astonished and hurt, and he is talking through his nose and saying, ‘Led go!  You are hurtig be!’  He is pulling very hard, and so is the Crocodile, but the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake is hurrying through the water to help the Elephant’s Child.  All that black stuff is the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River (but I am not allowed to paint these pictures), and the bottly-tree with the twisty roots and the eight leaves is one of the fever trees that grow there.

Underneath the truly picture are shadows of African animals walking into an African ark.  There are two lions, two ostriches, two oxen, two camels, two sheep, and two other things that look like rats, but I think they are rock-rabbits.  They don’t mean anything.  I put them in because I thought they looked pretty.  They would look very fine if I were allowed to paint them.

Overall, while I’m not sure I agree with all the messages in Kipling’s little stories, they are still a great deal of fun, and quite full of humor, making them a relaxing read for a quiet evening.

A Little Something Different

//by Sandy Hall//published 2014//

A_Little_Something_Different_for_sitejpgOkay, so I have to say right out of the box – I actually enjoyed this book.  I don’t really know how I’m supposed to categorize it (YA???), but it’s a super adorable little piece of chick lit, well-written, and so sweet it almost sends you into a sugar coma reading it.

Which, in my mind, is exactly what chick lit should do.  This book does a really fantastic job of being funny, cute, and engaging, without a whole lot swearing or shagging.  It also manages to dodge the insta-love ploy, building up a love story that actually seems completely plausible.

A Little Something Different is written, as the cover says, from multiple viewpoints.  These viewpoints are from all sorts of random people/objects/animals who see the two main players of this little love story (Gabe and Lea), around campus.  Some of them are close friends and relatives, others are people like a bus driver and a barrista at the local Starbucks.  Everyone can see that Gabe and Lea are perfect for each other, but they’re both super shy and awkward, and just don’t seem to be able to get their relationship off the ground.

This book was surprisingly (in a good way) wholesome.  It was just so nice to read a story where everyone is likable and no one is trying to normalize substance abuse or make fun of virgins.  Although Lea’s friends come up with some fake ids so they can get into some local bars and do some drinking, even that has a little caveat –

“I take it the IDs worked well?”

“They did!  Though I don’t know, I feel like something gets lost in translation by not waiting until you’re twenty-one.”  She shrugs.  “I’m not sure how often I’ll use mine.”

It’s not a big deal, but somehow Hall conveys, throughout her story, the beauty of letting things unfold naturally, of waiting, of patience. In a day and age where everyone seems so anxious to rush to the next experience, it was genuinely refreshing to read a love story that valued a slower pace.

That’s not to say that this book was without its flaws.  I really wasn’t all that interested in hearing the Bench’s thoughts on various butts that sit on it (really?  As a kid, we were never allowed to say the word “butt”, and it still just smacks of juvenile absurdity to me every time I hear someone use it), or the Squirrel’s passionate raptures about acorns; while their observations did provide a bit of insight to the story, they really just came off more as cutesy filler to me.

There was also a lot of similarity between the voices.  While overall Hall did a decent job of making different characters sound different, several of her characters were similar, and thus their voices were similar.  Gabe’s brother and Gabe’s friend, in particular, sound a lot alike.

The story is in first person present tense, which I rather hate as a general rule, but it works in this story because there are so many different voices.  Thus, the story is wherever the action is, and present tense works because I don’t have to hang out listening to the boring bits of someone’s life in between actual interesting story-moving points.

Overall, I really enjoyed the upbeat message of the story, and the way that everyone was rooting for Gabe and Lea, but not in a weird, pushy kind of way.  This is a happy, easy-going book – a perfect evening relaxation.  4/5.


A Caribbean Mystery

//by Agatha Christie//published 1964//

caribbean_mystery_qx6_jpg_235x600_q951Whoa ho, look at me going all crazy and putting the picture on the right!  Time to shake things up!  PARTY!

Um, anyway.  More confessions:  I really struggle with spelling Caribbean?  Like, not right now because right now I have it in my head 1 R, 2 Bs.  But next week if you pop up and ask me how to spell it, I will probably try any combination other than the correct one.  Caribbean and Pennsylvania.  I never get Pennsylvania right on the first try, either.


Miss Marple is back in this story.  Her “dear nephew Raymond” has sent her on a little holiday to a seaside resort in the Caribbean.  Miss Marple is all set to enjoy a few weeks of R&R, but she has to admit to herself that, while pleasurable, her vacation is a trifle dull.

Lucky for Miss Marple, the death of one of the other residents of the resort gives her something to puzzle over.  While it appears that Major Palgrave died of natural causes, Miss Marple has reasons to think otherwise.

A Caribbean Mystery was an enjoyable read, but not one that really struck me, leaving it a pretty solid 3/5 in my estimation.  I will say that I have read most of the Miss Marple mysteries in the past but, as with the Poirot stories, reading them in their published order has definitely given Miss Marple herself more depth and made her more engaging as a protagonist.

Still, this particular mystery was rather mediocre, so while it was a decent read, it’s not one I’m putting on the classics shelf.

Pollyanna Grows Up

//by Eleanor H. Porter//published 1915//

815640I could be completely wrong, but I genuinely doubt that Porter had any idea that her little book about a girl who tries to be glad no matter circumstances would become a wildly popular classic.  But Pollyanna did just that, and, two years after she published the original, Porter produced a sequel for her young heroine.

Pollyanna Grows Up is a book of two halves.  In that respect, it rather reminded me of An Old-Fashioned Girlbecause the first half of the story is Pollyanna when she is younger, and then the second half of the book skips ahead six or seven years to Pollyanna around the age of 20.

The story picks up about two years after the end of Pollyanna.  Pollyanna is able to walk again and has returned home to live with Aunt Polly and Aunt Polly’s husband, Dr. Chilton.  However, her stay in Beldingsville doesn’t last long – Dr. Chilton and his wife have to go to Europe for some suitably vague reason, and Pollyanna goes to stay with acquaintances in Boston.  Mrs. Carew, much like Aunt Polly in the first book, is a woman in  need of some cheer in her life, and Pollyanna brings it with her usual unselfconscious manner.

In the second half the book, Aunt Polly has rather fallen on hard times, and Dr. Chilton has passed away.  Aunt Polly and Pollyanna return to Beldingsville under very reduced circumstances.  However, there are plenty of old friends to help the women through their hard times.  The second half of the book is much given to romance, but Pollyanna ends up with her Jimmy Bean, as we all knew she would.

While I really enjoyed Pollyanna Grows Up, it doesn’t seem to flow as well as the original book.  There are several points where coincidence is very strong, and several times when I found myself rather confused as to how this could be what the characters were thinking (Pollyanna is jealous of the friendship between Jimmy and Mrs. Carew, even though Mrs. Carew is like 20-25 years older than Jimmy??  It felt like a stretch).  It also rather felt like Aunt Polly got the short end of the stick – she finally married the  man she loved, only to have him die just a few years later.  Meanwhile, everyone else ends up happily married by the end of the book, with Dr. Chilton sacrificed for the sake of plot continuance.

The only other weird thing to me is that when Pollyanna returns to Vermont as an adult, Jimmy says he hasn’t seen her in years.  It seemed out of character that Pollyanna wouldn’t return to Beldingsville at all for five or six years, especially since she goes on about how much she loves it there and how dear all the people are to her.

Still, these are minor discrepancies, easily set aside.  Overall, Porter does an excellent job of transitioning Pollyanna to adulthood – while still upbeat and optimistic, Pollyanna is never obnoxious, and she always manages to come across as a realistic person, with struggles and difficulties like everyone else.

While I don’t love the sequel as much as the original, Pollyanna Grows Up is still an enjoyable read.

Spoiler, though – I just finished Pollyanna of the Orange Blossoms, which is the third installment of the series, and it’s actually a book I’ve totally fallen in love with.