The Sittaford Mystery // by Agatha Christie

//published 1931//

//published 1931//

AKA The Murder at Hazelmoor (a much more sensible title since the murder takes place at Hazelmoor, not Sittaford, but whatever)

Our story opens during a snowstorm in Dartmoor, where the residents of the tiny village of Sittaford are gathering in “the big house” for an evening of quiet socialization.  The hostesses are Mrs. Willett and her daughter, Violet, who have rented Sittaford House for the winter.  The house’s actual owner, Captain Trevelyan, has moved the six-or-so miles down the hill to the larger village of Exhampton for the season.  However, he has retained a close friendship with his long-time cohort, Major Burnaby, who lives in one of the small cottages near Sittaford House.  It is the residents of some these little cottages who are gathering in Sittaford House this snowy evening – Major Burnaby, Mr. Rycroft (an elderly bachelor), Mr. Garfield (a young man staying with his elderly, bed-ridden aunt because she holds the purse-strings), and Mr. Duke (a man of middle-age and slightly mysterious background: possibly from trade, but the neighbors have decided that what they don’t know for sure won’t hurt them).

Throughout the course of the evening, the party decides to try a little table-turning, wherein those present sit around a small table and call for spirits to appear and give messages.  Most everyone knows it’s rather nonsense, but that’s part of the fun.  At first, the messages are lively and silly, but things take a more serious turn when the table tells everyone that Captain Trevelyan has been murdered.  It is 5:25.

Everyone is quite distressed by the message and the game breaks up. Major Burnaby determines that he must go to Exhampton to check on Trevelyan, and he will have to walk since the roads are impassable by car due to the deep snow.  Despite everyone’s protests, he bundles up and heads out.

Well, as you  might have guessed, Burnaby arrives to find Trevelyan dead, and the story goes from there.  Who killed him?  How did the message get through the “spirit world” to the guests of Sittaford House?

As the story progresses, the police make an arrest – one of Trevelyan’s nephews, who stands to inherit a great deal of money (and who definitely needs it).  From here, we get two major perspectives.  One, we follow Inspector Narracott, who is officially in charge of the investigation.  Secondly, we follow a news reporter, Charles Enderby, who joins forces with Emily Trefusis.  Emily happens to be the financee of the accused.  She is positive that he is innocent and is determined to clear his name.

The Sittaford Mystery  is pretty classic Christie.  There are some really likable characters and plenty of red herrings.  I really liked Narracot, Enderby, and Emily.  However, at times I felt like some of action was a little too coincidence-based.  Still, the story rolled right along and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  While not my favorite Christie, it was still a solid read.

Charlie, Presumed Dead // by Anne Heltzel


//published 2015//

Do you ever do this awkward thing where you read someone’s review of a book and they really liked it, so you read the book and then you think it’s really terrible?  Well, that happened to me.  Even though Carol over at Reading, Writing and Riesling thought Charlie, Presumed Dead was an intriguing read, I would say that it is the worst book I’ve read so far this year.  But no hard feelings, right??  :-)  A difference of opinion is what keeps reading and reviewing engaging.

I finished this book the other morning, and was so enraged by the “conclusion” (yes, I put it in quotation marks because it was literally on the top five list of worst endings I’ve ever found) that I put these initial emotions on Goodreads:

What. Even.

I legit just finished the book and am so filled with aggravation that the urge to bash it on the internet is overwhelming.

This book was a 98% waste of time due to a complete lack of actual plot (apparently masterminding global coincidences from afar makes up for no story), stupid present-tense first-person voices that sound the same (broken up by an even worse present-tense SECOND-person voice, ugh), protagonists who make absolutely nonsensical decisions, the idea that two teenagers who are also strangers to each other could just start continent-hopping with no hesitations or issues, an evil villain who is also a teenager who also magically knows how to hack personal email accounts and skydive and fly a plane and hire an assassin and set up an elaborate treasure hunt to lure two unsuspecting females to their demise, random attempts to have serious conversations between two protagonists despite the fact that the conversations add nothing to the story and make no real sense, a long scene set in a gay prostitute/bar neighborhood because you have to have at least one gay and/or transgender character in every book now even if that means that you have to make them into a prostitute (because obviously it’s better to have a homosexual prostitute in your story than no homosexual at all), did I mention the coincidences? That the entire book was literally built on coincidences? Not just one – EVERY STEP OF THE WAY WAS BASED ON ANOTHER COINCIDENCE – and, finally, the absolutely worst ending to a book that I have EVER read – a complete and total, unapologetic cop-out that was unfulfilling, open-ended, vague, stupid, and just plain obnoxious.

The 2% that wasn’t a complete waste of time was made up of an intriguing premise and brief moments in which one protagonist or the other was likable. (Although even when they were likable, they didn’t stop being stupid.)

This was definitely the worst book I’ve read so far this year, and I wouldn’t touch another book by this author even if you paid me to.

More detailed review coming soon. This isn’t as much a review as a gag reflex. 0/5 stars.

So yes.  Basically, our story starts with Charlie’s funeral.  Although Charlie’s body wasn’t found, the plane he was flying (solo) wrecked and they found his blood-stained jacket, so they’ve just decided that obviously he’s dead.  Our first narrator, Aubrey, has flown to France (from the US) for the funeral.  Even though she had been dating Charlie for over a year, she had never met any of his family, and she feels awkward and out of place, especially when Lena (our second narrator) stands up to give a bit of a eulogy…  because she’s been dating Charlie for three years.

Aubrey and Lena get to chatting and conclude that Charlie was apparently not the guy either of them thought he was, especially since he acted like a completely different person with both of them.  Lena doesn’t believe that Charlie is actually dead.  Aubrey is desperate to get back a journal that Charlie stole (?), and so they decide to travel together to try and piece together what may or may not have been the last couple of weeks of Charlie’s life.

The actual premise of this story is really intriguing and pretty creepy.  The back story of how Charlie works his way into the lives of both girls is definitely a good weird-out.  I didn’t dislike either of the girls, although my respect for their intelligence was somewhere around the nil level.

The first thing that began to bother me is that these girls are like eighteen or nineteen, so I was weirded out by the fact that they were both in this super-serious relationship with a guy in a really unhealthy way.  Like, does no one’s parents pay attention to their kids any more…???  Also, both girls just sort of scamper all over Europe and beyond without a whole lot of trouble.  Aubrey’s worried about what her parents would say and she’s kind of lying to them about the whole thing, but Lena pretty much acts like this is normal life, just travel around, get trashed at clubs, chat it up with creepy strangers, get on a boat with a creeper and drink his tea even though earlier he acted like he wanted to kill you.

The writing was really fast-paced, and I will say that despite the fact that Aubrey and Lena were really dumb, I could hardly put this book down.  It was honestly the ending that killed this book for me.  If it had actually had a reasonable, solid, logical ending, I would have comfortably given this book three stars despite its overall ridiculousness, because it was super engaging and a wild ride.  But the ending was a complete and total cop-out that left me feeling so aggravated that my husband finally told me that it was just a book and I needed to let it go.  ;-)

The rest of this review will contain spoilers, so if you want to read the book (and there are plenty of positive reviews, so don’t let me harsh your vibe!), you will not want to read further, as the best part of this book is having no idea what is really happening with Charlie.

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The Skies of Pern // by Anne McCaffrey


//published 2001//

The Skies of Pern appears to be the last book, chronologically, that McCaffrey wrote about Pern.  Set after The Dolphins of Pern, McCaffrey looks at life on Pern as its people look toward a Thread-free future.  While it was good to get some closure for some of the characters that have gone through so many of the books together – eleven of the Pern books center around the same 40 or so years of Pernese history – I didn’t feel that Skies was McCaffrey’s best work.

First off, she starts by harping back on the same old thing: a disgruntled group of horrible people who hate progress.  I just don’t understand why McCaffrey feels like this is a plot-line she has to revisit in almost every book.  It is getting quite old – for someone who makes all the anti-change people absolutely evil, McCaffrey seems to be in a bit of a rut herself.  The especially frustrating part about this plot line in Skies was that it also felt completely unnecessary.  It was the plot that fit the last well into the overall story, and I genuinely think the entire book would have read better without it, especially since it was also the story line that was most poorly ended.

The rest of the stories actually aren’t bad.  F’lessan, the (adult) son of the Benden Weyrleaders, is the main character of the book, and we more or less follow his relationship with a green dragon rider, Tai.  F’lessan has been in and out of several of the other books, and I have always liked him.  He is a character who could have kicked back and rested on the laurels of his parents, who are incredibly important and powerful people in Pern, but he doesn’t.  Instead, F’lessan makes his own way, working through the ranks, studying, and aiming for a future.

Tai was also a really likable character.  Quiet and intelligent, she was also not intended to be a dragonrider, and just happened to be at the hatching where her dragon, Zaranth, chose her.  Tai is a good balance for F’lessan’s sociable, breezy personality.

The other big story (besides the random “we hate progress” vandals) is a huge meteor hitting Pern and causing a tsunami.  It’s this whole big thing and lots of drama, yadda yadda, and this is the other point where the book kind of fails to hang together.  See, I think what McCaffrey was trying to do was create a realistic role for many dragonriders to play after the end of the current Pass of Thread.  Having altered the Red Star’s course, Thread will never fall on Pern again after the end of the current Pass, which means that dragonriders can no longer expect to receive tithe from the Holders and Halls.  I’m not really sure why she felt like she had to come up with a special task for them, since we’ve already established that there is a ridiculously large amount of unsettled land on the southern continent, and all the dragonriders can just start their own Holds and go from there.  But apparently this isn’t enough.  Using the meteor as a starting point, McCaffrey has the dragonriders determine that they should basically start their own sky watch program, where they have people observing the skies 24-7, on constant alert for other dangerous chunks of rock falling from the sky.  Throughout the story, the dragons discover that they not only have the power to communicate telepathically, as well as the ability to teleport, but they can also move things telekinesistically.  So apparently, in the future, dragonriders are going to look through telescopes for potential danger, and if they see something, the dragons will head out and use their minds to redirect the path of the meteor!  ????????  What?!

This makes no sense to me, mainly because it’s not like they have this big problem with meteors falling all over the place.  They rarely fall, and they even more rarely fall in such large chunks as to actually cause trouble.  So this whole thing with justifying the continued existence of dragons really didn’t hang together for me.

Despite the flaws, this was still a very readable book.  And, like I said, it was good to get some closure on some of my favorites.  I’m actually quite sad that it appears that all the rest of the Pern books will take place during earlier points of Pernese history.  These characters have been together for the longest stretch, and I have gotten to know them the best.

Still have nine Pern books left!  They are neverending!

The Word Exchange // by Alena Graedon


//published 2014//

Set in the not-so-distant future (as in, probably the 2020’s, since the main character’s dad grew up in the 1970’s), our story takes place mainly in New York City.  The primary narrator, Anana, is the daughter of Douglas Samuel Johnson, Chief Editor of the North American Dictionary of the English Language.  For several years, Doug has been working on the latest edition of the NADEL, thought to be the last edition that would be physically printed.  Anana (which rhymes, we are told, with banana), who is in her late 20’s, works for her dad as his assistant.  On the night our story begins, Anana is waiting for her dad to meet her for supper – except he never shows.

As Anana begins her search for her dad – who appears to have disappeared into thin air – she begins to discover many disturbing things.  In the midst of her quest, a terrible epidemic sweeps through New York, causing people to lose their ability to communicate coherently.  Unsure who she can trust, Anana strives to find her dad, avoid the plague, and solve the mystery of how this terrible disease began in the first place.

I have really mixed feelings about this book, and I’m hoping that writing the review will help me decide what star-rating I want to give it.  There were moments that I thought it would be as low as a two, and times when I couldn’t imagine going lower than a four.  Which means it’s probably going to end up at three, lol.

Anyway.  This was a thoroughly engaging story.  I could hardly put it down when I was reading it.  Anana was likable and a concise narrator, presenting herself as neither ridiculously clever or absurdly foolish.  I loved the way that each chapter was a letter of the alphabet, and that each chapter title began with that letter:

  • A – Alice – : a girl transformed by reflection
  • B – Bartleby – : 1: a scrivener – 2: a man with many friends and casual acquaintances: BART slang : life of the party <here comes ~, the life of the party>; a person who is never lonely, especially not on a Friday night

As the book progresses, the chapter titles/definitions become a bit more ominous, as we learn more about the fiendish plot to eliminate language as we known it, and I loved that, too.

  • N – names as such – : senseless words (e.g.): LOVE
  • W – word – : 1: a human relic, now obsolete – 2: archaic : a discrete unit of meaning that, when synthesized with other such units, may make a small scratch in the skin of time

The book was clever, and the pacing was good.  The secondary narrator, through his journal, is a coworker of Doug and Anana’s, Bart.  Bart is also intelligent and engaging, and quite in love with Anana, although she doesn’t know it.  While romance doesn’t play a huge part in the story, it is enough to give Bart (and Anana) some fairly sensible reasons for doing some of the things they do, if that makes sense.

For me, the weakest part of this book was the world-building.  I know it sounds a little silly, since this book is set in the next 15-20 years, but Graedon has created a world where technology has taken huge strides and become even more integrated into every day life.  In some instances it works when, as the reader, you understand the world in snippets.  But in this case, I spent the first 80-100 pages being really confused by Memes and the Word Exchange, and just trying to understand exactly what things were different from our current times.

I also felt like there were some logic gaps in some of the premises, which I think also made it hard to get into the world Graedon was trying to portray.  It seemed a bit far-fetched to me that in a mere fifteen years, physical books are outdated antiquities only collected by people on the fringe.  On the other hand, it is amazing how fast smart phones have integrated their way into our current culture, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine people becoming completely dependent on the next generation – basically, a smart phone that can read your thoughts and anticipate your needs.

If Graedon had spent a little bit of time setting the stage at the beginning of the book, I think the entire story would have benefited.  As it was, I had to wait until about a hundred pages in before one of the chapters was a copy of an article decrying the use of Memes (the upgraded smart phones) and giving a sort of background on their history.  I think that article would have made a great prologue to the book.

The book jacket is also partially to blame for my confusion –

In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality.  Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are things of the past, and we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication but also have become so intuitive that they … even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called the Word Exchange. … Doug … fondly remembers the days when people … actually spoke to one another.

The jacket implies that people are no longer in physical contact with one another, and no longer speak, but this simply isn’t true.  Actually, everyone seems to communicate exactly the same, except their smart phones are a little more intuitive.  I wasn’t sure if this was because our entire story took place among people who were slow to accept the new technology…???  There were just gaps in the concepts.

At times, Graedon’s obvious lesson of “we need to not depend completely on technology OR ELSE THE WORLD WILL COLLAPSE” came across a little heavy-handed.  Despite the fact that I agreed with a lot of what she was saying, sometimes the book would slip into almost a lecture instead of just letting the story teach.  Still, there were many thought-worthy moments throughout.

Memes may have a paradoxical effect … they tend to narrow rather than expand consciousness, to the point where our most basic sense of self – our interior I – has started to be eclipsed.  Our facility for reflection has dimmed, taking with it our skill for deep and unfettered thinking.

I actually think that that is true, at some level.  It’s part of the reason that I began blogging – as an exercise to help me actually digest and think about what I was reading.  Even if I knew no one else would ever read these reviews, I think I would still write them, just because the act of analyzing and communicating my thoughts and feelings about a story – even if it is only to myself – stretches my brain.

So The Word Exchange was a mixed bag.  The whole villain/bad guy was pretty poorly done, leaving me a bit confused as to who the enemy exactly was.  The whole plague situation was really vague and not well explained, so I was still a bit confused on that end as well.  The world building was disjointed at best, and I’m not completely convinced that Graedon’s fears are reasonable.  But despite all that, it was a book that I enjoyed, and a book that I think had a lot to say.  If you’re willing to put up with some ???!!!?? moments, I think it’s worth the read.

In the end?  I think I’m going to go ahead and go with 4/5.  I really did enjoy this book a great deal, although I felt like it could have been better.

Many thanks to Books Speak Volumes for bringing this book to my attention all the way back in 2014, and be sure to check out her review for more straight-up enthusiasm for the tale!!  :-D

The Way of a Dog // by Albert Payson Terhune


//published 1932//

Long, long ago when I was a little girl, I learned how to read when I was only three, so by the time I was six or seven I was already in the habit of scouring bookshelves for something exciting.  Stuffed away on a shelf in my aunt’s bedroom was a battered hardcover book with the picture of a collie on the front.  The book was Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune, and it made me fall in love with collies.

Terhune wrote in the 1920’s and 30’s, and you can tell by his attitude towards certain groups of people, especially the “hill folk.”  But taking into account the perceptions of the times, Terhune’s writing is quite enjoyable to me still.  he wrote prolifically about his own collies that he raised at his estate, Sunnybank, in New Jersey, as well as making his dogs stars of their own fiction books (I kid you not).  Many of his short stories are about other dogs he knew, and how much of his tale is embroidery and how much is fact – well, your decision probably depends on what you think of dogs.

Collies were Terhune’s passion, and he does sometimes go over the top a bit, waxing eloquently about their intelligence, obedience, and all-around awesomeness, but in some ways it’s endearing to see him so enthusiastic.

Over the years, I’ve collected quite the stash of Terhune books, and I’m honestly a bit surprised that this is somehow the first one that I’ve reviewed on this blog.  While The Way of a Dog isn’t my favorite of his books, it’s still a solid collection of short stories.

The first half of the book is several chapters about one of Terhune’s own dogs, a blue merle named Gray Dawn.  Gray Dawn already made an appearance in another collection of short stories, and these are Terhune’s response to his readers who apparently enjoyed the first batch of tales.  Gray Dawn is, of course, intrepid and intelligent, but Terhune still paints a realistic picture of a dog who, in his own words, was “in the midst of the hobbledehoy age.  In spirit and temperament, too, he was infuriatingly bumptious; the very soul of destructive mischief.”

Throughout his stories, Terhune generally speaks in the third person, referring to himself as the Master and his wife as the Mistress.  In Terhune’s writing, he practically worships his wife.  She is painted as all that is good, gentle, far-seeing, thoughtful, and kind.  She is intelligent, with a strong sense of humor and justice.  If there is ever a difference of opinion between them, it is the Mistress’s inclination that is invariable proven to be the correct one.

And so, it is the Mistress who sees Dawn’s true potential, despite his penchant for “doing the wrong thing, not only at the wrong time, but all times.”  We follow Dawn through a few chapters of adventures, concluding with his death.  Terhune genuinely mourns the passing of his chum – “I missed him, and I still miss him, more bitterly than a mere collie should be missed.  His going took something unsparable out of my life.”  Perhaps only someone who is truly a dog person can understand the sentiment.

The rest of the book – two-thirds, probably – are random stories, each chapter unto itself, of dogs who prove themselves loyal and intelligent.  (Some stories are true, others are fiction. Terhune leaves it for you to decide which are which.)  They are stories that would probably bore someone who doesn’t like dogs, but I always find them to be great fun.  Terhune is a warm writer, able to sketch his characters with a few select lines.  While his books are nothing of depth or intrigue, the fact that Terhune loves collies, and loves people who love them, comes through, and gives life and interest to his writing.  Recommended for all dog lovers.

Giant’s Bread // by Mary Westmacott


//published 1930//

In my quest to read all of Agatha Christie’s books (may or may not be achievable), I included on my list the six novels she wrote as Mary Westmacott.  I expected these books to be different from Christie’s other fare (why else would she use a different name, other than to escape expectations?), but I was still surprised to find how heavy Giant’s Bread was.

Our story opens in London, with the opening night of a new opera.  Strange, wild, artistic, innovative, alluring – it is a musical the likes of which have never been seen or heard before.  The rest of the novel leads us to that opening night: how did such an opera come to be written?

Our story follows Vernon Deyre, a “poor little rich” boy, who is raised with everyone money can buy and very few of the things money can’t.  Lonely, imaginative, and sensitive, Vernon is a rather unusual male protagonist, being neither brave nor strong.  Vernon becomes friends with his cousin, Josephine (“Joe”), who comes to live with them, and later their neighbor, Sebastian, a young Jewish boy (which, between the wars, was an important facet of one’s character).  In adulthood, Jane is added to the mix as well.

The book is really about all four of these individuals.  The focus is on Vernon, but we learn a great deal about the other three as well.  Even just seeing Vernon through the eyes of the other characters gives us insight into those individuals.

I can’t say that I enjoyed Giant’s Bread.  It was, on the whole, quite depressing.  I didn’t really like any of the four main characters, although Sebastian had his moments.  It was definitely a character-study story.  The plot was minimal and involved a lot of Vernon’s feelings.  I’m also not completely sure what Christie/Westmacott was trying to say.  In the end, Vernon sacrifices everything for his genius, and I’m not sure that I agree with the decision.

There were some good moments in this book, and the writing was solid.  But it really comes back to the concept of “a novel” and the fact that, generally, I hate them.  Constantly depressing, everyone’s worst features emphasized, no redemption.  In the end, everyone is weak, and all four of the characters succumb to their particular weakness.  In my mind, this book would have been much better if the characters had instead learned to recognize and overcome their deficiencies, instead of being destroyed by them.

A 2/5.  I intend to read at least one more of her novels, but honestly, if it’s as depressing of a ride as this one, I may skip the rest!

The MasterHarper of Pern // by Anne McCaffrey


//published 1999//

As the Pern saga continues, McCaffrey continues to fill in various gaps in the history.  The MasterHarper of Pern begins forty or fifty years before the original Pern book (Dragonflight).  Like The Renegades of Pernit fills in a lot of the backstory to the events that take place leading up to Dragonflight.  

Basically, as I read these books, I view McCaffrey’s initial six books as the main point of the series.  The rest don’t really make sense unless you’ve read those six.  Even the books that are set at the beginning of Pern’s history somehow need the context of the later books to get the full impact of McCaffrey’s writing.

MasterHarper is a really enjoyable addition, mainly because Robinton is such a great character.  He’s an important character in those first six books (and a few others), and getting his backstory really gave his character a lot more depth.  When we meet Robinton in Dragonflight, we know that he is unmarried and childless, so I figured that his romance in MasterHarper was probably going to end in tragedy.  It felt like McCaffrey made it even more tragic than absolutely necessary.  This was a book full of drama and pathos, sometimes a bit too much.

Luckily, Robinton himself is a strong, humorous character.  He is intelligent, practical, and far-seeing.  His rise to leadership and almost universal acceptance seems natural and realistic.

At the end of the day, while MasterHarper didn’t really throw me any surprises, it was a solid read with some intriguing insight into an already well-liked character.  4/5.

In the Garden trilogy // by Nora Roberts

So as regular readers of my blog will know, I do enjoy some relaxing reading, especially when things are really busy at work and I’m feeling a bit stressed.  And, of course, in February in Ohio, there’s nothing I’d rather do than dream of spring!  After enjoying Nora Roberts’s Bridal Quartet so thoroughly, and her Chesapeake Bay Saga fairly well, I decided to give another of her series a whirl.

I was completely attracted to the In the Garden Trilogy, because who doesn’t read books where the main characters work together in a family-owned garden center??

Rosalind Harper is a widow (theoretically in her mid-50’s, as she has adult sons running around).  Her husband died while her children were still at home, and if Roz wanted to continue living in the old mansion that had been in her family for generations, she knew she would have to find a way to support herself and her boys.  She took a gamble with her life savings and opened a small garden center that, for the last 15-20 years before our books begin, has slowly developed into a successful business.


//published 2004//

So successful, in fact, that at the beginning of the first book, Blue Dahlia, Roz is looking to hire a manager.  Because of the personal nature of her business, Roz wants to make sure she finds just the right person – and she does, in the form of Stella Rothschild, who is the actual heroine of this book.

Stella is also a widow with young sons to support.  Since her husband died a year or so earlier, Stella has decided to move from their home in Michigan to be closer to her parents in Tennessee.*  The opportunity to work at In the Garden is a godsend, especially since the job includes housing in a wing of Roz’s rambling house.  Luckily, Stella and Roz hit it off right away, and Stella falls in love with her new job, where she feels fulfilled and content.

Of course, there’s always a cloud on the horizon, and Stella’s is in the form of Logan, Roz’s landscaping expert.  While Stella delights in spreadsheets, filing cabinets, and triplicate forms, Logan’s idea of “organized” is to scribble a thought on a half-used napkin and throw it on the dashboard of his truck.  Sparks are inevitable.

I really liked Stella and Logan, and liked their chemistry.  Logan is a great hero (seriously, who doesn’t want to marry a landscaper?!), and I really related to Stella and her bordering-on-obsessive ideas of organization and planning.  Their relationship grew really organically, and I also appreciated Stella’s commitment to the care and happiness of her sons ahead of her own, while at the same time learning that just because their needs come first doesn’t mean that her needs shouldn’t be addressed at all.

So far, so good, right?  But now we come to the weird part.  I realized that I kind of forgot to mention, when I reviewed the Chesapeake Bay Saga, the one part of those books that was kind of weird: the fact that each of the characters had conversations with their dad…  after he died.  A sort of ghost/vision kind of thing.  But it wasn’t a huge part of the books, and it felt okay, if still a little strange.

But the In the Garden trilogy takes it to a whole new level.  Roz’s home is haunted by a ghost known as the Harper Bride.  She’s been there for generations, and all of the children that have grown up there have seen her, singing to them when they fall asleep.  She sometimes appears to women, but never to men after they leave their childhood behind.  When Stella moves in, the Harper Bride begins visiting her sons, which, naturally weirds Stella out a good bit.  But Roz, and her (adult) son Harper (not confusing when a son’s first name is his mother’s maiden name which she took back after the death of her husband/disastrous divorce from her second husband) reassure Stella that the Harper Bride has never been dangerous – she just loves children.

Despite this, something about Stella’s situation, as she begins to fall in love with Logan, antagonizes the Harper Bride, who begins to manifest herself more and more, and starts to get a little strange and even violent.  She also starts influencing Stella’s dreams, which feels super creepy.  It becomes a pretty big part of the story, especially towards the end, and I found myself getting more and more confused about why I was reading a ghost story.  (Also confused about why the Harper Bride, after generations of peaceful coexistence, is suddenly going all haywire.)  Still, everything wraps up at the end, and the conclusion is basically that they need to start working on discovering who the Harper Bride really was (is) since no one seems to know.


//published 2005//

This leads us into book two, Black Rose, which focuses on Roz herself.  Like I said, Roz is a little older.  Her first husband died when they were still young.  Later, Roz remarried, but her second husband was a total shyster who stole her money while cheating on her.  After divorcing him, Roz decided she was off men forever.  But as she tries to look more into the mystery of the identity of the Harper Bride, she decides that she needs some expert help.  She finds and hires Dr. Mitchell Carnegie, who is a fabulous nerdy hottie, a definite absent-minded professor type, who finds himself immediately attracted to Roz’s independence and intelligence – and it helps that she’s still pretty good looking herself.

I really enjoyed watching their relationship develop, especially as it meant that Roz was going to have to face some of the baggage from her second marriage that she had sort of swept under the rug instead of facing head on.  Her second husband is such a terrible guy that it was super fun to watch her destroy him.

However, once again the Harper Bride begins to interfere in the relationship, and the whole thing got really weird.  I was super confused by everyone’s attitude towards the Bride, which seems to be gently conciliatory, despite the fact that she’s getting weird and violent.

Book three focuses on Hayley Phillips.  Hayley showed up in the first book, a distant cousin of Roz’s.  Single and pregnant (and still pretty young, around 20), she was in desperate need of a job and a home.  Roz took her in on probation, but Hayley fit right into the household.  Her daughter is born in Black Rose, and by the time Red Lily opens, little Lily is a toddler, and super adorable.  Lily is also really attached to Roz’s son Harper, who lives in the old carriage house on the property.  Hayley is attracted to Harper as well, but of course has all these reasons in her mind that a relationship with him is a bad idea.


//published 2005//

While I really liked Hayley as a person, and definitely liked Harper, there was this HUGE thing about Hayley’s character that just antagonized me to no end.  Hayley is a single mom.  She became pregnant after the sudden death of her father, when a guy she had known as a friend for a while became a little friendlier as she struggled through her grief.  She admitted that it wasn’t a situation where he took advantage of her, but rather one where she felt the need to be close and comforted.  So then this guy goes back to college, and then a few weeks later Hayley finds out she’s pregnant.  She goes to tell the guy, and when she meets up with him, all he can talk about is this girl he’s fallen in love with and how he knows she’s “the one,” etc.  Hayley is totally fine with this because she was never in love with this guy and they never had an pretense of a long-term/exclusive relationship, but she decides that if she tells this guy about the baby, it will ruin his life and his chance at happiness, so it’s better for him just not to know.

!?!!??!?!?!?!  Excuse me???  That is his baby, and YOU just arbitrarily decide that he doesn’t deserve to know of her existence!?  How incredibly arrogant.  And I just couldn’t get past it.  Couldn’t get past the fact that she is hiding the existence of this adorable, precious baby because she’s basically selfish and doesn’t want to share, and then pretends like it’s all for these unselfish reasons, as though she has the right to decide what is for “the best” for the baby’s dad, or even that it’s for “the best” for her baby to never know her real father.  Wow.  I just couldn’t get over that.  It annoyed me from the very beginning when Hayley showed up in the first book (especially when she was like, “Yeah, I thought about getting an abortion but then I changed my mind,” like seriously, not only would you not tell this guy about the baby and give him a chance to know about it, but you would also just murder it without getting his permission?!??!  That seems just astoundingly arrogant to me), and I really hoped for some resolution with that situation in third book, but instead we basically just get Hayley shrugging it off like it’s no big deal that this guy has an actual child from his own loins wandering around and he has no right to even know that she’s alive.  Just wow.  So brutally selfish, and such a prime example of how stupid our culture is, where just because a woman’s body houses an unborn baby, it somehow means that she should be the only person who makes any decisions about that child’s life.

ANYWAY okay, rant over, it just still bothers me and I finished these books a month ago.  But back to the story.

The other reason that Red Lily just ended up being strange instead of enjoyable was that the whole Harper Bride aspect kicked up to a whole new level, with the Bride basically possessing Hayley for short spurts and it was ridiculously creepy and bizarre.  I’ve mentioned that Roberts sometimes goes into a little more detail with her sexy times than I like, and there is one scene where Hayley and Harper are actually getting it on and the Bride basically steps in and takes over Hayley’s body/mind!?!?!  WHAT!?  The whole ghost thing just got over-the-top weird, and kept getting weirder.

In the end, I enjoyed the first two books at around a 3/5 level, but the final book was a low 2/5, and we’re probably looking at a 2/5 for the series as a whole.  The ghost story was just too much for me, especially in the third book.  I wanted to like these books because I absolutely LOVED the garden center part, and the parts where everyone is a super happy family working together.  There is tons of happy dialogue, fun times, and engaging conversations, with good chemistry in the romances and in the friendships.  I love the way that Roberts values family and friendships just as much as she does romantic relationships – I think that that is a large part of why I enjoy her books so much.  But in the end, the paranormal part just hijacked the entire storyline, and it was too, too bizarre for me.

On the other hand, if you like weird ghost stories mixed in with your romance, this may be the series you’ve been looking for…

*Okay, so I’m not 100% sure it was Tennessee, because it’s been a little while since I read these books and they’ve already gone back to the library. But it was definitely a southern state.  There’s an outside chance that it was Virginia.  But I’m pretty confident that it was Tennessee.  I think.

Beastly Bones // by William Ritter


//published 2015//

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Jackaby.  Jackaby is a detective (of sorts) in New England in the 1890’s, and he has a rather unusual ability – he can see things as they actually are, which means that if you are some kind of paranormal creature disguised as an earthly one, Jackaby can see you.  However, Jackaby has trouble seeing the ordinary, which is what is assistant, Abigail Rook – also our narrator – is here to provide.

As in Jackaby (and The Mapa novella with the same characters), the characters and dialogue are great fun.  There is plenty of humor, and I love the relationship between Jackaby and Abigail, which comes across very much like a pair of siblings, especially when Abigail tries to talk to Jackaby about her feelings (in general, not feelings for Jackaby) – a concept that Jackaby finds horrifying.

My big problem with this book is that it felt a little too much like it was setting things up for a future book (or maybe more), and so the plotting for this one got a little sloppy.  There was a lot of running around rather aimlessly, chasing creatures across the countryside, without a lot of sensible explanation.  It was a great lark, but there were multiple occasions that I found myself looking at the book a little sideways with a feeling of “say what?!”  And of course the entire last chapter is spent explaining how all the loose ends will have be tied up later.

There is a death in this book that feels 100% unnecessary.  I was super disappointed because I really felt like this character could have been a great one to recur, and it wasn’t even as though this person’s death furthered the story, so that was annoying.  There is also a ridiculously long time spent battling the great creature toward the end – a chapter and a half seems more than generous to me, and ended up feeling a bit like padding.

And, final whine, I do sometimes get tired of listening to females natter on about how oppressed they are, especially when they are in the middle of not being oppressed.  I had to listen to Nellie, a female journalist, explain about all the horrible obstacles she had to overcome to become a reporter because she’s a woman and everyone hates her – while at the time time she explains how she basically manipulates men using her feminine wiles, and that’s their own fault because men are so stupid and always underestimate women.  It seems to be that if you were genuinely oppressed by men, you probably wouldn’t be able to trick them into doing whatever you want them to do.

It’s the same with Abigail.  Sure, it’s sad that your dad didn’t want you to come with him on his archaeological digs, but you’re in the middle of a grand adventure while working for someone who treats you as a complete equal, so obviously being a girl hasn’t destroyed your life all that much.  Whatever.

But truthfully, I really did enjoy this book and will definitely be anticipating the next book in the series, which is due to be published sometime this year.  (The cover and description are already on Goodreads!!!)  The dialogue really is just so much fun and I really, really like Jackaby and Abigail, and their whole relationship –

“You released a Stymphalian bird in the middle of Gad’s Valley?” [Jackaby asked]

“Technically,” I said, “I released a Stymphalian bird in the middle of a collapsing hovel.”

“Well.”  Jackaby nodded.  “That would not have been my first choice, but good work on not being dead, I suppose.  See if you can keep it up.  This whole ordeal is about to get quite a bit harder.”

All in all, a low 4/5.  A solidly enjoyable read even if it was a bit scattered at times.  Here’s hoping that the Jackaby series is far more than a trilogy.


A Tale of Two Cities // by Charles Dickens

I like to preface my reviews of “classic” books with a reminder:  I’m not a literary expert.  I just know what I like. So don’t expect this crazy, insightful post about this book: it’s probably going to be just as deep as any other review of mine.  I don’t really know a lot about Charles Dickens. I just happen to know that I really, really like this book.

Tale-of-Two-Cities-1859I hadn’t read A Tale of Two Cities since early high school, or maybe even junior high.  While I vaguely remembered thinking that it was a good book, many of the details escaped me.  Consequently, I was genuinely blown away by this story, which is way more readable than I remember it being (apparently my vocabulary/reading comprehension has improved in twenty-odd years, which is good), and just fantastic writing clear through.

Sure, Dickens tends to go off on these random descriptive paragraphs, and sometimes he takes the (very) long way around instead of just saying what he means, but on the whole this story is so strong that it would have taken some really bad writing to ruin it – and Dickens is a long, long way from bad writing.  Some of it, in fact, is so beautiful and so amazingly relevant almost 160 years after writing, that I would find myself stopping to reread a sentence several times over, just in an attempt to soak it in.

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.  A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

Or –

It was one of those dark nights that hold their breath by the hour together, and then heave a long low sigh, and hold their breath again.

The story itself, of heroism and courage, of true love and sacrifice, of loyalty and betrayal – absolutely fantastic.  And if Lucie is a bit ridiculously blonde and fluffy, I still believe there is a strong core of intelligence and bravery in her, as she is willing to forego many comforts, and even to risk her life, to protect and care for those she loves.

I love Dickens’s humor throughout, which adds just the right amount of seasoning to what could otherwise be a rather sad tale.

When they took a young man into Tellson’s London house [a bank], they hid him somewhere till he was old.  They kept him in a dark place, like a cheese, until he had the full Tellson flavour and blue-mould upon him.  Then only was he permitted to be seen, spectacularly poring over large books, and casting his breeches and gaiters into the general weight of the establishment.

I have read some places that Dickens didn’t “appreciate” women, but I didn’t really get that from this story at all.  Like I said, Lucie can be a bit too angelic for my taste (and Dickens does love to describe an angelic young woman at length), but there is nothing weak about her.  And as for Madam Defarge – geezy cow, what a fabulous character!  Strong, intelligent, driven – a fantastic leader with a strong sense of justice.  Madam Defarge is terrifying and amazing.

Dickens obviously thinks that Englishmen are superior to the French (but I’ve yet to meet an Englishman who doesn’t think that so), but I think that on the whole he does a fairly decent job of portraying the reasons and stories behind the terrors of the French Revolution, while still not justifying them.  Dickens writes mob mentality pretty brilliantly.

In all honesty, this is one of those books that stirred me so deeply that I find myself pretty bad at writing a review for it.  But I will say that all novels should do what this one does: inspire, hearten, and challenge their readers.

And for all the haters out there (and I read reviews by several of them) – I’d like to see you do better.

PS If you would like to read a far more coherent and intelligent review, I highly recommend popping over to check out what FictionFan has to say about this classic!