Rearview Mirror // October 2016

October has been a really busy month on the blog!  I managed to read/review eighteen books!!!  This was probably helped by a week of vacation and some quick reads, but still.  Good times.

Favorite October Read:

attachmentsushardcoverhiresRainbow Rowell’s Attachments is going to be this month’s winner.  The characters were all so very likable, the setting done well, the pacing excellent – just an all-around really fun and entertaining read that still had a bit of meat to it.  It’s my new favorite of Rowell’s books.

Most Disappointing October Read:

51pdlr0k-il-_sx324_bo1204203200_Kind of random, but I think I’m going with Magic Below Stairs by Caroline Stevermer.  The book itself was alright, but I think I just had higher expectations because I enjoyed the Cecelia and Kate books a lot.  This book was really just sort of a throw-away – not much happened, characters from the other books were only in the very vague background, and the plot was kind of weird.

Other October Reads:

  • Sorcery and Cecelia; The Grand Tourand The Mislaid Magician by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer – 4/5 for the series – these are old favorites that I revisited on holiday – full of fun, magic, humor, and mishaps.
  • The Wanderers by Cheryl Mahoney – 4/5 – a really fun fairy tale romp with engaging characters and an interesting story.
  • A Prefect’s Uncle by P.G. Wodehouse – 3/5 – with a little less cricket and a little more story, Wodehouse’s second published work was a much more enjoyable read than his first!
  • Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George – 3/5 – interesting setting but definitely a little sloppy in the details.
  • The Ex by Alafair Burke – 3/5 – an engaging story that had me turning pages as fast as I could, but I’m still not convinced as to the murderer’s motive…
  • Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie – 3/5 – interesting premise but the book needed to be twice as long to really build the story and characters – instead, it felt really choppy and disorienting at times, and the ending was completely weird.
  • 13623931-_uy200_Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter – 3/5 – alright, but not as well-plotted as the first two books in the Jackaby series.
  • Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas – 3/5 – a book I really, really wanted to like, except the villain situation changed horses midstream, and the ending made me roll my eyes so far they almost fell out of my head.
  • The Brontë Plot by Katherine Reay – 3/5 – this book would have been so much better if I had actually liked the main character.
  • Endless Night by Agatha Christie – 3/5 – so boring for most of the book (with such a whiny narrator) and then a really good twist at the end.
  • Dragon on Trial and Krakens and Lies – 4/5 for the series – the Menagerie series was just great fun and definitely a recommended trilogy for middle schoolers.
  • The Game by Diana Wynne Jones – 3/5 – interesting but weird.
  • Wild Justice by Phillip Margolin – 4/5 – a great start to the series – hopefully the rest of the books stay on the good side of gruesome, because I really like the characters.

Other October Posts:

I had a lot of fun answering the questions for FictionFan’s 100 Book Tag, and then the next day I spent an entire post bragging about the books I bought with my birthday money – poor taste, but what can you do?!

TBR Update:

So, for those who are astute, you will notice below that the TBR has dropped.  This is due in large part to the fact that I add things to the TBR in a completely haphazard fashion.  Anywhere I see a book – someone’s review, GoodReads, a newsletter, the library, in a bookshop – I just throw it on the list.  Later, when I’m using my lottery method to decide what book is next, I check on GoodReads to see if it is part of a series and to reread the description (and usually the original review that inspired me to do the reading).  If the book is part of a series, it gets taken off the TBR and kicked onto the appropriate section.  Not infrequently, I decide that I don’t actually want to read the book at all.  This month I had a few books that I got from the library, read the first few chapters, and sent back unfinished.

All that to say – the TBR has dropped, even if I haven’t actually read that many books.  But I think the “dropped” part is the important part – right??

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

  • Stand-Alones:  849 (DOWN 15!!!)
  • Nonfiction:  46 (up 1)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own, but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  541 (up 4… pretty good, considering all the birthday money – luckily I’ve bought a lot of books I’ve actually read within the last two years, so they don’t get counted!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  136 (up 4)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  61 (up 7… yeah, several of the books that got removed from the TBR actually just got flipped to the mystery series page!)

Awaiting Review:

Actually, after a spurt of reviewing over the weekend, I’m in pretty good shape.  And I’ve finally started reading First Lord’s Fury, which means I won’t be starting/finishing any other books for a few days.  (Okay, so that’s kind of a lie since I’m also reading four other books right now, but, you know.)  Anyway.

  • Signs Point to Yes by Sandy Hall (spoiler: it was terrible, so you can look forward to that rant coming soon!)

Current Reads:

6948149-_uy200_(links to GoodReads)

  • First Lord’s Fury by Jim Butcher (finally finishing the Codex Alera… I love everyone!  The Vord are terrifying!  I think they’re all going to die!  So scared!  I can’t wait to see how it ends – except I never want it to end!)
  • Tales from St. Austin’s by P.G. Wodehouse (about halfway through…  guess what… more cricket!)
  • The Storyteller and Her Sisters by Cheryl Mahoney (second book in the Beyond the Tales series – better than halfway through – great fun!)
  • A Life In Letters by P.G. Wodehouse/edited by Sophie Ratcliffe (better than 3/4 through…  super interesting and excellently edited)
  • Sunsets by Deborah Howard (actually, a book about death/dying and also hospice as it is written by a hospice nurse… only one chapter left)

Approaching the Top of the Pile:

51w0uqick0lThe probable next five reads…

  • Wait for What Will Come by Barbara Michaels (although I’ve sent back the last three of her books to the library unread because they just didn’t look interesting, so we’ll see if this one is any  better…)
  • The Gold Bat by P.G. Wodehouse (ummm…  you don’t think this one is going to be about cricket, do you??)
  • The Ghost Rock Mystery by Mary C. Jane (one of my own… an old Scholastic Book Club book!)
  • The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag (Stephanie was a little so-so about this one but it sounds interesting to me so we’ll see)
  • Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan (I’m going to start the Lynburn Legacy – heard a lot of mixed reviews on these so time will tell where they lead!)

Wild Justice // by Phillip Margolin


//published 2000//

All the way back in the spring, I randomly entered a Sweepstakes sponsored by HarperCollins, giving away all five of the Amanda Jaffe books in order to celebrate the release of the latest in the series, Violent Crimes.  And somehow – I was one of the winners!!!  Even though winning the books didn’t come with any kind of obligation to review them, it’s just kind of what I do with books that I read, so even though it’s been six months since I received them, I am finally getting around to reading – and reviewing – this series.  A special thank you to the publisher for giving me these books!!

What really happened was I started to read Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne series.  I really enjoyed Sleepyheadand started to read the second book, Copy Cat, in the early spring.  But I just couldn’t get through that book.  There was too much gruesomeness, with a perpetrator who focused on torture and it was just too, too much for me.  I don’t enjoy reading violent descriptions.  Point is, I abandoned Tom Thorne and retreated to safety: Agatha Christie.  And I’ve been reading all of Christie’s stand-alone mysteries ever since.  I thought about putting those on pause and jumping into the Amanda Jaffe books…  but I was kind of scared.  What if they were violent and terrifying??  So they’ve just been sitting there…

But I finished with Christie and, out of excuses, started to read Wild Justice – and it was fantastic.  Honestly, I was drawn in immediate by the quote at the beginning of the book, from Francis Bacon – “Revenge is a kind of wild justice.”  I absolutely love that line, and it really set the tone for the entire story.

Amanda has finished law school and come back to Portland to join her father’s criminal defense firm.  Although she is young, Amanda is intelligent and a quick learner.  She loves her father – a widower – and is excited to work with him doing the work he loves.  But I really enjoyed the fact that Amanda was still wrestling throughout the story with whether or not criminal defense was the direction she wanted to go with her life.  There was also a lot of growing in the relationship between Amanda and her dad.  I liked that they had a good relationship, but that that didn’t mean that things were perfect all the time.

The story really picks up when a surgeon, Dr. Cardoni, is arrested for murder – and not just any murder – a gruesome, torture scene.  (Although, thankfully, mostly off-screen with vague details – a few scenes that made me uncomfortable – one in particular – but overall not too bad.)  Amanda’s father has represented Cardoni before (although not for homicide).  Even though Amanda and her dad – and basically everyone else – are convinced that Cardoni is guilty, they work hard to defend him (which leads to a lot of those conversations/thoughts about whether or not this is really what Amanda wants to do with her life – all of which I thought was handled really well).

There are a lot of threads going on in this story.  Margolin’s choice to go with a third person narrative, however, enables us, as the reader, to know more about what is happening than Amanda does.  Most of the time this works really well, although there were moments that I found myself thinking Amanda was rather thick – only to remember that it was because she didn’t actually know something that I did, if that makes sense.

One of the things that I liked about Amanda is that she was single for much of the book and that she was okay with that – but also not okay with that.  Being single can be a weird thing.  While you are content with who you are as a person and recognize that you don’t need someone else to be complete, there is still something really wonderful about the companionship and comfort that comes from a secure relationship.  And, as you get older and all your friends pair off, it feels awkward sometimes to be the not-couple friend.  As someone who didn’t get married until the age of 27 (and spent most of my 20’s single), I felt like Margolin captured that balance in Amanda’s character.

Amanda buttered her toast at the kitchen table.  While she sipped her milk she took stock of her life.  On the whole she was happy.  Her career was going well, she had money in the bank and a place she loved to live in, but she was lonely at times.  Two of her girlfriends had married during the past year, and she was beginning to feel isolated.  Couples went out with couples.  Soon there would be children to occupy their time.  Amanda sighed.  She didn’t feel incomplete without a man.  It was more a question of companionship.  Just having someone to talk to, who would be around to share her triumphs and help her up when she fell.

While the ending was satisfying, there were still a few loose threads that I would have liked to have seen taken care of.  Most of the circumstances were explained, but not all.  So while I definitely agreed that the conclusion was the logical one, I would have still liked to have seen the rest of the red herrings cleared up.

Still, Wild Justice was thoroughly engaging and a confident 4/5.  I really like Amanda and her dad and am interested to read the next book.  Hopefully it manages to stay on the conservative side of the gruesome line as well!

October Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So, inspired by the way that Stephanie reviews the unreviewed every month, I think that some months (or maybe all of them!) will get a post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Endless Night by Agatha Christie


//published 1967//

A while back, as a part of my goal to read all of Agatha Christie’s books, I read a couple of the novels she wrote under the name of Mary Westmacott.  I only reviewed Giant’s Breadbut I did skim through two of her other Westmacott novels.  All of them, although well-written, were rather depressing.  On the whole, I read for pleasure, and I don’t find pleasure in being depressed so I gave her other Westmacott novels a miss.

All this to say, much of Endless Night reads as a novel rather than a mystery.  The actual death doesn’t occur until about 3/4 of the way through the book.  The rest is all about the feelings and actions of our narrator, Michael Rogers.  While there is a story throughout, much of the narration is verging on stream-of-consciousness, as Rogers meanders through various tales of his life, usually weaving his way back to the main thrust of the story.  From the beginning, Rogers hints at a disaster involving his wife.  These insinuations lend to the overall feeling of unease throughout the book.

Honestly, for most of the book I felt like it was a 2/5 read for me as it was just a downer and not much was happening, plus I just wasn’t a fan of Rogers, who was a bit of a whiner (also melodramatic; I was really over his sentences like, “Ellie!  Oh Ellie!  If only I had known!”  Pull yourself together, man, geez).  However, that last 25% of the story brought it up to a 3/5 and an overall recommendation, because when Christie decides to actually pull back the curtain and show the reality of what is happening, everything falls into place like magic, and it made me want to reread the whole book and see if I could see where she was going now that I knew the destination.

Dragon on Trial by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland (Menagerie #2)


//published 2014//

The sequel to The Menagerie picks up virtually immediately after the conclusion of the first book (as in, like within half an hour).  Like the first book, I thought this was a great middle-school read.  There is lots of action, and the characters are really fun.  This time, Logan, Zoe, and Blue find themselves working with Marco (a were-rooster, so great), who I thought was a hilarious addition to the team.  With griffins, unicorns, mer-people, and more, these books are just great all-around fun.

All in all, this book did a really good job of forwarding the overall plot of the trilogy while still having its own contained story as well.  So while the main thrust of the story (who murdered the goose who lays the golden eggs??) was concluded, the overall theme of someone is sabotaging the Menagerie is still waiting to be tied together in Book 3.

4/5 and recommended.

The Game by Diana Wynne Jones


//published 2007//

This short story was engaging but a bit confusing.  In the end, it turns out that Jones was basically writing about stars/planets/gods as though they were people, which I started to cotton onto about halfway through the tale, but in some ways it felt like the story would have made better sense if Jones’s afterword had been a foreword instead.

The whole concept was great fun.  It’s a short story, so the characters are terribly well developed, but that didn’t make them less likable.  While this was a fun little romp, I actually think that I would find it more interesting to read now that I know from the beginning what characters I am watching for.  3/5 and kind of neutral as far as recommendation or not.

Krakens and Lies by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland (Menagerie #3)


//published 2015//

I am actually really sad that it appears like this series is only going to be a trilogy.  It was a lot of fun, and really like the characters and the setting that the Sutherlands have created.

In this book, we finally find out who is sabotaging the Menagerie and why, and also what happened to Logan’s mom.  While I felt like some of the conclusions were a little bit of a stretch, it was all in good fun.  Overall, I felt like this was a really great children’s/middle school series that I would definitely recommend, especially for kids who love animals.  Even though my youngest sister is a bit older than the target age group, I’m still going to give her the first book to read, as I think they’ll appeal to a wide range of ages.

I have to say that one thing that I really liked was that I felt like the characters acted their age.  They are all around 12-13 years old, and it seemed like there was a great balance between them being independent and them needing adult help/supervision.  I loved the way that Logan had a great relationship with his dad, and how Zoe’s family really gets along, even when they have their differences.  Honestly, all the families that we met in this book were loving and supportive of one another, and that was just a delight, especially when so many children’s/YA books act like it’s impossible for young people and their parents to ever relate to one another.  The Sutherlands presented different family shapes, but all with parents/adults who, even if they didn’t completely understand their children, still loved them and had their best interests at the forefront.

All in all, this book – and the series as a whole – is a sturdy 4/5 and definitely recommended for its anticipated age group, as well as anyone who as ever secretly hoped that unicorns and dragons were real.


The Brontë Plot //  by Katherine Reay


//published 2015//

Okay, first off, I just learned how to produce the “ë” on WordPress like two days ago, so aren’t you proud of me??

A while back I read Dear Mr. KnightleyReay’s first novel.  It was an alright read, interesting enough to make me want to keep an eye on Reay’s future work.  She has published two more books – Lizzy and Jane (which I haven’t read yet), and this one.  And, once again, I was handed a very bland, 3/5 read.

Lucy works for a guy, Sid, who is an upscale interior decorated/owns an antique shop full of expensive stuff.  Lucy is sort of the odds-and-ends person, who helps Sid keep track of all the details.  She also minds the shop and does a lot of the purchasing to keep stuff in the shop.  Lucy’s favorite bit is finding and collecting rare and expensive books for the store.  However, Lucy has a bit of a problem – she loves to tell stories.  So if there is a situation where stretching the truth may get Lucy what she wants – she does it.  And one of the ways she does that is by inscribing on the flyleaves of books – things like, “To Betty, for her birthday, 1856,” and then below it putting, “To my namesake – may this book inspire you the way it did me – love, Grandma Betty.”  In Lucy’s mind, the story adds value to the book and – the story within the story is what people love.

Of course, this all comes back to bite Lucy, because her boyfriend is super honest and really upset when he finds out what she’s been doing.  Then she ends up on this weird trip with her (now) ex-boyfriend’s grandma as they trot off to London and…  I don’t know, this book just really, really bored me.  I never liked Lucy, who, even after she realized that her lying was an issue kept doing it for quite some time before really realizing that it was a problem and actually making an effort to stop.  For long periods of time, things didn’t really happen.  The whole story with the grandma was, quite honestly, weird, and it felt like all the conversations between her and Lucy were just pieces of a script they were reading instead of real conversation.

A 3/5 read for alright writing, but overall just completely uninteresting.

Also, I read a few comments on GoodReads complaining about the “Christian/religious message.”  Honestly, I didn’t even notice it.  If it was there, it was just because some people happened to be Christians, or were going to church or whatever.  There was no “conversion,” and there wasn’t lots of time spent praying or debating theology.  Reay’s book is being published by Zondervan – a Christian publishing company – so I’m not sure why people get annoyed when a Christian publishing company publishes a book with Christian undertones???  To me, it definitely wasn’t anything overt or aggressive.

Finally, I have to admit that I’ve never actually finished any book by the Brontë sisters.  So I am 100% confident that I missed a lot of connections and interesting tidbits because of that.  However, I don’t think that there would have been quite enough interesting tidbits and connections to make the book higher than a 3/5 read.

Ash & Bramble // by Sarah Prineas


//published 2015//

Pin remembers nothing.  Her past life is a blank.  Her current life is being a Seamstress for the Godmother.  Despite not remembering her past, Pin is convinced that she has one and is determined to escape the fortress ruled by the Godmother.  But for Pin, escape is just the beginning of her problems.

This was a twisty fairy tale retelling, and I really liked the concept.  The Godmother has a castle full of slaves she’s stolen from their homes, wiping their memories so they don’t remember their pasts.  She forces them to work for her – as Seamstresses, Candlemakers, Cooks, Spinners, etc.  It turns out that the reason she has these slaves is so they can create the items she needs for the fairy tales she is living – except the main players in those fairy tales are also being forced into the Story against their wills.

Pin’s determination to fight back against the Godmother and the Story is great.  She works with a Shoemaker (/love interest), and throughout the book they instigate a rebellion against the Godmother, even as the Story is trying to force them into its Happily Ever After.

But despite a great concept and some decent storytelling, there were still several moments where things just didn’t really make a lot of sense to me.  The love triangle (of sorts) felt very contrived, and I had some issues with the the villain situation, which I’ll discuss in the spoiler section below.

Still, I was leaning towards a 4/5 read until, literally, the very last page.  It was at that moment that I realized that what had been bothering me about this story was really its overall message – this concept that while you may find love and some brief moments of happiness, “happily ever after” is really just a fairy tale that you can never hope to achieve.  And I guess I think that’s wrong – although maybe that’s because I don’t think that “happily ever after” means “zero problems for the rest of your life.”  I think that “happily ever after” is the moment in your life when you are comfortable and content with who you are, and while you will continue to work to improve and learn throughout whatever time remains to you, that overall sense of contentment and peace stays with you, whether you are single or a couple.

So to me, being told (and telling the YA audience of this tale) that happily ever after is unattainable – all love fades after a time – there will always be more hard times than good times – any sense that you are having a happy ending means you’ve been tricked into complacency – well, I found it borderline offensive.

In the end, 3/5.  There is a loose sequel to this book, apparently, set fifty years after this story’s conclusion, and I think that I will read it, because much of this writing was good and the concept was really well done overall.  But the message, combined with the villain scenario, ended up aggravating me too much to bump this book up another level.

Spoilers concerning “the bad guy” – and that aggravating last page – below the cut (although I honestly don’t think they are spoilers that would destroy the fun of reading the story) –

Continue reading

Ghostly Echoes // by William Ritter


//published 2016//

A while back, I read the first two books in Ritter’s Jackaby series (Jackaby and Beastly Bones).  Ghostly Echoes is the third in the series, and, from the way it ended, this is apparently going to be an actual series and not just a trilogy.  I’m overall happy about that as I am enjoying these books, but I felt like Echoes wasn’t as strong as the first two books.

For those who don’t remember, the narrator of these books is Abigail Rook.  She works in 1890’s New England as an assistant to a detective.  But Jackaby isn’t just any detective – he can see things as they are – so if you happen to be a fairy in disguise, he’ll sniff you right out.  Jackaby is a sort of Sherlock/Doctor Who mashup that ends up working really well.  I really like his character a lot, and I also like Abigail a lot, and I think that that’s a large part of the reason that these books have been so enjoyable.  Both characters are sensible and funny, and have a great non-romantic chemistry between them.

Beastly Bones didn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, but it definitely did end with some loose ends – this sort of concept that we were stumbling onto “something bigger.”  This is the direction we head with Echoes, which centers around another member of Jackaby’s household: Jenny Cavanaugh, who was murdered in her home – now owned by Jackaby – ten years earlier.  Now a ghost, Jenny doesn’t remember the night she was killed with much clarity, but she is ready to start trying to solve her own mystery.  And, conveniently, Jenny’s death ties right in to the grand scheme of things that Jackaby and Abigail are researching.

While parts of this book were a good romp, there were other bits that felt awkward.  I really like Abigail’s love interest, and feel like their relationship has the right amount of importance in the book (it’s a side line, but not the driving force of all Abigail’s actions), but sometimes the whole thing feels awkward, like Ritter isn’t really sure how to right a burgeoning paranormal romance in 1890’s New England.

I was also moderately annoyed when Ritter had Jackaby and Abigail run into/rescue a dude dressed as a woman.  The entire chapter added nothing to the story other than a way for Ritter to work modern sentiment concerning gender identity disorder into the narrative, as I had to listen to Jackaby natter on about how important it is for people to “be who they are” and how doctors obviously can’t determine someone’s sex.  (Sorry, that’s just false.  Your feelings can change your perception of what you are, but feelings alone cannot actually change the physical aspect of what you are.)  I just get annoyed when things like this are shoehorned into a story – it comes across as a way of trying to make sure all the “hot topics” are checked off, rather than a way to forward the plot.

I’m still interested to see how the over-arching plot is going to play out.  Ritter has a lot of things in place now, so I think that it could be fun.  In a way, though, I wish that he had stuck more to his pattern for the original book, with each story just being its own story.  I felt like he told a better, more focused tale.  In Beastly Bones to some extend, and definitely in Ghostly Echoes, the whole attempt to build a big story felt like it damaged the smaller plot of the book.

All in all, this was a solid 3/5 read.  It was a decent and engaging story, but there were definitely some weak points in the plot – some areas that I felt ought to be tightened up to really make the story make sense.  We get more of Jackaby’s childhood and background, but sometimes the telling of it feels unnatural, like Ritter is shoving things into place to make them play out the way he wants.  I still love the dialogue and relationships in these books, though, so I’m looking forward to seeing where the series goes next.


Birthday Book Loot!!!

So my birthday was last week.  Around here, there are birthdays, and then there are birthdays observed, so while my actual birthday was Thursday, my observed birthday was Saturday!  The husband and I went out for breakfast and then headed up to my favorite bookstore, The Book Loft in German Village.

The Book Loft is basically magical.  First off, you walk through a small garden to get to the door.  Then, the store itself covers multiple floors and dozens of rooms and passageways that wend their way about, allowing you to get pretty close to genuinely lost!  It’s just absolutely fantastic and we had a great time.

I had a generous birthday stipend and used it to purchase five new books.  I don’t like paying full price for books I haven’t read yet (what if I don’t actually like them?!), so instead I went with happy copies of some old friends.


I read Fangirl last year and completely enjoyed it, so I found this hardcover edition on sale and was pretty stoked to add it to my permanent collection.

Somehow, despite the fact that it’s a classic and a book I really enjoy, I didn’t actually own a copy of The Giver.  This is a paperback, but one of those fun, really soft ones.

I really love Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle books.  Something Fresh (AKA Something New) is the first novel in which those delightful characters appear.  While I’m overall not a huge fan of these editions – the jacket covers are just too ugly for words – the binding is fantastic.

006There were several books printed in soft leather editions.  I wanted them ALL, but went with Persuasion.  I like it because it’s slim, and that somehow seemed to fit the binding the best.  Of course, this means parting with my old Dover Thrift Edition, which I actually love.  These editions used to sell for a dollar, and I would always stock up on them at the annual home educators’ convention (I would come home with stacks of books).  However, my sister really loves this copy, so it is going to a good home.

The only new-to-me book that I purchased is nonfiction – another gardening book published by Storey.  High-Yield Vegetable Gardening has a really nice format.  It’s sort of the next step up for gardening, with a lot of information on companion planting, succession planting, soil amendment, and season extensions.  I’m really trying to improve my vegetable gardening skills, so I think this will be a great addition to the nonfiction library!


I still had some money left (!!!) so on Sunday I ordered a used copy of Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime by Richard Pipes – a book that I enjoyed so much that I actually wrote the (elderly, professor) author a fan letter!  I’m looking forward to having a copy of this book for my own collection.  The chapter on the rise of totalitarian governments may come in handy, what with the way elections are shaping up over here.

I also spontaneously spent money on eBay purchasing a lot of eight Wodehouse books, rather elderly editions, that are coming from the UK.

While I frequently save up my allowance money for books (don’t worry, feminists, the husband has an allowance, too – it’s all part of the team budgeting process!), it isn’t often that I get to blow a whole bundle in one go.  All in all a pretty awesome weekend!

The 100 Book Tag

In honor of her 100th TBR Thursday post, FictionFan created the 100 Book Tag.  Since it was published on my birthday, I have taken as a sign that I should also complete it.  ;-)

511kfzniscl-_sy344_bo1204203200_What is the 100th book on your TBR list? (In the unlikely event that you don’t have 100 books on your TBR, what book’s been on there longest?)

My 100th book is The Ice Princess – which, ironically, is there because of a review by FictionFan many moons ago!  (I follow other book blogs, really!)

Open your current book to page 100 (or randomly, if you don’t have page numbers on your e-reader) and quote a few sentences that you like.

Dear Brad.

I took your letter to Friend Wife, who was cooking the family dinner, and, having read it, she laid it absently down on a large sheet of fly-paper, so I shall have to answer it from memory.

I’ve been working my way through A Life in Letters  – a collection of letters written by P.G. Wodehouse – for quite some time now.  Every page is a gem, as to be expected!

When you are 100, what author(s) do you know you will still be re-reading regularly? (This should be an easy one for those of you who are already over 100…)

This is a hard one.  Obviously Wodehouse and also Agatha Christie, plus L.M. Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott.  It’s really impossible to go wrong picking up any of their books.

008Link to your 100th post (if you’re a new blogger then link to your tenth post, or any one you like). Do you still agree with what you said back then?

Post #100 looks like a review for The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly.  I gave it 3/5 and had mixed feelings about it.  I said –

Negatives can basically be expressed in one word:  feminism.  B O R I N G stereotypical feminism.  Mom’s speeches frequently sound like they were lifted from a pamphlet on how to be a Modern Supportive Mother; she’s constantly going on about how women have to continue to fight for their equality, blah blah blah.  And to me, it just detracts from the story, not the part where these young women are learning to be independent and unique parts of society, but the part where the speeches just sound so canned, as though the whole book as been written around them.

And I think that the reason that it is so distracting is because it just doesn’t fit with the flow of the story, or the lives that these young women are living.  Because yes, they’re independent and intelligent and all of that, but they also are essentially feminine in their attitudes (in a good way).  They love their family and all three want to be in loving, secure, happy relationships with a special person.  All three of the girls learn lessons about the importance of self-sacrifice, not because “you’re a woman so you have to make sacrifices for your man” but because “you love someone, and sometimes that means gladly sacrificing something you want so they can have what they want.”  But instead of letting their actions tell that story–which they do–the author insists on inserting these random speeches from Mom that grate on my nerves.

And yes, I still agree with my thoughts.  Mostly, I get frustrated when I read books where it feels like the author is saying what she thinks she’s expected to say (in this instance, boring feminist rants that are pointless) instead of what she actually believes/feels is right.  The story itself was done well, but it felt like Donnelly was scared to write a book about happy women ending up happily married unless she stressed the fact that her characters were also feminists.

Name a book you love that has less than 100 pages. Why do you love it?

This is a hard one because I don’t really read a lot of short stories or novellas.  So instead I turned to my shelf of children’s books – and then it became harder for a different reason – which to choose?!

But I think that my top two favorites (at least at this exact moment) are The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater and Black and White by David MacCauley.  I highly recommend both.

51ikfddwmll-_sx258_bo1204203200_The Big Orange Splot is incredibly colorful and happy, about a man who lives on a street where all the houses are the same… until one day, when a bird drops a can of paint on the man’s roof.  It’s a really fantastic story about thinking independently and being yourself.

51ubugbf3fl-_sx334_bo1204203200_Black and White is super creative, telling four stories at the same time.  Of course, they are four separate stories – or are they?  They pictures are fantastic, and trying to figure out how the tales weave together is a large part of the book’s charm.

If someone gave you £100, what would be the five books you would rush to buy? (Should there be any change, please consider contributing it to the FictionFan Home for Unwanted Chocolate…)

OH MY GOSH this actually just happened to me!  My birthday was Thursday, so the husband turned me loose in my favorite book store with a generous stipend.  That is actually going to be covered in my next post!!!

What book do you expect to be reading 100 days from now?

18085516It’s hard to say how far along I will be, but my best guess is probably The Wind is Not a River by Brian Payton, recommended by Lady Fancifull’s review back in July 2015.

The GoodReads blurb says:

The Wind Is Not a River is Brian Payton’s gripping tale of survival and an epic love story in which a husband and wife—separated by the only battle of World War II to take place on American soil—fight to reunite in Alaska’s starkly beautiful Aleutian Islands.

Following the death of his younger brother in Europe, journalist John Easley is determined to find meaning in his loss. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Helen, he heads north to investigate the Japanese invasion of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, a story censored by the U.S. government.

While John is accompanying a crew on a bombing run, his plane is shot down over the island of Attu. He survives only to find himself exposed to a harsh and unforgiving wilderness, known as “the birthplace of winds.” There, John must battle the elements, starvation, and his own remorse while evading discovery by the Japanese.

Alone at home, Helen struggles with the burden of her husband’s disappearance. Caught in extraordinary circumstances, in this new world of the missing, she is forced to reimagine who she is—and what she is capable of doing. Somehow, she must find John and bring him home, a quest that takes her into the farthest reaches of the war, beyond the safety of everything she knows.

I’m actually quite interested in the bits of World War II that happened in Alaska, so I’ve had my eye on this book for a while.

Looking at The Guardian’s list of “The 100 greatest novels of all time”, how many have you read? Of the ones you haven’t, which ones would you most like to read? And which will you never read?

I’ve actually only managed to read 18 of the books on this list – mostly the children’s books, although I do have a few on the TBR, like Three Men a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome and Don Quixote which I have started probably a half dozen times.  I’ve also read about a half of Wuthering Heights before giving up.  I realized the only way that I would consider the ending happy is if the plague came and killed every single character because I hated all of them passionately.  I hate a similar experience with Jane Eyre, so it’s possible that the Bronte sisters just aren’t for me.  (But I’ve seen the Wishbone episodes, so that counts, right??)

On the whole, while I understand that a lot of books are considered “classics” or “must reads,” I’m really only into reading books that have characters I like and then at least some of them get happy endings.  Life is too short for me to spend wading through hundreds of pages of depression.

Free Question – Create a 100 themed question of your own choice and answer it.

My question is – what book do you wish you had a hundred copies of so you could give them out to random people?

I think for this one I would probably go with The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.  The story is excellent – and true – and while at times sad and difficult, ultimately full of hope.


Hopefully some of you will participate in this happy Book Tag – and thanks again, FictionFan, for thinking of it!!  :-)


Passenger to Frankfurt // by Agatha Christie


//published 1970//

Published in 1970, Passenger to Frankfurt is one of Christie’s final novels, and her last “stand alone” novel that didn’t include any of her well-known protagonists.  This is an odd book, one that doesn’t really follow the normal pattern.  There is no murder – really, in some ways, no mystery.  This is more of a dystopian novel than anything.

In her insightful foreword (which should definitely be read before reading the book – and probably after reading the book as well!), Christie states quite plainly that she is not trying to write a “true” story (e.g. any of Poirot’s books, for instance, could have happened within our “real world” rules).  She talks about how much violence and unrest is going on in England and around the world in 1970, and says that she started with that and went from there.

Fear is awakening – fear of what may be.  Not so much because of actual happenings but because of the possible causes behind them.  Some known, some unknown, some felt.  … All seeming to lead to worship of destruction, pleasure in cruelty.

She tells us that the story she has written is a “fantasy – and extravaganza” – but –

Nothing is impossible; science has taught us that.

This story is in essence a fantasy.  It pretends to be nothing more.

But most of the things that happen in it are happening, or giving promise of happening in the world today.

It is not an impossible story – it is only a fantastic one.

This, then is the lead-in for Passenger to Frankfurt.  “Not an impossible story – it is only a fantastic one.”

Our story begins with Sir Stafford Nye.  In his mid-40’s, Nye (who is referred to as “Sir Stafford Nye” throughout almost the entire book, which honestly was a bit aggravating at times) is rather halfheartedly involved in diplomatic relationships for the British government.  We are told that he has too much of a sense of humor to really work his way further up the ladder, which is fine with him, as he thinks everyone further up the ladder is insufferably dull.

Nye is on his way home when his flight is delayed by fog and forced to layover in Frankfurt.  There, in the airport, Nye is approached by a desperate young woman who tells him that her very life is in danger.  She asks him for his help.  And, being a man who likes a bit of a gamble, Nye agrees – and the adventures begin.

There were a lot of things about this story that I really enjoyed.  The first half is completely engaging as we begin to see that all the rebellions and rages around the world are part of an intricate web being woven by someone.    Nye is a likable character, entertaining and intelligent.  As he and the mysterious woman (who has multiple names, and finding out her true one is part of the story so) begin to pick their way through the web, it’s all quite exciting and interesting.

And then – it just sort of – gets weird?  What really happens is we get to this super exciting climax with Nye and his companion, and they have plans for what they’re going to do next and then – we don’t hear from them again.  Instead, we start hopping around to various government cabinets and listening to them gripe about how bad the state of affairs is around the world.  All these youths trying to tear down the governments, etc.  It just felt like all the momentum that Christie had been building suddenly dissipated.  I didn’t care about these random ministers and politicians.  I wanted to be with the action!

Although I have to say that that section was not without its humor –

Monsieur Grosjean sighed.  “It is very popular among the young,” he said, “the anarchy.  …”

“The students, ah, the students,” said Monsieur Poissonier.

He was a member of the French government to whom the word “student” was anathema.  If he had been asked, he would have admitted to a preference for Asian flu or even an outbreak of bubonic plague. Either was perferable in his mind to the activities of students.  A world with no students in it!  That was what Monsieur Poissonier sometimes dreamt about.  They were good dreams, those.  They did not occur often enough.

The other weird thing is that throughout this is emphasized as a movement of youth, of empowering youth and enabling youth and, basically, manipulating youth.  So I was confused as to why Nye, at age 45 (we are told specifically on page one!), is being courted by this organization.  He seems outside of their usual net, and it seemed like the whole story would have made more sense if Nye was twenty years younger.

In the end, this was only a 3/5 read.  It starts very strong, but the middle bit, muddling around with the governments, and then the ending, which is almost nonsensical in its abruptness, were much weaker.  A lot of what Christie has to say is very thought-provoking and insightful.  She has a real grasp on the ease with which the unscrupulous can manipulate the young, and how a movement can start with positive ideas but swiftly become something negative.  I was really reminded of all the “Black Lives Matter” nonsense that’s been going on, where a desire for positive change has been railroaded into destruction for the sake of destruction.

“Idealism,” said Lord Altamount, “can arise and indeed usually does so when moved by a natural antagonism to injustice.  That is a natural revulsion from crass materialism.  The natural idealism of youth is fed more and more by a desire to destroy those two phases of modern life, injustice and crass materialism.  That desire to destroy what is evil sometimes leads to a love of destruction for its own sake.  It can lead to a pleasure in violence and in the infliction of pain.  All this can be fostered and strengthened from outside by those who are gifted by a natural power of leadership.  This original idealism arises in a non-adult stage.  It should and could lead on to a desire for a new world.  It should lead also toward a love of all human beings, and of good will toward them.  But those who have once learned to love violence for its own sake will never become adult.  They will be fixed in their own retarded development and will so remain for their lifetime.”

That is actually so brilliantly insightful.  The enthusiasm for a new world that every young person possesses can either become tempered with a love and empathy for humanity – leading to positive change – or can be influenced by the love for violence and destruction, leading to anarchy.

Anyway.  Passenger to Frankfurt is definitely worth a one-time read, but I really wish that Christie had about doubled the size of this book.  More time spent with Nye and his friend would have really made this story better.  The ending of the book hinges on this mysterious sniper-like woman being unmasked, but it felt very abrupt and would definitely have benefited from her being in the story more earlier on – people getting knocked off by her, adding some drama and terror to the story.

It was just a little frustrating because there were a lot of really good bones to this tale, and I think that with a little more flesh, it would be a book with a lot to offer in our complicated times.  But instead it muddles around and skims a good bit, leaving me feeling ultimately rather dissatisfied.


As an aside, this is actually my final Christie book!  I started all the way back in January of 2012 by reading The Mysterious Affair at Styles with a goal of reading all of her published novels.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey and may even loop back around through them sometime…

The Ex // by Alafair Burke


//published 2016//

I added this book to my TBR earlier this year thanks to a review by Carol over on Reading, Writing, & Riesling.  Thanks!!!

The premise of this story is that our narrator, Olivia, is a defense attorney in New York City.  When Jack Harris is arrested for murder, Olivia feels obligated to defend him – she and Jack were engaged twenty years earlier.  All we know at the beginning is that Olivia feels quite guilty about the way the relationship ended, and that, in some ways, defending Jack is a way to balance her personal scales.

I wasn’t sure that I was in the mood for a procedural crime book, but I was totally hooked by the first chapter, the transcript of the NYPD’s initial interview with Jack.  It was a fabulous way to immediately bring the reader up to speed on the actual crime and Jack’s crazy story for how he ended up at the scene of the murder.  While I didn’t find Olivia completely likable, she was a good narrator, and the story is paced excellently.

The constant waffling of did-he-or-didn’t-he is done really well.  I honestly had no idea whether or not Jack was the criminal.  Besides the details of the backstory between Olivia and Jack, we know basically everything that Olivia does, and I really enjoyed pondering each new testimony or piece of evidence that Olivia unearthed, trying to fit the pieces together.

It’s definitely more of a procedural than a thriller – there was never a moment that I really feared for anyone’s safety or anything like that.  It was the actual wanting to know that kept me turning the pages at a very high rate!

I really thought pretty much all the way through that this would be a solid 4-star read for me, but I felt like the ending was rushed and not as satisfying as I wanted it to be.  While the conclusion mostly made sense, I felt like it was a tad convoluted and wasn’t sure that I was 100% on board with the motivations behind the murderer’s actions.

Still, this is an easy 3.5 read, and one that has definitely inspired me to check out more of Burke’s works.  (Apparently she’s a super famous author and has written a couple of series of books??  I’m always late to the party, I guess!)