Taken // by Dee Henderson

//published 2015//

Sometimes when you read several of an author’s books in a row, you begin to notice that they favor a certain type of plot twist or character, something that may not stand out as much if you just pick up one of their books every now and again, but really jumps out at you if you consume several in a row.  Henderson seems to have a thing for having people be kidnapped…  Ann was kidnapped in Full DisclosureCharlotte was kidnapped in Unspokenand in Taken we meet yet ANOTHER kidnapping victim, Shannon.

Now this wouldn’t be such a problem if it weren’t for the fact that all of these characters exist in the same fictional world, and they all know one another!  I mean seriously, what are the odds?!  Plus, in this book Shannon meets up with Matthew… whose daughter was ALSO kidnapped when she was a kid.  ?!?!?!!?

So yes, basically Shannon spent years being held by this nomadic family who ran this kind of weird crime ring around the country.  There has been some kind of killing and she was able to escape from her specific captors, although other members of the family are still around and possibly will be super angry that Shannon is meandering about telling all their secrets.  Shannon purposefully reveals her true identity to Matthew, because she had read newspaper articles about him when his daughter was missing, and thinks he will understand her situation and be able to help her.  Between his experience and his job as a private investigator, plus the fact that he conveniently knows Perfect Ann, Matthew is able to do just that.

The main problem with this book is that I almost died of boredom while reading it.  The entire book felt incredibly passive because all of the action is in the past.  There was never a single moment that it seemed like Shannon was in danger, and for someone who was held captive for years, she’s remarkably chill about the whole thing, so it didn’t even really feel like the story was about a victim readjusting to normal life.

Instead, it’s just rambling conversations and this whole thing that’s complicated because Shannon’s brother is running for governor, so everyone acts like it’s really important that we make sure that Shannon’s reappearance doesn’t mess up his chances to win that position.  (In fairness, the brother doesn’t seem to care nearly as much as everyone else, and he was so genuinely kind to his sister and happy to see her; I liked that bit.)  There’s a smidge of mystery surrounding who arranged to have Shannon kidnapped, but even that just kind of fizzles out.

In Undetected there were PAGES about Mark agonizing over the 10-11yr age difference between himself and Gina, but in Taken Matthew is like 15+ years older than Shannon (who is only in her mid-20’s), PLUS you know, Shannon is a RECOVERING KIDNAPPING VICTIM?!  But everyone is super chill about the whole thing, and if anyone talks to Shannon about needing to take some time before making a decision, she totally blows it off because she “knows” Matthew is the only one for her… ???  While I liked Matthew and liked Matthew and Shannon as a couple, it felt weird.  It also felt like there was absolutely no reason for there to be such a big age difference between them, so I’m not sure why that was even a thing.

Finally, this novel is supposedly a “standalone,” yet there were TONS of conversations between characters that I don’t think would have made any sense if I hadn’t read earlier books, especially a throwaway conversation where Charlotte’s friend tells her fiancee that she’s going to tell Charlotte’s husband “the truth about Marie” … if I hadn’t read the earlier books, I would have no idea even who the heck Marie was, and then, to top it off…  she never tells him anything??  I actually DID want to know the truth about Marie, so I was kind of aggravated that that came to nothing.

Anyway, I’m really focusing on the negative here. There were a lot of solid conversations and enjoyable relationships – it wasn’t like I hated every page.  But overall the book was just TOO slow without enough action or urgency to carry it through, earning it 2/5.

#3 for #20BooksofSummer

Undetected // by Dee Henderson


I read this book back in 2014 as an ARC when it was first published, and felt rather ambivalent towards it then.  I reread it as part of my ongoing saga of plowing through all of Dee Henderson’s backlog, and actually found that I liked it even less this time around (or maybe am more impatient towards Henderson’s poor character development when I know she can do better), as I dropped from a 3/5 to 2/5.

Gina is a legit genius who has done some amazing sciency things involving sonar, which she’s especially interested in because her brother, Jeff, is the commander (or whatever they call them) of a submarine for the US Navy.  Gina and Jeff are orphans and are very close, and at the beginning of the book she moves back to the base where he lives on the west coast as a relationship that she’s been in for a couple of years has just ended.  Gina’s 29 and feels like she’s ready to get married, so she asks her brother if he knows any nice guys that might be interested.  Jeff’s first thought is his good friend Mark Bishop (who actually happens to be the brother of Bryce, the main dude from Unspoken).

Mark is a widower in his mid-40’s and he really likes Gina but feels like he’s too old for her because they are like 11 years apart.  (As someone whose husband is ten years older, I found myself a bit confused at this point, but whatever.)  So Jeff finds another friend, Daniel, who immediately likes Gina and they start going out.  Meanwhile, Mark keeps running into Gina and becomes increasingly intrigued by her intelligence and humor, etc etc etc and decides that he IS interested after all because he feels like he would be an awesome husband for her.  So we get this weird love triangle where everyone knows that both guys are interested in Gina, and Mark says stupid stuff about how having two guys like her will be really good for Gina’s self-esteem (or it could make her feel really pressured and confused?!), and both guys are like, “May the best man win” and it’s just really ridiculous and annoying.

Basically, I didn’t like Mark, who comes across as INCREDIBLY condescending.  He’s super pushy towards Gina and spends a lot of time talking himself up, about how he was a really awesome husband during his first marriage and how he knows he’s going to be an awesome husband for Gina, too, because he can READ HER MIND and knows exactly what she needs ALL THE TIME.  And while he claims to be impressed by Gina’s intelligence and independence, my notes say, “So obnoxious how he keeps marveling at her maturity – she’s almost 30??  So youngish, yes, but she was in college at 14, like her being thoughtful and mature shouldn’t be this big surprise.”

But it is!  Then, he finally convinces her to marry him, and after that he does something that REALLY annoys me – he keeps telling her not to worry about things she isn’t worrying about.  So he’ll say something like, “Don’t worry about all the responsibilities that come with being a commander’s wife; everyone will help you out,” and she’s like, “I’m really not worried about; I’m sure I’ll settle right in and handle it fine,” and he’s like, “Okay, but don’t worry about it; I know it’s going to be a LOT of work and REALLY hard, but it will be okay!”  And then later he’s he thinks to himself, “Wow, she is surprisingly good at being a commander’s wife!  That’s crazy!  It’s almost like SHE HAS BEEN IN THE WORLD OF ADULTS SINCE THE AGE OF 14 AND IS NOW 30 YEARS OLD AND KNOWS HOW TO ADULT!”

So once again, a kind of meh story that would have been enjoyable if the main dude hadn’t been so freaking annoying.  I actually really, really liked Daniel and felt like he was a WAY better match for Gina, so I just couldn’t get into Mark as being THE MAN, when if he had tried any of his stupid lines on me, I would have told him where to get off.

2/5, and as I’m reviewing these books, I’m starting to wonder why I kept reading them!?  My only excuse is that I was actually really busy doing lots of other things, so my reading was just a chapter or two a day.  I think if I had sat down and really read large chunks of these books at a time, I would have gotten impatient with them a lot sooner.

Book #2 for #20BooksofSummer!

Unspoken // by Dee Henderson

//published 2013//

As my Dee Henderson binge continued, I was leery of picking up the next title.  Full Disclosure had been such a terrible read that I was a little scared of Unspoken.  However, while Unspoken wasn’t one of my favorite books ever, it was back into the solid 3/5 range, with a decent story, interesting characters, and some excellent dialogue – even if I did have to suffer more interaction with Perfect Ann, one of the BFFs of this books protagonists.  (Despite the fact that Ann is a SUPER HARDCORE INTROVERT who CANNOT HANDLE PEOPLE AT ALL.)

I think the main problem with these books on the whole is that Henderson has put the thriller/mystery/action part of her books in the back seat (possibly in the back seat of a full-sized van), while the romance/relationship aspect takes the wheel.  So while these stories are alright, they tend to drag through the middle bits where it’s just the main characters meandering about wondering whether or not they should get married/analyzing feelings.  Instead of an active storyline, it’s mostly people who have suffered some kind of trauma in the past (Taken, which I haven’t reviewed yet, was really bad that way), so there is no sense of urgency.

In this book, Charlotte is the main character, and she was kidnapped and held for several years, so she has a lot going on as far as recovering from some serious trauma.  I actually did like her relationship with Bryce and felt like he was really good for her.  There’s this whole side-plot, though, where Charlotte can inherit a bunch of money if she gets married, and while it was overall handled well – and I think Henderson was really just trying to use it as a catalyst so Charlotte had to make a decision – it still felt a smidge like Bryce was also marrying Charlotte for her money (even though he’s also super rich…)

Speaking of which, I found myself snorting with sarcastic laughter when shortly after they get married, Charlotte and Bryce are talking about how their daily lives are going to look, and basically Charlotte is an artist and has a studio in their house and Bryce is working from home (his job is now giving away Charlotte’s money to charity?!), and they say something like they don’t want this to be a “marriage where they just see each other at breakfast and dinner and never in between,” as though most people have marriages like that from choice instead of necessity.  Like, yeah, I’d like my marriage to be one where I saw my husband between breakfast and supper, too, except, you know, he has to earn money to pay our bills because no one has handed us millions of dollars.  I mean seriously.

Even though I’m whining about this book a bit, it was actually a fine read as long as you went into it with the attitude that this was going to be a story about relationships.  I really wish that Henderson would either go back to writing thrillers, or would market her books as romance, because what she ends up with is a boring thriller that’s spread too thin because she’s so busy with relationships, while the relationship part feels really stilted and unnatural because of the “thriller” going on in the background.

3/5 for Unspoken.  Decent read, but nothing amazing.

However, this is Book #1 for #20BooksofSummer – progress!

PS I was really glad that I read most of these books on my Kindle because these covers are D R E A D F U L.  I mean, look at that poor guy.  He looks like he’s been constipated for days.  UGH.

Full Disclosure // by Dee Henderson

//published 2012// Another ugh cover //

As I mentioned the other day, I have found myself reading through all of Dee Henderson’s standalone novels, most of which are not actually standalone novels, as they all interconnect and have repeating characters.  This really starts with Full Disclosure, which introduces Paul Falcon and Ann Silver (who becomes Ann Falcon).  Paul and Ann show up in basically all the rest of Henderson’s books, which is a bit unfortunate, as I found Ann to be one of the most irritating characters I’ve read about in quite some time.

Our story starts with Paul, who works for the FBI in Chicago.  He’s a basically likable guy, and he’s hanging out one day when this woman shows up in his office and tells him a little story about a car wreck that took place in her district.  Turns out that this guy is the key to solving a very old case of Paul’s – a female assassin, who murdered multiple people a while back but has been retired for some years.  Paul is immediately intrigued by Ann, so instead of this being a really interesting book about solving this cold case, it turns into one big long yawnfest with Ann at the center.

The problem is, Ann is perfect.  Actually, I’ll just quote my own notes from my little notebook where I vent my initial feelings on books:  “So, so boring.  Ann is perfect.  Perfect and BORING.  Paul loves Ann, so let’s have pages of Paul thinking about how perfect Ann is.  Let’s ask all Ann’s friends.  Guess what!  They say she’s perfect!”

Then, in a completely bizarre twist, we find out not just that Ann is an author (on top of being a pilot, a major homicide detective for the midwest, basically a genius, a county sheriff, a close friend to a former vice-president, a chess master, and an artist!), but that the books she wrote are Dee Henderson’s O’Malley books.  This made this one of the strangest and most awkward books ever.  Is Henderson writing herself into the books?  Is she basing Ann Silver on her own character?  Well, that’s kind of awkward considering Ann is FREAKING PERFECT.  Now we get all these people praising Ann’s books and what an awesome writer she is and how her books have changed their lives… so basically Henderson telling us what a great writer she is?!  Seriously, it was SO WEIRD and I legit felt embarrassed for Henderson when I was reading it.

I skimmed large portions of this book and only finished it because I knew that Paul and Ann show up in several other books, so I wanted to understand their story.  There is this whole other story involving this former vice-president (who of course loves Ann because she is PERFECT) that was just A+ bizarre-o and made no sense, that just added to the whole weird-dream vibe of this book.  It was like Henderson was on drugs while she was writing this.

The thing is, I didn’t think Ann was perfect.  I thought she was annoying, selfish, and rude.  She expects Paul to make like a zillion changes to his life and dreams to accommodate her and all her issues, and she compromises NOTHING.  The most annoying one was the way that she used the fact that she’s an “introvert” (who knows everyone and has a million super close friends who are all REALLY important people who all think Ann is PERFECT) as this big excuse for needing to spend oodles of time all by herself, so basically Paul creates an entire miniapartment in his house so Ann can have her own retreat for ONE WEEK A MONTH to spend time alone.  Must be nice to be independently wealthy so you can just disappear for days on end!  And as an aside…  if you can’t even handle a full month hanging out with someone, why in the heck are you marrying him!?

But what really got me was her stance on never having children EVER and her only reason was because she’s such an introvert that she can’t handle kids.  It was never an actual conversation with Paul, it was an ultimatum.  If you want to marry me, no kids.  Period.  Despite the fact that at the beginning of the book the whole vibe of Paul is wanting to get married so he can start a family and carry on his family heritage, etc.  I’m not saying that Ann should have caved and agreed to have children, it just felt incredibly one-sided that it wasn’t even a conversation.  Ever.

There were a lot of little things about this book that annoyed me, too, like the fact that Ann has known the former VP for ages, yet always calls him “sir,” or the way that Paul went around asking all Ann’s friends all about her before starting to date her.  The story didn’t hang together and felt like mere background for the praise-fest for Ann.  UGH.

And the Skyping?!  Like why the heck are Paul and Ann even video chatting with each other when THEY AREN’T ACTUALLY TALKING.  Pages were spent, on MULTIPLE OCCASIONS where it’s things like Ann watching Paul eat supper or Paul watching Ann sleep (creepy much??!).

Honestly, if it wasn’t because I had agreed to review the ARC of Henderson’s later book (which looked intriguing – and actually was really good; I’ll review it one of these days), I would have never picked up another of Henderson’s books again because this one was so freaking BORING.  As it was, I skimmed through and survived by making lots of sarcastic notes.  1/5 and  not even kind of recommended, which is sad, because I have found so many of Henderson’s books to be really good reads.

Rearview Mirror // May 2017

Only one month behind, so I’m catch up, right??  :-D

May was kind of a crazy month, and I worked a LOT of overtime – not a lot of time left for reading (or cleaning, or resting, or thinking…), so I mostly read a couple of children’s series that I already owned, and then started working my way through some of Dee Henderson’s books.

Favorite May Read:

The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith – it’s kind of rare for a nonfiction book to be my favorite read, but Smith’s  book was just such a delight and encouragement from beginning to end that I feel like it definitely earns this spot.  I actually read this book throughout April and May as I had time, and ended up buying my own copy so I could highlight parts that were important to me, and pull it out again whenever I want.  This was just a wonderful book about contentment, making your house your home, and having the courage to let your house reflect yourself and your family.

Most Disappointing May Read:

The Wings of a Falcon by Cynthia Voigt – this book was just really weird.  I couldn’t stand the protagonist, who was a total jerk and continued to be a total jerk throughout the entire story.  I wasn’t sure what the point of this book was, as it was very long, disjointed, and rambly.

Other May Reads:

  • Before I Wake by Dee Henderson – 3/5 – alright, but kind of a weird love triangle.  The mystery was good until the ending, which was weak.
  • The Extraordinary Education of Nicolas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart – 5/5 – a really delightful prequel to the other books.
  • Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt – 3/5 – an alright story with some interesting thinking points, but nothing amazing.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart – 5/5 – this was a (multiple times) reread for me, and I love it more every time.  The story is clever and engaging, thought-provoking but not polemic.  A genuinely fantastic children’s book.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart – 4/5 – fun and engaging, but not quite as exciting as the first.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart – 4/5 – lively and interesting, and a solid conclusion to the series.
  • On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt – 3/5 – an alright story with some interesting thinking points, but nothing amazing… kind of exactly like Jackaroo.
  • The Witness by Dee Henderson – 3/5 – Kind of a meh read that started alright but was definitely more romance than thriller, so it got rather boring in the middle.

In Mays Past…

Now that I’ve been doing my Rearview Mirrors for two years, I thought it would be fun to see what my favorite and least-favorite reads were from those years.

Back in May 2015, my favorite book was one I almost didn’t confess to reading – Forever by Maggie Stiefvater.  Because sometimes the teenage werewolf thing is actually done right.

I had a lot of meh reads that month but nothing I really hated.  I ended up choosing Girl Missing by Tess Gerritsen, which was completely unmemorable for me – I can’t even remember what I didn’t like.

Last year, I was still blazing through every Agatha Christie book ever printed, and it’s still amazing to me how many of them made it as my favorite book of the month.  In May 2016 I read the genuinely brilliant And Then There Were Noneone of Christie’s most clever, twisty stories that, despite the fact I had read it multiple times, I read it in one go, staying up until midnight to get to the grand conclusion.

My least favorite book ended up being Todd McCaffrey’s Dragon Harperwhich I ranted about at length.  After spending a year+ reading through Pern, it was really disappointing to end with his genuinely terrible, boring books.

TBR Update:

So I went through and cleaned this spreadsheet up a bit, mostly sorting books to the tabs where they actually belong (a lot of books on the general TBR were actually series) and getting rid of doubles and whatnot.  I also FINALLY caught up on my emails/blog entries.  This means that the general TBR took a stunning plummet…  but the other tabs took a huge jump…

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:

  • Standalones:  780 (down 118!  Go me!)
  • Nonfiction:  75 (up five)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  623 (up two)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  220 (up 61 because most of the books that I edited out of the standalones actually moved to either this column or mystery series)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  102 (up 26)

Still, my editing did give me an overall net loss of 24, which is pretty good for me.

Awaiting Review:

Basically, Dee Henderson:

  • Full Disclosure
  • Unspoken
  • Undetected
  • Taken
  • Traces of Guilt
  • Threads of Suspicion

Plus Reclaiming Christianity by A.W. Tozer, and the Spring (#53) issue of Slightly Foxed.

20 Books of Summer Update:

I’ve read five of my books, and eliminated Sins of the Past (which was actually a collection of novellas instead of an entire Henderson novel), so I’ll be adding a title someday (if I get that far haha).

Approaching the Top of the Pile:

The probable next five reads…

  • Watching You by Michael Robotham, which I just started today.
  • Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham, which should wrap up the Joseph O’Laughlin series that I started so long ago Robotham may have actually written another book by now…
  • The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman
  • Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

The Witness // Before I Wake // by Dee Henderson

I had so many good resolutions when I last posted here, all these ways I was going to get caught up on my backlog of reviews and get this blog back on track!  …and then my internet went out for a week.  Ah well, such is life.  I don’t really get all that stressed about it, other than the fact that the piles of books around my computer are threatening to topple over…

As I mentioned, I’ve been reading through Dee Henderson’s standalone novels.  It started because I received her most recent book, Threads of Suspicion, as an ARC from Bethany House.  Now this book is the second book in Henderson’s new series – the Evie Blackwell Cold Cases.  Being myself, I thought I would just go ahead and read the first book, Traces of Guilt, first, and then I would be good to go.  I really have a problem of not being able to dip in and out of series… I basically feel a compulsion to read them all, in order.

So anyway, I open up Traces of Guilt and start to read… and on the very first page is a character that I definitely remembered from being in one of Henderson’s other books!  So then I started wondering if this really was a new series, or if there were going to be a lot overlapping characters……..and before I knew it, I had been sucked in, and ended up reading all of the novels she has published since her O’Malley series (which I actually really enjoyed).

Here’s the thing:  Henderson’s “standalone” novels aren’t really standalones… a lot of them have interconnecting characters, which, over time, does become kind of important.  I’m at the point now where I’ve been immersed in her world for eight books, though, so it’s kind of hard for me to say whether or not these books would make sense if genuinely read on their own.  Some of them would, I think, but others it seems like a lot would go over your head if you didn’t know some of the background for the characters.  What I really don’t understand is why, in general, authors don’t indicate when books are connected??  I’m not sure if they don’t want to scare people off by making their  books a series or what, but I’ve come across this with other authors as well, and it honestly drives me crazy.  I WANT TO READ THE BOOKS IN ORDER and it’s extremely aggravating when I can’t even figure out what order that is supposed to be because the author is pretending like they are all independent books when they AREN’T!  With Henderson, I had to go through and determine when each book had been published and read them in that order.  What.  Even.

SO.  General ranting about the concept of calling books standalone when they are not, in fact, standalone, is over – on to the actual books themselves!

The problem is that I really enjoyed the O’Malley series so much.  They were engaging, exciting, full of solid conversations, and tackled topics and themes in a realistic and thought-provoking way without ever sounding preachy.  And none of Henderson’s other books have lived up to those in my mind, so even though many of her books are pretty decent, I’m always somewhat disappointed because they aren’t as good as the O’Malley series.

With that in mind…  I found both The Witness and Before I Wake to be 3/5 reads.  They were interesting and had decent characterization, but somehow just lacked the zing.

//published 2006//

The Witness was just a bit slow, especially since it SEEMED like it should be quite exciting.  Luke is the chief of police and, in the first chapter, is on the scene shortly after a shooting takes place in a jewelry store.  The only witness is a young woman who, Luke eventually finds out, is on the run from a different crime she witnessed several years earlier.  While the story started well, it slowly devolved from a thriller into a gentle romance, a theme I found running through several of Henderson’s books.  It just doesn’t seem right to advertise a book as a romantic thriller when it’s basically just the romantic part…

Soon there were too many couples:  Luke and Amanda.  Connor and Marie.  Caleb and Tracey.  And several other pairs that Henderson kept hinting around should or would be dating soon.  After a very long middle section where basically nothing happens except for all the couples working through their internal problems (which are pretty easy to solve because everyone is ridiculously wealthy – another common Henderson theme), all of the sudden there is a bunch of action that feels quite abrupt and SOMEONE DIES, which was quite upsetting and felt completely unnecessary.

All in all, not a bad book, but not one I feel compelled to read again.

//published 2003// Also, she has some of THE WORST covers of all time, ugh //

There were some common issues with Before I Wake.  Again, the premise is completely engaging – several women, apparently unconnected, die in their sleep, despite being youngish and in apparently good health.  No sign of foul play or visitors.  Rae has recently moved to town to become a business partner with a guy she used to date, Bruce, who is a private investigator.  Rae used to work undercover for the FBI and had an assignment go south.  Still recovering emotionally, she’s left DC behind and moved to this small town outside of Chicago.

This book had a tighter story and more tension.  But there was this weird, super-polite love triangle as Bruce is still quite interested in Rae romantically, but the sheriff, Nathan, is also very interested in Rae.  Rae isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life or if she is interested in either of these guys, and in the meantime the three of them work together virtually with no tension, which didn’t really seem likely, given the interconnecting emotions.

This book would have probably gotten 4/5, except the ending felt like a total cop-out.  There were several suspects and a lot of different motives, but SPOILER, it’s just a random dude?  And then he just conveniently dies in a car wreck, so everyone’s problems are solved, hurrah!  There was also no resolution in the relationships between Rae, Bruce, and Nathan, and it honestly felt like Henderson was getting ready to start another series with this trio, as the relationships had that very open-ended feel to them.  But we actually don’t here from these guys again in the rest of the books, so oh well I suppose.

Overall, Before I Wake was a book that could have been really good but ended up kind of meh because of the weak ending.

This actually means that I have FINALLY finished reviewing all of my May reads, so maybe someday we’ll actually look at books I’ve been reading in June… even though June is almost over…!!!

Rearview Mirror // April 2017

Yes, folks, you read that right – I’m rounding up April!  I really do like to write these Rearviews for my own benefit (to be honest, this whole blog is for my own benefit, I just let you all tag along for the ride :-D), so even though we are well into June, I’m going to go ahead and see if I can get this written…

Favorite April Read:

By far and away, The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge.  I still find myself thinking about this deceptively simple book.  It is one of those rare books where every word is perfectly placed.

Most Disappointing April Read:

Paper Towns by John Green, although that may not be entirely true, since my expectations were super low to start.  So in a way, this book actually was the least disappointing, because it was just as pretentious, boring, pointless, and overrated as I expected it to be.

  • A Gentleman of Leisure (AKA The Intrusion of Jimmy) by P.G. Wodehouse – 3/5 – fun and frolicksome, but not particularly memorable.
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – 5/5 – in a month that didn’t include The Scent of Water, this book would have been an easy first place.  Fun and frothy, I enjoyed every page and can’t believe I had never read it before!
  • The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse – 3/5 – I would have liked this book a lot better if he hadn’t inserted the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist in the middle of it…!?
  • Say You’re Sorry by Michael Robotham – 4/5 – completely gripping, even if I wasn’t entirely convinced that the villain could be so villainous without anyone noticing…
  • Wild Palomino: Stallion of the Prairies by Stephen Holt – 2/5 – This was a pretty meh Famous Horse Story that just sort of muddled about and had a lot of big jumps in logic.  It may be entertaining to its target age group of around 10-12, but not particularly interesting to a more critical reader.

In Aprils Past…

Now that I’ve been doing my Rearview Mirrors for two years, I thought it would be fun to see what my favorite and least-favorite reads were from those years.

In 2015 I was going through a bit of a reading slump, so I hadn’t read very many books.  However, my favorite was definitely The Lewis Man by Peter May.  After being blown away by the Lewis trilogy, I’m still determined to get around to reading some more of May’s books… someday…

My most disappointing read that month was Pollyanna in Hollywood by Elizabeth Borton.  The Pollyanna books were written by different authors, and when Borton took over I just couldn’t continue on, as she turned the books into these weird travelogues and turned Pollyanna herself to a strange caricature of her character – in the earlier books Pollyanna was so genuine and kind, and Borton just never captured that in her writing.

Last year, I was enamored with Nancy Bond’s classic, A String in the Harp.  While it isn’t a tale of high action, it’s a beautifully crafted story with memorable and warm characters.  This is a children’s book that deals with grief so, so perfectly.

On the flip side, my most disappointing read was yet another part of a series that I really enjoyed on the whole – Dragonsblood by Todd McCaffrey.  While Todd’s mother’s Pern books had their ups and downs, they were on the whole quite engaging.  But when Todd took over, it was like he just kept writing the same story over and over again.  His writing is much lazier, with lots of logic gaps and parts where characters just conveniently guess the thing they really need to know in order to save the world (again).

TBR Update:

I’ve actually been slowly working my way through the TBR, trying to weed out doubles and books that should belong on one of the series tabs.  I mostly did this because the TBR had topped 900 and I really needed to bring it back below that mark to make me feel like I wasn’t completely crazy.  ;-)  I still have a ways to go on that project, so I’m hoping to see some more deductions.  Even though I’ve added a few in the meantime, I have managed to eliminate 21 titles in the process…

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:  898 (which is weirdly exactly where it was when I posted the March Rearview?!  What are the odds of that happening???)
  • Nonfiction:  70 (up five, and I am once again determined to spend some more time reading nonfiction this summer, despite the fact that I didn’t put a single nonfiction title on my 20 Books of Summer list!)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own, but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  621 (up four – even though I’ve been reading several of my own books lately, it’s been a couple of series, so they only count as one book down on the TBR)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  159 (up ten… several of the books that got dropped from the Regular TBR actually just got shifted to this area because they are part of a series rather than a stand-alone)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  76 (up four)

Awaiting Review:

I’ve been on a bit of  Dee Henderson kick lately, reading most of her “stand-alone” novels before reading an ARC of her latest book, Threads of Suspicion.  In her independent books she still has a lot of interconnecting characters, so I decided to read a bunch of her other books to get some background on characters, mainly  because I get weirdly OCD about reading series in their entirety and in order…

Point is, the books awaiting review are Dee Henderson novels, and will probably come out in a series of minireviews.

  • The Witness by Dee Henderson  – bit heavy on the romance; everyone was a couple??  So the thriller part felt just kind of wedged into the background, a pattern that seems to be establishing itself in her books.
  • Before I Wake by Dee Henderson – bit more of an actual story, but had a really weird love triangle sort of thing.
  • Full Disclosure by Dee Henderson – definitely my least-favorite of any of her books I’ve read – super boring, and Ann is the worst character ever because she is so freaking perfect and basically the entire book is just talking about how perfect she is.  Be prepared for a rant on this one.
  • Unspoken by Dee Henderson – I couldn’t tell if this book was actually a decent story, if it just seemed that way in comparison to Full Disclosure.

20 Books of Summer Update:

So far, Unspoken is the only book I’ve read from my list, although I am almost finished with Undetected.  I’m not completely confident in my ability to make up my 20 this summer, although I did accomplish it last year.  There is a lot going on these days, and I just don’t seem to be reading as much right now as I usually am!  I’m also ten books behind on my Goodreads goal of 160 books this year… whoops!

Approaching the Top of the Pile:

The probably next five reads…

Hopefully books 2-6 on the 20 Books of Summer list:

  • Undetected; Taken; Traces of Guilt; Sins of the Past; and Threads of Suspicion by Dee Henderson
  • Watching You by Michael Robotham – this book and Close Your Eyes are the only two books I have left in the Joseph O’Laughlin series.  I’ve really enjoyed these books, and am moderately frustrated that I haven’t gotten around to reading these last two yet!

I have two more reviews to write and then I’ll be caught up on May’s books and hopefully get a May Rearview out as well.  I’ve only read two books in June, which is really low for me.  I think part of the problem is that I’ve been reading Henderson’s book as ebooks from the library, and I just don’t tend to grab my Kindle as readily as a hard copy of a book.  I also really struggled to get through Full Disclosure, which really slowed me down on my overall reading.

The husband is off this week, so we are both trying to get caught up on stuff around the house after a crazy spring!  We are also busy housetraining our puppy.  And as an aside, if you’re interested in adorable border collie puppies, please feel free to check on my Instagram account @popcornandbooks15.  She is pretty dang cute!

Happy reading, everyone!

The Nesting Place // by Myquillyn Smith

//published 2014//

I have this crazy idea in the back of mind that I will finish writing reviews for books read in May and THEN do an April/May Rearview…  except it’s already June 12…  ah well.  Yesterday was my last day of my seasonal job, so I’m anticipating a better pattern of reading and reviewing (haha) in between playing with the puppy, keeping up the garden, doing laundry, running my Etsy shop, etc….

Somewhere along the line I stumbled into this book.  I’m rather drawn to home organizational books and magazines; I love looking for ideas that I can use (or tweak a little and then use), especially since we somehow seem to always be remodeling something around here.  This book had delightfully smooth and glossy pages and perfect binding; lots of photographs and beautiful font, so I was immediately attracted.  And once I started reading, Smith’s friendly and encouraging writing kept me turning the pages.

This book felt like a letter from a friend, possibly because Smith is actually a blogger.  But despite the warm tone, the book stayed focused and orderly, making it not just enjoyable for a one-time read,  but a book that can be referenced again and again.

I was expecting a typical book about organizing your home – step-by-step instructions and suggestions.  I was also hoping for some tips on home decorating, as I sometimes struggle with making things look ‘right’, especially in our small home where it is very easy to cross the line to ‘cluttered’.  What I wasn’t anticipating was an actual message that would both encourage and challenge, as Smith believes that the first step to decorating your home is getting your heart and attitude in the right place.

She starts by outlining her own house history, which involves 13 houses in 18 years of marriage – I believe this qualifies as a lot of moves by any standard.  As Smith talks about the different houses, she also talks about how, at the time, each one wasn’t ‘the one’, and so she didn’t make much of an effort to nest in.  But what she began to realize was that everyone house is ‘the one’ for the current season, and while it may not be worthwhile to throw down thousands of dollars on projects in every house, it is always worthwhile to make every house your own home.

A lot of what Smith discusses has to do with the importance of contentment.  So often we cheat ourselves out of enjoying the present because we are wishing we had something different.  I love the quote that she attributed to Epicurus – “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you have now was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Smith’s message is not a complicated one; in fact, I was rather blown away by its simplicity.  Appreciate where you are now.  Work within your current means.  Be willing to try something new.  Stop worrying about what other people think and instead create something you love.  Remember that your home is a haven, and go from there.

According to Smith, perfection is overrated.  Because we set “perfection” (a somewhat vague term when it comes to home decor) as our goal, we become frozen with fear and do nothing.  “Done is better than perfect,” Smith says.  “Welcoming and comfortable do not have to equal perfection.”  She quotes Sandy Coughlin –

Excellence is working toward an attainable goal that benefits everyone, while perfection comes from a place of great need – usually the need to avoid criticism and gain praise and approval.

One of the big things that really hit me was Smith’s discussion about apologizing for things in the home.  “Sorry, it’s such a mess today,” or “I’m so embarrassed by what a disaster this kitchen is!”  These types of comments do not make people feel comfortable and welcomed.  Instead, apologizing not only broadcasts your discontentment with your current state of affairs, it sets up whomever is receiving your apology to wonder how harshly you would judge their messes if you were in their home!

After quite a bit of time on attitude and contentment (time that was not at all wasted, in my opinion), Smith gets down to some of the nitty-gritty of nesting.  She says that a big part of making decorating decisions is first of all determining the purpose of your home and of the different spaces within it.  She points out that most of us want things that are somewhat intangible for our homes.  Smith suggests taking a moment to “think about words you would use to describe the feel of the home you’ve always wanted,” and later she lists several words that she gathered from some of her blog readers.  The words were things like “restful,” “welcoming,” “comfortable,” “safe,” “fun,” and “joyful.”  Start with your words, she says, and go from there to create intentional spaces.

I’ve rambled on quite a bit about this book, but it really impacted me, and I highly recommend it.  While I’ve talked a lot about Smith’s thoughts on attitude and contentment, she also has a lot of practical advice.  A huge take-away for me was the importance of making the spaces in my home purposeful – to look at each room/area and decide what it is I want that space to do, and then only place things in that space that further the purpose.

Funny story, I thought I would start with the little dining nook off our kitchen, and I started to write down the different things we use that space for, and realized that the one thing we don’t use it for is eating… and now we’re in the process of turning the entire area into a pantry, and there are boxes of food stacked all over the place and construction dust everywhere, so be careful whilst reading this book!

I also have to say that Smith has been a renter throughout the majority of her married life, and her book reaches out to renters as well as home-owners.  So  many of her suggestions and thoughts are inexpensive and easily changed (hanging pictures, moving furniture, painting things, etc).  I found myself wishing that I had read this book back when we were renters and I so often found myself staring at those dreadful flat-beige rental walls!

All in all, The Nesting Place was an unexpected encouragement.  Warm and thoughtful, challenging and practical, I highly recommend this book if you are feeling a smidge overwhelmed about creating a “look” for your home.

The Mysterious Benedict Society Quartet // by Trenton Lee Stewart

I first read The Mysterious Benedict Society back in 2007, when it was first published.  I can’t remember how I initially found it – probably browsing about the library – but I enjoyed it so much that I purchased it soon after.  The fantastic cover art and interior illustrations drew me in, and the story was strong enough to make the read well worth it.  Since then, I’ve read this book several times and enjoyed it more with each reading.

//published 2007//

Our story begins with Reynie, a boy whose parents died before he remembers, and who now lives in an orphanage.  Reynie is basically a genius, incredibly intelligent and keen to learn.  One day, he and his tutor are reading the newspaper – as they do most days – when they come across a rather odd ad:  “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?”  Reynie responds, and soon finds himself involved in a series of tests – and then even more.

This is a children’s book, so much of the writing is rather simple.  However, Stewart has not dumbed-down his story, which has a fabulous villain and lots of action.  As an adult, I found small snippets of it to be verging on polemic, but in some ways I think the almost-spelling-out fits in with the age of the targeted audience.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a preachy book by any means.  Reynie and the trio with whom he soon joins forces (The Mysterious Benedict Society – Sticky, Kate, and Constance) infiltrate a school for the gifted that may or may not be a mere cover for something much, much more sinister.

I love the bit where the kids are first entering the school.  A couple of the older students, Jillson and Jackson, are showing them around.

“It sounds like there are no rules here at all,” Sticky said.

“That’s true, George,” said Jillson.  “Virtually none, in fact.  You can wear whatever you want, just so long as you have on trousers, shoes, and a shirt.  You can bathe as often as you like or not at all, provided you are clean every day in class.  You can eat whatever and whenever you want, so long as it’s during meal hours at the cafeteria.  You’re allowed to keep the lights on in your room as late as you wish until ten o’clock each night.  And you can go wherever you want around the Institute, so long as you keep to the paths and the yellow-tiled corridors.”

“Actually,” Reynie observed, “those all sound like rules.”

Jackson rolled his icy blue eyes.  “This is your first day, so I don’t expect you to know much, Reynard.  But this is one of the rules of life you’ll learn at the Institute: Many things that sound like rules aren’t actually rules, and it always sounds like there are more rules than there really are.”

And I do appreciate Stewart’s apt summation of government schools:

Rote memorization of lessons was discouraged but required; class participation was encouraged but rarely permitted.

All in all, The Mysterious Benedict Society is a fun and engaging story with relatable characters and a solid plot, yet also manages to be thoughtful at a level that is challenging for both its target audience of middle schoolers and older readers as well.  I highly recommend it.  5/5.

//published 2008//

//published 2009//

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma are also enjoyable reads, but not quite as engaging as the first book.  I hadn’t read these two as often as the first book, so I really enjoyed delving back into them.  The entire cast of characters returns for these books as the pursuit of the villain from the first book continues.  These two books lack the deeper level of the first book, but are still well-paced and fun stories, and a lot of the questions from the first book are answered.  I would have appreciated a slightly more involved epilogue, but for the most part solid 4/5 reads.

//published 2012//

The final book, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is a prequel that looks at a formative season in the childhood of Mr. Benedict.  This is actually probably my second-favorite of the four books.  I really like that Nicholas isn’t a perfect kid, and his character development is done very well, especially the way that he learns to see that everyone has a motivation for what he does, and that understanding that motivation before passing judgment is an important part of life.  Another 5/5.

Jackaroo // On Fortune’s Wheel // The Wings of a Falcon // by Cynthia Voigt

These three books are loosely linked as “The Tales of the Kingdom.”  Somewhere along the line, I picked up Jackaroo at a library discard sale.  I remember reading it in high school and liking it and not thinking much more of it.  Then, a year or so ago I stumbled across On Fortune’s Wheel at the Salvation Army for a dime.  Goodreads revealed that The Wings of a Falcon rounded off the trilogy, so I went ahead and ordered it used on eBay for a couple of dollars.

//published 1985//

I enjoyed my reread of Jackaroo.  It’s a decent story set in a kingdom far, far away and centers around Gwyn, the daughter of an innkeeper.  The Kingdom is ruled by the king, and two earls under him, and lords under the earls.  The common folk pay their taxes and struggle to make a living, something more difficult due to a famine over the last couple of years.  Gwyn and her family have it better than most; there is always business for the inn, and her father is a shrewd businessman.

This isn’t exactly a fast-paced story, but it unwinds at a comfortable pace.  Gwyn is a likable character (although her brother is quite aggravating), and I enjoyed watching her realize things about herself and her life that led her challenge her own way of thinking.  A 3/5 story that was pleasant but not life-changing.

//published 1990//

On Fortune’s Wheel revolves around Gwyn’s granddaughter.  This story had a bit more adventuring to it as Birle leaves the Kingdom and travels south.  Despite that, the book still felt slow at points.  When Birle returns to the Kingdom, there are several chapters that really seem to drag out.  This book also involved a scenario that consistently infuriates me: girl gets pregnant and doesn’t tell the father because it’s “her” decision – as though he had nothing to do with it!  I’m really tired of fathers getting zero rights and/or only the rights begrudgingly granted to them by mothers.  (Followed by the mother sighing and bemoaning the fact that the father is distant or not helpful or whatever, urgh)

Anyway, another 3/5 read that was again a pleasant story but not something that really spoke to me.

//published 1993//

The final book, The Wings of a Falcon, again takes place about twenty years later, but begins in the southern country rather than the Kingdom. This book was a lot weirder than the other two, and I found the main character, Oriel, to be 100% obnoxious.  I never felt like Oriel grew as a person at all.  He started by being a self-confident and pompous ass, and continued to be that type of douchey person from boyhood to adulthood.  He uses everyone around him and only does things that benefit himself.  The whole story really dragged and felt completely aimless.  It was a 1/5 read for me, and not a book I would ever return to.

Overall, the trio garners a 2/5 rating.  While I didn’t particularly love reading these books, at least I will have three empty slots on the bookshelves, as these are going into the giveaway box.