The Tottering TBR // Episode XVIII

A weekly(ish) post wherein I pretend to lament the fact that I have so many books on my TBR… but in fact am secretly rubbing my hands together with delight that there are so many amazing books left to be discovered…

So last weekend I was down and out with a terrible stomach bug and no time for blogging nonsense.  But I am back in the game this week, despite the fact that I have also already started working my autumn job at the orchard!  We are picking and sorting peaches like crazy – it’s been several years since we had a good crop around here, so everyone is quite pleased and the peaches are delicious.  I absolutely love working at the orchard, mostly because the owners are the best people I have ever worked for, so even though I’m sad that my summer is over so soon, I am enjoying my time there.

Added to the General TBR:

Eleven additions in the last two weeks!

  • I’ve read an enjoyed Todd Johnson’s other two books, Critical Reaction and The Deposit Slipso when I saw he has a third book coming up, I knew I wanted to read it.  Since then, I’ve found out that I’ll be receiving an ARC of Fatal Trust from the publisher, so this read will actually happen sooner rather than later!
  • FictionFan’s review of The Lodger left me intrigued, mainly because she has a habit of setting up the whole mystery and then not telling me the ending (*sigh*), so I suppose I have to read it for myself.
  • I’ve mentioned before that I really enjoy books about catering or hotels and that sort of thing, so the review of Once and for All over at the Penniless Bookworm made me feel like this would be a good place to start with author Sarah Dessen.
  • Even though I’m a bit leery about reading a sci-fi book that has lots of footnotes, That’s What She Read made The Punch Escrow sound like too much fun to miss.
  • Fictionophile gets blamed for two additions this week, both thrillers.  Lynne featured The Day She Died on her Throwback Thursday post as an old favorite revisited – I always enjoy reading books that have stuck with someone months after they read it.  And even though I’m always a bit hesitant to read books where a missing child is the center of the mystery, her review of What She Knew just sounded too intriguing to pass up!
  • Cleopatra Reads Books definitely wins the award for weighing down the TBR with a hefty THREE entries!  I really do keep meaning to read something by Tammy Cohen and also by Lisa Jewell.  In the meantime, I guess I’ll keep adding their titles to the list thanks to Cleo’s recommendations, because she really does love both of these authors!  And proving that I’m not as good at avoiding things as I like to think I am, I added another book with a missing child as a central plot – Little Sister.
  • Finally, I came across two random books on lists that sounded engaging – Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas and Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley.

Off the General TBR:

I haven’t done too shabbily here, with four off – The Girl from Summer Hill (weird), Water Song (needed to be longer), The Methods of Lady Walderhurst (disappointing), and What Lies Within (infuriating).  I had several reviews that weren’t on my TBR – five books, in fact.  It’s amazing that the TBR can be so long, and yet I keep finding myself reading books that aren’t even on it…

Grand Total for the General TBR:  792 (up seven)

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Added to the Personal TBR:

Besides two free Kindle books, I also added two more.  My grandpa somehow ended up with a gigantic box of books when my great-aunt passed away, and he’s decided that I should have them all.  They consist of some sometimes dreadful but sometimes alright Christian fiction called ‘Love Inspired’, and for a while (maybe you still can) you could subscribe and they would send you a book a month or whatever.  Apparently my great aunt was subscribed for YEARS.  Anyway, I took a small pile of them home, but most of them are parts of series, so they don’t count yet.  One, The Last Bridge Home by Linda Goodnight, seems to be a standalone, so I may try it.  Someday.

I also got another book from my Bethany Beach Books Box!  I switched from the YA subscription to the Children’s, and I think this may be a better fit for me.  I am kind of picky about my YA because I really am not into angst-ridden narratives.  Children’s books are so often simpler and cleaner, yet can still be incredibly profound.  This month, I got a copy of Summer of Lost and Found by Rebecca Behrens.  It looks like a lovely little book AND I got a beautiful hardcover copy.  I hope I really love this book because it is SO PRETTY.

Off the Personal TBR:

Only two this time around – Farewell, My Lovely and Martin’s Mice.  And what a contrast those two titles are!

Total for the Personal TBR:  593 (holding steady, because apparently I can’t do math)

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Total for the Series TBR:  Holding steady at 222.

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Added to the Mystery Series TBR:

Stephanie’s review of the latest Kate Burkholder mystery by Linda Castillo inspired me to go ahead and add this series, which currently has nine entries.  Stephanie really enjoys these books, and we frequently have similar taste.  :-D

Off the Mystery Series TBR:  

Nothing…

Total for the Mystery Series TBR:  103 (up one)

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Total for the Nonfiction TBR:  No changes – steady at 79.

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Grand Total for the Week:  Four off and twelve on, so up a total of eight.  I consider anything under a net of ten to be a win, so go me!  :-D

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July Minireviews – Part 2

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 I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

I had a lot of minireviews for July, so Part 1 can be found here.

Water Song by Suzanne Weyn

//published 2006//

This book was a retelling of The Frog Prince, but set in World War I Belgium without (much) magic.  I really, really liked the concept and setting for this story, but honestly the book was just too short for what was going on.  This ended up feeling more like an outline/draft for a story instead of a full story, which meant the characters were very flat and I couldn’t get behind the main love story because it felt so abrupt.  The ending felt rushed and a little strange, and after a big build up around the locket, the actual reveal was quite anticlimactic.

This was a book where I found myself wishing that Weyn had taken the time to turn it into a real, full-length novel.  There was so much potential in the story and characters, but this book barely skimmed across the surface.  3/5 for a decent read and a fantastic concept, but not a book that I would bother reading again.

#16 for #20BooksofSummer!

Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

//published 1940//

This is the second book starring hard-bitten private detective Phillip Marlowe.  As with the first book, The Big SleepMarlowe’s narrative is what makes this book worth reading.  While the story is fine, with a decent mystery and fair pacing, it’s Marlowe’s slang-ridden, dryly humorous observations that keep me turning the pages.

After a little while, I felt a little better, but very little.  I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country.  What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.  I put them on and went out of the room.

This book is, as with the first, very reflective of the ingrained prejudices of its time, and the easily offended will probably not make it past the first page, where ‘negro’ appears three times, but I found the story to be all the more engaging because of its unvarnished view of its time – so much more interesting to read the books written then, where these words and concepts flow naturally because it was just the way it was, rather than books set during that time but written now, that frequently try too hard to belabor the point that there were prejudices.  It was genuinely disturbing to see how no one really cared about the first murder in the story because the victim was ‘only a negro,’ and that the case was given to a man on the police force generally considered to not be important or skilled enough to deal with something ‘more worthwhile.’  In the end, when Marlowe mentions to the murderer that he may have been able to get away with killing ‘just a shade,’ he really won’t be able to get out of also killing a white woman.

So yes, a fun story with a lot of twists and a fairly satisfying (if somewhat hurried) ending; Marlowe’s voice is absolutely hilarious; and, to me, an absolutely fascinating look and reminder of how in the not-so-distant past, having separate ‘joints’ for blacks and whites was not only normal, but considered completely unlikely to ever change.  3.5/5, and I plan to continue reading more of Chandler’s works.

The Methods of Lady Walderhurst by Frances Hodgson Burnett

//published 1901//

This is the sequel to The Making of a Marchionesswhich I read earlier this month.  I found myself a bit ambivalent towards that read, and I actually enjoyed this one even less.  The story begins with the marriage of Emily and Walderhurst, but the majority of the book focuses on Emily’s relationship with Walderhurst’s current heir, Osborn, and his wife.  Osborne has spent his whole life anticipating becoming the next Lord Walderhurst, and is quite upset when Walderhurst marries a reasonably young and healthy wife.  The entire book is a bunch of melodramatic nonsense that would have been a good story if Emily’s devotion to Walderhurst (who is mostly absent in India for the book) actually made a bit more sense.

I would have been willing to go along with the whole thing if the ending hadn’t been so odd and abrupt.  Just – quite, quite strange.  All in all, I think that I’ll stick with The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, and leave Emily Fox-Seton on the shelf.  2/5.

#19 for #20BooksofSummer!

Martin’s Mice by Dick King-Smith

//published 1988//

I’m not sure whether or not I’ve rambled on about King-Smith on this blog before, so even if I have it’s been a while.  While he’s best known for his classic Babe: The Gallant PigKing-Smith was an incredibly prolific writer of children’s books.  While I don’t love all of them – some are really just too fast and shallow to be considered good reading, even for a children’s book – others have become lifelong favorites, like The Fox Busters and The Queen’s Nose.  

In this tale, we have the story of a farm kitten, Martin, who doesn’t like eating mice.  He thinks they are so beautiful and precious.  When he discovers that the farmer’s daughter keeps rabbits as pets, he is intrigued by the concept – and when he catches a mouse one day, he decides to keep her as a pet.  The rest of the story follows the adventure (especially when his long-lost dad finds out), and involves all sorts of funny critters, like an extremely intelligent hog, a crafty fox, and some quick-thinking mice.

While this isn’t a book that’s likely to win a lot of awards or to cause you to ponder your life, it’s still a very fun and witty story that would be a great read aloud or early reader book.  4/5.

What Lies Within // by James Morris

//published 2015//

Well, despite a slow start, several very short reads have enabled me to reach this, #20 for my #20BooksofSummer list!  I’ll post a full update in my July Rearview.

Unfortunately, What Lies Within within was a rather weak way to end the list, and actually only garners a 1/5 for me.

Mostly, I really hated the protagonist, Shelley.  From the beginning, the 17-year-old set herself up to be obnoxious, selfish, whiny, entitled, and basically unlikable.  I thought that maybe she would grow and change as a person throughout the story, but instead she ended up merely adding prideful and hypocritical to her list of attributes.

The basic premise/opening of the story had some promise.  Shelley is sitting in school one day when she receives a text message from an unfamiliar number.  The text message tells her that she is in danger.  When Shelley tries to find out who is at the other end of the line, he tells her that he is her brother – even though she’s an only child.  At first, Shelley totally blows this weirdo off – except then it turns out that he’s right.

Be forewarned:  The rest of this rant may or may not involve spoilers, and will definitely involve ‘sorta kinda’ spoilers, so if you have intentions of reading this book (please don’t), you probably won’t want to read any further…

This really felt like it could have been an exciting, engaging story.  Instead, Morris’s habit of killing off virtually everyone  while providing weak, poorly-explained explanations and forcing me to follow around whiny, boring, self-entitled Shelley meant that I ended up reading this book with the same sort of fascinated horror one gets from watching the proverbial train wreck.

I was especially offended by Shelley’s stance on adoption.  Early in the story she finds out that she was adopted and that her dad never told her.  (Shelley’s mom died in a train wreck several years ago.  We don’t actually know how many years ago because Morris only tells us that it happened on 9/11, but doesn’t bother to inform us how many years ago 9/11 was…)  Despite the fact that Shelley’s dad is a fantastic, supportive, kind, indulgent man, Shelley treats him like trash consistently and blames him for all of her self-imposed problems.  I really liked the way that she immediately accused him of ‘lying’ and demanded to know what else he had been ‘lying’ to her about.  While yes, not telling someone that she is adopted is a pretty big deal, she never even vaguely kinda sorta attempted to see things from his point of view – that he and his wife had always planned to tell her; that the wife had died; that he never could decide when was the ‘right’ time to have this conversation; etc.

And then there was this:

Yet through the maelstrom of her mind, she latched onto a silver lining.  For as long as she could remember, she felt as though she didn’t belong, as if she was a foreign exchange student, learning customs that never made sense.  …  But the adoption explained everything.

I am literally living in the wrong home.

No wonder she felt like an alien.  The subtleties that bound families, the sense of humor, the shared behaviors, those came from sharing blood.  She had only shared space and time.

Excuse my French, but the hell.  Her parents adopted her at birth.  They have loved and cherished every moment of her life.  But she’s ‘living in the wrong home’?!  She ‘only shared space and time’!?  I’ve mentioned before that I have a sister who is adopted; I know multiple families who have adopted; and I find it pretty damn offensive that apparently that’s all completely pointless because the only way to become a member of a family is by sharing blood.

And here’s the kicker – that’s really basically the point of this entire story.  Turns out that Shelley is one of thirteen infants who were all created as a social experiment by some whack-job of a genetics professor who was trying to prove that nature always triumphs over nurture.  He used genetic material from twelve of the worst criminals he could find and created children out of them; he donated his own sperm to create Shelley.  Besides the extremely dubious legality of such action, there around a billion holes in his theory, the way it all played out, and his conclusions.  One of the biggest was that he ‘proved’ nature was stronger than nurture because ten of the children grew up to do terrible crimes – mass murders, school shootings, etc.  Except… two of the kids aren’t violent at all…???  And basically they weren’t violent because we meet those two in the story, and of course Morris is going to kill them off (horrifically), so it’s important that we like them, I guess.  Even though it makes his own story make no sense.

In the end, Shelley more or less goes more and more crazy.  There’s this guy who has been hired by the government to swoop around on his motorcycle and murder all of these kids before they cause more trouble (because apparently being imprisoned for life isn’t good enough?  Or something?  Were all there kids not imprisoned?  So vague), but Shelley ends up killing him – by locking him in the paint booth in her dad’s body shop and turning on the bake cycle.  My husband actually paints cars for a living, and while he agreed that it is possible to kill someone this way, it’s not terribly efficient as it would take a bit of time.  Plus, the booths usually have at least two exits, both equipped with emergency exit equipment, and literally all Shelley does is close the door.  (And then walks away, and apparently has no problem leaving a dead body for her dad to discover – and try to explain to the police – the next day…)

Then, she dashes across town in her dad’s tow truck (which she’s never driven but seems to have no issues with even though it takes a special license to drive because it’s really big) and kills her birth dad, too – like literally guts him with a knife on his front porch.  Then, leaving him to bleed out, she strolls back across town, wearing her borrowed, bloody clothes, tells her erstwhile BFF farewell, and then rides off into the sunset to become some sort of vigilante…?!?!!?!?

This was after chapters of her doing other, equally crazy (although not quite as violent) things, none of which really made sense.  Also, throughout the whole thing she is plagued with these nightmares of killing people – and it’s literally never explained in the end.  So I guess those were all just to build up a sense of dread?  To emphasize that Shelley is ‘an alien’?

Oh, and I didn’t even mention the great scene where she visits her crush and then they go for a walk and just randomly have sex out in the woods and then I have to listen to Shelley agonize over whether or not losing her virginity was a good thing (it wasn’t), blah blah blah.  Like the stupidity of the plot wasn’t enough, I also had to listen to all this whiny, angsty YA crap on top of everything else.

In the end, this book made me really angry.  I hated Shelley, the plot was stupid and completely lacking in logic or cohesiveness, and the overall message – family is blood only; adoption is a waste of time; kids who are adopted will never really fit into their adopted families – was flat offensive.  Negative stars for this one, and if I meet James Morris, I may kick him in the shins.

PS I will say that I am in the complete minority on this, as the book has almost a 3.9 average on Goodreads, and most people seemed to find it an enjoyable, fast-paced, engaging read.  So maybe I’m just judging it a bit too harshly…

A Tapestry of Lives // by Jean Sims

//published 2014, 2015//

This is a Pride & Prejudice retelling published in three volumes, and the three volume bit is probably my biggest beef with this story, as it was obviously only done in order to milk more money out of the story, as it could easily have been condensed to two volumes, or one long story… anyway.

Overall, I actually really enjoyed this story.  Volume One begins with Elizabeth at home just after her trip to Hunsford.  In this story, when Elizabeth goes to her father and asks him to not let Lydia go to Brighton, her father initially blows her off, like he does in the original, but then begins to wonder if she has a point.  He goes to find Elizabeth in the garden, and they discuss not only Lydia, but also Mr. Darcy’s letter, which Elizabeth lets him read.  This sets the groundwork for a few changes around the Bennett homestead.  Next, when the Gardiners postpone their trip to the Lakes, it’s because Mrs. Gardiner is pregnant, so Elizabeth goes to London to help around the house.  There, she runs back into Mr. Darcy again, and their relationship begins to develop from that point forward.

I really enjoyed the characterizations in this version.  No one was wildly evil or ridiculously perfect.  While people like Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley were pretty obnoxious, it still felt within the realm of plausibility.  Both Darcy and Elizabeth were well-drawn characters who changed and grew throughout the story.  I also really appreciated how Sims made some of the other characters more sympathetic – while Mrs. Bennett is no less obnoxious (most of the time), there is some definite understanding of her genuine and not-unreasonable terror as to what might happen to her and her daughters should Mr. Bennett die unexpectedly.  I especially liked how it is Darcy who really comes to realize this, because it makes his patience with his future mother-in-law feel more natural, and adds to Darcy’s depth as he begins to realize how casually he has accepted a lot of ‘the way things are’ type of things without really thinking about them.

The overall helplessness/dependence of women at the time is touched on throughout the story in a way that felt organic to the story rather than polemic, and also fit with the overall thoughts of the times – at this point, women like Elizabeth are really just interested in being viewed as fully intelligent human beings who are capable of making decisions about their own futures, not running the government and owning businesses.  I also liked how while some of the men in the story take evil advantage over the women in their lives, many of them, like Darcy, have been taught the importance of protecting/shielding/providing for their women, and believe that the decisions they are making are for the best for them – and, in truth, there were a lot of women, like Mrs. Bennett, who could really use some taking care of!

The ‘tapestry’ bit of the story involves Sims going off onto long and tangled tangents telling the backstories of basically all of the characters – Lady Catherine, Mr. Bennett, the Gardiners, the Earl of Matlock, you name it.  I had mixed feelings about these stories.  Overall I liked them and felt like they did add to the main thrust of the tale, but sometimes they weren’t woven in very well, and it was a little unclear when the narrative was shifting from the past to the present.  Sims also has a habit of telling about a few days from, say, Elizabeth’s perspective, and then switching and telling us what someone else, like Darcy, was doing during the same time period, but again it isn’t always clear when the overlap is occurring and when the story is actually progressing beyond that time frame, so at times it got a little confusing.  But on the whole I felt like these backstories and multiple layers for the same time periods really did add a lot of depth to the story and its characters.

Volume One is from just after Hunsford through Darcy’s more successful proposal; Volume Two spans their engagement; and Volume Three follows the early days of wedding bliss.  The third volume was definitely the weakest.  Too many stories had already been mostly concluded in Volume Two, so Volume Three felt a lot clunkier and was less interesting.  It was also the volume with the most villainy, with a couple of evil viscounts wrecking havoc (completely separate from each other) in a way that didn’t really fit into the rest of the story.  The ending involved a very long and drawn out bit with Mrs. Bennett dying that meant that this whole big long story kind of ended on a downer note.  I’m also never a fan of really long epilogues that try to fill in lots of details about the rest of everyone’s lives, so that bit was also pretty boring to me.  Overall, I felt like the story could have ended about a quarter of the way through Volume Three and been much better.

There were other things that annoyed me, and a few threads that never really seemed to go anywhere (e.g. Mrs. Hill’s illegitimate son), but on the whole this was a well-written and engaging P&P variation that I quite enjoyed, and may even read again sometime.  4/5 and recommended if you actually enjoy crazy P&P retellings.  ;-)

The Big Sleep // by Raymond Chandler

//published 1939//

I’ve recently subscribed to two book boxes, one of which sends very new books (like the one I reviewed here), but the other, Bookishly, sends an older, used, somewhat classic book every month, along with some tea and other small goodies, like a notecard or notebook.  This one comes from England, and I have quite enjoyed getting some of the very classic Penguin editions that are different from what we have here stateside.

Anyway, one of the books I got was Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler.  When I realized that it was the second book in a mystery series staring a private detective named Phillip Marlowe, one of the founders of the ‘hard-boiled detective’ genre, I decided to start with book one, The Big Sleep.  

I genuinely had no idea what to expect, but was immediately captivated by Marlowe, who is not only the main character but also the narrator.

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.  I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them.  I was neat, clean, shaven and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.  I was everything well-dressed private detective ought to be.  I was calling on four million dollars.

This book was originally published in 1939, and I can see it offending some, as it contains much of the casual prejudices and racism of the day.  (And honestly, some of the negative reviews on Goodreads had my eyes rolling practically out of my head… why do people read books published almost 80 years ago and then get offended that the people in them have a completely different worldview?!  How ignorant do you have to be to not expect that…???)  But at the same time, its very casualness of those prejudices is incredibly revealing of its time, and an intriguing reminder of how times have changed.  For instance, I don’t think anyone could get away with writing anything like this –

“Don’t kid me, son.  The fag gave you one.  You’ve got a nice clean manly little room in there.  He shooed you out and locked it up when he had lady visitors.  He was like Caesar, a husband to women and a wife to men.  Think I can’t figure people like you out?”  …  he swung on me … it caught me flush on the chin.  I backstepped enough to keep from falling, but I took plenty of punch.  It was meant to be a heard one, but a pansy has no iron in his bones, whatever he looks like.

But it’s not really an overwhelming bit of the story, and the majority of Marlowe’s narration is genuinely hilarious and Chandler’s knack for writing conversation is brilliant; I found myself snorting with laughter on more than one occasion over bits like this –

Her hot black eyes looked mad.  “I don’t see what there is to be cagey about,” she snapped.  “And I don’t like your manners.”

“I’m not crazy about yours,” I said.  “I didn’t ask to see you.  You sent for me.  I don’t mind your ritzing me or drinking your lunch out of a Scotch bottle.  I don’t mind your showing me your legs.  They’re very swell legs and it’s a pleasure to make their acquaintance.  I don’t mind that you don’t like my manners.  They’re pretty bad.  I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.  But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me.”

This wasn’t a story full of action.  Marlowe meanders about making his own observations and doing his own thing, but we’re privy to pretty much everything he knows and does.  Chandler isn’t afraid to kill people off, and there are multiple corpses throughout, but nothing gory and no one dies that you’re particularly sad to see go.

While the old-fashioned prejudices may have been rather offensive, the old-fashioned morals aren’t, and I loved how the language in this book never went stronger than a ‘damn,’ and how a few criminals were running a pornography business, which seemed to genuinely disgust the majority of the characters.  I also really liked the Marlowe didn’t fall into bed with any of the women about – he’s way too crafty to fall for their lures, and it says a lot about his overall character, which is actually rather philosophical and introspective, despite his rough-and-ready exterior.

At one point, Marlowe has apprehended a possible bad guy.  When he confronts the kid, the kid responds with “Go _____ yourself” – blank included in the original text.  And that seems to be this kid’s default response to everything, although Chandler manages to mix it up quite a bit with things like, “He spoke three words to me and kept on driving,” or “the kid shrugged and said his three favorite words.”

Despite Marlowe’s hard image, I appreciated that he was genuinely disturbed by the easy murder of one of the characters, even if that character was a bit of a skunk.  There is so much drinking and smoking in this book that I was cracking up – for instance, I’m not sure if even the leaders of criminal rings these days have their own monogrammed cigarettes.

While I wasn’t racing to the ending in desperate fear of Marlowe’s life, I still really wanted to see how things were going to unwind, and with sentences like, “She’d make a jazzy weekend, but she’d be wearing for a steady diet,” luring me along, I found myself thoroughly immersed every time I picked up the book.

I’m looking forward to continuing Marlowe’s acquaintance.  There are only eight books total, plus a ninth that Chandler had partially written at the time of his death and was later finished by another author.  The Big Sleep was an easy 3.5/5, and a really fun start to a series.

#18 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Girl from Summer Hill // by Jude Deveraux

//published 2016//

I initially added this book to the list as a contemporary Pride & Prejudice retelling, albeit a loose one.  Basic concept – Casey ends up playing Elizabeth in a local theater production of P&P, except her relationship with the guy playing Darcy is a lot like the one the original characters had.  I really liked the way that the chapter titles were listed as though they were part of a play (Act One, Scene Two), and reflected the fictional/P&P names of the characters (“Elizabeth Doesn’t Tempt Darcy”), even though their actual names weren’t anything like Elizabeth or Darcy.  I also appreciated that the characters were no unaware of how ridiculous it was that their lives were somewhat paralleling the original P&P story.

Actually, there were a lot of things to like about this book to start.  The characters were funny and friendly, the conversations pleasant, and there was a decent concept underneath of it all.  But in the end, I was just so frustrated with the incredibly choppiness of the story and the way the author kind of acted like we should already know a lot about these people.  For instance, Casey is staying in a house that was loaned to her by Kit, who is also directing the play – but we’re given no information about Kit or his relationship with Casey, which meant I was really confused when Kit immediately was interested in an older lady; at first I assumed that Kit must be close to Casey’s age, but it turns out that he’s a lot older than her – more of an uncle/father figure.

There was also this extremely weird thing where a bunch of the characters were half-siblings because their biological father was actually a sperm donor … but there is no explanation as to how all of these siblings actually found/met each other, and Casey’s relationship with her father is really ambiguous – like, are they friends?  It just made no sense and was never really explained.

I wondered for a while if some of these characters were in other of Deveraux’s books, because she has written a lot, but I couldn’t find any information supporting that; supposedly this book is the first in a new series.

There were a lot of random things that nagged at me.  It felt like who parts of this book had just been chopped out with no attempt to smooth the rough edges.  Consequently, everyone falling in love with everyone felt very sudden and kind of strange – especially when we jumped straight into snogging/sex.

And hello??  They get caught in the rain on the back of the estate and have to take shelter in this old shed where Darcy’s mum used to hang out when she was little and the blankets and pillows are still there from when it was her secret hideout literally 20 years or more ago – and that’s where they shag!?  All I could think was GROSS.  There is no way that those cushions weren’t full of all sorts of unsavory insects and rodents.  ICK.  This book was full of completely impractical stuff like that; there was absolutely no attempt to make any of this remotely realistic or believable.

Still, I was still fairly confident that this book was going to get a 3/5 for a decent effort (albeit with a lot of eye rolling) until it completely went off the rails at the end.  This is a BIG SPOILER (I mean, sort of… it’s not like we don’t know who the villain is from the very beginning, and since we all know the basic concept of P&P it’s not really a big surprise when “Wickham” absconds with “Lydia”…) but yeah so the Wickham character convinces Lydia to run away with him.  Lydia has told everyone she is 18, but it turns out that she’s actually only 15, just like Book Lydia, so it’s a big deal that he has run away with a minor, but instead of chasing after him, they come up with this convoluted plot to lure him back by presenting the upcoming play as a contest of acting ability between Wickham and Darcy.  (???!!!??!?!)  Despite the fact that Wickham has been portrayed as complete cad who will do whatever he can to satisfy his own selfish whims and has been known to accost/sexually harass/rape women in the past, no one seems overly concerned that he’s disappeared with a fifteen-year-old girl.  I mean, they’re upset, but I don’t think that “luring him back” is really the kind of option that law enforcement would agree to (or at least I hope not!  Good grief!).

So yes, the most ridiculous part is – it worked!  He just comes back with Lydia in tow!  And goes right to the theater to start acting in the play!  AND THEN instead of arresting him immediately, they convince the police that they should let the play go on because it’s for charity!?  Not only that – Lydia still plays her part!  No one bothers to, I don’t know, find out if she’s been raped?!  What!?

And then we get this write-up of the play, praising how “realistic” everyone was, etc., and it’s supposed to be this big thing where everyone acted so passionately… except then it concludes with the way the play will be running multiple times and people should go see it… and to myself I’m thinking… Except Wickham is gone and the play isn’t going to be that great because it will completely lack the emotional charge of that opening night…???

So yes, a 2/5 in the end.  The whole thing with Wickham taking off with a young girl really bothered me (she didn’t actually get raped, by the way; she convinced Wickham that she was on her period, which apparently was enough to keep him away….  surrre it would be), especially when nobody acted like it was a big deal and that obviously Lydia was fine and would be able to do the play just like regular.  Combined with the overall choppiness, the lack of character background/connections, and the complete disconnect from any kind of reality, this book didn’t leave me with any desire to seek out more of Deveraux’s works.

#17 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Companion’s Secret // by Linda Thompson

//published 2015//

This Pride & Prejudice variation started with a lot of excitement, but ended up being just really bland.

Thompson ruthlessly kills off Elizabeth’s entire family (except for Jane, who visiting the Gardiners) in a terrible carriage accident in the first chapter.  Immediately, the heir to Longbourn shows up, except in this variation it isn’t the Mr. Collins we know, but that Mr. Collins’s father, who is a pretty terrible person.  The reader is not surprised to learn that he probably had a hand in creating the carriage accident.  He’s super creepy and everyone hates him, including his own son who doesn’t really like any of his dad’s plans but since his dad has always beaten him up when he disagrees, he pretty just goes along with everything.

Anyway, Mr. C Sr. wants Mr. C Jr. to marry Elizabeth.  Since she isn’t really into that idea, Sr. decides that Jr. will have to compromise her.  Elizabeth overhears them talking and discovers that she is supposed to receive an inheritance from her great aunt when she reaches her majority the following spring, which is what this is all about.  She also hears about the whole planned compromise thing, and then listens as Sr. laughs evilly whilst plotting her ultimate demise after he gets his hands on the inheritance.  Fearing for her life, she flees Longbourn in disguise, aided by the servants who all love her.  She coincidentally meets up with the Darcys at an inn, and what with one thing and another is hired as Georgiana’s companion.

While I didn’t dislike this variation, there was just no character development.  Elizabeth is absolutely perfect – kind, loving, thoughtful, generous, etc.  Darcy is also perfect – kind, loving, thoughtful, generous, etc.  Georgiana is quietly perfect – kind, loving, thoughtful, generous, etc.  Guess who else is perfect?  Jane, Mr. Bingley, the Gardiners, all of the servants at Longbourn, Darcy’s entire family except for Lady Catherine, a random dressmaker in Lambton, and even Elizabeth’s horse.  Since all the good guys were already perfect, there wasn’t really any room for them to learn or grow.  The bad guys were all super bad (in this version, Collins Sr., Wickham, Miss Bingley, and Lady Catherine), so they didn’t really learn or grow either – they just got punished.

Thompson did a decent job making things seem plausible, even hiring Elizabeth at a random inn.  She stretches credulity but I still could get behind it.  I mean, who wouldn’t hire an angel if they stumbled across them?  And that’s basically Elizabeth’s character in this book.

The last 20% of the book was completely superfluous.  All of the main storylines are resolved, and Darcy and Elizabeth get married.  Except then all of the sudden we have this weird last bit where Lady Catherine shows up and causes trouble, but it felt really awkward, like this part was literally there just to make the story longer.  There were also some minor editing issues; the main one that aggravated me was that the author couldn’t seem to decide whether Bingley’s aunt in Yorkshire was named Agnes or Agatha.

All in all, a 3/5 for a story that wasn’t terrible, just very, very bland.