August Minireviews – Part 1

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.

The High Window by Raymond Chandler

//published 1942//

In this outing for PI Phillip Marlowe, the tough-talking-but-soft-hearted detective finds himself working for a rich but rather dreadful old widow.  Per usual, Marlowe is pulled into all sorts of shenanigans, most of which would seem unrelated to someone more optimistic than our hero.  The mystery in this one seemed stronger to me than the first few books, and I really enjoyed the story.  These books are pretty fast reads and I am finding them to be thoroughly engaging.  3.5/5.

Once Upon a Kiss by various authors

//published 2017//

This collection of short stories are all retellings of fairy tales by random YA authors.  I picked it up as a free Kindle book in hopes of maybe finding some new authors to check out.  However, none of the stories in this collection rated higher than a 3/5 for me, and some I didn’t even bother to finish.  To me, a short story should still have a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and end, and some kind of driving force for the protagonists, but a lot of these stories just came across as ‘sample’ writing – a few stories literally just stopped and were like, ‘If you want to find out more about what happens next, be sure to check out my book!’ which annoyed me so much that I won’t be checking out their books.

Overall, not a complete waste of time, but almost.

The Cat Sitter Mystery by Carol Adorjan

//published 1973//

This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I’ve had around for as long as I can remember.  I read this book when I was pretty little – it was possibly one of the first mysteries I ever read.  I was quite enthralled with the exciting and mysterious events surrounding Beth’s neighbor’s house!

Rereading as an adult, this story about a girl who moves into a new neighborhood and then ends up taking care of her eccentric neighbors’ cats, doesn’t really have a great deal of depth, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.  Adorjan does a really great job of making the whole story plausible, and also setting up reasonable explanations for all of the shenanigans.  The side story about Beth trying to settle into her new neighborhood in the middle of summer is also done well.

My edition is fabulously illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush, who illustrated several other childhood favorites, like Magic Elizabeth and Miracles on Maple Hill.  They are probably most famous for their work with the original editions of The Borrowers and their sequels.  The Krush’s line drawings are just perfect, especially of the cats.

All in all, a comfortable 4/5 for this short children’s book, an old favorite that held up quite well to an adult reread.

The Story of Amelia Earhart by Adele de Leeuw

//published 1955//

Back in the 1950’s, Grosset & Dunlap published a series of children’s biographies called ‘Signature’ books – each one has a copy of the famous person’s signature on the front, and an illustrated timeline of ‘Great Events in the Life of…’ inside the front cover.  I really enjoy history books that are aimed at the middle school range because they usually hit all the high points without getting bogged down with a lot of details and political opinions.  It’s a great way to get a basic introduction to a person or event.  I’ve collected a lot of these Signature books over the years – they have those delightful cloth covers from the era and are just a perfect size to read.

That said, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this one.  While it was a fine read, de Leeuw’s choices about what random vignettes from Earhart’s life to include seemed really random.  For instance, an entire chapter is devoted to a random event in Earhart’s life involving a neighbor who treats his horse cruelly – and in the end, Earhart and her sister don’t actually get to rescue the horse – instead, it escapes and then dies leaping over a creek?!  It just felt incredibly random and didn’t really add any information about Earhart – it never came back as this big influential event or anything.  There were several other, smaller stories like that throughout, like de Leeuw had collected tons of tales and then just pulled out of a hat which ones to include.  It was definitely much choppier than other Signature books that I’ve read.

Still, Earhart had an amazing and fascinating life.  I really loved how so much of what she did wasn’t amazing because she was the first woman to do it – but just the first person.  I love biographies that emphasize a woman’s abilities, intelligence, and skills as those of a person instead of those as a woman.  No one is going to believe that women are just as capable as men if we constantly act like being a woman was a weakness they had to overcome.

All in all, this was a fun and interesting book.  I’m not particularly into aviation, but apparently Earhart herself wrote a couple of books – I’m especially interesting to check out her book 20 Hrs., 40 Min. about flying over the Atlantic – I’m curious to see how it compares to Charles Lindbergh’s account, which I ended up really enjoying a lot.

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

//published 1943//

The fourth Phillip Marlowe felt a little darker than the first three.  Marlowe seems a little jaded, and while he still manages to make fun of many of the terrible people he meets (usually everyone he meets is pretty terrible), sometimes it felt a little serious, like Chandler genuinely was starting to think that everyone out there really is terrible.  There is also a rather gruesome scene when a body is found – not exactly graphic, but so well implied that it didn’t need to be in order to make me feel a little queasy (possibly because I was trying to eat a baloney sandwich at the time).

However, the mystery itself was, I felt, the strongest yet.  The reader has access to all the same information as Marlowe, and while I was able to connect some of the dots, I didn’t hit them all.  I really enjoyed watching everything come together, but the ending was just a bit too abrupt to feel completely satisfactory.

Still, a really great read, if a bit darker than the earlier fare.  3.5/5.

A Dark Lure // by Loreth Anne White

//published 2015//

This is a Kindle book that I picked up for a dollar a while back and finally got around to reading.  In the end, it was good for a one-time read and probably not a total waste of a dollar, but it’s not one that I see myself coming back to.

Several years ago, Sarah was kidnapped and tortured by a sadistic killer who had already performed this same scenario multiple times before – kidnapping a woman just before the first big snowfall of the year, keeping her locked up for the winter where he can torture her, and then turning her loose in the spring for a ‘hunt’… except Sarah escapes.

Now she is living on a ranch under a new identity (Olivia).  The murderer was captured, convicted, and imprisoned, and then died in jail three years ago.  Yet Olivia has troubled breaking free from her past.  She has found a semblance of healing and solace on this western Canadian ranch, but the owner is dying of cancer and Olivia’s future is uncertain.

Meanwhile, as the reader, we learn that the killer is actually still alive, and he is determined to find Olivia.  A cop who worked the case is convinced that the killer is still out there and that they jailed the wrong man.  When he and the killer ‘meet’ online – each pretending to be someone else – they are both working to lure the other out.  The cop gives away Olivia’s location, and the hunt is on.

For me, this story just had a lot of sloppy plot points.  The biggest one is the fact that this cop gives away Olivia’s location and then waits like two or three days before heading off to the ranch himself!  This seemed completely ridiculous to me!  He’s convinced that this horrific killer is out to get Olivia, but doesn’t bother to head off to protect her himself, to tell anyone what he is doing, or to even give Olivia a heads up when he finally does get around to meandering out to the ranch.  This frustrated me to no end and made the whole story feel contrived.

Meanwhile, I spent basically the entire book wondering how in the HECK you could convict the wrong man when you have AN EYEWITNESS who was his captive for months!?  It’s eventually explained, but I think the author was trying to make it this big twist, when in fact it would been significantly less aggravating to have that explained early on, and then let it be a twist for the characters, since I already know, for a fact, thanks to the author, that the murderer is on the loose!  So instead of the identity mix-up being this big reveal, it really came across for me as more of a FINALLY moment, because it made NO SENSE that everyone could be convinced that the true killer had been convicted.

It felt like there was a lot of cancer in this book, like the author needed to have people motivated by impending death, so she just handed out cancer all around. It would have been nice if she could  have figured out some different motivating factors.

Finally, there is a lot of side drama regarding the future of the ranch, and it’s never really satisfactorily resolved.  Like… okay… sort of… except the other person with interests in the ranch has already said they are going to spare no expense to contest the will, etc.  I didn’t really need like a whole big thing about it, but an epilogue would have been nice in this case, just to kind of wrap up the side story.  Instead, the whole book ended rather abruptly, and even though the killer situation was taken care of, I wasn’t feeling particularly confident about Olivia’s overall future.

In the end, this was a sort of meh 3/5.  It wasn’t a terrible read, and it kept me fairly engaged while I was reading it, but there were too many annoying factors for me to really enjoy it, or to consider reading it again.

Winter Brides // by various authors

//published 2014//

This is a collection of three novellas, each by a different author, and each for a different winter month.  There are actually twelve novellas altogether for a year of weddings.  In this first collection, I enjoyed each of the stories, although they didn’t particularly inspire me to seek out more of any of the authors’ writing.  (Although I have already read a lot of Denise Hunter’s books.)

December Bride by Denise Hunter – 3.5/5 – this was a really fun fake romance trope story, with characters who were relatable, pleasant, and had good chemistry.  The situation was plausible, and I liked how they both had their doubts, but it didn’t descend into nothing but internal angst.  The story is set in Chapel Springs, where several of Hunter’s other books take place, but was a completely individual story.

January Bride by Deborah Raney – 4/5 – this was my favorite out of the three, about an author who ends up writing letters to a fellow she has never met.  The whole story was just adorable fluff.  I loved the misconceptions they had about each other and how that played into their comfort with sharing letters.  I would have enjoyed having more of their letters and less of the drama of the fellow getting over his guilt about falling in love again (his first wife died several years earlier), but all in all a really fun little story.

February Bride by Betsy St. Amant – 3/5 – while this wasn’t a bad story by any means – and I actually really liked the characters – sooo much of this story was just listing to the protagonist internally bemoan how she just isn’t good enough to marry this guy and how their marriage would be doomed to failure if she even tried.  I think this story would have worked better at a longer length, where those internal monologues could have been broken up more with a bit of actual things happening.  Like, she had valid points and important issues she needed to work through, but because so much time was spent on those, the whole story kind of dragged a bit.

All in all, a fun collection of stories, and I’m looking forward to checking out Spring Brides next!

Rearview Mirror // July 2017

Well, for a while life was really in an amazing groove of productivity and awesomeness…  and then I started work again!  It’s always lurking around the corner, waiting to ruin real life!  Luckily, I actually really enjoy my job, and since it’s only part time, I can’t complain too much.  I’m back at the orchard – there is a bumper crop of peaches this year, and they’ve come on about two weeks earlier than usual.  Last year, I didn’t start until apple season, so the peaches are a whole new experience for me.  They have to be sorted by hand because they are delicate, and the orchard’s owner tries to pick and sell peaches all in the same day – most of the time, people are purchasing peaches that were on the three less than two hours before!  It’s really a great deal of fun, although I frequently find myself thinking of The Velvet Room – in that story, Robin and her family were migrants to California who found work at a peach orchard.  I really ought to pull that book out again for a summertime read – it is an old, old favorite.

I also suffered through several days of a bad stomach bug, which quite put me off my nonfiction schedule, because of course I only felt like indulging myself with light fluff reads during that time.  I also stumbled onto Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe books – I’ve been quite, quite enjoying them, but they really aren’t helping me with that ol’ reduce-the-TBR-project…  ah well.

However, I did read and review a LOT of books in July, which means I’m only two books behind my crazy Goodreads goal of 160 books this year.

In other blog news, I started a reference page for all the crazy Pride & Prejudice variations/sequels that I read.  I used to be kind of embarrassed about them, but now I’m just embracing the crazy.  It can be found under my ‘Cross-References’ tab.

Favorite July Read:

If I’m honest, I read a LOT of books in July, but none of them really stuck with me as instant classics that I will love forever and want to read again and again.  I think I’m going to go with Woman With a Gun by Phillip Margolin, which I could hardly put down the whole time I was reading it.  It was a really engaging story that had perfect pacing, and even though there were some weak plot points, it was the kind of book where you didn’t really notice them until after you were done reading.

Most Disappointing July Read:

I think I have to land on Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier for this one.  Although I had other books I disliked even more  I had much higher anticipation levels for this one since I have really enjoyed others of du Maurier’s works.  This book just felt clunky and slow, and, for me, crossed the line from ‘atmospheric’ to just plain depressing.

Except I feel like I really, really have to mention What Lies Within by James Morris.  I had virtually no expectations going in, so I can’t exactly say that it was the most disappointing, but I will say that it’s been a very long time since I hated a book as much as I hated this one.

Other July Reads:

  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler – 3.5/5 – a genuine surprise of a story with a classic ‘hard-boiled’ detective and a narrative voice that had me cracking up the entire time I was reading it.
  • The Companion’s Secret by Linda Thompson – 3/5 – a P&P variation where everyone was just too, too nice – except for the people who were too, too evil.
  • Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler – 3.5/5 – the second Phillip Marlowe book was just as fun as the first.
  • The Girl from Summer Hill by Jude Devereaux – 2/5 – a story that started alright and then just went completely off the rails.
  • Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman – 3/5 – not my usual fare, but a surprisingly decent YA read.
  • High-Yield Vegetable Gardening by Colin McCrate and Brad Halin – 4/5 – a really great reference book published by my favorite Storey Publishers, perfect for the gardener who is ready to take it up to the next level.
  • The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett – 3/5 – a pleasant story, except it felt more like an outline than an actual story.
  • Martin’s Mice by Dick King-Smith – 4/5 – a pretty adorable children’s book, short and snappy.
  • The Methods of Lady Walderhurst by Frances Hodgson Burnett – 2/5 – pretty boring and a really weird ending.
  • Patrick Henry: Firebrand of the Revolution by Nardi Reeder Campion – 5/5 – a really delightful introduction to Henry’s life.
  • The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart – 4/5 – a fun and adventurous children’s book, although not quite as magical as some of Stewart’s other stories.
  • The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain – 3/5 – a story that really gripped me, but I just had waaayyyy too many issues with how the details unwound to really find it enjoyable.
  • Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer – 4/5 – a super adorable and fun story with typical Heyer froth.
  • Sunlight and Shadows by Cameron Dokey – 3.5/5 – an interesting story that felt like it could have been more.
  • A Tapestry of Lives by Jean Sims – 4/5 – a really enjoyable P&P retelling except for the part where I had to pay for three volumes.
  • Unwilling by Elizabeth Adams – 3.5/5 – a fun and lighthearted P&P retelling.
  • Water Song by Suzanne Weyn – 3/5 – a decent read and a great concept, but this book needed to be about three times as long to really be a good story.

In Julys 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.

July 2015 was kind of a crazy month with a lot of traveling, gardening, and puppy time, and not a lot of reading.  My favorite books that month were a couple of rereads (I love rereading favorites when I’m traveling; so low-stress and not nearly as distracting as getting sucked into a brand new plot!) – The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery and Indiscretion by Jude Morgan.

My least favorite read that month came from breaking my rule of not reading new books on vacation –  I found Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell to be incredibly underwhelming, but kept plowing through, hoping to discover the amazing book that everyone was raving about.  But apparently they’re all just crazy.

Last year, another of Codex Alera books won the top slot – Cursor’s Fury by Jim Butcher.  That series really is brilliant.

However, I was quite disappointed in another sequel – A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter really lacked the magic (and cohesive plot) of Freckles.  

#20BooksofSummer Update

Actually, this is kind of crazy but…  I’ve finished my list!  July was a fabulous reading month for me, plus I had quite a few short books on the list.  The completed list, with links to the reviews, can be found here.

Other Bookish News

I’m pretty stoked that the fourth – and apparently final – Jackaby book is coming out in August:  The Dire King.  For once in my life, I’ve actually preordered a book!

Sarah Rees Brennan also has a new book out in August – In Other Lands.  I really enjoyed her Lynburn Legacy books, especially the first one, so I’ll be sure to check this one out at some point.

TBR Update:

Speaking of books I’m going to check out at some point…

or 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:  790 (up five)
  • Nonfiction:  79 (DOWN one)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  596 (up seven)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  222 (up one)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  103 (up one)

Awaiting Review:

I’m really trying to stay on top of reviews better, and that’s working out…ish.  However, I am currently behind by five!

  • A Dark Lure by Loreth Anne White – an alright thriller, but definitely some logic gaps
  • The High Window by Raymond Chandler – Phillip Marlowe is my new hero
  • Once Upon a Kiss by various authors – a pretty meh collection of fairy tale retellings
  • The Cat Sitter Mystery by Carol Adorjan – an old Scholastic Book Club book that I’ve had since I was just a wee little girl
  • The Story of Amelia Earhart by Adele de Leeuw – a decent introduction but honestly kind of an odd collection of Earhart vignettes

Current Reads:

  • The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler – a little darker than the others, but still really good
  • Winter Brides by various authors – three novellas, of which I’ve read and really enjoyed the first two so far
  • The Iliad by Homer – I’ve kind of stalled on this one but am hoping to pick it back up
  • Breaking Free by Beth Moore – I’ve kind of stalled on this one but am hoping to pick it back up
  • Mind Your Manors by Lucy Lethbridge – more history and fewer housecleaning tips than I was expecting, but still interesting

Approaching the Top of the Pile

The probable next five reads…

  • Spring Brides by various authors – the next three novellas in the series
  • The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler – what will Marlowe do next!?
  • Summer of Lost and Found by Rebecca Behrens – my latest subscription box book!
  • Vertigo by Pierre Boileau – I’ve somehow never read this book OR watched the classic Hitchcock film!  Maybe I’ll do both…
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – I’m not usually into graphic novels, but I’ve heard good things about this one, so we’ll see

Happy August!!!