December Minireviews

The Other Wife by Michael Robotham – 4*

//published 2018//

I really enjoyed reading the Joseph O’Laughlin series last year.  Joe is a middle-aged psychologist who, at the beginning of the series, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  While the books can be read in any order or as stand-alones, they really work best if they are read in order, as you watch Joe and his life grow and change.  When I read the then-last-book in the series last July, I was excited to see that Robotham had another book in the series scheduled for late 2018.  Close Your Eyes had a rather weird ending, and I really wanted more for Joe, whom I actually really love.

The Other Wife was an addictive read that I was glad I picked up on a lazy Sunday, as I pretty much wanted to do nothing but read it.  Robotham easily reestablished me into Joe’s life and, per usual, jumped right into the action.  As always, Joe’s good friend Vincent Ruiz is one of my favorite characters, so I was glad to see him back.  It has also been fun to see Joe’s daughters grow older throughout the series, and in this book his oldest is at university and starting to make her own way in the world.

Reflecting later after I finished the book, I realized that Robotham honestly got a bit sloppy at the end.  One of the main characters (the “other wife”)  wasn’t really given any closure, which seemed quite important given the circumstances.  But I just couldn’t really justify knocking off a half star for that as the book had been so thoroughly engrossing while I was reading it.  I definitely need at least ten more books in this series, so hopefully Robotham is on it!

Early Candlelight by Maud Hart Lovelace – 3.5*

//published 1929//

Several years ago I read the Betsy-Tacy books by this author.  Despite being exactly the kind of books I would have loved growing up, I somehow didn’t get around to reading them until adulthood – and they were a complete delight!  Early Candlelight, however, is Lovelace’s historical fiction, a tale of love and survival set on the 1830’s Minnesota frontier.  While this book was an enjoyable read, and had an excellent sense of time and place, it was also a rather sad book on the whole (frontier life wasn’t super easy).  I also spent most of the book being a little confused because I couldn’t really get my head around the “class difference” between the main character, Dee, and her love interest, Jasper.  Jasper spends a lot of time dwelling on Dee’s unsuitability (and actually so does Dee), but I couldn’t understand why in the world an intelligent, educated, hardworking woman wouldn’t make him a good wife, especially considering that everyone in the area knew and respected Dee and thought she was a wonderful person??  Apparently the people in the fort were trying to cling to their class distinctions from back east, but I just didn’t get it, so it made parts of the story seem contrived to me, even though I’m sure that Lovelace was being historically accurate.

All in all, while this was a nice one-time read, it didn’t speak to me on the same level as the sweet and inspiring Betsy-Tacy books.

The Coming of Bill by P.G. Wodehouse – 3.5*

//published 1919//

This book is often mentioned as Wodehouse’s attempt at a “serious” novel, and it certainly lacks the lighthearted frivolity of most of Wodehouse’s works.  The main characters of this book are not, in fact, named Bill, but instead are Ruth and Kirk.  Ruth is a society girl with plenty of money.  Her mother passed away years ago, and she lives with her grumpy, busy father and her self-important brother, Bailey.  Ruth and Bailey have an aunt who is “famous” for writing books and articles about how people should really live.  The aunt is obsessed with self-improvement, with exercise, and with eugenics – she believes that it is the responsibility of every human to make themselves as fit as they can be, and to find the spouse who will be the ideal breeding partner so that the human race can be bettered through the generations.  When the aunt meets Kirk, a “fine specimen” who is also an artist living off a legacy, she decides he will be the perfect match for Ruth.  Luckily, Ruth and Kirk feel the same way.

If you’re looking for Wodehouse humor and froth, this book is a bit of a fail.  But if you’re just looking for a decent novel with interesting characters, it’s not a bad story.  Wodehouse is gently poking fun at several different things throughout, but at the heart of it all the story is about Kirk and Ruth growing up enough to take responsibility for their own lives, choices, and their child (the Bill of the title).  While this isn’t a book I would return to again and again, as a Wodehouse connoisseur it was interesting read just to see this stage of his writing.

Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien – 4*

//published 1949//

My local library always has a few shelves of discard books for a quarter, and if I’m feeling dangerous I take a moment to browse them when I go in.  A while back I found a very nice hardcover copy of this book and picked it up.  While this wasn’t a mind-blowing book or anything, it definitely was a fun and entertaining little children’s story about a rather pompous farmer and, more importantly, a dragon.  I can definitely see this being a fun read-aloud book – I think that kids would get a kick out of the drama.  Tolkien’s dry humor is in full force throughout and I found myself snickering on more than one occasion.  There isn’t a lot of depth to this one, but it was a fun little read nonetheless.

Smoky the Cow Horse // by Will James

It seemed like Mother Nature was sure agreeable that day when the little black colt came to the range world and tried to get a footing with his long wobblety legs on the brown prairie sod.  Short stems of new green grass was trying to make their way up thru the last year’s faded growth and reaching for the sun’s warm rays.  Taking in all that could be seen, felt, and inhaled, there was no day, time, nor place that could beat that spring morning on the sunny side of the low prairie butte where Smoky the cold was foaled.

//published 1926//

So begins the tale of Smoky, born on the Rocking R range in the early 1900’s.  In a lot of ways, this book is kind of like a western version of Black Beauty, although Smoky doesn’t narrate his own story (and the horses don’t talk to one another).  Instead, James tells us about Smoky’s life, from his birth out on the range onwards.  At first, James’s method of writing like he talks, with a sort of western drawl, including things like saying “tho” instead of “though” and writing out words like he pronounces them (“cayote” instead of “coyote” etc) really got on my nerves, but once I kind of got into his groove I really enjoyed the story.  As a kid, I LOVED stories about animals, and I’m not sure how I never got around to reading this one – possibly because it’s a Newbery Award book – I have an inherent distrust for books with awards as they tend to be depressing deeply meaningful.

Like Black Beauty, James draws attention to methods of horse handling, both good and bad.  He explains the reasoning behind the cowboy way of “breaking” a horse, and talks about misconceptions of that method.  But he also presents men who did want to break a horse’s spirit, and paints their methods as despicable. Smoky himself lives life on the range for the first several years of his life, although he isn’t technically a wild horse – at the time (and still, actually), many ranches simply let their horses do their own thing until they were needed.  Every year a roundup was held wherein that year’s colts were branded and gelded, and the horses now old enough to be broken were cut out and kept.  The brood mares, younger horses, and retired horses were all let back out on the range until the next year.  This story follows Smoky through his early years on the range, where he runs into all kinds of wild critters, to his training to become a true cow horse.  Later, Smoky is stolen and sold.  He works in a rodeo and as a rental horse in a tourist town, and, like Black Beauty, drops lower and lower in the ranks of horses through age and mistreatment, before ultimately being reunited with friends from better days.

It’s been almost a hundred years since this book was published, so there are some instances of language that a current-day reader may find insensitive or offensive, most notably when Smoky is rustled by a thief who is “a half-breed of Mexican and other blood that’s darker, and [mistreatment of his horse] showed that he was a halfbreed from the bad side, not caring, and with no pride.”  While James has other non-white characters who are not “bad guys”, his method of referring to this character as a “darky” or “half-breed” throughout this portion of the story is a little uncomfortable, even as it is a reminder of how different our sensibilities are now than they were in 1926.

James himself is an interesting character – born in a covered wagon in 1892, self-educated, cowboy/illustrator/author.  (He did his own drawings for the story.)  I think that one of the reasons that James’s voice in this book stopped annoying me was because it was so sincere.  James wasn’t trying to sound this way: it’s just the way he sounds.  It didn’t take long for me to hear this entire story being told in a nice, deep, western drawl – a campfire story about a gutsy little horse.

While Smoky didn’t become my new favorite book, it was still an easy 4* read.  It’s an interesting look at a slice of life written by someone who was there, and if you have a horse-crazy kid in your life, this would be a great read for a slightly advanced reader, or as a discussion book as there are a lot of adventures to unpack.

NB: This was originally a title I picked to read for #20BooksofSummer.  Better late than never, right??

Bare Minimum Parenting // by James Breakwell

//published 2018//

Subtitled “The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child,” Breakwell’s parenting book probably isn’t like any other parenting book you’ve read.  Breakwell is a father of four (and the owner of two house-pigs) who, among other things, tweets regularly about the adventures within his own household.  Personally, I love his weekly newsletter, which just updates on some randomness from his life.  This week’s installment included the sentence: “Her best find was a box of chocolate lobsters, which actually contained zero percent lobster and 100 percent chocolate,” so I’m really not sure how you can not like this guy.

This is Breakwell’s second parenting book.  The first, Only Dead on the Insideis the first parenting book ever to delve into the nitty-gritty details of how to get not just yourself, but your dependents, through a zombie apocalypse.  Bare Minimum Parenting isn’t quite as event-specific.  Instead, Breakwell pokes a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun at our culture’s obsession with superior, over-achieving parenting that strives to create perfect, outstanding, genius kids.  As he points out in the first chapter, while your child is definitely special and one-of-a-kind, the odds of him doing something that’s going to change the world are extremely slim.

Chances are they’ll lead an ordinary life not that different from your own.  Right now, there are literally billions of amazing, creative, and brilliant people who will never do anything particularly amazing, creative, or brilliant.  …  That’s okay.  Your kid doesn’t have to be a once-in-a-generation talent to lead a good life.  Being a genius at something doesn’t lead to a high job-satisfaction rate.  Tortured artists seldom die of old age surrounded by loved ones.

Instead of trying to raise THE BEST KID EVER, Breakwell encourages parents to achieve three simple goals:  Your kids should be able to support themselves.  Your kids shouldn’t be social deviants.  And your kids shouldn’t blame you for everything that’s wrong with their lives.

While it’s obvious that a lot of Breakwell’s advice is meant to be a bit over-the-top for the sake of humor (I don’t think he genuinely advocates having your kids watching television all day), his overall message is genuinely refreshing.  I’m not a parent, so I can’t speak from experience, but I know a lot of parents, and so many of them are so worried all the time, so guilty that they aren’t doing enough, so caught up in the “well so-and-so is doing such-and-such so we should do probably do it to” game.  While Breakwell’s book is all in good fun, it’s still a good reminder of the fact that raising kids is a huge crapshoot.  You can’t really control how they turn out.  Kids from great families go on to be terrible people, and kids from terrible families go on to be great people.  All you can do is your best, and sometimes your best means relaxing and not trying to do everything.

Some of the chapters were funnier to me than others.  I particularly enjoyed the chapter explaining why you shouldn’t have just one kid.

You children will have a hard time being deviants with other kids around to teach them social skills – and to tattle on them when they step out of line.  Never underestimate the value of a narc.

At times, Breakwell’s writing can be a little uneven – sometimes it seems like he goes a smidge too far in making his point on the importance of relaxed parenting – but overall I found this to be an enjoyable and entertaining book, and an important reminder that none of us – or our children – are the center of the universe.

All the Crooked Saints // by Maggie Stiefvater

//published 2017//

Sometimes you happen upon perfect books by accident.  You pick it up at random and read it and when you finish it, you’ve changed somehow, deep inside – and you had no idea it was going to happen.  The Scent of Water was a book like that for me, a surprise bit of magic that has become one of my all-time favorite books.

Other times, you pick up a book and hope that it’s magic.  You’ve heard good things about it, you yearn for it to be a perfect book that makes you sigh in contentment as you close the back cover.  Those are the dangerous books, the books with expectations attached to them.  Those are the ones that can leave you feel disproportionately disappointed.  I felt that way about The Dire King.  It wasn’t a bad book on it’s own, but I had expectations going into it, and they weren’t met, and I ended up feeling somewhat dissatisfied, when if I had come to it cold, I think I would have found it to be a perfectly good read.

All the Crooked Saints was a book I came to with expectations.  Nothing specific – just a general yearning for this book to be magical.  And friends, I am here to tell you that this book did not leave me disappointed.

However, I’m not sure if that magic will translate well into a book review.  I’ll do my best, but at the end of the day, you’ll just have to read it yourself.  And I’ve read a lot of reviews by people who didn’t find this book remotely magical, which only emphasizes the fact that everyone reads a different book (even when it’s the same book).  Anyway.

This book centers on a place almost more than on a person.  That place is Bicho Raro in southwest Colorado.  Stiefvater’s writing took me to that high desert perfectly.  She always does an excellent job setting up a feeling of place, a feeling that this particularly story could happen no where else.  The family that lives at Bicho Raro are the Sorias.  It’s bit of a tangle of family, with three cousins close in age at the center of what is happening.  But the events that coalesce around Beatriz, Daniel, and Joaquin impact their entire family, and so this book is, in some ways, about them all.

The line between reality and magic is quite blurred in this book.  Frequently, it’s impossible to tell whether Stiefvater is being literal or is using hyperbole (“he had been alive longer than both his parents”) because the presence of magic means that what is impossible in our world is possible in the world of Bicho Raro.  There, miracles happen.

It’s rare that I am not bothered when religion and magic are mixed.  It’s a special kind of magic that grows from religion rather than denies it.  This magic, however, is captured perfectly here.  Miracles and magic intermingle freely in a way that seems completely natural.

He had performed the common mistake that many do when confronted with the idea of the miraculous:  He had assumed it meant magical.  Miracles often look like magic, but a proper miracle is also awesome, sometimes fearful, and always vaguely difficult to truly wrap your mortal head around.

But what is the story about?! you ask.  It’s hard to say, but I will try.  Bicho Raro is a place where you can go for a miracle, but the miracle may not look as you hoped.  The Sorias have the ability to take the darkness inside of you and turn it into something tangible, physical.  In turn, this allows you, the pilgrim, to fight your darkness in a very real way.

The problem is that our darkness is not always the shape that we anticipate, and sometimes when we are confronted with it, we realize that we would rather not be rid of it at all.

Almost no one would think it’s correct to answer this question [whether your would like to be rid of your darkness] with a no, but the truth is that we men and women often hate to be rid of the familiar, and sometimes our darkness is the thing we know the best.

This isn’t a heart-pounding adventure of a story.  Instead, it unwinds like a folktale, with that rhythm and repetition of phrases. Incidentally, I read more than one review that found that repetition quite aggravating, but to me it made this story almost musical in its pattern.

I’m struggling with how much to reveal about the story of this one, and I’m concluding that the answer is “not much.”  Suffice to say, I loved it.

One thing I noticed when I was flipping through reviews of this book is that there were complaints about Stiefvater “appropriating” Hispanic culture.  I’m a bit confused, because it appears that she is both in trouble for not writing enough not-white characters (Raven Cycle) and for writing about not-white characters in Saints.  I think the answer is that unreasonable people will be determined to be unreasonable.  Regular people, who read for the joy of a story, are able to empathize with relateable characters, no matter the skin tone or cultural background of said characters.  And the gift of a true storyteller is the ability to see, understand, and give back stories, even if those stories don’t match the storyteller’s personal background.  If people only wrote about their own exact life experiences, stories would be rather boring.

Anyway, at the of the day All the Crooked Saints was a 5* read for me, and one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year, despite my inability to really express why.  While I recognize that it isn’t for everyone, I found the magic in this book to be almost tangible.  It’s a story of hope, courage, and family, and I’m already excited to reread it.

Enclave // by Thomas Locke

//published 2018//

So I hate reading books out of order, like a LOT.  Consequently, my favorite thing about Goodreads is that it (usually) tells me when a book is part of a series.  According to Goodreads, Enclave is NOT such a book.  The problem is – it felt like a book that was part of a series.

There’s a lot going for this book.  The premise is great.  Set around a century after the “Great Crash,” America looks nothing like it does today.  Instead, a lack of electricity and gasoline means that people have gone back to doing things the old-fashioned way.  And instead of a central government over a bunch of states, there are lots of city-states known as enclaves.  Each enclave has its own rules and its own hierarchy.  And much like the wild west, in this America, the strongest rule.

So great premise, right?  The problem is, I got most of that from the synopsis of the book, not from the book itself.  While I sometimes enjoy the world-building method that doesn’t specifically explain things, but instead allows the reader to observe how things work, unfortunately Locke doesn’t particularly do either.  There aren’t any explanations at all, and there isn’t always anything clear to observe.  For instance, everyone is riding horses.  Then, later, some of the characters ride a Greyhound bus (albeit an old, decrepit one).  So… there is some gas?  Where is it?  Why doesn’t everyone have access to it any more?  Is it just really expensive?  Do we just not have contact with any Middle Eastern countries any more?  If it’s so expensive, how can people afford to ride a bus?

It also seems crazy to me that people seem to know how to do stuff again, like make their own clothes/shoes, forage in the woods, make whisky, whatever.  I don’t really know a lot of people who can do those things, and I live in a pretty rural area.  It seems like if there really was a “Great Crash” (which is also never explained – was it a financial crash?  Another dust bowl?  All the power grids collapsed?  A nuclear bomb?  ??????), there would also end up being a significant amount of death, because I’m not really sure how people would survive if suddenly no one had access to a supermarket.  I realize this book is set a hundred years after said Crash, but it honestly still seems like the population would be struggling to catch back up.

I really liked the characters, and I liked the direction Locke went with the story, but I was constantly distracted by questions that were never answered, which really detracted from the enjoyment of this read.  It really felt like this was the second or third book in a series.  Even the way the characters were introduced felt like I should already kinda sorta know about them.

Still, I was set to give this book a solid 3.5* until the end.  The end just… stops.  Nothing is resolved.  I mean literally nothing.  It’s like Locke had a limit on how many pages he could have in his book, and he just wrote until he got there and then just stopped.  I presuming – hoping?! – that this is the first book in a series.  If so, I would rate this book slightly higher.  But if this is genuinely a standalone book, it really lacks credible world-building and any conclusions to the plot lines followed.

I really did enjoy this book while I was reading it, and would definitely read another book in a series.  But as a standalone, I wouldn’t come back to this one.

NB: This book was provided to me free of charge from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Embers of War // by Fredrik Logevall

//published 2012//

Here’s the thing you have to understand.  Growing up, I was really into about 300-400 years of history.  My interest began somewhere in the mid-1600’s and ended right around 1900.  So while I went through the motions of studying more modern history, and knew the basics of the World Wars, my whole grasp on the other “little” wars of the 1900’s was vague.

Several years ago, I had this sudden realization that I was finished with school and that basically no one was ever going to “make” me learn anything ever again, so if I didn’t want my brain to turn into a pile of disorganized mush, I ought to challenge myself.  I started book blogging around that time in an effort to help me work through processing the fiction that I was reading (sometimes I read too quickly and don’t really absorb it), and I also decided that I would work my way through 20th century history.

I read a couple of books about the turn of the century, but found myself getting bogged down with the “whys” as I entered World War I.  I came across an amazing book, George, Nicolas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter.  And ever since then, I’ve had a thing for books about before-the-wars, which actually interests me a great deal more than actual wars, with all their battles and dying and stuff.

All of this brings us, by degrees, to Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam.*  I can’t remember what inspired me to add this book to the TBR – I feel as though I must have read a review of it somewhere at some point – but I am very glad I did, as this book was genuinely fascinating.  As I began to read it, I realized that I don’t remember anything about the Vietnam War – like I couldn’t even remember who WON that war – so reading this book was almost like reading fiction.  I had only the vaguest of ideas as to what was going to happen with anyone.

The goal of Logevall’s book is to study Vietnam from the beginning of World War II until the beginning of the Vietnam War.  This 25-30 year period is one of incredible turbulence in Vietnam, much of it in open warfare between the Veit Minh and the French… which gradually turns into one of those wars where each team gets the backing of more powerful countries who don’t want to engage in open warfare with each other, but keep feeding supplies and assistance to the side they are backing.

There were a lot of things to take away from this book – the actual text of the book is over 700 pages – but I think maybe the thing that will stay with me the most is the incredible arrogance of America.  While I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself an isolationist – I think trade and immigration and all of that good stuff is very important – I’m not a huge fan of this concept of America being the police force of the world, especially when that country hasn’t really asked for our help at all.  Under the guise of “protecting democracy,” America helped drag out decades of warfare in a country that basically just wanted to be left alone.

To my mind, Logevall does a pretty decent job of not taking sides.  He points out inconsistencies from all different perspectives, and doesn’t really come at his topic with a good guy/bad guy message.  It’s one of the few books I’ve ever read where my sympathy throughout almost the entire narrative was actually with the Communists.  Especially in the beginning, Ho Chi Minh’s message was much more about simply being free of the colonial rule of France than it was about instating a Communist government (emphasized by the constant critique of his “Communist credentials” by Moscow and later Beijing).  But because Ho had adopted his Communist beliefs, the Western powers – especially the US – were incredibly leery of him and the government he formed.

The whole situation in Vietnam was really rather fascinating because the entire theater was just a bad size for the Vietnamese.  It was too large of a territory for everyone to just let whatever happen, but too small to really be all that large of a priority.  Consequently, throughout the 1940’s and 50’s and into the 60’s, Vietnam was really more of a pawn than anything else.

In historical terms, it was a monumental decision by Truman [to side with France rather than the Viet Menh], and like so many that U.S. presidents would make in the decades to come, it had little to do with Vietnam herself – it was all about American priorities on the world stage.  France had made her intentions clear, and the administration did not dare defy a European ally that it deemed crucial to world order…

Another great tragedy of the whole situation was that various countries and governments rather backed themselves into corners by making sweeping anti-Communist statements, and then having to back them up, no matter what.  It meant that there could be no compromise, no settlement, with the Viet Menh government.  It also meant that, despite his incredible reluctance to do so, Ho was eventually forced to turn to the Chinese for assistance.  This, in turn, convinced the Western powers that “losing” Vietnam really did mean that the Communists would continue their march throughout Asia, meaning that they were even LESS likely to compromise or work with the Viet Mihn than they were before.

In the beginning, it seemed obvious that the French would easily best the Vietnamese.  After all, they had superior numbers and training.  However, as so often throughout history, if a governing force doesn’t have the submission and support of the people, it is quite difficult to control a territory.  While many Vietnamese were not particularly interested in becoming Communists, almost all of them were very interested in being rid of France.  As guerrilla warfare spread throughout Indochina, France’s position looked more and more difficult.

The pervasive anti-French animus enabled Viet Minh forces to assemble undetected, to withdraw when the enemy appeared in force, to hide their weapons, to expand their ranks, and to gather excellent intelligence concerning the strength, the maneuvers, and often even the plans of the French.  And when the enemy, unable to determine who was a fighter and who was not, reacted to the guerrilla attacks by killing civilians, the main effect was to deepen the hatred for the French and to bring new guerrillas into the fold.

And so France and Vietnam became locked in a terrible spiral.  Every time the French thought about withdrawing, the other Western powers – especially the US – would pressure them to stay because if Vietnam fell, so would all of Asia!  Meanwhile, the majority of Vietnamese really just wanted to be left alone.

The absolute terror inspired by Communist governments at the time is honestly hard for me to grasp.  I’m not completely sure why Communists are supposed to be worse dictators than any other dictators.  But most Western powers were convinced at the time that all Communists were seeded by Moscow and that all were part of the Russian plan to overthrow…  well, the world, I guess.

The question … of whether Ho Chi Minh was as much a “nationalist as a Communist is irrelevant.  All Stalinists in colonial areas are nationalist,” [said Dean Acheson, Secretary of State].

To acknowledge the possibility of national Communism was to acknowledge that the world was a complex place, and this Acheson and Truman and other American leaders were loath to do.  If, for example, Yugoslav leader Josip Borz Tito (whose break with Moscow had become public the previous year) really was a nationalist as well as a Communist, and if Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh were the same, then the world was altogether more complicated than most Americans – including educated, erudite ones like Acheson – preferred to believe.  It was far easier to see these leaders as mere pawns of a hyperpowerful superstate emanating from the Kremlin – regardless of what the evidence showed.

And so, as so often happens with propaganda from any country, the situation in Vietnam was reduced to a simple formula of Good Guys and Bad Guys.  The Bad Guys were obviously the Communists, because they were Communists.  For a while, the real problem was identifying the Good Guys, as America is anti-colonizing almost as much as it is anti-Communists.  Finally, France and the US hit on a compromise – they found another Vietnamese guy and set him up as an alternative nationalist government… controlled, basically, by the French.

There is a desperate tragedy to the story in Embers of War.  It is a story of stubborn, powerful governments, locked into positions that allow no compromise.  It’s a story of a starving, poverty-stricken populace simply trying to stay alive.  It’s the story of a committed nationalist who was enough of an idealist of sign onto the Communist bandwagon and doom himself to fighting against the government powers he most admired.   And it’s the story of a long, drawn out war that was basically pointless.

Logevall’s focus is mostly on the American perspective, and tracing the path of American involvement in the conflict, which I can’t complain about since it’s his stated purpose.  However, I would greatly have enjoyed hearing more about the “regular” people in Vietnam and what their everyday life looked like during this time.  There were also points where pages and pages were spent in diplomatic meets that were going no where, when I was actually more interested in what was happening on the battlefield.  Still, on the whole this book was really excellent reading.  Despite having virtually no concept of what was happening in southeast Asia following World War II, I never felt lost or confused.

Next, I really need a book about the Vietnam War!  So if anyone has one to suggest, do let me know.  And if you’re interested in the background of that war, which is just as tragic as the war itself, do pick up Embers of War.

*I rather wish that fictional books adopted this method of including a subtitle for all their books.  I think it would really help when I’m trying to decide whether or not to read something.  I mean Little Women: A Tale of Four Sisters & Their Journey Into Adulthood is way more descriptive than just Little Women.

November 2018 // Rearview Mirror

November went super quickly this year, and I can’t believe we’re already four days into December!!!  We had a gorgeous day of weather this past Sunday, but today is dark and gloomy and cold, and winter is settling in!  While I don’t like the super short days, I do love the overall cozy vibe of the winter, so I’m not totally depressed about the season change!!!

Things were VERY quiet on the blog this month, mainly because I wasn’t reading very many books!  At the end of October I started reading a huge nonfiction tome about Vietnam before the Vietnam War, and it took me forever to get through it, despite being fascinated by the subject material.  The problem is mostly with the way I read.  I don’t usually just sit down and read.  Instead, I read while I’m walking from one room to another in the house, while I’m folding laundry, while I’m cooking supper, while I’m feeding the dogs, while I’m putting on my shoes, etc etc etc.  So when a book is three inches thick and weights three pounds, it’s just not really meant to be read that way, so I was mostly reading it during meals and those rare occasions that I actually was just sitting down on the couch to read!  November was a really busy month as well, so that didn’t lend itself to long periods of reading either!!

Anyway, I also read a lot of terrible P&P variations (which I’ve been reviewing on my other blog), and that was about it.  But I finally finished Embers of War yesterday (hurrah!) and am hoping to get back into a regular reading/reviewing groove in December!!!

Favorite November Read:

Have to go with Cotillion by Georgette Heyer for his one.  Her books are always delightful, but this one has to be towards the top of her pile.  The characters and the dialogue are just delightful.

Most Disappointing November Read:

I’m actually going to link you over to my other blog for this one.  I’ll do a minireview post soon on the P&P variations I read this month, but in the meantime, Going Home to Pemberley ranks up there as one of my least-favorite variations ever.  It started fine, but went completely off the rails when Colonel Fitzwilliam confessed that he, also was in love with Elizabeth!!  (This after E&D have been married for almost a year!)  Darcy goes from being a perfect husband to going freaking INSANE and accusing Elizabeth of all sorts of verging-on-unforgivable-things… despite which, she forgives him and everyone goes on to live happily ever after?!?!?!  What.  Even.

Other November Reads:

Last November…

I was wrestling with a lingering bout of bronchitis, which meant I had zero energy but lots of reading time!  I read the incredibly magical The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – who has also announced that her second novel is coming out next year!!!  I also read the concluding book to a series that I had really enjoyed – the Jackaby books by William Ritter.  Sadly, I felt like the series got weaker as it went on, and while I didn’t exactly dislike The Dire King, I thought it went an extremely weird direction.

TBR Update:

So yeah, not as bad as it could be, considering I haven’t really read much of anything from any list!

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:  881 (up 9)
  • Nonfiction:  81 (holding steady, but soon to be down one!)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  677 (up two)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  238 (holding steady)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 108 (up one)

Awaiting Review:

Well, mostly just Embers of War at this point!

Current Reads:

Today I started Enclave by Thomas Locke, which I received from the publisher in exchange for a review.  So far, it’s interesting but really needs a map.  I’m also reading another P&P variation, which I started before I finished Embers.  This one is called I Met Mr. Darcy Via Luton by Fredrica Edward, and at first I thought Via Luton was the name of the author (before I saw the actual author’s name), but apparently it’s in reference to the fact that Jane and Elizabeth are involved in a mild carriage accident on their way to the TOWN of Luton, and that’s how they meet Bingley and Darcy.  So.

Approaching the Top of the Pile:

Actually, just look at last month’s list – I didn’t read any of them yet!  I also purchased both All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater and Bare-Minimum Parenting by James Breakwell, so I’m hoping to read both of them very soon as well!

Well, that’s the update for now.  Here’s to more book reviews in December!!

Bridal Quartet // by Nora Roberts (again)

  • Vision in White
  • Bed of Roses
  • Savor the Moment
  • Happy Every After

Those of you who have been with me for a while may think that these books sound familiar… and that’s mainly because this was my third time reading through this series, and for a more thorough review, you can check out my original thoughts (from 2016) here.

//published 2009//

In short, the quartet focuses on a group of women, childhood friends, who now own and operate their own wedding venue.  Each of them plays to her own strength:  Mackenzie does photography, Emma does flowers, Laurel does cakes, and Parker does all the organizing.  Each book is about a different member of the group and follows them through the course of a year as they each find true love.

Like I said in yesterday’s post, I’m reading a fascinating but dreary nonfiction tome on Vietnam, so I’ve been looking for some fluff reads to balance it out.  For some reason, I just really really love these books, and they’ve kind become a go-to for me when I just need something relaxing.

//published 2009//

A big part of the reason why I enjoy them so much is because these books are just as much about friendship as they are about romance.  The way that the characters love and support one other is so fun.  I feel like, in general, friendship has become greatly devalued in our current sex-obsessed culture, so it’s a real delight to see genuine BFFs working together and spending time together.  Even as each of the women finds her forever love, the women still make time for one another.

Roberts also writes men really well.  So many romance novels turn men into caricatures, but Roberts presents her readers with fully-developed characters.  While all four of the heroes share some characteristics, each of them is also quite individual in the way he handles life, romance, and friendship, and that’s really just quite refreshing.  Instead of feeling like any of the women could have ended up with any of the men, because they’re all basically the same, it really felt like each person had found a true match/balance in their lives.  I also like how when there are similarities between them, they acknowledge it because they’re all friends and they’re not stupid, so of course they would see parallels between Mac’s behavior and Jack’s, etc.

//published 2010//

I’m a huge sucker for stories that are set in the hospitality industry.  I love reading books about people who own hotels, restaurants, camps, etc., so this series also checks a big box there.  Roberts gives us just enough random wedding action to make the whole series feel realistic – in the midst of emotional upheaval, the weddings must go on!!

While all of these characters are comfortably off, and a couple of them are definitely wealthy, all of them are very hard workers.  I also really like that while several of them were able to go to an Ivy League college, others didn’t go to college at all.  One of the love interests is actually a mechanic, and I just overall appreciate that the characters in these books appreciate the people in their lives based on who they are as people, rather than their place in society.  The difference in status/wealth also isn’t ignored, but it also isn’t THE conflict point.

//published 2010//

There is also a lot of humor in these books – I’d honestly forgotten how much.  As the series progresses and the reader gets to know the characters better, the overall sense of fun is greatly increased.

My one hesitancy in wholehearted recommendation is that these books do have a decent amount of sexy times, and plenty of PG13 swearing.  That’s not really my thing, but it’s easy to skim through when needed.

Overall, these books are just a lot of fun.  When I was reading them this time, I was thinking how fun it would be to read a sequel series about the children of all these characters.  Roberts does such a great job matching together her characters that I’m completely confident in their long-term happiness.

If you’re looking for some relaxing fluff with extremely likable characters and a fun setting, I definitely recommend this series.

November Minireviews – Part 1

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

So I’ve been slowly working my way through a brick of a book about Vietnam before “our” Vietnam War – basically, it covers the history from the beginning of World War II through the beginning of the Vietnam War, most of which the Communists spent fighting with the French, with the US and China getting more and more involved in the background.  It’s genuinely fascinating, but that book weighs a literal three pounds and is over 800 pages long, so while I don’t mind lugging it places if I’m going to sit and read for a while, it’s not really an ideal book to throw in my bag if I think I’m only going to have time for a few pages.  So all that to say that I have also been reading quite a few fluff books, and I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on some of them…

Accidentally Married by Victorine Lieske – 3.5*

//published 2014//

Lieske apparently wrote several of these “modern marriages of convenience” stories, all of which are clean, a bit absurd, and good fun.  They are together in a boxed set on Kindle, so I thought they would kind of intertwine, but they appear to all be completely independent of each other.  Stephanie reviewed a few of these (although, ironically, not this one haha), which is how I first found them.  Anyway, this story was pretty fun, with a decently plausible scenario.  It seemed like the ending did drag a little bit because Madison and Jared wouldn’t just USE THEIR WORDS so they did that thing where they both assumed the other person wasn’t interested and went home and pouted instead of just having a conversation.  I mean, if you think this person is going to break up with you and never see you again anyway, what in the world do you have to lose by telling them how you really feel first??  Despite that, it was still a super relaxing little chick lit read, and I’m always a fan of fake relationships/marriages of convenience, so there is that.

Blind-Date Bride by Jillian Hart – 3*

//published 2009//

This is the first in a series of the crazy Love Inspired books.  Thanks to Great-Aunt Darby I have all the books in this series and thought I would give it a go.  This one was barely a 3* read, though, as virtually nothing happened in this book except listening to the two main characters angst about how they weren’t good enough for the other person, which was overall quite boring.  Weirdly, I did like the characters in this book a lot, and the small town setting was done well, so I decided to still give the second book a go, even though this one wasn’t really my thing.

Collie to the Rescue by Albert Payson Terhune – 3.5*

//published 1928//

I do love a good Terhune every once in a while, and this one has been on my shortlist ever since it came up in my random drawing for my #20BooksofSummer reads, which I am still trying to complete by the end of the year!!  This one is quite melodramatic but still a good time, although unlike most of Terhune’s books, this one is definitely way more about Brant than it is about his collie.  This one was also interesting because it was published back in 1928 (under the title Loot!), but a big part of the plot is about smuggling and selling drugs.  It’s just funny to me because we act like that is such a modern problem, but here’s a story from a hundred years ago where that was still playing a big part.  While this was a perfectly interesting and entertaining story, it wasn’t my favorite Terhune, with just a smidge too much drama.

Montana Homecoming by Jillian Hart – 3*

//published 2012//

This was the second  book in the series, and because it was just as meh as the first, I decided not to bother with the rest.  Again, the characters were very likable, but there was virtually no plot, and honestly Brooke’s “dog training” skills bordered on miraculous, because apparently all she had to do was keep saying the command and the dog just magically started doing what she wanted, which seemed pretty handy.

Reluctantly Married by Victorine Lieske – 3.5*

//published 2015//

This one was also just completely ridiculous but so fun that I couldn’t stop reading it.  I really liked both the main characters and liked the way they kept getting more and more tangled up in their situation.  Again, I felt like the ending dragged out a little too much, which took away from my overall enjoyment of the book, but it was still a good time.  I’m definitely planning to read some more of these books soon.  (Currently, the boxed set is available on Kindle Unlimited if anyone is interested.)

Cotillion by Georgette Heyer – 5*

//published 1953//

When all else fails, turn to Georgette Heyer!  It had been quite a while since I read this one, so I couldn’t quite remember how everything played out.  The dialogue is absolutely hilarious, and Freddy is honestly one of my very favorite Heyer heroes, because he’s so regular.  It was also fun because Jack is honestly more like the usual Heyer hero – older, brooding, a bit of a rake – but here we get Freddy, who is younger and just so ridiculously nice that it’s impossible not to root for him.  Kitty is lively and fun without being obnoxious, and all of the secondary characters are just as delightful, especially Freddy’s sister Meg – honestly, Freddy’s family really made this book, and I realized while I was reading it that one of the things I like about Heyer’s books is her ability to write families, especially siblings, so well.  At any rate, this book is a complete delight, and if, by some miracle, you haven’t picked up a Heyer book before, this one is a wonderful place to start.

October 2018 // Rearview Mirror

October was a busy but overall good month.  It included my birthday, lots of apples, a long weekend in the mountains, some stupidly hot days, and then a rapid switch to really cold days.  Now it’s chilly and rainy, all the leaves have FINALLY switched over, the time changes this weekend, and all in all things feel like they are trending towards winter.

Reading-wise, while I didn’t read a LOT of books, it felt like the overall quality was much better.  I’ve struggled to choose a favorite read the last couple of months, but for October I actually had trouble choosing between a couple because they were so good!  I also finally read Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, a highly anticipated read for me that, while it didn’t exactly live up to my expectations, still gave me a LOT of feels.

In September’s Rearview, I mentioned that I was way, way behind on reading other people’s blog posts.  I really made it a priority to get through those this month, and am happy to say that I am basically caught up!  However, I’m anticipating a reflective impact on the TBR numbers!!

Birthday Book Haul!

My birthday was super fun, except for the part where we had to go to the BMV to get tags for our new car, but hey, a day can’t be COMPLETELY perfect.  :-D  We had breakfast at IHOP, went to the local gunshow for some A+ people-watching, and then headed up to Columbus for a few hours in an absolutely fabulous independent bookstore, The Book Loft.  As in 2016, I was given a generous allotment of money and turned loose!  My inherent thriftiness always wins, but I did find some good books to add to the ever-growing collection, including a new Wodehouse, two nonfictions, and The Woman in Cabin 10 on the bargain rack which I mostly bought because the cover has embossed water droplets on it and feels amazing haha

Ironically, the book I REALLY wanted to get was Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints, which I still haven’t read, even after going to her AMAZING book tour last year.  So when I got home, I ordered it from Fountain Books, which sells autographed copies.  I’m still eagerly awaiting its arrival.

I also had a smidge of budget left, so I got on ebay intending to purchase a Georgette Heyer book or two… and instead ended up buying an entire box of random Regency romance paperbacks for less than a dollar each!  Most of them look absolutely terrible, but it doesn’t really damper my enthusiasm all that much.  :-D

My last bookish win for my birthday was from my sister.  In April 2017 I read The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge.  That book genuinely changed who I am as a person.  When I was reading it, I KNEW that it would really mean something to my sister, too, so I gave it to her as soon as I could.  She loved it so much that I actually gave her my copy for keeps!  For this birthday, she returned the favor by finding an actual first edition of it that came from England.  It’s absolutely gorgeous, and I can’t wait to reread it!!!

North Carolina Adventures –

My husband had a Monday and a Tuesday off in October, so we took a long weekend to North Carolina.  We stayed in a cabin outside of a small town called Spruce Pine along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It was absolutely beautiful, even when it was foggy.  We had a great time hiking and also driving our new car (it’s the first brand new car either of us have owned, and we’ve been talking about/saving for it for a couple of years now, so we are VERY enamored!) and just hanging out in the cabin reading books and eating popcorn.  I highly recommend finding some mountains if you’re feeling discouraged by life.

 

Favorite October Read:

Persuasion by Jane Austen has to go into this slot, although Young Pioneers was a close second.  But I’ll give you a two-word reason why Persuasion wins out:  Frederick Wentworth.  :-D

Most Disappointing October Read:

I guess Terms of Service by Scott Allan Morrison.  While this book had its moments, it overall was just very so-so, with a convoluted plot and a muddy point.

Other October Reads:

  • False Colours by Georgette Heyer – 4.5* – this was an utterly delightful read that made me snort with laughter a lot.
  • Garden Mysteries by Mary Freeman – 4* – super fun setting and likable characters; rather predictable mysteries.
  • Judy Bolton – Books 11-15 – 3.5* – these are fun and have their interesting moments, but read better in small doses.
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – 4* – a reread worth rereading!
  • Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – 4* – serious and somewhat dark, but still solid storytelling.
  • Utah Lion by James Ralph Johnson – 4* – a childhood favorite revisited.
  • Young Pioneers by Rose Wilder Lane – 4.5* – a slim volume with a strong story.

Other October Posts:

I continued the Shelfie series by moving onto Shelf 2A!

Last October…

We also went south for a long weekend – our first out-of-state adventure in the Zeppelin to the mountains of Virginia!  I did a decent amount of reading, but not a lot of reviewing.  I particularly enjoyed a nonfiction read that looked at the different poisons Agatha Christie used throughout her writing – A is for Arsenic.

TBR Update:

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:  872 (up… *whispers*… 16…)
  • Nonfiction:  81 (up three)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  675 (down three!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  238 (holding steady)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 107 (down one!)

Awaiting Review:

I’ve mostly been staying caught up.  However, I have read the first book in two different series.  The first one I don’t think is actually going to be a “series” – I think it’s just several books by the same author that I bought in a bundle – so it should get reviewed soon: Accidentally Married by Victoria Lieske.  The other book is the first in one of the crazy Love Inspired series.  It was pretty lame, so I’m going to give the second book a bit of a go, but if it’s just as lame, I’m going to DNF the set.  The one I’ve read already is Blind-Date Bride by Jillian Hart.

Current Reads:

For a while, I was back to reading basically just one book at a time.  I went back to my four-book pattern last week, but honestly I still just don’t have enough reading time to maintain that, so I’ll probably cut back as I finish a couple of these books.  Right now I have four books, plus my bedtime read…

  • Embers of War by Fredrik Logevall – a nonfiction read about the background of the Vietnam War.  It’s super, super interesting to me, especially since I remember literally nothing about the Vietnam War.  I’m hoping to find a good book about the war itself when I finish this one, so let me know if you have one to suggest!
  • Montana Homecoming by Jillian Hart – the second book in the crazy Love Inspired series.
  • Collie to the Rescue by Albert Payson Terhune – his books are so ridiculous that they’re great fun.
  • Saving Mars by Cidney Swanson – a free Kindle book I’ve had for a while
  • Reluctantly Married by Victoria Lieske – my relaxing bedtime book.

Approaching the Top of the Pile…

Honestly not sure why I even do this section, as it never seems to be true! :-D  Although in fairness, I have read/am reading all of the books from last month’s list in this section… they just didn’t happen ::next::

Anyway, here are the “probable” next five reads…

  • Maybe the next book in the Saving Mars series, if this one is any good
  • Early Candlelight by Maud Hart Lovelace – this is the author of the Betsy-Tacy books, which I read a few years ago and LOVED.  I’m interested to read this book geared towards older readers than the Betsy-Tacy books were originally.
  • Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien – I picked this up on the library discard rack for a quarter several months ago, but still haven’t gotten around to reading it!!
  • Simply Irresistible by Rachel Gibson – the start of another fuzzy romance series that I read about somewhere sometime a while ago.  No clue if it will be any good, as I now don’t even really remember the premise.  I actually think it may have something to do with a hockey team?!  It’s more interesting if I don’t bother to look it up for this post.
  • The Runaway Dragon by Kate Coombs – this is a children’s book that my mom read a while back and thought was “super adorable” and loaned to me.  We’ll see what it’s all about.

That’s the update for now – Happy November!!