Irish Legacy Trilogy // by Nora Roberts

  • Irish Thoroughbred
  • Irish Rose
  • Irish Rebel

Over the last few months, I’ve been reading four books at a time, on a rotating basis.  This method has its pros and cons, but it’s been working for me lately because it helps me to actually finish reading nonfiction books.  But right now, I actually have two nonfiction books in the rotation.  One is so challenging that I can hardly read it, and the other has such tiny print that I practically need a magnifying glass to get through it.  So my overall reading pace has somewhat slowed.  Plus, I figured out how to play a Solitaire version of Dominion, so that’s been keeping me busy, too.  :-D

Point is, the other night I wanted a relaxing book to read before bed.  Tom was working on some crazy project across the street with his dad, and I just wanted to cuddle into our soft, flannel sheets and veg.  A while back, I inherited a box of books (“oh you like to read, here are some books!”), a lot of which were by Nora Roberts.  She’s so prolific that I’m not sure I can say that I’m a “fan” as I’ve read only a small percentage of her books, and a lot of the ones I’ve flipped through don’t actually look like they would be my cup of tea.

Still, I have read a few of her series, and the Bridal Quartet in particular has become a favorite of mine.  Since the random box of books happened to include one complete trilogy, I thought I would start there.

//published 1981//

The foreword to Irish Thoroughbred stated that this was Roberts’s very first novel.  It was interesting to see her earlier writing style, which was definitely not as developed as it is now.  While Thoroughbred was a perfectly fine tale, it definitely followed many romance-novel cliches.  I liked the main characters, but it felt like Travis was a little too far into the stereotype of the domineering male.  Even though Dee wasn’t a meek little miss, I still felt like Travis’s protective nature sometimes crossed the line to bullying.  Even though this book isn’t that old (about my age, actually!), it was still interesting to see how it felt like it fit more with the times – no sex between these two until after they were married, and then it was all properly off-stage, as it should be (and as it isn’t always in Roberts’s later books, sadly).  I really liked that bit.  I’m not sure why it’s so difficult for authors to write romance books where there is good tension between the two characters without actually describing in detail all of their interludes.

//published 1988//

Somehow, it only took me like a day and a half to read Thoroughbred, and I just dived right into Rose, because why not?  Written – and set – almost ten years later, this book focuses on Dee’s cousin, Erin, who comes from Ireland to work for Travis and Dee’s neighbor, Burke.  One thing that I loved about this book was getting to see Travis and Dee later on – happily married, raising a family.  I thought it was hilarious that Roberts gave them so many kids (they end up with five or six).  It was also obvious that Roberts’s writing style had made some progress in the intervening years between these two books – Burke and Erin are better developed, as are the secondary characters.  Burke was still a bit too stereotypically tall, dark, handsome, silent male, but I was willing to roll with it.

//published 2000//

Irish Rebel was published quite a long while after the first two books, and focuses on Travis and Dee’s oldest daughter, Keeley, who falls in love with Travis’s new horse trainer, Brian.  I liked both these characters a lot and felt like they had more depth than the main characters of the first two books.  I really, really liked Keeley’s relationship with her family – she gets along with them so well, and has such a great relationship with her mom, even goes to talk with her about her feelings towards Brian instead of keeping them a secret.  Brian was a bit obnoxious at times, but I felt like his character did make some growth throughout the story.  The ending was a bit weird and rushed, like suddenly all the barriers between them just magically disappeared, and that felt a little strange.  And while there wasn’t a lot of sex in this book, there was definitely more than the first two books – another (sad) sign of the changing times.

All in all, while these three didn’t strike me as books I would want to visit time and again, they were still enjoyable as a one-time read, especially as a break from my rather boring “official” books that I have going on right now.  3/5 for all three books.

Beauty & the Beast // by K.M. Shea // Guest Post

Despite the fact that my sister loves Shea’s books, I still haven’t gotten around to reading them quite yet.  *guilty look*   However, she is rereading them yet again, so I will be posting her guest reviews as they come along.  Mary Rose is my best friend, my sister, and my neighbor, so we hang out together a lot, and ranting and raving about books is kind of a hobby of ours.  :-D  Here is her review – enjoy!

******

//published 2013//

Fairytale retellings are my favorite, I’ve read a lot over the years and I have yet to come across a series as perfect as K.M. Shea’s. Her books continually stick to the heart of the story, pulling out the key concepts and factors, strengthening the characters, adding backgrounds that make sense, all while respecting the original tale. She also has kept a good balance of each of her stories being enjoyable stand-alone reads while also weaving them into an interlocked storyline.

This is my fourth re-reading of all her currently available fairytales so I figured it was finally time to write a review for each as I finished them: 

Beauty and the Beast is a comfortable and classic retelling of the tale, original without being overly fantastical in leaving out the needed aspects. Shea shows a respect for understanding the roots of the story and in so doing crafts an enjoyable retelling. 

Severin is cursed (through no particular fault of his own) and can only be saved by falling in love/being fallen in love with. His servants have been cursed along with him but are overwhelmingly loyal. Our heroine, Elle, falls through the roof of his Chateau, breaking her leg, and so has to stay until she is fully healed. This leads to classic fairytale/Hallmark movie story telling in which love slowly unfolds, drama ensues, but in the end everyone is happy and together (as they should be because this is a Fairytale). 

There were quite a few things I appreciated about this story, and since Beauty and the Beast is a popular story to retell, I’d liked to explain some, hopefully without any real spoilers: 

Severin isn’t cursed through any fault of his own. He is a good person with normal faults and pitfalls, but overall isn’t this terrible “beast on the inside” that deserved to be punished. It makes it much easier, for me at least, to understand why his servants would be loyal enough to be cursed along with him, and why they would care for him so deeply from the start. Also this means he doesn’t magically become a Changed Man when he meets Elle, he is simply still who he is, but improves (as everyone does) as he falls in love with her because that is what love does: improve our true selves. 

Elle is sharp, smart, and quick witted. She’s strong, self reliant, and extremely confident. It is a common theme throughout all of Shea’s books (that I’ve read, which is 90% of them) that she gets female characters right: they are characters, just like everyone else. She does not worry about “gender roles” or “making a statement for the feminists” but instead respects that people are people and allows a character to develop organically regardless of their sex. Elle is no exception. She is still feminine, she still has her own insecurities (as is human), she enjoys using her looks to get at the prince on occasion (well done scene), and she never shies from the fact that she is a woman. HOWEVER, neither does any of that detract from who she is either, because she is strong, focused, determined, and not at all thinking of Severin as a prince who will save her, but merely the love of her life. I appreciate Shea’s writing of women, it will be a common theme in any review I do of her books because she writes women as they aught to be written- not as though they’re struggling against The Man, but as they are: Humans, with pitfalls and strengths, weaknesses and abilities, and it’s so refreshing. And in the end I think we see Elle grow due to her love for Severin as well. 

Love: Shea has the perfect handle on what love truly is. In all the fairytales she underlines it accurately, but in this, the first book, she really sets the tone for what true love is, “You young maidens now days get misty-eyed thinking about true love and the fathomless adoration you will share. It’s not like that. Real love is looking at someone and knowing you wouldn’t mind waking up to their bad breath for the next century, and you are fine with them seeing you before you brush your hair and fix your face for the day. …. Loving a person isn’t a magical, sparkly passion. It’s hard work. It’s putting the other person before yourself. It’s companionship and being able to trust and depend on each other. That loquacious true love everyone spouts about is really finding a partner who will go through the heartbreaks and joys of life with you.” 

In the end this is possibly one of my favorite retellings of Beauty and the Beast, and honestly I give it a 4/5 (only misses being a full five because there’s minor unnecessary drama, like seriously, in real life I feel like there would have been COMMUNICATION, but that’s just me apparently, and honestly it’s not that bad, I just feel like it wasn’t fully accurate to the personalities of the servants at the very least.).

Overall Shea’s fairytales are… simplistic. But in their simplicity they clearly show the depth of each story and its original intent. As a whole the series is definitely a 5/5, please stay tuned for the next review, Wild Swans, a retelling of the Seven Swans. In the mean time- go read Beauty and the Beast by KM Shea! 

‘Love Inspired’ // Part 3

A while back my great-aunt passed away, and somehow my grandpa ended up with two boxes full of books.  Almost all of them are ‘inspirational’ romances published by Harlequin as ‘Love Inspired’.  At one point (not sure if you still can) you could subscribe and have a new book mailed to you every month.  Aunt Darby did just that, and now I’m in possession of somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 or so of these ‘Love Inspired’ titles.  Most of them are pretty cheesy but alright for a one-time fluff read.  I’m sure that I’ll binge through some of them periodically.  They’re perfect to grab out of the crate when I’m just looking for a quick, no-brainer book.  However, most of them will probably end up exiting this house after that one-time read, because they just aren’t worth the shelf space to me.  So if there’s one that sounds especially appealing to you… let me know, and I’ll be quite happy to mail you a gift!  ;-)

Here is the next round of five for this project – a slightly better outing this time around!

A Time to Heal by Linda Goodnight

//published 2008//

I actually enjoyed this story, where ER doctor Kat returns to her hometown, completely burned out from her work in a big-city hospital.  She’s determined to give up her career and try something new.  Of course, she runs into her old flame, Seth, and the inevitable sparks fly.

There was a bit more grit to this story than these books sometimes have, as Kat and Seth were pregnant back before Kat left.  I think that this book would have read better if Kat had gotten an abortion back then instead of having a miscarriage, as her level of guilt didn’t really seem to fit something that wasn’t actually her fault, although I could still follow the “I really wished this baby was dead and then it was dead and now I feel horrible” logic to some extent.  It also felt really obvious that Kat should continue being a doctor, she just shouldn’t be an ER doctor in the middle of a city, so I appreciated that the author addressed that early on by explaining that opening a small-town clinic was just too cost-prohibitive.

Overall, while the story had its weaknesses, I still found it to be a fairly enjoyable read, although not enjoyable enough to keep on my shelves for another time.  :-D  3.5/5.

Safe in His Arms by Dana Corbit

//published 2011//

Six months ago, Lindsay and her sister were in a terrible car accident.  Lindsay’s sister died, and Lindsay is still recovering from her injuries.  On top of all of that, Lindsay has also inherited her sister’s daughter, who is just a toddler.  (Later we find out the sister was a widow, so the niece is now an orphan.)  When our story begins, Lindsay is seeking out the state trooper who was first on the scene, Joe, to ask him for more details about the accident, as she can’t remember the event.

I actually liked this story, and liked both Joe and Lindsay.  Joe is struggling with a lot of guilt because he was only able to save Lindsay and not both women – the car burst into flames before he could return for the sister.  Parts of the story felt a little weak on logic, and Lindsay’s parents are just so obnoxious, but overall a decent 3/5 read.

The Cinderella List by Judy Baer

//published 2010//

This book was actually a lot of fun.  Marlo is a caterer, and at a big event, she meets Jake, who is super rich.  But Jake also happens to fit a lot of Marlo’s husband requirements – a list that she and her sister started a long time ago.  While Marlo isn’t sure that she can really fit into Jake’s life, she of course does.

I really liked how Marlo was an adult living with severe dyslexia – I feel like these types of problems are only found/discussed in children’s books and YA, but they aren’t things that you outgrow.  It doesn’t define Marlo, but it’s a big part of her life that felt natural in this story.  Another part of the book is Jake trying to set up a program on his horse farm to help children with physical and mental disabilities, which also tied in with Marlo’s nephew, who was oxygen-deprived at birth.  There were just a lot of threads going on in this story, and they actually came together well and mostly made sense.

Things got a bit melodramatic, but were readable on the whole, and this was another 3.5/5.

Deadly Safari by Lisa Harris

//published 2014//

As a bonus, some of the “Love Inspired” titles are actually “Love Inspired SUSPENSE,” although this is the first one I’ve come across in my little project.  Meghan makes wildlife documentaries for a living, and is on assignment at a wildlife refuge in South Africa following the life of some young lion cubs.  Her father is a diplomat, and has been receiving threats made to Meghan if he doesn’t do something-or-other.  Meghan always blows this sort of thing off, so her dad hires Alex to come be her bodyguard without Meghan knowing it.  Of course, there are tons of near-misses that bring the couple together.

A lot of this story was fun, but it was really short in the logic department, so I couldn’t fully enjoy it.  (Like the whole point of the documentary is they are waiting for the big moment when the mother lioness introduces the cubs to the rest of the pride, and it could happen any minute, but they seem to spend an incredibly minimal amount of time actually watching the lions.)  But Meghan and Alex were overall likable and the suspense part did add a spark of interest to the story overall.  My actual notes say that this book was ridiculous but fun, and that’s a pretty good sum-up.  3.5/5.

Montana Hearts by Charlotte Carter

//published 2010//

Sarah Barkley was the recent recipient of a heart transplant, necessary because her heart was so weakened by childhood cancer treatments.  Of course, these are always anonymous, but Sarah has done some research and believes that she has found the family of her donor.  She’s traveled from her home in Seattle to a small town in Montana, with a vague idea that she might be able to find some way to anonymously give back to the family who gave her another chance at life.

But a series of events means that she starts working as a housekeeper for Kurt and his two children, and guess what two people fall in love with each other?!?!  Despite its predictability, I still enjoyed this story that actually dealt well with some difficult subjects.  While some things were tidied up a little too easily in the end, it was still a pleasant, 3.5/5 read.

Rearview Mirror // 2017

Happy New Year!  We actually have some real snow around here, which is super exciting.  A white Christmas is always lovely, but there is something about a white New Year that makes me feel like we really are getting a fresh start.

Of course, it’s also unbelievably cold out there – only 3* this morning!  My husband just told me that the average temperature in the US right now is only 11*!

2017 was a solid year on the blog for me.  I basically never look at my stats, but I’m sure lots of people have looked at things, which is awesome.  I really enjoy writing reviews for my own benefit, so I can look back on books that I’ve read and remember what was going on, but it is so amazing to me that there are a few hundred other people who also enjoy reading those reviews, at least from time to time.  Thanks for being there!!

This year was the first year that I really, really focused on marking books on Goodreads.  I’ve been kind of haphazard about it before, but this year I was determined to mark ALL the books, and for the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to update where I am with current reads as part of my morning routine – and actually am enjoying it!  Especially since it means that I get really accurate stats at the end of the year…

Believe it or not, I totally blew through my goal of 160 books, completing 197 titles.  Although I do feel that sheer number of books is a poor way to manage this challenge, since my longest book – Imperative (a P&P variation that I don’t think I even ended up reviewing here!), at 796 pages is worth just as much as my shortest book, Bronco Charlieat 48!  But I suppose it does all level out, as I read an average of 295 pages per book, for a grand total of 58,206 pages!  (What am I even doing with my life?!)

The most popular book I read this year was The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, also read by an astounding 2,123,251 people.  In contrast, only two other people have bothered to rate Container Gardeningwhich is a shame, because it is actually a very nice little reference guide.

I am still really enjoying my monthly Rearview Mirrors as a way to sort of summarize what’s been happening.  According to those post, these were my favorite books of the year:

I think 2017’s Book of the Year is going to be The Scent of Water.  There is something about that book – I can’t explain how it is not only perfect, but it actually changed my life.  While I loved Uprooted and The Night Circus, which are both magical and amazing reads, The Scent of Water is the one I feel like EVERYONE should read.

Other 5-Star Reads for 2017:

I feel like I finally have a grasp on my reading goals and am in a good pattern of reading four books at the same time, which is helping me work on multiple points of the TBR at once.  I also realize that it’s basically physically impossible to read all the books that I want to read, but I’m okay with that.  I’m just going to enjoy each book as it comes, and I’m not going to stop adding to the TBR, either.  It’s more of a dream list than a tangible goal.

The huge number of books on the TBR is the main reason I don’t really read ARCs and am not interested in Netgalley or other such opportunities.  I review usually 1-5 ARCs each year, and that’s about right.  I don’t necessarily need free books, because I use the library like a crazy person.  I don’t like the time pressure and (self-imposed) deadlines that arise from reviewing books from publishers.  I like being able to just not finish a book because I don’t like the first page, and not have to feel guilty about that.

I wanted to compare my TBR numbers from December 2016 to now, but realized that I’ve done a LOT of editing on that list throughout the year, so comparing the numbers doesn’t really make sense.  I cleaned up the Standalones tab, eliminating doubles and moving books to the Series/Mystery Series tabs as needed.  I’ve also been working on making sure all the books that I own really are on my Personal list, so that list has gotten a LOT bigger.  I’ve also been way more into getting free Kindle books this year, too, which hasn’t helped.  :-D  But I think that the numbers are straight now, so this time next year I should, theoretically, be able to legitimately tell if I’ve made any progress.

In the meantime, I fully intend to just keep reading, reviewing, and enjoying books.  Books have been such an important part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always lived surrounded by them.  I don’t really see that changing, especially since my mom sent me home with nine gardening books she was getting rid of today – so nine more books on the TBR and we’re not even 24 hours into 2018 yet.  :-D

Thanks for riding along with me for 2017, and here’s to lots of great books and happy reviews for 2018!

Rearview Mirror // December 2017

What a weird month!  I was still struggling with bronchitis for the first part of it, we had another fairly involved renovation project going on, and then I got another virus that laid  me low with a fever and sore throat for a week – which all added up to almost no Christmas spirit!  I don’t have a SINGLE Christmas decoration in this house!  Ah well.

The good news is, the week of resting from the virus took care of my lingering bronchitis, and I’m back to feeling completely well – with that added awesomeness that only comes after you’ve been low-grade sick for a while.  (I get up every morning and think, “I can breathe!  I can breathe!”)  I’ve got some 2018 resolutions involving various housekeeping and house-painting projects, I’ve given a firm, “I am not working more than three days a week!” answer to my spring job at the greenhouse (which last year ended up more like 55 hours a week for over a month…), and overall things are just feeling good.

Reading-wise, December has been solid.  This has been my best year of blogging so far.  I finally feel like I have a good pattern for reviews – the monthly minireviews have really helped me to get past reviews that just aren’t that involved, and I’ve started taking a few notes every time I finish a book, so even if the review happens several days later, I’m better able to revive my feelings towards the story.  I’m excited about continuing into 2018.

Favorite December Read

I had a couple of really enjoyable reads this month, but nothing that just wowed me.  I think I’m going to put Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore in this slot, as it’s the book I’m most likely to reread.  It was quirky and entertaining, and I really liked all of the characters.

Most Disappointing December Read

I didn’t have any huge bombs this month, but my most disappointing book was probably Son by Lois Lowry.  It dragged on forever and didn’t really seem to have much of a point.  It was especially disappointing because The Giver is so brilliant.  But the other three books just didn’t work for me.

Other December Reads

  • Album of Horses by Marguerite Henry – 4/5 – a really fun children’s nonfiction book with awesome illustrations.
  • A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch – 3/5 – I wanted to like this more than I did.
  • Best Worst Mistake by Lia Riley – 3/5 – Cute story that could have benefited from a lot less sex.
  • Bronco Charlie by Henry Larom – 4/5 – another great children’s book – with more great illustrations!
  • The Burnaby Books by Anne Emery – 3.5/5 – these five books were really enjoyable reads about the ups and downs of high school and college life.
  • The Divine Conquest by A.W. Tozer – 5/5 – don’t read if you aren’t ready to be challenged.
  • A Drop in the Ocean by Jenni Ogden – 3/5 – a decent novel, but the ending really aggravated me, as did the romantic emphasis.
  • Gathering Blue – by Lois Lowry – 3.5/5 – Intriguing, but a little strange.
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry – 4.5/5 – Brilliant.
  • The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben – 3/5 – a book I wanted to like but just didn’t.
  • A Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer – 4/5 – classic Heyer.
  • Last First Kiss by Lia Riley – 3/5 – formulaic but pleasant.
  • The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne – 3/5 – intriguing premise, but just kind of depressing and boring in execution.
  • The Man Upstairs and Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse – 3/5 – an alright collection, but honestly not very Wodehouse-y.
  • Messenger by Lois Lowry – 2/5 – What the heck?!
  • November 9 by Colleen Hoover – 3/5 – an engaging read, but Ben was just a bit too creepy for me to get behind the ship.
  • Right Wrong Guy by Lia Riley – 3/5 – nice romance, but a little too sexy.
  • The Rose-Garden Husband by Margaret Widdemer – 4/5 – predictable but so warm and happy.
  • The September Society by Charles Finch – 3/5 – just a bit too prosy to be actually enjoyable.
  • The Wishing-Ring Man by Margaret Widdemer – 4.5/5 – a weird beginning, but overall so happy and enjoyable.
  • The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn – 4/5 – compulsively readable, engaging, but not brilliant.

In Decembers 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.

Last year was a toss-up between two very different but both very enjoyable books – A Life in Letters (edited by Sophie Ratcliffe) is a fascinating collection of Wodehouse’s letters throughout his life, with very thoughtful and interesting biographical information to link them.  I still use this book as a reference when I am starting new Wodehouse books, to see if he had anything personal to say about them!  The other awesome book last December was Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton.  It felt like everyone thought this book was amazing, so I was a little scared – but it totally lived up to the hype.  I guessed some of the twists, but definitely not all of them.  I didn’t want to do anything except read this book when I was reading this book!  Just reading my review makes me want to read this book again!

My most disappointing book in December 2016 was Love’s Haven by Catherine Palmer – one of those books that is so terrible that I genuinely have no idea why I finished it!

//published 2010//

In December 2015 I was reading Nora Robert’s Bridal Quartet, which has become one of my go-tos for warm, fuzzy romance without a lot of thinking.  The final book in the series, Happy Ever Afterwas my favorite for the month.

In contrast, I found Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On to be pretty meh fare.

TBR Update:

Sadly, I did a some research and realized that I had a BUNCH of books on my physical shelves – mostly nonfiction – that wasn’t on the Personal TBR list.  Tragically, it increased my number by quite a lot…  but now I feel like I’m on the right track there.  So there’s that.

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:  820 (DOWN THREE!  DOWN!)
  • Nonfiction:  85 (steady)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  670 (up by so many)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  226 (down one!)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 105 (down one!)

Overall, a good month!  Not counting my Personal tab, which was really just recalculating because I didn’t buy any very many books this month, I actually managed to drop five!

Awaiting Review:

Would you believe… nothing??  All I have in the pile right now are four Love Inspired titles, because I’m reading Love Inspired #5, because I review them in batches of five.  So I’m actually caught up as we head into the new year!

Current Reads:

  • Montana Hearts by Charlotte Carter – aforementioned Love Inspired title.  Actually not that terrible.
  • Manna from Hades by Carola Dunn – first book in her Cornish Mysteries series.  I liked the Daisy Dalrymple series on the whole, so I thought I’d give this one a go, especially since there are only four books!
  •  The Mapmakers by John Noble Wilford – a nonfiction read on the history of maps and their creation.  Now that I’m done with the incredibly lengthy chapter that just whines about how horrible Christians ruined everyone’s lives by hating science in the Middle Ages, the book is picking up in interest.
  • Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor – a children’s book that is actually rather heartbreaking in a not-exactly-sad way??  Hard to explain.

Approaching the Top of the Pile:

The probably next five reads…

  • A Colourful Death by Carola Dunn – the second Cornish mystery, providing the first one isn’t trash.
  • Copper-Toed Boots by Marguerite de Angeli – a beautifully illustrated children’s book that has been on my shelves forever.
  • Wrestling Prayer by Eric Ludy – honestly scared of what I’m sure will be a challenging read.
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley – some of her books I love and some I feel really meh about, so we’ll see where this older title falls.
  • The Cat and Mrs. Carey by Doris Gates – an old children’s book that I’ve had for ages about a nice old lady who inherits a house, a cat that only she can hear talking, and possibly some smugglers.