March MiniReviews – Part 2

Still not feeling the whole blogging thing, so here are some more notes on recent reads.  Part 1 for March can be found here.

The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

//published 1872 & 1883//

These are a pair of adorable little stories that follow the very traditional fairy tale format of the good being very good and the bad being very bad.  That said, I still quite enjoyed them, especially The Princess and the Goblin.  There is a lot of adventure here and some fun characters, even if the ending of the second book was a bit abrupt.

I also didn’t realize that these books were so old, because the edition I have is both stories in one volume, which was published around 1970.  But it turns out that the original stories are from the late 1800’s!

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

//published 2007//

This is technically a standalone novel, but I was quite excited to see my old friend Vincent Ruiz from the Joseph O’Laughlin series make an appearance.  Actually, Ruiz is what kept me reading a lot of this book as it didn’t always completely engross me.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get into the sense of urgency, and I didn’t really like Ali all that well.  Also, Ali has been dating a guy named Dave for quite some time when this book opens, and we continue to see a decent amount of him throughout the story.  But Ali tells us when we first meet him that his nickname is “New Boy” Dave (just like that, with quotations around “New Boy”)… and then proceeds to constantly refer to him as “New Boy” Dave for the entire rest of the book.  I can’t explain why this annoyed me, but it did.  Seriously, does Ali always think of this guy she is really serious about dating/is sleeping with/considering marrying as “New Boy” Dave??  It was SO annoying.   I decided to stop by and talk with “New Boy” Dave on my way home.  What.  Even.

Anyway, the story itself was fine.  I feel like it’s really difficult to write a book about immigrants/refugees without becoming somewhat polemic, and because it is such a complicated and nuanced topic, I don’t always appreciate reading books that turn it into something incredibly simplistic (e.g., all immigrants are precious innocents and if you don’t agree it’s because you are a money-grubbing fat cat), but this book handled the topic fairly well.  All in all, a decent read that I did enjoy, but not as much as some of Robotham’s other books.  3.5/5.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

//published 2001//

Velde introduces her slim volume of short stories by outlining what she perceives as the big issues with the classic fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin:  basically, it doesn’t make any sense.  But she then presents five alternative retellings that help make a nonsensical story feel at least slightly more plausible (at least in worlds with fairies and magic).  While nothing earth-shattering, they were fun stories and a quick, entertaining read.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

//published 1978//

This is an old favorite of mine that I have reread many times over the year.  It’s such a fun retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  A lot of reviewers complain that it’s too slow and that too much time is spent on Beauty’s life before she meets the Beast, but that’s actually the part of this story that I love.  In this version, Beauty’s family is so kind and happy that I would have been perfectly content to spend the entire story just hanging out with them while they adjusted to their new life.  My only real beef with this version is that Beauty spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how plain she is, how ugly, how physically unappealing, etc.  I get really tired of listening to her run herself down, when it’s quite obvious that she just isn’t as stunningly beautiful as her older sisters – probably because she is only fifteen when the book starts and they are in their early 20’s.  Other than that, though, this is a really fun and engaging story, and even if it isn’t action-packed, it has a lot of characters that I love.  4/5.

Rescue Dog of the High Pass by Jim Kjelgaard

//published 1958//

This is one of the rare Kjelgaard books that I didn’t devour as a child, probably because the library didn’t have it.  Recently I acquired it as a free Kindle book, and while it wasn’t my new favorite, it was still an interesting story about Kjelgaard’s theory of the origin of the St. Bernard dogs (an event that is actually lost in the mists of time), which of course involves a young hero and his faithful canine companion.  Nothing amazing here, but an enjoying and interesting little story that I would sometime like to land a hard copy of for my permanent collection.

Black Beauty’s Clan // Black Beauty’s Family // by Josephine, Diana, and Christine Pullein-Thompson

A while back someone commented on one of my Famous Horse Story reviews and said that she had been hunting for a while for a series of book that she had read back in her schooldays and she thought Famous Horse Stories may be the one.  But she mentioned that some of the books had been in first-person perspective from the horse, and that immediately rang a bell for me for a different book that had read as a child… but I couldn’t remember what it was…

//published 1975//

We’re a bit spoiled with the internet these days.  It seems like you can type in any old nebulous thought and the internet interprets it into exactly what you were trying to think of.  But I didn’t have too much luck with my vague search for first-person horse stories, especially since I couldn’t really remember anything other than that.  This nagged at me for two days while I intermittently attempted different unsuccessful internet searches.

Of course, Black Beauty always came up.  It has to be one of the most famous horse stories of all time (if not THE most famous), and it is in first-person perspective from the horse.  I knew Black Beauty wasn’t what I was thinking of, but one day inspiration struck – hadn’t those childhood books been Black Beauty sequels… or something??

The answer was the “or something” bit.  Three sisters – Josephine, Diana, and Christine Pullein-Thompson – had written six stories (two by each sister) and published them in two volumes.  Each short story was told by a different horse, and each horse was a relation of “the famous Black Beauty.”

My next challenge was finding copies of these books, which was actually more complicated than it should have been, since the stories have also been published each individually and then all six in one volume.  I really wanted the same two volumes that I had read as a child, and thanks to the power of eBay I made it happen.

All of that was an extremely long introduction for six short stories that really aren’t that amazing, although they are perfectly good horse stories that I quite enjoyed revisiting.

The horses in Black Beauty’s Clan are Black Beauty’s youngest brother (Black Ebony), and then multiple-greats nephew and niece (Black Princess and Black Velvet).  Each story takes place at a different period of time, and thus examines a different part of the working horse’s heritage.  Ebony lives in the 1880’s and 90’s.  One of his masters also operates a coal mine, so we get the perspective of the ponies who worked the mines, among other things.  Princess is alive during World War I, and is sent to France to fight there as part of her story.  Velvet’s tale takes place in the 1930’s, when motorcars have greatly eliminated the need for horses – his story is mostly focused on his life as a show jumper, and the decline in the horse’s role in the working world.

//published 1978//

I preferred the stories in Black Beauty’s Family, which focused on two of Black Beauty’s ancestors, and one niece just at the end of Black Beauty’s timeline, and thus were stories set earlier in history.  Nightshade is alive during the Napoleonic war, and part of his story involves carrying a highwayman.  Black Romany lives in the 1840’s and describes a cross-country adventure.  Blossom’s story was quite different from the others – one might think of the other stories as being about upper class horses, but Blossom’s father was a carthorse, so her story is one of more drudgery and difficulty in the late 1800’s.

There is a lot to enjoy and learn in these stories, although as short stories they all could have been fleshed out into something more involved.  Swaths of time are frequently skipped over, and there isn’t the character development that Sewell’s original had.  Velvet’s story especially ends on rather a down note, and I’m not sure any of these stories could be labeled as “happy” per se, as they take place during difficult times.  But each gives an interesting glimpse into a different time period, and is the type of historical fiction that I quite enjoyed as a child.

These books are definitely more story-oriented rather than lesson-oriented – Sewell’s book was strongly polemic, but Sewell also wrote her book as a direct response to the cruelty she saw around her.  The Pullein-Thompson sisters wrote in the 1970’s, and while animal cruelty is always an issue that needs to be discussed, they didn’t have the specific these-are-things-that-we-need-to-fix like Sewell did.  Instead, their stories are more of a record different periods of the past, rather than Sewell’s snapshot of Life Today.

While these aren’t my all-time favorite books, I’m quite happy to add them to my collection.  They don’t have the emotional depth or impact of the original Black Beauty, but still are decent and interesting stories that I greatly enjoyed revisiting.

March Minireviews – Part 1

I have had just zero inspiration for blogging lately.  These anti-blogging moods come on me from time to time, and no longer really fuss me, as I know the urge will return at some point.  In the meantime, I’ve still been reading aplenty, so I thought I would at least share a few notes on some of my recent reads…

Tulipomania by Mike Dash

//published 1999//

I love reading nonfiction on random topics, and doesn’t get much more random than the tulip boom (and bust) of the 1630’s.  Dash does an excellent job painting a picture of the times, and I was honestly intrigued by what was going to happen next.  I couldn’t get over how crazy the entire boom was, with people buying, selling, and trading bulbs – bulbs!  You can’t even tell if they are really what the seller says they are!  Can you imagine paying more than a year’s worth of wages for one??

This book definitely needed pictures – I had to keep stopping to look up different styles/types/varieties of tulips (most of which no longer exist).  Charts and graphs would have been awesome as well, and could have definitely bumped this book a half star.  Dash also had a tendency to sometimes go off onto rambling trails to Nowhereville, but on the whole usually brought it back around to something at least moderately relevant.  On the whole, a 4/5 for this one, and recommended.  It also made me want to plant some tulips.  I feel like I have really underappreciated them up to this point.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

//published 2011//

This was one of those books that I wanted to like more than I did.  While it was creative and not a bad story, it just didn’t have magic.  And despite all the adventuring in the middle bits, in the end it felt like everyone just ended up back where they started, instead of their being some kind of growth.  In the end, 3.5/5 for an alright but rather bland fairy tale.  However, I will say that I originally added to this to the TBR after reading a review over at Tales of the Marvelous, so be sure to check that out for a perspective that found this book more engaging than I did!

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

//published 2016//

This book totally had me glued to the pages when I was reading it, despite the fact that I found Zoe to be rather annoying, and Simon even more so.  (Maybe I found Zoe annoying because she was with Simon?  He just seemed like such a tool!  And her ex-husband was a sweetheart.  I was confused by the creation of a very nice character who is still in love with his ex-wife… but who cheated on her??  The pieces of Matt’s character didn’t always fit together for me.)  I enjoyed having a first-person narration and also a third-person narration instead of all first person, which I think can frequently start sounding very same-y.  I’m sticking with 4/5 for this one because I couldn’t 100% get behind the conclusion – it was like Mackintosh took the twists to one more level, and I couldn’t quite follow her there, so I felt like the conclusion was just barely in the plausible realm, although other people seem to disagree with me, so it’s possible that I just have a different perspective of human character haha Anyway, this one was definitely worth a read and I’m looking forward to reading some more of Mackintosh’s writing soon!

NB: I would 100% be behind another story with Kelly and Nick!

I feel like this book was reviewed by just about everyone when it was first published!  For some other great reviews, check out Stephanie’s Book Reviews, Reading, Writing and Riesling, Cleopatra Loves Books, Chrissi Reads, Bibliobeth, and Fictionophile!

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

//published 1877//

This is a definite childhood classic for me.  I was very much into horses as a girl, and still own multiple copies of Black Beauty, each with its own style of illustrations and binding.  My favorite for reading is still the small Scholastic Book Club paperback.  It’s illustrated with line drawings, but doesn’t say who drew them!  I’ve had this particular copy since I was about ten, and have read it many times.  However, it had been several years since I had pulled it out.  I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, although as a more pessimistic adult, I find the ending not as confidently positive as I did as a youngster – after multiple times a sudden change in the life of Beauty’s owners leading to his being reluctantly sold, I was necessarily confident that the same wouldn’t happen again in his retirement.  What a grump I’ve turned out to be!

Of course, the story is quite polemic in nature – Sewell’s entire goal was to expose many of the everyday cruelties endured by horses and other animals (and people) with no one to speak for them.  But everything is presented in such a gentle and loving way that it’s hard to take offense.  It’s just many little stories that collectively remind readers that the power to make the world a better place is within everyone’s grasp, if they are willing to step forward and do their small part.

Despite the fact that much of the tale is a bit out of date as far as societal issues go (I don’t really remember the last time I saw someone forcing a horse to draw a heavy load uphill while using the bearing rein), the overall lessons of kindness, generosity, and always looking out for those who are weaker than you are timeless.

This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills

//published 2016//

It’s really hard when I don’t feel like writing serious reviews, but then read a book that I really like a lot, and this one definitely falls into that category.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve read about a group of friends that I liked as well as I did Sloane and her group.  Despite the fact that there wasn’t this big urgent plot, this was the book I kept wanting to come back to, just so I could see what snarky adventures everyone was going to have next.  I realized when I was finished that one of the big reasons that I enjoyed this book so much is that it is way more about friendship and the importance of having a core group of good friends that you can really trust than it is about romance and falling in love.  The love story was really a small side issue to the main thrust of the story.

This wasn’t a perfect read for me.  It felt like it took way too long for Sloane to “get” that she part of the group, and what that meant she needed to do.  I really liked Sloane’s dad and her relationship with him, but I definitely needed more of Sloane’s mom – she only appears a few times, so she just kind of comes across as this weird grumpy person in the background.  I personally thought a lot of the things she was grumpy about were justifiable, but she never really gets an opportunity to explain her point of view of their family issues, so in the end the entire relationship between Sloane’s parent is still really ambiguous, which detracted from the overall story for me.

But I legit could read like five more books about this gang of friends.  I so enjoyed their banter and loyalty.  I also loved reading a story where one of the main characters is popular and beautiful and nice, as I am really tired of the trope where the girls who are into girly things are empty-headed back stabbers.  Emma Mills has definitely been added to my list of authors whose backlogs I need to find.  In the meantime, if you enjoy funny, engaging YA, I recommend This Adventure Ends.

This book first came to my attention thanks to Stephanie’s Book Reviews, so be sure to check out her thoughts as well!

Hidden Identity Trilogy // by Lynette Eason

  • No One to Trust
  • Nowhere to Turn
  • No Place to Hide

//published 2014//

I was actually quite excited to find a new (to me) Christian suspense author, especially since my old favorite, Dee Henderson, has gone a bit downhill ever since she introduced Perfect Ann into the mix.

Eason’s books are thoroughly engaging.  While they weren’t THE most riveting stories I’ve ever read, they were still decently written with likable characters.

In No One to Trust we meet Summer, who is about to discover that her husband isn’t the person she thought he was.  Once they’re on the lam, truth and lies are tangled together and it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys.  This one was a 3.5/5 for me, with a lot more action than actual story, but I was willing to go with it because the action was a good romp.  Summer’s sister was really annoying me, and it sometimes felt like some details were kind of glossed over to help things make sense, but still a good time.

//published 2014//

The second book takes place a year or so later (I honestly can’t remember how long, a bit but not super long) and focuses on Adam, who was a character in the first book.  Summer and her husband have now started an organization that is kind of a private witness protection program, except people aren’t usually witnesses, they just need help getting out of a bad situation.  Case in point is Danielle, who is trying to escape her incredibly abusive husband.  When he dies the day that Danielle is making her break for freedom, she at first thinks her problems are solved – except then some new problems arrive, and she and Adam have to untangle the complications.  This book was nonstop careening around, and that worked for the most part.  There were moments were I found myself wondering how these people were still awake, since it seemed like no one ever needed to sleep, and the baddies just kept coming!  Still, 3.5/5, and would have been a 4 except there was an ending to the book with a villain and everything is good… and then there was a second ending where it turns out there is the OTHER villain lurking in the background??  And second villain didn’t really make nearly as much sense as first villain, so the whole thing ended up feeling kind of contrived.

//published 2015//

The final book is about Ian and Jackie, with character from the first two books as background characters in this one.  Ian has been set up as a fall guy for a bioterrorist plot, except he finds out just in time and manages to escape.  He can’t turn himself in, so the good guys and the bad guys are after him, all while he’s trying to figure out what the heck is going on.  Jackie gets caught up in the madness, too, and they run around in circles for a couple hundred pages.  I’m not always a huge fan of terrorist plotlines, but this one felt like it worked.

The religion aspect throughout the series felt organic and not at all preachy.  It was also nice that the characters were all Christians, rather than the missionary-dating method sometimes used by other authors.  While these weren’t the most amazing thrillers I have ever read, they were quite enjoyable, and I definitely intend to check out some more of Eason’s books.

George Washington’s Secret Six // by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

//published 2013//

Regular readers of this blog will know that I quite enjoy nonfiction that focuses on something random and/or obscure.  While it’s always good to read a history book that is sweeping in its coverage in order to get a big picture idea of what is happening, it’s also quite fun to focus a magnifying glass on something specific and really delve in.  This is what Kilmeade and Yaeger have done in this book by focusing on the spy ring George Washington established in New York during the American Revolution.

I quite enjoyed this book, which was easy to read and completely engaging.  The pacing was excellent, and I found myself reading it as anxiously as I would a modern thriller.  Despite the fact that I know that Benedict Arnold did not succeed in his ploy – I was still somehow on the edge of my seat!

The British occupied New York City and environs during the overwhelming majority of the Revolution.  A key port and a critical location in the middle of the colonies, Washington needed to know what was going on inside of the city and in the area surrounding it.  The authors do a great job of explaining what was going on, why Washington needed the spies, and how the spy ring was established – including initial failures.

I really loved the way the book started – the preface of the book is actually about a man named Morton Pennypacker, a historian in the 1920’s, who desired to learn the names of Washington’s six New York spies.  Because yes, at that time only the names of four of the individuals had been established.  Talk about some serious secret activities!  The name of spy #5 was discovered virtually by accident when Pennypacker received some letters dated just after the Revolution – and recognized the handwriting!  Even today the identity of spy #6, a woman, is unknown.

All in all, while this wasn’t a book of great depth, it did a great job introducing the Culper Spy Ring and putting into context.  4/5 and recommended.

‘Love Inspired’ // Part 4

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 we have the next five titles.  I’ve been a bit more harsh about just not bothering with books if the premise doesn’t really appeal, so a better selection than some of the past rounds!  Remember, these are basically all going into the give-away pile, so I am genuinely serious about letting me know if you would like some of these books to become your own – otherwise they are all getting posted on Paperback Swap!

The Heart’s Song by Winnie Griggs

//published 2010//

I wasn’t completely sure how a premise was going to play out that included the phrase helping with “his new neighbor’s request that he lead the handbell choir,” but this ended up being a decent, if somewhat cheesy, little love story.  Graham is a widower whose wife and unborn baby died and left him bitter and angry with God.  He decides to move to a random little town in the south where no one knows his Tragic Backstory and he can move on with his life.  His new neighbor, Reeny, is a widowed mother of two, and is an exuberantly friendly and outgoing person.  She recently inherited some money earmarked for creating something in memory of her husband, who died several years ago.  Reemy has decided to use the money to start a community handbell choir (right?).  It all sounds extremely hokey and it is, but it also worked.  I liked watching Graham and Reemy come together, and weirdly enjoyed the handbell choir part of the story.  My only really beef with this story is that throughout Graham is angry with God, etc., and then suddenly in the end he does a completely 180… but we never really get to hear about why, or how he now feels about his Tragic Backstory.  It would have been a lot more meaningful if more of Graham’s journey to peace had been explored.  Still, 4/5.

The Road to Forgiveness by Leigh Bale

//published 2010//

I really liked the setting for this story, which was a wholesale greenhouse.  I liked the characters and enjoyed the Hispanic flavor of the whole story.  While I was cool with Joel and did ship him with Mari, I still felt like he was pushy at times about her needed to “follow her dreams” – like encouraging someone is one thing, but going behind their back and basically forcing them into it no longer sounds supportive as much as it does manipulative.

(Spoiler Paragraph)
There’s also this whole big long thing where Joel is so helpful, like part of the family, promises to never leave, etc.  He confesses his love to Mari, but she doesn’t have time to respond before a Great Tragedy strikes.  But somehow Joel interprets that as she doesn’t love me and never will – and tries to skip town, even while someone is still in the hospital??  It didn’t fit his character, or the flow of the story, at all, so it felt like a 100% contrived way to create a dramatic reunion at the end and really annoyed me.

3.5/5 for a decent little story that at least involved a lot of plants.

Mistletoe Reunion by Anna Schmidt

DNF on this one.  Norah was driving me absolutely crazy.

A Daughter’s Legacy by Virginia Smith

//published 2010//

So in this story we start by meet Kelli at her mother’s funeral.  Come to find out that Kelli and her mom have been estranged for eons, and in fact Kelli didn’t even know her mom was sick, because her mom never bothered to let her know that she had cancer and was dying.  Kelli’s mom leaves this stupid will that means Kelli has to “face her fears” by accepting a zookeeper position for six months (Kelli’s mom was a head zookeeper).  I kept waiting for there to be this moment that explained Kelli’s mom, but the more I learned about her, the more of a jerk it turns out she was.  (All spoilers from here on out, fyi.)  Kelli’s dad is killed in front of Kelli’s face by a lion (her dad was a zookeeper, too).  Instead of like being a mom, Kelli’s mom switches so that she is now a zookeeper for the lions as well, despite the fact that Kelli is super scarred by this whole situation and terrified that her mom is going to be killed, too.  In the end, Kelli’s mom ships her off to Kelli’s grandma, because Kelli isn’t really able to emotionally recover from this trauma.  So instead of actually taking care of her own child, she just sends her off so she (the mom) can continue pursuing her zookeeping dreams and “deal with her grief” in her own way.  And to compound it all – that’s it!  She never reaches out to Kelli, not even when she knows she’s dying.  Instead of giving her daughter an opportunity to reconcile, she manipulates her from beyond the grave.

While I liked Kelli and enjoyed the romance part of the story, the whole thing with Kelli’s mom made me so angry that I couldn’t really like this book.  1/5.

Child of Grace by Irene Hannon

//published 2011//

Usually these Love Inspired titles don’t really have a lot of grit to them, but this one did, and I liked it.  Kelsey is single and pregnant, and it isn’t really a surprise to find out that her pregnancy is a result of being raped.  This whole situation was handled so gently.  I loved the way that different aspects of Kelsey’s decision to not have an abortion were explored – like that decision wasn’t the only one she had to make, and making that decision didn’t automatically  mean that everything else was going to work out.  It wasn’t preachy, but it was still such a positive prolife message, and a strong reminder that killing a child doesn’t fix anyone’s problems.

I liked the romance as well, and the way that Luke wasn’t automatically all happy about Kelsey’s baby.  He had to work through some emotions as well, and that felt really realistic.  All in all, a really decent read.  4/5.

Curse Workers Trilogy // by Holly Black

  • White Cat
  • Red Glove
  • Black Heart

//published 2010//

Uggghhh this was a series that was a little slow to start for me, but once it got me, it got me good.  I wanted it to last forever, and while I found the ending pretty satisfying, I could use about ten more books in this series.

Here’s the thing – it’s kind of hard for me to even explain what these books are about because the world building is so fantastic.  Black has created this alternate world where some people have an innate magic to do various things – to help people have better luck, or to have certain feelings, to have a different memory, to have a certain dream – or to kill: all with a single touch.  In this world, where the lightest tap of the fingers can “work” someone, everyone wears gloves and no one trusts anyone.

//published 2011//

The narrator, Cassel, has grown up in a worker family.  Because working people is now illegal, most workers (including Cassel’s family) have turned to crime.  There are now big crime families (think mafia-style) throughout the country, and many workers turn to them for protection and work.  A couple of Cassel’s older brothers do some work for one of the local crime bosses.  That crime boss used to have a daughter who was Cassel’s age – until Cassel killed her several years before the story opens.

Like I said, I thought the first book started a little slow, and I wasn’t even completely sure that I was going to finish it.  Part of it was that Black doesn’t really explain anything, and at first I was kind of confused about this AU world and why people were wearing gloves and what the heck was even going on.  But as things started to fall into place and I could see the bigger picture, I got totally hooked.  I also really liked Cassel a lot – he’s one of those characters who always seems to only have choices between something kind of terrible and something super terrible, yet he really wants to do the right thing.  He’s smart but not infallible, and by the third book there is a good established cast of characters and I liked them all, even Cassel’s awful brother.  (My favorite was definitely his grandpa, and I mostly kept wondering, especially in book #2, why he didn’t turn to his grandpa for advice!)

//published 2012//

These were books that definitely had some moments where I felt like the rug got pulled out from under me, but it was in a good way.  It was always something incredibly plausible – that I simply hadn’t considered.  I also absolutely loved the con work that Cassel pulls off throughout.  I have to clarify that in an objectively moral sense, these probably aren’t super great books since everyone is lying and pulling cons, but it makes for some incredibly entertaining and fast-paced reading.

By the third book, I just wanted things to keep going forever.  I found the ending satisfying, but also kind of an open door.  I like to think that Cassel and his girlfriend get married and change the way things are for workers, turning the entire crime family into a power for good.  And how fun would those stories be to read??

All in all, a 4/5 for this series.  I really enjoyed them, and definitely see myself looking for some of Black’s other books soon.

A special shout out to Stephanie, whose reviews first caused me to put this series on the list – you can read her review here!


Rearview Mirror // February 2018

I can already tell that 2018 is going to be a year that zooms by.  Although honestly it feels like the older I get, the faster time goes in general, so there’s that.

February was overall a pretty quiet month (thankfully).  Apple season has lasted a lot longer than average because of the huge crop, so I have still been delivering apples and cider throughout the month, but we finally sold the last of them, so Monday will be my last day for the year.  Luckily, spring is on the way, so I will soon be very busy with various gardening plans – I already have some seeds planted in the windowsill!!

Book-wise things have been pretty normal.  I’ve read 50 books so far this year.  On the blog, I’m a bit behind with reviews.  February saw three minireview posts just to try and get things caught up!  (However, I was unsuccessful.)

I’ve subscribed to two different book boxes that send random used books, so those have been fun.  I’ve only gotten a couple of boxes so far, but I really like Yureka – you fill out a book-related questionnaire and they send books they think you will like.   If you’re organized, you can go back and fill out a review on the books later so they can continue to send you books that you’ll like even better.

Used Books Monthly is a little more vague – you just check off genres you like – but really inexpensive: three books for $12.49.  I’ve only gotten one box from them so far, and we will see how it goes.  The first month only had one book that I will probably actually read, so this one may end up getting unsubscribed from if I still feel like most of the books are meh.

Finally, I have an on-and-off subscription to LitCube, depending on my budget!  This is more of a traditional book box that sends you book-related goodies as well as an actual book.  I really like how the book is just completely random each month (I don’t like being tied down to a genre), and how most of the goodies tie in with where the book is set.  I’ve enjoyed both books that I’ve received from them as well (The Viking’s Chosen and Last Christmas in Paris).  You also earn points each month, and can use the points to get additional swag or free boxes, which is fun.  However, it’s more expensive than the others, which is why I don’t do it every month.  Luckily, it’s really easy to subscribe and unsubscribe, but still save all of your information (and points).

Favorite February Read

I had a lot of 4* reviews this month, but none of them were just WOW reads.  Still, I think I’m going with Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  This story was an incredibly fun romp with enough intensity to keep me glued to the pages.  I didn’t agree with all the philosophy, but definitely found it entertaining.

Most Disappointing February Read

Weirdly, I didn’t read any terrible books this month!  So I think I’m going to go with Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb, mainly because I enjoyed the first 3/4 of this book SO much, and then the ending just sort of petered out.  It felt like the characters all suddenly changed into different people, which was disappointing, as I had really gotten attached to everyone.

Other February Reads

  • Amazing Gracie by Sherryl Woods – 3/5 – chick lit at it’s most regular.
  • The Basket of Flowers by Christoph von Schmidit – 3/5 – not a bad story, but quite prosy.
  • Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry – 3.5/5 – a nice story (with beautiful illustrations), but not as strong as the Misty books.
  • Dreamtreader Trilogy (Dreamtreaders; Search for the Shadow Key; and War for the Waking World) by Wayne Thompson Batson – 3/5 – interesting and decent for a one-time read, but not really that memorable.
  • Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica 3.5/5 – interesting, but I wasn’t convinced about the motive of the villain.
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – 4/5 – beautiful writing, but slow in parts.
  • Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki – 3.5/5 – apparently stepmothers are despised all ’round the world.
  • Lost States by Michael J. Trinklein – 4/5 – entertaining nonfiction about places that almost were.
  • Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich – 4/5 – a really fun place to start if you are looking to become more self-sufficient in steps that are actually doable.
  • Mountain Pony series (Mountain Pony; Mountain Pony and the Pinto Colt; Mountain Pony and the Rodeo Mystery; and Mountain Pony and the Elkhorn Mystery) by Henry V. Larom – 4/5 – fun, although somewhat dated, western adventures with a likable protagonist.
  • The Mystery of the Empty Room by Augusta Huiell Seaman – 3.5/5 – fun children’s mystery wherein the main characters needed to converse with one another more.
  • Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend – 4/5 – Engaging children’s fantasy – I need the sequel!
  • An Odd Situation by Sophie Lynbrook – 4/5 – a unique P&P retelling that was fun, although not strong on action.
  • Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5/5 – almost listed as my favorite book this month.  Such a fun romp.
  • Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5/5 – I really love this book, which introduces Lord Emsworth and Blandings Castle.  All the usual Wodehouse chaos.
  • The Viking’s Chosen by Quinn Loftis – 3.5/5 – not the kind of book I would usually pick up, but it ended up being a fun read.
  • Wedding Date Rescue by Sonya Weiss – 3.5/5 – fun chick lit.  I would totally read the sequel if it was actually published yet.

Other February Posts

I participated in my second Shelfie by Shelfie post – hopefully more to come!

Last February…

I really enjoyed reading Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Clubeven though it isn’t exactly my usual type of book, being rather serious and novel-y.  I still haven’t gotten around to reading any of Tan’s other books, but I do have several on the list!

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:  827 (holding steady!)
  • Nonfiction:  82 (down one!)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  701 (up ten… Mom is still giving me books!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  229 (up two)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 104 (holding steady!)

Awaiting Review

  • Curse Workers trilogy by Holly Black (White Cat, Red Gloves, and Black Heart) – um.  I wanted this series to be like ten books longer.
  • The next set of five Love Inspired books – an overall better batch this time
  • George Washington’s Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger – a really engaging nonfiction book about the spy ring in New York City during the Revolution.
  • No One To Trust by Lynette Eason – the first in a trilogy, this one will get reviewed when I’ve finished the other two.  Good so far.
  • Tulipomania by Mike Dash – I really do love nonfiction about random things, and the tulip mania in Holland during the late 1600’s is about as random as it gets!
  • Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu – a nice children’s fantasy book, but lacking the magic.

Current Reads

  • This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills – just started this one this morning, and I’m already in love with Sloane.
  • Nowhere To Turn by Lynette Eason – so intense.
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell – really looking forward to revisiting this childhood favorite.
  • I See You by Clare Mackintosh – super creepy.

Approaching the Top of the Pile

The probable next five reads…

  • The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham – whenever I finish at least one of the thrillers I’m already reading.  I can handle two at a time, but three??
  • Uneasy Money by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Black Beauty’s Clan by Diana and Josephine Pullein-Thompson – long story, but I was lead to remember these Black Beauty sequels recently and immediately found and purchased them on eBay.  Totally ready for a trip down memory lane!
  • Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana – a Yureka book box book – wild card!
  • Beauty and the Beast by K.M. Shea – my sister has been on my case to read these fairy tale retellings FOREVER so I am finally going to do it!

Happy March!!!