Judy Bolton Mysteries // Books 1-5 // by Margaret Sutton – #20BooksofSummer

  1. The Vanishing Shadow (1932)
  2. The Haunted Attic (1932)
  3. The Invisible Chimes (1932)
  4. Seven Strange Clues (1932)
  5. The Ghost Parade (1933)

Published in the 1930’s, the Judy Bolton mysteries focus on 15-year-old Judy, who lives in a small town somewhere in New England, presumably upstate New York.  The daughter of the town doctor, Judy is, in many ways, a typical teenager – but one with a knack for problem solving… and problems seem to come her way.

I first came across these books when I was about 15 myself.  I picked one up in an antique store, and enjoyed the lighthearted, semi-ridiculous plot.  After that, I began collecting them whenever I came across them, which is when I realized that, unlike many of the other mystery series from this era, Judy actually gets older throughout the series – by some of the later books, she’s married and setting up her own household!  Somewhere in my late teens I read all of the books that I owned at the time, but I haven’t reread them in years, and have actually collected quite a few more since then, so there are several – especially the later books – that I have never read.

There are 35 books in the series, published over a course of almost thirty years.  Since then, a few more have been added to the series – the most recent in 2012 – but I’m assuming that they weren’t written by the original author.  I don’t own all 35 of the original, but I own most of them, and have the first 24 in order.  At that point I’ll have to decide if it’s worth hunting up the rest, as the later books are rarer and more expensive.

The first five books have honestly been a hoot.  They are wildly impractical.  In The Vanishing Shadow Judy overhears a conversation between two dastardly villains, who then try to buy her silence.  When she refuses, they kidnap her… and hold her prisoner until she promises not to tell anyone – and then they let her go!  Then BEST part is… she doesn’t tell anyone!  She feels bound by the honor of her word and has to work around her vow.  Ah, for the days when people were so trustworthy!

The rest of the books are just as ridiculous.  In The Invisible Chimes, Judy and her friends try to stop some criminals by forming a human chain across the road, forcing the villains to either run them over or run off the road!  In The Ghost Parade, instead of waiting for a storm to pass, Judy and her friends race their boat through the islands in the midst of it!

But despite the fact that they’re a little absurd, these books are also great fun.  Judy isn’t a perfect character, and I really like that about her.  At times, she’s impatient, makes mistakes, and gets a little pouty.  She feels like a genuine character who grows and changes, instead of just being a paper-cutout of a teenage girl detective.  Her friends also have different back stories, although it always cracks me up when “regular” characters conveniently end up with a really rich friend, who in turn paves the way for everything to go smoothly.  Yes, Judy comes from a workingman’s background… but her friend’s brother owns an airplane??  Not quite as middle-class as everyone pretends to be.  ;-)

For the most part, these have been 3* and 3.5* reads.  Enjoyable, entertaining, engaging – but nothing magnificent.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest, though, and seeing how Judy’s life develops.

Also:  The Vanishing Shadow was book #1 for my #20BooksofSummer challenge!

June Minireviews – Part 3

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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West – 3*

//published 2013//

I’ve read a couple of Kasie West books, and I really like them.  They’re everything YA chick lit should be – fluffy, funny, a little bit ridiculous, and overall just happy.  They aren’t full of ridiculous amounts of angst or sexual dilemmas, just straightforward little stories with likable characters.  That said, this wasn’t really my favorite book, mainly because I got so tired of Cayman constantly assuming that she already knows what everyone is thinking/what their motivations are… and she’s wrong a LOT.  Consequently, all the misunderstandings seemed like they could have been avoided easily if Cayman would just USE HER WORDS and have some conversations.  Despite my aggravation with her at times, I still liked Cayman and basically everyone else as well.  Perfectly happy for a one-time read, and I really need to delve into some more of West’s back catalog.

Elizabeth Bennet’s Deception by Regina Jeffers – DNF (#20BooksofSummer)

//published 2015//

I don’t usually worry about updating you all on DNF books, but since this was on my original list for my #20BooksofSummer challenge, I thought I would let you know that it was SO terrible that I didn’t even bother finishing!  If you’re interested in the full rant, be sure to check it out on my P&P blog here.  Meanwhile, I’ve selected another book to finish out the 20 Book challenge!

The Holiday Swap by Zara Stoneley – 3*

//published 2016//

This was a free Kindle book that I got a while back.  This summer, when we’ve been taking the Zeppelin out for the weekend, I’ve been loading some super fluffy Kindle books so I have plenty of spares, and this one totally fit the bill.  Two friends have two bad romantic situations and decide to switch homes for a few weeks.  While I enjoyed this story while I was reading it, it didn’t really inspire me to find more of Stoneley’s books, and I don’t really see myself going back to this one.  It was a little too heavy on the “finding the right man fixes all your problems” (and I say this as someone who is happily married), and so it ended up feeling like neither of the women really grew that much – they just switched out their loser boyfriends for nice ones.  It also seemed like it ended kind of abruptly – this is definitely a book that would have benefited from a little epilogue from a few years later talking about how happy everyone is.

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle – 3*

//published 2013//

Yet another book that I really wanted to like more than I did.  While this was a perfectly pleasant sequel focusing on Mary, it was just rather unexciting.  Lydia shows up with a new scandal trailing behind her, but somehow the story just didn’t quite click together.  Many of the characters seemed rather stagnant, and I felt like Henry, in particular, was inconsistent.  I did like Mary and it wasn’t a terrible story, but not one that I particularly see myself returning to.

My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1919//

In my quest to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, this collection of short stories, many of which feature the Bertie/Jeeves combo, was next on the list.  While Jeeves and Bertie made their debut in another short story collection (The Man With Two Left Feet), it is here that they begin to genuinely become the individual characters that are so beloved.

Overall, this collection was much more up to classical Wodehouse levels.  While the Bertie tales were my favorites, there were some other solid little tales in this collection.  This was the first collection where it felt like Wodehouse genuinely decided that all of this worrying about being serious stuff was really nonsense, and instead just embraced the joy of happy chaos.

Swamp Cat by Jim Kjelgaard – 3.5*

//published 1957//

It had been a while since I picked up a Kjelgaard, and this was another one that I hadn’t read as a youth – so apparently our library didn’t have it!  From the title, I assumed that the story was going to be about a Florida panther or a bobcat or some other type of wild cat – but it was actually about a regular domestic cat!  Of course, Frosty isn’t really a REGULAR cat, as he learns to survive, and thrive, in the wilds.  He of course adopts a young man who lives off the land, and I quite enjoyed the parallel story of Andy and the beginnings of his muskrat farm (right??).  All in all, this was a surprisingly engaging tale.  I read it as a free Kindle book, but I would definitely like to add it to my hard-copy collection if I can find a copy.

June Minireviews – Part 2

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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Second Chance by Joana Starnes – 3*

//published 2014//

In this P&P variation, the characters from that classic also meet up with the characters from Sense and Sensibility.  This was a book that I really wanted to like, but just didn’t.  It was boring, there wasn’t really any kind of villain, Darcy spent way too much time wandering around being morose, and the whole book was just kind of choppy.  It wasn’t horrible, but it definitely wasn’t great.

For those who are interested, there is a more detailed review over on my P&P blog here.

Planting With Perennials by Richard Bird – 3*

//published 2002//

This is a really basic introduction to perennials.  If you literally aren’t even sure what a perennial is, this would be a great place to start.  However, if you’ve worked with them at all, you probably already know most of the information in this book.  There are a lot of photographs and some nice charts.  And since this book doesn’t claim to *be* anything other than an introduction to the topic, I can’t really fault it for being just that.

Ring of Truth by Jaclyn Weist – 3*

//published 2015//

I love a good fake-relationship trope, but I have to admit that this one wasn’t really very good!  While it would have made decent sense for these two people who just met to pretend they were dating, pretending that they were engaged made legit no sense and just created all sorts of unnecessary drama.  I was also confused about why they both acted like they couldn’t make their relationship real…  like… nothing to lose??  You were total strangers a week ago, so even if the other person thinks dating for real is stupid, oh well??  Finally, in the end, they go straight into being really engaged, even though they’ve only known each about three weeks!  What?!

The thing is, despite the fact that this book was thoroughly implausible, I completely enjoyed it!  It was just so innocent and happy.  No sex, no swearing, just purely relaxing and adorable.  I actually really liked the characters a lot, and would have been willing to forgive a lot of the story if they had just started dating in the end (and then an epilogue where they are happily married a year later or something), but leaping straight into being engaged felt ridiculous given the short time frame.

For now, I’m giving the rest of this series a miss, but if I find myself yearning for some quietly innocent romance, I may pick the next one up!

This is Book #2 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Child by Fiona Barton – 3.5*

//published 2017//

I recently read and enjoyed The Widow by the same author, so when I saw she had another book with some overlapping characters, I checked it out from the library.  I picked up this book coming off a bit of a slump wherein I basically was reading nothing but terrible P&P variations, so it took me a little bit to get into it, but once I did, I found it engaging but not electrifying.  While I wanted to find out how things were going to come together, there was never really any sense of urgency.  There were also some reveals that felt just painfully obvious but took forever to get to.  In many ways, it felt like it didn’t really matter if the mystery was ever solved or not.

The reporter from The Widow, Kate, is the main recurring character, and I liked her even better in this book.  And while it was fun to read this story with the background of The Widow in my mind, this could definitely be read as its own book with no trouble.  All in all, a 3.5* read.  It looks like Barton is going to publish a third book early next year, so I’ll probably pick that one up as well.  Hopefully it will have a little more zip.

The Possible by Tara Altebrando – 3*

//published 2017//

This was a book that came in a book box, so it was a totally random read for me.  I kind of like picking up the book box books, because they get me a little out of my comfort zone.  This one was engaging, but the story was a bit scattered at times, and there was some inconsistency with the characters.  (For instance, the lady doing the interviews is presented in the end as though she is a “good guy,” but at one point earlier in the story she had obviously manipulated what people had said to make things more dramatic/imply things that weren’t true… and that’s never addressed, she just goes back to being a good guy…)  The conclusion was decent, and I definitely was kept unsure throughout the story as to whether or not the ability to control things with the mind was a real possibility.  All in all, I didn’t mind reading this book, but it didn’t inspire to find out what else Atlebrando has written.


June 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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me…

The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

//published 2015//

I’ve seen this book pop up here and there on various lists and reviews.  A retelling of One Thousand and One Nights (ish), it’s set in a desert country where magic isn’t an impossibility, even if it isn’t terribly common.

I really wanted to like this book, but I honestly just found it rather boring.  The first half of the book is soooo slow.  Basically nothing happens except listening to Shahrzad have a lot of feelings.  She purposely becomes Khalid’s bride so she can get revenge on him because she hates him so much, but it takes her roughly .03 seconds to fall in love with him, and then we have PAGES of her agonizing about her feelings and wondering how she can have sympathy for this horrific monster.  I’m not a huge fan of instalove, but I can understand its sometimes necessity to make a story (kind of) work, but in this case it verged on the absurd.  I will say that what I did like was that eventually Shahrzad and Khalid have a REAL CONVERSATION where they both explain their back stories and are honest with each other, which I really, really appreciated because I HATE it when characters lie to this person they supposedly love more than life itself.  But that conversation happens way further down the line than it should have.

Initially I was still planning to read the second book just to see how everything comes out, but life interfered and it was a few days before I had an opportunity to pick it up.  That’s when I realized that I actually just didn’t care enough to plow through another 400 pages.  The Wrath & the Dawn wasn’t a bad book, and I think that if I had gone straight into the second book I would have probably enjoyed that at about that same middling level, but in the end I just wasn’t that intrigued.  There were things I liked about this book, but the overall incredibly slow pace combined with characters who pretty much do nothing but have a lot of feelings (we hear about Shahrzad’s the most, but they ALL have LOTS of feelings) meant that this was really only a 3/5 read for me.

The Man With Two Left Feet & Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1917//

Fun little collection of Wodehouse tales – and incidentally the first time that the Bertie/Jeeves duo makes an appearance.  While these were entertaining stories, it was interesting because they lack the guaranteed lightheartedness of his later works.  While they definitely aren’t downers by any definition, there are little things that made me realize just how careful Wodehouse was to keep his best works completely frothy and untouched by any sad realities!  While this may not be the best place to start if you are new to Wodehouse, they’re definitely worth visiting at some point.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

//published 1977//

It’s kind of weird, because I put books on my TBR and then forget about them for years, then my random number generator chooses my next book… and then it turns out that it’s becoming a movie??  This is the second time this has happened to me this year!  I had had Ready Player One on my TBR forever, and then after I read it I found out it was becoming a movie in less than a month.  (Side note: Still haven’t done a compare/contrast on book v. movie for that one even though I have been wanting to ever since I saw the movie!!)  The same thing happened here – I got this book out from the library (it’s been on the TBR since 2015), and then realized that I had seen a trailer for the upcoming movie.  So weird.

ANYWAY this book was a solid sci-fi read that I did mostly enjoy, but with kind of mixed feelings.  I think what it really came down to was that it was a sad book.  Everyone is so mean to Ender (“for the good of humanity”) and I never enjoy reading books where a character is just being consistently bullied and hurt.  There were also some random scenes of violence that seemed abrupt and disturbing to me.

I couldn’t quite get my head around the ages of these kids.  I realize that’s supposed to be part of the controversy, but seriously?  Six years old?  I just couldn’t buy it.  I think this story would have made a lot more sense if Ender had been more like ten when the story started.  I just can’t imagine even a mind-blowing genius six-year-old having the emotional capacity to make the decisions Ender was making.

All in all, this was a thoughtful book, with a lot to really chew on, but the tone was a bit too heavy/downer for my personal tastes, so even though I gave this book 4*, I decided not to continue with the series.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

//published 1998//

This was a childhood favorite that is still a delight.  If you’re looking for just a fun, fluffy little fairytale retelling, this one is a great afternoon read.  It’s a children’s book so it goes quickly, but despite its short(ish) length, there is still enough world-building to give the reader a solid glimpse into Ella’s life and home.  I hadn’t read this one in several years, and I was happy to see how well it has held up.

Shelfie by Shelfie // Shelf 1C

Last fall, Bibliobeth started a new book tag, Shelfie by Shelfie.  You can see her original post here (and her most recent Shelfie here) – and I’ve nabbed her image as well.  :-D  The concept is that you take a picture of a bookshelf, and then answer ten questions about the books on it.  I have about a billion bookshelves, so I thought that I would give it a go!

Well, it’s been quite a while since I have posted a shelfie – I went through a pretty long spell of having the blogging blues and have been struggling just to somewhat stay on top of book reviews!  But I am mostly caught up now and thought I would take a minute to present the latest Shelfie installment!!

Shelf 1 – excuse the piles of random stuff… remodeling never ends in this house! :-D

Currently, I am posting about Shelf #1, and have already looked at the top to shelves – 1A and 1B.  Today we’re on to Shelf 1C!!

1 – Is there any reason for this shelf being organized the way it is, or is it purely random?

My fiction is somewhat organized by author’s last name, but as you can see, these aren’t really linear shelves – my husband custom-built these shelves for me (marry a man who builds shelves, ladies!), purposely creating little cubbies and odd-shaped shelves so that they could hold both books and knickknacks.  So sometimes instead of going in strict author-order, I put in the books that fit… and that’s what’s happening here.  These are taller books, mostly by Marguerite Henry… because the shelf the rest of her books are on is a lot shorter!!!

2 – Tell us a story about one of the books on this shelf that is special to you; i.e. how you got it, a memory associated with it, etc.

As a girl, I loved horses and dogs and cows (although not a lot of cow books out there), and C.W. Anderson was one of my heroes.  (Actually, I named my cat after him – Clarence.)  I checked Twenty Gallant Horses out of the library ALL THE TIME.  I was completely enraptured by the stories of these thoroughbreds, and read them time and again.  Years later, I was at the library book sale… and the EXACT copy I had read as a child was in the discard pile!  I snatched it up for a quarter!  Honestly, it was somewhat bittersweet.  While I was pretty thrilled to get a childhood favorite for my permanent collection, it’s sad to me that this book isn’t in the library for some other young girl to love!

3 – Which book from this shelf would you ditch if you were forced to and why?

Oh gee, I guess Black Gold.  While I do love that book – especially the illustrations – it’s such a sad story!!

4 – Which book from this shelf would you save in an emergency and why?

Hmm.  I’m not really sure any of these are necessarily emergency worthy, but I think I would choose Misty of Chincoteague.  I reread it recently and was surprised that I enjoyed it even more as an adult than I did as a child.

5 – Which book has been on this shelf for the longest time?

Probably either Misty or Justin Morgan Had a Horse.  Both of those I’ve owned since I was probably around 10 – long enough ago that it was before I started writing my name and the date on the flyleaf!  I collected horse books for a long time, and these were some of my earliest library additions.

6 – Which book is the newest addition to this shelf?

These are honestly all kind of oldies.  Wagging Tails is probably the most recent purchase, though – I bought it a few years ago at an antique shop.

7 – Which book on this shelf are you most excited to read (or reread if this is a favorite shelf)?

These are all old favorites, but Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley is actually on my #20BooksofSummer list, so hopefully I’ll be getting to that one before September!!

8 – If there is an object on this shelf apart from books, tell us the story behind it.

I probably should have turned around the frisbee-catching cow before taking the picture so you could see her better.  :-D  This is one of my favorite knickknacks – my dad gave it to me a long time ago.  The title of the piece is “Daisy’s Dream” and it makes me grin every time I look at it.

9 – What does this shelf tell us about you as a reader?

That I had a definitely addiction to horse books as a child!!

10 – Choose other bloggers to tag or choose a free question you make up yourself.

I highly encourage everyone to give this lil Q&A a whirl, as it is great fun!

For a free question,

Tell more about the illustrators of the books on this shelf.

I just really feel like I need to at least mention the amazing artwork of Wesley Dennis, who illustrated the majority of the Marguerite Henry books, and C.W. Anderson, who did his own artwork for his books.  I love both of them so much, and still snap up any book I find that they’ve illustrated, regardless of whether or not I’m actually interested in the book.  Both artists do so much with simple line drawings, although Dennis also did many full-color illustrations as well.

I poured over their artwork as a child and yearned to be able to draw even half as well as either of these artists.  I still can only draw stick figures, but at least I have the joy of being able to study their illustrations whenever I want.

Wesley Dennis

Wesley Dennis

C.W. Anderson

C.W. Anderson – from the Billy & Blaze books, more childhood faves!

Pride and Prejudice Variations

Sometimes my brain wants nothing but fluff, and during these times of brain vacation I frequently turn to terrible Pride & Prejudice variations.  Actually, it’s such an addiction that I have a separate book blog just for ranting about them.  :-D  I went through a whole batch of them at the end of May/beginning of June.  If you want the full reviews (which include a spoiler section with extra ?!?!?!), feel free to click through on the title to the P&P blog.  Below, I’ve just listed titles, authors, star-rating, and what makes this variation different from the original…

Unequal Affections by Lara Ormiston – 4.5*

Instead of giving Darcy what-for during the Hunsford proposal, Elizabeth keeps her temper in check and, eventually, decides to accept Darcy.  Lots of good conversations and interesting interactions.

An Unpleasant Walk by C. Rafe – 3.5*

If you consider a stroll where you are assaulted and almost raped to be merely “unpleasant”, your life may have some serious issues.  Anyway, instead of proposing at Hunsford, Darcy ends up extricating Elizabeth from a difficult situation.  Turns out he isn’t as bad of a guy as she thought, especially compared to a potential rapist.

Rain & Retribution by L.L. Diamond – 3.5*

Mr. Bennet decides Elizabeth actually should marry Mr. Collins when he proposes.  Elizabeth skips town and ends up trapped at an inn with Mr. Darcy, who turns out to not be as terrible as she originally thought.

Bluebells in the Mourning by KaraLynne Mackaroy – 4*

If Lydia is the main reason you don’t like P&P, this is the variation for you, as she gets killed off in the first chapter.  Elizabeth receives this news while at Hunsford, so instead of proposing, Darcy helps Elizabeth to get back to her family, where everyone rallies ’round and they all become better people as they work through their tragedy.

Remembrance of the Past by Lory Lilian – 2.5*

Have you ever wished that you could read Pride and Prejudice, except there would be this other random character who was super, super obnoxious and interfered in everyone’s lives but was viewed as a paragon by all who met her?  Then this is the variation for you!

Mr. Darcy & Mr. Collins’s Widow by Timothy Underwood – 3*

When Elizabeth is but 15, her father dies and she marries Mr. Collins.  When he dies less than a year later, everyone feels only relief.  Several years later, Darcy and Bingley arrive at Netherfield, and Elizabeth strikes up a friendship with the intelligent and handsome Mr. Darcy.  Both of them struggle against falling in love for different reasons, but who can resist fate?!

Alone With Mr. Darcy by Abigail Reynolds – 3*

Darcy and Elizabeth get trapped in a cottage together during a blizzard, which gives them a chance to talk things out.  But thanks to Mr. Bennet being an annoying brat in this version, they’re still kept apart through a bunch of miscommunications that I thought were never going to get ironed out.  Bonus: Darcy has a stepmother, and that whole side-plot makes zero sense!

Mr. Darcy’s Letter by Abigail Reynolds – 3.5*

Elizabeth refuses to read Darcy’s letter of explanation at Hunsford, and returns to Meryton still believing that Darcy is a jerk and Wickham is a darling.  Good concept, but Bingley was even more obnoxiously indecisive in this version than ever.

An Unwavering Trust by L.L. Diamond – 3.5*

If you’re going to ruthlessly slaughter most of the characters from the original, is it really a P&P variation??

Missing, Presumed // Persons Unknown // by Susie Steiner

Manon Bradshaw is the central figure of these two books.  A middle-aged, single, slightly-abrasive police officer, she made for a (mostly) likable and somewhat unusual heroine.  It’s been a while since I read these two books – for some reason these reviews got skipped somewhere along the line – so bear with me if this is a bit more vague than usual.  :-D

//published 2016//

Both these books ranked as 3.5* reads for me.  I really liked the multiple 3rd-person POV format.  I liked Manon most of the time, and was in love with her younger colleague, Davy.  The mysteries were decent and engaging and kept me turning the pages.

What I didn’t really like were the long sections devoted to Manon’s personal life.  I wouldn’t have minded a bit of this, but in some sections is just kind of felt awkward, especially since there is a lot about sex, and how Manon wants it, and how she randomly sleeps with guys on first dates so she can “smell” if they’re going to be a potential match for her.  (I feel like her smeller may be off since she’s single and 40, but then again maybe every single one of those guys really was a loser??)  I just wasn’t interested in the nitty-gritty details of Manon’s love life, and felt like it didn’t really add anything to story.  In my mind, that was definitely where things dragged.

At the end of the first book, Manon adopts a kid.  And I’m wondering if originally Steiner wasn’t going to write a second book?  Because Missing, Presumed kind of has a feeling of finality in its little epilogue.  In many ways, I wish that is where the story stopped, because at the end of book one it sounds like everyone is going to finally be on their way to happiness… and then in book two we find out that no, not really.

//published 2017//

Why?  The main reason is because Manon is pregnant.  However, she isn’t in any kind of relationship, so it’s all very vague and confusing.  Steiner doesn’t bother to tell us how Manon ended up pregnant until about a third of the way into the book!  So I had no idea how I was supposed to feel about this major event.  Like Manon is happy to be pregnant, but was she happy to get pregnant?  No idea.  It felt completely unnecessary to keep me in the dark about this.  Later, when I found out more details, it just left me feeling aggravated with Manon who really came through in this situation has being very self-centered.

Both of these books were kind of like that, just these really random scenarios where it might have been alright to have one weird thing going on, but having a bunch of them just made the whole book feel kind of weird.  I’m not describing this very well because it’s been a month since I actually read these books, and all I’m left with are vague feelings haha

I felt like the second book was just weaker overall anyway.  There were several things that were left kind of unanswered – red herrings that ended up not really making sense because there was no point/explanation.

Anyway, I really did enjoy them, and cautiously recommend them.  There was a lot of humor and some interesting twists, and I liked the characters enough that I can definitely see myself reading a third book if it comes along.

I originally read about Missing, Presumed over at Reading, Writing and Riesling (Carol has a much more coherent review!).  Fictionophile also has a great review of both Missing, Presumed and Persons Unknownso be sure to check them out!

Playlist for the Dead // by Michelle Falkoff

//published 2015//

Do you ever spontaneously agree to do something, and then later realize that maybe it wasn’t your best idea?  A while back I started using tumblr again (so addictive, and I can’t explain why), and I’m following a few book blogs there.  One of them was organizing a Traveling Book Club, wherein each participant choose a book to share, and mails it to the next person on the list.  Every month, you mail the book you were sent on to the next person until the books have gone in a complete circle.  Participants are encouraged to annotate the books as they are reading them.  Sounds fun, right??  The problem is – and I didn’t really think about this until later – I’m kind of a super old person on tumblr.  So I’m pretty sure that what I’m going to get are a bunch of angsty YA novels, probably mostly about being gay and learning to follow your heart instead of growing up.

So I sent off The Squire’s Tale on the journey, and we will see if it ever makes its way back to me.  In the meantime, I’ve received and read one book – which completely fulfilled my dire predictions.  Playlist for the Dead had an interesting concept, but devolved into a thinly-veiled polemic explanation of why we need to love gay people.  Or something.

The narrator of our story is Sam.  And in the first chapter, he discovers his best friend, Hayden – dead.  Hayden has committed suicide, and his only explanation is a playlist that he’s left for Sam, along with a note telling Sam that he’ll understand if he listens.  But Sam doesn’t understand.  He’s plagued with guilt, because the night before, he and Hayden had gone to a party where things had gone very badly.  They ended with a big fight – and that’s the last time Sam ever saw Hayden alive.

There were actually a lot of things about this book that I liked.  I felt like the aspects of the story that dealt with the aftermath of Hayden’s death were done really well.  Sam and Hayden have been best friends for years, and because they’re both kind of social misfits, they have also basically been each other’s only friends.  As Sam delves more into Hayden’s life, trying to understand why Hayden did what he did, Sam discovers that even Hayden had layers that he had never shown to Sam. I really appreciated the way that the story slowly revealed multiple people who also felt guilty about Hayden’s death, and how part of what Sam had to come to realize was that while he – and everyone else in Hayden’s life – could definitely have done more to make Hayden feel loved and accepted, in the end, suicide was Hayden’s choice alone and wasn’t anyone else’s fault.

Where the book didn’t make much sense was when it suddenly turned into a treatise for gay rights.  It wasn’t even that what Falkoff was saying was wrong or offensive – it was just that it didn’t fit into the story at all.  Hayden wasn’t gay, and his suicide had nothing to do with homosexuality.  But because someone remotely connected to Hayden was gay, a whole long section of the story turns into all about this guy and his coming out and how that distracted the person who was supposed to be at the party and set off this whole chain of events blah blah blah.  At the end of the book, instead of the epilogue being about people becoming more aware of mental health issues, bullying, signs of depression, or anything else remotely connected to suicide, it’s all about how this group of friends started a special LGBQT (bunches of other letters that I can’t remember) club and everyone has rallied ’round the various sexual preferences…  sorry, what did that have to do with Hayden again??

It was like Falkoff was telling two stories.  One, about Hayden, his struggles, and his ultimate suicide, was done well.  The other, about gay rights, was okay, but definitely more preachy and felt very shoehorned into Hayden’s part.

The other thing about this book that started solid but then got weird dealt with the main bullies in Hayden’s life – his older brother and his brother’s two best friends.  They’ve made Hayden’s life hellish for years.  As Sam is trying to learn more about what led up to the events at Hayden’s final party, bad things happen to the two best friends.  So there is this strange revenge/karma thing going on, where Sam isn’t sure if it’s just coincidence, if he (Sam) is actually doing these things (as he is super sleep-deprived and various things going on meant he could have done it and not remembered), or even if it could be Hayden’s vengeful spirit.  At first, this was an interesting aspect of the story, but when the big reveal comes about what was going on, I was left just feeling… confused.  It seemed like an extremely strange way to take that part of the tale, because once again it wasn’t really about Hayden.  He was just a coincidence.

Of course Falkoff also had to make sure to emphasize that the most horrible of all the bullies was the one whose family was super “religious” and went to church, and the reason that this bully was such an extra terrible person was because he is also a closet gay who can’t come out because that would mean losing his church scholarship.  (???  I actually don’t even know any churches that give out scholarships, especially full-ride ones to prestigious art schools, so that honestly just felt weird anyway.)  It was so unnecessary.  There was literally zero reason to make this kid go to church.  It had nothing to do with the rest of the story, it was just a way to belittle religion with no effort whatsoever to understand the genuine nuances of Christianity and homosexuality.  Instead it’s just Christians = Bad Bullies Who Hate Gays And Are Hypocrites Because They Secretly Are Gay.  Way to be open-minded.

Honestly, it was mostly ironic.  The whole story is about how Hayden felt ignored and bypassed in life… and then Falkoff keeps ignoring and bypassing Hayden and his issues in order to fit in other aspects of the story that have no real connection to Hayden.

There were things about the book that I liked.  I enjoyed the playlist part, and the connections of the music to the story.  It also felt like it helped me understand Sam and Hayden’s friendship more as well.  I really liked the part where Sam eventually talks with Hayden’s brother, and while nothing could possibly justify the horrible way Hayden’s brother treated him, I appreciated that Sam is at least able to see that there was a flip side to what was going on in their home.

In the end, the parts dealing directly with Hayden, his suicide, and the aftermath of that event were done well and handled sensitively and thoughtfully.  The other bits felt extraneous and shoehorned, as though Falkoff either needed some padding, or wanted to make sure her book got some buzz by including gay-rights issues.  For me, this was a 2.5* read.  While I appreciated a lot of what Falkoff had to say, I felt like the story really fell apart at the end with the big reveal as to what was happening with the bullies.  Combined with a lot of preaching about inclusivity, while at the same time dismissing all Christians as bigots, this book wasn’t really my cup of tea.

The Squire’s Tale Series // by Gerald Morris

  • The Squire’s Tale – 1998 – 5*
  • The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady – 1999 – 4*
  • The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf – 2000 – 4.5*
  • Parsifal’s Page – 2001 – 4*
  • The Ballad of Sir Dinadan – 2003 – 3.5*
  • The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight – 2004 – 4*
  • The Lioness and Her Knight – 2005 – 4*
  • The Quest of the Fair Unknown – 2006 – 3.5*
  • The Squire’s Quest – 2009 – 4*
  • The Legend of the King – 2010 – 4*

I first stumbled across these books somewhere circa 2000 when I was wandering around the library.  Where I live, we’re about 40 miles away from Columbus, the state capital.  So we have our own local library and whatnot, which is perfectly nice, but if you want to visit a LIBRARY you go to downtown Columbus and revel – it’s huge and magical.  Anyway, now we have interlibrary-loan connected between my local library and Columbus, so I rarely have to actually go there – I can still access the entire catalog and have it delivered to my own tiny branch a mere five miles from my house, which is pretty amazing.  But back in the day my whole family used to go to Columbus and spend literally an entire day at the library (and were sad when we had to leave… I legit could probably spend days and days and days there before getting remotely bored) just wandering around, reading, making lists of books to read later, and finding various comfy corners to hide away with a new book.  And all that to say – The Squire’s Tale was one of the books I found on one of those trips.

The series focuses on various knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, and Morris consistently provides afterwords where he talks about where he found the inspiration for that particular book (frequently Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, but sometimes other sources).  Morris obviously uses a great deal of poetical license in his interpretation of various characters, but I love the way that he consistently makes the overwhelming majority of them likable. I remember reading Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga a few years ago, and I couldn’t get over how basically all of her characters were not very pleasant people – the books were overwhelmingly depressing and I barely slogged through them.  Morris presents a perhaps less realistic but far more enjoyable portrayal of King Arthur and his knights.

The first book introduces us to the two characters who become the main focus of the series, although many of the books branch off to other individuals – Gawain and Terence.  Gawain is a famous character of whom many stories have been told historically, while Terence is entirely of Morris’s creation.  The first book focuses on Gawain becoming a knight and questing, while Terence comes along as his squire.  But when the pair of them cross from our world into the world of faerie, it becomes a lot less clear as to who is the higher ranking of the two.  The friendship that grows between these two characters is one of my favorite things about the entire series.  They are both characters that I love so much, and Morris does a fantastic job of letting us watch them grow and mature as individuals and friends.

Throughout the series, Arthur is portrayed as a wise and just king carrying a great burden.  Other knights are both good, mediocre, and evil.  There are faeries and witches and everything in between.  Justice, strength paired with kindness, generosity, and chivalry and concepts that are woven throughout.

I love the way that Morris presents strong and weak characters – I don’t mind when an air-headed woman appears on the pages because there are plenty of intelligent women to balance her out… and plenty of air-headed men as well!  Morris somehow manages to make even the silliest of characters somehow sympathetic in their own way.  There are definitely gentle lessons throughout the books, but they never come through as polemic or preachy.

My favorites of the series are the ones with more humor/sass.  The first book is my very favorite out of the series, and even if you don’t feel like tackling ten books, you should at least read that one.  It’s a quick, fun read.  The other books vary, but the series on the whole is a solid 4* if not 4.5.

The Ballad of Sir Dinadan is probably my least favorite, which is a shame because I really like Sir Dinadan himself, and a lot of what happens in the book is very good.  But a large chunk of the plot revolves around Dinadan’s brother, Sir Tristram, who falls in love with another man’s wife.  The whole point of the story is how very, very ridiculous the concept of “courtly love” (i.e. it’s only romantic to love someone you can’t have), but it’s really a rather downer of a tale.  Then, out of all the stories to repeat, we get another version of it in The Squire’s Quest, which greatly reduced my enjoyment of that book as well.

But on the whole, the books are funny yet thoughtful, and so enjoyable.  I whipped through them a couple at a time, trying to pace myself.

I had only read The Legend of the King once before – I reread the series every time a new book was published, but hadn’t read the series again after the publication of The Legend.  I only had vague memories of the ending being satisfying, but sad – and that’s exactly what it was.  While the ending wasn’t a bad one, it also wasn’t a happy one – mainly because the ending of the Arthurian legend isn’t really very happy.

Still, it was a solid conclusion, and overall I can’t recommend these books highly enough.

#20BooksofSummer – The 2018 List

Cathy746 hosts #20BooksofSummer annually, and I have participated for the last two years. This is the most chill challenge ever, which is one of the reasons that I love it.  You choose how many books you want to read (10 or 15 or 20 or whatever), you choose your books, you decide if you hate half your books and want to switch them other books…  it’s honestly kind of a free-for-all in which participants try to read whatever books they’ve put on their summer reading list!  The challenge already started (beginning of June), and the goal is to have all the books on the list completed  by September 3.  Be sure to check out Cathy’s blog for more details!!

I’ve been watching other blogs I follow choose their books, and have been trying to decide if/how I want to join this year.  Here’s the thing – and I’m not trying to brag here because it’s just the way it is – but unless something catastrophic happens in my life, I know I’ll read more than 20 books this summer.  I’ve read over 130 books just this year alone already.  The truth is, I have a serious reading problem.  It’s basically a compulsion with me, and I read at pretty much every moment that can be spent reading (and a great many that shouldn’t be).  And since my mom taught me to read at almost the same time I learned how to talk, I’m weirdly fast at it.  Actually, part of the reason I started this blog back in the day was to help me work on reading retention/analysis, because otherwise I sometimes tend to just go into overdrive and let the words blur past.  And, of course, there’s the fact that I don’t work full-time.  While I keep plenty busy with house, garden, Etsy shop, chauffeuring family, etc., it’s obviously a lot easier to sneak in a chapter here or there when I’m at home all day than it is when I’m at work!!

ANYWAY.  Point being, I think the way that I’m going to challenge myself is by listing 20 books that I own that I would like to read by the end of summer – but I’m going to continue reading all the other books like I usually do as well.  Basically, I’m always working on books on the TBR that I don’t own (aka library books), a series of books, a mystery series of books, a nonfiction book, and a book that I own.  So I’m going to keep reading all the others like usual… and also try to achieve the 20 that I own!  To help make it slightly more doable, I’m sticking with fiction only.  So, without further ado, the list (chosen via random number generator!):

1. The Vanishing Shadow by Margaret Sutton – this is actually the first book in the Judy Bolton series.  I own a bunch of these books, but haven’t read them in years.  Actually, there are several I’ve never read, because I’ve purchased them since I originally read what I owned at the time.  I’m looking forward to revisiting these and seeing if I enjoy them as much as I remember from 15 or so years ago.

2. Ring of Truth by Jaclyn Weist – this is a free Kindle book I’ve had for a while.  Looks like a happy lil chick lit, but it’s also the first in a series, so if I like it, I’ve actually set myself up for six more books!

3.  Frederica by Georgette Heyer – I read this one back in 2012 (when I was blogging on Tumblr) and enjoyed it so much that I purchased my own hard copy.  I’m excited to revisit it.

4. Scotty by Frances Pitt – I picked up this book, subtitled “The Adventures of a Highland Fox” all the way back in 2001 – and have never read it!  You now basically know everything I know about this book!  Aside:  This is the ONLY picture of this book I can find, and it isn’t listed on Goodreads.  This may actually be a picture of the copy I own…

5. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – I know I read this book back in the mists of my childhood, but I remember basically nothing about it except the bit with a thread and the ant.  I don’t even remember whether or not I liked it!  But it’s sort of a classic, and I feel like I need to reread it, even if it’s to discover that I actually think it’s lame.  I’ve had my paperback copy since 1999, when I did a 4-H presentation at the library with my rabbit and was rewarded with a book!

6. The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit – I love Nesbit so much and can’t believe that I haven’t read every single one of her books!

7. Everblue by Brenda Pandos – another free Kindle book from goodness-knows-how-long-ago.  Also another first in a series… I never know whether or not I should hope to like those… anyway, this one is about mermaids or something, so we’ll see what happens.

8. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – I realize I just read this one in 2016, but I enjoyed it SO much that I’ve been wanting to reread it.

9. Mystery Over the Brick Wall by Helen Fuller Orton – this is a children’s mystery published by Scholastic.  I’ve collected a lot of these over the years and have been trying to actually read all of them and make a hard decision as to whether or not they are worth the shelf space.

10. When Patty Went to College by Jean Webster – this is by the author of two my favorite books:  Daddy-Long-Legs and, even more beloved, Dear Enemy.  Somehow, although I’ve owned this book since 2004, I’ve never actually read it!

11. Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery – I love so many of Montgomery’s books, and yet it’s been years since I’ve read any of them!  This one probably hasn’t been visited since high school, so although I remember the basic premise, I’m a bit foggy on the details.

12. Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins – although I enjoy some chick lit now and then, I’ve somehow never gotten around to reading something by the prolific Higgins.  This book showed up in a box with all those crazy Love Inspired books via Aunt Darby, so I’ll give it a shot.

13. Elizabeth Bennet’s Deception by Regina Jeffers – since I obviously haven’t read enough P&P variations lately, let’s add one to the summer list, too!  Thanks, free Kindle books!

14. Young Pioneers by Rose Wilder Lane – another one I haven’t read in YEARS.  All I really remember from this one is the story where it was so cold that when she threw the water out, it froze before it hit the ground!

15. Utah Lion by James Ralph Johnson – another crazy animal story from my crazy animal obsession childhood!  I think this one was inherited from my great-grandma, but if I have ever read it, it was back in middle school.

16. Saving Mars by Cidney Swanson – another free Kindle book that is also a start of a series.  (This is how they trick you into actually BUYING Kindle books, by getting you hooked on a series opener!)  Sometimes I literally have no idea what I was thinking when I got a book, even if it was free…

17. Collie to the Rescue by Albert Payson Terhune – it’s been a while since I picked up a Terhune!  I’m always up for some outrageously heroic collies.

18. Early Candlelight by Maud Hart Lovelace – I loved the Betsy-Tacy books soooo much when I read them a few years ago.  I found this book by the same author but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

19. Smoky by Will James – because who doesn’t love a good story about a cowboy horse?

20. Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley by Marguerite Henry – I loved a lot of Henry’s books as a child (and have revisited several of them in recent years), but don’t remember this one clearly, other than that it was one of her later books, written after Wesley Dennis died and so illustrated by someone else.

So there you have it!  I’m determined that there will be no substitutions unless I decide to DNF a book, in which case the book will only count if I”ve read at least half of it.  (Don’t you like the way I make up my own rules??)  Who knows how far I’ll get on this list, and you’ll definitely see plenty of reviews for non-20 Books of Summer books, but I’m curious to see if my challenge works for me.  Stay tuned!