July Minireviews – Part 2 – #20BooksofSummer

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.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley – 3*

//published 2016//

I really struggled with rating this book.  There were a lot of things I liked about it, including the main characters (for the most part), the concept of the bookstore with its letter room, and the way the book explored grief and healing.  But I hated the way this book ended so much that I almost gave it zero stars.  It was never going to be a 5* read, but it definitely could have rated higher if the ending hadn’t been so incredibly cliched and stupid.  Plus, there was tons of swearing – it felt excessive for a YA book, especially since people are just, you know, hanging out having regular conversations.  Sorry, I don’t need f-bombs every three paragraphs.  Honestly, the further I get away from finishing this book, the more I can only remember the things that annoy me, and I’m already thinking about dropping my rating another star…

The Chance of a Lifetime by Grace Livingston Hill – 3.5*

//published 1931//

A lot of GLH’s books are way too preachy or saccharine, but every once in a while she writes one that’s just a nice story with characters whose faith is very central to their lives, and that’s where this one falls.  I actually really liked the people in this book, and felt that the central theme about what a “chance of a lifetime” really means was developed well.  While there were times that the plot was over-simplistic, on the whole it was really an enjoyable book.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – 3.5*

//published 1962//

I was going to wait and review this book after reading some more of L’Engle’s books, but I’m realizing that even though they are loosely connected, they aren’t all exactly a series in the traditional sense.  I’m reading all her books in their published order that have crisscrossing characters.  Which means I actually should have read Meet the Austins first, but didn’t realize until it was too late…

Anyway, I hadn’t read Wrinkle since probably junior high.  I remember having a vague feeling of not-liking it, but this is considered a classic, and I’ve heard so many people talk about how much they love this book, plus it’s a Newbery Award winner… so I thought I would give it another whirl.  At the end of the day, I just felt kind of ambivalent towards it.  It was a decent and interesting story with likable characters, but it didn’t really have that intensity that made me love it or feel like I urgently needed to keep reading.  I didn’t mind having a lot of “God talk” in the story, but the religious message felt a little vague to me, and it also seemed like the entire point of saving Earth from this “darkness” was really rather left open-ended.  Like, is Earth still under attack or….???

So all in all, not a bad read, but not one that I loved.  I still found it interesting enough to want to try some of L’Engle’s other books.  As for this one, a good read and also #5 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – 4*

//published 2008//

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve joined a “Traveling Book Club” where each member chose a book to mail out, and each month receives/mails the next book in the circle.  Eventually, I should get my original book back, complete with annotations from all of its travels.

Funnily enough, this month’s book was another Newbery Award winner.  I had only ever read one other Gaiman book before, quite a long while ago, so I was interested to pick up another of his stories.  I still hear so much about him around the book blogging world, and have several of his books on my list.  This one was quite enjoyable – an engaging story with a unique setting and memorable characters.  It didn’t capture me completely, but I still really enjoyed it, especially the gentle humor throughout (“he had died of consumption, he had told Bod, who had  mistakenly believed for several years that Fortinbras had been eaten by lions or bears, and was extremely disappointed to learn it was merely a disease”).

While I’m not racing to find my next Gaiman book, I’m still interested to read more of his works as I come across them.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – 4.5*

//published 2011//

I initially read this book back in October 2016, and was pretty excited when it came up on my random draw for my #20BooksofSummer list, as I’ve been wanting to reread it.  Honestly, this book was even funnier and more perfect than I remember it being.  Lincoln is such a wonderful character and I love the way that he doesn’t necessarily have to change himself, but change his perspective of himself in order to become more content and comfortable with his life.  You can read my old review for more details.  For here – a genuinely funny, happy, yet thoughtful read that I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting.

#8 for #20BooksofSummer!

Meet the Austins // The Moon by Night // by Madeline L’Engle

//published 1960//

I’m currently reading all of L’Engle’s books that seem to have crisscrossing characters from what generally seemed to be referred to as her “Chronos” and “Kairos” books – the Austins, whose stories move through time chronologically; and the Murrys/O’Keefes, whose stories move through time in a more wibbly-wobbly manner.  I’m coming into these more or less completely unfamiliar with them.  I read A Wrinkle in Time and at least a couple of its sequels back in middle/junior/high school sometime and felt rather ambivalent towards them.  This time around, I’ve taken all the books listed as Chronos or Kairos and am reading them in publication order.  I’ve mentioned it before, but published order is, generally speaking, my favorite way to read a series for the first time – it seems more organic to read them in the order the author created them.

And so, here we are.  I didn’t realize that there were multiple interconnected series until after I had already read A Wrinkle in Time (which is being reviewed in July’s minireviews).  Technically, I ought to have read Meet the Austins first, then Wrinkle, then The Moon by Night.  But I think I’ll manage to muddle through despite reading Wrinkle first.

Both of these books focus on the same family and have the same narrator.  Vicky Austin is part of a rambunctious, happy, close-knit family growing up in a small town in Connecticut.  In the first book, their family peace is somewhat disturbed by the arrival of a new foster sister.  In the second book, set two years later, things are changing as the children all get older, and the family takes a long road trip around the country as one last hurrah before the oldest child heads off to college and the rest of the family moves to New York City for Vicky’s dad’s new job.

I really enjoyed these stories – Meet the Austins more than The Moon by Night – mostly because it was so enjoyable to read about a family wherein the members of said family actually like each other.  Vicky’s parents are happily married and work together to parent their children as best they can.  They are patient and understanding.  The children have their squabbles, but are ultimately very loyal to one another.  I also grew up in a tight family, and still consider my siblings to be my closest friends.  It was really pleasant to read about a family that more closely matched my own than all these broken, angst-riddled families in more modern YA, with angry, bitter parents who hate each other and whiny, selfish children who only think of their own problems and no one else’s.  I was quite in agreement with the majority of the Austin parents’ parenting decisions, which is more than I can say for most modern writing.

We seem to watch a lot less television than most of our friends, partly because our parents limit our watching, but largely because there’s so much else to do.

It was also fun to read Meet the Austins from Vicky’s perspective.  She’s the next-to-the-oldest in the family.  When Maggy comes to stay with their family, she’s closest in age to Vicky’s next sister, Suzy.  I feel like a lot of time, this story would have been told from the perspective of either Maggy (freshly orphaned, struggling to fit into a new home) or Suzy (suddenly sharing a room and life with a new sister almost her exact same age).  Instead, the story is told by one of the more ‘regular’ characters, an interesting reminder that a tragedy touches many more people than those closest to it.

There is a lot of “religious talk” in both these books.  On the whole, I was okay with it.  I didn’t always agree with L’Engle’s theology, but I appreciated the way that she created a family who believed in attending church and saying prayers, without making a huge fuss out of it.  Vicky’s grandpa is a retired minister, but that doesn’t turn him into a hypocritical monster.  Instead, he’s a wise and gentle old man who loves his family dearly and is always there for advice and compassion.

//published 1963//

I did feel like the religion part was a bit more preachy in The Moon, and it was part of the reason that I didn’t enjoy that book quite as much as Meet the Austins.  In The Moon, Vicky is going through a “rebellious” phase, which mostly seems to consist of her complaining about her super amazing life.  I got a little tired of her internal whining and her condescending attitude towards her family’s religion.  There was a lot more philosophizing and contemplation in The Moon, and it didn’t always make for exciting reading.

Meet the Austins had much more of a story than The Moon.  While there wasn’t this big mystery or anything, there were interconnected vignettes of daily life that painted a picture of how life was changing for the family.  In The Moon, swaths of the story felt much more like a travelogue, with Vicky describing specific state parks in detail, including what types of restroom facilities were available and how nice the fire rings were, and reiterating repeatedly about how different different parts of the country were from others.  It’s also hard to get a grasp on how much time is passing in The Moon – I assume they were gone all summer??  And their route seemed incredibly meandery, as they kept popping up into Canada and then back down into Wyoming and that sort of thing.

However, it was really interesting to read a book so firmly set in the Cold War.  There was a lot of talk about evacuation routes and emergency school drills and bunkers.  It’s just intriguing how that was so much a thing on the mind all the time.

One weird thing about The Moon that I’m not sure if it was originally published this way purposefully, or if something got messed up when they were printing the edition that I was reading, but during dialogue, instead of entire words being italicized, it would just be a syllable.  This genuinely drove me crazy.  While I definitely feel like people talk with italics (“This genuinely drove me crazy!”), I don’t feel like people only emphasize one syllable most of the time??  Here’s an actual sentence from the book to show you what I mean:

I know, Mother, that’s exactly the point.  It doesn’t matter if a baby isn’t housebroken.  He wears diapers.

???  Is it just me, or does this seem extremely strange?  I try to read that as it’s written and it sounds very strange to me.  It was like that ALL THE TIME.

All in all, 4* for Meet the Austins and 3.5* for The Moon by Night.  I got impatient with Vicky’s teenage angst in The Moon, and the kid she likes, Zachary, was a real tool.  But I’m looking forward to reading some more of these books.  As always, I’ll keep you posted.  :-D

The Infinity Trilogy // by S. Harrison // #20BooksofSummer

  • Infinity Lost (2015)
  • Infinity Rises (2016)
  • Infinity Reborn (2016)

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have an unfortunate addiction to getting free/very cheap Kindle books even though I know – know! – that most of them are terrible.  Recently, I took the time to actually sort through the gajillion Kindle titles I own and get them into some semblance of order so I can start actually reading them.  Because I have OCD about reading books in order if they are part of a series, it’s been important to me to find out of if books I own are actually part of something bigger or not.

Anyway, I have a complicated rotation schedule that I use to decide which books to read next, and Kindle books are now part of the rotation, reading through them oldest to newest.  Infinity Lost was an early Kindle purchase, and since I have owned it since October 2015, I thought it was time to finally give it a read!

These were weird books in that they were a bit hard to categorize.  They were kind of pre-dystopian in a way – a story of someone trying to prevent the worldwide catastrophe from happening.  It’s not too far into the future, but technology is doing so much more for humanity.  Many of the advances have been made by a specific company owned by a guy named Richard Blackstone.  The series is about his daughter, Infinity aka Finn.

The story starts when Finn is 17 and away at school.  She’s started having these really weird dreams where she dreams about something that happened in her childhood, except in the dream, it’s completely different than what she remembers happening in real life.  The dream version is usually much stranger and more violent than the reality version.  Except now Finn is starting to wonder which of the versions is actually reality…

Finn’s best friend and roommate is Bit, a computer genius.  When the announcement is made that a field trip has been scheduled for the remote and rarely-visited Blackstone Technologies HQ, Finn has a sneaking suspicion that Bit may have had something to do with it.  No one else at school knows who Finn’s father is, because she is there under a different name for security reasons.  Finn has never met her famous father and was raised on a fancy estate by servants and a military commander named Jonah.

At first, the field trip is awe-inspiring and exciting.  But things quickly go south when the technology is hijacked by a rogue force that seems intent on killing Finn – and doesn’t care who else is in the way.

This was a really engaging story, and I was definitely hooked in while reading the first book.  I wanted to find out about all of Finn’s mysteries, including this strange alternate ego who seems to be lurking within her.  Although this book had a few spots of violence that was more gruesome than my usual fare, I was willing to skim over those bits to get to the story.  The first book was a 3.5* read and left me intrigued to read the next story.

Full disclosure is that the next two books were around $4 each, and even though I was interested in Finn’s life, I’m not sure I was $8 interested, which may say something about my true level of engagement with the story.  However, they were also available on Kindle Unlimited, so I decided to embrace another free month’s subscription and read them that way.

I was very glad I had not paid $4 for the second book, as I don’t see myself ever rereading it.  It definitely suffered from second book syndrome.  A lot of what was happening definitely felt like filler.  There was tons of violence – people don’t just die, they’re shredded or liquefied or get their faces melted or are torn apart, all in full detail.  I skipped loads of paragraphs.  The actual story part wasn’t bad, but it was confusing, because for some reason Harrison decided to have the book start with Finn getting dragged into a bunker almost dead, and then tell what led up to that through a bunch of weird flashbacks, which also involved some other flashbacks, interspersed with conversations of the people trying to bring Finn back around in the present (?).  The timeline was very confusing and disorienting.  I think Harrison was trying to emphasize the differences between Finn and the anti-Finn, Infinity, but it was overly complicated.

Infinity Reborn was a bit better.  Now that we finally had most of the backstory filled in, the narrative actually proceeded in a somewhat orderly manner.  There was still too much violence for my taste, but by this time I was completely committed to finding out how everything wrapped up.

While the ending was satisfying for the most part, I still did have some unanswered questions, and I definitely felt like the future was still in jeopardy.  The biggest threat had been removed, yes, but there were still a lot of ??!?! situations floating around.  Like what’s happening with all the Blackstone tech, and why Zero’s identity had been kept a secret and is he still a real person underneath all of that, and why Finn’s dual personality situation was just magically fine now, and what’s going to happen with the technology that made Finn who she was, and whether or not the Infinity project is still considered military property, and a lot of other things.  The big issues were concluded, but a lot of the smaller questions were just kind of swept under the rug with a “everyone lived happily ever after” kind of conclusion.

All in all, I did enjoy these books as a one-time read and would give the trilogy a 3.5* rating overall.  However, they aren’t books I see myself rereading at any point in the future, and they didn’t make me desperate to search out more of Harrison’s writing, either.

Infinity Lost is Book #7 for #20BooksofSummer (#6 is A Wrinkle in Time, which I have read but won’t review until I read a few more L’Engle books and review them together).  The current list can be found here.

The Secrets She Keeps // by Michael Robotham

//published 2017//

I first read Robotham two years ago when I picked up Life and DeathI really liked his writing style (except for the present tense, although he at least does it decently) so I picked up the Joseph O’Laughlin series several months later.  I really grew to love the characters in those books, and some of them were so intense I could barely put them down.  Robotham generally does a decent job of keeping things high stakes without devolving into lots of violence and sex.  While I haven’t found him to be a perfect writer, the quality has been consistent enough to keep me working through his back log (as well as looking forward to the new O’Laughlin book coming out this month!!).

The Secrets She Keeps is told in alternating viewpoints between two women, Meg and Agatha.  Both women are pregnant and due around the same time.  Agatha works in a shop and admires Meg from afar – she sees Meg as having the perfect life: a handsome husband, two other children, a lovely house.  However, Meg’s narrative tells us that everything isn’t as amazing as it may appear.  She and her husband are having some disagreements (what a shock) and Meg has made a big mistake that is eating away at her peace of mind.

Here’s the thing:  this book doesn’t have a big twist.  By about a quarter of the way in, I had a pretty solid idea of how the whole story was going to unwind – but I kept reading.  Robotham created a situation where the tension was so heightened that I couldn’t look away.  The train wreck kept getting closer and closer and I had to keep watching.  I loved it.

I also really appreciated how Robotham was able to make Agatha such a sympathetic character despite the fact that everything she was doing was super wrong.  He did a great job putting me in a position where while I couldn’t quite justify Agatha’s actions, I could still definitely understand them, and even feel empathy for her situation.

This book would have been an easy 4* read, but I had some very serious issues with the way Meg’s story wrapped up – not in a narrative way, which was quite satisfying, but morally.  As usual in fiction these days, there is a very clear double standard presented, with the female in two scenarios getting a completely different conclusion than the males.  This casual assumption that the woman is right about this just genuinely infuriates me. The non-spoiler is basically I’m tired of women acting like they can have an affair or have complete control over a child’s parentage. Husbands and fathers deserve the same rights as wives and mothers. They aren’t second-class citizens. Cheating on a husband is just as horrible as cheating on a wife. And a man absolutely deserves to know whether or not a child belongs to him. Refusing to allow him to find out the truth is WRONG. If you’re interested in a spoilery rant, see below.

I will also say that it felt like this book had a bit more sex than some of the others (although in fairness, so did Watching You – I have delicate sensibilities), but it wasn’t like it was every chapter or anything.  It was actually kind of interesting to see how both women, at some level, used sex as a tool to get what they wanted (another double standard to rant about on another day haha).

At the end of the day, an easy 3.5* read.  While not the twistiest thriller I’ve come across, it was still thoroughly engaging.

And while I probably would have gotten to this book someday anyway, as I’m slowly reading all of Robotham’s books, this one got an extra boost from a couple of reviews – Cleopatra and Stephanie both had interesting things to say about this one.

Spoiler rage below :-D

Continue reading

Judy Bolton Mysteries // Books 6-10 // by Margaret Sutton

I reviewed the first five books in this series last month, so you may remember that the Judy Bolton mysteries were published in the 1930’s and focus on the titular character, around age 15 in the first book, who lives in a small country town but nonetheless finds herself entangled in many adventures.  There were about 35 books published in this series, and I own a lot of them.  I’ve collected them off and on over the years, so there are several that I haven’t read yet, and the rest I haven’t read in years.  So it’s been fun to delve back into this series.

6.  The Yellow Phantom (1933)
7.  The Mystic Ball (1934)
8.  The Voice in the Suitcase (1935)
9.  The Mysterious Half Cat (1936)
10.  The Riddle of the Double Ring (1937)

Basically, these have all been 3* reads for me.  While perfectly nice, they aren’t anything outstanding.  Some of them are definitely worse than others (The Yellow Phantom seems to have been mostly about how amazing Judy is), while others have side plots that make no sense (a character in The Mysterious Half Cat is apparently only deaf sometimes…???).  However, they do seem to be getting somewhat better as Judy gets older.  She’s practically engaged at the end of The Riddle of the Double Ring, so we are making slow but sure progress!

There are funny things that are reflections of the time.  While Judy overall is pretty modern, honestly – quite interested in a career and not a fan of housework – it’s still interesting how other things come through.  For instance, one of Judy’s friends gets married between The Mystic Ball and The Voice in the Suitcase… and she’s only 17!  Judy graduates from high school before she’s 17, and although she isn’t quite 18 yet at the end of Double Ring, she’s already received (and turned down) a marriage proposal, and is basically engaged to someone else.  She actually almost sticks with the first guy because she’s just graduated and “doesn’t know what else to do with her life”!

I don’t love these as much as I hoped that I would, but I have still been enjoying them overall.  I’m taking a break from them right now so I can get some other reading done, but will hopefully return to these in a few weeks and read the next ten.  Who knows what Judy will get up to next!

The Tottering TBR // Episode 22

A weekly(ish) post wherein I pretend to lament the fact that I have so many books on my TBR… but in fact am secretly rubbing my hands together with delight that there are so many amazing books left to be discovered…

I haven’t been the best blogger lately, but part of the problem is that I’m reading far too many books that are parts of series, instead of individual books.  I like to review series all at once when I finish them (unless a specific book really speaks to me), so I have piles of books I’ve read, that are all waiting for me to finish just one or two books more before they can get reviewed.

Also, I can’t believe how fast summer is going!  July is almost over!  I’m not ready for my life to go by so quickly!  Things have been really busy around here.  I’ve started harvesting and freezing some garden produce, mostly green beans and peppers.  For some reason my tomatoes are ripening very slowly this year.  I have tons of green ones, but they just aren’t kicking over!  I’m actually procrastinating right now, as I really need to go down and do some weeding.  It’s a perfect morning for it, and we’ve gotten some rain, so weeding should actually be a very rewarding endeavor today.

Because I haven’t done very many reviews, there haven’t been a lot of drastic TBR changes.  That also reminds me that I read an article this week that informed me that my TBR is only for books I want to read very, very soon, and should be a very, very short list.  Other books should go on some wishlist far, far away.  So basically my TBR that is hundreds of books in length apparently isn’t a real TBR.  So I thought about that for a little bit and then decided that that’s a bunch of hogwash and my TBR is whatever I want it to be, so here we are!

Current Reads:

  • Meet the Austins by Madeline L’Engle – I like to read series in their published order, and my understanding is that the characters from the Austin series and the characters from A Wrinkle in Time and those books somewhat overlap.  So I’m reading through all of those book in their published order, which technically means I ought to have read Austins first, but I didn’t realize it at the time.  I’m actually enjoying this book much more than I did Wrinkle – the Austins are such a genuinely happy, friendly bunch.  I’m interested to see where else these books go.
  • Infinity Reborn by S. Harrison – the final book in a trilogy that has been rather strange yet interesting.
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – this is my next book for the Traveling Book Club, and my second Gaiman read – the first was long, long ago, before I was blogging on WordPress.  I found that book (Stardust) to be a bit too… contrived? … for my personal taste.  But I keep meaning to give him another shot, so I’m actually looking forward to this read, which I started yesterday.
  • The Sheriff’s Runaway Bride by Arlene James – one of my many Love Inspired titles – this is actually the second in a series of books that center around a family of adult siblings and cousins who have to return to their small hometown for a year in order to receive an inheritance.  A little hokey, but not too bad.  The first book was decent, and I’m enjoying this one as well.

Off the General TBR:

My only review this week was After Dark by Phillip Margolin, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  However, I did weed a few others off the list while picking out the next five books to get from the library:  I’m already committed to reading all of P.G. Wodehouse’s books in published order, so I thought I had removed all of his titles from the general TBR, but I found one still hiding there the other day.  Two other books are actually books in series, so they’ve been moved to the Mystery Series and Series tabs as needed.  I also wrote a minireview for Words in Deep Blue, so it’s off the TBR but you won’t get to read the review until the end of the month.  So, five off!

Added to the General TBR:

The problem with reading a book that I really like is that then I want to add more books by that author.  I actually thought that I had added most of Margolin’s books when I read Woman With a Gun last year, but apparently not!  So, somewhat sadly, eight Margolin titles got added!  I also added two books thanks to reviews around the blogs – A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood was reviewed by ChrissiReads, and Brewster’s Millions by George Barr McCutcheon, reviewed by The Captive Reader, who often brings older books to my attention.

Total for the General TBR:  852 (up five!  *shakes fist at Phillip Margolin*)


Added to the Personal TBR:

Cheap Kindle books…!!!  I got The Siren Wars by K.M. Robinson for free, which may or may not be how much it ends up being worth; time will tell.  I picked up to 99¢ bargains – Three Day Fiancee by Marissa Clarke, because I can’t resist a good fake relationship trope; and When It’s Real by Erin Watts, because I’ve been meaning to read Watts forever and I have heard a lot of good things about this one in particular.

Off the Personal TBR:  

Nothing.  :-(

Total for the Personal TBR:  692 (up three)


Added to the Series TBR:

Two added here – one was a series that got moved over from the General TBR (the Worldquake series by Scarlett Thomas), and other is Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight books – I hear about Sanderson all the time but have never read anything by him.  I had yet another friend strongly recommend these, so they are finally on the official list!

Off the Series TBR:

Nothing. :-(

Total for the Series TBR:  230 (up two)


Added to the Mystery Series TBR:

Two here as well – another one from the General TBR (the Tyrone Swift books by Gretta Mulrooney), and the Shetland Island series by Ann Cleeves, thanks to yet another excellent review by Cleopatra Loves Books – she reviewed the first book, Raven Black.

Off the Mystery Series TBR:

Nothing – I’m still working through the Gardening Mysteries by Mary Freeman, but I’m waiting for Book #3 to come in from the library, so I’ve stalled out a bit.

Total for the Mystery Series TBR:  108 (up two)


Total for the Nonfiction TBR:  Holding steady at 76


Grand Total for the Week:  Seventeen added and only five off, so up a net of twelve more this week… I do believe I may be working backwards instead of forwards on this pile!!!  However, I can think of worse problems to have.  :-D  Happy reading!

After Dark // by Phillip Margolin

//published 1995//

I was first introduced to Margolin’s writing when I randomly won an entire set of his books – the Amanda Jaffe series, which I read and reviewed at the end of 2016.  I was really impressed with them.  I liked the characters, the pacing was good, and it was interesting to read books where one of the main characters is actually a criminal defense lawyer – so someone sticking up for the bad guys.  Anyway, Margolin has quite a few stand-alone books that I added to my TBR at the time.  After Dark is only the second one to come up for me – I read Woman With a Gun last year and thoroughly enjoyed it.

This story is about Abigail, a very successful prosecutor for the DA.  She and her husband, who is a justice for the Oregon Supreme Court, are in the midst of a rather unpleasant divorce.  At the beginning of the book, Abigail finds out that a man she had had convicted two years ago has now been released, thanks to a decision reversal during the appeals process – a decision in which her soon-to-be-ex-husband penned the opinion for the majority.

Meanwhile, the now-free criminal, who definitely did brutally murder the people he was convicted of killing, is free and clear with revenge on his mind.

We also meet Matthew, a criminal defense attorney passionate about fighting death penalty cases.  He works long, arduous hours and has almost no life outside of his work.  He hires Tracy, who has just completed her internship as a clerk for the state supreme court and is now a full-fledged attorney, eager to learn from one of the best in the business.

When Abigail’s husband is murdered, and Abigail is accused, she hires Matthew to defend her.  As all the characters start to come together, the many layers of the plot become obvious.

Honestly, I’ve been reading a lot of books lately that aren’t terrible but aren’t really amazing, and leave me feeling kind of meh when I’m finished.  It had been a while since I started reading a book that I just couldn’t put down, so I was extra excited about the way I was drawn into After Dark.  I stayed up past my bedtime to find out how everything came together, and just when it seemed like all had been explained, except for a few niggling little threads – Margolin flipped everything again and even tied up those niggling threads.  I loved it!

The pacing is excellent, and Margolin does a great job of making multiple characters likable, but not necessarily trustworthy.  He also provides the readers with the clues they need for the most part – I love it when I finish a book and immediately want to go back and reread now that I have the key!  Throughout, I thought I know whodunit, but there were just enough red herrings to keep me doubting my instincts.

The actual writing in this book is quite good.  There were passages that really struck a chord.  Matthew explaining to Tracy how he has never had to visit a client after dark (e.g. before their execution) honestly gave me chills.

I also really liked how this book made me think about the death penalty.  It’s one of those subjects that I go back and forth on, able to see both sides of the issue and not really positive about how I feel.  The arguments Matthew presents against it are very strong and thought-provoking, without being preachy.  On the other hand, you have the released criminal in this book, and you can’t help but think that Abigail’s reasons for wanting this guy dead are also pretty solid.

Margolin actually worked for fifteen or so years as a defense attorney in Oregon, and that comes through in his writing.  The court scenes are excellent – all the pertinent information delivered in a manner that is taut and intense rather than dry.  The overwhelming amount of time spent doing research and legwork isn’t glossed over (but also isn’t drawn out).  The interplay between various characters is a strong reminder of how much our legal system is actually based on human emotions and whether or not someone is having a bad day…

There were a few minor negatives.  I’ve consistently found Margolin to be rather poor at writing the love-story aspect, and this book was no exception.  Both of those plots felt very insta-love-y and not completely believable.  There were just a couple of scenes where the violence was a bit much for me (the released criminal is a serious psychopath).  And in the end, I wanted a bit more resolution for Abigail – I felt like her life was left a little open-ended after everything that had happened.

But all in all, this is a solid 4* read, possibly 4.5*.

The Tottering TBR // Episode 21

A weekly(ish) post wherein I pretend to lament the fact that I have so many books on my TBR… but in fact am secretly rubbing my hands together with delight that there are so many amazing books left to be discovered…

Ohho, it is Wednesday, and you are probably thinking (because I know you live for my blog posts), “I thought Sarah was posting her Tottering TBR episodes on Wednesdays?  She’s almost out of time!”  Normally, I like to blog in the morning, but I actually made two airport runs yesterday – my dad and two of my brothers have been in Washington state for a couple of weeks, but for complicated reasons weren’t able to all fly back together.  So I got Dad around suppertime, and then picked up my brothers a little after midnight.  Since it’s about an hour drive, what with one thing and another I didn’t get to bed until around 2am, which is significantly past my normal 9pm bedtime!!  So, long story short, this morning I was sleeping instead of blogging!!  :-D

But I have a few minutes before my husband gets home, so I will see how far I can get!

Current Reads:

  • Infinity Rises by S. Harrison – this is the second book of a trilogy that is a little trippy but intriguing.
  • Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley – I didn’t think I was going to like this book, but it’s actually kind of interesting.
  • The Riddle of the Double Ring by Margaret Sutton – this is the 10th Judy Bolton book, and I’m going to take a little break after this one.  While these are pleasant reads, they are also a little same-y after a while.
  • The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham – this book isn’t creepy, exactly, but somehow does make me uneasy.

Added to the General TBR:

This has actually been a pretty quiet week for additions, with only one added – Watching You by Lisa Jewel, inspired by a review by Cleopatra.  I was almost POSITIVE that that book was already on my TBR, so it’s very possible that there have been some other recent reviews that made me think I had already added it…

Off the General TBR:

Unfortunately, nothing came off this week – most of my reviews were for books I own!

Total for the General TBR:  847 (up one!)


Added to the Personal TBR:

I ended up purchasing a secondhand copy of a Grace Livingston Hill book that has four stories in it, plus got two free Kindle books, so I sadly added six!  Where is my self-control?!

Off the Personal TBR:

I did, however, get a few titles off as well.  I reviewed Scotty by Frances Pitt (which I have owned FOREVER), as well as The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit.  I also reviewed Georgette Heyer’s Frederica, but it was technically a reread.  My other two reviews, The Midnight Kittens (Dodie Smith) and Fairest (Gail Carson Levine) weren’t actually on any of my lists.  (Crazy, right?!)

Luckily I was also able to eliminate a couple of Kindle books that were DNFs – Everblue (Brenda Pandos) and Love’s Funny That Way (Pamela Burford).  Everblue was honestly just pretty boring, and the Burford book was all sex and no story.  :-/

Total for the Personal TBR:  689 (up two)


Series TBR / Mystery Series TBR / Nonfiction TBR:

No change for any of these.


Grand Total for the Week:  Much better than last week!  Seven added and four off, so only a net gain of three, which is a pretty good week for me!  :-D

The Midnight Kittens // by Dodie Smith

//published 1978//

Growing up, The Hundred and One Dalmatians was one of my very favorite books, and I read it so many times.  The amazing illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone still make me so happy and the story is just too perfect for words.  More recently, I discovered that there was actually a sequel!  And while The Starlight Barking was a little strange (and had actual magic), it was still a lot of fun.  Now for some reason, Goodreads has The Midnight Kittens listed as Book #3 in the Hundred and One Dalmatian series, so I decided to give it a go.  I found a secondhand copy on eBay, and was curious to see how it tied into the other two books.  The short answer?  It doesn’t.  So that was the first disappointment.

The next disappointment was that this book just wasn’t… interesting?  I’m not even sure what the word is that I’m looking for.  I’ve only read a couple of Smith’s books.  Most recently, I read I Capture the Castlewhich, while it wasn’t an instant classic for me (as it is for so many others), I still found incredibly readable – the writing itself was a delight, and the story very well-crafted.  But The Midnight Kittens lacked that.  The story was directionless and the characters not particularly interesting.  I just couldn’t get into it.

Basically, Tom and Pam are twins (around 12 years old) who have been going to school in London, but live with their Gram in Suffolk, as their parents died when the twins were quite young.  The story revolves around a long weekend that they spend visiting Gram.  Except… not much actually happens.  They stay up late to see if they can see some wild hedgehogs come to eat the milk and bread Gram has set out, and instead see four kittens.  Pam immediately decides that they are magic kittens (??).  Over the course of the weekend, they take a tour of a local house, a run-down mansion called Freke Hall.  The next day they go with Gram to visit a friend of hers in a nursing home, and staying in the same home is a very old lady who once lived in Freke Hall when she was a little girl.  She tells Tom and Pam about a secret room where she once hid a painting.  Tom and Pam sneak into the house when when they get home and find the secret room, and also meet some friendly squatters who are coming there to live (??).  Meanwhile, the kittens appear at midnight each night, exactly at midnight, to eat their milk and bread.  Tom is afraid to tell Gram about the kittens, because he isn’t sure if she will adopt them or have them put down (??).  Eventually, the twins tell this whole story to Gram (along with some other side adventures I haven’t bothered to include) and Gram doesn’t believe them, because Pam used to tell made-up stories, and suddenly they are all emotionally devastated by the broken trust and Tom and Pam go back to school heavily burdened by the fact that Gram doesn’t believe them (??).  But then Gram sees the kittens and calls them and tells them everything is fine and then everyone is happy la-de-da.  ??????

It was all just so rambling and pointless!  The kittens weren’t really that much of the story, it’s mostly Tom and Pam being obnoxious children – this book made me feel so old, because all I could do was roll my eyes at the way the twins were so annoying condescending towards their Gram the entire time – explaining to her how Tom is now agnostic and Pam is an atheist and how sad it is that people still believe in God (despite the fact that Gram does).  They’re always giving Gram advice about how she should be running her household and ways that she could be saving money and I don’t know, they just seemed so bratty the entire time, which is probably why I found this book so tedious.  They were SUCH know-it-alls.

The whole book was very disjointed and kind of read like a weird dream.  It was fairly short, for which I was thankful.  I was quite disappointed in this story, but at least I don’t have to worry about making room for The Midnight Kittens on my permanent bookshelves.

Shelfie by Shelfie // Shelf 1E

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!

You guys aren’t going to believe this, but we are actually at the bottom of Shelf 1!

The second thing you won’t believe is that we actually reorganized the lower room, so when I do my next Shelfie, and you finally get to see Shelf 2, there will not be piles of junk surrounding it!  I am very excited about this.

Also, if you are interested in my past Shelfies, you can find the link to all of them here.

Anyway, for today, onto Shelf 1E, which you cannot even see in the picture of Shelf 1 because it is buried in random things that needed a place to live while we built our new storage loft.

And now, onto the questions!

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

As I have mentioned in the past, I tend to organize fiction in alphabetical order by the last name of the author when possible.  Sometimes I also will put a series of books together if they fit on a shelf particularly well.  So here we have my beautiful hardcover copies of the Chronicles of Narnia in a little spot just the right size, and then books whose authors’ names start with Burnett-Corbett.

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.

There are actually several good ones on here, but I think that I will have to go with The Secret Garden and The Little Princess which my mother gave to me together.  They are both illustrated beautifully by Tasha Tudor, and when I was a girl we would all read these two books together every year, The Secret Garden in the early spring and The Little Princess in the winter.  I am much fonder of The Secret Garden because The Little Princess always seemed sadder.

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

Probably The Riddle of the Stone Elephant, which is a Bruce Campbell mystery.  I honestly have no idea why I purchased that book or even who Bruce Campbell is, and have never read it and probably never will if I’m quite honest.

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

I feel like it’s a bit of a cheat to say The Secret Garden again, so this time I am going to go with Mr. Piper’s Bus.  This book is absolutely adorable about a bus driver who goes on a long holiday and collects an entire menagerie of pets on the way.  The illustrations are perfect and it’s one of those books that I believe is out of print as I never see it anywhere.

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

This is always a tricky question for me, as I have been collecting books for a very long time!!!  But, as so often happens, my earliest book is a gift from my mom, who definitely helped shape me into the book-hoarder I am today.  She gave me A Little Princess for Christmas in 1994, so I’ve had that book for 24 years!!

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

Honestly, these are basically all oldies.  I think the newest one is The Case of the Fugitive Firebug by Scott Corbett.  I read his Inspector Tearle series a while ago (don’t be fooled, the “Inspector” is actually a teenager), and purchased this one secondhand at the time.

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

There honestly aren’t any books that I am yearning to read on this shelf, although I do love them all!  Probably The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I do love Narnia a great deal!

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

This is the bottom shelf, so I don’t have any knickknacks on this one.

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

That I have a great fondness for children’s books.

 – 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,

10 – In what order should the Chronicles of Narnia be read?

As you can see, my hardcover editions were published after it was mysteriously dictated that people should read Narnia in chronological order.  I think that that’s a bunch of hogwash.  These books flow together the best when read in published order, which is how I keep them shelved, because I’m passive-aggressive that way.  In general, I like to read series in published order first, and then later reread them in chronological order if it seems like it would be interesting.  There’s something very engaging about reading the ideas in the order that they were released from the author’s brain!

As always, thanks to Bibliobeth for coming up with this fun book tag.  And tune in next time to see Shelf 2!