October Minireviews (+ #20Booksof Summer … still!)

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

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – 4*

//published 2012//

As I’ve mentioned, a while ago I signed up to be part of a Traveling Book Club, where each member choose a book to share.  The first month you mail your own book to the next person on the list and receive a book from the person behind you on the list.  Each month you mail whatever book you have until you get your own back.  In the meantime, members are encouraged to annotate and make notes in the books, so that when you get yours back it will be full of fun thoughts from its journey.  (You can see the list of these reads here.)  I was excited to get this book in the mail, because it’s one I’ve read – and enjoyed – before, so it was extra fun to see other people’s thoughts and insights.  One of the earlier readers is a computer programmer, so it was especially interesting to see her thoughts on some of the computer-y aspects of the story.

I liked this book just as much the second time around.  Clay is such an entertaining and likable narrator, and while the story does get a bit ridiculous at times, it’s always a good time.  Still an easy 4* read.

False Colours by Georgette Heyer – 4.5*

//published 1963//

I know that I have read this Heyer before, but apparently I never reviewed it at that time!  This is an especially fun one – when Kit comes home from his diplomatic job abroad to check in with his widowed mother and his twin brother, his twin is missing.  His mother, a rather capricious but likable lady, persuades Kit to take his brother’s place at an important dinner – just for that night.  Needless to say, and entire tangle ensues.  The whole story is just absolutely delightful.  I really like Kit a lot, and it was fun to have a character who isn’t the oldest son and doesn’t want to be!  Even though it seems like the whole thing should be ridiculous, Heyer somehow makes it feel plausible.  I will say that the ending felt a little too tidy, with everyone planning out how they were going to fix things, but the story ends before things are actually fixed!  It would have been nice to see things actually play out.  Still, a very fun and lighthearted read.

Terms of Service by Scott Allan Morrison – 3.5*

//published 2015//

This is one of those Kindle books I’ve had forever, and now that I’m committed (ha) to getting through my Kindle backlog, I finally got around to reading it.  While this was a decent one-time thriller, the plot was rather scattered and convoluted, and the message wasn’t super clear.  I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to trust social media or never use it again.  It was weird because this was written in 2015, but the whole story is about a presidential election that gets influenced by social bots.  What honestly blew my mind about this story was the number of people who let themselves be completely swayed on huge, important issues by total strangers on the internet.  Like, if they present a convincing argument that’s worth looking into, that’s one thing.  But just being persuaded by things like, “Wow, this guy really has some good things to say!” seems completely ridiculous to me, but apparently is exactly what people do in real life.  (See: Reasons I Don’t Do Facebook)

I think I would have liked this whole book better if the overall message had been a little clearer, but Morrison’s conclusion is basically like, “Yeah, people in charge of social media pretty much control what the masses think and do, but we’re all way into it and the positives outweigh the negatives so…”  Overall, this book had its engaging moments, but it wasn’t really the kind of thriller that made me want to rush out and see what else Morrison has written.

Utah Lion by James Ralph Johnson – 4*

//published 1962//

My great-grandma was an elementary school teacher, and when she passed away back when I was in middle school, I inherited some of her fiction books she used in her class.  I kind of wish she was still around so I could ask her if she actually used Utah Lion for teaching purposes or if it was just a book that the kids could read if they wanted to.

The story, as the title implies, is about a wild mountain lion in Utah, presumably around the time this book was published in the 1960’s.  It has a very Jim Kjelgaard feel to the overall story, including the verging-on-polemic message about the importance large predators play in the overall balance of nature.  Johnson weaves an interesting tale, although ironically he was so convincing about the dangers (from men) that lions face, that I wasn’t genuinely convinced that Blue Tom and his mate were genuinely going to survive and help repopulate the lions in Utah.  At the end of Johnson’s story, nothing had really changed to make life any easier for mountain lions, so it just seemed like they would keep getting hunted until they were dead, which was kind of discouraging.

Still, this was overall a solid read if, like me, you enjoy random outdoorsy stories.  Unlike most of Kjelgaard’s books, this one focused on the lion and not on a parallel human, which definitely meant that all of my sympathies were with the lion!

NB Utah Lion was originally a selection I made for #20BooksofSummer.  I didn’t finish reading my list by the end of summer, but I am trying to finish it by the end of the year!!

Young Pioneers // by Rose Wilder Lane (and kind of #20BooksofSummer !)

//published 1933//

This slim book packs a very emotional and inspiring story into its short length.  It had been many years since I last read this book, and even though it didn’t take me long to read, I’ve still been thinking about it since I finished it.

I loved the book from its opening line – While they were children playing together, they said they would be married as soon as they were old enough, and when they were old enough they married.  Although, as the story progresses, we do find out that what they considered “old enough” was a bit on the young side for our modern lives – David is only 18 and Molly 16 when they not only marry, but head west in a wagon, leaving behind everything and everyone they’ve ever known, at a time when that leaving meant that you would, more than likely, never see these loved ones again.

Molly is the quiet, thoughtful one of the pair, while David is confident and exuberant.  His favorite hymn includes the lines –

Let the hurricane roar!
It will the sooner be o’er!
We’ll weather the blast, and land at last,
On Canaan’s happy shore!

The original title of this story was Let the Hurricane Roar, and despite the complete lack of actual hurricanes (although we get a healthy dose of blizzards), the theme of standing firm and confident in the face of extreme adversity is really the foundation to the entire story.

The young couple find a homestead, which, according to law, they must live on and improve for five years, and then the land will be deeded to them.  At first, all is going well in their snug dugout, as the wheat crop is beautiful.  But tragedy strikes so completely that David has to go back east to find work.  Molly is determined to stay behind on their claim so that they don’t lose their year’s work.

I’d forgotten how much of this story that Molly actually spends alone, with an infant, in the wilderness.  Despite her quiet nature and inherent timidity, she is amazingly steadfast and inspiring, determined to do what has to be done to claim their homestead and build their life.  The writing is somewhat sparse, but it honestly reflects the overall feeling of the vastness of the prairie and the miles and miles of emptiness.

Because this book was initially published as a serial story in Saturday Evening Post, it is told in four long chapters.  Usually I much prefer short chapters, but because the book itself is so short, the long chapters made me feel like I was galloping through the story!

Rose Wilder Lane is, of course, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the beloved Little House books.  When Lane published Young Pioneers in 1933, only Little House in the Big Woods had been printed.  So the tragedy with the grasshoppers, later recounted by Wilder in On the Banks of Plum Creek, does sound familiar to those who have read the Little House books, as Lane is obviously drawing a great deal from family history for her writing.  Lane’s characters were also originally named Charles and Caroline, which are the actual names of Lane’s grandparents (Wilder’s parents).  When the book was republished and renamed in the 1970’s, the character names were changed as well, probably because by that time Wilder’s entire series had been published and was very popular.

Although this is a book of hardship, it is also a book of hope and strength.  It’s a wonderful reminder of the struggles and obstacles that people were facing a mere century or so ago.  Molly herself is a true heroine, perhaps especially because she doesn’t do anything particularly heroic.  She doesn’t save anyone’s life or change the tides of a political upheaval.  Instead, she just lives – steadily, bravely, doing the best she can under incredibly difficult circumstances.  Molly is the kind of heroine who truly inspires me, a reminder that we don’t need a grand stage to do our part to make the world a better place.

NB: This book was originally chosen for my #20BooksofSummer challenge.  Even though I failed to read all 20 books this summer, I am still planning to read them!!

Persuasion // by Jane Austen

//published 1817//

I’m positive that I read Persuasion somewhere back in the mists of time, but it had been years, and possibly decades, since I read it.  So, when my sister asked if I wanted to read it along with her, I said sure!  Especially since I had a shiny new copy that I’d purchased for my birthday back in 2016 and never got around to reading!

Persuasion is actually my sister’s favorite Austen, mainly because it employs one of her favorite tropes – lovers reunited after a space of time.  Funnily enough, that’s one of my LEAST favorite tropes.  Mary Rose (my sister) sees the romance in two people still loving each other after that time apart.  I just see the years wasted because someone, or both someones, weren’t willing to fix the problem – which probably illustrates the differences between our personalities haha

At any rate, I quite enjoyed my reread of this one.  It had been so long since I had read it, that I couldn’t remember exactly how events unfolded.  In brief, in case you, like me, don’t really remember, the story is about Anne Elliot, who lives with her father and her older sister.  Her father, a baronet, is rather a silly man, quite stuck on himself, and the older sister, Elizabeth, fits the same mold.  Lady Elliot passed away several years before the story opens.  There is a younger sister, Mary, who is married and lives a couple of miles away.  The Elliots’ neighbor and close friend is Lady Russell, who is especially fond of, and influential over, Anne.  In general, Anne is rather underappreciated and overlooked by her family, as she is a quiet, unassuming, helpful person past the blush of her first youth.

When Anne was but 19, she fell in love with a young sailor, Frederick Wentworth.  Frederick wanted Anne to marry him, but Anne allowed herself to be persuaded by Lady Russell, and by the overall sense of disapproval of her father and sisters, to say no.  Frederick left in a huff, and in the intervening eight years has gone on to become successful and moderately wealthy, and is now a Captain.

The story opens with Sir Walter being somewhat in debt and having to lease out their ancestral hall.  Sir Walter and Elizabeth decide to stay in Bath, but Anne goes to stay with her sister Mary for a few months.  Meantime, the individuals who lease out the house turn out to be Frederick’s sister and her husband – which means that, after all these years, Anne and Frederick will come together again!  *cue dramatic music*

This is a rather quiet, domestic tale.  Unlike some of Austen’s other stories, there are no moments of grand drama (like Lydia’s elopement or the betrayal of Willoughby), yet I was still completely drawn in by the entertaining characters and subtle humor.  I didn’t find myself laughing out loud like I did while reading Northanger Abbeybut there were still plenty of entertaining moments.

I especially enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the time when Anne is staying with Mary, who lives next door to her in-laws.  Here, there is a whole lively cast of characters all virtually living together, despite their differences in personality and hobbies.  Honestly, this little paragraph reminded me so strongly of my own (large and lively) family that I couldn’t help but laugh –

It was a very fine November day, and the Miss Musgroves came through the little grounds, and stopped for no other purpose than to say, that they were going to take a long walk, and therefore concluded Mary could not like to go with them; and when Mary immediately replied, with some jealousy at not being supposed to be a good walker, “Oh, yes, I should like to join you very much, I am very fond of a long walk;” Anne felt persuaded, by the very looks of the two girls, that it was precisely what they did not wish, and admired again the sort of necessity which the family habits seemed to produce, of everything being to be communicated, and everything being to be done together, however undesired and inconvenient.

I, too, have a family in which “everything being to be communicated, and everything being to be done together,” and honestly long walks are a frequent event.  And no matter how much you’d rather not have the entire family along, there seems to be some compulsion to invite everyone!

At any rate, Anne’s story unfolds gently and steadily.  She’s a very likable and relatable heroine, and I was glad that she eventually landed her happily ever after.  I do feel that she and Frederick have a very good chance of making a go of it, having tested their love through separation, and having matured past the impulsiveness and sensitivity of a younger age.  It did seem that once Anne and Frederick did finally talk it out, that everything immediately fell into place and then the story was over – it felt like I didn’t get to see very much interaction between the two of them.  But Frederick’s letter is everything swoonworthy for sure – You pierce my soul.  I am half agony, half hope.  

I also very much liked that, in the end, Anne realized that, despite her sufferings, she didn’t really regret telling Frederick no originally.  She had followed her conscience, and had she gone against it, hers was the type of personality that would have always felt residual guilt over going against the advice of everyone else she loved.  Frederick also acknowledges his own folly and pride as being part of the problem, asking her if she would have accepted him if he had come back after his initial success on the sea.  Anne says that yes, she most certainly would have, and Frederick realizes that while Anne’s refusal separated them originally, it was his pride that kept them apart for so long.  The balanced blame is part of what makes me so confident in the overall success of this match.

While Persuasion isn’t my favorite of Austen’s tales, it was thoroughly enjoyable and a worthwhile read.  It’s also on the shorter side, and I was surprised at how quickly I flew through the pages.  4.5* for this classic, and highly recommended.

Spinning Silver // by Naomi Novik

//published 2018//

Although published in 2015, I didn’t get around to reading Novik’s book Uprooteduntil last year.  It was incredibly magical, and was one of my favorite reads of the year.  But this meant that I didn’t have to wait very long for Novik’s next novel, Spinning Silver, which came out this summer.  While this book didn’t quite live up my expectations (which were very high, thanks to Uprooted), it was a stirring and  beautiful story in its own right – just not exactly what I had been expecting.

I think the biggest difference between the two books, and the reason that I just can’t rate Spinning Silver as highly as Uprooted, is that Spinning Silver just isn’t a very happy book.  Every single one of the narrators (and there are three main ones, plus several chapters from a handful of others) has had a terrible, difficult life, and they’re basically convinced that they have nothing else to look forward to.  While the narrator of Uprooted was essentially an upbeat lady, always trying to make the best of her situation and always convinced that there was a way to save everyone, the narrators in Spinning Silver come from desperately difficult situations and are resigned to the fact that sacrifices, even of lives, will have to be made for the greater good.  The three main characters each betray someone in the course of the story, and while it can definitely be argued that they owed nothing to the people they betrayed and thus were justified, it doesn’t change the tone of the story, which is that betrayal and sacrifice are sometimes just what has to happen.

It wasn’t exactly that every page was drudgery, but there was just a lot of heavy stuff to deal with. Horrific poverty, prejudice, cruelty, abuse, demon-possession, kidnapping, murder, forced marriage, etc.  Adding tot he mix that the main narrator, Miryem, is Jewish, it kind of read like historical fiction with a bit of magic thrown in, and the historical fiction part wasn’t very happy.

My understanding is that Novik is Jewish, and I’m sure she is very well qualified to write Miryem’s character, but somehow the Jewishness of Miryem didn’t exactly fit with the tone of the story in my mind.  Miryem herself was an excellent heroine, and her Jewishness was a part of that and it was fine, but it was also the only thing really anchoring this story into my world versus setting it someplace completely fictional, and I think maybe that was why it felt strange??  I’m just not sure.  It may have also been because Miryem’s character felt like Novik was not-completely-subtly trying to constantly make a point about the persecution of Jews through the ages.  Again, not a bad point to make, and it’s a point that is completely true and justified, but it didn’t always fit with the flow of the story.

The multiple-narrators aspect of the story mostly worked.  Honestly, the voices between the characters weren’t super different – where they were and what was happening was what set them apart from one another, not necessarily the way they talked/thought.  One of the characters is supposedly very uneducated and poor and comes from a horrifically abusive background, yet her voice sounds basically the same as Miryem’s, who comes from a loving family and is much more widely-traveled and well-read.  The third main narrator is the daughter of a lord and has grown up in a much more refined setting, yet again she sounds basically the same as the other two girls.  I guess most of the time, if there need to be more than two narrators to keep the story flowing, it just seems like the story ought to be written in third person instead.

I’ve spent a lot of time whining about this book, yet it was still an easy 4* read for me.  The story itself is good, and the writing is excellent.  I genuinely felt cold while I was reading this book about the ever-lengthening winter.  And while I would have preferred to hear from the main characters in the third person, I still found them likable.  Despite their horrible backgrounds and current situations, all three of the main heroines are strong and determined to do what is right, no matter the cost.  They have a strong loyalty to family and community and are willing to do whatever it takes to protect the ones they love.

I would have liked to have had an epilogue of some kind.  While it’s implied that everyone’s lives are going to be a bit better going forward, it would have been nice to have seen that, at least briefly, considering how long I had to spend wallowing in their misery.  The love story aspects of the tale were definitely a bit rushed.  Towards the end of the book, Novik skips a multiple-month period, glossing over it in just a few paragraphs.  Yet that’s the exact time frame that two of the characters are genuinely coming to know and love each other.  Consequently, the lovey conclusion between the two feels a bit thin.

All in all, I do recommend this book.  And I think that I’ll actually like it better on a reread, now that I know where things are going.  Part of my discontent with this story was definitely because of the overall tone being so much darker than Uprooted, and I wasn’t ready for that.  Now that I know what to expect, I think that I can appreciate the other aspects of the story more fully.  While Spinning Silver wasn’t an instant classic for me like Uprooted was, it is still a solid, well-written tale with sympathetic characters and an engaging story that I fully intend to reread in the future.

Random Romance Reads

Whenever life gets busy and/or stressful, I turn not just to ice cream, but also to fluff books that don’t really make me think.  The last couple of months have been pretty busy, and, combined with some other weird stuff going on, I’ve just been in the mood for reading some lighthearted romance.

I also seem to have accumulated roughly a billion books on my Kindle, so this summer I finally created a spreadsheet to actually make some sense out of them.  While I realize spreadsheets aren’t really the answer to ALL of life’s problems, I’ve found that it’s always a great place to start.  :-D  Anyway, this spreadsheet has helped me actually start reading my Kindle books, because now I can tell at a glance if the book is part of a series or not (I hate starting in the middle of series) and go from there.  It also gives me a place to make a couple of brief notes after I’ve read a book, because I can’t always remember whether or not I liked something.

All that to say, I had three different boxed sets, by three different authors, consisting of the first three or four books of three different series, that had at some point been purchased for less than a dollar or possibly even for free.  While enjoyable, none of them quite warranted spending more money to continue/finish the series, so here are a few notes!

Romancing Wisconsin Series by Stacey Joy Hetzel

These stories definitely felt a lot shorter than full-length novels.  I actually really enjoyed these stories and the way that the characters from the different books interconnected, but the next boxed set was like $10 and it just wasn’t worth it to me.  Even though the first story is in July, and the rest take place within the next couple of months, all of them actually were Christmas-themed, starting with a “Christmas in July” field trip to the zoo, and they all had a cute mistletoe theme to them.  However, there was definitely too much sex, and the books were just too short for me to justify spending the money to continue the series.

Cupid’s Coffeeshop Series by Courtney Hunt

I have a total weakness for stories that are set in restaurants/coffee shops/hotels/basically anything in the hospitality industry.  I co-owned a coffee shop in the past, and have spent a lot of time working in the those types of settings, and it always makes me happy to be “behind the scenes” of events.  (I think that may be part of why I love Nora Roberts’s Bridal Quartet so much.)  This series was supposedly about three cousins who inherit a coffee shop (with strings attached, of course) and have to work together to make it work.  Which is why I was super confused when, about three chapters into the first book, the story abruptly departs from the cousins and focuses on two completely random people who happened to have met in the newly-reopened coffee shop.

So these were perfectly fine little romances, but the whole series would have made much more sense if the author had focused on the cousins as the beginning of the series and given a base to build from.  Instead, these were four books about completely random individuals who sorta kinda cross paths in the same coffee shop, with about two or three chapters in each book about the cousins and how things are actually going with them.  It made the stories feel disjointed, and I just couldn’t get into them enough to pay for the rest.

Summer Lake Series by S.J. McCoy

When I got done with the first boxed set, I was startled to discover that, somewhere along the line, I had also purchased the second boxed set!  So I actually had the first six books of the series to read – and wouldn’t you know it, that’s still only halfway, and it looks like the rest are $4 each, so even though I actually am quite interested in these characters and where everyone is going, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to justify the budget needed to finish this series!

These books start out by being focused on a group of four friends – Emma, Missy, Pete, and Ben – who all grew up together in the same small town in northern California.  Throughout the series, they find themselves being drawn back to their hometown, and of course finding love and happiness along the way.  The problem is that McCoy has a habit of introducing new characters all the time, and then going off and telling their story in the next book, until the connections to the original group are rather tenuous.  So Emma gets together with Pete’s business partner, Jack.  Then Pete gets together with Emma’s best friend, Holly.  Then Missy matches up with Jack’s brother, Dan.  So far, so good.  But I’m actually really interested in Ben, who has a mysterious back story that we still haven’t heard.  But INSTEAD, we get a story about Jack and Dan’s cousin, Laura, who gets together with their pilot, Smoke (seriously).  Then, meantime, another old friend has returned to town, supposedly one of the original gang – Michael.  So the next story is about him falling in love with Megan, who isn’t related to anybody, and then the NEXT book is about Megan’s sister!  So now we’re through Book #6 and still no Ben story!  And I suppose a normal person would just skip to the book that has Ben’s story and buy just that one, but I’m not one of those wild and crazy individuals who is capable of dipping in and out of series at will: it’s in order or nothing!  :-D

While I really did enjoy the characters and stories, these books had a LOT of sexy times, which is the other reason I just don’t want to purchase the rest.  While I don’t mind skipping stuff sometimes, in a few of these books it was just excessive.  It also started to feel like McCoy was using good sex to equal a good relationship.  Because all of these relationships got so physical so fast, I wasn’t always completely convinced that the characters were actually going to be good together long term.  I don’t think that you have to shag someone to know whether or not they are going to be a good life-partner, and McCoy’s books seems to say just the opposite – that the ONLY way to tell whether or not someone is going to be a good life-partner is to shag them!

So yes, overall too many mixed feelings over these books to invest another $24 or so into finishing the series!

Shelfie by Shelfie // Shelf 2A

Shelfie by Shelfie is a book tag started by Bibliobeth.  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 several months since I did a Shelfie, as things have been a bit crazy around here!!  But today I have a bit of extra time, so I thought I would look at another shelf!

Today is a VERY EXCITING Shelfie, because we are actually moving on to a completely different bookshelf!  All of my earlier Shelfies the list of posts can be found here) have been from Shelf #1, but today we are actually moving on to Shelf #2!!

Here is the actual entire bookshelf – it’s part of the same original set of shelves that my husband built for me multiple houses ago.  At the time, we had a long, wide hallway that just begged to be filled with bookshelves (and books!).  He built them so they would go around and under the windows in the hallway, and would have plenty of room for books and for knickknacks (which I also have a lot of).  Although we’ve moved multiple times since then, we’ve always found a way to make the shelves work.  In our current house, they run along a wall in our lower room, framing the fireplace and then the big on (Shelf #3) on the other side of a picture window.

As an aside, we were just talking yesterday about expanding our bookshelves, so these are probably going to be built up to the ceiling and over the fireplace at some point this winter… somehow I seem to be running out of bookshelf room again!?


Anyway, here is the specific shelf we are looking at today – Shelf 2A!

And the questions!

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

As usual, these are arranged alphabetically by the last name of the author, as I do with the majority of my fiction books.  It makes it easier to find them!!

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.

Hidden behind the other books in this picture is a very slim, very battered paperback called The Treasure is the Rose by Julia Cunningham.  This book was originally published in 1973, when my mom was 11, and she fell in love with the story.  I can remember reading this book with her, and was so touched when she gave it to me.  The whole book is kind of falling apart, but I still love it, and have such warm memories of the gentle Ariane who loved her roses and her husband so much.

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

Honestly, this shelf has a lot of books I feel kind of so-so about.  I think the top one to ditch would be the random play about Robert E. Lee that I’ve never even read – why do I even HAVE that book?!  Where did it come from??  My life is full of mystery.

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

I would probably keep Time to Go House by Walter Edmonds (which I reread back in 2013).  I have a lot of memories of reading this with my mom when I was growing up and really love it.  So much so that this actually her copy, which I pilfered at some point (I believe I’ve mentioned that book pilfering is almost a sport in our family! :-D)

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

Oh wow, if it’s not Time to Go House, it’s probably Mandy, which I have owned for so long that I just scrawled “SARAH W” in huge letters inside of it with no date or other information haha  I was completely fascinated with that book as a child – I loved the concept of having a special, secret hideaway – maybe because I’m the oldest of six!!  (And I actually reread this one in 2013 as well, if you’re interested in more details!)

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

Actually, I think Senior Year by Anne Emery.  I already owned a couple of the books from this series, so in order to read it properly, I of course needed to purchase more books!!  :-D

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

This shelf is a weird collection of books that I’ve owned for a long time, but haven’t necessarily read lately – or ever!  I’ve been really wanting to reread The Robe for a long time now, but it’s such a big block of a book that I keep kind of putting it off, even though I remember really liking it when I read it back in high school.  It’s a fictional account of the soldier who helped crucify Jesus and ended up winning his robe when the men gambled for it while Jesus was dying on the cross.  The story itself was full of excitement and was very intense, as the early days of the Church weren’t exactly known for their relaxation and luxury!

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

There is a small decorative box on this shelf that I’ve owned for so long that its origins are lost in the mists of time.  The little stuffed cow came from my mom – I loved cows and have collected stuffed cows for years now.  This one is so tiny and adorable AND it’s brown and white: a Guernsey, my favorite!!

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

That I collect books that I may or may not ever read!  Out of the five Lloyd C. Douglas tomes, I’ve only read one!

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

Everyone should participate in this book tag as it is great fun!!

For a free question:

10 – Which of these books was the most fun to read?

I never got a chance to mention The Wicked Marquis, which is possibly my favorite story on this shelf.  It’s just so lighthearted and fun, with a truly delightful heroine and likable characters all around.

Special thanks to Bibliobeth for coming up with this fun tag!  Next time – Shelf 2B, where we see more of my tendency to collect lots of books by the same authors!  :-D

Judy Bolton Mysteries // Books 11-15 // by Margaret Sutton

11.  The Unfinished House  (1938)
12.  The Midnight Visitor  (1939)
13.  The Name on the Bracelet  (1940)
14.  The Clue in the Patchwork Quilt  (1941)
15.  The Mark on the Mirror  (1942)

I’m continuing to read my way through the Judy Bolton series in five-book chunks, because if I’m honest, the books get a little same-y after a while, and they go down better in batches instead of all in one go.  At the end of The Riddle of the Double Ring, Judy became almost-engaged to Peter Dobbs, who is probably my favorite character in this series.  Steady and intelligent, Peter is a great balance for Judy’s tendency to be impulsive and sometimes too trusting.  Now that Peter is a lawyer, Judy is working as his secretary, and it was quite delightful to have an adorable little couple working together without any hanky-panky going on.  Instead, here’s a concept, Peter works all day, and so does Judy!

Way back in the beginning of the series, the small town in eastern Pennsylvania where Judy (and Peter) lived was destroyed in a flood when a dam burst.  Since then, they have all been living in a town about 30 miles away, Farrington.  Now Roulsville is being rebuilt, and The Unfinished House begins there, with some crazy shysters giving away completely useless lots in an effort to sucker people in.  This is the first book where Peter’s lawyering has a significant impact on the story – Judy works to find and expose the crooks, and Peter works to make sure they get their just desserts!  That aspect was kind of fun even if, as always, the story is a bit melodramatic.  This was also the last book in the series that I remember reading, so since then none of these stories seem remotely familiar to me.

These books definitely build on each other, so while they can be picked up and read in any order, reading them in order makes the whole process a great deal more cohesive.  Judy makes friends and helps them solve problems, so by this point in the series there is quite the little gang, all with backstories and shared histories.  While Sutton doesn’t make a great deal of effort to develop her characters, they still do have some personality and it is interesting to see where they go.

Judy seems like a pretty forward-thinking heroine for her time.  She isn’t big into all the “girly” stuffy of housekeeping and babies, but is totally supportive of her friends who are – The Name on the Bracelet is all about Judy going to visit a friend who is married and just had her first baby, and Judy is completely happy for her.  While marriage is viewed as a stable and good thing, Sutton is honest about how it doesn’t always work out.  The Mark on the Mirror talks a lot about why people get married, and why those marriages can break apart.  At this point, Judy and Peter are officially engaged and planning their wedding, and it was interesting to see how Sutton doesn’t act like that that will be the grand finale of Judy’s life, or her “career” of solving problems.  Instead, she emphasizes how the happiest marriages are the ones where the participants both support the other as they grow as individuals and grow together as a team.  Judy loves Peter, but also has some doubts about whether or not marriage is right for her.  Peter isn’t dismissive of these doubts, but instead works to show her how sincere he is in loving her for who she is.

I also thought that it was interesting that Judy’s parents had hoped that she would go to college instead of “just” getting married!  It isn’t a big part of the story, but it’s mentioned in The Clue in the Patchwork Quilt that they were somewhat disappointed that Judy decided to become Peter’s secretary and later his wife instead of pursuing her studies further.  Out of Judy’s gang of friends, one is married and one is engaged at this point – the other girls are all pursuing their own careers and education in a manner that isn’t made a big fuss of – pretty solid for those “backwards” times in the 1930’s!

Probably the most thought-provoking book out of this batch is The Name on the Bracelet.  Judy goes to visit her friend Irene, and Irene’s husband Dale.  They’ve just had their first baby, and Judy arrives on the day that Irene and the baby are coming home from the hospital.  In hospital, Irene has made friends with another first-time mother, Jane.  Now, this book was nothing if not predictable – we spent a literal couple of chapters leading up to the fact that Irene and Jane have dressed their babies JUST ALIKE, so it’s not big surprise to the reader when the babies get mixed up as the ladies leave the hospital.  Interestingly enough, this is another case where Sutton isn’t afraid to create an unhappy marriage situation – Jane has a “terrible” husband and in-laws that she is trying to escape from, at a time when women – especially young mothers – didn’t have a lot of options for earning money.  ANYWAY the point is, Dale and Judy realize that the baby is the wrong baby.  At this point, Dale decides, emphatically, that Irene will not be told!  Judy is very unhappy with this decision, as she is an honest soul, but Dale insists that this is what is best for Irene.  As Dale and Judy are unable to locate Jane – who has done a runner in an attempt to escape from the husband/inlaws – for a while it is uncertain as to whether or not Dale will ever get his real baby back.  Watching the way this lie impacts his relationship with Irene, and the way that Judy contemplates whether or not it’s best to have true honesty in a marriage, is quite interesting.  In the end, of course everything is made right, and Dale even receives confirmation from the doctor that lying to Irene was what was best for her health.  Judy, however, remains convinced that truly good marriages are built on absolute honesty and transparency, and even asks Peter to promise that no matter what happens in their future, he will always tell her uncomfortable truths instead of comfortable lies.  While the story itself, in all honesty, wasn’t that great, I did find the whole truth/lie/protection question to be intriguing.

All in all, while these books haven’t been amazing – pretty solid 3.5* reads all around – they have been interesting.  I hear a lot of people being very dismissive of the early part of the 1900’s, as though “the patriarchy” was forcing all women to be enslaved housewives, but actually reading books from that era reveal a much more layered and nuanced society (surprise, surprise) wherein yes, being a housewife was the “regular” pursuit of women at the time, but not the only one, and not the end-all of a woman’s life.  It’s also no true surprise to reasonable people to recognize that many men, like basically all the men in Sutton’s stories, were supportive and encouraging to the women in their lives, wanting them to grow and learn.  While Peter and other menfolk in these stories can be protective of the women, it’s always with an acknowledgement of the inherent autonomy of the women they love.

Gardener Mysteries // by Mary Freeman

  • Devil’s Trumpet (1999)
  • Deadly Nightshade (1999)
  • Bleeding Heart (2000)
  • Garden View (2002)

This series was first brought to my attention by Fictionophile, who reviewed the first book last year.  I believe that the series has been reissued under the author’s name of Mary Rosenblum – my understanding is that her real name is Mary Rosenblum, but since most of her writing was science fiction, she published this little cozy mystery series under the pen name of Mary Freeman.

It took me a long time to work my way through these four books, not because they weren’t enjoyable, but because I had some difficultly locating them!  My library weirdly only owned the first and third books in the series.  After I read and enjoyed the first book, I found a secondhand copy of the second book on eBay… that took forever to get here.  By the time it had arrived, Bleeding Heart was due back to the library because someone else had it on reserve – and there was only one copy in the whole system!  So then I had to wait until whoever that was finished the book (I almost left them a note asking them to hurry when I returned the book!), and finally was able to read both it and the fourth book, which I also purchased secondhand.

So while I’m not completely positive that this series was worth the hassle, it was overall quite enjoyable and engaging.  Rachel O’Conner is the main character of the series.  She lives in a small down in the Willamette Valley of Washington state, which has been mostly a farming/orchard community until recently, when it is starting to become much more touristy.  There are mixed feelings about the tourists from the long-time residents – many dislike the change and see only the negatives, while others recognize that the influx of money from rich outsiders may be the only way to really preserve their town.

Rachel herself is a likable, determined, hardworking heroine.  She owns her own landscaping business, having chosen not to continue working the family orchard under the leadership of her uncle, who definitely belongs to the old guard.  While still young, her business is starting to establish herself.  Rachel is very knowledgeable about her work, and excellent at gently nudging customers towards good long-term solutions for their landscaping issues.

In the first book, Rachel’s old high school flame returns to town, and I liked him, too.  Jeff has had a difficult life in many ways, but has returned to the town of Blossom as the chief of police, leaving behind a much more arduous law enforcement gig in a big city on the coast (I can’t remember which one… probably LA).  The romance between him and Rachel is built well throughout the series, as they both slowly build on their old friendship.

There is a whole cast of likable (and unlikable!) characters, so while each of these books would read find as individual stories, they really are a delight to read in order, watching some of the background characters grow as well.

The mysteries themselves were, at some level, the weak point of the stories.  While not bad, I did guess the bad guy on two of them, and in the last one the bad guy seemed a bit of a stretch.  Despite this, I really enjoyed reading these books because I enjoyed the characters and setting so much.

Overall, Freeman does a pretty good job of keeping the politics to a minimum, although there was a bit of insistence that “conservative” means “old, boring, stubborn stick-in-the-mud who refuses to modernize or care about anything other than earning $$$” while “liberal” means “forward-thinking, open-minded, kind, intelligent, far-seeing, generous individual who cares about the environment and other people even it means a great deal of personal sacrifice.”  As someone who definitely identifies as conservative, but who also does care about the environment and other people, it got a little old to be constantly told that in order to be a true conservative, I actually have to be an old grumpy white man.

But this was a fairly minor theme throughout, so I was willing to mostly overlook it.  Overall, I definitely recommend these (if you can find them!) if you are looking for some relaxing cozies with likable characters.  The series wraps up very well at the end, giving a definite conclusion to the books in a way that I found to be very satisfying.

NB: It appears that for the reprint of these books under Mary Rosenblum, they have changed the name of the last book to Deadly Harvest. Why they would do this when there is another book in the series that already starts with the word “deadly,” I have no idea.  Each of the titles – including Garden View – ties neatly into the actual story.  The last book doesn’t really have much to do with harvesting, so I definitely prefer the original title all around.

Rearview Mirror // September 2018

So as regular readers of my blog may recall, I only work (outside the home) seasonally.  A while back I realized that one of my life goals was actually to be a migrant farm worker, except without the migrant part, so I started working at a greenhouse in the spring and an orchard in the fall.  Various life events last spring meant that I actually skipped the greenhouse half of the year, so when I started back at the orchard in August, I was amazed yet again by how much TIME working takes up!  It’s so ridiculous!  Hours of my life that could be spent doing awesome stuff like reorganizing closets, weeding the garden, freezing tomatoes, and, of course, reading, instead spent – working!  What even.

Anyway, as you can see, a little regular work is probably good for the discipline of my soul.  August, September, and October are the busiest months of the year at the orchard, and while I haven’t been working overtime hours or anything, I have still been working a lot, and not spending as much time reading and reviewing!  I also haven’t been spending a lot of time reading other people’s reviews, as the 284 emails in my inbox attest – basically all of them are blog posts from book blogs I follow…!!!!

While I’m not exactly in a reading slump, I haven’t been reading a lot of books that I love.  For a couple of months now I feel like the overwhelming majority of books I’ve read have just been decent.  Not a waste of time, but also not magic.  I have read SO MANY 3.5* reads.  But here’s hoping that I’ll find a new personal favorite this month.

October will be another busy month for sure, but after that things should somewhat calm down.  I’ll still be working, since the main part of my  job is to drive the delivery truck twice a week, but because we will be done harvesting, there won’t be quite as much extra stuff going on – right now, I also spend a lot of time helping to sort and grade apples, and also jug cider, plus about a million random chores like picking up an order of pumpkins from another local farm, watering mums, taking inventory of how many jars of apple butter we have left, helping get ready for the county fair, loading empty apple crates onto the wagon so the pickers can fill them with apples, helping in the sales room, etc.  We’re a very small operation, so everyone does a bit of everything.  Plus, it’s only about a mile from my house, so I’m the first person to get called if there is just a ‘quick’ project – I generally don’t mind popping in for just an hour or two since it’s so close.

Anyway, here is the book update for September – sadly thin! – but still going along.

Favorite September Read:

I really hate choosing a reread for this slot, but I read so many so-so books this month, that I think I am going to go with Uprooted by Naomi Novik anyway.  I loved this book even more the second time around!

Most Disappointing September Read:

I didn’t read any books that were emotionally devastating this month or anything, but I was rather disappointed with Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch.  There was a lot of potential here, but I never really connected with the characters or cared that much about them.  The practicality of the world building also confused me a little bit, and in the end I just didn’t really feel like finishing the series.

Other September Reads:

  • The Accident by Chris Pavone – 3.5* – engaging with a good twist, but unlikable characters and a vague villain.
  • And Both Were Young by Madeline L’Engle – 3.5* – a nice ‘coming of age’ sort of story with a good sense of its era.
  • Blind Spot by Dani Pettrey – 3.5* – very readable with likable characters.
  • The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer – 4* – typical Heyer hijinks.
  • Dead Drift by Dani Pettrey – 3.5* – good conclusion to the series.
  • Gold of Kings by Davis Bunn – 3.5* – not a bad read, but not engaging enough for me to pick up the sequel.
  • Riddle-Master trilogy by Patricia McKillip – 4* – solid storytelling, but a bit rambly
  • The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola – 3.5* – interesting but ultimately a bit meh.

Last September…

I thoroughly enjoyed the classic Vertigo.  Even though it started a little slowly, I was swiftly dragged into the story.  It also had a perfect ending.  I also read Maria Snyder’s Study Series, and really enjoyed them.  I definitely want to reread the entire series sometime.

TBR Update:

For those of you who don’t know, I’m weirdly obsessive with organizing the TBR, and have it on a spreadsheet divided into five different tabs:

  • Standalones:  856 (DOWN two!  However, like I said, I have almost 300 blog posts that I may or may not catch up on someday haha)
  • Nonfiction:  78 (up two)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  678 (down three!  Being behind on emails means I haven’t been reading all the Kindle bargain/freebie lists, either!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  238 (up four!)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 108 (holding steady)

Awaiting Review:

I tried to get caught up with a couple of minireview posts, but I’m still a little behind!  I finally was able to finish the Garden Mysteries (I’ve been waiting for book #3 to come into the library FOREVER), so I will hopefully be posting about those next.  I also read a little batch of Kindle books called “Romancing Wisconsin” which ended up being four novellas that were decent but not amazing.  Finally, I got to reread Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore as my most recent read for the Traveling Book Club.

Current Reads:

Normally, I like to have three or four (or five) books going at a time, but when life is busy like it has been, I usually just read one, plus a bedtime book – I always like to have a relaxing chick lit bedtime book going!  Today I started reading another Judy Bolton mystery.  I read the first ten in the series a while  back, and I’m going to read another five now.  They’re quick reads, so it shouldn’t take too long, and I really do want to finish reading the series.  Some of these later ones are the ones that I haven’t ever read before, so I’m looking forward to that, even if these do tend to be a bit simplistic!

For my bedtime read, I’m working through a little trilogy of books I got for free on a Kindle deal – the Cupid’s Coffeeshop books by Courtney Hunt.  I finished the first one already and it was okay, but unless the rest of the books are also free, I don’t see myself reading past these first three that I already own.

Approaching the Top of the Pile…

The probable next five reads:

  • Four more Judy Bolton books
  • Terms of Use by Scott Allan Morrison – this was one of the first Kindle books I ever bought, yet I’ve never read it!
  • A set of Love Inspired books
  • Young Pioneers by Rose Wilder Lane – should have been one of my #20BooksofSummer reads!
  • Utah Lion by James Ralph Johnson – a book from my childhood that I inherited from my great-grandma, who was a school teacher.  This was another #20BooksofSummer book that I didn’t get to this summer!

That’s the update for now.  Happy October!!

September 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!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

I realize that it’s now October, but September really flew by!  I had most of this post already written up, and they are books that I read last month – so here are a few quick paragraphs just to try and get somewhat caught up!!

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola – 3.5*

//published 2016//

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from this book.  I had read a couple of good reviews of it (by Books for the Trees and also Cleopatra Loves Books), so I knew that it was a historical crime book – and that was about it!  The setting was fantastic and the characters were well-drawn.  However, while I found this book compulsively readable, it never really captured me.  There was a twist at the end that I had guessed almost from the very beginning, and it made me feel rather out of sorts with a few of the characters along the way!  So while I did overall enjoy this read, it didn’t really make  me want to rush out and see what else Mazzola has been up to.  I think part of it was that I was expecting to experience some terror while reading this, and that just never really happened.

The Accident by Chris Pavone – 3.5*

//published 2014//

A while back I read The Travelers by this author.  I liked the book enough to want to try another of his works, and while I enjoyed this one as well, it didn’t really blow me away in any sense.  It was a good plot and good pacing, but it just felt like loads of people got knocked off unnecessarily.  The ‘villain’ of the piece was a big vague – like we know who he is, but he’s really just sort of a shadow man; there is never anything from his point of view or anything.  I think the book definitely would have benefited from having him be a little more concrete.  The other problem was that I didn’t like anyone in this book, so while I wanted to root for the ‘good’ guys, they weren’t super likable either, so in a way I kind of didn’t care. However, there was a really good twist towards the end of the book that suddenly made everything come together, which bumped this up half a star.  Pavone isn’t a super prolific writer, so I’ll probably still check out his other couple of books.  They’ve  been fun for one-time reads, even if they aren’t instant classics.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik – 4.5*

//published 2015//

After reading SO MANY 3-3.5* books, I really wanted to read something that I knew I would love.  Ever since I finished Uprooted last year, I’ve wanted to reread it, so I picked it up the other day and enjoyed it even more the second time around.  This was one of my top three books from 2017, and my reread only cemented that opinion.  This book is incredibly magical, with fantastic world-building and engaging characters.  I absolutely love the terror inspired by the Wood, and the ending is just so, so perfect.  I’m still not a fan of the sex scene, because it makes me feel uncomfortable recommending this book to younger teen readers, but other than that this book is really just a complete delight.  I’ve ordered Novik’s second novel, Spinning Silver, and am really looking forward to it!

The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer – 4*

//published 1940//

We were camping this weekend, so I grabbed this one for a quick read.  Heyer never disappoints, and this book was full of all sorts of lively adventures and genuinely funny moments.  Heyer’s writing frequently involves a somewhat-older male lead with a somewhat-younger female lead.  I have mixed feelings about this, and I realized when reading this book that it really depends on the female’s situation.  In a lot of her books, the girl has been out and about in the world (Frederica and Deb from Faro’s Daughter come to mind), and then I don’t mind an age difference so much.  But other books, like this one (and actually the last Heyer I read, The Convenient Marriage), the girl isn’t even ‘out’ yet, so having an older (and by older I mean late 20’s/early 30’s, not like her dad’s age or something) fellow sweep her off her feet feels a little weirder.  I realize that it’s a product of the time, where (upper class) men frequently waited until later in life to marry than women, but it still sometimes feels a little strange to have a 29-year-old man who has been out and about in the world marry a 17-year-old girl who hasn’t even had a Season.

HOWEVER all that to say that despite that, this book was still great fun with some very likable characters and some hilarious hijinks.  Heyer is so reliable as an entertaining and fun writer.  I can’t believe that I am still working my way through her bibliography, but I’m grateful that she was so prolific!!