January Minireviews

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.

Followed by Frost by Charlie Holmberg – 4*

//published 2015//

This is one of my sister’s favorite books, so when she got a hard copy of it for Christmas, she generously gave it to me for the first read. I was a little leery because I read Holmberg’s Paper Magician books last year and was quite frustrated with them – the concept and world were fantastic; the characters and actual story were unbelievable and boring.

However, Followed by Frost was a much better read.  I absolutely loved the concept of this story and the way that it unwound.  Smitha’s character development is thoughtful and believable.  There were times when things dragged a little bit, and I would have liked a little more of Smitha’s life before the curse, to get the full impact of what a jerk she was, but overall a very solid read that, while following a basically traditional fairy tale pattern, did so in a creative and engaging way.

Wet Magic by E. Nesbit – 3.5*

//published 1913//

I really have a soft spot for Nesbit’s writing, but while this one was perfectly enjoyable, it wasn’t as magical as some of her other books.  Things bogged down a bit in the middle when the children got caught up in an underwater war, and there was this weird thing where the first time they met the mermaid she was super grumpy and unreasonable, and then she suddenly was actually really nice and wonderful and perfect, but I could never get over my initial feelings about her, so I spent the whole story being suspicious that she was going to turn out to be a bad guy after all.  All in all, while this was worth a one-time read, it’s not a new favorite.

Illusionarium by Heather Dixon – 3.5*

//published 2015//

I read a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses by this author a long time ago (pre-blog), so I thought I would give this book a try when I came across it.  Overall a solid read, but not one that really spoke to me.  The setting is interesting and the concept, of parallel worlds, is always one that engages me.  However, there were a few plot questions that left me feeling a little confused.  Dixon was also a little heavy-handed on the whole concept of having a “compass” inside of you that “points true north” (i.e. to the good) that everyone should follow.  A nice little thought, but kind of pointless if “true north” is just based on what you feel is the right thing.  The supposedly bad character in this story was also doing what she thought was best for her country and people, so I think an argument could be made that she was following her “true north” … which is why moral relativity doesn’t really work all that great in real life…  Ennywho, still a fun and imaginative read.

Kate Burkholder Mysteries // by Linda Castillo

First off, these books were brought to my attention by my good book-blogging buddy Stephanie.  The links in the titles above actually go to her reviews of these books, so you should definitely check out her thoughts!!

It’s been a while since I just sat down and immersed myself in a series (especially a mystery series), but I am so glad that I did that with these books!  I really enjoyed these mysteries a lot, and I’m excited because it appears that Castillo is still adding to the series, with #11 scheduled for publication this summer.

Part of the pleasure in these books for me is their setting – right here in Ohio.  The protagonist, Kate Burkholder, is the chief of police in a small town in Amish country (i.e. northeastern-ish Ohio).  Kate was born and raised Amish, but left the community at the age of 18.  Through a series of life events, she joined law enforcement, and a decade or so after she left, finds herself back in Painters Mill.  Her unique background means that she can often work as a sort of bridge between the Amish and non-Amish (aka “English”) communities, as she is familiar with the Amish culture and also speaks Pennsylvania Dutch.

Kate is overall a likable person, which is a big part of why this series works.  At the beginning, I was afraid she was going to turn into one of those dark, tortured souls who is drunk all the time and on a path to self-destruction.  Instead, Castillo decides to put Kate on a path of progress – throughout the books she is able to face various demons from her past, becoming stronger and growing as a person.

Part of this is Kate’s romantic interest, John Tomasetti.  If I’m honest, Tomasetti was one of the reasons I enjoyed the series so much.  He also comes from a troubled and tragic past, but overall is levelheaded, intelligent, and logical.  I really appreciated that Castillo didn’t feel like she had to give Kate a dumbed-down boyfriend in order to make Kate look good.  Instead, Kate and Tomasetti make a great team, bouncing ideas and theories off of each other, respecting the other’s thoughts and opinions, and providing each other with challenges to grow.

The mysteries themselves are, for the most part, well done.  There were a few times where I felt like Castillo got a little carried away (the reason Breaking Silence only got 3* was because, in my opinion, Castillo went one twist too far – instead of the solution that was logical, she tried to make it the conclusion that was !!!! and I just couldn’t get behind her reasoning for why the !!!! solution made sense), but overall she keeps things within the bounds of reason.

Throughout, Castillo’s descriptions of the Amish community feel respectful.  She neither demonizes or deifies them.  Instead, there is admiration for their strengths (strong families and communities, willingness to help and protect one another, joy in a simple life, etc.) and gentle criticism for their weaknesses (unwillingness to work with outsiders, tendency to judgmentalness, pacifism even to the detriment of justice, etc.).

I especially appreciated times when Kate recognized that her young, rebellious self may have been hard on the people in the community she was determined to leave behind.  This particularly happens with her relationship with the local Amish community’s bishop.  Kate acknowledges that when she was young she just saw him as a bossy, grumpy, judgmental old man.  Now, as an adult, she recognizes the fact that he has the best interests of his flock at heart, and works hard to keep his community safe and cared for, even at great personal sacrifice.

Kate also is able to see that while there are aspects of her former community that she doesn’t necessarily agree with, that they are still important tenets to the Amish, and are worthy of respect as a part of their personal faith.  That’s not to say that I always agreed with Kate.  If I’m honest, my faith probably more closely mirrors the Amish than Kate, who no longer claims any faith at all, and there are times that she only sees judgment from people where I can see that they are coming from a place of love.  A big example is when she and Tomasetti start living together.  Kate is offended that her brother and sister (still Amish) don’t agree with that, while I (an individual who still old-fashioned-ly doesn’t believe in cohabitation before marriage) see that her brother and sister are concerned for her and want the best for her.

In a weird way, Kate’s relationship with Tomasetti was an example of why I don’t think sleeping/living together outside of marriage is the path of wisdom.  Throughout, they are frequently on uncertain footing regarding how the other person feels, constantly questioning and confused with no clear boundaries or goals.  While I really loved the two of them together, they also drove me crazy sometimes, especially Kate (since we’re in her head the most), whose constant waffling and utterly ridiculous refusal to have basic conversations with Tomasetti (even when he was ready and trying to have them) drove me honestly crazy.  Another of the 3* reads (After the Storm) was actually a perfectly good mystery (although also possessed an unnecessary twist), but Kate’s behavior towards Tomasetti in that book got on my nerves so much that I couldn’t honestly rank it any higher.  She does things like literally sits in her office at work for hours instead of going home because she’s afraid to talk with him?!  They’re at a major crossroads of their relationship, and instead of acting like an adult, she hides like a petulant child for basically the entire book, and I just wanted to throttle her.

Besides her inability to have adult conversations, the other big thing about Kate that annoyed me was her obsession with “being strong”, i.e. not crying or showing a lot of emotion.  That’s semi-understandable in her role as chief of police, but utterly ridiculous to still feel that way toward Tomasetti when they’ve been in a serious relationship for literal years.  A true relationship with mutual trust involves emotional openness, and I just didn’t feel like Kate was there, which was fine for the first couple of books, but annoying that by book #10 she’s still thinking about how embarrassed she is that Tomasetti is seeing her cry.  Hello?  Sometimes in life things happen that make you cry, and actually one of the awesome parts about having a good relationship is that you have someone there for you when you are crying who doesn’t belittle your feelings or blow them off.  Tomasetti is amazingly supportive of Kate all the time, so her persistent and purposeful lack of emotional vulnerability just got annoying.

If there was another thing about the series that I would change, it would be to make more of a relationship with Kate and her siblings.  I feel like Kate spends a lot of time internally angsting about their lack of a relationship and feeling guilty about it… and then still never reaching out to them or visiting them.  It goes back to that whole thing where, with personal issues, Kate all too frequently just pretends they aren’t there, but still feels really guilty about them, and sometimes I get extremely tired of listening to her whine about them instead of just DOING what needs to be done.

On the other hand, there is so much about Kate to like.  She’s an incredibly hard worker, she’s brilliant at her work, she’s funny, she’s a great boss, she’s intelligent, she’s good at recognizing her own weaknesses, and she has a real heart and love for the people in her community.  These books are mostly from Kate’s first-person perspective, and I enjoyed spending time with her and her thoughts.  (Although I will say that it really low-grade aggravated me that Kate’s parts are always present tense, but all third person perspectives were past tense.  It just didn’t make sense and made everything read weird to me.)

While the series has its ups and downs, overall I would give it 4*, because I feel like Castillo is really getting into a groove.  It had been a long time since a book made me literally pace the floor while reading it, but I was so stressed when reading Gone Missing that that is exactly what I did!  The last three books thus far were my favorites from the whole series, and so far I feel like there is still so much for Castillo to explore.  I really appreciate the way that even her secondary (and third-ary lol) characters also change through time.  I’m genuinely in love with the other members of Kate’s small police force (especially Glock).

If you enjoy mysteries that are a little more intense than cozies, but aren’t full of graphic sex and violence (although there is a bit of swearing), then I would definitely recommend these.  Personally, I can’t wait for the next one to appear!!

Eagle & Crane // by Suzanne Rindell

//published 2018//

It’s been several days since I finished this superb novel, but the characters and writing are still circulating through my mind.  Rindell creates such an incredible sense of time and place that I was completely drawn into the story in a way that I rarely am with historical novels.

The story begins with a federal agent in California in 1943.  An elderly Japanese man and his adult son have escaped from the prison camp, and Agent Bonner is visiting their old home to see if he can find any trace of them.  Within that first chapter, while Bonner is talking with the current owner of the Yamada’s home, a plane falls from the sky and erupts into flames.  From the wreckage two bodies are pulled out – presumably both of the Yamada men.  Yet Bonner feels that there is more to the story, and he decides to stick around town and see what he can find…

Meanwhile, Rindell begins to take us back in time, through the 1930’s, giving us background on the Yamadas, on the young man who currently owns their farm (Louis Thorn), and on their complicated relationship involving a family feud, cultural and financial differences, a love for airplanes, partnership in an aerial stunt show, and a young woman whom they both loved.

The majority of the chapters are the backstory, because the backstory is the main story, but Rindell jumps forward to Agent Bonner’s activities just frequently enough to keep us abreast of his investigation.  She also does an excellent job of giving us enough information so that every time we joined Agent Bonner, I had a different theory for what really happened in the horrific airplane accident.

Quite a while back I was doing a lot of reading about World War II and was on the lookout for stories set in and around the American Japanese community/Japanese concentration camps in America.  It’s a truly horrific time in our country’s history, and consequently one that is frequently glossed over during WWII studies.  One book that I read at that time was China Dolls, which is set in California in the 1930’s.  One of the characters is actually Japanese, and I was hoping that the book would give me some insight into the setting.  Unfortunately, while an alright story, China Dolls lacked any true sense of culture or place.  It felt like a story that could have been set in any time period, about girls from any culture.

Thankfully, Rindell’s book was everything I had hoped China Dolls would be, and more.  It’s an incredibly engaging story written about characters who feel like real people.  I was completely caught up in the story of Louis Thorn, Harry Yamada, and Ava Brooks.  I was afraid that the story was going to devolve into a desperate love triangle, but Rindell balances that part of the story incredibly well, making the relationships between the three believable, giving weight and motive to different actions by the three characters.  I personally fell in love with all of them.  Quiet, thoughtful, poor, hardworking Louis, who struggles between his loyalty to his family and what he personally is beginning to believe is right.  Intelligent, dashing, adventurous Harry, who is keen enough to see the writing on the wall and recognize how often he is going to be judged harshly because of his race, but doesn’t let the bitterness control him. Independent, clever, crafty Ava, who decides what she wants and isn’t afraid to pursue it.

The secondary characters are also drawn well.  For me, one of the ways to determine that is whether I’m surprised or confused by a secondary character’s actions or not – that is, is this character consistent, or does the author just manipulate them into doing whatever needs to happen in any given scene?  In this story, I felt that all those characters were drawn well – the pilots, Ava’s stepfather and her mother, Harry’s family, Louis’s family, Agent Bonner, his landlady, even the sheriff and his deputy – if a person in this book had a name, that person also had enough individualism to be their own character that I could describe.

Pacing in this story is spot-on.  While I wouldn’t really call it a mystery or a thriller, there is just enough fog around what really happened in the plane wreck to keep me wondering, even as I watched the complicated ties between the characters develop. Rindell does a truly excellent job at looking at the racism surrounding the American Japanese community, and studying that incredibly strong urge that we all have to find a scapegoat to blame for all our troubles – and it’s especially convenient if that scapegoat looks and acts nothing like ourselves.  Parts of this book were consequently genuinely tragic, but I never felt like Rindell was pulling emotional punches just for the sake of making a scene.  The tragedies that occurred felt (sadly) inevitable, even while I kept desperately hoping they would turn out differently.

All in all, 4.5* for Eagle & Crane, and I highly recommend it if you enjoy historical novels, or if you are just looking for a truly fantastic story with realistic characters.  I haven’t read any of Rindell’s other books yet, but if they are anywhere close to being as strong as this one, I am definitely looking forward to it.  This particular book was brought to by attention by FictionFan’s excellent review – as usual, she is far more coherent than I am! – so be sure to check it out.

All the Beautiful Lies // by Peter Swanson

//published 2018//

Sometimes I read books and I literally can’t decide how to rate them because the book has left me feeling so conflicted.  This is definitely one of those books, as I’ve ranged anywhere from 2 to 4 stars.

The pros:

  • I couldn’t put this book down.  I read it in basically one day, reading snippets (yay short chapters!) whenever I could.
  • The writing is excellent, with perfect pacing.
  • The use of past and present timelines really, really works with this book, adding to the tension and working to perfectly change the reader’s perception of various characters.

The cons:

  • Basically, this book is about sex.  Virtually every relationship explored is a sexual one.  While the book isn’t super explicit, it’s still, in my mind, the main theme since it is the driving force between almost every pair of people in this story, no matter who you draw the lines between.
  • The majority of the sexual relationships in this book are between people with inappropriate age gaps.  While most of them aren’t necessarily adult/minor relationships, they nearly ALL begin that way, with the younger person being emotionally groomed by the older person.  I was extremely uncomfortable with the “we’re consenting adults” attitude, when one of the adults is barely 18 and the other is over 25 years older.
  • The ending was really weird to me, and I didn’t like it.

So I guess at the end of the day, my rating based on the actual writing is a confident 4*.  My rating based on the subject material is more like 2*.  And I feel like I should clarify that Swanson wasn’t presenting these relationships as positives (although he didn’t always present them as specifically negative, either).  In a way, he was pointing out the way these types of relationships cycle through generations.  I think I would have been okay with it in that sense if it had just been two relationships, like one when a person was the younger part of the pair and then later when that person was the older part of the pair, because it would have made more sense.  But instead there are at least five different scenarios, not counting the ones that are mentioned off-handedly as part of one person’s past where this person was involved with multiple young people/minors.  That was just too much for me.  And it wasn’t even the age gap that got me as much as the creepy way that the older person manipulated things to make sure they could be with the younger person, and then groomed that person to become their lover ICK.

On the flip side, I really wanted to see where things were going in this book.  I had some theories and ideas, some of which were right and some of which weren’t.  I loved the way that Swanson cleverly manipulated my feelings about the present timeline by giving me something in a character’s past timeline to make me readjust my overall thinking and feelings about them.

This isn’t a book that I would ever reread, but I’m still keeping Swanson on my radar.  I really enjoyed The Girl With a Clock for a Heart when I read it last year, and have every intention of picking up more of Swanson’s books in the future.

Ana of California // by Andie Teran

//published 2015//

I still randomly subscribe to book boxes when I have a little spare cash (it’s an addiction).  They pretty consistently send books I wouldn’t necessarily pick up on my own, and sometimes they even end up being books that I enjoy.  I wasn’t too sure about Ana since the synopsis said that it was a book in “the tradition of Anne of Green Gables.”  Sometimes there are books in your life that you are so emotionally bound to that you know it’s kind of unreasonable, but there you are.  AGG is of those books for me, and I have seen other interpretations of it that do that wonderful story and its perfect characters a huge disservice.  So I was nervous about Ana.

And in the end though – I was pleasantly surprised, as this story ended up being a 4* read for me.

Ana is set in modern-day California.  Ana is an orphan being shuttled around the foster care system who is just about out of options.  At 15, Ana is one of those people who wants to get things right, but never can quite seem to.  Horrified at the prospect of returning to a group home, Ana accepts an opportunity to live an work on a farm.

Abbie and Emmett, brother and sister, have run their family farm together for years.  Abbie is convinced that having a younger person around the farm will help with the work and with the overall spirit of the place, which is a little down since Emmett’s wife left him the year before.  However, she neglects to tell Emmett that the orphan heading their way is actually a girl.  Prejudiced against Ana when she arrives, Emmett says that she is on a month trial.

There were a lot of things to like about this book.  First off, if you’ve never read Anne of Green Gables (I hope that isn’t true), it would have no impact on the reading of this story, which is completely its own thing (in a good way).  But if you HAVE read the classic, it was fun to see where Teran had borrowed concepts and given them her own twist without getting out of hand.  For instance, having Abbie be the one who immediately loves Ana and wants her to stay while Emmett is the grumpy one, felt natural and fun.  The whole thing where Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk had its own updated version here that still felt believable and moved the story forward.

Ana herself was a very sympathetic character.  Struggling to do the right thing but so often accidentally making the wrong choice, there were also a lot of moments where she did do the right thing, but the prejudices against her painted the incidents in a bad light.  It was a good reminder that the people around us frequently are struggling with things of which we are unaware, and being slow to judge is a good thing.

Overall, I felt like Teran did a decent job modernizing this story.  Some aspects of Ana’s past are much darker than Anne’s, but for the most part it was handled pretty deftly.  I appreciated a YA story that didn’t revolve around sex, too.

Places where this book really falls down as an AGG parallel are with some of the other characters.  Diana’s replacement, Rye, was incredibly annoying – she spent all of her time whining about how she hated her small-town life, being jealous of the fact that Ana lived in LA (hello??  She’s a penniless orphan??  While you have two incredibly loving and supportive parents?!), refusing to forgive her ex-best friend despite repeated apologies for what he did, and lying about Ana not once, but TWICE to get herself out of trouble!  Rye’s character really brought down the overall tone of the book for me, even setting aside the fact that she is nothing like the sweet, kind, innocent Diana from the original – on her own, Rye is still obnoxious.  

There were other places where the story stuttered.  Sometimes, the third person narration would give me some background on characters and situations that Ana still didn’t know about, or would jump to what another person (usually Abbie) was thinking/feeling.  This was a little confusing and distracted from the flow of the story.  Also connected, although a bit of a personal preference, but having two main characters whose names start with the same letter is always a little confusing to me, I think because I’m a very fast reader.  Sometimes I would have to go back to the beginning of the paragraph to remind myself if these feelings belonged to Abbie or Ana.

It also felt like some things were just kind of skimmed over, so I still had a lot of questions about some of the different characters.  I really thought this book could have been longer and more fleshed out.

With my midwestern farming mindset, I couldn’t quite get my head around the farm where Ana was living.  Is this really what farms look like in northern California?  Just like… tons of random crops all going at the same time, all of which have to be hand-picked (we tend towards acres and acres of one crop around here)?  I also wasn’t convinced that Abbie, on her own, was somehow doing all of this cooking/food preservation, especially in her home kitchen.  But, you know, maybe they do things differently in California…

I wanted this book to last a little longer, because the ending felt somewhat rushed.  It’s no shock to the reader that Ana is going to stay with Abbie and Emmett as her forever home, so it would have been nice to spend a little more time with that part of the story.  I would totally read a sequel to this story.

One of the things about AGG that I love is the sense of hope throughout the story.  While Anne has some dark times, she is always optimistic and working to become a better person.  Throughout the story, Anne never really gives into despair, although she may have reason to, and although there are some characters that are easier to dislike, there isn’t anyone truly mean-spirited or evil.  Some adaptations of AGG that I have seen/read fail to capture that spirit, turning the story into something much darker and more depressing in tone (I’m looking at you, Anne With an E).  All that to say, I think that the real reason that I enjoyed Ana of California was that Teran stuck with the vibe of the original, allowing Ana to come through the dark times of her life a stronger, better person, still looking for the good in other people, still willing to trust, still trying to be open and accepting, despite the betrayals of her past.

Ana stands on its own as an enjoyable story, but even more rare, I felt that it did give homage to the spirit of Anne of Green Gables as well.

The Runaway Princess // The Runaway Dragon // by Katie Coombs

//published 2006//

I actually really enjoy children’s books and try to read some throughout the year.  They frequently can hold as much emotion and thought-provoking-ness as books aimed at older readers, and I am always on the lookout for new favorites.  Mom read these books last year and thought that I might enjoy them, as I’m always up for fairy tales (and dragons).

These books focus on a princess named Meg, who lives a very happy life with her parents (in a castle, of course) until she turns 15 and her father and the prime minister decide to hold a contest for her hand – the prince who can vanquish the bandits, kill the dragon, and get rid of the witch will be given the traditional half the kingdom and Meg’s hand in marriage.

The first problem is that Meg has no interest in sitting around in a tower waiting to be rescued.  The second problem is that she thinks the bandits, dragon, and witch don’t deserve to die since they pretty much mind their own business.  So while the princes gather around to try and rescue Meg, Meg escapes from her tower and sets out to rescue the threats from whom she is supposedly being rescued!

The Runaway Princess had a lot of fun moments and some really likable characters.  It sometimes got a little heavy-handed on the whole “rebellious girl” theme (you know what I would like?  A story about a girl who LIKES embroidering!), and I think these kinds of stories can actually do girls an injustice by crossing a line from “girls can do whatever they want” to “if girls like girly things then they’re just wasting their lives,” which isn’t a message that I find to be particularly healthy, either.  Yes, girls should be able to learn swordfighting.  But they also shouldn’t be ashamed to learn sewing.

But on the whole, the adventure managed to ramble on without getting too polemic, and the characters were so likable that I was willing to overlook the eye-rolling moments.

//published 2009//

In the sequel, the baby dragon Meg discovers in the first book becomes impatient with his lot in life and takes off.  Meg and her friends set off to find the dragon, becoming embroiled in many adventures along the way.  While you definitely could read this book on its own, it was more enjoyable to read it after the first book, as most of Meg’s friends return for round two.

There are some great scenes in this one – some of the group being held captive by giants is particularly exciting – and plenty of rollicking adventures along the way.

All in all, these were easy 3.5* reads for me.  They were enjoyable and entertaining with likable characters.  Although the (frankly) boring message about how girls should be FREE from feminine constraints reared its ugly head, on the whole Coombs managed to keep it from taking over the whole story.  And there was a dragon, which always raises a book’s value for me.

Rearview Mirror // 2018

I was telling my husband yesterday that I feel like every year of my life is a little bit weirder than the year before.  But if the average weirdness level goes up by like, say, 5% per year, the 2017-2018 jump was way more. I think 2018 was at least 25% weirder than 2017.  Despite the extra doses of weirdness, though, 2018 was overall not a bad year.  I think it’s important to learn how to somewhat compartmentalize things, so that you can thoroughly enjoy the good bits without letting the bad parts bleed into everything.

When I was looking at my 2017 recap, to try and remember what the heck I write about during one of these posts, I was surprised to remember that last January 1 it was bitterly cold and there was snow on the ground!  Today is a more regular Ohio winter day: cold mud.  Still, it’s easy to get around in!

2018 Numbers:

At any rate, I read a LOT of books this year.  According to Goodreads, I ended up at 268 books read, which is about .7 books per day!  I did a pretty good job keeping track of books on Goodreads this year, but one of my (very few) reading goals for the upcoming year is to personally track books read on a spreadsheet so that I can come up with all kinds of fascinating stats, like how many books I read this year that were published in 1952 and how many of them were read on my Kindle and how many of them were over 200 pages and how many of them came from the library.  It’s possible that I can figure all that out from Goodreads, but who doesn’t love the power of a good spreadsheet??

The shortest book I read this year was Planting with Perennials by Richard Bird, a perfectly nice although rather bland beginner’s guide 64 pages long.  On the flip side, the longest book I read was Embers of War by Fredrik Logevall, a nonfiction tome that’s 864 pages long and took me a month to read.

One thing Goodreads does tell me that my spreadsheet won’t be able to is how popular books are on Goodreads with other readers, but according to GR, Ender’s Game (by Orson Scott Card) was the most popular book I read this year – a whopping 1,052,385 other people read the same book (which is funny to me only because I ended up feeling so ambivalent towards the story that I didn’t even bother reading the sequel), although part of that has to be because Ender’s Game became a movie this year as well.

The least popular book I read was on that wasn’t even ON Goodreads until I added it – Scotty: The Adventures of a Highland Fox by Frances Pitt.  That was a perfectly enjoyable little story about a wild fox raised in captivity, but wasn’t anything mind blowing.

2018 Highs & Lows:

My monthly Rearview Mirrors have continued to be some of my favorite posts to write.  I really like taking a moment each month to assess what’s been going on with the blog and my reading, plus it means that I have a list of my top 12 books at the end of the year!  According to those posts, here were my favorite reads this year:

On the flip side, here were my most disappointing reads this year, which, while not pleasurable to read, did lead to some cathartic rants, so that’s always good.

Other 4.5* or 5* reads:

Honestly, it was a weird year of reading.  There weren’t really any books that I felt over-the-moon excited about.  I had a lot of pleasurable reads, many (MANY) meh reads, and a few that were basically scarring experiences, but nothing that just filled me with ALL THE FEELS.  I’m staring at the list, trying to decide which was my favorite read of 2018, and I just can’t decide.  They were all so wildly different!  I was left with completely different feelings when I finished Kids of Appetite than when I finished Cotillion.  It’s hard to compare them!  I just didn’t have a book I felt like was a book I wanted everyone to read, although I think all of my favorites throughout the year are worthwhile.

The TBR:

Despite the fact that it is probably going to make me sad, I’m going to post the comparison numbers on the TBR from the end of December 2017 to now…

  • Standalones:  887 – despite my best efforts (*shifty eyes*) this slot has gained 67 books.  I blame all my fellow book bloggers for writing reviews I can’t resist.
  • Nonfiction:  83 – down two, so you can see that my adding-to-the-TBR addiction is actually FINE
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  675 – this one is up five, which is actually pretty good as I’ve definitely purchased way more than five books this year!  I’ve really been making an effort to read all of my own books and ditch the ones that don’t do anything for me.  With over a thousand physical books in this house, plus Kindle purchases, it’s an ongoing challenge!!!
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  238 – up 12, and this is honestly where I tend to bog down.  I get caught up in long series of books and it really slows down my efforts to reduce the TBR!!
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 108 – up three, which seems reasonable, right??

2019 Bookish Goals:

This blog is purely for my personal enjoyment, a way for me to keep track of what I’m reading and how I felt about it.  The fact that I have some other people along for the ride now is completely awesome, but also kind of a side effect haha  So per usual my goals have a lot more to do with my reading habits than they do with growing the blog.  I try to not get too carried away with goals, but here are a few:

  • Like I mentioned before, I want to track books both on Goodreads (because it’s fun) but also on a personal spreadsheet that will allow me to play with data, which is one of my nerd-brain’s favorite hobbies.
  • I want to continue working my way through my personal book collection.  Hard number goal?  Have the Personal tab of the TBR down to 600 by the end of the year.
  • Sometimes I keep reading books when I need to just stop.  I’ve gotten somewhat better about giving a book a DNF, but I need to step up my quitting game if I actually want to have time to get to books that I will enjoy.  Instead of feeling bad about giving the rest of a book a miss, I need to remind myself that I’m actually just wasting time I could be spending finding my next favorite book.
  • Unsubscribe from Kindle Unlimited!  Every time I get KU, I end up reading loads of pretty terrible chick lit books instead of something even moderately productive.  I realize that reading is a pleasurable thing and so reading a book I enjoy is never really a waste, but I have a lot of books on my list that are better than the mindless fluff I read whenever I have a KU subscription.  My immediate goal is to finish the book I’m currently reading there and then turn it off!!!

So I think that wraps it up for 2018.  I’m excited about sharing and discussing books with all of you throughout this upcoming year.  Happy 2019!!!

Rearview Mirror // December 2018

I am literally struggling to believe that it is not only the end of December, but the end of 2018!  I’ve been told that the older you get, the faster the time goes, and I can attest to that fact for sure!

December is traditionally a busy month, with much holiday excitement.  My mom really loves Christmas a lot.  We were home schooled growing up, and usually took the entire month of December off (except for math, which was a year-round subject haha) to focus on making gifts, baking cookies, visiting grandparents for candy-making, and various other Christmasy adventures.  While I’m not quite as into Christmas as Mom, I still did manage to get some decorations up, including a Very Small Tree (hopefully next year our back-porch-becomes-a-sun-room project will actually be finished and a REAL tree can go there!).  This is better than last year (I was sick a lot of November and December) when I put up ZERO Christmas decorations.  I realize Christmas decorations aren’t all there is to Christmas (I’ve watched enough Christmas movies! :-D), but having a little tree and some tinsel around really does make me happy.  There have been some weird things going on in our family, so Christmas wasn’t completely like normal, but for the most part we still had a good time with lots of laughter and food.

As a side note, for Christmas my brother got me a book about the Vietnam War to follow up on Embers of Warso that’s exciting!  I also have some Christmas money that will probably be spent on books (and washi tape if I’m honest).  As always, I gave my two nieces (cousins to each other, three months apart) books, because that is who I am as an aunt, and this year they were introduced to the delights of The Moffats.  Books have always been a big part of our Christmases.

I overall had a pretty low-energy month here on the blog.  Things have still been busy, so I have still been on a track of fluff reading.  I worked in some other books, but then got distracted by a ridiculous chick lit series that I’ve now almost finished.  Hopefully next month I’ll be ready to actually hit some of the thrillers sitting on my shelf from the library.  I just haven’t been feeling it!

Favorite December Read:

This slot definitely has to go to All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater.  This was a hauntingly delightful and thought-provoking book, although reviews of it revealed it to be a bit of a marmite book as well.  I fell firmly into the “love” camp, even though I can see how the language of the story, which honestly reads more like a folk tale, could be annoying to some.  The characters, the story, the sense of place – everything was wonderful, and I enjoyed every page.

Most Disappointing December Read:

Although it wasn’t the book I rated the lowest, I think that Early Candlelightby Maud Hart Lovelace, was my most disappointing read of the month.  While not a bad book, the story was somewhat slow and meandery, and I could never quite grasp what the huge “class difference” was between the two main characters.  After enjoying the Betsy-Tacy books so much, I had somewhat high expectations for this one, so I was rather let down when it just turned out to be a rather meh read.

Other December Reads:

  • Bare Minimum Parenting by James Breakwell – 3.5* – a fun, tongue-in-cheek parenting guide that nonetheless does manage to, almost accidentally, provide some decent parenting advice.
  • The Coming of Bill by P.G. Wodehouse – 3.5* – much more serious than usual Wodehouse fare, but not a bad story.
  • Embers of War by Frederik Logevall – 4.5* – really sweeping nonfiction about Vietnam leading up to the American Vietnam War.
  • Enclave by Thomas Locke – 3* – a book that would have ranked higher if it had contained more world-building and/or a more conclusive ending.
  • Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien – 4* – a children’s story that was fun and a bit silly.
  • The Other Wife by Michael Robotham – 4* – in a month that didn’t include All the Crooked Saints, this would have been my favorite read.  A few untidy ends, but overall enthralling read and a great addition to the series.
  • Smoky the Cow Horse by Will James – 4* – a Newbery book that was actually an engaging little read – a sort of western Black Beauty tale.

Last December…

I was still recovering from bronchitis, and then got MORE sick on top of that… but all the lounging about meant I did get some reading in!  While I didn’t have any amazing or horrific reads, I did enjoy Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore quite a bit.  I reread that one this summer and found it just as fun the second time around.  On the other hand, I was really disappointed in Lois Lowry’s Son.  While I still think The Giver is a brilliant book, the rest of the stories in the quartet, especially Son, left me feeling confused.

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:  887 (up 6)
  • Nonfiction:  83 (up 2)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  675 (down two!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  238 (holding steady)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 108 (holding steady)

Awaiting Review:

I’ve been reading an absolutely ridiculous chick lit series called the Weekday Brides by Catherine Bybee.  I’m on the last one now and am planning to review the series as a whole.  They’ve been silly but fun.  Nice for quick reading during holiday craziness!

Current Reads:

Just Treasured by Thursday.  Next month, I may begin my method of reading multiple books at a time again, but for now things have been too busy to keep more than one book straight.

Approaching the Top of the Pile:

The probable next five reads…

This list never seems to end up being accurate!!!

  • I’m hoping to read The Runaway Princess by Kate Coombs, which my mom loaned me months ago and I still haven’t read.
  • For Christmas, my sister got a hard copy of one of her favorite books, Followed by Frost by Charlie Holmberg.  Even though I didn’t like the Paper Magician series by Holmberg when I read it earlier this year, I’m still going to give this one a go.
  • I had a book come in on hold that I won’t be able to renew.  It’s the first book in a series, so if I like it (the book is Simply Irresistible by Rachel Gibson) I’ll read the rest of the series.  It’s like romcom sports or something so there’s a high probability that I won’t like it, but we’ll see!
  • I still have several books that I received in random book boxes, including Ana of California by Andi Teran.  It’s kind of supposed to be a modern Anne of Green Gables so it could be fun or it could be extremely terrible.
  • Finally, I somehow ended up with several thrillers from the library and have NOT been in a thriller mood since I got them!  The first one in the pile is Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear.  And if I like it, there’s a sequel coming out next summer!!

Happy January!!!