April Minireviews – Part 3

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  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.

More minireviews… apparently I’ve been reading a lot of books that don’t inspire strong feelings.  Or the weather is so perfect that I’m spending way more time outside in the garden than I am inside blogging.  :-D

Solace Island by Meg Tilly – 3.5*

//published 2017//

In my mind this was going to be more thriller than romance, but it’s more romance than thriller.  There are also several scenes of sexy times, which I wasn’t expecting either.  The romance part was pretty happy, and I liked both of the main characters, although they were pretty instalovey – and in some ways it wasn’t even the instalove that bothered me as much as Maggie just telling Luke everything about her horrible ex-fiancé on basically their first date.  The thriller part kind of spiraled from the realm of slightly unbelievable to completely unbelievable, but it did move everything along.  All in all, not a book I want to reread, but I enjoyed it enough to read the sequel about Maggie’s sister, which is coming out sometime this spring.

Six Months Later by Natalie Richards – 3.5*

//published 2013//

Chloe, an average student with an average life, falls asleep in study hall one May afternoon.  When she wakes up, it’s November and she can’t remember the last six months.  But somehow, during that time she’s started dating one of the most popular guys in school, has turned into a star student, and scored ridiculously high on her SAT, meaning that she’s being courted by several fancy colleges.  Unfortunately, Chloe’s best friend is no longer her friend, Chloe likes the resident bad guy more than her perfect boyfriend, and nothing about the missing six months seems to match Chloe’s personality…

This book had a really fun premise and was overall done well, but there were some clunky parts that left me feeling like this book could have used one more round of ruthless editing to really make it shine.  There were some parts where the motivation of various characters stuttered a bit, and the ending seemed very rushed.  But overall I really liked Chloe and I also appreciated when she frequently told people about her problems instead of just trying to do everything/figure everything out by herself.  I think a little more time spent before she falls asleep and loses time would have helped to emphasize how different her life was when she woke up, especially regarding Adam, the “bad boy” – like I know nothing about this guy, so I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t just dump the other guy and start dating Adam.  One sentence about him being a troublemaker isn’t really enough to give me a feel for the relationship Chloe and Adam had before all this started.

If you’re looking for a quick, fun thriller-esq read, Six Months Later fits the bill.  But if you’re looking for a story where everything is polished and flows perfectly, you may want to give this one a pass.

The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal – 3.5*

//published 2011//

This wasn’t a bad story, but it never really felt magical to me.  I liked the concept – basically, just after her sixteenth birthday, the princess is told that she isn’t actually the princess.  Instead, the real princess has been hidden in a convent her entire life because of a prophecy that said she may be murdered before she turned 16.  So the girl who has thought she was the princess is now just plain Sindra.

I think part of the problem was it never really felt like this book knew what it wanted to do.  Sindra herself wasn’t particularly coherent, and she really exasperated me a lot.  She had a bad habit of just saying mean things to people whenever she was feeling frustrated with life, and frequently had a very woe-is-me attitude about things.  So while this was a perfectly pleasant one-time read, it wasn’t one that made me want to dash out and see what else O’Neal has written.

Better Than Chocolate by Sheila Roberts – 3*

//published 2012//

I really enjoy fluffy chick lit series that focus on a group of people or place, where I can get to know and enjoy different characters, so I’m always on the lookout for new ones.  I can’t remember when Icicle Falls came to my attention, but the premise of the first book is that three sisters are putting on a chocolate festival in their small town to help save their business, and it sounded like fun.  However, the execution was very choppy and scattered.  I found the main character, Samantha, to be alright at best – most of the time she was just plain obnoxious, and literally only cared about the business and not her family.  And while she spent time thinking things like “Oh I’m a terrible person who only cares about this business and not my family,” I never really felt like she changed at all.  Like in the end, the business was still the most important thing to her.

There was also supposed to be an enemies-to-friends aspect in the romance, which I usually really enjoy, but it was done quite poorly here, with basically no conversation between the two other than “You suck” and yet in the end I’m supposed to buy not just that they are happily ever after, but that the dude is loaning Samantha a crapton of money with no ulterior motives, despite the fact that she immediately falls into his arms after that…????  It felt really weird that he gave her the money to save her business and then suddenly she started dating him.

At first I was going to go ahead and try the next book in the series, but I honestly realized that I didn’t really feel that attached to anyone in this story enough to see how things go for them next.  Plus, I was really put off by the way this book ended, which lowered the entire book to a 3* rather than 3.5*.  There are a lot of chick lit series out there, so I don’t think I’m going to bother finishing this one.

Miss Lucas by A.V. Knight – 3*

//published 2018//

Those of you who have been with me for a while know that I go through random, arbitrary times in life where the only thing I want to read are terrible Pride & Prejudice variations.  I just started one, and I’m here to assure that the overwhelming majority of P&P variations are, in fact, terrible.  Still!  So addictive!

This one actually focuses entirely on Charlotte Lucas – Elizabeth’s story, in the background, is following canon almost completely.  In this story, Mr. Collins doesn’t quite bring himself to propose to Charlotte – at the last minute he decides that he ought to have Lady Catherine’s permission first, since technically she sent him to propose to one of his cousins, not some random woman in Hertfordshire.  A few months later, instead of Elizabeth and (Charlotte’s sister) Maria going to visit the already-married Charlotte, Lady Catherine via Mr. Collins invites Elizabeth, Charlotte, and (Elizabeth’s sister) Mary to stay basically so she can look them over and decide who Mr. Collins should marry.  This means that Charlotte is still single when she meets Colonel Fitzwilliam…

While I did enjoy this story and really liked the overall idea (I’ve always shipped Charlotte and the Colonel), the execution was rather mediocre.  I never quite bought the romance between Charlotte and the Colonel, and the ending of the story felt very rushed.  There were also instances where it felt like the author was trying to shoehorn Charlotte into Elizabeth’s story so that we would still know what was going on with that part of the action, even implying that Charlotte and Elizabeth were closer than Elizabeth and Jane, which I think is categorically false.  So a decent little story, but one that really lacked some spark.

April 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 feel like I’ve been doing a lot of minireviews this month, but for some reason I’ve had a lot of quick reads scheduled… or rereads… or the next books in long series… in other words, minireview material!

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – 5*

//published 2011//

I originally read and reviewed this book back in November of 2017, so that entry has more details on my feelings about this book.  I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t find this book to be as magical the second time around, but those fears were 100% unfounded.  This book was, if anything, more magical than it was the first time, now that I didn’t have that nagging worry that the ending wasn’t going to be perfect.  I couldn’t remember exactly how things unfolded, I just knew that I had found it intensely satisfying.  So instead of racing through the pages like I did the first time around, I took some time to really savor the amazing writing.

One of my very few annoyances with this book is that tarot reading is not exactly a huge part of the plot but definitely is a part of the plot, which I could work around a little better if Morgenstern didn’t seem to assume that I’m already familiar with a tarot deck and the basic meanings behind the cards.  Ditto with random phrases and words in French.  (This time, I actually looked up a few things and then scribbled words of explanation in the margins for future reference!)

But those are somewhat nitpicky complaints about a story that is overall spun as closely to perfect as I could ask a story to be.

Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley by Marguerite Henry – 3*

//published 1996//

Regular visitors here know that I had a strong fondness for Henry’s books growing up, and I’ve been rereading my childhood collection of her stories here and there.  Brown Sunshine is one of her more forgettable stories – I feel like a lot of her later books fall into that category – about a girl and a mule.  I think part of the problem with this book (and I noticed it especially in Misty’s Twilight as well) is that Henry tries to write a book that is less than 100 pages long, but covers multiple years.  It means that the story feels a bit thin, and character development is almost nonexistent.  And, as with some of Henry’s other later books, Wesley Dennis had already passed away by the time this one was published, which meant another illustrator created the drawings for this story: pleasant, but not magical.  Overall, not a bad book, but not the one I would choose to use to introduce someone to Henry’s work.

Bruce by Albert Payson Terhune – 4*

//published 1920//

Terhune was another favorite author from my childhood, and a large part of the reason that I’ve always loved collies.  As with much of Terhune’s writing, this book was more episodic in nature than novel-ish, with each chapter another random bit of Bruce’s life.  Although I’m sure I had read this book at some point earlier in my life, I had forgotten that Bruce wasn’t particularly a show dog – instead, he served as a courier dog in the trenches of World War I.  While I am almost completely positive that this book is based on Bruce’s real life, I’m not 100% sure, and the website that I’ve always used to read more about the real lives of Terhune’s collies seems to have, tragically, disappeared.

This book was published very shortly after the conclusion of WWI, and there is definitely a bit of anti-German rhetoric, but I didn’t feel like it detracted from the story, especially considering when it was written.  Terhune is, as always, basically a dog racist who believes collies to be the pinnacle of domesticated dog breeding, but if you can skim through his raptures on the subject, his stories are almost always engaging.  I found Bruce, with its glimpse of a random bit of trench warfare, to be especially so.

Call It Courage by Sperry Armstrong – 4*

//published 1940//

The winner of the Newbury Award in 1941, this children’s book is short but dramatic.  The story focuses on a young Polynesian boy who almost drowned when he was small, and who has consequently feared the sea ever since.  But since the Polynesians live on an island and make their living from the sea, this is a bit of a problem, and Maftu is sensitive to the scorn the rest of the men and boys have for him and his fears.  Determined to overcome them, he runs away via canoe into the ocean.

I was quite caught up in Maftu’s story of survival – I only wish the book was longer as we skim over a lot of details.  It’s kind of Robinson Crusoe lite.  Still, this was a very enjoyable read.  I have a soft spot for survival/wilderness stories, and this was a fun one… that kind of made me want to reread Robinson Crusoe as well!

Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley – 4*

//published 2007//

This is a reread, although it had been several years.  I really love the concept and story of this book – Jake, the narrator, lives in an AU where dragons (and some other critters) exist in what is otherwise are regular, modern world.  Jake’s parents are the directors for a national park/institute that is the home for North America’s only remaining dragons.  Everyone knows they are out there, even though they are rarely seen, despite their huge size.  Seriously, what a fun idea!  The setting is done quite well also.

However, while I always enjoy this book and have read it more than once, it can never quite garner that fifth star from me because Jake is so daggone rambly.  This book could be cut down by about a third and still make perfect sense, and that’s never a good sign to me.  Jake tends to go off on philosophical tangents way too often.  And while a less-than-linear narrative somewhat makes sense, there are times that he is just jumping around all over the place.  Part of it is that the story covers almost ten years of time, which is a lot to cover.

But if you like dragons, and you can put up with a slightly-repetitive narrator, it’s still a very fun and engaging book that genuinely makes me wish there was a Smokehill National Park that I could visit.

April 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.

Appaloosa Summer by Tudor Robins – 3*

//published 2014//

Growing up, books about girls and horses were totally my jam, and I still get nostalgic for them sometimes.  I can’t remember how I came across this series exactly but it seemed like a good one to read at bedtime, because who doesn’t like to relax at the end of the day with some YA romance + horses??  Overall, that’s basically what I got, although I honestly could have used more horses and less YA romance.  Still, I liked the main character, and I also liked that it seemed like Meg’s relationship with her mom actually improved throughout the story as she realized that her mom actually loved her and wanted what was best for her.

Wednesday Riders by Tudor Robins – 2.5*

//published 2015//

Sadly, the sequel to Appaloosa Summer was not that great.  The horse part, where Meg is helping train several young girls, wasn’t too bad, but the main thread was actually about Meg and her boyfriend and it’s this whole long super boring angsty thing.  Basically, Appaloosa Summer takes place one summer and Wednesday Riders is the next summer.  In between, Meg has been dating the guy she met in the first book.  She’s been finishing her senior year in high school while Jared is completing his sophomore year in college (because yes, there’s a bit of weird age gap between them, not quite enough to be creepy but honestly almost), and Jared confesses to Meg that he was at a party and got a bit drunk and KISSED another girl!  Meg flips out and we have to spend the entire rest of the book with her internal angst.

Like, I get it.  Kissing another girl is 100% wrong and he 100% shouldn’t have done that.  But he’s also not your husband, he’s your boyfriend.  It just felt like Meg spent way too long trying to decide whether or not she could forgive Jared over this.  She was super mean to him, refused to have any kind of conversation with him, and basically spent the entire summer pouting and having little temper tantrums, while at the same time flirting with another guy and not feeling guilty because she and Jared have broken up and anyway even if they hadn’t Jared owes her.  It was SO boring.

I started to read the third book, which is actually about one of the girls Meg is helping learn to ride in Wednesday Riders, but I was kind of just not into and gave up about 10% in.  I don’t really see myself bothering to come back to this series, and despite the fact that Jared and Meg made up in the end, unless Meg learns to stop being a spoiled, self-centered brat, I don’t have a lot of hope for their long-term relationship success.

Jill the Reckless aka The Little Warrior by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1920//

As always, Wodehouse is a delight, and his plots are also almost impossible to summarize.  This wasn’t my favorite Wodehouse I’ve ever read, as it was a bit on the long side.  Published in 1920, it’s still towards the early end of Wodehouse’s career.  It’s interesting to see how his books are getting progressively funnier through time as he is more and more willing to let go of sensible plots in favor of hilarious coincidence.  There are some very likable characters in this story (I was particularly fond of Freddy), and while this didn’t end up being a Wodehouse I want to read again and again, it was still very worth a one-time read.

Marlfox by Brian Jacques – 3.5*

//published 1998//

The next volume in the Redwall series was a perfectly engaging read, but followed the basic pattern of all the Redwall books – heroes on a journey; meanwhile, Redwall is attacked!  For some reason, the last few books Jacques has been a bit over-the-top in writing obnoxious little children Redwallers (aka dibbuns).  I think their antics are supposed to add some levity to the stories, but they really just annoy me because they are rather bratty.  Other than that, though, this was a fun addition to the series.

Judy Bolton mysteries – #21-#24 – by Margaret Sutton – 3.5*

I really enjoyed this batch of Judy Bolton mysteries, although I don’t have much to say about them.  Judy continues to be a delightful character, although I could definitely use more Peter!  They’re just so adorable together.

87th Precinct // Books 1-5 // by Ed McBain

  • Cop Hater (1956) – 3*
  • The Mugger (1956) – 4*
  • The Pusher (1956) – 3.5*
  • The Con Man (1957) – 3.5*
  • Killer’s Choice (1958) – 4*

The 87th Precinct is one of those “classic” crime series that I’ve heard about here and there but never really picked up for myself.  Although they are billed as books that can be read in any order, we all know that I’m rather OCD about reading all the books in order all the time, so I decided to start at the beginning of this series.  Since there are 55 installments, it may take me a while if I end up reading all of them – which, based on the first five, I very well might!

The beginning of the series was originally published in the 1950’s, so the editions I got from the library were various anniversary editions with intriguing forewords and afterwords that I quite enjoyed.  McBain is a pen name for an author who not only had a lot of pen names, but also at one point legally changed his name, so while I believe Evan Hunter is his legal name, I’ll refer to him as McBain.

So, in the forward of Cop Hater, McBain was explaining how his idea for the series was that instead of having an individual at its heart, he would have an entire precinct of law enforcement.  Every book could focus on a different character, giving a fresh angle to each story.  Originally, McBain said, he intended to set the series in New York City, and as such he got permission to actually ride around with different officers and really observe the whole process.  But when he sat down to start writing, he realized he just still had a lot of questions, and he wanted to get everything right, because he was, at some level, representing the law enforcement of NYC.  At first, he would call and ask questions, but as he began to realize this was inefficient for him, and for police officers who have other things to do rather than answer questions for a novelist, he got the bright idea to not use NYC specifically, but to instead create a fictional location, known throughout the series as simply the City.  (We are given names of various areas and suburbs of the City, but not the name of the City itself, although apparently in some television adaptations they call it Isola, which is the name of one of the districts in the books.)

And so we have the setting, and we have the characters, and we are off to the races in Cop Hater.  The first book is a bit on the meh side.  I figured out the answer partway through, and the whole mystery was of the straightforward type.  What intrigued me much more were the actual characters – I honestly liked them all. I was also interested how McBain was writing during the “racist” 1950’s – I’m told repeatedly that it was an era of the unenlightened, yet McBain somehow managed to casually include multiple characters who don’t fit the straight white male stereotype that we’re told everyone fit in the 1950’s, which only goes to show that throughout time there have always been some people who are racist and some people who aren’t.

At any rate, the main detective in Cop Hater is Steve Carella, an extremely likable, level-headed individual who isn’t a druggie or a drunkard or a rebel.  He’s just a regular, everyday detective trying to keep bad guys off the street.  He’s in love with Theodora (aka Teddy), who, interestingly enough, is a deaf-mute.  I loved this part of Teddy’s character because it doesn’t define her, but it does impact her and how she interacts with the world – for instance, at one point Carella believes she may be in danger, but he can’t call and warn her because she doesn’t have a telephone, obviously.  Minor spoiler, but at the end of Cop Hater, Carella and Teddy head off to get married, and when The Mugger opens, Carella isn’t really in the story because he’s on his honeymoon.

One other thing I really liked about Cop Hater was that the one guy who really was a little weasel was the reporter.  I think it’s weird that we’re in an era (in real life) where the police are considered the bad guys, and reporters are basically gods who are willing to risk their lives to bring us THE TRUTH (ha).  I like McBain’s perspective much better – that while there are some bad cops, for the most part they are hard-working individuals who really do put their lives on the line to keep their citizens safe.  Reporters, on the other hand, don’t really care who gets hurt in the crossfire so long as they get a good story.

The second story focuses on a young patrolman named Bert Kling, who is happy to walk his beat for now, but still hopes to be a detective someday.  I honestly fell a little bit in love with Kling, who is an extremely likable individual.  The rhythm in The Mugger seemed better than the first book.  I also liked the way that McBain began including various paperwork within the text – a copy of an autopsy or a criminal record.  At the end of this book, Kling makes a brilliant conclusion and is promoted to detective.

In The Pusher, Carella is back from his honeymoon.  This was a book with excellent pacing, and some great moral dilemmas are presented.  The lieutenant of the precinct, Peter Brynes, is brought somewhat to the forefront in this book.  He’s already been introduced in the earlier books as a steady, just force, but here he is faced with some genuinely difficult situations that I thought were handled really well.  In the course of all of this, Carella is shot and is hospitalized.  Now, because I had seen Carella’s name mentioned in the synopses of future books, I knew that he lived.  But because McBain is quite casual about killing people off (seriously, he killed off multiple cops in the first couple of books that were characters we actually knew!!), I can imagine that if you were reading this when it was first published you would have been quite concerned about Carella’s safety – and with good reason, according to McBain’s afterword!

The basic premise behind the 87th Precinct novels … [was]: Conglomerate hero in a mythical city.  Meaning that one cop can step into the spotlight in one novel, another in a next novel, cops can get killed and disappear from the series, other cops can come in …  But I kept remembering what I’d said when I first described the series, all that stuff about cops going and coming, cops getting killed and replaced by other cops, and it seemed to me that a very classy thing to do would be to kill off a guy that we’d all come to like and admire …

Steve Carella was supposed to die in this book.

The way the book originally ended, in fact, the way I delivered it to my agent, and the way he delivered it to my editor was that Lieutenant Byrnes came into the hospital, just as he does now, and saw Teddy Carella coming down the corridor toward him, just as she does now … everything just as it is now.  Except Teddy wasn’t smiling. …

The last two lines of the [original] book were:

It was Christmas day, and all was right with the world.  

But Steve Carella was dead.

I thought this was hot stuff.  I mean, I thought nobody in the history of crime fiction had ever done that, kill off a guy we’d been rooting for through all the book?  I mean talk about innovation!  Gleefully I wrapped the book, hand-delivered it to my agent, and walked out onto Fifth Avenue again, grinning as if I’d just discovered penicillin.

But what McBain goes on to recall is that both his agent and his editor didn’t see the series in quite the same light as McBain.  In fact, they saw Carella as the hero, the main guy, and they didn’t want him to die.  And so, despite his grandiose ideas of drama, McBain ends up letting Carella live, and although we don’t only follow things from Carella’s perspective in the rest of the series, he does become the touchstone for the series, a steady presence in a cast that does indeed ebb and flow.

I feel like this post is getting rather long and rambly, so just a few more thoughts on these first five books – in short, they got better as they went.  While The Mugger did get a technically higher star rating than the next two books, it was mostly because I really loved Bert Kling so much.  If I’m honest, the actual storytelling got progressively better with each book, and by the time I got to Killer’s Choice, it really felt like McBain was hitting his stride.  The main characters of the precinct have been established, and even the City itself feels more authentic.  Some of the harrowing experiences from the earliest books have given background for the main characters going forward, giving them some depth and interest.

While I do agree that these books could be read in any order – McBain does a great job of concisely and clearly summarizing important bullet points about characters and events – as usual, I think the series gains a lot of depth by reading them in order, because past events do impact the actions of the characters.

There isn’t really any swearing in these books so far, which I actually find delightful.  I was cracking up when one character was saying to himself that as far as he was concerned they “could go and.”  And yes, that was it.  “And” with a period – you fill in the blank as to what they can go and do lol

However, there is a bit of sex, not overly graphic, but it’s there.  There is a lot of casual references to prostitutes (it’s left a little vague as to whether or not it’s a legal practice or simply overlooked by the law for the sake of convenience), and McBain’s characters seem to all have a thing for a “nice pair of legs” on a woman, although despite this, the way that McBain writes women who are sharp and savvy meant that his writing didn’t come through as ludicrously sexist to me.

It was astounding to me how much drugs played a part in these stories, I think because we are constantly told that this is all a very contemporary, new problem.  But drug dealing and abuse is an active part of these 1950’s stories.

I think the main reason that I kept reading these books, and intend to continue with the series, is because McBain has a very wry sense of humor that keeps these books from falling into that dark, depressing street that so many crime procedurals follow.  His characters feel real without having to have a bunch of angst of being alcoholics and womanizers.  There are some guys that have some questionable methods, but it’s intriguing to see that they aren’t really met with approval by the majority of their coworkers.  While these books aren’t a joke a minute, there is enough humor there to keep things in perspective and to remind us that McBain isn’t taking his own writing too seriously.

All in all, I found these to be quick, entertaining reads.  While the mysteries in the first couple weren’t super challenging, the books appear to be gaining depth and interest as they go, so I’m intrigued to read the next five soon.  McBain does such a good job summarizing characters and past events that I think this will be an easy series to dip in and out of, which I’ll have to do since I still have 50 books to go…

Field Notes on Love // by Jennifer E. Smith

//published 2019//

Hugo’s girlfriend dumps him in the first chapter of this book, leaving Hugo feeling completely off-balance.  He and his girlfriend (now ex) are both from England, and both getting ready to start university in just a few weeks, although the ex-girlfriend is going to California while Hugo will be staying very close to home- not because he particularly wants to, but because it turns out that Hugo is actually one of a set of sextuplets, and they are small-time famous – enough that they were all gifted scholarships to the local university by a benevolent graduate of said school (all the way back when they were first born).  Anyway, Hugo and the ex-girlfriend had been planning a bit cross-country trip in the United States – to take a train from New York to California.  As a parting gift, the ex gives Hugo all the trip things and encourages him to go anyway.  The problem that no one has really taken into account?  Everything is in the ex’s name, and it’s all non-refundable AND non-transferable – which means Hugo needs to find another Margaret Campbell ASAP.

Meanwhile, stateside we meet Mae (legal name Margaret Campbell), who is also getting ready to start school in California, although she has grown up in New York.  She’s passionate about film making, and devastated that she hasn’t made it into the film program of her new college.  Something about Hugo’s advertisement for a traveling companion strikes a chord, and she responds even though she isn’t sure it’s exactly wise.

Okay, so let’s get this out of the way:  this book was nonsense.  There is absolutely NO way that this would work in real life, but that’s okay – it was still super fun and adorable, and everyone was so nice that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself while I was reading.  Smith seems to somewhat recognize the fact that the whole premise is completely ridiculous.  I was cracking up over this exchange between Mae and her best friend:

Priyanka shakes her head.  “I literally just watched this show where a girl gets stalked by someone on a train, and – ”

“You watch too much TV.”

“Well, you watch too many movies.”

Mae laughs.  “So what happened in the show?”

“It was all a big mix-up,” Priyanka says, picking up a slice of pizza.  “The guy turned out to be great and they fell in love and lived happily ever after.”


No,” she says.  “She got murdered.  What do you think?”

But, in a way, the impracticality of the story is part of the story’s point.  Mae’s grandma is an incurable romantic, always telling stories of her past loves and adventures (most of which Mae isn’t completely sure whether they are true or fiction or some blend of the two).  Mae’s Nana was a wise old woman, who at one point completely encapsulated the reason I almost exclusively deal with happy-endings fiction (both reading and movies).  Mae is remembering a time she and Nana were watching a movie together –

“Come on,” [Mae would] say when the couple first kissed or when they were brought together by the most unlikely circumstances.  “There’s just no way.”

Nana would usually just turn up the volume.  But one night … she hit Pause and turned to Mae with a look of great patience.

“It’s not supposed to reflect reality,” she said.  “Reality is all well and good.  But sometimes you just want to pretend the world is a better place than it actually is.  That great and wonderful things can happen.  That love triumphs over everything.”

And in a way, I think that’s the story that Smith is writing.  The chances of a story like this one happening in real life are almost nil, but that’s okay – it’s fiction, and sometimes fiction is meant to be simply enjoyed.

There were places where the pace seemed a little slow, and there were also times when Mae really got on my nerves, but I still overall enjoyed the story.

One thing I really loved about this book was how literally everyone was nice.  Even Hugo’s ex-girlfriend was nice!  Hugo’s family was an absolute delight – it was so wonderful to see a happily married couple in his parents, enjoying their marriage and children.  There’s a beautiful scene where Hugo’s dad is talking with Hugo about how excited he still is about having a large family because he was so lonely growing up as an only child.  Throughout the story, Smith does a really excellent job of balancing Hugo’s struggle with truly loving his family and his siblings, yet still wanting to find his own place in the world as someone other than just one member of the Surrey Six.

It feels like so often parents are presented in these types of stories as being absent, or not really caring, or not understanding at all, or just being plain mean – so it was really nice to have parents who were none of those things.  Instead, these are families full of love, empathy, and encouragement.  It never felt like either Hugo or Mae were trying to escape something – they were just trying to find what the next thing was that they wanted to go towards.  

All in all, a 4* read for me.  It’s not really one I want to come back to again and again, but it was a fun and fluffy read when I could let myself let go of the fact that it literally made no sense for any of this to work.  It’s obviously an insta-love story, but it’s done well, and I also really genuinely appreciated the fact that even though Mae and Hugo are traveling together and have fallen in love, they don’t start having sex.  I think it’s so important to acknowledge that sex is a really big step in a relationship, and it changes everything else that is happening.  I felt like Smith handled it really well.

So a fun and lighthearted read with likable characters.  Overall recommended if you’re looking for something relaxing but not remotely practical.


Rearview Mirror // March 2019

Well, it seems as though spring should be well underway, but the weather remains rather cool.  Still, I am hoping to get some things going in the garden in the next week or two, and bits of green are starting to pop up in defiance of the chilly temperatures.

It’s been a pretty regular month of book reading and blogging.  I was still reading some Redwall books at the beginning of the month, but put those on pause to get some other reading done.  The next three in the series are in the queue for the future, though.  I’m still quite behind with reading everyone’s reviews, although I’m slowly but surely catching up.  After FINALLY finishing my main TBR purge (I didn’t quite hit the 400 mark, but I was very close!) I still want to do a big edit on some other sections of my TBR, so that may happen this month as well.

Favorite March Read:

I didn’t have any books that just jumped out and grabbed me this month, although I had a lot of really solid, enjoyable reads.  I think my favorite is probably The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge.  This is the fourth Goudge book I’ve read (and the second adult novel), and her writing continues to impress me with its gentle maturity and thoughtfulness.

Most Disappointing March Read:

Although it wasn’t the lowest-rated book I read this month, I think I’m going to go with Pearls of Lutra by Brian Jacques.  I have really enjoyed the Redwall books I’ve read so far, but Pearls (the ninth installment of the series) was really comparatively subpar.  The story was choppy and based almost entirely on visions and coincidences, and the ending seemed weird and sappy.

By the Numbers:

In March…

  • I completed 25 books for a total of 6819 pages.  That is up from February (although down from January still), and I have to admit that 581 of those pages were a large print book so I’m not sure if they should count!  It’s still an average of almost 220 pages per day.
  • My average star rating was 3.62, so I’ve gone steadily up every month this year!
  • While the books were almost evenly decided between ones I personally own and ones from the library or Kindle Unlimited (11-13 + one ARC), I’m still reading way more physical books than Kindle books – only six titles were ebooks this month.
  • For some reason, the 1950’s were oddly popular this month – four books from that decade, including this month’s oldest books, Show Lamb published in 1953.
  • My longest book was technically the large print book at 581 pages – The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer.  In second place was a Redwall book, Salamandastron by Brian Jacques.  My shortest book was a novella by K.M. Robinson, Virtually Sleeping Beauty.

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:  424 (down 245 from last month, and down THREE from my official “end of the purge number” of 427!)
  • Nonfiction:  86 (up 1)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  667 (holding steady, despite the fact that I have, in fact, read several books!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  254 (up 13 – sadly, some of the books that left the main TBR actually just migrated here!)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 115 (up 6, thanks to more migrating titles)

Awaiting Review:

I have the first two books in the Island series to review (Appaloosa Summer and Wednesday Riders).  I picked them up because I do have a soft spot for YA horse stories, but while they were alright, I’ve found that I’ve lost interest in them and probably won’t bother reading the other two books in the quartet.

As part of my effort to read new books by authors I’ve read (and liked), I read Jennifer E. Smith’s Field Notes on Love, which, like The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight was adorable and also completely impractical.

Finally, I’ve started a new mystery/crime series – an older one that starts in the 1950’s and runs for roughly one billion installments – the 87th Precinct.  I’m halfway through the second book.  The first, Cop Hater, wasn’t stunning, but was still good, classic fun with an interesting setting, likable characters, and a wry sense of humor.  I’m going to read the first five in the series and then decide if I want to keep going or not.  Seriously, there are 55 books in this series, so it would be a long-term commitment!

Currently Reading:

Right now I’m in the second 87th Precinct book, The Mugger.  I’m also in travel guide mode as I’m prepping for our trip to Great Smoky National Park, coming up in May.  The current book to that end is Great Smoky Mountain Vistas by Tim Barnwell.  It’s actually a pretty fun book, slightly oversized with loads of photographs.  It’s obvious that Barnwell has spent a lot of time in and around the park, so it’s been an interesting way to get an overview of the different regions of the park.  My only complaint is – no map?!  What is the POINT of a book about a certain region if the book doesn’t have a map?!?!?

The Probable Next Five(ish) Reads…

I always do this and then pretty much never actually read the next five books.  However, I’ve once again readjusted my reading schedule into something that seems to be working, so maybe I actually WILL read these books next??

  • The next three books in the 87th Precinct series – The Pusher, The Con-Man, and Killer’s Choice.
  • Jill the Reckless by P.G. Wodehouse.
  • Two more travel guides about the Smokies.
  • The next five books in the Judy Bolton series (books 21-25).
  • Home Sweet Home by Kim Watters, the next Love Inspired book in the pile.

All in all, I’m pretty stoked for April – warm weather, everything greening up, getting out into the garden, and, as always, plenty of good books!!  Happy spring!!