Books of Bayern // by Shannon Hale

 

//published 2003//

I’ve read the first three books in this series multiple times, but the last time I read the series (back in 2013) was the first time I had read the final book, Forest Born, which was published a few years after the rest.  So I was excited to revisit the series as a whole, and especially Forest Born, which I found to be a very thoughtful and engaging read the first time around.

The series begins with The Goose Girl, and is a retelling of the fairy tale by the same name.  Growing up, I always found this fairy tale to be particularly intriguing – there are so many just plain weird elements: the blood-stained handkerchief, the talking horse head, the gruesome punishment of the villain.  Hale’s retelling is the only one I’ve read that incorporates all the weird elements and makes them into a story that makes sense.  It’s honestly one of the best fairy tale retellings I’ve read, period.  She does an amazing job fleshing out the original into a thoroughly engaging full-length story.

//published 2004//

It’s also a book that completely works on its own – and doesn’t feel like it is leading into a sequel at all, yet when I started Enna Burning, it was as though Hale had gone back and gently teased some threads loose from the first book so that the second could flow naturally from it.  Enna’s story takes us into more of the culture and magic of Bayern.

//published 2006//

River Secrets is the only book that focuses on a male protagonist, and since Razo is one of my favorite characters in the whole series, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There’s also a bit more of a mystery to this story.  And again, even though Enna felt complete in and of itself, the third book follows a natural flow and answers questions that I didn’t even know I had at the conclusion of Enna.

//published 2009//

The final book feels, in many ways, as though Hale is tying up the loose threads of her world-building almost as much as the threads of her characters.  Throughout the series, she has introduced the readers to a world where certain people are born “with a word on their tongue” that allows them to speak different languages – wind, water, fire – and people.  People-speaking is an inherent ability to be convincing, to persuade people to do whatever you want them to do, a seductive and corrupting power.  In Forest Born, Hale circles back around to people-speaking, and brings together a story about choosing to do what is right that is excellently told.

Throughout the entire series, the theme seems to be able balance.  If we allow ourselves too much power in any one direction, it can destroy us.  The key is finding balance and rhythm that allows us to live fully.  It’s a message that resonates with me, because I see a lot of people around me who are out of balance, or who are trying to live in a season that isn’t happening right now, instead of embracing who and where they are in life.  That kind of life of small discontent eats away at our happiness and peace.

While these aren’t perfect books, they are easy 4.5* reads for me.  If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, and fairy tale-esq stories, I definitely recommend these.

May 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.

Well, spring fever is ON and I am spending most of my time outside, not on my computer!!  So I’m not really feeling the whole “writing thoughtful reviews” thing, which means you all are getting yet another batch of minireviews!

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley – 4.5*

//published 2000//

So a little while ago I published a post with my vacation TBR, and I actually read almost everything on the list while on vacation!  I’m reading the last of the Bayern books right now, but overall my stack of happy books were perfect for lounging around our tiny cabin in the mountains.  I already mentioned that I read Indiscretionwhich was as delightful as ever.  Spindle’s End was another old favorite revisited, and I soaked in every page!

This is one of those marmite-type books, where it just simply isn’t for everyone.  McKinley is very rambly in the book, with oodles of asides in parentheses, most of which aren’t necessary to forwarding the plot of the book.  The story moves slowly and gently, without a lot of stress or excitement until the big showdown at the end.  It covers a long period of time, which I don’t usually enjoy, but do here.  Basically, you’ll know within the first few pages if you are going to enjoy the writing style or not.  I personally love it, but a lot of people don’t, which in my mind is one of the rather cool things about books.

The humor is gentle and wry, all of the characters are thoroughly likable, and McKinley plays the tension in this book as though her reader is a fish on the line, letting the story reel out a bit, and then snapping it back into focus.  There is a bit of an age gap between the two main love interests, which always niggles at me, but doesn’t really keep me from listing this as one of my favorite go-to reads.  If you enjoy fairy tale retellings and don’t mind a slow pace to your book, this one may be for you as well.

My earlier review of this book can be found here, which includes the first paragraph of the book – and how you feel about that may be an indicator as to how you would feel about the whole story.  :-D

Summer Moonshine by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1937//

Although I’ve been reading Wodehouse’s books in published order, for vacation I grabbed one that I knew I had read in the past but couldn’t really remember.  Moonshine is sadly lacking in aunts, but otherwise follows the normal Wodehouse pattern, with plenty of adventures and misunderstandings for all.  I’m not really sure how Wodehouse manages to describe things so perfectly, but he consistently makes me snicker out loud whenever I am reading his books.  I couldn’t stop laughing about this one –

Mr Chinnery sank into a chair and passed his tongue over his lips.  His manner was that of a stag at bay.  Imagine a stag in horn-rimmed spectacles, and you have Elmer Chinnery at this moment.  Landseer would have liked to paint him.

Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer – 4.5*

//published 1934//

This was another vacation reread, and while I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did the first time around, it was still a delightful Heyer story.  This time around I found myself a little more aware of just how mean Sherry can be to Kitten, and no husband should ever box his wife’s ears, no matter how provoked!  But all of the characters (including Sherry, when he isn’t being a jerk) are just so funny and sweet – Sherry’s little group of friends are absolutely delightful.  Even Sherry’s casual cruelty towards Kitten comes from a place of ignorance, not purposeful meanness.  I did feel like the very ending went on a bit too long – six weeks seems like a very long time to keep Sherry in suspense – but despite my complaints, I thoroughly enjoyed this story, which made me laugh at multiple points and left me wishing that sometimes Heyer would connect characters between her books, as I would love to see the rest of Sherry’s friends find love!

#20BooksofSummer – The 2019 List!

Cathy at 746Books hosts the #20BooksofSummer challenge annually, and it’s basically the only challenge I participate in, mainly because it’s pretty much whatever you want it to be!  You don’t have to read 20 books – you can read 15 or 10 or 5!  You don’t have to read the 20 books you picked at the beginning of the summer – you can read whatever you want!  You can pick whatever 20 books you want for your original list, and you can end the summer having read 20 completely different books that than list.  It’s a super chill challenge that is always fun both to participate in and to follow along.  If you’re interested, you should definitely check out Cathy’s introductory post here.

I tend to be a ridiculous reader, so I try to find ways to add an extra challenge to my 20, mostly by creating a list and then trying to stick to it, even though I’m reading lots of other books in between.  As usual, for me the only reason for replacing a book on the list will be if I end up DNFing a book less than halfway through.

So, without further ado – the list!

1 – Cliff’s Edge by Meg Tilly

I read the first book in this series, Solace Island, back in April.  The second one has just been published and has come in on reserve at the library, so I am hoping to kick off the Twenty with this title.

2 –  Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

I’ve read two of Mills’s books so far and thoroughly enjoyed both, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

3 – Dreamology by Lucy Keating

This one has a pretty high chance of being a DNF, as I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about it, but I’m still going to give it a chance.

4 – A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

Do you ever have an author that you should like her books, but you just don’t quite?  I feel like Reay is one of those people for me.  I’ve read two of her books so far, and both were solid, meh, 3* reads, yet I still find myself keeping her books on my TBR because they sound like books I should like!  But seriously, if Emily Price is just as meh as the first two I read, I may just have to give it up.

5 – A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay

Barclay is one of those authors that I’m always seeing around but still haven’t gotten around to trying, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this one works for me.

6 – Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike

This is another total wildcard off the way-back TBR.  Literally no idea what to expect from this one, and no idea how it ended up on the TBR I the first place!!

7 – Swallows & Amazons by Arthur Ransome 

I vaguely remember Dad reading this book to us out loud when I was really small, and it’s a classic I’ve meant to revisit for a long time, especially since I remember nothing except there is something about boats and also they had their own language that they had made up and “Drool” was what they said for “Goodnight” and for a long time all of us kids would yell, “Drool!  Drool!” on our way to bed every night haha  I didn’t realize until just recently that it’s actually the first book in a series, but since the library only has this one, if I enjoy it I’ll be on my own to locate the other eleven books…

8 – Shadow Magic by Patricia C. Wrede

I really love Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series (which I keep meaning to rereading), and also the Cecelia and Kate series, which she co-wrote with Caroline Stevermer.  Shadow Magic is the first in her Lyra series, which are the first books she ever published.  I got all five of them as a Kindle book for a dollar a long while back, and I think it’s about time to give them a read.

9 – Judgment Calls by Alafair Burke

After reading Burke’s Under Suspicion series (which she co-wrote with Mary Higgins Clark), as well as her standalone The Ex, I added several more of her books to my TBR.  Judgment Calls is the first in a series, so if I enjoy it I get a couple more bonus books as well.

10 – Lord Brocktree by Brian Jacques

The next Redwall book awaits – and it’s about the badgers!!

11 – The Siren Wars by K.M. Robinson

Robinson is one of those prolific Kindle writers who is always giving away books and I’m always sucker enough to take them even though I haven’t yet found her quality to be very strong.  Still, I’m giving this one a shot since it’s the first in a trilogy.  Maybe her writing will be better if she has more space to find her way?

12 – Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski

Lenski’s books about children around America are genuinely delightful, although it’s been years since I’ve read them.  I’m excited to revisit Strawberry Girl for the first time in probably twenty years.

13 – Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge

I’m working my way through all of Goudge’s works.  This one sounds a little different from her other books that I’ve read, but I’m still going to give it a shot.

14 – Falling for Mr. Darcy by Karalynne Mackrory

I really enjoyed another variation by this author, Bluebells in Mourningwhen I read it last year, so I’ve been meaning to check out more of her writing.

15 – At Fairfield Orchard by Emma Cane

This is another one that has been on the TBR for so long its origins are lost in the mists of time.  Still, I’m sure I added it because I love stories about people who own their own businesses, and since I work on an orchard – well!  There’s a sequel to this one, so if it’s any good I’ll get a bonus book!

16 – The Story of a Whim by Grace Livingston Hill

I’m the first to admit that Hill’s stories are frequently ridiculous, but I still enjoy picking one up from time to time.

17 – The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I’m 98% positive that I read this book back in high school (mainly because that cover looks suuuuper familiar), but remember nothing about it.

18 – A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

Despite the fact that I’ve had rather poor luck with the two Ibbotson books I’ve read to date, someone left a comment on one of my reviews urging me to give this one a go, and I have to admit that the synopsis does sound like my style – so we will see what happens!

19 – I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

This is one of my most recent additions to the TBR, thanks to several reviews.  Somehow, I’ve never gotten around to reading any of Kinsella’s books, so hopefully this is a good place to start.

20 – My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

This was one of my very favorite books growing up, as I have always loved books about people surviving in the wilderness.  Sam was one of my heroes, as I also love birds and he tames his own falcon!  I think one of the things I loved about this book was that Sam didn’t have to survive off the land – he chose to try and do it, which really made him a role model for me!  I’m super stoked about rereading this one as it has been way too long.

So there’s the list!  There are a lot of other books to read in between these, so we’ll see what happens!  The challenge runs from June 3 through September 3 this year, so next week we’ll be off!!

Let me know if you’re participating in #20BooksofSummer!  I’ve been enjoying reading everyone’s lists.

May 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.

Bibi the Baker’s Horse by Anna Bird Stewart – 4*

//published 1942//

This is one of those books that I have had for so long that I no longer remember where I picked it up, and for some reason neglected to write on the flyleaf – very unusual for me.  This particular copy is a first edition and has actually been signed by the author, so that’s quite fun.  Apparently Bibi isn’t a very popular book, as it isn’t even listed on Goodreads, but I found it to be absolutely charming.  Set in France before World War I, Bibi is a small Corsican horse purchased by a baker named Jules.  The story is really more about Jules and his family than it is about Bibi, and they live a happy, peaceful life.  The biggest excitement in the story is a huge flood.  In the afterword, the author says that the entire story is true as told to her by a friend about the friends mother (or maybe grandmother, I can’t remember right now).  While not a book that strikes me as an instant classic, it was still a delightful little read.

The Treasure is the Rose by Julia Cunningham – 4*

//published 1973//

At only 105 pages, this is more of a novella than a full-length story, yet Cunningham manages to pack a great deal of thoughtfulness into her slim story.  My particular copy is an incredibly battered paperback that belonged to my mom and her sister when they were girls (frankly, the ownership has been challenged for many years between the two of them, so I solved their problem by taking it for myself).  Set in England in what I’m guess are the Middle Ages (I’m never very good at remembering the distinguishing characteristics between eras – they’re living in a crumbling down castle and the main character’s husband was killed in a crusade), the story is about Ariane, a kindhearted young widow who is determined to stay in her husband’s home, despite the fact that they are running out of money.  When three robbers stop at her house and demand food and shelter, she gives to them freely – but when the robbers hear rumors that Ariane is concealing a treasure somewhere in her castle, they decide they want more than food and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it.  The story is somewhat simplistic, and the ending is perhaps a bit too easy, but it is still a beautiful story about love and kindness conquering anger and hate.

Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes – 4*

//published 2016//

I actually really liked this version, although it was a bit more angsty than I usually prefer.  In this version, Mr. Bennet is struck ill while Elizabeth is at Hunsford, before Colonel Fitzwilliam tells her that Darcy separated Jane and Bingley, and before Darcy proposes.  When they receive the news about Mr. B., Darcy basically takes control of the situation, apologizing to Elizabeth for proposing at an awkward time, but wanting her to be under his protection and care should the worst happen.  Of course, he assumes that Elizabeth is going to agree, which fills Elizabeth with rage – but with the possibility of her family being put out on the streets, she reluctantly accepts.

While this wasn’t a very lighthearted variation, it was done really well, and the majority of the drama between Elizabeth and Darcy felt realistic to their situation.  However, at the end the drama goes a bit over the top, and then is magically solved after dragging on for way too long.  I also didn’t like the way that Mr. Bennet’s death was dealt with.  Still, overall this was a solid retelling, as I found myself very attached to the characters and wanted things to work out for them.

The Undertaker’s Widow by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 1998//

I’ve read quite a few of Margolin’s books at this point, and have found him to be a pretty solid crime/law thriller writer.  This one wasn’t my favorite, but did have a lot of fun twists and turns.  My usual mild aggravation with Margolin’s work was at play here – he simply introduces too many characters, ignores them for chapters, and then reintroduces them without reminding the reader of who they are.  He’s the only author I have to consistently write down the names of characters and their connections in order to keep them straight.

This particular book also lost a half star because of another pet peeve of mine – where we are specifically told that a character has information necessary to figure out what is going on with the mystery, but not allowed to actually know that information.  So it would be something like, “Once he told the detective about his suspicions concerning the blood splatter, they both knew they had to do something” – but I don’t get to know what those suspicions are until literal chapters later during a courtroom scene when the evidence is introduced.  This happened a LOT in this book and was really annoying.

Indiscretion by Jude Morgan – 5*

//published 2005//

I hadn’t read this book in several years, and it was an absolute delight to delve back into it again.  The main character, Caroline, is just so funny and nice, and I really appreciate the way that she wants to be a better person.  I also liked that when she ended up in the country living a quite life, she didn’t get bored and irritated with her life, but instead was able to appreciate the stability and restfulness of it, even though it was very different to what she was used to.  The dialogue is hilarious, and the plot just convoluted/coincidental enough to keep things lively.  I’ve read this book a few times, so you can read earlier reviews here and here if you are interested in more of a synopsis-type review, but for here suffice to say that this book is just as happy and funny as I remember.

Litsy – is anyone else using it??

I recently heard about a bookish social media site called Litsy.  I’m still fumbling my way about there, but it basically strikes me as what would happen if someone decided that Instagram should be BOOKS ONLY – there are ways to post pictures and quotes of books, and ways to see what other people have posted and then immediately add that book to your TBR.  I’m rather terrible at book photos, but this whole site does seem very friendly and interactive.  So my question is – are any of you on Litsy?  If so, please follow me there @thearomaofbooks – mainly so I can follow back and start seeing interesting goings on in my feed!!!

May 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.

The Indiscretions of Archie by P.G. Wodehouse – 3.5*

//published 1921//

This was another early Wodehouse that I hadn’t read before, and while enjoyable (as all his books are), this wasn’t particularly one of my favorites.  This particular book was created when Wodehouse combined several short stories he had written that all centered around Archie, so while the end result is cohesive, it still feels rather episodic in nature.  Archie is a very likable character who starts off on the wrong foot with his father-in-law and continues to accidentally do random things that keep their relationship strained (at least on the father-in-law’s side – Archie is invariably good-humored), which I think was part of the reason that I didn’t enjoy this book as much – most of the humor was based on Archie trying to do something nice and then it all backfiring and ending up with the father-in-law dealing with the disaster.  In the end, everyone ends up happy together, but that also felt a little contrived.  Still, there were plenty of humorous moments in this one, and while it wasn’t my favorite Wodehouse, it was still an enjoyable read.

Holiday Havoc by Terri Reed & Stephanie Newton – 3.5*

//published 2010//

This book is actually two short stories, one by each author.  Both were similarly unremarkable, with some serious instalove, but entertaining nonetheless.  It’s another book off the Love Inspired pile, which is really whittling down since I took most of them to Goodwill without actually reading them haha

The Villa by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 2001//

Speaking of boxes of books, someone also gave me a box of Nora Roberts books at random a while back, so I’ve been sifting through those as well.  The Villa was definitely more novel than romance, a sweeping drama centered around two families who both own wineries.  I wasn’t completely sure it was going to be “my kind” of book, but I found myself drawn in almost against my will.  While I personally felt like this book could have done with more humor and less sex, it was still a very engaging story.  Despite the fact that there were a lot of characters, they felt like individuals.  The main female lead was a little too “strong independent woman” type for me (read: basically obnoxious but gets away with because she’s a woman), but I still ended up liking her.  This book followed one year of time, and the changing of the seasons was a big part of the story and really added to the overall epic feel.  Not a book I’ll ever reread, but surprisingly interesting for a one-time go.

Carousel of Hearts by Mary Jo Putney -3.5*

//published 1989//

This is yet another book from a box of books – a while ago I purchased a box of regency romances on eBay because the box included several Heyer titles I didn’t own.  Now I’m working my way through the non-Heyer titles, all of which, prior to this one, ended up being DNFs.  Carousel was an entertaining little read that was a bit strong on coincidence but was enjoyable nonetheless.  I really liked all four characters in this story, although they did need a stern talking-to.  It would honestly have been a 4*, except the ending got completely out of hand.  Still, this one ended up being a fun read.

The Legend of Luke by Brian Jacques – 4*

//published 1999//

The next installment in the Redwall series, Luke is really two stories in one.  The book begins with Martin and a few companions heading north to see if they can find out what happened to Martin’s father, who left on a quest when Martin was a child.  (As we learned in Martin the Warrior, Martin and the rest of his tribe were kidnapped and enslaved while Luke was gone.)  The first part of the book recounts Martin’s journey, which concludes when Martin finds several animals who knew Luke and know what happened.  The second part of the book is the story of Luke, pursuing vengeance on the high seas.  The third, and final, part of the book is Martin’s journey back to Redwall, which is still being constructed at this time (the Martin part of the story takes place chronologically after the events in Mossflower).

I actually enjoyed this book, which felt more focused than a lot of the other installments in this series.  It was also nice to have a story where the shrews aren’t just disposable extras!  And, thankfully, there weren’t that many scenes with the youngsters being obnoxious, which has been a theme in the last few books.  Overall, I’m still enjoying and planning to finish the series, but it’s working well to read them one at a time a bit spread out.

Vacation TBR!

Next week, the husband and I are heading south to soak in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!  We’re super excited to get away for a few days, and we are always into hanging out in the mountains.  While we’ve been through sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway, we’ve never visited GSMNP, so that should be a fun experience.  We’ve rented a cabin just outside the park, so hopefully we’ll be covered even if the weather is rainy.  :-D  (And yes, someone will be here with the dogs so still not a good time to try and rob us, internet people! – not even counting how disappointed you would be when you broke in here haha)

And while deciding which hikes to take, which restaurants to visit, which museums to explore, and what route to drive are all important parts of vacation, I’m sure my readers here will understand that deciding which books to take is THE critical decision!  There are loads of vacation book theories, partially depending on what kind of vacation you’re taking, I suppose.  Our vacation will kind of depend on the weather, as we are hoping to do a lot of hiking.  But even if we hike all day, we’ll probably spend most of the evening sitting on the porch of our cabin.

Some people prefer to take books they’ve never read, and some people prefer library books.  Some people just travel with an ereader instead of lugging around physical books.  I’m pretty much the opposite of all of those.  :-D  I love to use vacation as a chance to reread some old favorites that I’ve been meaning to revisit, and I almost always take my own books – in some ways the books become imbued with the flavor of the places I read them, tied to happy memories.  I love looking at my shelves and remembering where I was the last time I read a certain book!

The other reason I like rereads on vacation is because it’s just Tom and me on the trip, and part of the point is for us to hang out and visit with each other – something I find difficult to do with anyone if I’m embroiled in an exciting book with the ending unknown!  Rereads take some of the pressure of I NEED TO FINISH THIS off so that I can more easily set a book aside to enjoy the moment with my husband.  One of the most important pieces of marriage advice I ever received was a reminder to always “listen with my face” – to put down whatever I’m looking at, be it a book or my phone or computer or whatever, and actually LOOK at my husband when he’s saying something.  It can be a challenge for this bookworm, but so important to do!

ANYWAY, time for the important part – what books am I actually taking??  The real problem is my constant, haunting fear of not having enough books!  This has been somewhat alleviated the last few trips by the addition of a Kindle to my life – I load a bunch of books as backups (in case, you know, I really do have time to read the eight physical books I’m lugging along haha).  So while these are the books I’m taking with me, deep down I know that the odds are slim that I’ll actually read all of them.  Still, I’ll give it my best shot!!

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

I bought this book while on vacation all the way back in 2003, and for some reason it’s been on several trips with me since then, probably because it’s a small, fat paperback.  I haven’t read it since I reviewed it here back in 2013, so I’m looking forward to enjoying it again.  Magic, humor, engaging characters, and talking animals – do I really need anything else from a book?

Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer

I’m not sure a vacation would be complete without a Heyer book to read.  I enjoyed this book enough back in 2012 to add it to my permanent collection, but haven’t read it since.  I gave it a full five stars then, but I’ve read a lot of Heyer’s other books since then, so I’m curious to see if this one still ends up a fave.

Indiscretion by Jude Morgan

I’ve actually read and reviewed this one twice since I’ve had this blog – the most recent time was when I took it on vacation back in 2015!  (The first time was in 2013.)  This Regency romance is just delightfully funny and full of wonderful characters.  My sister read it recently and listening to her wax eloquent about how perfect it is made me want to pick it up again.

The Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale

Apparently I’m revisited a lot of books from 2013, which is the last time I read this quartet as well.  While I have read this series a couple of times, I’ve only read the final book, Forest Born, once, and it was my favorite of the batch last time.  I remember really liking these books as exciting but thoughtful fantasy stories, so I’m excited to revisit them.

Summer Moonshine by P.G. Wodehouse

Like Heyer, I always take along a Wodehouse, because there is no way to go wrong.  While I’m “officially” reading all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, I’m jumping to 1937 with this one – I’m pretty sure I’ve read it before but remember literally nothing about the story or characters.  The 1930’s are really the height of Wodehouse’s magnificence though, so I think this should be a treat.

Well, that’s a total of 2740 pages to keep me busy for six days.  Do you think it will be enough??  Good thing I’m bring my Kindle, too…  :-D

The Lost // by Claire McGowan

Just as a heads up:  a lot of this book is about abortion, so a lot of my review is also about abortion.  (I had no idea about this when I started the book, and it didn’t take a turn into this territory until more than 100 pages in, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have picked this one up.)  My personal stance is strongly against abortion, so if you don’t want to hear snide comments about it, I’d recommend giving this review a miss.  And if you don’t like hearing blatant lies and misinformation about the prolife movement, I wouldn’t recommend reading this book.

//published 2013//

The Lost is the first in a series of books that focus on a forensic psychologist named Paula Maguire.  It’s one of those series that has been on the TBR for so long that I’m not sure who exactly first reviewed it and inspired me to add it.  For me, while The Lost wasn’t a terrible read, there were enough negatives to dissuade me from reading the rest of the series (which is currently five more books).

Part of the problem is that I started the book not really knowing what a forensic psychologist does… and I still have no idea.  Paula’s job description seemed incredibly vague, and got vaguer.  Just now, when I finally looked up forensic psychologist, it only made me more confused as it doesn’t sound remotely like anything that Paula did in this entire book!

Our story opens in London, where Paula is being strongly encouraged by her boss to take a new position, which involves moving back to her small hometown on the border between the two Irelands, a place that Paula (of course) swore she would never return to.  The reason that her boss thinks she should make the move is that even though she’s awesome at her job (whatever it is), she isn’t very good at obeying the rules, which is kind of an important part of being a member of law enforcement.  Although Paula fights against the reassignment, readers will be unsurprised to find Paula returning to Ballyterrin.

Paula’s new job is working with a team on what is apparently her specialty – missing persons cases.  This new team has brought together individuals from Ireland and Northern Ireland (and is being headed up by someone from London) in order to look at cold cases of missing persons from the last thirty years or so in an attempt to be able to share information between the two Irelands – something that was very difficult during the Troubles – and possibly close some of the cases.  Because Ballyterrin was a border town, I could kinda sorta buy it as being the location for this new team, despite the fact that everyone goes on about how it’s such a small an unimportant town (it seems like this kind of team would set up in a city with more resources but whatever).  I was also confused about why, if the team’s purpose was to be looking at cold cases, they were actually working two very hot cases – two young women, apparently unconnected, have disappeared from Ballyterrin in the last few weeks.  When one of the young women turns up dead, I was even more confused that the cold case missing persons team continued working what was now an active homicide case….

Still, I was willing to overlook the confusing team purpose (and the fact that Paula’s job description seemed to be “writing reports” even though she spent most of her time dashing around town following her own leads against express orders from her superior officer), except then the book took a sharp turn onto Abortion is a Basic Human Right Street and put its foot on the accelerator.  The entire drive for the rest of the book seemed to be producing pregnant teenagers and then getting super angsty about how in Ireland, they can’t just pop off and murder their babies, and how basically every single time someone gets an abortion anywhere in the world, it’s because a young teenage girl has been either raped or seduced by a creepy older man (who is of course “Christian”).  I realize that I’m prolife (unabashedly) and thus am going to be somewhat more sensitive to a strong pro-abortion message (and seriously, this wasn’t a prochoice message, it was literally pro-abortion, there wasn’t a single time that it was mentioned that any of these girls should have been able to choose whether or not to carry their babies to term, it was 100% they should have been allowed access to the abortion that they obviously needed), but this really did feel over-the-top.  It’s been a few weeks since I finished this one, but there were at least SIX pregnant teenagers (three or four of whom had been impregnated in less than a year by the same man), plus two girls that were slightly older, plus the implication that there were even more than the ones they knew about.  Seriously??  It was like a murder mystery where the body count gets wildly out of hand to the point where you can’t believe the murderer has even had time to sit down and eat a decent meal in days because he’s been so busy killing people and hiding bodies.  This was definitely the same thing – it was like this guy had nothing but back-to-back-to-back appointments with vulnerable young girls to sleep with until they got pregnant, to the point that it was genuinely not believable any more.

There was also this whole thing about how the only reason that Ireland hasn’t legalized abortion is because “Christian” charities make SO MUCH MONEY by virtually kidnapping young pregnant girls and forcing them to give birth and then STEALING THEIR BABIES and SELLING THEM to the United States for TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS all of which goes DIRECTLY to American prolife groups!  Because obviously the ONLY way a prolife group could get money is by abusing young women.  And I don’t know much about Ireland’s history, and it’s entirely possible that there were these type of “homes” all over the place that took young women in and then gave their babies up for adoption, but I find it hard to believe that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM also starved, abused, beat, and imprisoned these girls and then forced them into indentured servanthood until they became adults.

By this time, the number of pregnant girls was ridiculous, and Paula’s actions were completely erratic, and I still had no idea what her actual job was.  I was also, frankly, a bit put off by the fact that Paula has sex with THREE different men in this book, and then acts shocked and confused that she’s pregnant in the end!  Two of the people she sleeps with are coworkers/supervisors, which felt uncomfortable and unethical, and the third person is the editor of the newspaper who has been mucking about with their investigation, and thus also felt uncomfortable and unethical, despite the fact that Paula had a backstory with this guy from when they grew up together.  It just seemed like if a male character had had sex with these same types of characters, everyone would think he was a manipulative creep, but Paula is just an Enlighted Woman.  The actual murderer of the girl who is killed felt glaringly obvious (and this from someone who actually is not good at guessing whodunit for the most part) and Paula literally didn’t get it until the killer confessed because she was SO convinced that SHE KNEW who the killer was that she ignored all the contrary evidence.

The whole thing with the pregnant girls was also confusing because the actual motive of this guy was super vague??  Like, okay, he wants to bang teenage girls.  But it seems like there would be a lot of way simpler ways to accomplish this then setting up this entire religious organization with tons of staff members and big community outreaches and stuff??  I was also confused about the fact that they couldn’t prosecute the guy because even though the one girl said he had had sex with her, it was consensual so…  aren’t their laws against adults sleeping with minors even if the minor says it’s okay?? This girl is 15??

There was also this whole other thing where one of the girls who disappeared is from this trailer park or something outside of town and these people hate everyone because of racism, but because I’m not incredibly familiar with Ireland, I never really understood what the racism bit was – like are these gypsies maybe?  Or is it some kind of Muslim community?  I never had any idea what people group these people were, just they hate everyone and everyone hates them.  They also refused to talk with the police and actually physically attacked them like by throwing bricks and crap at them, yet spend all their time being outraged because the police aren’t doing enough to find the missing girl….?!??!?  And everyone else is like, “Boo, police, they are such racists, they don’t even care about this girl!” despite the fact that literally no one in this community would talk with the police except for the girl’s sister and literally the girl’s sister is the ONLY reason they even know the girl is missing!  I was SO confused by this entire aspect of the story.

I realize this book was written and published in Great Britain where presumably people are much more familiar with the culture and history of the area, but it really felt like there could have been at least a few explanatory paragraphs about a couple of historic events that had a big impact on the present story.

Despite all this, I was still willing to go with a 3* rating and try the second book.  I actually did like Paula for the most part, and the pacing of the book was solid, with a lot of likable secondary characters.  The vibe was very Irish, and I genuinely enjoyed the sense of place.  And lots of times the first book in a series is still trying to sort itself out, so I like to give second books a go if the first is at least moderately enjoyable or feels like it has potential.  But within the first few pages of the second book it was obvious that I was going to have to listen to Paula spend pages trying to decide whether or not she should kill her baby (even though she still doesn’t even know who the father is – guess he doesn’t get any sort of say in the matter, as usual), and I knew I simply couldn’t handle it, even if she decided to keep the baby in the end.  So while there were things to like about this book, overall a very choppy and semi-incoherent plot, combined with an incredibly polemic message about abortion, means I can’t quite recommend it.

87th Precinct // Books 6-10 // by Ed McBain

  • Killer’s Payoff (1958) – 4*
  • Lady Killer (1958) – 3.5*
  • Killer’s Wedge (1959) – 3*
  • ‘Til Death (1959) – 4*
  • King’s Ransom (1959) – 3.5*

I read the first five books of this classic series in early April, and this set of five towards the end of the month (yes, I’m a bit behind on reviews as usual haha).  With a total of 55 books to read, I decided chunks of five was the way to go, and so far that feels about right.  These are pretty short, snappy reads (usually only around 150 pages), so reading five at a time gets me into the groove without getting too repetitive.

As with most series, these have their ups and downs, but on the whole I am really enjoying them.  McBain has a wry sense of humor, and for the most part writes likable characters that may have problems or weaknesses, but overall make me want them to win.  The series focuses on the entire group of detectives, although various ones are more prominent and various stories.

Killer’s Payoff and Til Death were my two favorites out of this batch – Till Death probably edges a little bit into the lead.  In that book, one of the detective’s sisters is getting married – and the groom-to-be gets a threatening message on the wedding morning.  The detective invites several of his buddies from the precinct to attend the festivities, and the whole story is a bit of a delightful dashing around (although one characters dies that really made me super sad!).  In Killer’s Payoff, there’s an excellent blackmail angle, although the main detective in that one is single and sort of sleeps his way through the book with various women, which felt a little awkward (although not at all graphic).

Lady Killer and King’s Ransom were fairly average but enjoyable entries to the series.  In Lady Killer the precinct gets a message that The Lady is going to die at 8:00 that night… except they literally have no idea who The Lady is.  The pacing is really good with the impending deadline, and McBain lets us get some glimpses of the murderer-to-be’s activity to that the reader knows the message is for real and not a hoax, as the precinct can’t help but wonder if it is.  King’s Ransom is more of a thoughtful book, a lot more about the people involved rather than the detectives themselves.

I felt that Killer’s Wedge was the weakest of the bunch, although I liked the one side of the plot – a woman walks into the precinct and holds everyone hostage, enraged that her husband died in prison and completely blaming one of the detectives for the death.  She wants to kill the detective she hold accountable, except he isn’t there yet.  So she keeps everyone else hostage until his arrival.  Meanwhile, that detective is investigating an apparent suicide across town – except he isn’t convinced it’s a suicide.  There were a few fairly large weak spots in this book for me.  One was the suicide mystery itself – the whole idea is that the man has to have committed suicide because of being in the locked room.  But the detective has three sons as his suspects… but never seems to think that may the three of them were working together (i.e. one gets locked in with the old man and kills him, and then the other two break down the door).  Meanwhile, back at the precinct, I found myself quite disappointed in the apathetic attitude of the cops being held hostage – I guess they just seem to think if they sit there, the detective will come in, the lady will kill him, and then everyone gets to go home??  There seemed to be a very “oh well” vibe from them that aggravated me to no end and really made me think quite a lot less of them as men!

As you can see, these were published in the 1950’s (and into the 60’s I’m assuming, although I haven’t gotten that far yet), and it’s always fun to me to see little bits of our past culture that no one really remembers or thinks about now.  For instance in one of the books, the way that they trace a suspect’s travels is because before credit cards, you could get a credit book from a specific gas station brand (e.g. Marathon or Gulf) and then every time you fill up, it gets marked in your book and then they send you a bill at the end of the month.  So the detectives were able to find out what gas station this guy used, and then find his credit records to see which gas stations he visited on his trip and thus determine the general area he visited!  I had never even heard of the gas station credit system, so that alone was quite intriguing to me.

Overall, this series has been quite enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to the next batch.  My only real problem is that half of these are only available as large print editions at the library, and while I don’t like reading tiny print (my eyes really aren’t that great), when I’m reading large print I feel like all I am doing is turning pages and not getting anywhere!  Still, I’m interested to see where the series heads, and what else happens in the personal lives of the detectives (one of them got married in one of the first books, and now just found out that his wife is pregnant, so how fun is that??).  They’re definitely the kind of books that you can read independent of one another if you just want to grab one at random and go, but reading them in order is building a lot of fun and interesting background between the main characters.

 

If you’re looking for some quick, snappy, slightly politically-incorrect mysteries, I definitely recommend these.

Pride & Prejudice Variations (again)

Greetings, friends!  Spring is busy as always, which means that blogging takes a bit of a backseat to the rest of my life.  Yesterday I bought some more plants, not because I have an addiction, but because it’s spring and I have to buy plants.  ::shifty eyes::  In case you’re interested (you know you are), I was mainly buying some little bedding annuals to go into containers – verbena, impatiens, salvia, lobelia.  I also got some floating plants for the fish pond, a critical part of keeping the pond at least somewhat clean.  This is both great and also sad because now it means I need to take a day and empty the whole pond and clean it and then refill it.  Funny story, ever since I started getting floating plants every year, I’ve never had to feed our fish.  The fish eat the roots of the floating plants, the floating plants eat all the fish waste, and our pond is just a mini circle of life!

ANYWAY did you actually want to hear about some books??  Spring always makes me feel like reading some fluffy stuff, so here are a few P&P variations I read recently.  All three of them are available on Kindle Unlimited if you’re interested – I like to get KU for a month or so at a time and soak up the P&P haha

Duty Demands by Elaine Owen – 4*

//published 2016//

So I actually really enjoyed this variation (although the cover is rather dreadful).  It starts while Elizabeth is visiting Charlotte in Kent.  Before Darcy’s proposal, Elizabeth receives word that her father has fallen very ill.  He dies before she gets back home.  A few days later, Darcy, via Uncle Gardiner, offers his hand in marriage.  Elizabeth accepts, knowing that this is probably the only way that her family can stay together.  However, she has no idea that love was the motivation behind Darcy’s offer.  Her uncle says he assumes that Darcy is pleased to find a quiet country miss who will basically do his bidding and not make too many demands on his time or purse.  So their marriage begins with Darcy in love – and assuming that Elizabeth at least likes him, since he didn’t receive a severe set-down in Kent, and Elizabeth still completely prejudiced against Darcy and assuming the worst of his motives at every turn.

What I liked here was that the angst felt realistic instead of overly-dramatic.  There weren’t a bunch of horrific villains lurking around every corner.  Instead, Darcy and Elizabeth have to find their way through their misunderstandings together.  This was also a clean retelling, so while there are mentions of the marital bed, there is nothing detailed, which was nice.  All in all a surprisingly pleasant retelling, although a bit towards the soap-opera end of the spectrum.

Miss Darcy’s Companion by Joana Starnes – 4*

//published 2016//

I’ve read a couple of Starnes’s other retellings with mixed results (quite enjoyed The Falmouth Connectionbut The Second Chance was SO boring).  This one was overall enjoyable, although it’s more of an alternate storyline than an actual variation, as nothing really happens the way it does in canon.  Instead, Mr. Bennet has already died before the story opens and through a series of events, Elizabeth ends up working for Darcy as Georgianna’s companion.  I really enjoyed watching the friendship between all three of them grow, and the love story between Elizabeth and Darcy felt natural.  This series of events meant that there wasn’t really a time where Elizabeth didn’t like Darcy, but it did also mean that there was more of a class distinction between them to make things awkward.

Eventually, Darcy goes to London to wrestle with his feelings and decide what he should do about Elizabeth.  While he’s gone, an old family friend begins dropping by and being super smarmy – our old buddy Wickham.  All of the Wickham drama actually felt completely natural for once, and I was genuinely caught up in the WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN bit.  There was a little bit of over-the-top-ness, but overall this was a fun and engaging story with likable characters.  It was also another G-rated version, which, I may have mentioned, is always nice.

Mr. Darcy Dances by Sophie Lynbrook – 3.5*

//published 2017//

A few of Lynbrook’s other variations have also come my way – Lizzy’s Novel was a great concept that felt like it needed a bit more meat to it, and An Odd Situation was also a likable story, although one that really needed more of Elizabeth’s perspective to round it out.  In Mr. Darcy Dances, the story opens with the assembly, except instead of standing around being a snob, Darcy dances every dance!  Throughout the evening, we know that Darcy is determined to annoy Miss Bingley as much as he can, but we aren’t sure exactly why…

This story was a fun play on Elizabeth’s dislike of Darcy, as here she thinks him a rather obnoxious fop.  While I did quite enjoy a lot of things about this version – it was quite fun to have a version that takes place entirely in Hertfordshire with the entire Bennet crew – I was never able to quite buy Darcy unbending to extent that he did during that first evening.  This was another clean version, so it’s good to know that more of those are taking over this genre.