July 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 Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1922//

This is a collection of short stories, all of which are about golf.  In my question to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, this one was next, and I’ve kind of procrastinated on it a bit since I don’t really know much (anything) about golf, but I shouldn’t have doubted – although I certainly missed plenty of golfing references, the ability of Wodehouse to tell a hilarious story still shines through.  Most of the short stories are told by an old man whom we know only as the Oldest Member of the golf club.  He has many a tale to while a way an evening.  As with all story collections, they had their ups and downs, but overall the quality was excellent, and the stories were quite funny.

Winner Takes All by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1984, 1988//

This was actually two stories in one book, and they were originally published separately, about four years apart.  I think they would have read better if they hadn’t been together, because they were actually rather similar stories – both female leads were television producers, both had relationship issues, both meet a really similar dude through work.  Overall they were perfectly nice stories (although a bit too sexy), but also pretty forgettable.

The Haunted Fountain by Margaret Sutton – 3.5*

//published 1957//

Now that I’ve gotten into the Judy Bolton books that I don’t own, I’m reading them at a much slower pace as I have to purchase them as I go.  This one was a decent story, but it had almost no Peter in it, and Peter is my favorite character!  Still, Judy is always a great lead, and it was fun to catch up with a few other characters as well.

The Mysterious Heir by Edith Layton – 3.5*

//published 1983//

Some of you may remember that I purchased a book of random Regency romances on eBay a while back because it had some Georgette Heyer titles that I wanted.  I’m still reading the other books in the box, and The Mysterious Heir is my most recent one.  I really enjoyed this one a lot because Elizabeth and Morgan were super likable, and they actually communicated with each other, which is almost miraculous in Regency romances.  Morgan of course has a deep dark past, where his wife (now dead) betrayed him, and this is where the story went off the rails a bit, because instead of just having Morgan’s wife like have an affair or something, the author literally made her this nymphomaniac (although she didn’t use that term) who was always having sex with literally anyone who would (although none of this was graphic at all) and it just came through as weird.  I think the same impact on Morgan’s life/trust issues could have occurred with a slightly more believable situation with his now-dead wife.  However, other than the chapter of Morgan’s back story, the book was overall a fun romp that I enjoyed.

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski – 4*

//published 1945//

Lenski wrote several children’s historical fiction books back in the day.  Each one focuses on a child in a different region of the country, and they are all illustrated with Lenski’s absolutely delightful drawings.  Strawberry Girl is set in Florida around the year 1900, and it honestly blew my mind how frontier-like Florida was at that time – this is barely over a hundred years ago (and was less than fifty years earlier than when Lenski wrote the story – she says in her foreword that many of the adventures are based on first-person accounts from people she interviewed), yet the people are living a very rough and ready life without indoor plumbing, at a time when things like a cookstove were still considered rather fancy.

This was a really enjoyable story, and I highly recommend Lenski’s books if you are studying a certain region or time period.  It’s a children’s book, so things wrapped a little too conveniently at the end, but I let it go since the intended age range is around 10 years old.  All in all, this was a very fun slice of life story.

This one is also my #8 book for #20BooksofSummer!

Lincoln & Douglas: The Years of Decision by Regina Kelly (Landmark book) – 4*

//published 1954//

I’ve mentioned before that I have a big soft spot for Landmark history books.  Aimed at middle school readers, they’re perfect for an overview or review of a topic.  This one looks at the run-up to the America Civil War, focusing on Douglas and Lincoln and their debates at the time.  The author did a really excellent job of explaining the various points of view on slavery at the time.  She never excuses or justifies slavery, but she does explain that the culture of the time meant that many people didn’t question slavery’s existence, and that didn’t automatically make them evil people.  Douglas is presented as a counterview rather than a villain – someone who was trying to find some middle ground to make everyone happy – and who ended up as most people who take the road do: with everyone mad at him.  Kelly points out how Lincoln’s views on slavery also changed through time, and that there were degrees of being “for” slavery – many people felt that it should basically fade out naturally by not allowing new slaves or slave states; other believed slaves should be educated and allowed more opportunity to purchase their freedom; some believed the government should purchase slaves and then free them, thus compensating owners, etc.  Kelly manages to get a lot of complicated thoughts across in a manner that was easy to read and understand.  I’m basically always a fan of Landmark books, and this one is no exception.

The String // by Caleb Breakey

A sociopath known to his victims as the Conductor is blackmailing various individuals into doing his bidding.  He calls his victims knots in his string.  As the Conductor says to one of his knots-

Think of the string as one long sheet of music, with notes of all shapes and sizes, tones, and pitches.  You’re a note … am your conductor … I lift my baton and the string goes up.  I dip it, the string goes low  …  So here are the rules of the string  …  Rule one: Each person gets a positive and negative reason to play their part … the negative: Don’t do what I say, and something horrible is going to happen to you.  …  Rule two: dictator decision … but I’m not the dictator.  You are.  You have the power to destroy not only your own life but the lives of every knot in the string.  Reminds me of my first solo.  I played and sang with all my heart, see, and brought down the house in beautiful fashion.  Everyone succeeded because I succeeded  … Oh, but if I had frozen… if I had failed… if I had so much as kissed off one note, every last person on stage would have suffered.  We’d have turned beauty into a mockery.

I’ve struggled to write this review because I’ve struggled a bit to summarize the story.  Basically the Conductor finds his victims and somehow manages to access their cell phone numbers/email/etc. and is able to send them messages, showing them how much he knows about their lives and their loved ones.  He tells them that they must do what he tells them, and that if they do, they will earn a reward (such as a promotion), but if they don’t, they will be severely punished (threats to loved ones), and that everyone else in the string will also be punished – which means the other members of the string will also be out to get whichever “knot” didn’t obey.  He then has his knots doing seemingly random tasks that are all, theoretically, building towards some sort of climax.  One knot is sent out to take photographs of people.  Another knot works for the college and has access to various sensitive records.  One knot is sent to deliver a package.  Etc. etc. etc. None of the knots technically know who any of the others are, unless one of them disobeys and the Conductor sics them on the rebel.

//published 2019//

The story’s main focus is one of the Conductor’s latest knots – Markus Haas, who works as a campus cop at the college where all of the events are centered.  Markus is a pretty regular guy, trying to do his job and live his life, dating a single mom of two.  Despite the threats the Conductor makes towards Markus’s girlfriend and her daughters, Markus is determined to fight back against the Conductor.  He finds a few other knots who are also trying to break free, and they begin to work together to unravel the string.

All in all, I enjoyed this book and it kept me turning the pages, but it went just a little too far for me to find it plausible.  I was left with too many questions at the end about the viability of the Conductor and his power.  How exactly was the Conductor able to find out so much information on so many people? – because it turns out that like a jillion people are entangled in his string, which was part of what felt a bit ridiculous.  From the beginning, it’s obvious that the Conductor is using people’s cell phones to track them – so why don’t the people who are fighting against him, I don’t know, stop at Walmart and get some new phones???  But I was especially confused by the grand finale – in the end, the Conductor’s motivation didn’t match up with the elaborate setup.

The story was told partially in Markus’s first person narration, and partially in third person of different perspectives.  This was another reason that the story didn’t flow as well as I wanted it to – I think it would have worked much better if the entire story was third person.

For me, this was a 3.5* read.  I definitely enjoyed it and wanted to see where everything was going, but I spent a little too much time feeling skeptical to become fully immersed in the story.

NB: This book was provided to me free of charge by the publisher, Revell, in exchange for an unbiased review.  Thank you!

The Eyes of Tamburah // by Maria V. Snyder

//published 2019//

A couple of years ago I went on a bit of  Maria V. Snyder kick, reading the nine books in the Chronicles of Ixia and loving ALL of it.  Snyder’s world and character building were both excellent, and I fell in love with everyone.  All that to say, I was pretty excited when I saw that Snyder was coming out with a new book this year, which is also going to be the start of a new series (Archives of the Invisible Sword).  And then I was pretty disappointed to find out that there were some complications with Snyder’s publisher, and The Eyes of Tamburah wasn’t going to be available in the US for an indeterminate amount of time!  So (and I’m telling you guys this entire story because I know you definitely care haha) I had to go a roundabout way.  Snyder has an independent bookstore in Pennsylvania with which she is connected (it’s the place to go if you want to buy autographed copies), and they purchased a bundle of her books from Australia to resell here – and as far as I know, it’s the only way to get it here in the US!  So since I preordered a copy, I even got to have it signed, which is cool.

Luckily, after all that effort, Eyes was totally worth it, as I enjoyed every word.

The main part of this book that was super fun was Snyder’s world-building.  Shyla, the main character, lives in a world that is entirely desert – humans live underground to avoid the deadly rays of the midday sun, and much of the world’s class divisions can be marked by how far down someone lives – the further into the ground you are (the higher numbers), the richer you have to be.  Shyla is definitely not one of the rich – she was abandoned and left to die as an infant, and was found and rescued by an order of monks who live outside of the city, in their own (underground) monastery.  When Shyla came of age, she decided to not take her vows and join the order (the term “monks” is used loosely in this book to describe both male and female members of the order, and the vow of chastity is not included in this religion – basically somewhat but not really at all like what we think of as Catholic monks haha), but instead has been making her own way in the city. But the reason that she was abandoned as a baby is because Shyla is “sun-kissed” – blonde, rather than dark-haired like virtually everyone else – so she is still somewhat of an outcast in the city, where she works, studying and interpreting maps for archeologists and treasure hunters.

But things get a little crazy for Shyla as the story opens – she has helped an archeologist, Banqui, find his way to an artifact known as the Eyes of Tamburah.  Banqui discovered them, only to have the stolen from him almost immediately.  Now the ruler of the city, the Water Prince, is convinced that Shyla knows something about their current location, and soon Shyla is caught up in a wild adventure, desperate to find the Eyes.

So, like I said, I totally enjoyed this book.  Shyla is very likable and a reasonable heroine – she was intelligent and clever without being obnoxious. She was a good fighter, but didn’t feel like a boy with a girl’s name. She was brave, but not foolhardy. She was focused on facts, but wasn’t emotionless.  Other characters were also interesting.  The world-building and the society are done very well.  But where the book somewhat fell down for me was the almost frantic pace, combined with a few too many groups of people.

Basically, Shyla is running around trying to find the Eyes, and multiple groups of people are trying to also find the Eyes as well as Shyla herself.  It started to get a bit confusing and convoluted, especially when various groups and individuals would suddenly betray Shyla, then a few chapters later they would explain how it wasn’t REALLY a betrayal, it just looked like one because of such-and-such reason, and then someone else would betray Shyla, and then it turns out it wasn’t REALLY a betrayal, and then the one group that fake-betrayed her earlier would do it again, and it got slightly repetitive and also basically put me into a position where I couldn’t really let myself like any of the other characters because I literally had no idea which people I was supposed to like/root for/hope would win.  It left me feeling off-kilter for the majority of the book, and at the end I still wasn’t completely convinced that the “good guys” were really the good guys.

Still, this didn’t put me off from enjoying the book anyway.  If you can just accept it as a total romp, it’s a good time – a sort of Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park kind of vibe, where everyone is running around and crazy things just keep happening.

I also had a good time reading an Australian book, if that makes sense. Things were measured metric instead of standard, and there were little turns of phrase that I enjoyed.  I realized recently that it actually really annoys me that publishers change English books depending on where the English book is being published – for instance, my British Harry Potter books are actually a lot different from the US versions, and that is super aggravating.  If a book is written in English, by someone who is British, and is set in Great Britain – I don’t want it to be “Americanized” in its terms, spelling, and punctuation.  I want it as the author wrote it – the whole thing is look into a slightly different culture, and I like it that way!  It isn’t completely applicable in this case, since the book is set in a fantasy world, but still.  I like seeing phrases and terms that are used in other English-speaking countries, especially if the book is set in a different English-speaking country!

Anyway, I got all rambly there, but the point is – The Eyes of Tamburah was a super fun read.  If you’ve read Snyder’s other books, I don’t think this one will disappoint you.  Snyder also did a great job wrapping up a lot of loose ends in this one, while still leaving plenty of things open, in a not-aggravating way, to lead into the next book – a book for which I will eagerly be watching.

Samantha Kincaid Mysteries // by Alafair Burke // #20BooksofSummer

  • Judgment Calls (2003)
  • Missing Justice (2004)
  • Close Case (2005)

A while back I read Burke’s The Exwhich was one of those books that, while I didn’t completely love it, still definitely inspired me to check out more of the author’s works.  Next, I read the Under Suspicion series, which Burke co-wrote with Mary Higgins Clark.  I thoroughly enjoyed that series, so I had some decently high hopes for this one.

What I didn’t realize until after I started these, is that they are Burke’s first three books that she had published.  There were all solid 3.5* reads for me, and it was interesting to see Burke’s writing starting to develop.  Samantha is overall a likable character, which always helps.

The main character, Samantha Kincaid, works as an assistant DA in Portland.  It was cracking me up because another author I’ve been reading regularly, Phillip Margolin, also sets most of his books in Portland.  However, Margolin’s characters are almost always defense attorneys, so it was fun to read the other side of the coin – and I also kept halfway expecting some of Margolin’s characters to appear as well!

At any rate, these were pretty typical crime/law procedurals.  They didn’t do anything that blew my mind, but each story was engaging and well-written.  It was nice to have a main character who isn’t “haunted by the past” or busy drinking themselves to death.  Instead, Samantha is a pretty regular career woman in her 30’s.  She does go a bit rouge from time to time, but nothing so crazy that I had to suspend belief.  I also liked the way that other characters in and around the department were regular players throughout the three books.

I had two issues with these books.  The first issue is that Samantha starts dating one of the detectives.  By the second book, everyone knows about it so it wasn’t quite as weird, but in the first book they’re basically keeping it a secret, and since he’s also involved in the crime she’s prosecuting, it felt super shady to me, and I never was comfortable with the fact that they were in a relationship on their private time, and also had a complicated working relationship, especially in one of the books where a cop has been accused of killing a civilian – it really seemed like Samantha’s objectivity was severely compromised.

Speaking of which, Samantha’s boyfriend seemed completely unreasonable during that book.  He was literally mad at Samantha all the time because she was trying to be objective and do her job.  I liked the guy for the most part, but he was basically a jerk during that entire book.

My second issue with the series was Samantha’s regular snide comments about men, and how it’s a man’s world, and how hard it is to be a woman, yadda yadda yadda.  I find this SO boring and also a big cop-out.  It especially annoyed me when she was complaining about extremely stupid stuff – like if you want me to take you seriously that men have the upper hand, maybe choose something real to complain about instead of – literally – the way that he has positioned his hands while talking –

“That one’s trickier,” Duncan said, pressing the pads of his fingertips together to make something resembling a fileted crab, an annoying male gesture that seemed popular in the power corridor.

Say what?!  You’re offended because he has his fingers pressed together?!  It’s not like Duncan makes this gesture only when talking with Samantha, or that the gesture is combined with speaking to her condescendingly or dismissing her ideas.  It’s literally just Samantha being completely weird about the way Duncan is holding his hands during a meeting, and she complained about random crap like this regularly throughout the books.  This kind of sensitivity to something that’s literally completely and totally inoffensive makes it impossible for me to take a character seriously when she complains about something legitimate.  Like yes, I would like to believe you that this guy is degrading you just because you’re female, except you complained about the way that Duncan was sitting in a chair like five minutes ago so.  It’s kind of the boy crying wolf.

But still, all in all I really enjoyed these books and am looking forward to more of Burke’s works in the future.  I was a little sad that she apparently didn’t continue the Samantha Kincaid books, especially since some of Samantha’s personal life threads are left rather open at the end of Close Case.  

And, as a side note, Judgment Calls was my seventh read for #20BooksofSummer!

NB: All links in this review go to other reviews on my blog.

Scallop Shores // Books 2-5 // by Jennifer DeCuir

Funny story, I had a Kindle “boxed set” of the Scallop Shores series, that I later found out were actually books TWO through five.  Who makes a boxed set without the first book?!  However, these weren’t really stories that built on each other in any real way, so it all worked out just fine in the end.

  • Drawn to Jonah (the first book, which I didn’t read)
  • Five of Hearts
  • Wynter’s Journey
  • Trapped in a Tourist Town
  • Always My Hero

So basically all of these stories followed the same pattern.  They had a perfectly pleasant, chick lit premise.  They had likable characters.  They were super enjoyable for the first 3/4 or so of the book.  And then, in the last quarter of the book, they would go off the rails as one or both main characters would suddenly act completely stupid just to provide a final bit of drama.  It was SUPER ANNOYING.

For instance, in Five of Hearts the premise is that Dean was in a boy band in his late teens, and has moved to this little coastal town in Maine to get away from the craziness of life.  His neighbor is a single mother of triplets, Shannon, whose ex-husband ditched her when he found out she was expecting not one but three babies.  (Which honestly also made basically no sense – he was really excited about having a baby, but then so NOT excited about three babies that he literally abandoned the wife he had been in a perfectly happy marriage with and their unborn children and was never seen nor heard from again?!  What?!)  Blah blah blah Dean and Shannon have good chemistry, Dean and Shannon hang out, Dean is awesome with the kids, Dean and Shannon like each other etc etc etc.

Meanwhile, part of the reason Dean is giving up on society is because throughout the course of his life he is battling, as do many a famous person, a false paternity suit.  He knows it’s false because he’s never even had sex with the woman who is accusing him of fathering her child in an attempt to get a big chunk of change.  In the past, Dean has paid off similar women in order to avoid a fuss, but now he’s just over it so he’s duking it out.  So basically Shannon is way into Dean because he is, of course, literally perfect in every way.  He’s awesome with her children, he’s kind and thoughtful, he’s funny and sweet, yadda yadda yadda.  So when she comes across some of the paperwork for the paternity suit, does she give Dean a chance to explain himself since this would be completely out of his character?  Does she listen to more of a sentence of his explanation?  No, of course not.  She runs out of the house like a spoiled child and then spends DAYS being mad at him while at the same time being mad that he hasn’t explained himself despite the fact that she won’t, I don’t know, ANSWER HIS CALLS OR TALK TO HIM IN ANY WAY?!  I’m not exactly sure how he is supposed to explain his situation if she freaking WILL NOT LISTEN TO HIM.  And THEN she finally gives him a “chance” to explain – and literally lets him say one sentence and then tells him he’s a liar runs away again and keeps being mad, with sentences like “Maybe it was time to stop running away and give him a chance to explain himself. If he finally would.”  IF HE FINALLY WOULD?!  Are you kidding me??

This was mostly frustrating because the rest of the book was completely enjoyable, and all of this is not at all in line with the reasonable, thoughtful character Shannon has been up until this point.  Just.  If you find out that there is the possibility that someone is doing something that is 100% against everything else you know about them as a person, maybe you should give them the benefit of the doubt and let them at least tell THEIR ENTIRE STORY and THEN decide if you should bail on them.

And yeah, basically something like that happened at the end of every single one of these books.  In Wynter’s Journey the main dude had a traumatic experience in Scallop Shores and never wants to go back, but that’s where Wynter is desperate to live.  In the end she legit is like, “Well, I’m out” and goes back?!  The day I abandon a perfect man just so I can live in the town I grow up is the day you can smack me in the head HELLO.  And then a few months later it’s this big deal that he’s going into Scallop Shores for the first time since THE INCIDENT… except he picks up Wynter and takes her to their new house which I guess he must have bought like online or something??!

Cady has always dreamed of going to New York City, and she really wants to start her own coffee shop/bakery.  She falls in love with a new guy in town, and eventually decides she wants to stay to be with him… but then “can’t” because she lost her job??  Apparently there are literally NO OTHER JOBS in the ENTIRE TOWN OF SCALLOP SHORES?!  Her ONLY option is moving to NYC?!  She doesn’t even consider seeing if she can set something up in the EMPTY STOREFRONT THAT WOULD BE PERFECT FOR A COFFEE SHOP!?  OH MY GOSH.

But the BEST was in the last book.  So these people own a hardware store.  Someone makes them an offer to buy the hardware store.  An exwife STEALS THE DEED to the hardware store and SELLS IT TO THE DUDE.  And THEN the dude is like, “Well, if I get my money back you can have your store back, but if not, y’all have to get out of here.”  Like…  SHE DID NOT HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO SELL THE STORE?!?  If someone steals my car and sells it and then I find it, it’s still MY CAR because the thief didn’t have the right to sell it – right??  Am I missing something??  Everyone was just like Oh wow this is really sad that our store has been sold don’t know what to do guess we will just be really sad.  WHAT.  EVEN.

The problem was that the BEGINNING of all of these stories was so perfectly enjoyable and relaxing that I let myself get suckered in EVERY SINGLE TIME.  Apparently I have a slow learning curve.

Lyra Series // by Patricia C. Wrede

  • Shadow Magic (1982)
  • Daughter of Witches (1983)
  • The Harp of Imach Thyssel (1985)
  • Caught in Crystal (1987)
  • The Raven Ring (1994)

Although I haven’t reviewed them on this blog, Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles are serious favorites of mine.  They’re snarky, fun, and involve lots of dragons and cats – what’s not to love??  I also have a great fondness for the Cecily & Kate series that she co-wrote with Caroline Stevermer, and thoroughly enjoyed her Frontier Spirit series as well.  All that to say, I’ve been meaning to read the Lyra books for quite sometime.  As you can see, she wrote additions to the series over a long span of time, and there were plenty of books in between these, including the fourth Enchanted Forest book (Talking to Dragons), which was published several years before she wrote the first three (chronologically).

Shadow Magic is Wrede’s first book, and in the introduction to the Kindle edition that I had, Wrede talks about how she didn’t really know what she was doing when she wrote it, but someone bought it, which she found pretty exciting.  Later, she was scared to edit it too much, since the editor had purchased what she’d written after all.  Eventually, though, she did go through and eliminate some of the wordiness of her original edition, especially in the first few chapters of the story.  The introduction actually takes the reader through that first chapter paragraph by paragraph, showing what she changed and why, which was interesting, although a bit confusing as an introduction!  At any rate, while I was hoping to enjoy these books, I knew that they were mostly from earlier in her career, so I wasn’t sure if they were going to be as strong as her later books that I have enjoyed so much.

All in all, I think my expectations were about right on.  I definitely did enjoy these books, but they lacked a lot of the warmth and humor that are what make her later books so enjoyable.  The mechanics of good stories are there: interesting world building, likable characters, engaging plot – but they are, for the most part, fairly serious stories without a lot of lightheartedness.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not my personal preference.

The Lyra books aren’t so much a series as they are a set of stories that take place in the same world.  As such, I could have really, really used a map.  Lyra is the whole world/continent, and there are multiple countries within it.  The books take place at different points in history and in different countries around Lyra.  A map and a timeline would have really improved my enjoyment of these stories, as I am someone who likes to have the big picture.

The stories themselves weren’t stunning, but were solid.  Shadow Magic isn’t at all bad for a debut book – it’s a bit choppy, but the premise is well-developed, even if the love story isn’t.  Daughter of Witches was similar in technique, although the story was quite different.  This was when I first began wishing that I had a map, as there was no clear tie-in or connection between this story and Shadow Magic except for a few vague references.

The book showed a definite uptick in quality during The Harp of Imach Thyssel.  The story was much better focused, and consequently everything felt more driven.  While I was a bit ambivalent towards picking up the first two books when I wasn’t reading them, I found myself racing through The Harp.  

Caught in Crystal was a story that could have been greatly improved by a dose of Wrede’s humor.  The story itself is quite good, and I really like the main character who, unlike most fantasy heroines, is a 36-year-old widowed mother of two who has been retired from active service for over fifteen years.  However, the story was just so serious all the time.  It’s hard for me to connect with characters who never seem to smile.

The Raven Ring was my favorite of the batch, probably because it had some of the humor that was lacking in the earlier books.  The story is a bit more madcap as the main character dashes around the city trying to avoid getting knocked off, and it’s overall just a more enjoyable read.  It definitely could be read as a stand-alone, although you won’t get the full impact of the terror of the Shadow Born, or all the references to the other non-human races.

While I enjoyed this series and am glad to have read it, The Raven Ring is the only one I see myself rereading.  3.5* for the series as a whole, and 4* for the last two.

Also, Shadow Magic is read #6 for #20BooksofSummer!

87th Precinct Mysteries // Books 11-15 // by Ed McBain

11. Give the Boys a Great Big Hand (1960)
12. The Heckler (1960)
13. See Them Die (1960)
14. Lady, Lady, I Did It! (1961)
15. The Empty Hours (1962)

Reading these books in batches of five is basically perfect.  It’s enough to delve back into this world and the characters in it, but not enough to get burned out on – which is a definite concern since there are 55 titles altogether!

As always, rather than focusing on a specific individual, the books are about the entire precinct of detectives.  And while it is super fun to read them in order, because characters do evolve and change, they also would read well as standalones, as McBain does a great job of summing up pertinent information about various individuals in each story.

Give the Boys a Great Big Hand and The Empty Hours were the weakest two out of this batch.  Hand was just a bit too disjointed, although part of my confusion may have come from the synopsis, which implied that hands were being discovered all over town – when in fact there were only two hands, from one person, not a serial killer leaving unattached hands all over the place.  Hours is actually three short stories, and while they were alright, they were a bit too short to really get into anything serious.

In Lady, Lady, I Did It! McBain pulled off one of his little tricks that he isn’t afraid to pull – he killed off a character who had been in several other books!  I was absolutely devastated when Bert’s finance is killed in the first chapter, mainly because Bert is one of my favorites out of all the detectives.  The story was a little rambly in this one as well, although it was interesting to read some different perspectives on abortion back when abortion wasn’t legal.

See Them Die was a departure from McBain’s usual type.  This story takes place over the course of one long, hot afternoon in a bad neighborhood, where the detectives are given a tip that a gang member they have been chasing is holed up in an apartment building.  Much of the story is about a small group of young Hispanic teens who are trying to form their own gang, and are intent on “proving themselves” – by murdering another kid in the neighborhood.  The story is definitely polemic as it deals with racism and gangs, but it felt like McBain was overall balanced.  I almost wonder if something specific happened in McBain’s life to lead him to write this book, because it honestly comes across as though he feels like he has to give out this message.

Again, McBain isn’t afraid to kill off characters, and I’ll confess that I flipped to the end of the book when I was about a third of the way in because I really needed to be emotionally prepared for whoever was going to die – and it still kicked me hard in the feels.  So much of the violence throughout the story is needless – and that’s part of McBain’s point.  There is one detective on the force who is a casual racist – he doesn’t see himself as that way at all, and you spend most of the story wanting to punch him in the face for the comments he makes, especially towards a fellow detective whose parents are from Puerto Rico.  Frankie, the Hispanic detective, has such a passion for the neighborhood where he grew up, and a desire to see something better for the young people there.  He’s a character for whom I had genuine empathy throughout the story.

In the end, while See Them Die may be a little too West Side Story for serious mystery readers, I found it to be a thoughtful and engaging story, especially as part of the whole series.

Finally, The Heckler was my favorite out of the batch, and one of my favorites in the series so far.  McBain introduces a nemesis to the storyline (and his afterword indicates that he will reappear in future tales), and the whole story is a lead-up to a Oceans Eleven type gig that explodes at the end.  It’s a little too much, but at the same time a lot of fun.

I also really loved the way that McBain regularly emphasized the way that Carella loves his wife, Teddy, whom he married early in the series.  There’s an honestly beautiful scene in this book where Carella tells Teddy how he loves her even more now that they’ve been married of years and have children, and it made me super happy.  Romance in long-standing marriages isn’t given enough appreciation in literature, in my opinion.

Whenever I read other reviews of McBain’s books, he gets a lot of flack for being a bit purple in his prose, but I honestly enjoy it for the most part.  He has a knack of being able to make the reader really FEEL the weather and atmosphere of his story.  I mean –



In the city, they are synonymous, they are identical, they mean one and the same thing.  …

The air is tangible.  You can reach out to touch it.  It is sticky and clinging, you can wrap it around you like a viscous overcoat.  The asphalt in the gutters has turned to gum, and your heels clutch at it when you try to navigate the streets.  The pavements glow with a flat off-white brilliance, contrasting with the running black of the gutter, creating an alternating pattern of shade and light that is dizzying.  The sun sits low on a still sky, a sky as pale as faded dungarees.  There is only a hint of blue in this sky for it has been washed out by the intensity of the sun, and there is a shimmer over everything, the shimmer of heat ready to explode in rain.

Seriously, if that doesn’t make you FEEL hot, I don’t know what will.  And it sets everything up for the entire book (that’s from See Them Die), where the intensity of the heat is part of what has everyone on edge.

All in all, I’m looking forward to continuing my journey with the 87th Precinct.  While these aren’t the most brilliant reads, they have been interesting and fun, and I’m intrigued to see where else McBain takes his detectives.

Rearview Mirror // June 2019

Halfway through the year?!  I am so not ready for life to be going this fast!  July 1 is always kind of a mini New Year’s for me, a chance to assess how the year has been going and see what I would like to change for the second half.  This will probably come as a surprise to everyone, but I’m still not doing so great on the exercising front.  :-D

This was a weird reading month because I have just been super busy with household and garden projects.  I haven’t really felt like reading anything particularly serious, so a bunch of my reading involved what were honestly kind of trash Kindle Unlimited reads that I didn’t even bother reviewing haha  It’s basically been like eating a bunch of Skittles, so now that I’m a little nauseous, I think I’m ready to get back to a more regular reading schedule!

However, I do have to say that the gardening work is paying off, thanks to an incredibly rainy month.  June was rather cool and damp, but this past week we switched over to summer in a big way, and it looks like the hot, humid weather is sticking around for a while!

The garden is looking SUPER magical!

Favorite June Read:

I am going with Swallows and Amazons for this one.  This book was just an absolutely delight in every way, and I can hardly wait to get to the sequel.

Most Disappointing June Read:

Probably Dreamology by Lucy Keating.  It was a book that felt like it had a lot of potential, but didn’t know where it wanted to go.  And it’s never good when you hardcore prefer the “wrong” guy to the “right” one!

By the Numbers…

In June:

  • I finished 27 books for a total of 8554 pages, which is my highest page count yet this year.  However, I ended up reading several large print books, thanks to my library’s unwillingness to stock non-LP versions of the 87th Precinct books. Plus, although I always use the page count from Goodreads for Kindle books, I’m never super confident about how accurate they are.
  • This month’s average star rating was 3.7, the first month that it’s gone down instead of up.  That’s what I get for reading goofy KU romances instead of books I think I’ll genuinely like!
  • This is also the first month that I read more Kindle books than physical books – only 11 physical books, which is super weird for me.
  • Swallows and Amazons won the oldest book slot by quite a lot, once again thanks to the huge pile of KU reads.  It was published in 1930.  The next closest were the 87th Precinct books from 1960.
  • Being Alpha was the longest book at 412 pages, while the shortest was Alpha Unleashed at 221.  Both are by Aileen Erin and are part of the Alpha Girl series.

June DNFs:

I had three books I didn’t finish this month, two of which were originally on my #20BooksofSummer list, so they’ve been replaced by different titles (more on that later).

  • Made to Kill by Adam Christopher was a book I got in a book box a while back.  It’s supposed to kind of be a riff on the classic Raymond Chandler novels, which I read and enjoyed last year, so I thought I would give this one a go.  However, it wasn’t particularly interesting, and really lacked the gently snarky humor that kept me reading Chandler’s works.
  • A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay was on the 20 Books of Summer list, but I definitely had some reservations about it as I’ve had rather meh experiences with Reay’s writing in the past, despite the fact that all of her books sound like stories I should love.  I just wasn’t connected with the main character in this book at all, and the first few chapters felt really choppy.  I’ll probably still give Lizzy and Jane a go eventually, as I got it as a free Kindle book a while back, but unless that one is amazing, I don’t really see myself seeking out any more of Reay’s books.
  • The other 20 Books of Summer read that I gave a pass to was Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike, which I mostly picked up because it claimed to be a sort of retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel.  However, I was honestly just bored out of my mind, plus found the one main character, who is a literal ghost, to be suuuuper annoying.  It was definitely one of those YA books that just made me feel like I’m too old to read YA.


Speaking of 20 Books of Summer, I’ve only knocked five books off the list so far.  After eliminating the two DNFs above, I added The Lady Vanished by Gretta Mulrooney and Three Fates by Nora Roberts.  We’ll see what happens!

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:  428 (up four)
  • Nonfiction:  90 (up one)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  664 (holding steady)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  234 (holding steady – the purge still hasn’t happened here!)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 114 (down one)

Awaiting Review:

The main review I have left to write is for the next five books in the 87th Precinct series.  I actually really enjoyed this set of five – it feels like McBain is seriously getting into his groove.  More on that to come soon!

Currently Reading:

Just staring Patricia Wrede’s Shadow Magic, which is the first in her Lyra series.  I’ve been meaning to read these for quite some time, so I’m excited to see what they are all about.  I’ve heard that they aren’t as strong as Wrede’s later books, many of which I’ve enjoyed, so I’m trying to keep my expectations reasonable.  I’d also really like to continue reading my Vietnam book, which has been on hold for like three months.

The Probable Next Five(ish) Reads:

Hopefully I’ll get back on track now that I’m feeling all funned out on KU reads!!

  • Shadow Magic and it’s four sequels, as long as they aren’t terrible.
  • The Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Judgment Calls by Alafair Burke, and it’s two sequels
  • The Haunted Fountain by Margaret Sutton
  • The Reluctant Witness by Kathleen Tailer

June Minireviews – #20BooksofSummer Kickoff!

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.

Turns out that this month’s minireviews are also my first few #20BooksofSummer reads!!  Of course, I ended up posting the review for Swallows and Amazonsmy fifth read, first, so I’m out of order as usual!

Cliff’s Edge by Meg Tilly – 3*

//published 2019//

A while back I read Solace Island, which I found to be a decent, if not stellar, read.  It was good enough to intrigue me to read the second book, Cliff’s Edge, which was just published this spring, mainly because I really liked Maggie’s sister, and she was the main character of this book.

All in all, I had a lot of the same problems with Cliff’s Edge that I did with Solace Island.  Both books are labeled as romantic thrillers, but both were a lot more romantic than thrilling.  And, in my mind, both would have been a lot better if they had been written as straight romances.  In this book especially, the thriller aspect of the story definitely brought down my overall enjoyment and rating of the book, as it always felt clunky and stilted, and mostly consisted of brief chapters of Eve’s stalker lusting after her and being sexually aroused by the thoughts of what he would do once she was in his power… ugh.

The romance part, however, was great fun.  Eve and Rhys have great chemistry (although I could have done without the sexy scenes) and it felt like they each had a lot to offer the other.  But while I enjoyed that part of the story, it just wasn’t enough to bring the overall rating of the book any higher.  I don’t really see myself pursuing any other books that appear in this series.

Book #1 for #20BooksofSummer!!

Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills – 4*

//published 2017//

My second read for #20BooksofSummer, Foolish Hearts was everything I’ve come to expect from an Emma Mills book.  The characters were likable and snarky, the angst level felt realistic, and the main character had a family that loves her, with parents who actually like each other!  I really liked Claudia overall.  In some weird way she reminded me of Lincoln from Attachments, I think because Mills did a great job of letting Claudia’s character growth be natural.  In the end, Claudia still was playing her goofy video game and still had her awkward sense of humor, yet she had matured as a person.  It was the same with some of the other characters, Iris in particular – like Iris didn’t suddenly turn into this warm, bubby person.  Instead, she simply began to acknowledge that sometimes showing love means stepping outside our comfort zones for the person we love.

This wasn’t a perfect book by any means, but honestly I think Emma Mills is everything YA ought to be – funny, gently thoughtful, and not full of sex.  She creates characters – even secondary ones – that I like and care about.  She hasn’t written very many books, so I think First & Then is sadly the only one I have left to read.  Hopefully she has something else in the works.

Stephanie’s reviews are the ones that first brought Emma Mills to my attention, and you can read her review of Foolish Hearts here.

Dreamology by Lucy Keating – 3*

//published 2016//

This was a YA story that had a fun concept, but it just didn’t play out well at all.  For Alice’s entire life, she’s had a constant character who has appeared in all of her dreams – a boy named Max.  Alice feels like she knows Max better than anyone, after all of the adventures they’ve shared.  When Alice and her dad move to Boston, Alice is stunned to see Max – a real, live, actual Max – at her new school.

The premise presented this as a thing where other parts of the dream worlds were starting to merge in the real world and all this stuff blah blah blah, but what followed was a really disjointed story that didn’t seem to know where it wanted to go, and didn’t do a particularly good job of getting there.  Max himself was completely annoying, since he couldn’t seem to decide if he wanted to acknowledge Alice or not, plus he was dating someone else in real life, so he basically is cheating on this other girl with Alice, which I found completely unacceptable.  Meanwhile, Alice makes friends with another guy at school, Oliver, who was like a thousand times better than Max on every level, but Alice kind of treats him like trash because she’s so obsessed with Max.

The actual dream-part of the book is just SO poorly done, to the point that it makes no sense.  For instance, Alice and Max both act like they aren’t in charge of what happens in their dreams, just like real dreams.  So they don’t control where they go or what happens, yet apparently they DO control what they say?  Alice goes on and on about how she knows Max is funny and adventurous and thoughtful because that’s how he is in her dreams – except I thought they had no control over what happened in dreams??  So why would dream-Max be the “real” Max? There were just a LOT of logic-loopholes in a book that was overall very disjointed and uneven.

This was my #3 read for #20BooksofSummer.

A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay – 3.5*

//published 2018//

My fourth #20BooksofSummer read was my first Linwood Barclay book, and actually is another book I added to the TBR because of Stephanie’s recommendation!  Her minireview of this title really captures a lot of how I felt about it – the rather unexpected ending wasn’t exactly what I wanted to have happen, but it was ballsy and Barclay more or less made it work.  However, there are times that I am reading a thriller and the book just goes what I consider to be one twist too far.  A twist really only works if it makes sense, but sometimes authors want to add just one more “What?!??!” moment, and are willing to sacrifice credulity to get there.  This was one of those times – while it mostly made sense, it felt like a lot more of a stretch than I wanted it to.  I felt the same way when I read Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson earlier this year.

Still, I would definitely be into trying out another of Barclay’s books, especially since there are about a million of them.  Any suggestions on which one should be next??