Rearview Mirror // March 2020

Look at this!!  I’m actually getting caught up!!  I finally finished March’s reviews, so now it’s time to look at the reading month… and maybe someday I’ll be caught up enough to get back to discussing books more in-depth!

Favorite March Read

So pretty much any time there’s an Arthur Ransome book in the month, that ends up being the favorite, and March was no exception!  I absolutely adored Coot Club!

Most Disappointing March Read

Honestly, this was overall not a bad reading month. I think I’m going with Mystery in the Pirate Oak.  It was pretty choppy, even for a children’s book.

Other March Reads

March Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  20 (17 physical; 3 Kindle)
  • Total Pages Read:  5098 (lowest month of the year so far)
  • Average Star Rating for January:  3.87 (highest month of the year so far)
  • Longest Book:  Watership Down  (474 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  Mystery in the Pirate Oak (114 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  Anne of Green Gables (published 1908)
  • Newest Book:  The Happy Camper (published 2020)
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  5

March DNFs

Three of them in March, which is part of the reason my page count is lower – I don’t include partial books, and I read almost halfway through two different Kindle books before bailing on them.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

This one has been on my list for a while, but I didn’t realize it was almost 1000 pages long when I added it.  I tried to read this one but honestly just didn’t have the headspace for it.  Murakami’s writing is vague and rambly, with random spurts of violence or explicit sex, and I just could not get into the rhythm of it.  I always wonder how much of that is because of the translation, too.  For now, I left it on the TBR because I may try to return to it someday.  The concept is still really interesting to me, but if I’m honest, I know I’m never going to pick this one up again.

Deep Blue Secret by Christie Anderson

I’m on a quest to read through some of the oldest unread Kindle books that I own.  Back when I first got my first Kindle in 2016 I got a little excited about the concept of free ebooks and consequently have a huge backlog of them, half of which I’m not even convinced that I bothered to read the description!  So far I have started and bailed on four, and this was one of them.  This one was just sooooo slow and the majority of the book was Sadie having all these feelings about this boy that she literally doesn’t even know, and I was just finally over it.  It was also the first book in a trilogy, and there was no way I was going to be able to stick with Sadie to the end, so I bailed around 40%.

The Last Girl by Joe Hart

Another old Kindle book, this one at least started interesting, but then didn’t really go anywhere.  When it finally did start to go somewhere, it went somewhere violent, and I really can’t handle that kind of thing.  So this one also got abandoned around 40%, especially since it was also the first book in a trilogy.  Ah well.

TBR Update

This I keep updated as I go, so it’s current as of today, rather than as of the end of March.  I’m sure it’s off-kilter, though, because I get most of my TBR additions from reading book reviews on all of your lovely blogs, and I still have over 400 (!!!) unread book blogging emails!

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:  481 (up one)
  • Nonfiction:  117 (holding steady)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  670 (down two)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  242 (holding steady)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 114 (holding steady)

Reading Challenge Updates

  • #ReadingEurope2020 – visited one country – Austria (total 3/46 complete)
  • #ReadtheUSA2020 – visited five states: Mississippi, Montana, New York, Oregon, and Texas (total 16/50 complete)
  • #SeparatedbyaPondTour – visited the five states above, plus one Canadian province (Prince Edward Island), plus four English counties (Derbyshire, Hampshire, Norfolk, and Shropshire). (Total 30/159 complete.)
  • #LitsyAtoZ – 0 books (18/26 complete)
  • #BackwardsAtoZ – 10 books (No T – No Z complete, then No A – No C on my second list – I’m trying to do this one in order and to see how many times I can get through the alphabet!)

Current Reads

My sister and I are buddy-reading Little Women one chapter a day, which I’m actually really enjoying.  I’m also rereading Fangirl, which I had kind of forgotten how much I loved!!

Up Next

My probable next five(ish) reads…

  • Nation of Enemies by H.A. Raynes – the next of my ancient Kindle books that I will probably bail on haha
  • The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg – this is an #LMPBC book so I really have to read it before the end of the month. I was going to read it next, but ended up picking up Fangirl instead, so here we are!
  • A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan – so there is a website called Tailored Book Recommendations that you can join for a small fee and you fill out a big long survey and they send you three recommended books each month (you can also pay a significantly higher fee and have them actually send you a book, but I just couldn’t quite justify that one).  This one has been on my list for a while anyway, so I splurged and bought it (the libraries are still closed and I just didn’t want to wait!).  I also bought another book they recommended – Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh, which I had never heard of, since I could get both books for less than $15.  The Tesh book hasn’t come yet, but it sounds intriguing as well.
  • An Episode of Sparrows by Godden Rumer – this is a book I added years ago via a book blog recommendation, but it may be too heavy for me right now.  We’ll see.
  • The Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanjana Roy – the sequel to The Wildings, I’m interested to see if I like this one as well.

April Minireviews – Part 2

Oh look, the last of March’s reviews!!!

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell – 4* – finished March 15

//published 2019//

I’ve seen a lot of love for this book, and since I like Rainbow Rowell and also needed to read a graphic novel to check off some challenges, I decided to give this one a whirl.  The artwork is pretty adorable and I loved the background story with the escaped goat!!  I always enjoy stories that are set in the country, and this one definitely had that going for it.  While the story was a bit simplistic, it was still perfectly fun and happy.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – 5* – finished March 18

//published 1908//

What can I possibly say about this book that hasn’t already been said?  I first read this book probably when I was 9 or 10 and have read it countless times since then.  I love absolutely every page – the warmth, the honesty, the humor – Montgomery writes people so well – even small characters are still perfectly sketched in just a few sentences of description.  Despite the fact that I’ve read this book so often, it still got me all choked up on multiple occasions.  This book is a classic for a reason, and it’s crazy to think that this was Montgomery’s first published novel!

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin – 4* – finished March 19

//published 2015//

A lot of mixed feelings on this one that I can’t completely get into without spoilers.  Overall this was a very engaging read that really pulled me in and made me want to keep reading.  However, I did feel like in some spots the tension was lacking.  I also wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending, but since it did technically make everything work I’m okay with it.  Overall while I enjoyed reading this one, it didn’t particularly make me feel like rushing out to see if Heaberlin has written other books.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie – 5* – finished March 26

//published 1926//

(Did I really go almost a week without finishing a book??  No, of course not.  I read a truly dreadful “Regency” romance and also struggled through half of another book before bailing on it.  My reading stats are partially low in March and April because of so many DNFs!)

If there is some way that you’ve never read this book, you DEFINITELY should.  And I highly recommend knowing as little about it as possible, because if you know nothing, the ending will blow your mind.  It’s a twist that has been used since, but Christie was one of the earliest pioneers of this concept – sooo good!  Christie’s writing is strong enough that even though I’ve read this one several times, and obviously know the twist, I still greatly enjoy seeing how she carefully sets it all up, giving us clues and hints as we go along.  This is one of her finest books, and a hallmark of the genre.

Hot Ice by Nora Roberts – 3.5* – finished March 30

//published 1987//

I’m haphazardly working my way through Roberts’s backlog because it’s so easy to find her books everywhere!  This one was a romantic suspense, a genre she usually writes really well (and that I greatly prefer to her paranormal stories).  This one felt VERY 80’s but was still fun for a one-time read, despite the somewhat high body count, and the fact that just because the baddy went to jail in the end, I was NOT convinced that he would stop trying to avenge himself!  Still, when I’m looking for a fun romp of a read, Roberts rarely disappoints.

White Stallion of Lipizza by Marguerite Henry – 4.5* – finished March 30

//published 1964//

Regular visitors here know that I have a huge soft spot for Henry’s work, which I read over and over again as a child.  Over the last few years I’ve been revisiting her books, and have been pleasantly surprised to find that most of them hold up well as an adult.  Part of it is immense charm of Wesley Dennis’s illustrations, and White Stallion is no exception.  Dennis has a brilliant knack of sketching emotions, and also understands that just as no two human faces look alike, animals all of different looks to them as well – thus his horses and dogs especially become distinct characters on the page, even in a book like this one where theoretically a bunch of large, white horses should all look basically the same.

The story itself is delightful as usual – a young boy, growing up Vienna, loves the stallions and yearns to become a rider.  Based on a true story, as most of Henry’s tales are, eventually this young hero overcomes the odds and learns the discipline of riding these magnificent horses.

When I was in high school, the Stallions toured through my city and we went to see them – it was genuinely indescribable.  It’s amazing how long this breed of horse has been around, performing their almost-magical feats of agility.

April Minireviews – Part 1

Still catching up on a bajillion reviews!  Now that I’ve checked off February (ha!), it’s on to March!!

Coot Club by Arthur Ransome – 5* – finished March 5

//published 1934//

So it may not come as a surprise to learn that I am still in love with these books!  I’m reading this series very slowly, savoring each one.  I’ve also been purchasing them as I go in the Jonathan Cape editions, which come with amazing end maps that I love.  This story was about a gang of children on a sailing expedition.  I usually think of sailboats (when I think of them, which, if I’m honest, is rarely) in association with large, open bodies of water, but in this story the characters are sailing on a river!  There was loads of adventures and excitement, the most adorable characters, and just so many happy things.  I loved every single page, as always.

Wild Horse Running by Sam Savitt – 4* – finished March 5

//published 1973//

This is another children’s books, and a fairly short read with loads of gorgeous illustrations by the author, who is one of my favorites.  This is a story about a wild horse, and like the countryside the horse roams, the story is a bit sparse.  Although it was choppy at times, Savitt still pulls together a tale that tugs at your heartstrings.  Published at a time – tragically not very long ago! – when it was still legal to pursue wild horses by car and plane, run them to exhaustion, and then ship them off to make dog food, it’s obvious that part of the reason Savitt is writing is to shine a light on this horrific practice, but his writing never feels polemic.  If you like horse stories, than you’ll enjoy this one.  If you don’t, this one probably isn’t for you, as there isn’t a great deal of human interest aspect.

Mystery in the Pirate Oak by Helen Fuller Orton – 3* – finished March 6

//published 1949//

As you may be able to tell, I was on a run of children’s books at the beginning of the month, looking for some light, fast reads.  (Although Coot Club was particularly fast – it was 352 pages and still not long enough for me!)  This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I picked up at a booksale back in 1997!  Considering it’s barely 100 pages long, you think I would have bothered to read it sometime in the last 20+ years, but here we are.  This was overall a pretty average, if someone haphazard story, but what really blew my mind was the historical context – published in 1949, yet the characters’ grandma went west in a covered wagon.  It just never ceases to amaze me how actually close we are to that kind of history.

Watership Down by Richard Adams – 4.5* – finished March 6

//published 1972//

It had been years since I last read this classic, so I was rather excited that one of my group members chose it as her book to mail for #LMPBC (Litsy Markup Postal Book Club – four people in a group – each person picks a book to read and annotate – every month everyone mails whichever book they have to the next person until you get your own back).  Not only did I get the pleasure of reading it, I got to read notes and thoughts from the other members as well, which was super fun!

Anyway, if you enjoy animal stories, you have to read this one.  An epic adventure of a small group of wild rabbits who leave their home warren in search of someplace new.  Like truly great animal tales, the rabbits don’t behave unnaturally, other than their ability to converse with one another. (And who is to say they can’t do that in real life anyway?)  Adams even uses words that are part of the rabbits’ language that are “not translatable” into English, which somehow adds to the authenticity.  While this is an animal story, there is a lot of depth to the characters and world-building, and some thought-provoking lessons as well.

Fallen Into the Pit by Ellis Peters – 3.5* – finished March 8

//published 1951//

Ellis Peters wrote the Cadfael mysteries, which are some of my favorite books of all time.  Fallen Into the Pit is one of her much earlier books, and is a “modern” mystery (set just after WWII, which is when it was published) rather than a historical mystery like Cadfael.  While this was a perfectly enjoyable book, I didn’t love it, or particularly bond with any of the characters.  It was an interesting concept – a look at the way that WWII German POWs were being assimilated into Britain by sending them out to live in small villages.  I think part of the reason that I struggled with this book is because the German is definitely one of the bad guys, and was SUCH a jerk, so in a way it felt like the lesson of the book was that Yes, you SHOULD be paranoid about Germans living among us because they SUCK.  So the whole thing felt vaguely racist against Germans, if that makes sense.  Still, a decent if not stellar mystery, and with a likable enough protagonist that I reserved the next two books in the series from the library.  Of course, they are still there because the libraries have been shut down what feels like years, but someday!

The Last Waltz by Dorothy Mack – 3.5* – finished March 10

//published 1986//

Another paperback out of the box of random Regency romances, this one was set in Brussels rather than England, which was a fun switch.  With Napoleon closing in, the setting was more interesting than the actual story, which was incredibly bland.  Truly nothing unpredictable happened in this book, to the point that I can only vaguely remember it a month later!

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward – 3.5* – finished March 12

//published 2015//

This is the first in a series revolving around a group of (modern) detectives in Derbyshire.  While this was a decent read, it was a bit garbled since one of the characters was doing her own research about the killer at the same time as the police, and it was easy to get confused about which people knew what – something that always frustrates me a little.  There were also SO MANY illegitimate babies.  SO MANY.  Basically every time there was a plot twist, it was because someone had had an unexpected pregnancy, and that got old after a while, especially with the not-so-subtle “if only they could have gotten an abortion at the time all their problems would have been solved!” message.  That’s right, because killing your baby solves all your issues and definitely doesn’t create any others. *eye roll*  Anyway, it was a fine mystery, but nothing about it inspired me to pick up the next book in the series.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold – 3.5* – finished March 15

//published 2015//

Quite a while ago I read another of Arnold’s books, Kids of Appetitewhich I genuinely loved.  I’ve been meaning to read Mosquitoland ever since, so I decided to choose it for one of my #LMPBC picks this round.  While I did like it, it just didn’t have the magic of Kids of Appetite.  In this story, teenager Mim has been forced to move with her dad and stepmom from northern Ohio to Mississippi, leaving her mother behind.  Lately, even letters and phone calls from her mom have stopped coming in, and when Mim overhears part of a conversation between her dad and stepmom, implying that Mim’s mom is sick, she steals some cash from her stepmom, jumps on a Greyhound bus, and starts heading north.  The book is journey, with plenty of adventures throughout.

My two main issues with this book – the first was just that most of it was way over-the-top.  I never really believed that any of these things happened to Mim.  There were way too many coincidences and genuinely ridiculously crazy characters.  While some of the episodes were entertaining, most of them just had me rolling my eyes in disbelief.  The book is very episodic in nature, which added to the overall choppy feel.

My second big issue is just that Mim’s dad didn’t tell her what was really going on with her mom.  Mim is 16, not 6, and there wasn’t really any reason that she shouldn’t have been told the truth immediately.  Literally all of Mim’s problems could have been avoided if her dad had had ONE honest conversation with her – and there was literally no reason for him not to, which I found frustrating.

All in all, Mosquitoland was interesting as a one-time read, and I am definitely curious to get it back in a few months and see what notes my fellow #LMPBC readers have left, as it does have a lot of potential discussion points, but it wasn’t a book that I really bonded with.  I do love the cover, though!

The Happy Camper // by Melody Carlson

//published 2020//

Revell very kindly sent me a review copy of this book, which doesn’t impact my opinions.  I do apologize that this review is later than the due date assigned, but life has been a little topsy-turvey lately!

The story begins with Dillon quitting her job, breaking up with her noncommittal boyfriend, and heading back home to stay with her grandpa in a small town in eastern Oregon.  She knows her grandpa has been lonely since his wife died, and she’s hoping that she’ll have some time to figure out what she wants to do with her own life, while helping her grandpa out on his farm.  Dillon was basically raised by her grandparents since her mom, Margot, is a “free spirit” type who didn’t really want to be tied down to motherhood.  But when Dillon arrives at the farm, it turns out that her mom has also decided she needs a break from life, and is already living in Dillon’s old room.  As always, Margot has come up with a new, brilliant, money-making scheme and is determined to stay at the farm so she can get her new business off the ground.  Throughout the course of the story, Dillon comes to grips with herself, her mom, and her life, as she fixes up a vintage pull-behind trailer to live in.

So overall I really enjoyed this story.  It’s fluffy and easy to read.  Dillon is a pretty likable main character, and I appreciated that she was the one who made the decisions to uproot her life – so often these types of stories start with the main character hitting a string of absurdly bad luck.  But in this instance, Dillon herself is the one who decides that she wants more from life, and she’s the one who quits her job and tells her boyfriend that it’s over, and I liked that.  I also appreciated that the book wasn’t entirely romance – a lot of the story is about Dillon dealing with some of the issues between her and her mom, and I honestly would have liked even more of that aspect of the story.

However, the story suffers from lack of direction.  Things move along pretty well up to the point where Dillon receives and starts renovating the trailer, but that’s also the point that she really gets to know the potential love interest, Jordan.  There’s another woman who likes Jordan, and who has known him a lot longer, so Dillon keeps seeing them together and misinterpreting the situation, and then being reassured by Jordan that he really is interested in her (Dillon), etc.  At the same time, Dillon’s (truly) obnoxious ex-boyfriend shows up and is very persistently trying to prove to Dillon that he isn’t afraid of commitment – this means that Jordan keeps seeing them together and misinterpreting the situation, and then being reassured by Dillon that she really is interested in him (Jordan), etc.  It was okay the first few times that this misunderstanding occurred, but it began to get very repetitive and uninteresting as that aspect of the story felt like it went on forever.

Also, as someone who owns a vintage motorhome – one that was in pretty good shape when we bought it – I was a little eye-roll-y on how easily and quickly Dillon was able to get her trailer completely road-and-living-worthy.  But hey, that’s fiction.

And one more completely unreasonable thing to be annoyed about?  Dillon names her trailer and her truck – but it’s super obvious that the author doesn’t really understand the concept of naming cars, because she italicizes the names as though they are boats – you know, like The Minnow.  Except when you name a car, it’s more like naming a pet.  My car is Pruitt, not Pruitt.  No idea why, but it genuinely aggravated me to see the constant references to the names in sentences like this – “Yes, I wanted to get Jack looking good.  Couldn’t let Rose show him up.”  WHY.

In the end, this was a really relaxing one-time read that I liked and can recommend, but it wasn’t a book that I’ll keep and cherish and reread forever.

PS Also mildly confused by the cover image.  Considering the camper is a HUGE part of the story, how hard would it have been to put a picture of the actual kind of trailer that Dillon owns??  It’s VERY specifically named as a 1964 Aloha Oasis with a cab-over, like this one –

Rearview Mirror // February 2020

Wait, you may be saying – didn’t we just finish March, not February?  Yes, you are correct!  However, here on TheAromaofBooks, I’ve only just finished reviewing the books I read in February!  So one month at a time!

Favorite February Read

I think I’m going with Free to Fall.  This book was surprisingly deep, and while it didn’t fall into a few cliches, I found myself really engaged with this on-the-brink-of-dystopia novel.

Most Disappointing February Read

The Intuitionist is going to slot in here.  It was just an odd book that I was never really able to connect with.

Other February Reads

February Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  19 (15 physical; 4 Kindle)
  • Total Pages Read:  5668 (BIG drop from January)
  • Average Star Rating for January:  3.66
  • Longest Book:  The Starless Sea  (494 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  Hail to the Chief (151 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  The Secret of Chimneys (published 1925)
  • Newest Book:  Lucky Caller (published 2020)
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  3

February DNFs

Only one for February – The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons.  I think part of the problem was that I just wasn’t in the mood for this one.  It’s 560 pages long, an epic fantasy with complicated dual storylines, more footnotes than most nonfiction, multiple pages of glossary terms in the back, etc.  Sometimes I really enjoy immersing myself in a world like this, but other times I just don’t have the patience for it, and this was one of the impatience times.  It’s a shame because I own a beautiful hardcover copy of this one that I got in a random book box, but I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to it.  The dual timeline was a real turn-off, with multiple characters overlapping in both, some in first person, some in third person – it was just toooo much.

TBR Update

This I keep updated as I go, so it’s current as of today, rather than as of the end of February.  I’m sure it’s off-kilter, though, because I get most of my TBR additions from reading book reviews on all of your lovely blogs, and I haven’t read anything in weeks!!

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:  480 (down three)
  • Nonfiction:  117 (up two – it would probably help if I read nonfiction like ever)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  672 (up twelve– mostly Kindle books and old gardening books from my grandma’s house)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  242 (down one)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 114 (down one)

So overall some downward trends… although I’m sure that will change whenever I get around to reading blog posts!

Reading Challenge Updates

  • #ReadingEurope2020 – visited zero countries (total 2/46 complete – this is definitely my weakest challenge so far!)
  • #ReadtheUSA2020 – visited four states: Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, and North Carolina (total 11/50 complete)
  • #SeparatedbyaPondTour – visited the four states above, plus two English counties (Gloucestershire and Hertfordshire). (Total 20/159 complete.)
  • #LitsyAtoZ – 1 book (18/26 complete)
  • #BackwardsAtoZ – 8 books (No L – No S complete – I’m trying to do this one in order)

I’ve also been doing a bunch of book bingos, which are kind of my new favorite thing!

Current Reads

Just one – I’m reading my way through an old children’s series from the 1960’s, the Robin Kane books.  Currently I’m on book #4 out of 6 – The Candle Shop Mystery.

Up Next

Besides finishing the Robin Kane books, the next few reads will probably be –

  • White Tiger by Kylie Chan – for another Litsy challenge I’m trying to read my five oldest unread Kindle books – this one is from 2016!
  • The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg – an #LMPBC book
  • The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nora Jacobs – a random TBR book
  • Moonlight Becomes You by Mary Higgins Clark – someone gave me an entire box of mysteries, including a bunch by Clark
  • Leave It to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse – I’m still (very) slowly working my way through all of Wodehouse’s books in published order.  I’m looking forward to this reread as I always find Psmith particularly entertaining.

Well, that’s the February update – up next, minireviews from the books I read in March!  I may catch up one of these days!!