Acceptable Risk // by Lynette Eason

//published 2020//

Earlier this year I read the first book in this series, Collateral Damage.  Since I enjoyed it, I requested to receive a copy of this sequel from the publisher in exchange for a review.  Unfortunately, while Acceptable Risk wasn’t a bad read, it never quite pulled me in.  The pacing felt uneven, and I never really connected with the plot.

Sarah is an investigative reporter in the Army, and the book opens shortly after she’s been kidnapped by a terrorist.  She’s rescued by a character we met in the first book, Gavin, but there’s a shoot-out in the process and Sarah is injured.  While she’s in the hospital, her father, a high-level Army officer, discreetly “arranges” to have Sarah discharged for mental health reasons because Sarah is having bad nightmares.  Sarah’s relationship with her dad has always been very poor.  He never wanted her to join the Army at all, and disinherited her when she did.  Sarah is outraged when she finds out that she’s been discharged, and is determined to find her way back to the Army once she heals.  In the meantime, she turns her investigative skills towards finding out more details about her brother’s last few weeks of life – he committed suicide just a few days before Sarah was kidnapped, despite the fact that he seemed to be doing much better with his mental health according to everyone closest to him, including his doctors.  As Sarah and Gavin begin unraveling seemingly disparate threads, they begin to wonder if there is something much, much bigger going on.

So there were a lot of things about this book that I did enjoy.  While I had mixed feelings about Sarah herself (more on that later), I really liked Gavin a lot, and also Sarah’s brother Caden, whom we met in the last book.  (It’s another brother who has killed himself.)  The concept that somehow someone is forcing veterans to kill themselves was creepy and intriguing.  Also, with a theme like suicide there is obviously some discussion about mental health, which I overall felt like was handled well, acknowledging how treatment for one person doesn’t look the same as it does for another person.  Sarah, for instance, is very against medication, but her brother was on medication that he felt was helping him adjust, and neither option is presented as better or worse than the other.

Sarah herself is a character I had a rather love/hate relationship with.  There were a lot of things about Sarah that I liked – she’s intelligent, hardworking, and loyal – but she also has this HUGE beef with her dad and spends pretty much the entire book whining about him, and has apparently spent her entire life trying to hurt his feelings/make him mad.  She absolutely refuses to even consider that it’s even a tiny bit possible that even a little fraction of his actions come from a place of love and wanting to protect her.  Instead, she’s obsessed with him being the big villain in her life who ruins everything because he’s a control freak – which basically turns her into a control freak because she literally can’t handle anyone else making decisions for or about her, even small ones, or even ones that are made while she’s UNCONSCIOUS for pity’s sake.  I really have a lot of trouble empathizing with adults who blame all of their life problems on their parents.  Yes, your parents are important and your parents can really screw you up.  But if you’re 30 and still blaming your parents for your life problems, when you’ve been on your own for a decade, it’s time to wonder if at least some of your problems are because of you.  Also, Sarah is supposedly a Christian, but the fact that she has this gigantic forgiveness issue isn’t ever really addressed within that framework – the entire deal with Sarah and her dad is just kind of tidied up at the end with a “oh I guess he loves me after all!” and then we all move on… ???  There’s another point where Gavin tells Sarah’s dad that he (the dad) needs to apologize to Sarah if he ever wants Sarah’s forgiveness and… that’s not actually how forgiveness is supposed to work.  You don’t have to get an apology first.  If you’re hanging on to bitterness and anger, you’re only hurting yourself – getting an apology is a completely different part of healing.  In short, I felt like Sarah was just as much to blame for her bad relationship with her dad as her dad was, but her dad gets all the blame and is supposed to do all the groveling, and that really annoyed me.

In the end, there is a big chase scene/villain reveal that felt kind of over-the-top all things considered.  Exciting, but a bit more in a ???? way than an I’m-genuinely-engaged way, if that makes sense.

All in all, I didn’t dislike this book, but I didn’t love it either, leaving it with that dreaded 3* rating.  I’ll still definitely read the third book when it appears, but this one felt like a weaker entry to the series to me.

Thank you to Revell for a review copy of this book – receiving it for free didn’t change my opinions at all.

August 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.

Still reviewing August books in August… making progress!!  :-D

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – 4*

//published 2016//

Quite a long while ago Maggie Stiefvater – pretty much the only “famous” person I follow on social media – mentioned that she was reading this book.  It looked magical, and I’ve always thought winged horses would be the most amazing magical creatures, so I added it to the TBR.  And now, years later, I actually got around to reading it!  While somewhat bittersweet, this was a lovely read about a young girl who can see winged horses in the “mirror world” – i.e. she can only see them in mirrors.  She’s the only one who sees them (or is she??) and has learned to not talk about it much.  She’s staying in an old manor house in the English countryside.  The house has been turned into a tuberculosis hospital for children during World War II, so there is definitely a dark tone to the story, especially since it is set in winter – somehow, the entire book feels grey, which is actually a big part of the story.

There were a lot of things I liked about this story.  It was so imaginative and imagery was beautiful.  I really wish that it had been paired with better illustrations – there is so much in this story just begging for gorgeous pictures.  This is technically a middle grade book, but I wouldn’t just hand it over to a youngster without making sure that they’re ready for some of the serious themes presented here, like terminal illness, war, death, etc.  These things are handled sensitively and well, but to me this is more a book you would read with your child rather than one they would read on their own.

One small niggle for me was that the main character does steal several items throughout the story for a “good cause” – and this is never really addressed.  It’s just sort of implied that she was justified in her actions because she “needed” the items, which I’m not sure is actually that great of a life-lesson.  Still, on the whole I really enjoyed this atmospheric tale that gave me a lot of feelings.

Side note – once again, several of these pictures include my BookSpin Bingo board for my challenge on Litsy, because that’s where I originally posted the pictures!!

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull – 3.5*

//published 1938//

I see a lot of these mysteries that are being reprinted by the British Library Crime Classics, but this is the first one I’ve gotten around to picking up.  The main thing about this story that has kept it in the “classics” category is the way the mystery is presented.  The reader is placed in the middle of a murder trial from the get-go – except we don’t know who is on trial until much later in the book.  Hull weaves the murder, the courtroom scenes, and the background for the murder throughout the story in a way that seems like it should be muddled but which, for the most part, works.

While I did enjoy this one overall, it was definitely slow in spots, with a great deal of time being spent making sure that the reader doesn’t like the victim at all.  This is all part of the point (is one justified murdering someone who deserves to be murdered?  Murder, as it were, with “excellent intentions” in mind?) but did get old sometimes.  The story also runs out of steam at the end, with a long chapter devoted to the jury’s arguing back and forth about whether or not they should convict the accused.  But overall it was an enjoyable one-time read with a crafty mystery wherein the reader can slowly decide who is on trial as the story progresses.

Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1924//

As I continue to work my way through Wodehouse’s books in published order, Ukridge was next on the list.  Featuring a character who appeared in Love Among the Chickens, Ukridge is one of those people who is constantly broke, constantly coming up with a ridiculous scheme for making money (that doesn’t really involve work), and generally coming out alright (although usually still broke).  I think we’ve all met someone like this – I know I’ve definitely found myself in situations, wondering how I got there, pushed in by my family’s Ukridge.  (My second anniversary, spent huddled with my husband in a sopping wet one-man tent on the top of a 40* mountain in the rain, comes to mind.)  At any rate, this isn’t Wodehouse’s strongest work, but it was still enjoyable.  While Ukridge may be ridiculous, he’s never mean-spirited, and he genuinely believes that each of his schemes is going to pay off.  This probably isn’t where I would start if I were going to introduce someone to Wodehouse, but if you already love his writing, there’s a lot to enjoy here as well.

Blackbird by Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Lately I’ve been reading more graphic novels, and while I think this one is technically a comic (I’m still a little hazy on the differences), when I saw this gorgeous cover on a Litsy review, I knew I wanted to at least give it a try.  Overall, I really liked it, and the artwork is great fun.  The main character’s life changed when she was a child and an earthquake hit her city.  During that catastrophe, she was rescued by a huge magical creature that everyone else saw but no one else remembers.  Since then, she’s been the “weird kid,” obsessed with trying to find real magic that she’s convinced is out there.

While I really liked the concept and the magic in this story, it was told in a very choppy manner, making it a little difficult to put together the linear storyline.  There’s also this crazy twist that I did like but also didn’t really seem to fit with the other character’s character.  All in all, this volume felt more like a big set-up than it did its own story.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is going to be a sequel, and I haven’t been able to find much information.  (This volume included the first six issues as one.)  I would definitely read a sequel, but I’m not sure I would especially recommend this one just because the ending is so open-ended.

Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers – 4*

//published 2020//

If you’ve ever wished you had a scifi, gender-swapped Cinderella retelling centered around a royal matriarchy set on a distant planet, then this is the book for you.  It’s rare that I buy a book just for the cover, but that’s totally what happened here.  I just love it, and can’t even explain why!  I got this one for only $2 on BookOutlet, and ended up enjoying it way more than I was anticipating.

Princess Delia, heir to the throne, knows that she needs to marry a prince from a neighboring planet that will help save her own, and while she isn’t excited about it, she’s at least resigned to it… mostly.  But when a series of events leads to her meeting Aidan, a kitchen worker with his own reasons for needing to escape the planet (and who isn’t afraid to steal from those who can afford it to help him towards his goal), she’s introduced to parts of her kingdom she didn’t realize existed.  While this is someone Cinderella-y, it also has an Aladdin vibe as well, and I was totally here for it.  I really liked the characters, and while there were some jolts in the plot that felt chunky (and I had to make a cheat-sheet to keep all the prospective-groom princes straight), overall I quite enjoyed this one.  The setting was completely unique and the world-building was intriguing.  Overall recommended, especially if you’re looking for a unique fairy tale variation.

PS I will say that there are a lot of negative/meh reviews for this one, so there’s a strong possibility that I was just in the right mood for it??  I love the way different books are for different people, and sometimes for different versions of myself at different moments in time!

Anne of Windy Poplars // by L.M. Montgomery // Or: I Rant About Random Editorial “Updates” Made to Old Books

//published 1936//

While Windy Poplars isn’t my favorite of the Anne series, I still find so much to love.  It’s also the only book in the series where we actually get Anne’s first-person perspective in the form of letters she’s writing (although there are also chunks of third person narrative as well).  I also like this book because it’s also the only story where Anne is really completely independent.  In all the other stories, even while she heads off to the next stage of life, she has a friend or family member with her.  But here, she’s really on her own, making completely new friends (and enemies!).  More than most of the other books, this one feels very episodic, but not choppy.  If you enjoy Anne’s shenanigans, and her habit of trying to help people’s love stories along, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here as well.

This book was published “out of order” – Montgomery’s editors wanted another Anne story, and so she filled in this gap in the Anne chronology with this book.  However, I never knew that until recently, and never particularly noticed a difference in the flow of the stories.  In this book we are introduced to an almost entirely new cast of characters, though, so it’s somewhat sad to leave behind Avonlea friends.

I’ve been purchasing fun copies of these books as I read each one, and was absolutely delighted to find this perfect clothbound copy for only $10 on Book Depository.  However, when I received the book it had a very odd caveat on the copyright page – “This book was first published in 1936.  This edition follows closely the original, unabridged text, with occasional alterations made to remove language that may be deemed offensive.”  Um… excuse me?!?!  I definitely don’t need the thought police interfering with the original text because some words may not be the words we use nowadays.  Thoroughly outraged, I did a somewhat absurd thing… I read this book twice.  First, I would read the chapter in the new book. Then, I would skim the chapter in my old edition, looking for discrepancies.  I recognize how ridiculous this is, but I really love this little copy and wanted to know the differences so that I could keep it.  This book was an absolute delight to read – it’s just the right size, the pages are wonderfully creamy in texture, I loved the font – everything!  Except, of course, for the possibility that random words had been edited to avoid offending my modern sensibilities!

Please note:  There actually was some controversy about this book at the time of publication.  Originally, Montgomery had titled the book Anne of Windy Willows, but for some reason the North American editors decided that was too close to Wind in the Willows and made her change it.  The North American editors also thought that some of the passages in the book were “too gruesome” and had them edited.  (There is one scene where Anne is in a cemetery with a local woman who gives her all the “dirt” on the people buried there, with some of the stories being pretty grim, and another chapter where Anne visits an elderly lady who spends the evening regaling Anne with tales of all the terrible things that have happened to her family members in the past, also pretty grim.  These chapters stayed in the American edition for the most part, but some of the most macabre stories were removed.)  In England and elsewhere, however, the changes to the title and the contents of the book weren’t made.  These are NOT the changes that this copyright note is referring to.  I don’t actually disagree with those changes simply because they were made when Montgomery was alive, and she’s the one who made and agreed to them.  That sort of editing is completely different from a random person deciding, decades later, to change the words of an author to suit a new arbitrary standard of what is and what isn’t “offensive.”

Before I read it, I tried my best to think of what could possibly be found in this story that would have had to be removed.  As I read, I found negative connotations about Indians and gypsies, the old-time usage of the word “fag” (meaning exhausted in this context), and frequent usage of the phrase “old pussy” to describe one of the grumpy older ladies in the book.  But were any of those things edited?  No, no they were not, which was obviously fine with me (this is all part of the package of reading a book published in 1936!), but left me a little confused as to what the editors would actually find offensive.  So do you want to hear the one and only difference I found between the two books?  (It’s possible that there were others that I missed, but this is the only one I could find.)

The setup here is that Anne has just persuaded a very stubborn individual to change his mind about something important.  Anne is telling this story to a friend, and here is how the friend responds –

Original text:  “I hope you’ll never try to induce me to turn Mohammedan… because you’d likely succeed.”

Updated text:  “I hope you’ll never try to induce me to change my religion… because you’d likely succeed.”

This honestly just feels so completely unnecessary to me???  It’s so random – the character isn’t really even saying something negative about Muslims, just using it as an example of how Anne could probably convince someone to literally change their foundational life beliefs if she really put her mind to it.  Considering other words, phrases, and implications found throughout the story (as mentioned above), this one feels even stranger.  If it had been one change among many, I could have at least understood what the editors were trying to accomplish.  But to literally be the ONLY thing they changed in the ENTIRE story??  I’m still not over it.

At any rate, I overall did enjoy my (double) reread, but despite loving the physical qualities of my new copy, I don’t see myself buying another Arcturus edition again – which is really quite sad, because it really is a lovely edition.

Any thoughts on whether editors should edit older books to make them more “palatable” for modern readers?  For me, the other distressing thing was that there was absolutely no indication anywhere in this book’s description that any abridgment had taken place.  To me, this seems like something that should be clearly marked.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, though, so let me know what you think!!

August MiniReviews – Part 1

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.

August reviews in August!!

Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1915//

My slow reread of the Anne series continues.  I’ve read other reviews of these books that are much more objective and critical than mine.  If that’s what you’re looking for, you are in the wrong place!  My childhood and young adult associations with these stories are far too strong for me to find them uninteresting or not worth reading.  In Island, Anne finally heads off to college, where many an adventure ensues.  My biggest problem with this book is the same as I have with Avonlea – I want MORE!  I love Anne’s group of friends, and only wish that there were even more stories exploring their friendships and relationships.  The romance is a big part of this one, as Anne struggles with ideals versus realities.  I’ve been in a relationship where a person fit all my “objective” boxes, ergo it must be romance, only to realize that a life partner needs something more than just to check the correct boxes.  When Anne begins to think of her actual future with this person – what it will be like to live with him day in an day out for the rest of her life, she realizes that beyond the boxes, there is some unidentifiable magic ingredient that is the true essence of romance, rather than her idealistic tall, dark, and mysterious.  Anyway, this is actually one of my favorites from the series for a variety of reasons, and highly recommended.

An Unequal Match by Rachelle Edwards – 2*

//published 1974//

Long-time visitors here may remember that quite a long while back I bought an entire book of Regency romances from eBay in an attempt to score some Georgette Heyer books I didn’t have yet (which worked!), and I’m still working my way through the pile of not-Heyer romances, most of which are pretty bad.  This one was definitely in the pretty bad pile.  The premise was decent – we all know I love a marriage of convenience – but as soon as he marries Verena, Justin bails out of the country, leaving her with his aunt.  There was potential for the fun “ugly duckling into a swan” kind of story, but instead Edwards chooses to skip two entire years, and when we next see Verena, she’s now a beautiful, competent, society lady, to the point that she feels like an entirely different character.  Justin comes back to London and even though he’s talked with Verena like three times in his whole life, gets all pissy about the fact that she wants to divorce Justin and instead marry a guy who has been escorting her all around town and basically courting her.  As the reader, we know this guy is a jerk, but Verena has no idea, and it seemed pretty ridiculous of Justin to be mad about it.  There’s some choppy kerfluffles and then, despite the fact that Verena and Justin have still only had maybe two or three more conversations, Verena suddenly realizes that if anything happens to Justin she’ll DIE and she loves him SO MUCH.

In short, completely unbelievable, no relationship between the main characters, no actual story, nothing.  2* because I did keep reading, although in retrospect that was more from the hope that the story was going to be redeemed than any actual pleasure…

NB: The background of some of these pictures includes a bingo card, part of a challenge I’m hosting over on Litsy.  Participants list 25 books, then I draw out the numbers at random, filling in the bingo card.  Anyone who is playing along reads the books that match those numbers to try and score a bingo!  It’s been great fun!

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne – 4*

//published 2016//

I’ve been meaning to read this one forever, so when I finally picked it up from Book Outlet on the cheap (I don’t have a problem) I was pretty stoked.  All in all, this was a fun and fluffy read with very likable main characters.  There was a bit too much sexy time/lusty thoughts for my personal preference, but because I really liked Lucy and Josh together, I was willing to roll with it.  I think this story would have worked a lot better if we had gotten some of Josh’s thoughts as well – I still prefer third person narratives for this reason – but Lucy is very likable so it helped.  All in all, if you like enemies-to-lovers romance, I definitely recommend this fun and snarky story.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard & Florence Atwater – 3.5*

//published 1938//

This children’s classic, published in the 1930s, is fun and ridiculous.  As an adult, I had to suspend a LOT of disbelief, but when I was imagining reading this out loud to a group of 9 or 10-year-olds, I could definitely see that age finding all these shenanigans hilarious.  This was a fun and quick read of a classic.  As a side note, I bought this rather battered, well-read copy as a library discard in 1999, where it had apparently been on the shelves since 1938!

The Story of the Amulet by E. Nesbit – 3.5*

//published 1906//

When I read Five Children & It a few months ago, I knew that it had a sequel (The Phoenix & the Carpet), which I already owned.  However, I didn’t realize that there was a third book in the series, so I hunted down a copy and finally got around to reading it.  All in all, while perfectly enjoyable, I definitely didn’t love this one as much as the first two.  The story is much choppier, and because they are traveling around through time and geography, there was a lot of the benevolent British superiority over uneducated natives attitude.  While interesting for the sake of historical context, it sometimes was a little cringey.  The ending also felt quite abrupt.  So while I see myself rereading the first two books sometime, I’m not sure I’ll bother to revisit this one again.

Trouble Trilogy // by Stephanie Tromly

  • Trouble is a Friend of Mine (2015)
  • Trouble Makes a Comeback (2016)
  • Trouble Never Sleeps (2018)

I can’t remember where I first saw this trilogy, but they sounded like a good combination of funny and ridiculous, and that’s exactly what they were.  While these didn’t become my new favorite books, I really did enjoy reading them, and they made me laugh multiple times.  Some of the time they were a little too YA (especially the overdone love triangle in the second book), but for the most part the snark carried them through.

The story opens because Zoe and her recently-divorced mother have moved to upstate New York, and Zoe hates it.  The only way for her to get back NYC is by getting into a prestigious private school for her senior year (she’s currently a junior), so she’s ready to work hard at her schoolwork and just try to get the heck out of Dodge.  But when Digby shows up with a whole set of theories about what happened to the high school girl who disappeared last spring, Zoe finds herself getting dragged into a lot more than she bargained for.

Here’s the thing: Yes, Digby is obnoxious.  No, the plot makes no sense.  Yes, the combination of very serious scenarios (i.e. kidnapping) with over-the-top heist-adventures is absolutely ridiculous.  No, I do not believe a few high schoolers could pull this kind of thing off.  Yes, if Digby was someone I knew in real life I probably wouldn’t like him, and yes, if this was real life I would definitely caution Zoe to stay away from him because he’s kind of weird.  But you know what?  This is fiction, it doesn’t ever pretend like it’s not fiction, and sometimes I enjoy a book like this the same way that I enjoy fantasy – sometimes you just roll with the fact that magic is a thing.  Or, in this case, that there’s a brilliantly intelligent, probably mentally ill high school kid who can pull off all kinds of ridiculous antics.

A lot of reviews for these books make all the complaints that I listed above, and I think they’re all valid complaints.  You just have to decide whether or not you can go along with the absurdity.  If you can, these books are funny and fun.  If you’re looking for characters who are more snark and entertainment than they are real people, then you’ll probably enjoy these.

While each story has its own small story, the over-arcing plot is about Digby’s sister, who was kidnapped several years earlier.  I wasn’t sure how that was all going to play out.  How it played out was just as ridiculous as everything else in these books, but still weirdly satisfying.

I do wish these books had taken some more time to develop characters instead of just having people to do what needed to happen to make the story work, if that makes sense.  Zoe, despite narrating three books, isn’t particularly interesting or individual, she’s just there.  There’s extra drama with her parents and what she wants to do with her future, and all of that could have been better explored.  The books are really about Digby, but he’s also weirdly unknowable, and while we do get some answers, he could have benefited from some more development as well.  But in the end, these aren’t books that “have” to have well-rounded characters – these books are about the heist, not the people who perform it.  But that lack of characterization is what makes these books just fun fluff instead of something really great.

If you’re willing to suspend disbelief and just jump on for the ride, these books are pretty entertaining.  Overall recommended for what they are instead of what they could be.

Phoebe & Her Unicorn Series // by Dana Simpson

I originally picked these up because I saw them on Litsy.  My understand is that they were originally webcomics that are now being published in books as well.  They’re absolutely delightful, with the basic premise being simply that Phoebe makes friends with a unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils.  The comics are just their day-to-day adventures.  Marigold is very self-absorbed (I mean, she’s a unicorn), but it’s fun to see their friendship develop as time goes on, with both Phoebe and Marigold learning to appreciate the other more.

Some comparisons have been made between this comic and the classic Calvin & Hobbes, and there are a lot of similarities, especially in the way that this comic is entertaining and engaging for readers of all ages, with stories and characters that appeal to younger readers, and a wry sense of humor that had me, as an adult, cracking up multiple times.  But while Hobbes only interacts with Calvin, Marigold is “real” and is also friends with Phoebe’s parents and Phoebe’s friends.  She gets around this by having a magical veil of boringness that means people realize she’s a unicorn but aren’t blown away by it as they would be without the spell.  I actually especially found Marigold’s interactions with Phoebe’s parents to be entertaining, probably because I’m Phoebe’s parents age!

Speaking of which, one of the things I really enjoyed about this series were Phoebe’s parents, who are just lovely characters with their own interests and jobs, but care about each other and Phoebe (and Marigold!).  Phoebe’s dad loves video games and technology, while her mom is an artist, so there’s plenty of contrast to be had between them.

The books don’t have to be read in order (which I’ve listed below), but there are some characters that make more sense if you read them chronologically, especially Phoebe’s frenemy, who ends up also becoming a friend of the goblins (long story).  Because yes, other magical creatures do appear throughout the series, including other unicorns, dragons, goblins, and more.

All in all, these ended up being a surprise win for me.  I wasn’t expecting to find them so funny and heartwarming, but I enjoyed every page.  While yes, they can get a little same-y if you read them back to back to back, overall the artwork is so delightful and the characters so friendly that I will definitely be continuing to read these as they come out.

  • Phoebe & Her Unicorn (2014)
  • Unicorn on a Roll (2015)
  • Unicorn Vs. Goblins (2016)
  • Razzle Dazzle Unicorn (2016)
  • Unicorn Crossing (2017)
  • Phoebe & Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm (2017)
  • Unicorn of Many Hats (2018)
  • Phoebe & Her Unicorn in Unicorn Theater (2018)
  • Unicorn Bowling (2019)
  • The Unicorn Whisperer (2019)
  • Camping With Unicorns (2020)

Rearview Mirror // July 2020

Just to recap:

  • January Rearview posted February 7 (respectable)
  • February Rearview posted April 1 (seriously??)
  • March Rearview posted April 15 (okay)
  • April Rearview posted May 20 (hmm)
  • May Rearview posted June 28 (oh dear)
  • June Rearview posted July 15 (so-so)

All that to say, posting my July Rearview on August 11 is actually my second-best time for the year so… there’s that!

This summer has been busy, but mostly in a good way.  I’ve done a lot of reading, but have also gotten a lot of little projects done around the house.  The garden is bustling, I canned homemade salsa for the first time ever yesterday, I’ve been experimenting with bread-making, and I’m almost done painting the chairs that go with the table Tom built.  Things are getting ready to kick off at the orchard, so my dreams of getting caught up on book blogging are probably unattainable, but it’s still fun to try!!

Favorite July Read

I read a lot of really good books this month (a whole pile of 4* reads), but my favorite was my reread of of Frank Peretti’s Piercing the Darkness, which slightly edges out its predecessor, This Present Darkness.  But both are solid 5* reads for me – I was delighted at how well they’ve held up, since I haven’t read them in probably 20 years.

 Most Disappointing July Read

I’m going with Ed McBain’s Calypso for this one.  It was just so… unnecessarily weird and gruesome.  I’ve read over 30 of the books in this series so far, and this was by far my least favorite.

Other July Reads

July Stats

While not as awesome as June, July was still a solid reading month.

  • Total Number of Books Read:  33 (30 physical; 3 Kindle)
  • Total Pages Read:  9392
  • Average Star Rating for June:  3.80 (My 2* read really brought it down!)
  • Longest Book:  Making Faces (488 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  Phoebe & Her Unicorn in Unicorn Theater (150 pages) (I haven’t reviewed these comic books yet because I have one more to read before I finish the series, but they are ADORABLE)
  • Oldest Book:  The Seven Dials Mystery (published 1929)
  • Newest Book:  Love Lettering, The Switch, and Camping With Unicorns (all published 2020)
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  9

July DNFs

After several months with no DNFs, I had two in July –

  • Falling for the Movie Star by Jean Oram – This is a free Kindle book I got a while back, and I’ve actually tried to read it twice.  It just… doesn’t make sense??  This chick is in a small town trying to take paparazzi photos of a movie star (even though she’s actually an artist who takes beautiful nature photographs) who secretly WANTS to have paparazzi photos taken of himself except he falls in insta-lust with this girl (despite how “not his type” she is) and meanwhile there is this other jerk guy who actually IS paparazzi and the reason the girl needs money is because the government is going to foreclose on her family’s special vacation cottage because they owe all these back taxes and it’s somehow her fault even though the property is jointly-owned with her and her sisters and their mom who’s in a nursing home and she finally confesses to her mom about the taxes and her mom just shrugs and is like “just sell it, who cares” ?!?!?!?!?!?  I just couldn’t deal with it.
  • Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay – I actually really enjoyed another book by Jay a long while ago, Of Beast & Beautyso when I saw this one on the cheap on Book Outlet (the world’s most dangerous website) I spontaneously purchased it.  But despite reading 100 pages of this book, I just never connected with anyone or anything that was happening.  The plot felt disjointed and pointless and I just didn’t care what happened next.  I actually had to go check the synopsis of this one on Goodreads just now to even remember what was supposed to be going on in this story.

TBR Update

This I keep updated as I go, so it’s current as of today, rather than as of the end of July.  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 despite my efforts to try and get caught up on reading them, I still have over 900 unread emails that are all blog entries!!!!

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:  468 (down two)
  • Nonfiction:  117 (holding steady)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  647 (down three!!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  244 (up two)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 113 (down one)

Reading Challenge Updates

  • #ReadingEurope2020 – visited The Netherlands – this challenge is NOT going to get completed this year but I’m still tracking it for fun (total 7/46 complete)
  • #ReadtheUSA2020 – visited two states: Arizona and Virginia (total 28/50 complete – I’m hoping to get this one completed by the end of the year)
  • #SeparatedbyaPondTour – visited the states above, plus British Columbia, Essex, North Yorkshire, and South Yorkshire. (Total 48/159 complete – this is still on the 3-year track)
  • #LitsyAtoZ – 0 books (22/26 complete – only weird letters left)
  • #BackwardsAtoZ – 14 books (No N through no A on my third/fourth lists – I’m trying to do this one in order and to see how many times I can get through the alphabet!)

Current Reads

Just one book at a time right now, although I do have some nonfiction that I’ve been skimming here and there.

  • Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse – I’ve been really enjoying this one, but for some reason it’s taking me forever to get through it!

Up Next

The probable next five(ish) reads:

  • Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers – another Book Outlet buy for around $2 – the cover is so gorgeous that I couldn’t resist
  • Mischievous Meg  by Astrid Lindgren – one of those books I bought at a booksale decades ago but have never actually read
  • A Dance Through Time by Lynn Kurland – not my usual cup of tea, but my latest traveling book club book (I joined the romance and fantasy groups this time in hopes of some lighter reading!)
  • Sweet Revenge by Nora Roberts – my quest to read Roberts’s backlog continues
  • The Windfall by Jennifer Smith – it’s been on my TBR for a while, and when I saw it for $2 on Book Outlet (are you sensing a theme here??) I went ahead and picked it up.

So that’s the July wrap-up.  On to August!!

July 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.

Some more July reviews in August!!

Mystery Mountain by Florence Laughlin – 3*

//published 1964//

Regular readers here will know that I’ve collected a lot of random books over the years at yard sales and library discards and antique shops and flea markets and just wherever I can find them.  What this also means is that I have a LOT of super random unread books. This one I purchased all the way back in 2003 and only just now managed to read!  While this wasn’t a bad story exactly, it wasn’t that great, and it definitely hasn’t aged all that well over the years.  Even I, who am pretty old-fashioned, got tired of the way the boys were treating Karen, who is only allowed to join them on their adventure if she does a bunch of extra chores i.e. all the cooking and clean-up!  When they finally solve the mystery of what happened to their grandpa all those many years ago, it literally made no sense.  I’m going to spoil it for you in the next paragraph, because really, what are the odds of you finding this obscure not-that-great book from 1964 and reading it??

So the kids’ grandpa disappeared back in the day when he was on his way to his gold mine that no one else knew where it was.  Everyone suspects he was murdered, and probably murdered by some wily Indians (another reason this book felt a bit dated).  The kids do find his remains in a cave, along with a journal that conveniently explains exactly what happened (and also means he died a long, lingering death of starvation, which makes no sense because everyone looked for him everywhere and if he was in a blocked up cave right next to where he disappeared, why wouldn’t the rescuers have heard him calling for help…????) and what happened was he got jumped by a wily Indian and managed to escape into this cave, and then the Indian rolled a big rock in front of it to block him in.  Except… why?!?! If the wily Indian was after the gold, why would he kill this guy BEFORE the guy got to the gold mine???????  There was literally no motive for murdering this guy, so the entire story made zero sense!

Honestly, 3* is kind of generous for this one, but it did have some fun moments and it wasn’t horribly written – it just didn’t make a whole lot of sense in the end!

Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey – 3*

//published 2002//

A retelling of Sleeping Beauty, this one was pretty firmly in the so-so category.  It was perfectly fine for a one-time read, but I’ve noticed with every book I’ve picked up in this “Once Upon a Time” series that it almost always feels like an outline of a story instead of a fully-fledged story itself.  The way this one concluded felt rather odd, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella – 3.5*

//published 2012//

In this romcom, we meet Poppy desperately searching for her missing engagement ring – it’s gotten lost while she was at a hotel for a conference, and while she’s searching for it, her cell phone gets stolen, too.  When she finds a perfectly good cell phone in the trash, it’s almost too good to be true.  Poppy immediately begins using it to call and text her friends to see if they know what happened to her ring.  So when the guy who owns the phone – which happens to be a business line – tries to reclaim it, Poppy convinces him to let her borrow it, since she’s already given that name to the hotel workers who are hopefully going to find her ring.

The set-up sounds convoluted, but Kinsella makes it work.  Poppy is a likable featherbrain, constantly getting herself into what Anne Shirley would call “scrapes,” but she is so warm and friendly that it works just fine with the story.  She impulsive, but usually because she’s trying to help someone, and her character really carried the story.

My main issue?  She lies to her fiancee the entire time, and since the reader literally knows she’s going to end up with the other guy……!!!!!  As I’ve noted with several other romcoms lately, I just do NOT understand WHY there is another guy!  That tension could be created soooo many other ways besides putting us in a “grey” area of cheating.  (Is it cheating to be texting/calling/hanging out with a guy that your fiancee doesn’t even know exists?)

All in all, as usual, a fun one-time read but, yet again, not one I see myself rereading.

This Present Darkness // Piercing the Darkness // by Frank Peretti

//published 1986//

I first read these books back in high school, and read them a few times in my 20’s, but it had been at least a decade since I had revisited them.  I was a little afraid that I wouldn’t love them as much now as I did then, but there was nothing to fear – these were both 5* reads for me, and I was honestly impressed by how well they’ve aged.

The first book centers on a small college town that seems normal enough, but there is insidious evil brewing under the surface.  A young minister has just accepted the pastorship of a small church, but isn’t sure why God has called him there, since it seems that half the congregation wants him out.  A newspaper reporter from New York has just bought the local paper, hoping that a move to a small town will help him to slow down his life and reconnect with his wife and daughter, but he seems to getting pressure from various officials in the town to ignore certain activities.  One of his reporters has lived in Ashton for a few years – she moved here after the suicide of her sister, and is still trying to figure out what would cause her happy, loving sister to kill herself.  Slowly the threads of the story are drawn together as each of the characters begins to discover a piece of the puzzle.

This is an excellent thriller with absolutely spot-on pacing.  The chapters are short and snappy.  The action jumps around often enough to keep you engaged, but not so much that it feels choppy.  Throughout the story, the reader is privy not just to the actions of the human players, but those in the spiritual realm as well, as this is a spiritual battle between angels and demons, light and darkness.

Peretti doesn’t pretend to be saying that “this is the way angels and demons work” – but I feel that he does a really amazing job of presenting readers with a way that they could work.  Strengthened by prayer, the angelic forces work to protect and battle for the saints, while the demons attack, unseen, the humans in the story in a very real way.  This book is fabulously creepy, but, as a Christian, it balances that with the concept that there is much that we can do to battle the darkness that sometimes feels overwhelming.

Piercing the Darkness is a similar story, but doesn’t feel repetitive.  Although the focus is on a different town with a different core group of players, several characters from the first book reappear in this one.  I think if I had to pick a favorite, I would go with Piercing the Darkness – the pacing, again, is just astoundingly good.  I remembered some of the twists but not all of them, and I couldn’t stop racing my way through the pages.

There are several goosebump-y sections of this story, places where you suddenly recognize how God is working all of these pieces together for good – but that that doesn’t mean that our prayers and actions are useless or unneeded.  In these current times, where we are in a very serious spiritual battle, where you can actually see the evil all around us, these books were an incredibly timely read.

I’m not completely positive how well these books will read if you aren’t a Christian.  I mean, one of the foundations of the Christian belief – of most religious beliefs – is that our particular religion is correct, and others are wrong, and that’s a part of this story.  So if that kind of attitude would bother you, then probably give these a miss.  But the writing is excellent, the plot amazingly engaging, the pacing is perfect, the characters are likable – for me, these books are close to perfection, and definitely worth a read.

July 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.

For a brief moment in time I was reviewing books in the same month I read them!  Ah well, here are some more July reads (in August)….

Green Card by Elizabeth Adams – 4*

//published 2014//

This was a reread for me.  It’s vaguely a P&P modern adaptation, but honestly not really.  What it really is a marriage of convenience story, and we all know how I feel about those.  Even though this one has a few too many sexy times, it’s overall just a fun, happy tale with a likable pair of people at its core.  I really enjoyed the slow build to the romance, although at times it felt like the main characters were a little too slow at recognizing what was happening.  There is also an almost ridiculously long epilogue – this author has a habit of writing epilogues so long that I don’t understand why she doesn’t just write a sequel, which I would really enjoy.

Anyway, this was a fun one that I’ll probably reread again sometime.

Wedding Bands by Ev Bishop – 3*

//published 2015//

I got the first two books in this series as a free Kindle series a while ago and finally decided to give them a try.  I really enjoy stories about people who own/operate hospitality businesses (I’ve always dreamed of having my own little string of cabins in the woods somewhere), but this one wasn’t really about that.  Jo is trying to hang on to her (now deceased) uncle’s house so she can turn it into a B&B.  Her sister just wants to sell the place and get the money because she doesn’t think the B&B is going to be successful.  The sister hires a lawyer, Callum, who turns out is the guy who ruined Jo’s life back when they were seniors in high school.  This book was entirely based on the inability of Jo and Callum to communicate at all (literally ONE CONVERSATION fixes all their problems in the end).  There’s also this weird thing where this other guy – who happens to be Callum’s best friend – is interested in Jo and keeps basically convincing Jo and Callum that the other one is trash-talking the other, but his motivation is never really made clear, and I kept also thinking – “You & Callum have been ‘best friends’ your whole lives… and you’re trying to screw up his second chance at the love of his life…?????”  It also seems like he’s communicating/working with Callum’s ex-wife, but that’s also never made clear.  Basically, this wasn’t the worst story I’ve ever read, but it wasn’t particularly well written.  I only read the second one because I already owned it and thought I might as well see what happens to Jo’s sister, mostly because I was curious how the author could make the sister so freaking horrible in the first book and then turn her into the heroine in the second!

Hooked by Ev Bishop – 3*

//published 2015//

The second book was slightly better than the first, but honestly not by much.  The story was just SO slow… basically nothing happened the entire time except for people wandering around and not really having any conversations with one another.  There’s also a character who is getting ready to have a baby, but the dad isn’t in the picture.  I was extremely aggravated by how no one actually knew what had happened between the mom and the dad (multiple characters say things like “I don’t know what happened, but that’s their business” so it’s not even like they had conversations with her off page about the situation), yet everyone assumes that the dad is a jerk who doesn’t deserve to have any say about his own child.  Towards the end there’s this throw away comment about how the dad is thinking about suing for partial custody and everyone is basically like “wow the nerve of that guy” …  ummmm IT’S HIS CHILD?!?!?!  I am OVER the anti-dad attitudes so hard.  Even if this guy was upset with his girlfriend when he found out she was pregnant (which he may have been since they are both SEVENTEEN?!?!), that still doesn’t mean that he doesn’t deserve the right to ever see his own child???  Whatever.  Anyway.  It wasn’t even that big of a part of the story, it was just the part that annoyed me the most.

Overall, I found zero of these characters to be likable or interesting, which was a relief in some ways as it meant I didn’t have to bother finishing the series.

Daddy’s Little Girl by Mary Higgins Clark – 4*

//published 2002//

I’m a little late the MHC party, as this is only the second or third book of hers that I’ve read, but they have been consistently engaging and twisty, and I like it.  In this one, the story opens when 7-year-old Ellie’s sister (around 16 years old, can’t remember exactly) disappears one night and the next morning is discovered murdered.  Ellie feels guilty because she knew about the “secret hangout” where her sister and her sister’s friends would sometimes go to smoke or make out, but didn’t tell her parents until the morning.  Would they have discovered her sister before she died if Ellie had told them the night before?

The book then jumps forward in time.  Ellie is in her late-20’s now and is an investigative reporter.  The man who was convicted of murdering her sister – who was partially convicted because of child-Ellie’s testimony – is being released on parole.  He has always claimed he was innocent, and now says he has testimony to prove it, and is going to have the case reopened.  Ellie is still convinced of his guilt, and returns to her hometown to do her own research on her sister’s murder.  The pacing is excellent here, with many of Ellie’s discoveries muddying the water concerning the accused man’s guilt rather than clearing it.  As the reader, I was mostly convinced that he really was the murderer… and then something else would turn up.

While this isn’t particularly a stand-out thriller, it’s still a good one.  Ellie is a likable character, and I also enjoyed the fact that this book was virtually devoid of romance.  The ending is a little too tidy, but still good.  My only real beef is how hard Ellie is on her dad… like yes, he made some mistakes, but you’re an adult now and maybe you should do some investigative reporting into your own biases against him, geezy.  Still, I found it hard to put this one down and am excited to continue delving into the large backlog of Clark’s work.

Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Because I’m still reading romcoms when I can find them…

Par for the course, this was an enjoyable one-off but not an instant classic.  Evie is incredibly likable, and she definitely carried the book.  The concept here is entertaining, and Evie’s staged “meet cutes” in an attempt to prove that meet cutes are a thing were loads of fun (although sometimes slightly ridiculous).  Evie’s group of friends were also entertaining, although the one who was getting married was honestly so self-obsessed that it was hard for me to understand why everyone else liked her.  There were a few places where the pacing of this story was just off – like when they went to have the hen-do and it was a disaster, and when the rich guy is insisting that he’s in love with Evie.  Evie’s boss is also such a jerk that it literally makes no sense that she’s working for him.  And when, in the end, I found out why she was still working for him – it honestly made even less sense and kind of made me mad at the whole book.

So, in the end, not a bad read, and if you like romcoms this is a fun one to pick up, but the pacing was just too uneven for me to really love it.