87th Precinct Mysteries // Books 36-40 // by Ed McBain

  • Ice (1983)
  • Lightning (1984)
  • Eight Black Horses (1985)
  • Poison (1987)
  • Tricks (1987)

I’m still slowly working my way through this series of 55 books in batches of five, which feels about right as they can get a little samey if you read too many at once. The first book in this series was published in 1956, and I’m not in the midst of the 1980s part of the series. While McBain’s characters have aged and changed throughout, they definitely haven’t aged in real time – but the background/technology/procedures have. Somehow McBain makes that all work.

This set of five was quite the rollercoaster, as it included one of my favorites I’ve read yet (Eight Black Horses) and also one of my least-favorites (Lightning). It’s been over a month since I actually read these, so I’m sure you’ll be willing to excuse me if I’m a bit hazy on the details…

Ice was a pretty typical entry with a solid and engaging story and plenty of McBain’s trademark snark. At this point in the series, one of the detectives (Bert Kling) has been in multiple romantic entanglements, all of which have ended in disaster, so when he started dating one of the women from a neighboring precinct, a character who floats in and out and that I actually like, I got a little concerned. Their relationship has gotten a little rocky but at least she’s still alive as of the end of Tricks!

A lot of these books can be rather dark, but Lightning was definitely a contender for the weirdest/creepiest premise so far. Several women have been raped, and each one has been raped more than once – all by the same man. I’m going to completely spoil the reason for this happening, so if you don’t want to know, skip to the next paragraph – but basically it turns out that the perpetrator is strongly prochoice, so he started targeting women who were Catholic and had also donated money to a prolife organization. He raped them more than once because he wanted them to get pregnant so they would have to get an abortion, and thus would realize that their prolife stance was wrong. I just… I don’t even know where to start with the problems in this plotline. Part of it is, of course, that I’m very strongly prolife myself, and despite the fact that the prochoice guy is the villain, it’s obvious that McBain is prochoice as well. So he’s in this weird corner where he has to condemn this guy’s actions, but still defend the guy’s actual beliefs. Of course, the women who do end up getting pregnant by this guy (two, I think) do get abortions because obviously no one who is prolife would actually stick to their prolife beliefs if they were in a situation like carrying a rapist’s baby! The whole story just was completely gross and creepy, and honestly any book that’s entire purpose is to convince people that they should be able to murder their babies isn’t really going to fly with me anyway. So this one was definitely a miss.

However, Eight Black Horses was a total win, and reminded me why I’ve been continuing to read this series. The precinct’s ultimate nemesis, the Deaf Man, is back again, and the whole story is just fantastic.

Once thing that’s definitely changed in these books as we’ve moved into the 80s is that these books are significantly sexier. They’ve always been somewhat that way, but more in a “we can’t really avoid this because this is what life on the streets looks like” kind of way. But this batch of books was definitely more, “oh books should just have random sex scenes and a lot of smutty conversations in them” and I wasn’t a fan. Poison was definitely that way, plus it had this kind of weird ending that left me feeling a little confused about the whole story.

Finally, Tricks brought this set of five full-circle – another solid, engaging entry to the series. I really enjoy the stories where McBain just chooses one night and follows along with all the various detectives as they each track their own case. This one was set on Halloween so it felt very seasonal when I was reading it in late October. While a couple of the story lines were honestly ridiculous, they still felt at least somewhat plausible, which kept everything moving.

All in all, I’m this far now so I think I will finish the series out, but I definitely won’t be reading all of them again. At some point, I’ll probably go back and read all the books with the Deaf Man in them as those have definitely been the best. For December, I’m planning to just 100% indulge in fluffy Christmas romcoms, so I probably won’t be reading any more of McBain until 2021. Since I started reading them in April 2019, this definitely isn’t a fast-moving series read!!

October 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.

Oh look, it’s November and I’m just starting to review the books I read in October!!! :-D

Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1939//

Some people complain about this book not “fitting” with the rest of the series since this one (along with Anne of Windy Poplars) was written out of order, but I never knew that until a few years ago and I’ve always loved this one. While the focus shifts off of Anne and onto her children for the most part, it’s still a lighthearted and happy book. I really appreciate that Montgomery didn’t find it necessary to give Anne a horrible life, or make her and Gilbert unhappy together later – instead, they continue to grow together, and now have a whole houseful of little ones as well. A thoroughly enjoyable addition to the series.

My Kind of Wonderful by Jill Shalvis – 3.5*

//published 2015//

When I started reading Second Chance Summer, I didn’t realize it was the first book in a series, so it took a minute for the second and third books to come in at the library. While I really enjoyed returning to Cedar Ridge, Colorado, I didn’t find this one quite as engaging as the first book, mainly because I was seriously distracted by the fact that the whole reason that Bailey is at the lodge is so she can paint a mural… outside… in the middle of winter… in the Colorado mountains… ????? I don’t feel like any kind of paint would work under these conditions??? There’s even one point where she finishes the mural in the dark???

Aside from sketchy connections to reality, it was still a perfectly enjoyable piece of fluff romance. There are a few too many sexy times for me, but otherwise a fun little read.

Nobody But You by Jill Shalvis – 3*

//published 2016//

Sadly, the third book in the series was my least favorite, mainly because it was just… boring. Nothing really happens. Sophie’s divorced and she ended up with her husband’s boat, mainly to tick him off (despite the fact that she didn’t get anything else…) and since she’s broke, she has to live on it. So she’s wandering around in the boat working random temp jobs around the lake while intermittently running into another one of the siblings from Cedar Ridge Lodge, who is suitably hot and awesome. It wasn’t a bad book exactly, just really unexciting. I was never interested to pick it up after I had set it down, but wanted to finish the series itself. I was also annoyed when the big conflict between the main characters is Sophie accusing Jacob of lying to her… when he literally didn’t. When they first met, Sophie thinks he’s a Lake Patrol Officer, but she never actually says that to Jacob, so he doesn’t even know that that’s what she thinks. Later, she gets mad at him for “lying” to her about being an officer??? And his response is to be all apologetic?! My response would have been, Wow this chick is crazy, no thank you.

Not a bad story, but an overall rather apathetic ending to the trilogy.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – 5*

//published 1813// And yes, I totally got the Chiltern edition – SO worth it!!!! //

Since I love reading P&P variations of all kinds, it seemed like I was overdue on a reread of the original story. There isn’t much I can say here that hasn’t already been said – it’s a really fabulous novel with fun characters, an entertaining story, and plenty of romance. I always forget how delightfully snarky Austen is. This classic is definitely worthy of that title, and definitely worth a read.

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1930//

This is the first appearance of Miss Marple, an elderly spinster who lives in the small village of St. Mary Mead. The book itself is narrated by the vicar (who is extremely likable), but Miss Marple drifts in and out of the story a great deal with her habit of observing everything that is going on and drawing out similarities between situations that most people overlook. One of my biggest take-aways from the this read-through was just the reminder of how, at our core, people are basically alike, which is kind of the point of all the Miss Marple-isms. There is one big coincidence in this mystery that always is hard for me to get over, but for the most part this is a great story and an excellent place to start if you’ve never read a Miss Marple tale.

Point of Danger // by Irene Hannon

Eve Reilly is a conservative talk-show host on a radio station in St. Louis. She’s used to getting threatening letters and angry on-air phone calls from listeners who disagree with her, but when a ticking package is left on her doorstep, it appears that someone has decided to up the ante on the threats.

//published 2020//

While I overall enjoyed this romantic suspense (it comes to no surprise that the detective assigned to Eve’s case is broody, handsome, and a perfect match for Eve), it wasn’t really a stand-out read for me. The pacing was somewhat uneven, and I found the conclusion/big reveal to be a little unbelievable. However, I really liked both Eve and Brent, and also enjoyed Eve’s close relationship with her sisters. (This book is supposedly the first in a trilogy, so I’m assuming the sisters will star in the other two books.) The concept was also done well, and the faith/Christian aspects of the story felt natural instead of forced. The book was written in third person (always my preference), which enabled us to see some different threads coming together, of which Eve and Brent are unaware.

For me, the biggest weakness was in the conclusion. I just couldn’t quite buy that the person who turns out to be the villain was the villain. I had some suspicions but honestly thought, “No, that would be completely ridiculous”… except then that’s who it actually was. It wasn’t 100% unbelievable, but it did feel a little weak/”Bet you didn’t except the least likely person to be the bad guy!!!! GOTCHA!”

Still, this was a book that I enjoyed reading. Like I said, Eve is overall a likable person (although I did get tired of hearing about her “spinning” classes… like okay, I get it, her favorite method of exercise is going to a spinning class) and I thought that she and Brent made a good match. While this wasn’t a new classic for me, I’m definitely planning to read the next book in the series when it arrives.

NB: This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Rearview Mirror // September 2020

Yes, my title is correct: this post is a wrap-up for September… on the last day of October third of November (!). What can I say, life has been a little crazy haha Things are humming right along and we are keeping as busy as ever. October is always a really slammed month for me now that I work at an orchard, so I’ve had a little trouble keeping up the blog. Hopefully November will be a little quieter and I will catch up on important things, like reading and blogging about reading!!!

Favorite September Read

It’s rare that a nonfiction book snags this slot (and, if I’m honest, Secret Water was probably the book I enjoyed reading the most this month, but I just can’t let Arthur Ransome win EVERY month!), but Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat was so unique and intriguing that I feel like it deserves this spot. I really learned so much from this one – as far as practical application goes, I’ve been surprised at how many of the concepts I’ve been able to apply.

Most Disappointing September Read

Probably Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff. I’ll admit that I didn’t have super high expectations for this one, but even my low standard wasn’t met. This one dragged on too long and had a bizarre love triangle. Ugh.

Other September Reads

September Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  16 (one ebook)
  • Total Pages Read:  6186
  • Average Star Rating for September:  4.05
  • Longest Book: S. (456 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  Fangs (100 pages and most of them were pictures!)
  • Oldest Book:  Anne’s House of Dreams (published 1917)
  • Newest Book:  Fangs, Thorn, Nine, Beach Read, and Virtual Unicorn Experience (all published 2020)
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  11

September DNFs

The Castle in the Attic – by Elizabeth Winthrop – This is one of those books that’s been on my shelf for eons, but I’ve never gotten around to reading. While it had many elements that I generally enjoy in a book for younger readers, the overall story was just SO boring. Plus the main character was kind of a brat and I found him hard to like. So this one is now in the giveaway box!

Silken Scales – by Alex Hayes – This is a Kindle book I got for free forever ago. It started super slow and wasn’t really going anywhere. It was also the first book in a trilogy, and I’ve noticed a trend (especially in free Kindle books…) where literally nothing happens in a first book because the author is “setting the stage”… and I just wasn’t that invested.

The Crimson Thread – by Suzanne Weyn – I’ve read other books by this author and found them to be fine, but I couldn’t get into this one. It was a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin except without magic, set around 1900. I’ve read other fairy tales done this way in this series (series is a loose term – the books aren’t actually connected, they’re all just fairy tale retellings of some kind) and it ends up feeling more like the outline of a book instead of an actual story. The format is just too short or something.

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre – by Gail Carson Levine – I really enjoyed The Two Princesses of Bamarre, so I was looking forward to this book set earlier in the kingdom’s history. However it was just DEAD BORING. I struggled along and finally gave up about 75% through the book because I still did NOT CARE about what was happening.

TBR Update

This I keep updated as I go, so it’s current as of today, rather than as of the end of September.  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 ONE THOUSAND 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:  497 (up 31 as I finally transferred all of my Litsy wishlist books to the “official” TBR!)
  • Nonfiction:  124 (up 8 for the same reason!)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  647 (up one)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  254 (up nine!!!!)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 118 (up six!!)

Reading Challenges Updates

  • #ReadingEurope2020 – visited no where!! – 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: Arkansas and Colorado (total 33/50 complete – unless I get myself really organized, I probably won’t get this one done this year)
  • #SeparatedbyaPondTour – visited the states above, plus Cornwall, Cumbria, and Wiltshire in England. (Total 57/159 complete – this is still on the 3-year track. If anyone has books they love set in Canada, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, let me know!!)
  • #LitsyAtoZ – 0 books (22/26 complete – only weird letters left. Specifically Q, X, Y, and Z, so let me know if you have suggestions for titles or author last names that start with those letters!)
  • #BackwardsAtoZ – 10 books (No M through no V on my fourth list – I’m trying to do this one in order and to see how many times I can get through the alphabet!)

Current Reads

In November I’m participating in two buddy reads on Litsy – Moby Dick and Northanger Abbey. Unfortunately, Moby hasn’t arrived yet, so I’m already behind on that one (lol). However, I’ve read the first few chapters of Northanger Abbey and love it. It’s a reread for me, but I’ve only read it once, and I had forgotten how funny it is.

I’m also reading Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley. Two things I generally dislike in fiction – dual timelines and a hint of paranormal – but somehow when Kearsley writes them it all just works out. I’m almost done with this one and have really enjoyed it.

Finally, I’m reading The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie. It’s been a while since I’ve read this one, so, as usual, I can’t remember exactly how it goes!

Up Next

The probable next five(ish) reads –

  • The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu – Every now and then I have subscribed to OwlCrate, and this is a book from them so it’s quite a lovely edition. November starts a new round of the traveling book club and this is my pick for the fantasy group that I’m in. (Actually, Bellewether is my pick for the romance group).
  • Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery – I’ve been rereading all the Anne books, and this is the final in the series. This one is actually my favorite in the series in many ways and it always just guts me emotionally (in a good way).
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – As you all know, I’m pretty active in the Litsy community, including being a part of their penpal club. One of the other members randomly sent me this book with a notation that she thought it would be fun to have a few books just floating around the group to be annotated and then passed on to someone else, a sort of unofficial traveling book with no particular destination in mind haha I haven’t really looked to see if this is a book I’m going to like, but I’ll at least give it a try before passing it on.
  • Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West – I’ve read a few of West’s books and found them to be pretty harmless fluff. This one has been on the TBR for a while so it’s about time to pick it up.
  • Forced Alliance by Lenora Worth – Some of you may remember quite a while ago when I inherited a laundry basket full of Love Inspired paperbacks. While I’ve donated most of them (after attempting to read them all, I realized that it just wasn’t going to work since most of them, frankly, were 2-3* reads for me), I kept a few that genuinely looked interesting. This one is romantic suspense, so we’ll see how it goes.

Well, that’s a wrap for September (ha!) Hopefully everyone’s fall is going well. While I’m not exactly excited about winter, I’m looking forward to the more relaxed pace it generally brings… although the guy I work for at the greenhouse in the spring already called to see what my schedule looks like since he will probably start planting in December!

Happy November everyone!!

September 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.

Yes, I know it’s almost the end of October!! But here are the last three books I read in September…

Beach Read by Emily Henry – 4*

//published 2020//

This was a traveling book club read, and for some reason I wasn’t particularly expecting to enjoy it. I think I’ve been burned a few times lately about books that look like romcoms but then turn out to be really serious novels, and I’d heard somewhere that this was along those lines. But while I wouldn’t exactly classify it as a romcom, Beach Read ended up being a lot of fun. Frequently, authors like to make the female lead be super annoying and, frankly, bitchy, but that wasn’t the case here. I ended up really liking January and Gus both, and I liked them together.

My biggest annoyance with this story is that I’m just kind of over the tired trope of “girl finds out her perfect dad was actually a cheating jerk and now she has to Get Away From It All”… maybe because I have a perfect dad who isn’t a cheating jerk, and know several others as well. Whatever. Anyway, the point is that when January’s dad died suddenly, she finds out that he had had an affair. He left her a house in his hometown (where he also had the affair) and that’s where she’s staying for the summer. He also left her a letter, which she refuses to read. And THAT is what annoyed me the most. She spends all this time being super mad at her dad when she has literally no idea what actually happened. She complains internally all the time about how she’ll “never get to hear his side of the story” since he’s dead EVEN THOUGH HE FREAKING WROTE HER A LETTER THAT SHE WON’T READ. Guess what, January – you could probably hear your dad’s side of the story if you READ THE LETTER.

So yeah, I enjoyed the romance part and the writer’s block part, but wasn’t a huge fan of the dad plot mostly because of January not reading the letter but spending the whole time complaining about how she wished she could talk with her dad one more time. ::eyeroll:: Next paragraph is a SPOILER for what was going on with her dad:

SPOILER – In the end, despite the fact that January assumed that her dad had been cheating on her mom forever up until his death, that just wasn’t true. He did have an affair when her mom was super sick, but in the end he went back to January’s mom, confessed what had happened, and they moved forward with their marriage and he didn’t cheat again. Yes, that was a horrible thing for him to do, but I also felt like her parents were adults who could decide what to do about their marriage, so January being low-key mad at her mom for forgiving January’s dad really annoyed me. I don’t think her dad was justified in his cheating (at all) but also didn’t feel like what he did meant that he wasn’t at all the man she “thought she knew” yadda yadda. -END SPOILER

So yes, overall I did like this one. There was a lot of snark and entertaining moments between January and Gus and I really liked them together. I could have done with less self-induced dad angst, but it was still a fun read.

Virtual Unicorn Experience by Dana Simpson – 4*

//published 2020//

I read all of these books earlier this year, so I was excited to snag this one from the library when it came out. It’s nothing particularly different from the earlier books, but they are still just fun, happy comics that I always enjoy.

The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine – 4*

//published 2001//

Levine is a hit-or-miss author with me, and while I had vague memories of reading this book several years ago, I couldn’t really remember what it was about or even if I liked it. Recently I ended up with a copy of the prequel (ish), The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre, so that inspired me to check this one out of the library.

While not a ground-breaking book, it was an overall enjoyable story. Addie and Meryl are the princesses from the title, and their kingdom is small but happy, other than a disease called The Grey Death, for which there is no cure. Years ago, a prophecy was made about when and how the cure would be found, but it has yet to be fulfilled. Of the two princesses, Meryl is the brave and outgoing one, eager for adventures and excitement. Addie is shy and quiet and prefers indoor activities. But when Meryl sickens with The Grey Death, Addie has to set out on a quest to find the cure.

Large parts of this book were pretty predictable (or maybe my subconscious remembered how it was going to turn out??) but it was still a solid MG read. Sadly, the prequel wasn’t as good – I didn’t even end up finishing it! (More on that when I talk about September’s DNFs in my next post.) But I did enjoy reading this one.

S. // by J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst

So in a way I have no idea where to start with the review for this book. It’s so complicated and my feelings for it were really mixed. It was a somewhat daunting book to read and is also a daunting book to review. But in the end I think it was worth it, even if it did fall flat for me in some ways.

S. is a book within a book, a story within a story. There are so many layers to this book that it verges on impossible to read. The book itself comes in a slipcover, which gives the actual information about the book (title, author, publisher, etc.) because the hardcover book within that slipcover is designed to look, feel, and read like a stolen library book that has been read and reread by two individuals – Eric – a disgraced grad student – and Jennifer, a senior in college. We know that the book has been read by them because they have left notes, annotations, and arguments within the margins of it, all sorts of handwritten discussions in various colors of pens. Throughout the pages are also multiple inserts – postcards, letters, copies of important information, maps, etc.

//published 2013//

The book itself is titled The Ship of Theseus and was written by a man known as V.M. Straka, and was translated by an individual who is almost as mysterious – F.X. Caldeira. Published in 1949, the book genuinely feels like a tome from that era. It’s clothbound, and the way that it was printed, the type of paper used, the font within the book – it all feels incredibly authentic. There is even a sticker on the spine with the library call number.

The book’s introduction, written by the translator, informs us of some of the controversy and mystery surrounding Straka, who was a revolutionary using his books to spread ideas and information, hated by many governments and businessmen for his wild ideas. No one knows who Straka really was, although there are several theories. Caldeira tells of some of them, although he seems to view most of them as somewhat ridiculous.

The story itself is a fictional tale about a man who wakes up on a beach with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Throughout the story, he wanders from place to place, frequently being forced (and later choosing) to travel on a boat with a disturbing crew, a boat that does not seem particularly tethered in time or space. This man is drawn into a revolution of sorts, and also is desperate to find a woman whom he saw on the first night of amnesia, a woman who he sometimes sees in the places he visits. The entire plot is very vague and dreamy with a lot of moving parts and is somewhat difficult to describe.

In the margins, different notes are written in different colors, so it becomes apparently which ones were written first. I.e., there are Eric’s original thoughts from before Jen read the book, written in pencil, then Jen’s first notes in blue pen with Eric’s responses in black. Later additions are written in yellow, green, red, etc. so you can usually tell when notes were written. Hypothetically, if you were a much stronger person than me, you could probably read the text of the book, and then go through and read just Eric’s pencil notes, then the blue/black, then the next set, and so on, and have a much more linear concept of how Eric and Jen’s story is unfolding. But, if you’re like me, you want to read all the words on every page, meaning that you are reading Straka’s story, Caldeira’s footnotes, Eric’s thoughts, watching Eric and Jen get to know each other, and learning about the mystery and even danger they find themselves in later – all at once. It’s confusing, but not impossible.

Eric is determined to discover who Straka really was, and believes that the key can be found in Ship of Theseus, Straka’s final work. Eric originally discovered Straka in high school, and became obsessed with his work. In grad school, he decided his thesis would be on Straka’s true identity, but ran into trouble when his advisor stole his work, accused Eric of stealing his work, and got Eric expelled.

As the story unfolds, Eric and Jen continue to piece together clues from the text and from Caldeira’s footnotes – and later from other sources – to determine who Straka was, racing against time, Eric’s old advisor, and other experts around the world who want to know the same thing. In the meantime, are menacing events just coincidence? Or is it possible that a secret society known as “S” during Straka’s time continues to live on?

Okay, so, if you’re still reading – there is a LOT to like about this book. The experience of reading it is honestly amazing, and I’m still boggled by the amount of work put into this thing. The postcards are real postcards. Copies are made on thin paper that feels like copy paper. Old photographs feel like old photographs. A map Eric draws of the campus is drawn on a legit napkin from the cafe where he and Jen hang out. A page from the campus newspaper is on newspaper paper. The detail here is amazing and emersive.

HOWEVER this story does become confusing, and not just because I was reading all the threads at once. There are way, way, WAY too many names. Nine specific individuals are listed in the foreword as possible Strakas, each with a different background/reasons for possibly being Straka. From there forward, these individuals are referenced frequently in the footnotes and extra material, and it’s quite difficult to keep them all straight, especially since they all knew one another (at least obliquely) so they become things like, What if Straka was actually Durand pretending to be Feuerbach when Feuerbach met with MacInnes in 1918?? Etc. It’s super confusing, and if I reread this, I would take more time to (ironically) make my own notes about each potential Straka.

My other negative for this one was that I didn’t really agree with Eric or Jen’s life philosophies. They both had “horrible” parents (i.e. parents who are worried that their children are making poor life choices…) and in the end their conclusion was basically “screw them” instead of any attempt to understand who their parents were or why their parents were doing what they were doing. Eric’s parents are also “Christians” so all of their actions are automatically labeled hypocritical, selfish, unscientific (Eric says multiple times that his break with his parents began when he began to “realize science existed” … excuse me while my eyes roll out of my head), etc. This really got on my nerves, especially the repetitive “my parents just believe in fairy tales and a sky daddy but I believe in REAL SCIENCE” over and over and OVER with honestly zero explanations (what science, exactly, do your parents not believe??) – sorry, not necessary. You are free to disagree with your parents and their religious beliefs, but mocking them repeatedly and acting so superior is not an endearing character trait. Jen’s thoughts about her parents were very similar – “They’re so selfish because they want me to have a career.” Yes, parents wanting their children to have a secure financial life is definitely a sign of how much they hate you?? In some ways, I guess Eric and Jen come across as authentic stupid college students who need a decade or so of real life to realize that maybe their parents weren’t as dumb as they always thought.

All in all, if you enjoy convoluted stories with complicated layers, and can get past Eric and Jen frequently whining about their parents, this was a fun and immersive story to read. I can definitely see myself revisiting it and taking more time to read the footnotes in the order they were “written” to see how the story unfolds from that perspective. While this book was the perfect story I wanted it to be, it was still a great deal of fun and overall I recommend it.

September 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 working on September reads – life continues to be crazy at the orchard. Apples everywhere!!!

Hunted by Megan Spooner – 3.5*

//published 2017//

This was a book that it seemed like I should have liked more than I did. A somewhat Beauty & the Beast retelling set in a Russia-ish country with lots of snow and atmosphere and a likable main character. But somehow I just didn’t find this book magic. I think part of it is because of this weird thing in the epilogue where the author is basically like, “Oh, they didn’t actually get married, they just like living together and why would they get married?” It was presented very strangely, and especially considering the time period/culture in which this story is set it came across as a very jarring and odd way to end the story.

My sister read this one as well, and when we were discussing it, she hit the nail on the head – throughout the story, the main character is looking for some sort of truth/purpose… and she never actually really finds it. As a Christian, I think that truth and purpose can be known, but Spooner’s conclusion seemed to basically be that the best we can hope for is to be somewhat happy (and apparently maybe find someone to live with that we mostly like). The entire background philosophy of this book just didn’t really jive with my personal philosophy, so I didn’t get along with this story the way I wanted to.

I’m making it sound pretty negative, but I actually did enjoy this book while I was reading it, and there’s a lot of good story here. If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, you’ll probably like this one, but for me it definitely didn’t fall into the “instant classic” category.

Secret Water by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1939//

I love these books so hard, even if they are making me feel discontent with my own childhood, which I used to think was perfect. But was it really perfect?? MY parents never dropped me off on an island with my siblings and a pile of supplies and a sailboat, leaving us to explore our surroundings for a week! I mean, seriously. Did they even love me??

The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1930//

I thought I had read all of Christie’s mysteries, but this one didn’t seem even remotely familiar to me. A collection of short stories, the main character is really an elderly man named Mr. Satterthwaite. In each story, Mr. Quin appears (usually mysteriously) and helps Mr. Satterthwaite think through a situation and solve a mystery, sometimes a cold case. While these weren’t my favorite Christie stories by any means, they were still enjoyable and engaging to read. The reader is left with the impression that Mr. Quin may be some type of supernatural being, but I honestly appreciated the fact that Christie never addressed it or tried to explain him. Mr. Quin just was. While I wouldn’t start with this one if you’ve never read Christie, if you already enjoy her stories you’ll probably find these engaging as well.

Thorn by Intisar Khanani – 4*

//published 2020//

This book was a retelling of The Goose Girl, and was overall well done. The main character (who becomes known as Thorn) was a bit too passive for my taste – things tended to happen to her throughout the story. Also, if you’ve read the original fairytale you know the fate of Falada, yet I felt like I really got to know Falada in this story, so I kept hoping that fate wouldn’t occur… but it did. I was SO sad.

While this wasn’t one I see myself reading again and again, I enjoyed it as a one-off read and definitely recommend it, especially if you’re into fairytale variations like I am.

Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff – 2.5*

//published 1998//

This was one of my traveling book club books for September, and I somewhat struggled to get through it. The set-up is interesting: Claire is a being known as a Keeper – technically human (ish) but with, well, cosmic powers that enable them to keep the dark side from breaking through into our realm. (It’s been a few weeks since I finished this one, so that may not be exactly correct, but close enough.) Keepers are “summoned” simply by the draw of the need, so Claire finds herself in a small B&B in southern Ontario and ends up stuck there, guarding a literal portal to hell and trying to figure out how to close it again.

There were aspects of this book – like the talking cat – that I really enjoyed, but for a book that includes a portal to hell, it was puh-retty slow moving. Claire spends most of her time thinking about how amazing she is because she’s a Keeper, trying not to flirt with the guy who works as the B&B because he’s too young for her (he’s like 20 and she’s almost 30… again, something like that… and it really did feel uncomfortable, not because of the woman being older, but just because that’s a genuinely large age-gap at those ages, and Claire’s interest in this guy was almost purely physical, so it was all about her thinking how hot he was followed by “oh he’s too young for me” which really just emphasized how uncomfortable the entire thing was), and trying not to flirt with the other guy because he’s actually a ghost (except apparently Keepers literally can give ghosts a physical form for just a short period of time… just so they can have sex with them??? This also just came across as bizarre and uncomfortable rather than funny like it seemed like the author was trying to do). So not only was I stuck reading about a love triangle, I was stuck reading about a love triangle where all the people in it were extremely cringey and weird. Plus, I just never did end up liking Claire, who was really stuck on herself.

Way too many things were left unexplained or just didn’t make sense (sometimes Claire can just manipulate the physical world to do whatever she wants, but then things will happen and she’ll act like she can’t fix them or change them, and I just never could understand what the rules were, or even if there were rules), and the “romantic” interactions between Claire and the two guys were just ugh. While this wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, it most certainly did not inspire me to continue with the series.

Time Out for Happiness // by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr.

A while ago I reread Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel, Belles on Their Toes. I loved both of those books growing up and have read them several times, although not in quite a while. When I was looking up something or other about the Gilbreths in the process of writing the review for those books, I found out that Frank Jr., who coauthored the above books with his sister (Ernestine Gilbreth Carey), also wrote what was more of a “straight” biography of his parents, Time Out for Happiness. I couldn’t find a reasonably-priced copy secondhand, so I had to settle for checking it out of the library, although I’m still keeping an eye out for a copy of my own.

//published 1970//
//published 1970//

While the other two books are more of a collection of vignettes of their life growing up, Time Out for Happiness takes more time to look at the background and work of Frank Gilbreth, Sr., and his wife, Lillian. There was a lot of genuinely interesting information here about the work and studies of the Gilbreths, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It isn’t as funny or lighthearted as the earlier two books, but that wasn’t what I was expecting.

My reservations about this book – for one, Frank Jr. spends what felt like way too much time on his family heritage (did we really need to hear about his great-great-grandparents in order to understand how his parents ended up as the people they were?) in the earlier part of the book, which meant that there wasn’t as much time at the end of the book for the work that Lillian did after Frank Sr.’s death. While Lillian’s work is somewhat covered, it felt like the book was unbalanced.

There is also a decent chunk of book devoted to a feud between the Gilbreths and another engineer, whose name I can’t remember. It’s obvious that at the time of Frank Jr.’s writing this was a really important situation – it honestly felt like, in some ways, the point of his book was to refute some of the claims made by the other group. But since I didn’t really know the background of this situation, it wasn’t particularly interesting to me other than the general motion study information that came along with it.

However, the entire book is written with such obvious, warm affection that I was willing to forgive its small irritants. Frank Jr. has such a respect for his parents and their work. Throughout he emphasized how a huge part of what made the Gilbreths do the research that they did was from respect for the worker, and a desire to make the life of the everyday worker easier, better, and more fulfilling. (This was also a big part of the feud with the other group, which believed that the time being “saved” should belong to company, i.e. be used to make the worker work harder/longer.) After Frank Sr.’s death, Lillian continued to pioneer motion study. With many door closed to her because of her sex, she was more than willing to focus her efforts where they were appreciated – assessing the way equipment and machinery could be used within a house to improve the lives of housewives, and also researching ways to enable individuals with disabilities (especially amputees from World War I) to still earn a living.

If you liked Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes, but wished you could learn a little more about the “real life” behind the stories, this book is definitely worth a read. Lillian also wrote a few books of her own, so I am hoping to get to those eventually as well, to continue learning about this fascinating couple and their work.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat // by Samin Nosrat

//published 2017// Bonus – My Pantry!! //

Every once in a while I read a nonfiction book that is just fantastic (like the book I read about color last year).  Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat actually reminded me a lot of Living With Color, despite the fact that they really weren’t anything alike.  Both books took a topic that I live with every day and really delved into it in a way that clarified things I had already felt instinctively, and helped me to see concepts and connections of which I had been vaguely aware but hadn’t really understood.

In her book, Nosrat talks about how she sort of fell into cooking when she was actually planning to be a writer.  And so when she apprenticed herself to a very fancy restaurant, she found herself looking at things somewhat differently than her fellow workers who had grown up with and/or studied this passion for several years.  They seemed to be able to cook on instinct, without recipes, tossing together seemingly dissimilar foods and coming up with something not just delicious but mind-blowingly so.  One day she realized that this ability actually seemed to stand on four basic building blocks – salt, fat, acid, and heat – all working together in harmony.  When she mentioned it to one of the other cooks, she was met with basically amounted to “well duh” …except it wasn’t a “well duh” for someone just learning to cook.  Throughout the years of learning more and more about cooking, Nosrat continued to file her lessons into these four categories, thinking to herself that someday she would write a book… and then she did!

If, like me, you find cooking to be a tedious chore and the results to be incredibly mundane, you may enjoy this one.  While Nosrat does include some honestly ridiculous recipes, and also seems to think that everyone lives around the corner from a delightful farmers’ market where one can purchase fresh, in-season veggies and meat that was on the hoof yesterday, most of her book is still somehow applicable to my life (and I haven’t been to a farmers’ market in years!).  For me, it was the concepts more than the specific recipes, many of which are incredibly simple – I especially was fascinated by the chapter on salt, and how salting things can completely change the flavor.  I’ve been salting meat a few hours before cooking it, and it genuinely has made a huge difference in the way it tastes!  Ditto with salting pasta water.  Both of those things fall under that category of “things people tell you to do but don’t really explain why” – which means I’ve been doing it wrong.  I usually do salt meat… right before I cook it, which almost (but not quite) defeats the purpose.  I also would put a dash of salt in the pasta water, for unknown reasons (someone may have told me to do this once??) – which isn’t enough to do anything to the actual pasta.

Throughout, the book is charmingly illustrated and also includes various charts and graphs – I loved the one that looked at seasonings from around the world, for instance.  There were also smaller ones, like one that showed different ratios of water-to-rice, depending on what kind of rice you’re planning to cook.

This was one of those engaging nonfiction titles that is both intriguing to read straight through, and also excellent for reference when you need it.  While I’m still not an amazing cook, I do find myself thinking more about the balance of my meals, sometimes in small ways.  For instance, a few months ago I was making something (honestly can’t remember what) that called for buttermilk, and I just put in milk – well, part of the reason that that doesn’t work is that buttermilk is acidic, so now my recipe was missing not the dairy aspect, but the acidic aspect, causing the recipe to be off-balance.

I’m never going to be a skilled chef, but thanks to Nosrat I do feel like I’ve added a few more concepts to my bag of possibilities.  While the recipes in this book aren’t terribly practical, the ideas behind them explain why some recipes work and others don’t, and why my meals frequently come across as bland – something that I can now work on fixing.

PS – Apparently Nosrat also has a cooking show of some kind.  I’ve heard it’s amazing, but haven’t watched it myself!

Nine // by Rachelle Dekker

//published 2020//

This book was kindly gifted to me by the publisher in exchange for a review.  Unfortunately, I misread the email… I thought this review was due by the end of the month, but apparently it was due by September 25!  So apologies for that.

Nine is a fast-paced book about a girl who has escaped from a secret government facility. Helped along by Zoe, a young woman with secrets of her own, they are doing their best to unravel the mystery of Lucy’s past.

There were a lot of things that I enjoyed about this book.  I really liked Zoe a lot.  I also found myself unwillingly drawn to Tom Seeley, the FBI agent in charge of chasing down Lucy.  He’s a classic anti-hero, full of conflict, determined to do his job, but starting to wonder if the job is the wrong thing to do.  There were a lot of layers to this story, and a lot of philosophical questions, mostly centered around the concept of humanity – what makes us human?

However, I ultimately felt like the philosophical questions sometimes took up more page time than the actual story, and there were a lot of extra complications that seemed to have been added only for the sake of bringing up more thoughtful questions, meaning that things got a bit muddled in the middle.  I was also very confused by a scenario towards the end of the book – there were just moments throughout where something kind of odd would happen that would take me out of the story.

While I did enjoy this book and gave it 4*, there was just something lacking.  I was especially surprised at this book’s take on religion, considering the publisher – it really comes across as almost anti-religion, which definitely isn’t what I would expect from Revell.  There definitely wasn’t any moment in time where the characters considered the concept of God, or thought that maybe what makes us human is the fact that we’ve been created in His image.  Instead, the conclusions to the philosophical questions came through as somewhat clinical.

Despite my reservations, I enjoyed this book while I was reading it, and I would be interested to see what else Dekker has written.

Side note: Since Goodreads makes it so much easier to insert spoilers, my review there does have some more details about the things that bothered me a bit – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3560913813