October Minireviews – Part 2

So this wraps up the October reviews… however, as usual, I’m reading like a fiend in December.  So will I actually be caught up on reviews on the end of the year so I can start 2022 with a fresh slate???

UPDATE: I wrote most of this post before Christmas and then, as usual, dropped off the face of the blogging planet LOL So I probably will NOT be caught up on reviews by the end of the year, but such is life!

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Third Victim by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 2018//

I’ve really enjoyed a lot of Margolin’s legal thrillers, and this was another solid entry, even if it wasn’t particularly outstanding.  Part of the problem was that I found out that this is actually the first book in a series, and it had that flavor of “setting things up” that sometimes interfered with the pacing of the actual story.  As usual, Margolin’s MC is a defense attorney, and I really like how he presents them as such a necessary and important part of our legal system.  Even if it means that they sometimes are defending people who have committed horrible crimes, our country allows everyone to receive a trial and places the burden of proof on determining that someone is guilty, not determining that they are innocent. While this one was a little slow in spots, it was still a solid read, and I can definitely see myself reading more of the Robin Lockwood series in the future.

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This one has been on my TBR for quite some time, and I finally got around to reading it.  Apparently it is also a prequel for a series, but while I found this one to be a decent read, it somehow just didn’t jive with enough to want to read the rest of the series.  A murder occurs in the neighborhood where a detective lives, so he is drawn into the murder investigation.  But the detective himself killed a man once and got away with it… it’s an interesting premise and it was a decent story, but it was also kind of a downer somehow, just a depressing feel to the whole story.  Plus, there were loads of birding terms, but thankfully since this was somehow my second British mystery focused on birders in the same month (I mean, what even) I had already done some research!

Real-Life Organizing by Cassandra Aarssen – 3.5*

//published 2017//

This was a nice, if somewhat basic, home organization book.  It was mildly aggravating because she basically complains that all Marie Kondo wants to do to organize is get rid of stuff, but then spends half the book telling you to get rid of stuff.  And actually I do agree that unloading little-used items is the key to making your home more organized, spacious, and comfortable, it was just annoying because Aarssen acted like it was so ridiculous to expect people to do that… and then expects people to do that.  Whatever.

Anyway, she did have a few tips that I really liked.  One of them was assessing areas you want to organize with a problem/solution mindset – so looking at a dresser and determining what is wrong (sock drawer is overflowing, there is always clutter on top, area is poorly lit, can never find the tshirt I want, etc) and then coming up with an individual solution for each issue.  So instead of just “organize dresser” you end up with some specific action items that will address the specific problems keeping the dresser disorganized (get rid of 10 pairs of socks, find a basket to organize clutter, add a lamp, fold tshirts a different way, etc).

Another tip was to use photographs – for one, taking pictures of areas around your house and then looking at them to determine what is actually clutter.  She talks about how we easily become “blind” to items that have been sitting around for a while, but looking at a photograph often helps us see those problem areas more clearly.  Another use for photographs was for “sentimental clutter” – i.e., someone in the book (I can’t remember who, it’s been a while) had some sort of collection (salt and pepper shakers maybe??) that people had given her over the years – as with so many things, once people find out you collect something, they love to keep giving it to you haha But at some point, those items can become something of a burden, but you hate to get rid of them because you remember the people who gave them and the occasions that led to the gifting.  Aarssen’s suggestion was to take photographs and to actually make a photo book of them, which can include captions that tell the story behind them, and then you can get rid of the physical items that no longer fit what you need in your life.  It doesn’t mean you have to purge the entire collection, but it can be a way to find balance between cherishing the sentiment behind the gifts and clearing away some everyday clutter.

A final tip from this book that actually made good sense to me was to identify the “prime real estate” of different areas of your house.  These are spots that are easily accessible.  So often, when we move into a house, we just put things away and then leave them there forever, even if it doesn’t match how we end up using the space.  By shuffling things around so that things you use everyday are in cupboards and drawers that you can get to easily, those items are much more likely to be put away whenever you finish with them.

All in all, there wasn’t a load of groundbreaking stuff here – it was a library book that I didn’t feel like I needed to add to my personal collection – it was still a worthwhile read.  There were also a lot of good tips for organizing playrooms/children’s areas that didn’t apply to me but sounded like they made sense, so the book may hold more value to individuals with little ones at home.

Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys – 2.5*

//published 2017//

This is another one that’s been on my TBR for several years, but in the end, although I got through it, I never really got on with this book.  In September 1939 Lily boards a ship heading for Australia where she is going to be work in domestic service for a few years.  The setting on board a ship with so many people of different classes and countries, all on the brink of a world war, was quite interesting.  The first chapter is at the end of the journey, and we know someone has been arrested for murder.  Then we go back to the beginning of the journey.  I kept waiting for something thriller-ish to happen, or for someone to get knocked off, or SOMETHING, but instead everyone just has a lot of feelings, many of which felt rather inconsistent.  I never really cared for or about Lily, and in the end the big reveal just… no, thank you.  It was a big eye-roll for me and honestly felt like a cheat.  It wasn’t a terrible read, and the setting was done really well, but it was SO slow that I felt like I was never going to finish it.

Well-Matched by Jen DeLuca – 3*

//published 2021//

This is the third in DeLuca’s romantic series that is centered around one town’s Renaissance Festival.  I’ve really enjoyed the first two books and was actually interested to read this story since I’ve always liked both April and Mitch.  However, April just honestly came across as a bit of a bitch in this one.  She’s a single mom and her daughter is getting ready to graduate high school and go to college.  April put her personal plans “on hold” when she had her daughter, and one of the biggest decisions she made was living in a small town instead of moving to the Big City to pursue her Career (yes, the capital letters are warranted because of how much time she spends talking about this).  And like, this is fine, and it’s fine that April is excited about the next stage of her life, but I cringed SO many times because of how excited she acted about all of this when her daughter was around.  Her daughter, who we’re told hasn’t even turned 18 yet, and is only going to college, not actually starting her own life/moving into her own house, has not actually graduated high school yet, and all April can talk about is how excited she is that she’s “finally” going to be an empty-nester, that she can “finally” sell their house and get out of town, that she can “finally” live in the city where things are awesome, that she can “finally” do all these things that apparently her daughter has just kept her from doing and it felt so cruel to me, especially when April would be all petty that her daughter wasn’t also excited.  Yeah, it’s crazy that your daughter isn’t thrilled that her home base is now not going to be in her hometown with her friends and family, but she shouldn’t be worried because you’ll have a “spare room” in your new place for her on breaks.  Just.  Ugh.  Plus, April spends all this time justifying things like not knowing her daughter’s teachers’ names and not really knowing what all activities she was involved in and not going to her extracurricular stuff because April was “so busy” providing for them… and I’m pretty sure that if it was a single father saying those things everyone would be up in arms because he was putting his job ahead of his family or something, but April’s just been “doing her best” and we should all be proud of her!  So brave!

It’s especially annoying because I didn’t actually dislike April in the other two books, but here DeLuca decided to turn the bitch up to about 11 and it REALLY brought down my overall enjoyment.  Mitch, however, rescued the story because he’s perfect and I loved him and I’m so sorry that he’s ending up with April.

My last complaint about this book?  Basically every adult having a conversation specifically about how having children is just, ugh, so much work and kind of gross and interferes with everything and why would anyone do that, like it’s okay for you, I guess, but that’s because you’re kind of weird and don’t have any REAL life plans.  The amount of unnecessary conversations about how having children is super lame really got on my nerves a lot.  And maybe that was my problem with this book in a more succinct form – it felt borderline anti-children, as though NOT having children is the natural thing to do, and having them is something only weird lame-o people with no other plans do.

I’m sure I’ll still read any books that DeLuca adds to this series because I have enjoyed them overall, and this one still had its funny and enjoyable moments, but I won’t be rereading this one because I don’t ever want to listen to April complain about how her daughter low-key ruined her life – to her daughter’s face! (but don’t worry, because we actually have had a lot fun even though it’s literally not what I wanted to have happen to me at all!) – again.

Snow White & Rose Red by Patricia Wrede – 3.5*

//published 1989//

Another 3.5* read to round out October.  I really love Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series and the Cecilia books she co-wrote with Caroline Stevermer, but some of her other books just lack that humor that makes those reads magical.  This wasn’t a bad book by any means, but it’s just a very straightforward retelling of the original fairytale, set in Elizabethian times to give it some historical flavor.  A book I enjoyed but don’t see myself rereading.

October Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, believe it or not, I AM making progress on these reviews!!! My goal is to be caught up by the end of the year!!!!

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.

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – 4.5*

//published 2020//

I read the first book in this series at the end of September and rolled directly into this one, and it did NOT suffer from second-book syndrome.  SO.  GOOD.  This is what YA is supposed to be!  Fun and snarky, loads of adventure, engaging world-building, likable characters, personal growth, strong friendship, a splash of romance.  The bajillion POVs is slightly distracting and there are times where it feels like things are getting a little out of hand, but overall I just enjoyed this one so much.  The worst part – it ended on a cliffhanger and the third book didn’t come out until November!

The Ex Hex by Erin Stirling – 3.5*

//published 2021//

I’m a sometimes-BOTM member (I skip a LOT) but this one sounded fun so I went for it.  It was a nice one-time read, but I mailed it on to someone else when I was done with because I don’t see myself reading it again, although I probably could be persuaded to read a sequel.  It’s one of those books where you don’t worry about character development or think too hard about the world-building… just roll with what’s happening.  Overall it was a fun palette-cleanser after reading five 87th Precinct books, but it was just a little bit too far on the smutty/vulgar scale for me to really rate it any higher.  When I’m reading fluff, I don’t really want to be bombarded by f-bombs the entire time.  (As a side note, it’s not the actual sex scenes that bother me so much, because they’re easily bypassed, it’s when characters THINK about sex and TALK about sex and the whole thing just turns into SEX that it starts to really get aggravating.  This one wasn’t the worst I’ve come across in that way, but it still sometimes got old.)

The Jackal’s Head by Elizabeth Peters – 3.5*

//published 1968//

Peters isn’t a 100% win for me as she has definitely written some books that didn’t click with me, but in this one she returns to Egypt, where she should always set her books.  I only wish the Emersons could have made an appearance!  This story was virtually unbelievable, but it was still a great deal of fun.

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1936//

I actually remembered how this one came about, but I still enjoyed reading it because it’s fun to watch Christie lay the red herrings when you know which ones they are.  Plus, I got to read my beautiful special edition (HEART EYES).  I took a picture of the back cover as well because I quite liked the quote on it.

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde – 3.5*

//published 2010//

The most entertaining part of this collection of Red Riding Hood retellings was Velde’s introduction where she explains how ridiculous the original story is.  Her actual retellings were mildly interesting but overall forgettable.

The Safest Lies by Megan Miranda – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This was one of those books that kept me reading while I was reading, but then I got done and I was like, “But what about…?????”  I also just never really connected with the characters, so a lot of the urgency was lost on me because I didn’t really care all that much about what happened to them.  This was a fun one-off read, especially if you like YA thrillers, but not one I’ll revisit.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight – 2.5*

//published 2015//

This is one that had been hanging around on my shelves for quite some time and I finally got around to it in October.  The premise sounds great.  A woman starts reading a book that’s on her bedside table – but then realizes that SHE is the main character.  Where did the book come from?  How did the author know about her life?  The only other person who knew about this situation is dead – RIGHT?  This sounds like it’s going to be a great thriller, and it was definitely compulsively readable (hence the 2.5* rating instead of like 1), but I didn’t feel like a single character in this story responded in a realistic way, meaning that no one felt like a real person.  The end of the book also just turned super preachy and also felt out of place.

I wrote a whole big long rant about this one but I’m just not feeling like publishing it.  There was a lot that annoyed me about this book, but I can see why so many people enjoyed it.  I personally find it difficult to root for a character who has lied to everyone in her life, including her husband, about really serious stuff, and then gets all offended that people don’t automatically assume that her behavior was impeccable during the situation she lied about.  But maybe that’s just me.

Leaphorn & Chee – Books 6-10 // by Tony Hillerman

  • The Ghostway (1984)
  • Skinwalkers (1986)
  • A Thief of Time (1988)
  • Talking God (1989)
  • Coyote Waits (1990)

While the first five books of this series were an average of 3.5*, the next set moved firmly into the 4* range.  In Skinwalkers, Leaphorn reappears on the scene, and throughout the next four books, both men are involved in the mystery solving, although not always as a team – it’s interesting to have them sometimes almost opposing because of their different styles of detecting, and their different beliefs about the old ways.  The personableness of both characters vastly improved during this group of books, with more about their family lives and backgrounds, leaving me a lot more interested in them as people as well as interested in the mysteries themselves.

The actually mysteries were solid and did a decent job of wrapping things up.  Hillerman does a good job of talking about nuanced topics without it feeling preachy.  For instance, the entirety of Talking God is about ancient Native American artifacts and bones and managed to present varying viewpoints on whether old bones belong in museums or should be returned to modern Native Americans (even though in many instances there is not a direct oral history between them), and how archeological sites should be handled.  It was all very interesting and thoughtfully done, but never came across as polemic or divisive.

All in all, I’m thoroughly enjoying these.  The next five are in the pile waiting to be read, but that probably won’t happen until January as I am intending to fully embrace Christmasy reads all throughout December!!

Shetland Island Mysteries – Books 1-4 // by Ann Cleeves

  • Raven Black
  • White Nights
  • Red Bones
  • Blue Lightning 

This series has been on my radar for a while (haven’t they all??) and I finally read the first half of them in October.  Litsy has a month-long readathon focusing on mysteries/thriller/horror/etc. and while I don’t enjoy anything in the horror/graphic violence area, I decided it would be a great opportunity to make some forward progress on several mystery series I’ve been working through, including finishing the 87th Precinct, the first half of this series, the next five books in the Leaphorn & Chee series, plus knocking out a few standalone thrillers that have been on my shelf for way too long.

Set in the Shetland Islands, the main character/detective of this series is Jimmy Perez, a detective on the police force.  However, Cleeves takes her time with these stories, giving back stories and insight into multiple people involved in each murder.  Even though these are a little longer than the average thriller (350-400 pgs), they felt a LOT longer as the pace is rarely urgent.  Instead, there is plenty of time to examine and contemplate the interactions of the main players.  Somehow, instead of being boring, Cleeves makes this work.  It fit the setting of an isolated and insulated community, where the seasons take their time, and the methodical rhythm of the natural world is reflected in the human residents.

I have mixed feelings about these books.  I enjoyed them while I was reading them, but never felt an urgency about picking up the next book.  Cleeves made a decision to kill off a character at the end of Blue Lightning that I didn’t really like as well, and I’m not completely sure that I’ll get around to finishing this series (there are four more books).  Yet on the whole, I think I do recommend them if you enjoy your mysteries thoughtful instead of frantic.  They could definitely do with a bit of editing, yet at some level I rather enjoyed the contemplative pacing, feeling that I was really getting to know the motives and relationships of the characters involved.

These weren’t my new favorites, and they didn’t make me want to rush out and read everything Cleeves has written, but I probably will read those last four books one of these days, just to see how everyone adjusts to the sudden death at the end of Blue Lightning.  

87th Precinct – THE FINAL FIVE BOOKS!!! // by Ed McBain

I honestly don’t know why I originally started reading the 87th Precinct books.  I think maybe they were listed somewhere as classics, and my innate inability to read books out of order meant I had to start at the beginning and work my way through them.  However it happened, I read the first of this series back in April 2018, and FINALLY read books 50-55 in October 2021!!  Breaking them into groups of five actually worked really well for working through this series.  So, here are a few thoughts on the final books, and then some thoughts on the series as a whole.

  • Money, Money, Money
  • Fat Ollie’s Book
  • The Frumious Bandersnatch
  • Hark!
  • Fiddlers

All in all, these ended up all being 4* reads and were a great way to conclude this series ALTHOUGH tragedy struck at the final hour – somehow, I had these written down wrong, and after reading FIFTY-THREE BOOKS in order, I somehow read #55 BEFORE reading #54!! I cannot possibly express to you how aggravated at myself I was! How could I do this?!  It literally made no difference except in my heart, but still!  I’m still mad!

ANYWAY the weirdest part about these last five books was the involvement/attempt at character redemption of Fat Ollie.  He’s one of those background characters who has popped in and out of several books.  He works for another precinct and everyone dislikes him because he’s a racist, sexist jerk.  However, he’s also weirdly good at being a detective.  Suddenly, in these books, McBain tries to somewhat redeem Ollie’s character by having him fall in love with a girl, which makes him start to reassess some of his prejudices.  I had mixed feelings about this.  I actually did feel like Ollie was growing as a person, but I’m also not sure how realistic it was, or even why McBain felt it was necessary to wander away from the detectives in the 87th to focus on Ollie instead.  When I looked at other reviews, there were a lot of complaints about this that basically said Ollie’s character was irredeemable, but I’m not sure I agree with that, either.  I do think people can change – and if we aren’t willing to believe that, to hope for that, to accept it when it happens – then the world really is a rather hopeless place.  So I decided to embrace the efforts to make Ollie a better person and hope that he continues on that path going forward.

All five of these had really good pacing and a bit more humor than a lot of the other books.  They also avoided the gratuitous and weird sex scenes from some of the earlier books, which was great.  McBain still enjoys killing people off more than I’d like him to (especially in The Frumious Bandersnatch – I was SO upset about a character he killed off there!), but they ARE murder mysteries soooo

McBain died the same year that the final book was published (2005) so I’m not sure if he actually intended that to be the final book in the series.  He did leave several of the regular characters in good places – I especially loved watching Carella wrestle with and come to grips with the changes in his family.  There’s a beautiful scene where he finally accepts his stepfather that honestly choked me up a bit.

All in all, I don’t regret reading this series, but I don’t see myself rereading them ALL.  I’ve held on to a few/marked a few that I would reread, but there are also several that I would NEVER read again even if they were the only book around lol  I do think it was worthwhile to see the way that various characters developed and evolved throughout the series.  I loved the way that McBain didn’t age his characters as rapidly as he aged the tech (the series spans 50 years of tech, but only about 15 years of detective-life haha).  The books definitely went through a rough patch in the 80s – my least favorite books were all from that decade – but the final five left me wishing that there were more left to read.

I’m not sure I can exactly recommend this series, but I did enjoy it and am a bit sorry to part ways with the fellows from the 87th.  I may have to revisit them from time to time… just not all 55 books!!

Rearview Mirror – September 2021

I was doing so well, and then fell back off the bandwagon!! But here I am with September’s wrap up, which means there is actually a decent chance that I’ll get around to reviewing some of October’s books only a month after I read them!!!!

Favorite September Read

Even though I read a few books I technically rated higher (two rereads and the next Swallows & Amazons book), I didn’t have high expectations for Aurora Risingwhich may be part of the reason it ended up being such a win.  I’m not always into space novels, but I absolutely loved the snarky characters and intriguing world-building.

Most Disappointing September Read

September was actually a pretty decent reading month, with nothing below a 3.5*.  I think this slow will go to When You Read This.  Even though it wasn’t a bad book by any means, it was definitely a downer when I was hoping for something kind of fun.

Other September Reads

September Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  16 (none on Kindle)
  • Total Pages Read:  5698
  • Average Star Rating for July:  4.00
  • Longest Book: Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows (620 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  The Duke’s Disappearance (222 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  Emily Climbs (published 1925)
  • Newest Book: Hostile Intent, Fallen, The Wisteria Society for Lady Scoundrels, and To Sir, With Love were all published this year.
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  7

September DNFs

  • Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson – Following my trend for books-focused-on-letters, I brought this one with me on vacation as well, but it only took a chapter or two for me to realize the (gloomy) direction it was going to go – I skipped to the end to confirm that yes, the female MC realizes that getting married at a young age when she found out she was pregnant ACTUALLY was the WORST DECISION EVER and being a wife and mother all these years has been a COMPLETE WASTE OF HER LIFE AND TALENTS and conveniently right when she discovers that it turns out that her  husband is actually a CHEATING BASTARD and has been the WHOLE TIME so that obviously justifies the fact that she’s been having an emotional affair with the guy she’s writing letters with for the last however-long.  Just UGH. NO THANK YOU.
  • The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman – This one has been on my TBR for quite a while and I gave it about a hundred pages before deciding that it really just wasn’t for me.  It wasn’t a bad book, it just wasn’t a good fit for me.

TBR Update

This I keep updated as I go, so it’s current as of today, rather than as of the end of September.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m weirdly obsessive with organizing the TBR, and have it on a spreadsheet divided into six different tabs:

  • Standalones:  494 (down four!!)
  • Nonfiction:  128 (up one)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  642 (down two!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  252 (holding steady!)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 112 (holding steady!)
  • New Arrivals – (I have a lot of books that I have been gifted or that I pick up somewhere and they get put on my “oh I’m so excited about this shiny new book” shelf… and then of course don’t actually get read.): 144 (down two!!)

Current Reads

I had this month all planned out with books from the library and that sort of thing but actually have just been in a MOOD so instead I’m reading a random Nora Roberts romance trilogy and it’s the perfect fit right now!

Last Time on “Up Next…”

Did I actually read my probably next five reads from last time?

  • The Sentinels of the Galaxy series – Yes!! Not only did I read this trilogy, I thoroughly enjoyed it!!!
  • Waiting for Tom Hanks – Yes! And it was another win!  Not only did I enjoy this one, it was actually set in Columbus so I was really familiar with loads of the landmarks, which was super fun.  I didn’t enjoy the sequel as much (Not Like the Movies), mainly because that MC just drove me absolutely batty, but overall these were good fun.
  • The Copenhagen Connection – Nope!  It’s still here (checked out from the library) but keeps getting pushed back on the shelf!
  • Doctor’s Boy – Nope! Despite the fact that it’s a children’s book and quite short, I just still haven’t actually picked it up.
  • Rosalind – Nope! You would think that since I’ve been in the mood for romance I would have gone ahead and read this one but here we are!

Up Next

The probable next five(ish) reads…

  • I’m finishing the Dreamer Trilogy by Nora Roberts – I just started the second book, Holding the Dream, today.
  • The Copenhagen Connection by Elizabeth Peters – Wait, doesn’t this sound familiar??
  • The House of Arden by E. Nesbit – I have never met a Nesbit book I don’t like, and since it’s a children’s book, it should be a fast read, right??
  • Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie – This is the next Christie book in published order.  I kind of forgot that we were reading it for November!!  It’s technically a reread but I don’t remember this one at all.
  • Rosalind by Clarice Peters – Yeah, theoretically I’m still planning to read this one from the Regency box!!

That’s a wrap for September – I’ll be back soon with October reviews!!!

September Minireviews – Part 2

I’m starting to be cautiously optimistic that, in the very near future, I’ll be reviewing books only ONE month behind!!!

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.

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley – 5*

//published 2000//

I’ve reviewed this book a couple of times (here and here), because I have reread it so often.  In fact, for some unknown reason it’s because important to me to take this with me and read it whenever I go on vacation.  So when Tom and I went to Maine in September, Spindle’s End came along.  I can’t exactly explain why I love this one so much, or why I don’t get tired of rereading it, but the very act of holding this book and turning its pages has somehow become comforting to me.  I think the book is now imbued with the power of multiple happy vacations haha  At any rate, my earlier reviews do a much better job summarizing the story, so do check them out if you’re interested.  This one isn’t for everyone as it’s very rambly, but I love it a lot.

Yours Truly, Thomas by Rachel Fordham – 3.5*

//published 2019//

I also took several fluff books with me on vacation, ones that I’ve picked up on the cheap from Book Outlet over the last year but haven’t gotten around to reading.  I really liked the concept of this one – Penny works at a post office in the Dead Letters office.  In a final effort to find the recipient of a letter, the post office can open the letter and look for clues.  Penny finds letters written by a man named Thomas to a woman he obviously loves, telling her how sorry he is about how things turned out, and writing about how he is trying to live a new, better life.  Penny becomes emotionally invested in these letters and is determined to help reunite Thomas with his love.  Etc. etc. This wasn’t a bad book, but it honestly was rather boring for most of it, and then has this absolutely ridiculously dramatic ending that felt completely unrealistic.  It was readable but not one I’d revisit, and also not one that made me yearn to find out what else Fordham has written.

To Sir, With Love by Lauren Layne – 4*

//published 2021//

Continuing my trend of books-based-on-letters (I didn’t realize it when I packed for vacation, but I brought five books and four of them were based around letters??), this one is Shop Around the Corner vibes that was really fun to read.  Gracie did get on my nerves a bit, but I liked the chemistry between her and Seb (even if it was ridiculously obvious that he was also Sir) and liked the way things came together in end.

When You Read This by Mary Adkins – 3.5* (published 2019)

I was drawn to this one because of the format, which includes emails, blog posts, text messages, and other media.  Sometimes epistolary books can feel a little narrow in their scope, but including other conversations kept this one engaging, although it did sometimes get confusing if the same person said something twice in a row – so there’s an email heading for each email telling who it is to and from, but if the same two characters are going back and forth, I tended to skim that bit and not really register it… and then get confused because someone had emailed twice in a row instead of going back and forth.  Basically, the story starts because a woman named Iris has died of cancer.  She worked for years for a guy named Smith, and leaves him a letter telling him that she’s actually been writing a blog and wants him to get it published as a book after her death.  But in order to do so, Smith needs permission from Iris’s sister, Jade, who is NOT a fan of the concept.  This is one of those books that the synopsis makes it sound sort of romcomy, but it actually is a bit of a downer.  It deals not just with the death of Iris, but also addiction, cancer, and midlife crisis.  While I found the writing engaging and liked the characters (mostly), and even found myself laughing at some points, the overall tone was definitely a downer.  One of the characters has a serious gambling addiction, and it felt like that was wrapped up way too tidily by this person just being like “oh you’re right, I do have a problem so now that I’ve acknowledged it, my addiction will magically go away!”  I was also annoyed because the only person presented as having any kind of religious belief was Jade’s mother who, we’re told repeatedly, is VERY conservative and VERY Christian, yet also had a life-long affair with a married man and just… sorry, yes, I know a lot of hypocritical people (both in and out of the church), but I don’t know a single church that would agree that having a decades-long affair with a married man jives with being a Christian.  I mean, seriously.  So that came across as just plain annoying.

On the whole, this was another of those pleasant-to-read-once-but-I’ll-never-reread-it kind of books.  I was perfectly happy to send this off to someone else when I was finished.

The Picts & the Martyrs by Arthur Ransome – 5* (published 1943)

It’s no surprise that my favorite book for the month was the next installment of the Swallows & Amazon series.  Only one left after this, and I’m going to miss them!!  This one was full of the regular shenanigans and adventures of the other books.  I just love these stories SO much.  They’re so funny and adorable, and the characters feel so realistic to me.  I enjoyed every page and wished for more.

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – 4*

//published 2019//

My second-favorite read of the month was a total surprise.  Scifi can be really hit or miss for me, so I didn’t have very high expectations for this one – and ended up being SO fun.  Snarky, entertaining, engaging – conversations explaining the world-building that felt natural – likable characters – tons of humor -I loved it!  My only slight beef is that entire thing is first person, but from SO many different perspectives, like it bounces around between ALL the characters, so that did sometimes get a little confusing, plus they don’t really sound THAT different from each other.  But it still worked on the whole, meaning this one ended up being tons of fun.

Note: This is book one in a trilogy – I read the second book in October, and the third book wasn’t published until this month, so it’s waiting for me at the library!!

The Stars Duology // by Diana Peterfreund

  • For Darkness Shows the Stars
  • Across a Star-Swept Sea

Quite a long while back I read Across a Star-Swept Sea, and while I overall liked it, there were parts of it that I found really confusing/not well-explained.  Well, guess what, it’s because it was actually a sequel, despite there being NO indication of this anywhere on the cover or in the front of the book.  THIS IS  A PET PEEVE OF MINE – I do not understand WHY publishers publish sequels and act like it’s a secret.  Just.  Why.

Anyway.  I’ve been meaning to go back and read both books and I finally got around to it!

The first book, For Darkness Shows the Stars, is a riff on Persuasion, which is what finally made me get around to it – after rereading Persuasion, I thought it would be fun to read this one while the original was fresh in my mind.  I thought this book did a great job capturing the basics of Austen’s story, but all the characters were somehow amplified.  In Persuasion, Anne’s dad is self-absorbed and a bit ridiculous; here he’s cruel and willing to do anything as long as he has everything he wants.  Austen’s Wentworth is a bit stubborn about recognizing that Anne had valid reasons for her past choices; here he is harsh and unforgiving, to the point of purposefully inflicting pain on Anne with cruel and snarky comments and actions.  It made this story grittier and the stakes higher, as now it’s not just that Anne’s family may have to tighten their belts and live a little more frugally, it’s that the lives and livelihoods of so many people are on the line.

This book would have garnered an easy 4*, maybe even 4.5*, from me except for one HUGE problem – the ages of the characters.  Like I think what was happening here was Peterfreund wanted this book to be YA, so she needed her characters to be YA-aged.  But the problem is that the whole POINT of Persuasion is that TIME HAS PASSED, so Peterfreund’s brilliant solution?  That the Anne/Wentworth characters were FOURTEEN when they separated and now it’s only FOUR YEARS LATER so they are still only EIGHTEEN and I’m sorry but it made the entire story COMPLETELY, and I do mean COMPLETELY, unbelievable.  Like sometimes I can kind of get behind young people doing things that are obviously beyond what they would actually do, because circumstances can swiftly mature some individuals… but this just made no sense, especially since Peterfreund also chose to make Wentworth’s character SO harsh and unforgiving about the fact that Anne didn’t come with him… WHEN THEY WERE FOURTEEN.  I’m sorry, but you’re still mad because she didn’t come with you when you were both CHILDREN?!  I can’t even begin to describe how distracting these ages were from the actual stories.  There are lots of times that I can kind of pretend the ages are different or somehow work around in my brain, but it was impossible here and it made the entire story absolutely absurd, to the point that even though I thought it was really a great story overall, I almost can’t recommend it because the age thing made the whole book just stupid and pointless.  It just turned the Anne/Wentworth story into some ridiculous teenage angst instead of an actual crucible of maturation like it was in the original story.

This just shouldn’t have been a YA story, and I think this is where the obsession with categorizing books by the age of the intended audience has screwed everyone up.  Now adults feel like they can’t writing stories about adults because obviously no teen would ever be interested in a book about adults.  I see adults basically apologizing for reading YA because it’s not “for” them, and other adults saying that only teens should be “allowed” to read YA because otherwise adults are “stealing” those books and fandoms.  It just annoys the heck out of me.  Who cares how old the characters are if the story is good??  The characters should be the age that fits their actions, attitudes, and situations, not the age of the intended target audience.  It’s just absolute nonsense, and For Darkness Shows the Stars definitely emphasized the ridiculousness of forcing fictional characters to be a certain age just so a certain age will read your book.

ANYWAY.  After that I reread Across a Star-Swept Sea.  I gave a pretty detailed review of this Scarlet Pimpernel retelling in my original review (linked above).  I enjoyed this one even more the second time around, because it made so much more sense as a sequel!  Here, the youth of the characters is still somewhat annoying, but also somewhat makes sense, because, let’s be real, smuggling people across enemy lines while pretending to be a complete airhead definitely sounds like something teens would get into.

All in all, I did enjoy both these books and actually would love to read a third book set in this world (although since the second book came out back in 2013, it probably isn’t going to happen).  There were fun scifi/futuristic reads and both (besides the age thing) were actually great riffs on their original stories, stay true to the essence of the tale while still making it something new.  I don’t particularly see myself rereading these again and again, but I did enjoy them this time around. 4/5 for the pair.

The Emily Trilogy // by L.M. Montgomery

  • Emily of New Moon
  • Emily Climbs
  • Emily’s Quest

Please note:  There will definitely be spoilers for these books in this review.

When I first read Anne of Green Gables and its sequels back when I was but a young’un, I read several of Montgomery’s other books as well, but Mom told me not to bother with the Emily books.  “They’re depressing,” she said, which was enough to keep turned off of them because, as those you who have been with me for a while well know, I don’t do depressing in my fictional life!  But recently a group on Litsy read through the Anne books together.  I had just reread them last year, so I didn’t join along, but that group had such a nice time with Anne that they decided to continue through some of Montgomery’s other books, starting with Emily.  And I thought to myself, I’m 38 years old, so maybe it’s time to go ahead and give these a try!  But in the end, while I’m glad I gave them a read, I didn’t really like them very well.  Much as it pains me to do so, this group of books barely rated 3* altogether, and I really had to drag myself through Emily’s Quest.

There are several parallels between Emily and Anne, and the two heroines frequently are compared to each other.  Both are orphaned at a young age, both are spirited and imaginative, both are ambitious and independent.  But while Anne is full of optimism and hope, Emily is pessimistic and always expecting the worst.  And maybe she has a good reason to do so – nothing ever seems to go Emily’s way.  While Anne’s initial situation with Marilla and Matthew seems unlikely to lead to her happiness, both of those characters soften and adjust to Anne’s rambunctious “scrapes,” they’re proud of her intelligence, and they encourage her to pursue her education and ambition.  Emily, on the other hand, is reluctantly taken in by relatives – Aunt Elizabeth, who “rules the roost;” Aunt Laura, who is sympathetic but weak; and Cousin Jimmy, who does all the hard work on the farm, but was accidentally pushed down a well as a child by Elizabeth and injured his head, meaning he’s “childlike”, despite the fact that he never does or says anything that remotely makes him seem like he’s not a competent adult, meaning I spent most of the book being confused about why everyone always refers to him as “slow” and incapable of taking care of himself.  Elizabeth is absolutely a dreadful person throughout the majority of series – she finally softens a VERY SMALL AMOUNT by book three – who never takes even half a second to consider anyone’s perspective but her own.  Time and again she willfully misunderstands and misconstrues Emily, stifling every spark of individuality that she can in a way that was painful to read.  Where Anne is surrounded, for the most part, by adults who love, cherish, and encourage her, Emily is surrounded by adults who tear her down and suppress her at every opportunity.

Part way through the first book Emily makes the acquaintance of a man named Dean.  We’re told that Dean is in his 30s (Emily is only around 12 at the time), but he basically decides that Emily “belongs” to him and there are many hints from him that he plans to marry her as soon as she’s old enough.  They become very good friends, including writing letters while he is traveling other places (where are you now, Aunt Elizabeth?!), and the whole relationship is SUPER SUPER CREEPY.  He’s so possessive and weird, with a lot of his conversations verging on grooming.  It was genuinely disturbing, especially since it wasn’t just Dean – while in the Anne books, all the children tease about “liking” each other, there is nothing serious and no genuine romantic hints until the characters are in their later teens.  But in Emily, even while she’s only 10 or 11, the adults in her life are constantly asking her (very seriously, not joking) about who she is going to marry, and frequently referring to her in physical descriptions that made me honestly somewhat uncomfortable.  (Things like being “well-formed” for her age, or talking about how gracefully she moves, like someone much older than she is, that kind of thing – not overtly sexual, but weird within the context.)

Things were slightly better in book 2 – it was my favorite of the three (which isn’t saying much, but still).  Emily is forbidden to continue her education via Queens, where she could earn a teaching certificate (as Anne & co. did), because “Murray women don’t need to earn a living.”  Throughout book 1, Emily writes constantly and is passionate about becoming a published writer someday.  Through a bit of family bargaining, Emily is allowed to attend high school in a nearby larger town, where she stays with another aunt, who, if anything, is even stupider and less imaginative than Aunt Elizabeth.  Still, there are some fun school shenanigans, and Emily actually gets to have some experiences that match her age.  Throughout, she continues to develop her writing and is still determined to forward herself – but at the end of the story, when she has an opportunity to actually go forth unto the world and really seize that ambition, she turns it down and decides to return to New Moon instead.  This decision made literally no sense to me within the context of Emily’s character, and that was part of my problem with this entire series.  We’re repeatedly told that Emily is ambitious and determined to make a living from her writing, yet she does almost nothing to actually develop her skills, and turns down chances to go out into the wider world and have experiences that would actually help her accomplish her goal.  You all know me, you know that I’m all about staying home and not being crazy, but for Emily herself, Montgomery’s decision to have her turn down this big opportunity just didn’t make any sense to me.

Basically, throughout the entire series, every time something good happens to Emily, there’s some big dose of bitterness to go with it.  She doesn’t have anything happy happen without the other shoe dropping.  Every.  Single.  Time.  And while Anne has an extremely well-developed sense of humor that frequently sees her through her difficult times, Emily spends a LOT of time crying and sighing and writing all about her hurt little feelings, and she really got on my nerves.

Finally, I got to book 3.  (Warning: Spoilery rant ahead, as I actually really disliked this book A LOT.)  Emily is close to 20 now, and living back at New Moon with relatives who still don’t really understand her, but are more willing to let her live her writing life.  She even has some stuff published.  But even though we’ve been told repeatedly that Emily is super ambitious and yearning to “climb the alpine path” to glory, we actually spend ALL of book 3 watching her make bad decisions about men.  A LOT.  Basically, Emily is in love with Teddy and Teddy is in love with Emily, but they literally can’t get their act together and constantly misunderstand and misconstrue each other, then Emily gets in a snit goes all icy so Teddy assumes that she doesn’t really love him after all, then he goes off and does whatever is next in his life while she mopes around New Moon for months and months until he comes back and she’s like, Oh he likes me after all! And then she misunderstands something he says/does so then she goes all icy so Teddy assumes that she doesn’t really love him after all, then he goes off and does whatever is next in his life while she mopes around New Moon for months and months OVER AND OVER AND OVER.  It was SO BORING.  In the middle of all that, she gives up on Teddy and agrees to marry freaking CREEPY DEAN who has still been hanging around over the years and he’s all like “At last!  I knew you belonged to me!” and they make all these wedding plans and buy a house and furnish it and blah blah blah then Emily has a dream and realizes that actually Teddy is the only man for her!  And finally breaks up with Dean but IN THE MEANTIME freaking CREEPY DEAN has convinced Emily that the beautiful book that she poured her soul into was actually garbage and because she TRUSTS HIM she BURNS HER BOOK and then later he confesses that actually it was fantastic, but he was JEALOUS OF HER WRITING so he told it was garbage because he didn’t want her to be successful! ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?  And you would think that AT LEAST this would mean that Emily is FINALLY going to get together with Teddy but NO they have ANOTHER misunderstanding and in the final chapter we’re told that several years go by before they finally figure it out?!?!  While I was 100% convinced that Anne and Gilbert were meant for each other and would have a long and happy marriage, I’m not even sure Teddy and Emily are going to be able to make it 24 hours without needing couples therapy because they freaking CANNOT COMMUNICATE.

In the end, it was hard to read a Montgomery book that I liked so little as I did Emily’s Quest.  The other two books were okay – Emily of New Moon was super depressing and Emily Climbs was boring, but Emily’s Quest was just boring AND depressing, and it felt like Emily got stupider as time went on instead of smarter.  I can see why many people like Emily, who is quieter and more serious than Anne, and who has to work very hard for anything to go her way because she has just unbelievably bad luck and the most unsupportive family imaginable, but I spent most of my time wanting to slap her and tell her to get over herself.  Emily takes herself SO SERIOUSLY and there were so many things that Anne would have laughed off and moved on from, while Emily broods over them for DAYS.

It was worth reading these just to experience this end of Montgomery’s writing spectrum, but I’m so sure that I’ll never reread these that they’re already in the giveaway box.

September Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, reviewing September books in November actually feels not completely unreasonable haha At least we’re in the same season!! September was actually a really slow reading month for me, so it shouldn’t take me too long to get through these!!

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Duke’s Disappearance by Margaret Summerville – 3.5*

Another paperback from my box of eBay Regency romances, this one was actually one of the better ones I’ve read from that pile.  While it didn’t become a new favorite that I wanted to read again and again, the set-up actually felt plausible and the story was a lot of fun.

Fallen by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2021//

Ever since I read the Kate Burkholder series in 2019, I’ve tried to stay on top of reading the new installments as they appear.  Fallen was an overall solid thriller, although there was one point where the bad guys had an opportunity to kill Kate outright and not doing so felt a little unrealistic for the situation lol  I really enjoy this series a lot as Castillo does such a great job with the Amish community in her writing.  I highly recommend reading these in order – I think they would work individually, but reading them as a whole gives us a real picture of Kate as a person.  I have loved seeing her grow and work through various issues in her life.  Also, I’m still in love with Tomasetti haha

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton – 4*

//published 2021//

I literally don’t even know how to review this book.  It’s set in Regency-ish times and there are pirates and flying houses and a homeless pirate and romance and betrayal and tea and rogues and genteel ladies and just absolute insane amount of shenanigans.  There’s a blurb on the front cover that says, “Delightfully bonkers” and I honestly can’t think of a better way to sum this one up.  If you’re looking for something sensible and orderly, give this one a miss.  But if you’re willing to just set aside any hope for logic and plausibility and go along for the ride, this was a pretty fun read.  And the cover!!!

Flint Spears by Will James – 4*

//published 1938//

A while back I read James’s most famous book, Smoky the Cow-Horse, and was surprised at how engaging and readable it was.  The following fall, we were on vacation and stopped at a bookstore in Wall Drug, South Dakota, where I saw a reprint of another of James’s books and decided to add it to my collection.  This one didn’t have much of a plot, but I found myself drawn into the story nonetheless.  James follows the career of a cowboy named Flint Spears who is around when rodeos were first becoming a commercial enterprise.  And… that’s pretty much the whole story.  If you think about someone’s life, it doesn’t exactly have a plot, it’s just you going around doing your everyday thing and hoping for the best, and that’s pretty much what happens here.  I really liked Flint a lot and learning about the origins of the rodeo and seeing how different aspects of it developed was really interesting, but there wasn’t a big finale or anything like that.  James also decided to kill off a character I really liked and it honestly broke me up a lot.  I loved James’s illustrations (he drew them himself), and despite this story just being kind of meandery and not really going anywhere, I would definitely read another of his books.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling – 5*

September saw the conclusion of my reread of the Harry Potter series.  I still really love how everything comes together in the end, and still think Snape was a terrible person despite some redeeming qualities.  Sorry, a teacher who verbally and emotionally abuses students every chance he gets isn’t a good person, period.  I was struck this time, probably because I was reading it a chapter-a-day instead of as fast as I could, how much of the book not much is actually happening, the trio are just wandering around trying to figure out what they should do.  It was an interesting way to write the book, and I feel like an honest way, if that makes sense.  Sometimes you don’t know what to do, and you just go along and hope for a breakthrough.  On the whole, this series definitely has its weaknesses, but I still enjoy it nonetheless.