July Minireviews // Part 1

Okay, July!! Woohoo!!

Also!  I happened to be on my phone the other day and looked at something on my blog and realized that the mobile version has decided to completely ignore my paragraph breaks!  I don’t really know how to fix that – maybe I should go back to the old-school method of inserting the paragraph symbol whenever a new one is started?? ¶  So apologies to anyone who may attempt to read these posts on mobile as apparently WordPress is determined to make me look a bit ridiculous, probably because I insist on using the Classic Editor instead of the horrific Block Editor that I genuinely hate.  Lack of paragraph breaks is a small price to pay to avoid that atrocity!

Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier – 3.5*

//published 1956//

Apparently this one was also published as The Silver Sword.  Set in Warsaw during WWII, the story follows a family whose parents are arrested by the Nazis, leaving the children alone and homeless.  Their father manages to escape the prison camp, but doesn’t know how to find the children.  Meanwhile, the children decide to try and make it to Switzerland to their mother’s family and begin a cross-country journey.  Along the way they pick up another orphan who has been living on the streets even longer than they have, mostly by stealing stuff.  He’s quite obnoxious and drove me crazy for the entire book.  This wasn’t a bad story, but was a bit disjointed.  An author’s note explained that although he made up this story, he based their adventures on various true stories, which could account for the way this book felt like it was kind of pulling together bits and bobbles that didn’t always go together.  I think this also greatly increased the “we need a coincidence to move this along” factor.  It wasn’t at all a bad book, and I can see the middle grade audience for which it’s intended getting very caught up in the drama and excitement, but this one did go into the giveaway box when I was done reading it.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson – 4*

//published 2015//

I’ve been working my way through Swanson’s backlog of books, and I feel like this is the one that always comes the most highly recommended.  While it was a good, pacey thriller, I didn’t absolutely love it.  Swanson has an amazing knack for being able to keep me 100% engaged in a book to the point that I really don’t notice all the niggling coincidences and inconsistencies and completely lack of character development until I’m done!  So he gets great kudos for keeping me in the moment, but maybe not so much for actual writing lol  I also get a little exasperated that he seems to think that sex is the ONLY motivation for 100% of men and 98% of women.  Like no one does anything unless the angle involves sex in some way, and that gets old to me.  But still – his pacing is impeccable.  It’s rare for me to start one of his books and not finish it within 24 hours!

Harbor Lights by Sherryl Woods – 3*

//published 2009//

Another mediocre installment to the Chesapeake Shores series.  Woods has a great habit of writing a book that I’m totally fine with it until she gets to the final drama and then I just want to bonk everyone’s heads together.  Just.  Why.  In this one, Kevin is a widower with a young son (I think… maybe it was a daughter, I can’t remember, this was back in July haha) and he meets the new girl in town, Shanna, who is opening a bookstore.  Kevin spends literally the entire book (because he has ZERO character growth) saying things like, “I really like Shanna but I want to take it slow” which honestly makes sense given his relationship history.  Consequently, while I generally enjoy books with large, boisterous, slightly-obnoxious families, the O’Brians really got on my nerves here as they just were constantly trying to force Kevin to up his relationship with Shanna, to the point that I was starting to cringe every time they all got together.  There was one particularly dreadful scene where Kevin’s in-laws (parents of his deceased wife) are there to visit their grandson, and while at supper with the whole family, Kevin’s sisters start teasing him about Shanna, despite the fact that it’s obviously making the in-laws, who are still, you know, mourning the death of their daughter, seriously uncomfortable.  It was terrible!  This isn’t that much of a spoiler, because these books are designed to have the HEA, but even the proposal at the end made NO sense.  Kevin literally says something like, “I still really think we need to take this relationship slowly because I’m not sure of myself” and Shanna is like, “Look, I need some actual commitment from you if you want to keep going” (which I honestly also thought was fair) and Kevin IN THE SAME CONVERSATION where he has JUST SAID that he IS NOT READY to progress this relationship PULLS AN ENGAGEMENT RING OUT OF HIS POCKET and says, “oh wow you’re right, we should go ahead and get married, I am 100% on board with this”  WHAT??!?!?!!  I couldn’t deal.

Summer Days and Summer Nights by various authors – 3*

//published 2016//

I got this collection of short stories from Book Outlet for a dollar or two, but didn’t pay very close attention and thus didn’t realize that they were actually all YA stories.  Whew boy, there were some doozies in here.  And maybe it was just me, I actually didn’t realize it but I was getting sick the two days I was reading this book (maybe this book got me sick?  Could be), but none of these stories hit right for me.  They were pretty much just girl meets boy, they argue, they fall in love, now they’re together forever!  I read these kinds of collections in hopes that a new author will tickle my fancy, but while most of these were okay, none of them really wowed me.

A Chesapeake Shores Christmas by Sherryl Woods – 3.5*

//published 2010//

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I went ahead and picked up the next Chesapeake Shores book even though Kevin had driven me batty in the previous book.  The background story of this entire series is that the parents, Mick and Megan, got divorced back in the day, but now that all the kids are grown, Mick wants to try their relationship again.  It’s actually handled pretty well, with all of the now-adult children coming to grips with their parents having their own reasons for why the relationship didn’t work, and neither Mick nor Megan completely blaming the other for the failure of their marriage, and both of them admitting that they screwed up with how they handled it.  But for the last couple of books they have slowly been trying to rebuild something between them, and this book focuses on the two of them.

Here’s my problem with all of the books by this author that I’ve read so far.  She introduces a legitimate concern between the two potential lovers.  The characters discuss it and try to work through things throughout the story.  Then, in the end, they’re just like, “yay, we’re in love, everything is good!” WITHOUT ACTUALLY FIXING THE PROBLEM.   Like I get that I’m supposed to get a HEA here, that’s the whole point of reading this, but why introduce a problem that you aren’t going to solve??  It leaves me feeling like these characters aren’t actually going to have a successful relationship long-term.  And that was the case here – I actually really like Mick and Megan together and feel like they have made some great progress over the course of the first three books, but there is this whole thing with Megan’s art gallery that is a huge part of what they are trying to work out, and in the end it’s just kind of glossed over like of course everything is going to fall into place, despite the fact that it has NOT fallen into place during ANY conversation so far!  It’s what keeps making these books a soft pick for me.  Why do I keep reading the next one???  I can’t even explain it LOL

Rearview Mirror // June 2022

Hey friends!  It’s November, so that seems like a great time to talk about June!  :-D

Favorite June Read

I actually read a lot of books I really enjoyed in June, so it’s a toss-up.  I think the leading edge probably goes to Book Loversthough.  It was fun and the banter was fantastic.

Most Disappointing June Read

Probably By Your Side.  I’ve enjoyed several of West’s other books but this one just got on my nerves for some reason.

Other June Reads

June Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  25
  • Total Pages Read:  8945
  • Average Star Rating for June:  3.71
  • Longest Book: Gone With the Wind (959 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  The Randolphs (149 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (published 1848)
  • Newest Book: Book Lovers, Something Wilder, The Sweet Life, and The League of Gentlewomen Witches (all published 2022)
  • Top Genre: Romance (8 books)
  • Top Format: Paperback (14 books)
  • Top Source: Library (8 books)

June Challenge Updates

  • New states visited: Georgia, North Carolina, and Utah!
  • Chunksters read (800+pgs): 1
  • Almost-a-chunksters read (450-799pgs): 1
  • Classics read: 4
  • Nonfiction read: 3

TBR Update

This is current as of today, not the end of June!!

  • Standalones:  470 (down ten!)
  • Nonfiction:  131 (up one)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  604 (down seventeen!!! AND I have past the halfway mark – I have more in the “read” column than in the “unread” column!  Because yes, I do own over 1200 books LOL)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  250 (holding steady)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 111 (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.): 168 (holding steady)

Current Reads

Right now I am reading –

  • Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon – an interesting read, definitely more biographical and less story than I was expecting, but still engaging.  This is a chapter-a-day read for me.
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker – I started this one with the #DraculaDaily craziness and even though I’m a bit behind, I am swiftly closing in on the conclusion of this classic.
  • The Blythes are Quoted by L.M. Montgomery – This is our #KindredSpiritsBuddyRead for November and one that I have somehow never read.  It was published posthumously in the early 2000s and is a collection of poetry and short stories.
  • Honest Illusions by Nora Roberts – My current “main” read.

Last Time on “Up Next”

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

  • The Hidden One by Linda Castillo – Yes! Another solid entry for the Kate Burkholder series, which I love.
  • The It Girl by Ruth Ware -Yes!  Enjoyable but forgettable.
  • His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik – Yes!  This one was rather slow in spots but still interesting enough that I’m planning to read the next in the series.
  • Moonlight Cove by Sherryl Woods – Yes! But overall this series just isn’t doing much for me.  I’m undecided whether or not I’m going to continue on.
  • Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron – Nope – but I tried.  As I suspected, a fictional story wherein a real-life person is the main character just didn’t click for me.

Up Next

The probable next five(ish) reads –

So for November I’m trying to finish/progress a few series that I’m in the middle of, plus I have a couple of traveling book club books to get through.  I’m mostly busy planning my December TBR of absolute Christmas FLUFF.  SO EXCITED.  But before then I’m hoping to read –

  • Full Moon by P.G. Wodehouse – The four of us who created a “happy books” traveling book club group enjoyed it so much that we’re doing another round.  I contributed a Wodehouse last time as well, because I believe he is the ultimate in happy stories!! This one is a Blandings Castle tale – love it!!
  • Treason of Thorns by Laura Weymouth – At the last minute I spontaneously joined a second traveling book club group, this one focused on fantasy.  Probably going to be a mixed bag.  I have this one unread on my shelf, so I decided to give it a go.
  • The Fallen Man by Tony Hillerman – If I’m really lucky, I’ll even read more than one Leaphorn and Chee book!!
  • Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik – I’d really love to read the next book or two in this series as well.
  • Greywaren by Maggie Stiefvater – Although I have a lot of mixed feelings about the Dreamer Trilogy I’m still intrigued to find out how everything comes together in the end.

So that’s (finally) a wrap for JUNE!  Will I finish reviewing July books before the end of November??  Only time will tell!! Thanks for sticking with me!!

June Minireviews – Part 3!!

Lies by T.M. Logan – 4*

//published 2017//

A few mixed feelings about this one, but overall an engaging thriller.  I really liked Joe, but also got annoyed with him sometimes because he always seemed to make the choice that would make him look like the bad guy, sometimes unnecessarily.  Also… while I kind of agreed that the final twist made sense, what didn’t make sense was why they had to blame Joe.  So this was a fun one to read, but not one that I absolutely loved.

The Copenhagen Connection by Elizabeth Peters – 3.5*

//published 1982// Also thank you library for literally covering up the title, great idea //

Did this book actually make sense?  No.  Was it held together by improbable coincidences and a good dose of instalove?  Yes.  Did I have a fabulous time reading it?  Also yes.  This was classic Peters, full of wry humor, historical facts, and a good dose of ridiculousness.  I wrote down that this was a “romp of a book” which really sums it up quite well.  There’s a lot of dashing about hither and thither and a lot of tongue-in-cheek mockery of tropes, and I still completely enjoyed it.

Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman – 4*

//published 1993//

Although my journey through the Leaphorn and Chee mysteries is slow, I am really enjoying them.  I think these two men make such a great contrast in both their personal beliefs (Chee is strongly traditional and believes in the importance of following the Navajo religion while Leaphorn is definitely a skeptic) and their detecting methods (Leaphorn is methodical and good at spotting patterns and inconsistencies while Chee tends to follow his gut), which helps keep the different strands of the mystery engaging.  I feel like Hillerman handles the religions and cultural aspects of the Navajo in a sensitive manner.  I especially loved this quote from Chee when he is explaining to someone what the Navajo belief of hozho means to him – “This business of hozho … I’ll use an example.  Terrible drought, crops dead, sheep dying.  Spring dried out.  No water.  The Hopi, or the Christian, or maybe the Moslem, they pray for rain.  The Navajo has the proper ceremony done to restore himself to harmony with the drought.”  I actually love Chee’s view on harmony and being at peace with where you are in life (a perspective that I do not think conflicts with my personal belief in Christianity) and enjoy the way that this is woven into the stories.  However, I did get a bit over Chee’s constant mooning over what to do with Janet.  SHE ISN’T RIGHT FOR YOU, BUDDY.  MOVE ON.

My only concern with these books is that Leaphorn is already getting old and this is only book 11/25??

The Fall of the Ottomans by Eugene Rogan – 4*

//published 2015//

This was overall an informative and thorough look at the Middle Eastern theater during WWI.  I didn’t really know anything about this topic going into the book, and while I didn’t walk away with a bunch of dates and names memorized, I did feel like I got a good overview of what happened there, and it was definitely interesting to see the stage being set for conflicts that are still occurring a hundred years later.  This book was D R Y as dust and somewhat difficult to read, so I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but if it’s a topic that interests you then this one is worth picking up.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – 3.5*

//published 1999//

Even though I had read this one ten or so years ago, I really couldn’t remember anything about it.  When someone gifted me a copy, I decided to reread it.  It’s an engaging enough story, but somehow just doesn’t resonate with me.  It’s very fairy-tale-esq in style, and while I liked the concept, I couldn’t connect with the characters.  An enjoyable one-off but one that moved on to the giveaway box once I was finished reading it.

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

//published 2021//

I read this book last fall and just thoroughly enjoyed it, so when the sequel came out I decided to reread this one to remind myself of who all the characters are.  I enjoyed it just as much, or maybe even more, this time around, since I was somewhat more prepared for flying houses!  I still think the phrase “delightfully bonkers” sums this one up perfectly.  It’s madcap and ridiculous and just so much fun.

The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton – 3.5*

//published 2022//

Which brings us to the slight-disappointing sequel.  This one fell into the “trying a little too hard” category.  It reminded me of that scene in Groundhog Day where Phil and Rita build the snowman and it’s so magical, but then when he tries to recapture that in the future iterations of the day, it just feels awkward. A lot of the jokes and innuendo in this one felt forced and clunky.  There is a LOT more sex in this one, which made me uncomfortable just because of the way it fit into the story/made zero sense for the time period it is supposedly set.  And while the difference between the pirates and witches made sense (back in the day, two groups interpreted the whole “flying house” magic thing differently), it made ZERO sense to me that the witches are being hunted and are illegal… like why is this police officer obsessed with witch hunting when there are literally pirates FLYING HOUSES over his head???  I honestly had a lot of trouble getting past this break in internal logic as it’s never explained why everyone is exasperated with but ultimately cool with pirates, but the witches, who do the exact same thing, are evil and must be hunted to extinction!!  This also made all the coy little “IF witches existed!” jokes feel a little weird.  Like I think all the flying houses may prove that witches exist????

Still!  It was a fun read and parts of it were funny.  It took me a lot longer to warm up to this female MC than it did the one in the first book, but I absolutely loved the male MC, who was a carry-over character from book one. There is a third book to the series coming out next year and I will for sure read it, but am hoping that it finds the rhythm of the first book.

By Your Side by Kasie West – 3*

//published 2017//

I usually really enjoy West’s books, and I generally do enjoy YA, but this was definitely YA that made me feel my age.  First off, Autumn, who I actually liked just fine on the whole, gets trapped in a library.  And what is her first concern??  Her first concern is that she’s going to be BORED.  IN A LIBRARY.  SURROUNDED BY BOOKS.  In fact, she goes on to spend most of the time she is trapped in the library WATCHING TV IN THE BREAK ROOM.  What.  Even.  What a waste!  So I was annoyed by this one from the get-go haha  I was also a little perplexed because I really do think public buildings are set so that you can always exit them, so it doesn’t seem like it should have been possible for her to be actually trapped – perhaps unable to exit without setting off an alarm, but not genuinely trapped.

There was a lot of bonus drama that just didn’t feel necessary in this one.  I actually liked Dax and felt like he and Autumn were a good pair, but there was all this stuff with the other guy Autumn had a crush on and his best friend being a complete jerk for literally no reason and it got kind of old for me.  Autumn suffers from anxiety and doesn’t always feel comfortable going to parties and other activities.  While I appreciated the message of you do what is right for you instead of what you feel pressured to do, I didn’t care for the concept that Autumn HAD to explain her anxiety in order to get a pass.  Everyone talks about normalizing stuff, well let’s normalize just saying “no thank you” and then not showing up at something and not having people demand an explanation.

In the end, this was an okay read.  I didn’t hate it, but I did find myself annoyed by it pretty frequently.  And I’m still not over how much Autumn whined about being bored when she was locked in the library.

Jane Austen at Home // by Lucy Worsley

//published 2017//

The PemberLittens group on Litsy is still working its way through various nonfiction books about Austen, all of Austen’s written works, variations on Austen tales, and other classic novels by women from her era(ish), and in May and June we read this biography by Worsley.  I did on the whole enjoy it and learned a lot of things about Austen and her life.  I loved the way that Worsley focused on the concept of home and what that meant at the time, especially for women, and broke up Austen’s life into segments based on her home at the time, and how moving from various places to others would have impacted her and her family.

I did find a lot of Worsley’s personal opinions/interpretations to be rather sweeping.  Worsley from the outset has already decided that Jane (a) found the idea of being married to be repugnant, (b) hated anything to do with housekeeping/domestic life, (c) hated the fact that women were “forced” into said housekeeping/domestic life, and (d) was always sarcastic, which means Worsley can interpret any of Jane’s letters as meaning the opposite of what they say, because “she’s obviously being sarcastic.”

For example, at a time when Jane has been left in charge of the household, Worsley quotes a letter Jane wrote to her sister (this quote starts with Worsley’s commentary and goes into Jane’s letter):

Of course [Jane] hides her efforts behind teasing: ‘Our dinner was very good yesterday, & the Chicken boiled perfectly tender, therefore I shall not be obliged to dismiss Nanny on that account.’ The message is that this was trivial, that it wasn’t her role; that she shouldn’t have to be doing it. She would rather be writing.

I’m sorry, what??  How in the world do you take this sentence and turn it into “overseeing dinner is so trivial that I shouldn’t have to do it and would rather be writing”?!?!  Perhaps there is more to this letter that Worsley hasn’t bothered to share with us, but based on that one sentence alone, it seems to me to be a huge amount of extrapolating.

Worsley is also quite convinced that Jane hated the idea of marriage and thought it was horrid that her friends were “wasting” their lives by getting married.  To support that theory, Worsley gave examples like this one, about the occasion of Jane’s friend Catherine being married:

A fear of friendship diminished, and freedom curtailed, meant that when Jane’s friends ceased to be single, her response was often open regret.  Catherine Bigg would soon marry herself, an occasion that Jane would mark with a gift of home-hemmed handkerchiefs, and a poem about weeping.  Jane wished that the handkerchiefs ‘may last for years, Slight be her Colds & few her Tears’, before realising that these funereal lines were not quiet appropriate for what was meant to be a happy occasion.  ‘Have no Tears to wipe, but Tears of joy!’ was her tactful redrafting of her verse.

Once again… I’m actually not sure a poem wishing you good health and few tears during your marriage would be something I classified as “inappropriately funereal” and thus an example of how “obviously” Jane thought getting married was such a tragedy.

Despite these types of annoyances, I still gave this book a 4* rating overall.  There is a lot of good and interesting information, especially when Worsley sticks with actual facts and out of the realm of interpretation.  I did overall enjoy this one and recommend it to anyone looking for an overview of Austen’s life as there is a lot of good information and also plenty of sources listed for learning more.

Dangerous Beauty // by Melissa Koslin

We all know I’m a sucker for the marriage of convenience trope, so I requested this book from Revell’s reviewer program in hopes that it would be an engaging read.  Unfortunately, this one just didn’t really work for me.  I didn’t buy the chemistry between the main characters, the marriage scenario felt rather weak, and for a story about human trafficking, I found myself somewhat disengaged.  I did like the Lillian as a character, and the concept, but on the whole this one just ended up falling flat.

We meet Liliana when she is fleeing from traffickers.  She’s escaped their custody and runs into a gas station.  When they close in on her, she’s rescued by a random stranger, Meric.  During the ensuing interview with police, etc., Meric offers to marry Liliana so that she won’t have to worry about getting deported back to Mexico.  And she just says yes??  And everyone goes along with it??  Marriage of convenience really only works if the scenario surrounding it makes sense, and two absolute strangers deciding to get married within 15 minutes of meeting each other just didn’t work for me.

Throughout the story, we rarely hear anything from Meric’s perspective, and the story really suffers because of that lack.  Koslin uses almost entirely negative words to describe him, like cold, hard, barely controlled rage, emotionless, abrupt, etc.  He’s constantly brushing off Liliana and leaving her alone.  She’s supposedly in constant danger, but he encourages her to go out and go shopping.  She tells him repeatedly that she hates being kept in the dark and needs information to feel safe, but he’s always withholding information and telling her it’s because “she needs to heal,” even after she straight-up says that, for her, the way to healing is understanding what is going on.

Of course, in the end, we find out Meric has been in love with her all along but didn’t want her to feel pressured so that’s why he couldn’t bear to spend time around her yadda yadda but since we never hear anything from his perspective, he just comes across as a real jerk, and it honestly made zero sense to me why Liliana even liked him, despite her CONSTANTLY talking about how kind he is and how she sees “behind the coldness in his eyes” and that kind of nonsense.  This made the emotional pacing the of the story feel uneven and disjointed, and left me never really rooting for them as a couple because I honestly never actually liked Meric.

I also didn’t like the way Liliana says repeatedly (to herself) that she views herself as “damaged” and “impure” because of her experiences with the traffickers.  Then at one point she just suddenly goes, “Oh no wait actually that’s not true!” and then it’s never mentioned again.  For as much as she referred to it negatively, it would have been extremely positive to have this epiphany actually be more involved.  And since Liliana is presented as someone who, if not a Christian, at least a believer in God/that He has a plan for her life, and since Revell is a Christian publisher, it was a pretty amazing opportunity to talk about how Liliana (and everyone) is valued by God no matter what happens to us.

Meric and Liliana have both gone through major trauma, yet in the end apparently their love for each other is all they need to “heal” and go forward.  I found it somewhat hard to believe that Liliana was really so quickly past a lot of what had happened to her.  Meric also finds out this huge thing about his past right at the end of the book and is basically just like, “Oh.  Well, at least I have love!”  It just didn’t feel realistic.

I hate to spend most of a review bashing a book.  I did feel like this incredibly complicated topic of human trafficking was handled really well and presented in a realistic yet not horrifically graphic way, which made it feel more approachable.  I would have loved it if this book had included some kind of information about a ministry or organization that is working against human trafficking that I could look up for more information on what I could personally do to help, just a little “here’s a place to start” kind of thing.

This book has over a 4* average rating on GR, so I’m definitely in the minority on this one, so if the synopsis sounds intriguing to you, I would still check it out.  I really loved Liliana, who is an incredibly strong and brave character and who doesn’t just roll over and give up, despite everything she has been through.

NB: This book was given to me for free from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

June Minireviews // Part 2

On to the next batch of June!!!

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.

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl – 4*

//published 1950//

This nonfiction account was a bit of a mixed bag for me.  On the one hand – fascinating!  On the other hand… Heyerdahl just isn’t the most compelling writer, so even some of their more exciting adventures felt a little flat.

In the 40s, the author, who was living on a Polynesian island at the time, theorized that instead of those islands being originally populated from Asia, the could have come from South America. He based his theory on many oral traditions and stories of the native people he had met, who had a lot of stories of gods and ancestors coming from the east. Determined to prove that it was at least a possibility, he and five others built a raft out of balsa logs, using only materials that would have been available at the time, and actually did sail from Peru to a Polynesian island just east of Tahiti – 4300 nautical miles in 101 days. They were mostly carried by trade winds and the Humboldt Current.  Since this book was published, this theory has fallen out of favor, because genetic testing has shown that “most“ of the native people of Polynesia did have ancestors from Asia. However, even the article I read that was incredibly dismissive of Heyerdahl, both as a person and of his theory, admitted that genetic testing had also shown that that some people were descended from South Americans as well. I’m a little confused as to why it can’t be both, but I’m just a layman haha  Heyerdahl definitely proved that it COULD have been done, and I was honestly just so intrigued by things like water storage, food provisions, surviving storms, etc.  It was so interesting!

This book was published in 1950 so there are a few things that jar with modern sensibilities, but for the most part Heyerdahl has a great respect for the native peoples both in Peru and the Polynesian islands. As a story, this is great fun, even if the author does tend to somehow make even very exciting moments a little dry.  It’s also obvious that Heyerdahl has already decided that his theory is the correct one, so his material is presented in a somewhat prejudiced manner, but on the other hand… he did it!

Something Wilder by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2022//

Do you ever read a book expecting one thing and then it just goes completely off the track, and even though it’s not a bad story, it’s just kind of like… the heck just happened??  That’s how I felt with this one.  I read it expecting a little second-chance romcom, and I … kind of got it??  About 100 pages in this book was just like, “Now for something completely different!” and I wasn’t exactly here for it.  I think if this plot twist had been hinted at a bit in the synopsis I may have been more on board.  It was supposed to be a little silly and fun, but it honestly just felt kind of ridiculous and unbelievable to me instead.  Not the worst book I’ve read this year, but definitely one of the odd ones.

National Velvet by Enid Bagnold – 3*

//published 1935//

Speaking of odd…  it’s honestly surprising to me that I never read National Velvet growing up, as I was a total horse-book girl, but somehow I never did.  I finally got around to it in June and it was… strange??  Mostly because it wasn’t actually a horse book!  It’s more of a slice-of-life kind of story in which horses are peripherally involved.   Basically all of The Pie’s training, and even most of the big race, happened off-page. We rarely see Velvet’s thoughts and I honestly never understood why she was so passionate about racing The Pie because we only saw incredibly rare glimpses of her interacting with him on-page. This was a fun story as a not-horse book – I fell in love with the entire Brown family, and some of Bagnold’s wry observations made me smile. I loved the complete and utter lack of romance between Velvet and Mi, and the utter randomness of Donald’s wild stories. But for all that, it’s still just a soft pick for me – not one I see myself rereading. The actual story was odd and disjointed and frequently felt like it was going nowhere. We spent significantly more time on the aftermath of the race than the race itself. I felt completely ripped off that the race wasn’t from Velvet’s perspective! There’s an entire side story involving an entire pile of other horses that felt odd and unnecessary and also didn’t really go anywhere. So, on the whole, a perfectly fine story, but one that I wouldn’t particularly label as a genuine Horse Story, despite the presence of multiple horses, and not one that I see myself rereading time and again.

The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

I feel like I should just summarize this entire series with “it was fine” because that’s pretty much how I felt when I finished each of these books.  I didn’t dislike them but also found them really unmemorable.  I never finished one feeling compelled to grab the next.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte – 4*

//published 1848//

After suffering through Wuthering Heights, I was a bit sad when the PemberLittens decided to read another Bronte.  I had never even really heard of this one before, but decided to give it a go nonetheless, and I actually enjoyed it WAY more than WH, although that’s not honestly saying much!  Another review I read said, “I respected this novel more than I enjoyed it” and I have to echo that sentiment. This was really a bold story for its time and I found Helen to be a remarkable heroine, absolutely hardcore devoted to her religion and her morals, refusing to ever take the easy way out if it meant compromising her beliefs. The entire story is such a call-out for so many things that were (and in many cases, still are) socially acceptable but objectively wrong, and Anne, through Helen’s voice, isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade and rake everyone over the coals.

That said, I didn’t really have a great time reading this book. It’s kind of a downer, Helen can definitely get preachy, and Gilbert made me roll my eyes CONSTANTLY. The ending especially went on too long.  I especially couldn’t get over Gil whining about how Helen “left him” when he thought she was getting married – like dude, you haven’t reached out to her in over a year?? Seems a little ridiculous to blame her if she DID find someone else who, you know, actually talked to her?! 

Part of the reason I didn’t really love this one may have been because there wasn’t a single likable guy in the entire story. Gilbert is spoiled, sensitive, prideful, and whiny. Helen’s brother is smug and self-satisfied. They’re supposedly the best out of the bunch, and, in fairness, the male characters do all go downhill from there. Anne keeps this story from going into a full-on screed against the entire male half of the population, but barely. And in fairness, considering women were virtually property and unable to make any independent decisions about their own lives, an anti-man screed may have been warranted at some level lol

All in all, this is definitely a worthwhile read, and I found the story and characters significantly more engaging and relatable than those in Wuthering Heights. But despite my 4-star rating, this isn’t a book I see myself reading again.

Gone With the Wind // by Margaret Mitchell

Wow, I was doing SO well on catching up on reviews, but then apple season hit and I have been absolutely slammed!!!  But I’m feeling like trying to catch up a bit again, so here’s a review I partially wrote in August (lol) and decided to finish up this morning.  I may even go write a few minireviews after this to be published tomorrow!!!

//published 1936//

Despite finishing this back in June, I still don’t even know how to organize my thoughts on this crazy story.  I had a complete love/hate relationship with this book – mostly hate, if I’m honest, but the writing was strong and compelling, and even though I genuinely couldn’t stand Scarlett (when has a heroine ever been so self-absorbed or self-sabotaging??) I also did want to finish this book and find out what happened to everyone.  I went in mostly blind, having never even watched the movie, so many aspects of the story were a complete surprise to me.

In the end, I found this book worthwhile and valuable for the look it gave at a perspective now almost completely ignored – the view from the losers.  What was done in the South during and after the Civil War was absolutely reprehensible, and it was a good for me to read this and be reminded of exactly what our government is capable of doing to its own citizens “for their own good,” including putting them under martial law, seizing all their assets, refusing to allow them to work unless they subscribe to a specific set of beliefs, imprisoning them for saying the wrong thing, raising taxes to force people out of their homes and/or starve them into submission, etc.

It was also interesting to see the perspective of the slaveowners who believed that they were actually doing good things for the people they were enslaving.  Obviously, I’m not agreeing with that position, but many people at the time believed that black people were incapable of caring for themselves.  I thought the later portions of the books, where various northerners are now living in Georgia, handing out judgment, quite fascinating as it’s revealed how little respect they had for the former slaves, despite claiming that that was what the war was all about.  At one point, Scarlet is driving through town with one of her former slaves who has stayed with the family even after the war and pauses to talk with a few northern acquaintances.  During the conversation, that woman says she is having trouble finding someone to help with her children. Scarlett says it shouldn’t be that hard to find a former slave to take the position –

“Do you think I’d trust my babies to a black nigger?” cried the Maine woman.  “I want a good Irish girl.”

“I’m afraid you’ll find no Irish servants in Atlanta,” answered Scarlett, coolness in her voice [considering she’s Irish lol].  “Personally, I’ve never seen a white servant and I shouldn’t care to have one in my house.  And,” she could not keep a slight note of sarcasm from her words, “I assure you that darkies aren’t cannibals and are quite trustworthy.”

“Goodness, no!  I wouldn’t have one in my house!  The idea!”

“I wouldn’t trust them any farther than I could see them and as for letting them handle my babies…!”

Scarlett thought of the kind, gnarled hands of Mammy worn rough in Ellen’s service and hers and Wade’s.  What did these strangers know of black hands, how dear and comforting they could be, how unerringly they knew how to soothe, to pat, to fondle?  She laughed shortly.

“It’s strange you should feel that way when it was you all who freed them.”

“Lor’!  Not I, dearie,” laughed the Maine woman.  “I never saw a nigger till I came South last month and I don’t care if I never see another.  They give me the creeps.  I wouldn’t trust one of them – ”

For some moments Scarlett had been conscious that Uncle Peter [former slave] was breathing hard and sitting up very straight as he stared steadily at the horse’s ears.  Her attention was called to him more forcibly when the Maine woman broke off suddenly with a laugh and pointed him out to her companions.

“Look at that old nigger swell up like a toad,” she giggled.  “I’ll bet he’s an old pet of yours, isn’t he?  You Southerners don’t know how to treat niggers.  You spoil them to death.”

Peter sucked in his breath and his wrinkled brow showed deep furrows but he kept his eyes straight ahead.  He had never had the term “nigger” applied to him by a white person in all his life.  By other negroes, yes.  But never by a white person.  And to be called untrustworthy and an “old pet,” he, Peter, who had been the dignified mainstay of the Hamilton family for years!

Scarlett felt, rather than saw, the black chin begin to shake with hurt pride, and a killing rage swept over her.

I’ve quoted this rather lengthy passage because I think it illustrates so well the complete conflict of ideas and ideals that were going on at the time.  While obviously the Southerners underestimated the actual humanity of the slaves they owned, at the same time there was still a type of respect and an understanding of the responsibilities that they, the slave-owners, had towards their slaves.  The North didn’t ride in as an amazing hero – they literally needed more manpower and freeing the slaves was a great way to make it happen.  Yes, slavery was one of the core aspects of the conflict, but it was not the only one by any means, and the attitudes concerning the humanity, intelligence, and potential of black people was just as incorrect in the North as it was in the South.

In the end, I would absolutely never read this book again, but I’m glad to have read it once.  I’m from Lancaster, Ohio, birthplace of General William T. Sherman, so I’ve grown up in a community that takes some pride in the part it played in the Civil War.  It was good to be reminded that every story has more than one side, and that the looting and pillaging that took place during the war was reprehensible, as was the treatment of the Southerners after the war ended.  My biggest takeaway from this book was honestly that the government can and will do whatever it takes to keep you in line, even if that means revoking your constitutional rights.

The Civil War was a huge and complicated conflict that can never been simplified to one issue.  Repercussions are still felt 150 years later.  I absolutely hated Scarlett and spent most of this book wanting to strangle her, yet still found her story to be strangely compelling and a worthwhile read.

June Minireviews // Part 1

Woohoo!! June reviews!!

NB: All links in this post go to my personal reviews of the books mentioned.

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.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This one was a traveling book club book that I was intrigued to read because Kristoff is the coauthor of the Aurora Cycle, which I loved.  While I found this one to be really interesting with some creative world-building, it was ultimately a bit too dark for my personal tastes, so even though it’s the first book in a series, I didn’t particularly feel engaged enough to read the next book.  Part 1 was really slow – if I hadn’t been reading this with the group, I would have DNFd.  Kristoff uses copious footnotes to explain various things, so loads of small print and a lot of infodumping.  The pace definitely picked up as the book progressed, though, and I could barely put it down during the final section.  There were some interesting characters and some terrifying creatures (sand krakens! Brilliant!) but while I did enjoy this one, the series just wasn’t for me.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry – 4*

//published 2022//

I really enjoyed Henry’s book Beach Read, but felt quite meh about People We Meet on Vacation (still not over how annoying the main character of that one was), so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Book Lovers.  However, even though it wasn’t my new most favoritest read ever, I did really enjoy this one and snorted with laughter on multiple occasions.  I feel like I have to add the caveat that literally I don’t understand city people, or people who think cities are amazing, or people who want to hang out in cities for more than like, an hour, much less live in them.  These people literally make zero sense to me – just… why???  So I did have trouble getting over the way Nora just literally LOVES the city and LOVES living in the city and can’t imagine anything else.  What a weirdo haha But I could appreciate her genuine love for her home nonetheless.

What I absolutely loved were the upside-down tropes – they were just written so perfectly, Nora’s self-awareness of them made everything work, and it was fantastic.  The snark between Nora and Charlie is perfect.  Out of all the romances I’ve read this year, they may be the couple I shipped the hardest.  I just really did genuinely feel that they brought out the best in each other, and that they could see each other’s real selves and appreciated each other for who they truly were.  (Wow, my tenses got really tangled up there, but you all know what I mean haha)  I could have done without the steamy scenes because that isn’t my thing, but I definitely didn’t feel like that was the only thing these two had going.

My biggest complaint about this book is the tension between Nora and her sister.  The whole reason Nora is spending her vacation in a small town is because her sister wants them to hang out together.  It’s obvious that Libby has something big on her mind, but we spend the entire book not knowing what it is.  Is Libby’s husband cheating on her?  Is Libby unhappy with the way her life is going?  Is she mad at Nora about something?  Does she have cancer?  Not knowing what was going on with her actually drove me somewhat crazy and detracted from my overall enjoyment because it low-key stressed me out for the entire book.  This is a book I would enjoy more the second time around, already knowing what’s going on with Libby.

Magic for Marigold by L.M. Montgomery – 4*

//published 1929//

This was June’s book for Kindred Spirits group on Litsy, and was another Montgomery that I hadn’t read in absolute years.  My reread reminded me why – this is a perfectly pleasant book, but for some reason it just doesn’t stand out to me.  Part of it is because it’s very episodic in nature – it reminds me a lot of my least favorite Anne book, Rainbow Valley, where each chapter is just sort of its own little stand-alone adventure.  They aren’t bad, it just never really felt like there was an overarching story driving the book.  The only real common theme is Marigold wishing she had a friend, and several of the stories center on adventures wherein she meets someone and either they turn out to be not at all what she expected/an actual person who could be a friend, or something else prevents them becoming very close, usually distance.  Considering that this seems to sort of be the main point of the book, the ending felt especially odd, with Marigold becoming friends with a new neighbor, who is a boy.  She puts up with a lot of adventures she doesn’t want to participate in, like chasing frogs, to keep him happy.  Another new kid moves into the neighborhood, also a boy.  Boy A immediately drops Marigold and becomes best buddies with Boy B.  Eventually, Boy A comes back to Marigold and they restart their friendship, with Marigold realizing that it’s better to be friends in a situation where she can be herself instead of having to pretend like she likes all that “boy stuff” (not that Boy B is around to take care of that part of Boy A’s friendship needs) and the final line is something basically about her always being willing to wait for whenever Boy A needs her, or something kind of weird and dumb like that.  There are a couple of Montgomery books that I think always end up rated lower in mind because of the way they end, and this is one of them. (A Tangled Web, which was July’s book, is another.)  Anyway, all in all a perfectly pleasant read, but if I was rating all the books Montgomery has written, this one wouldn’t be particularly near the top.

The Randolphs by Isabella Alden – 3*

Alden was an aunt to Grace Livingston Hill, and an influence on Hill’s writing.  She mostly wrote under the pen name of Pansy, books similar to what Hill would write during the next generation – gentle romances and stories with Christian faith at the center.  I own a few collections of GLH that have three of her books plus one of Alden’s included.  What I didn’t realize is that The Randolphs is actually a sequel – the first book centered on the oldest (adult) son of the family, Tom, who apparently became saved during the first book.  Here, Tom is trying to live out his faith, but the main character is his sister Maria, who is skeptical of faith and how it can actually be useful for her life.  This was a perfectly pleasant story for the most part, but I did feel like Alden 100% copped out by having Maria’s actual transformation take place off-page!  It’s the old “she gets sick/injured and is bedridden and it makes her reassess her life” trick, and then Alden skips a couple of YEARS and suddenly Maria is a paragon and inspiration to everyone.  What a cheat!  Still, this was a nice little story, and honestly just a fun look at its time – this one was originally published in 1876 – I especially loved how one character they went on and on about how he came from “the west”… which turns out to be Michigan!

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4*

//published 1883//

This was my classic that I started in May, but what with being out of town for a week in May and such, I didn’t finish it until June.  Although I’ve seen the amazing Muppets version of this story more than once, I had never read the original.  While this was a fun story – and I can definitely see how it appealed to young lads when it was published in 1883 – honestly, I liked the Muppets better!!  It’s still a fun and creative yarn, although things did get a little muddled when they got to the island, I thought, and the book was sadly devoid of angry natives and musical numbers.  A week or two ago my whole family sat down for the Muppet version, and I just can’t believe how they managed to capture the spirit and essence of the story and its characters so very well.  The original book is definitely worth a read – I’m quite enjoying working through Stevenson’s works.

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip // by Sara Brunsvold

NB: This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for a review, which does not impact my opinions of the book.

//published 2022//

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, and I’m not sure how to describe what I got.  It’s rather a simple novel in terms of its story, but I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I anticipated, and it really choked me up at the end as well.

Aidyn is a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star and starting to get impatient with the research and fluff that she’s assigned.  However, she makes a misstep by approaching her boss’s boss asking for more difficult work, and is now even more on the back burner than before.  When her boss sends her to write an obituary for a woman in hospice care, Aidyn knows she’s being punished for pushing too hard.

Clara Kip just found out she has cancer – and probably only a week or two to live.  At 79, she knows she’s had a full life and her faith reassures her that death isn’t the end, but no one gets excited about dying, especially when you’re a childless widow with no close family, staying alone in hospice care.  But Clara is determined to embrace every moment she has left, and asks God to show her if there is anything else He has for her to do – and He sends her Aidyn.

If you aren’t a Christian, I’m not completely sure you’ll get much out of this book, as Clara’s fervent faith is the cornerstone of the story.  There is a lot here about dying, and the emotional and physical steps for both the person dying the those left behind.  I found all of this to be handled thoughtfully and well.  Despite the fact the whole plot is that one of the main characters is within a few days of dying, this book never felt morbid or depressing.  Instead, this was a story that inspires the reader to think about how our lives are full of opportunities to serve, even if it isn’t in the dramatic way we might hope for.

The book is told mostly in the present day (2016), but some sections are from the late 1970s.  In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Clara finds a way to help Laotian refugees in her own hometown of Kansas City.  Clara’s original plan for her life was to be a missionary for orphans in Brazil, but that never came to fruition, leaving her bitter and disappointed for many years.  In many ways, this book is about accepting where we are and helping those around us however we can.  I loved this quote as Aidyn is thinking about all she has learned from Clara –

That woman, now spindly and vulnerable to falls, had once helped reshape the city’s cultural dynamic.  A woman who hadn’t fought in a war or influenced the law of the land or won a major game, but rather, with quiet courage and immeasurable compassion, had helped ensure that refugees were not left to their own devices.  The everyday woman who befriended and loved complete strangers, who stood in the gap between two clashing cultures not ready to wholly trust each other.  It all began because Mrs. Kip, intimately familiar with pain, once stopped amid her daily rush to comfort a grieving mother and unwittingly found herself in the center of world history.

Although this book flirts with the line, I didn’t feel that it crossed in the saccharine territory.  I found both Aidyn and Clara believable as characters and enjoyed their journey together.  I felt like Aidyn’s character arc was convincing and found Clara’s story to be inspiring and thought-provoking.  This was honestly what I’m looking for when I pick up a Revell title, and what I feel has been missing from the last few that I’ve reviewed from that publisher – a story that is actually centered on a character’s Christian faith, a faith that gives them purpose, direction, and hope.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Mrs. Kip, and hope that I can meet my final days with the same grace and peace that she did.

Rearview Mirror // May 2022

Ohho! Look who only took a week to get to the next month’s wrap up!  Progress!!  :-D

Favorite May Read

Even though I technically rated my reread of Jane of Lantern Hill higher (and, if I’m honest, do love it more), I’m going with a brand new read for this slot – Cress was my favorite of Lunar Chronicles series.  I read a lot of really good books in May, so competition was tight this month!  Look at all those 4 & 4.5* ratings!

Most Disappointing May Read

Probably The Heart’s Victory by Nora Roberts.  It was just too 80s romance haha

Other May Reads

May Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  17
  • Total Pages Read:  5462
  • Average Star Rating for March:  3.91
  • Longest Book: Winter (823 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  Lady Susan (71 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  Lady Susan (published 1871)
  • Newest Book: Summer at the Cape and Meet Me in the Margins (published 2022)
  • Top Genre: Science Fiction (7 books)
  • Top Format: Paperback (12 books)
  • Top Source: Purchased (8 books) (“Purchased” is books purchased within the last six months vs “Owned” haha)

May Challenge Updates

  • New states visited: Indiana was my only new state – spent most of my month in space!!
  • Chunksters read (800+pgs): 1
  • Almost-a-chunksters read (450-799pgs): 2
  • Classics read: 0
  • Nonfiction read: 1

TBR Update

This is current as of today, not the end of May, and since it’s only been a week since the last Rearview, it may not be tooooo different haha

  • Standalones:  480 (holding steady)
  • Nonfiction:  130 (holding steady)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  620 (down three!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  250 (holding steady)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 111 (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.): 168 (down one!!)

Current Reads

I’m in the midst of several chapter-a-day-ish reads right now!

  • Still reading The Hidden Hand and The Secret World of Weather and enjoying both.
  • Started my August classic – The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens.  Honestly kind of weird so far.
  • Go Hex Yourself by Jessica Clare is a buddy read for Litsy.  It’s a little outside my usual romance wheelhouse, but so far it’s been engaging.  We’ll see if it turns into a bail, though haha
  • The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip by Sara Brunsvold is my current “regular” read – it’s one from the publisher, so I’ll actually be reviewing it within the next week or so.

Last Time on “Up Next”

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

The answer is – no to all of them because it’s only been a week haha  Although actually, looking at this list, I did actually read The Last Olympian.  I did enjoy it, but don’t think I’ll read the spin-off series.

Up Next

The probable next five(ish) reads –

Still planning to read the books I mentioned last time, but also –

  • The Hidden One by Linda Castillo – this is the latest installment in the Kate Burkholder series.  I’ve really enjoyed these books and am looking forward to jumping back into Kate’s world soon!!
  • The It Girl by Ruth Ware – following my attempt to read new books by authors I like as they come out, Ware’s latest just came in at the library for me, but since it’s new I’ll need to read it pretty promptly.  I’ve only read two of Ware’s books – one of which I liked and on I didn’t, so I’m curious about this one.
  • His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik – I actually finished TWO series in the last couple weeks, so I’m ready to start another one!! I’ve been wanting to read these books for a while – set during an AU of the Napoleonic Wars WITH DRAGONS!!!
  • Moonlight Cove by Sherryl Woods – still working my way through the Chesapeake Shores series, and this one is the next on the list.
  • Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron – This is the first book in a mystery series wherein Jane Austen is the heroine.  I have really mixed feelings about reading fiction books that “star” real-life people.  Another buddy read on Litsy, I thought I would at least give it a try as I have actually heard a lot of good things about this series.  Soooo we’ll see!!

So those are the latest updates!!! Hopefully I can get on top of my June reviews as well!!