January Minireviews – Part 1

Oh, I’m back with more minireviews since I apparently have no idea how to blog in a timely manner any more.

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.

Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2013//

This one was a borderline between straight romance and romantic suspense.  When in the midst of a bitter divorce, Eli’s soon-to-be-ex-wife is murdered, Eli becomes the prime suspect. A year later, the case against him has been dropped, but the actual murderer’s identity is unknown, meaning a cloud of guilt still follows Eli everywhere. He comes to stay in the old family home on Whiskey Beach, where he meets Abra, a jill-of-all-trades who should have really annoyed me but actually didn’t. Her free-spirit “be yourself“ attitude somehow actually came off as genuine so I ended up really liking her. Various other things happen at the old homeplace, including another murder, leaving Eli and Abra wondering how it’s all connected. This wasn’t on-the-edge-of-your-seat-are-they-all-going-to-die tension, but it did keep the story up-pace. This wasn’t my favorite Roberts ever, but it’s one I can see myself rereading at some point.  I actually really liked Eli’s character development, and somehow Abra was actually likable and sincere instead of being obnoxious.

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George – 3.5*

//published 2007//

Every year this one Litsy user sets up a “book list swap” where you sign up and include your top 10-20 books of the year, and she actually takes time to really match you with someone else with similar tastes.  Then you and your match swap best-of lists and try to read some of the other person’s books.  Theoretically you’re supposed to read them all in January, but I prefer to spread mine out, one per month, until I run out lol  Dragon Slippers was on my match’s list, so even though I actually had read this one before, I decided to give it a reread.  Overall, I enjoyed it, but not enough to bother rereading the whole series.  I don’t know why this book doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot for me, despite having a lot of the components I usually enjoy.  You can read my original review of the entire trilogy here.

20 Hrs., 40 Min by Amelia Earhart – 4*

//published 1928//

This book is Earhart’s personal account of her journey across the Atlantic by plane – she was the first woman to fly across the ocean, although she was a passenger and not one of the pilots.  Still, even being a passenger took some guts at this time, as only a few people had made the journey at all.  A lot of the book consists of excerpts from the journal she kept on the way.  At less than 200 pages, Earhart’s account was much more lighthearted and less technical than Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of St. Louis (which I read several years ago and never reviewed!  Why didn’t I review it??  I still don’t know!)

Towards the end of the book, Earhart mentions that it has only been 7 weeks since the flight itself, so this was written and published with a couple months of the historic flight. Earhart is modest and depreciating, even in the chapters where she is talking about her personal pilot experience. She’s very open about the fact that she, personally, did nothing to facilitate the journey of The Friendship other than go along for the ride, but it was still so interesting to read about. Because she was writing with the presumption that her readers already knew a lot of the background for the flight (since it had literally just happened), there were times that I felt a little lost, but it was still an enjoyable read. I also loved hearing her thoughts on what direction the aviation industry should/would take, and different ways she believed people (and women) should be involved. Almost a century after this flight, it’s amazing to see how much of what she suggested did come to pass.

This isn’t exactly a book I finished and felt like everyone should rush out and read, but it was an easy read with a likable and intelligent narrator, and a worthwhile piece of history to explore, if nothing else than for a glimpse of the aviation industry in its infancy.

The Eight by Katherine Neville – 4*

/published 1988//

Another book that’s been on my TBR for quite some time, but I’ve put it off for quite a while because it’s about 600pgs long.  While I did enjoy it overall, this was one of those books that made me feel a little stupid while I was reading.  It’s full of chess, math, music, and history, and sometimes I felt like my base knowledge on those topics wasn’t enough to get the full impact of what was going on.  This book also has dual timelines, something that doesn’t always work for me, but I was fully invested in both the French Revolution timeline and the present-day one.  One funny thing was that this book is a lot older than I thought it was – published in 1988, so its setting of the 1970s was a bit of a different vibe that I get from a lot of books (and I actually had to look up info about the gas crisis).  This was a long one and quite dense, so it took me a while to read, but it was overall a worthwhile endeavor.

The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel – 3*

//published 2020//

This romance, which I read for the traveling book club, was a bit of a struggle for me, mainly because I found the main character, Liya, to be just incredibly unlikable.  I get that she had suffered a lot and had some trauma/abusive situations she was overcoming, but she was still 100% bitch 100% of the time and it really got old for me.  I don’t feel like having bad things happen to you means you get to treat everyone around you like garbage, especially since those people literally have nothing to do with the bad things.  It also felt like every character in the story hated the concept of marriage and spent a LOT of time explaining why marriage and being married is such a horrible idea.  This was emphasized by the ending, where the main characters agree to move in together, rather than actually make a legitimate commitment to each other (the moving in wasn’t like “we’re doing this for life” but like “we’re doing this because it will be much easier to get untangled if it doesn’t work out” vibe), which I hate.  As usual, I’m doing a lot of whining – but there were some really fun moments in this one as well, and several of the background characters were great fun.  It was an okay read for me, but I’m not particularly interested in finding more books by this author.

2022 – Reading Challenges and Resolutions

I realize it’s almost March, but I’m just now getting around to posting about my goals for the year, which sounds about right LOL

As always, I’ve jumped into several Litsy challenges, mostly because I love tracking my reading just as much as I love actually reading.  I’ve also made a few personal resolutions for year as well.  Here are a few of the challenges I’m doing this year, along with some photos of the pages in my journal I’m using the track them – the pics are from the beginning of the year before I started filling everything in!!

  • Tackle Some Fatter Books

For the last few years I’ve consistently raised my Goodreads goal by a few books every year.  But that means that I have also put off some of my thicker books in favor of reading several shorter ones in order to hit that goal.  This year, I set GR at only 50 books for the entire year, giving myself plenty of breathing room to tackle these chunksters.  I have a BUNCH of books that I call “Almost Chunksters” – ones that fall into the 450-800pg category – longer than I usually read, but not long enough to be “real” chunksters.  I’ve already checked a few of them off and it feels GREAT to finally be making progress on these!!

  • Read Some Classics and Nonfiction

Along those same lines, I also have several books that aren’t necessarily longer than my usual fare, but are a little more intellectual than my usual fare, which, I’ll freely admit, consists of a lot of fluff.  I’m not ashamed of reading lots of happy books, because reading is my escape from life and I’m all about it.  However, I do have a backlog of classics and more complicated books, plus plenty of nonfiction tomes, that I do want to read.  This ties in with lowering my GR goal.  It simply takes me longer to read 200 pages of a Charles Dickens book or a book about World War II than it does to read 200 pages of a romance.  At a minimum, I’m reading a chapter a day of a “hard” book, and adding a new book each month.  So on January 1 I started David Copperfield.  Even though I was only halfway (ish) through it by the end of the month, I started reading a chapter a day of Ivanhoe on February 1.  I’m almost done with Copperfield now and am going to start Of Mice and Men on March 1.  It’s so satisfying to read some of these books I’ve been meaning to read forever!

  • TBR Deck of Cards & Roll 100 Challenges

These are two different Litsy challenges that were really flexible in how you decided to set them up.  I decided to use both to tackle unread books I have around the house.  Embarrassingly enough, I had zero trouble coming up with the 152 titles needed to do so!  TBR Deck of Cards is simple – using a deck of cards, you put a prompt or title on each card and work your way through the deck however you like.  I’m reading 4 books from the deck each month, drawn randomly.  For Roll 100, I made a list of 100 books.  The challenge host is using dice to roll two numbers every month, and I read those numbered books from the list.

I’m really enjoying both of these challenges.  So far, four of my TBR Deck books have been DNFs, but I’m actually totally fine with that.  It’s great to see these books moving off of my shelves, mostly because it means more room for more books!

  • Climbing Mt. TBR

This is an official challenge on some blog somewhere, but the last year or so I’ve done it unofficially just for my own fun, using the numbers/mountains suggested by the original hosts.  Last year I managed to summit Mt. Everest (100 books), so we’ll see how far I can climb this year!  I’ve already achieved Pike’s Peak this year (12 books) and am climbing Mt. Blanc.  I like that this challenge overlaps itself.  So it took 12 books to hit Pike’s Peak.  Mt. Blanc is 24 books, but I’m building on top of the 12 books I already read, not starting with a new set.  I only allow myself to use books that were actually on one of my written TBRs, and if it’s a series of books, it doesn’t count until I’ve read the last book. (So all 55 of the 87th Precinct books?  They only counted as one step on my mountain last year!)

This photo also shows the tail-end of my pages set aside of the OWLs challenge – based on the Hogwarts classes from Harry Potter, the prompts were just so much fun.  There are five prompts per class, and you determine your “grade” for each class by how many prompts you complete.  This is another one that I’m not “officially” participating in (it’s not a Litsy challenge) but am having fun doing on my own.

  • Road Trip USA 2022

I absolutely love trying to hit all 50 states, although I still haven’t done it in one year.  This challenge is officially being hosted by someone on Litsy, plus I’m also tracking it on Storygraph.  I’ve visited 11 states so far, including Nevada which I haven’t been able to find in the other two years I’ve tracked this, so I’m stoked haha  I have a map printed off and color in states as I hit them.  I’m very visually motivated!!

  • #19822022

A fellow Litten is turning 40 this year (as am I!) so her challenge is to read at least one book from every year from 1982 to 2022.  This is such a fun idea and I’m extra enjoying it since it fits my 40 years as well!  As with most of my challenges of this time (the USA roadtrip is the same way) I just read what I’m planning to read anyway and check off a lot of blanks that way.  Towards the end of the year, I’ll probably assess and see if I need to specifically find books for a few certain years.

  • Prompt Maze

I came up with this one just for fun and set it up as a spreadsheet so I could share it.  Your start in square A1, which has the instructions for the challenge.  It directs you to square A2.  In A2, there are three different prompts.  Depending on which prompt your book fills, you get sent to a different square.  So if you read a Fairytale Retelling, you go to square D3.  Nonfiction sends you to A5.  A Romance sends you to F1.  Each square from there has three prompts sending you to three different squares, etc.  Eventually, there is a finish… if you can find it.  I have this one saved as a Google spreadsheet, so feel free to check it out if you want to.  If you click File and “Make a Copy” it will create a copy that you can edit.  I’ve saved it with all the prompt squares blacked out so you can’t see where you’re going (after all, it is a maze!).  You can either un-black them out as you reach each one, or reset the whole document if you’d rather plot your way through the maze!  https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1XzUxq7VU8jZt4TzOB-cQIOLgYr9NG5CZ- -xoKsdrg-M/edit#gid=0

Note: for some reason WordPress refuses to make the two dashes next to each other in the link into two dashes, and keeps turning it into one dash, which means the link doesn’t work!  So if you want to see the maze, copy both the part of the link that is hyperlinked, and then the second part after it, which seems to be the only way I can get there to be two dashes lol

  • Why

The real question is, why do I do so many challenges??  I just can’t help it.  Litsy has 100% fed my challenge addiction, and I can’t even say I’m sad about it.  I love tracking my reading, love tracking challenges, and love finding books to match different prompts.  It’s just great fun as far as I’m concerned, and I can’t seem to stop!!  I thought I’d share some of the basic ones for you, so if I mention them throughout the year, you’ll know what’s going on.  And if you love reading challenges and aren’t on Litsy yet, I highly encourage you to make an account.  It is SUCH a fun community, full of challenges, readathons, and buddy reads.  I absolutely love it.

2022 is actually off to a crazy start – and I’ll hopefully be posting more reviews soon!!!

The Waterfire Saga // by Jennifer Donnelly

I was doing so well about posting there for a hot minute!  I guess it’s time to delve into some reads from January…

  • Deep Blue (2014)
  • Rogue Wave (2015)
  • Dark Tide (2015)
  • Sea Spell (2016)

I’m not sure when or how this series got added to my TBR, especially since mermaids aren’t usually my thing.  However, I really got drawn into Donnelly’s world and adventures centered around the heiress to a mermaid throne, Serafina.  I thought that Donnelly did a great job of keeping me aware that we were underwater without emphasizing it too much, although there were times that I was confused about how things really worked in a world where everyone is floating all the time (like how does one sit on a chair??), and also where things are constantly underwater – but I’ll also admit that the magic part of the world felt pretty seamless to the point that if something didn’t make 100% sense to me, I was willing to think, “Well, it’s probably magic!” and move on without getting too distracted.

Although Serafina is the main character, a prophecy draws together several other mermaids from different kingdoms.  This was a point where things could have gotten very confusing, but Donnelly did a great job of pacing her introduction of new characters.  While I wished some of them could have been fleshed out more, I got enough to make me actually care about each of them and what was going on with them.

The grand finale came together fairly well.  There were a couple of different things going on and I wasn’t sure if they were all going to tie together, but I felt pretty satisfied on the whole.

At the end of the day, a solid 4* series.  I don’t feel like I need to buy these and read them time and again, but they were really well done and perfect for me at the beginning of January when I was feeling a little overloaded on Christmas romances!!  I can also see myself checking out some of Donnelly’s other books, although I’m not sure where to start – let me know if you have a favorite.

Rearview Mirror // 2021

Well, here we are, better than a month into 2022, and I’m just now writing my summary for 2021!! It was another weird year, but not a bad one for me personally.  I made some more progress on our neverending house remodeling, did some gardening, learned some new skills, and of course spent a LOT of time reading!!

I completed 275 books (17 fewer than 2020), which ran to 82,465 pages (2647 fewer than last year).  June was, once again, my best month – I read 33 books.  June was my best month in 2020 as well, but I can’t explain why haha  September was my slowest month, with only 16 read, but that at least makes sense because it was one of my busiest months of work!

The burning question is, of course, did my overall TBR go up or down for the year?  First, a few thoughts on each month.  And then – the numbers!

Please note – I’m going to be lazy and not link to any of my reviews throughout this post.  But if you’re interested, you can easily find the book via one of the indexes, or by searching for the title in the search box.

January

Highs

I thoroughly enjoyed my reread of Patricia Wrede’s Sorcery & Cecilia books – they are just so funny and delightful.  My favorite new read for the month was a book I kind of forgot about until just now – Time & Time Again by Ben Elton.  That was such a clever, twisty book!

Lows

I finished Patrick McManus’s Bo Tully mystery series.  On the whole, I did enjoy it, but the final title, Circles in the Snow, was my most disappointing read in January.  It was just odd, and lacked some continuity with the earlier books in the series.

February

Highs

My two brilliant rereads for the month were 1984 and Murder on the Orient Express.  Both are absolute masterpieces in their own way.  My favorite new read of the month – and one of my favorite reads for the year – was The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold.  A complicated and layered dystopian tale with engaging characters – it’s one I’ll definitely be rereading at some point.

Lows

Ugh, The School for Good and Evil.  I’ve tried to put that one out of my mind, honestly, because it gave me the weirds in a very serious way.

March

Highs

I started rereading the Narnia books – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is just an amazing book throughout.  I love every page.  My favorite new read for the month wasn’t anything particularly brainy, but it was still one of my favorites for the year – The 26th of November by Elizabeth Adams.  This Pride & Prejudice variation was just so fun and clever, with a big dose of humor.  I loved it!

Lows

I read Peter Pan for the first time, and wow was it weird and creepy.  Did not like!  I also read a Nora Roberts story that was an unexpected loss – Tonight and Always, which I only gave 2.5*, probably the worst Roberts book I’ve ever read, which, considering I have read a LOT of her books, is saying something.

April

Highs

I reread both Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader, thoroughly enjoying both.  My favorite new read was Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater.  I really enjoyed the entire Raven Boys series way more than I was anticipating, with this one being my favorite of the four.

Lows

The middle book of a trilogy is often a low point, and Shoot the Moon was lower than most.  Annoying characters, poor continuity from the first story, and a kind of pointless plotline, I was not a fan of this one.

May

Highs

I reread both The Silver Chair and Carry On, Jeeves – both brilliant in their own way (truly, the Jeeves book is a work of art).  My favorite new read was another top book for 2021 – Project Hail Mary, which I was expecting to like, but was not expecting to absolutely love.  A surprisingly engrossing story, likable characters, a creative plot, and a huge dollop of humor made this book just so much fun to read – and I couldn’t believe how much I loved the way it ended!

Lows

I read six books that I rated at 3* – it really was just a month of ambivalent reads!

June

Highs

Like I said, this was my busiest reading month of the year.  I reread The Horse & His Boy and The Magician’s Nephew, both of which I love.  I also read the Pooh books, which were adorable and delightful.  Another TEN books rated 4* from me.  My official top book of the month was actually a nonfiction – The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts.  It was so interesting to read about such a specific World War II aspect, and this book was just really well done.

Lows

With that many books, there were bound to also be some lows.  The two that I actively disliked were The Sleeper and the Spindle, which was just weird and creepy, and The Other Typist, which was just boring and pointless.

July

Highs

I finished my reread of Narnia with The Last Battle, which I do love but not as much as the rest of the series.  My favorite new book was The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan, although it wasn’t as strong of a pick as some of my other favorites of the month.

Lows

It was another month for ambivalent reads, with ten books ranking either 3 or 3.5*.  The two at the bottom of the list were Jane Austen Made Me Do It and All Through the House.  The Jane Austen one was a collection of short stories and pretty much all of them were terrible and/or pointless.  All Through the House was a short story for the 87th Precinct series that just seemed to go absolutely no where.

August

Highs

My rereads of Persuasion and Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince (my favorite of the series) were my top books for the month, but another nonfiction read garnered the top new-book slot – The Horologicon was just unexpectedly delightful and humorous.

Lows

This was kind of a bum month.  I forced myself to finish Leave No Stone Unturned so I could check Kansas off my book destinations list – it really should have been a DNF because it was dreadful.  Sail Away was a “romance” that just got worse and worse the further along it went.  Murder Most Unladylike was supposedly a middle grade read but it was full of murder and age-inappropriate topics, plus the main character was just a rather bullying character.

September

Highs

I had two fabulous rereads – Spindle’s End, which is one of my all-time favorite books, and Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, which I still think is a great conclusion to the series.  I also read the next Swallows & Amazon book, which was an absolute delight – The Picts & the Martyrs.  Finally, I started a new series and couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed the first book – Aurora Rising was creative, engaging, and snarky.  I loved it!!

Lows

Actually September was a decent month without a lot of reads I didn’t like.  I gave the most disappointing slot to When You Read This, mainly because it’s billed as a lighthearted romance but is actually pretty serious and somewhat of a downer.

October

Highs

The second book in the Aurora Cycle, Aurora Burning, was just as much fun as the first.

Lows

This was a month with some downer reads.  Emily’s Quest got the official pick because it’s by L.M. Montgomery, so the just dreadful story feeling was really compounded by the disappointment of it being written by an author I usually love.  I ranked two other books only 2.5*, though – Dangerous Crossing, which was boring and had a gimmicky twist at the end, and Disclaimer, which was just dumb.

November

Highs

Wodehouse to save the day yet again – Sam in the Suburbs was SO funny.  I don’t remember reading this one before, but I’ll definitely be reading it again.

Lows

I went with The Singles Table as my biggest disappointment.  I had really enjoyed the first two books in the series, but this one was uneven and not particularly interesting. It also didn’t really have any of the characters from the first two books, so I felt confused about why it was being billed as part of the series at all.

December

Highs

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas was just a delight of a Christmas mystery.  I also had several 4* Christmas reads – overall December was a solid month.

Lows

Obviously Mistletoe at Moonglow got on my nerves the most.  I feel like I should give a shout-out to the unfinished Flora’s Traveling Christmas Shop, because it featured one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever met on the page.

TBR Update!!!

Okay, so I remembered to note my numbers before I changed anything in January so that I could make an honest comparison from what I wrote down in my 2020 Rearview.  I’ve really been working on not adding books to my TBR unless they sound so amazing I don’t think my life would be complete without reading them (HA), so we will see if any of that paid off!!

  • Standalones:  494 – WIN!  Down 21!!!
  • Nonfiction:  130 – LOSE! Up 6!!!
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  639 – WIN! Down 8!!!
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  250 – WIN!  Down 5!!!
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 110 – WIN! Down 8!!!
  • New Arrivals (I just started tracking this in December, so this doesn’t have a comparison for last year – it’s so I can compare it when I wrap up 2021…): 148 – BIG LOSE!!! Up 33!!!

Okay, so apparently I’ve shifted from adding books to my TBR to just straight-up buying them!  Probably not a great trend!!  Still I am net -3 overall, so I am calling this year a overall win!!!

Thank you all so much for stopping by to read my rambling thoughts and opinions.  Here’s to a fabulous year of reading in 2022!!!

Rearview Mirror // December 2021

Woohoo!! I made it to the end of December’s reviews!!!  Thank you all for believing in me.  I thought this day would never come!

Favorite December Read

I actually loved Hercule Poirot’s Christmas.  It was clever, Christmasy, and full of Christie’s wry humor.  A definite win.

Most Disappointing December Read

Probably Mistletoe at Moonglow.  I still have no idea what was going on with Mist or why she was supposed to be somehow inspiring.  I just found her annoying.

Other December Reads

December Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  27 (six on Kindle)
  • Total Pages Read:  7910
  • Average Star Rating for December:  3.68
  • Longest Book: Forest of Souls (382 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  The Birds’ Christmas Carol (69 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  The Birds’ Christmas Carol (published 1886)
  • Newest Book: The Christmas Escape and The Holiday Swap were published this year.
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  8

December DNFs

I only noted down two, although I think there were probably more when I saw skimming through Kindle Unlimited options haha

  • The Christmas Room by Catherine Anderson – my only note here is “nope” so that’s my main review LOL  As far as I can remember this book, for the first hundred pages anyway, was not Christmasy in the least, and contained several characters who just annoyed me.  The supposed “meet cute” kind of situation of the younger guy meeting the rich guy’s daughter involved the dude straight-up asking her if she was a virgin???  So that already had me giving this book the side eyes.  The rich guy is just over-the-top obnoxious and mean to his daughter, verging on abusive.  And the younger guy’s mom or grandma or whoever she was was just as annoying.  The younger couple are always having to sneak around.  The dude has a teenage son who is spying on them and says it’s because he’s low-key hoping to catch them having sex?!!??!!?  That was when I jettisoned this one because that was just grade-A creepy.
  • Flora’s Traveling Christmas Shop by Rebecca Raisin – So this sounds like a book I would enjoy.  Flora loses her job before Christmas and decides to buy a camper van and travel to Lapland for a huge Christmas festival, selling little Christmas gizmos.  But Flora herself had me bailing on this book after just a few chapters.  She was SO. OBNOXIOUS.  Like I’m okay with Christmas romances having a character who is a little obsessed with Christmas – it adds to the fun.  The main character in The Little Christmas Shop on Nutcracker Lane was totally over-the-top with her Christmas love and it didn’t bother me at all.  I actually read that one shortly after I bailed on this one, so I thought quite a bit about why Flora aggravated the bejeezers out of me and Nia didn’t.  My conclusion was that, for lack of a better term, Flora is basically a Christmas gatekeeper.  She’s aggressive and demanding and if you don’t know the names of all of Santa’s reindeer then she literally considers that a good reason to not have a relationship with you.  She starts conversations with perfect strangers by shooting Christmas trivia questions at them like she’s some kind gestapo.  She has to sell some of her Christmas décor to fund her new camper van lifestyle, but acts like she is adopting out a child or something, trying to find “worthy” homes for her stuff.  She’s grating and obnoxious and acts like everyone else is the problem because they don’t have enough “Christmas spirit.”  It was horrible.  Nia, on the other hand, is warm and gracious.  She loves Christmas and loves sharing Christmas.  When the male MC of that story doesn’t like the holiday because of bad childhood memories, she doesn’t act like he’s stupid or unreasonable – instead, she invites him to join her in creating new Christmas memories while she shares parts of the holiday that are meaningful for her.  Yes, she loves to wear ridiculous Christmas sweaters, watch al the Christmas movies, and believes in a bit of Christmas magic, but she does it with a genuine warmth and a welcoming attitude that made her believable and made the male MC’s gradual warming towards Christmas (and Nia) also believable.  So yeah, that got a little rambly, but trying to read Flora made me kind of think about why some Christmas romances work for me and some don’t – and the difference in the way those two main characters handled their Christmas obsession was definitely a bit part of it.

TBR Update

This I keep updated as I go, so it’s current as of today, rather than as of the end of December.  HOWEVER I did have the forethought to note down my stats before adding my first January read, so my overall 2021 stats should be accurate for the year!!

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:  497 (holding steady)
  • Nonfiction:  129 (holding steady)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  634 (down six!)
  • 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): 110 (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.): 158 (up seven!)

Current Reads

  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – I’m doing a pretty good job of sticking to a chapter-a-day with this one and am better than halfway.  Uriah Heep!  I’m amazed at how absolutely creepy and believable he is as a character!  And what a name!  I’m actually thoroughly enjoying this book – I definitely need to read more Dickens!!
  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott – This was my February draw for the classics I’m trying to read this year, so it’s another chapter-a-day book.  It’s a little harder for me to get into than Dickens, but things are starting to happen now.  I’m amazed at how anti-Semitic it is (although so were the times so).  This is one of those random books that I have literally meant to read my entire life but just never have.
  • The Golden Road by L.M. Montgomery – February’s Montgomery book is the sequel to The Story Girl.  Episodic like the first book, it’s still full of fun little stories, although perhaps not quite as lighthearted.
  • An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott – Another reread for me, but it’s one of my all-time favorites, so when I saw it was a buddy read on Litsy, I jumped in.  I still absolutely love this story so much and have so many passages underlined.  One of the formative books of my youth and still a top-10 favorite of all-time.
  • The Duke and I by Julia Quinn – The Bridgerton series has been everywhere since Netflix decided to miniseries it.  I got this one in a book swap, so I decided to read it next as I was in the mood for some romance.  So far, I love the banter not just between the two romantic interests, but the entire Bridgerton family.  I do love some good sibling relationships!  My only concern is seeing how spicy these get.

Last Time on “Up Next”

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

  • The Fire by Katherine Neville – Yes!  I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as The Eight, though.
  • Sarah’s Ground by Ann Rinaldi – Kind of!  I started this one and bailed on it.  It just wasn’t for me.
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – Yes!  I think I liked it??  It wasn’t a bad read, but it also wasn’t a story I see myself returning to.  But I Have to give it credit for lingering in my brain for quite a while after finishing.
  • For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten – Yes!  Mixed feelings on this one.  I liked the story and concept, but the world-building was super uneven and made it hard to get into the book.
  • The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water by Erin Bartels – Yes!  And I actually even already reviewed it!

Up Next

The probable next five(ish) reads –

So I have a huge list of books for February and am not exactly sure which order I am going to tackle them in!  But here’s a guess.

  • The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn – If the first Bridgerton book ends well, I’ll pick up the second since it’s already on my shelf – somehow I got gifted this one as well!
  • A Deal With the Elf King by Elise Kova – This is another traveling book club book, so I honestly don’t know anything about it haha
  • Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley – A group on Litsy does a Fairy Tale Reading Challenge where each month is a different fairy tale and you read the original and/or variations.  February is Beauty & the Beast and I have sooo many variations of that one on my TBR!  This one is a reread, but it’s been SO long that I don’t remember anything about it, just that I didn’t love it as much as McKinley’s other B&B variation, Beauty.
  • Family for Beginners by Sarah Morgan – I’ve really enjoyed Morgan’s Christmas books, so I’m looking forward to reading a not-Christmasy one!
  • The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham – This one was also gifted to me and is just such a pretty edition that I really hope I love it and want to keep it forever haha  Allingham is another Golden Age mystery writer who I’ve never read, so I’m looking forward to this little dabble into her works.

So that’s a wrap for December!! Next, I’ll be back (someday) with a 2021 Rearview Mirror!!

The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water // by Erin Bartels

//published 2022//

Fear not, friends, I am still planning to post a Rearview Mirror for both December 2021 and for 2021 as a whole (because I know you’re all dying to know whether my overall TBR went up or down for the year lol), but first I am going to review this one, as it was provided to me by Revell in exchange for a review.

Kendra, our narrator, grew up spending her summers on a lake in northern Michigan, where she always hung out with her summer best friend, Cami.  Cami’s family cabin was across the lake from Kendra’s grandpa’s cabin and the girls played together every year.  In the present day, Kendra has recently published a book that has sold very well, but is struggling to write her second novel.  Her grandpa has recently passed away, leaving his cabin to her, so she returns to the lake for the first time in years, hoping that facing some old demons will help her clear her writer’s block.

From the blurb, I thought this book was going to be a bit more thriller-y.  No one has seen Cami in months, there are allusions to Cami’s older brother, Tyler, being a nefarious character, and the cover/title combo just felt ominous.  But there isn’t any mysterious aspect to this story at all.  It’s more or less a straight novel about a woman struggling with her past and the way that it impacts her present.  The rest of this review will have some content/trigger warnings/spoilers, as it’s difficult to review this story without referring to them.  Many of these things you get the impression about in the first few chapters so they aren’t SUPER spoilery, but I know some people prefer zero knowledge going into a book, so if that’s you… skip this review haha

The blurb for the book says that Kendra wants to confront Tyler, who was the inspiration for the antagonist of her first book, but doesn’t say what he supposedly did.  As the story unwinds, it becomes obvious that he sexually assaulted her while she was still in her early teens (he was four or five years older than her).  The book Kendra wrote is fictional, but has many parallel characters to her own youth and experiences with Tyler.  Kendra’s current writing block was triggered by an anonymous letter that she received from “A VERY DISAPPOINTED READER” who basically tells her that she’s self-absorbed and doesn’t realize that everyone has a story, including perceived antagonists.  In fact, Disappointed Reader says, Kendra herself could be the antagonist to someone else’s story.

There were a lot of things about this story that I actually liked.  The setting, Kendra’s struggles, and some of the secondary characters were very well done.  I did struggle because Kendra is telling her story to Cami, so this book was both first and second person.  It’s not clear who Kendra is talking to at first, and it felt weird at times for her to be referring to “your dad” or “your house” etc.  But it was also a rather creative way to tell the story so I was overall willing to roll with it.  This means that we’re entirely in Kendra’s head, while she’s discovering things about herself and her past and those around her, and I can’t decide if it made Kendra more of a sympathetic character, or just emphasized how self-absorbed she really could be.

The dark parts of the story got darker than I was anticipating.  Tyler actually rapes Kendra, and while it’s not graphic, it’s there.  Considering there isn’t even a hint in the blurb that this story deals with the sexual abuse of a minor, a young teen being raped on the page was a bit more than I was expecting to grapple with in this story.  In many ways, this book is actually about the horrific cycle of sexual abuse and how difficult it can be to break free from that.  Overall, I thought that the topic was handled very well.  Kendra really struggles with not wanting to “rock the boat” by telling anyone what is going on with Tyler when she’s young, and, as an adult, wrestles a lot with “was I asking for it” kind of questions that felt realistic.  There’s a lot of discussion about how even though someone’s actions can be explained, it doesn’t mean they can be justified.

I struggled with the love interest part of this story.  It honestly didn’t fit with the rest of what was going on.  Later in the story, when Andreas explains how he ended up becoming the German translator for Kendra’s book, it honestly did feel weird and stalkerish to me.  He was a nice guy and all, but the parts with her falling in love with him felt the most contrived.  Bartels did a good job of not making him what “fixes” Kendra, but I still just felt like we didn’t need him in the story at all, especially since he kept freaking saying things in German that aren’t translated.  Instead, he’ll say a whole long couple of sentences in German and Kendra is just like “I didn’t know what it mean but…” blah blah blah.  If you didn’t know what it mean, how do you remember it WORD FOR WORD?!  I would have been far less aggravated if Bartels had said something like, “he murmured a German phrase – I didn’t know what it mean, but the warmth of his tone made the meaning clear.”  Instead, I’m stuck getting up off the couch trying to translate what the heck he’s saying.  It was so annoying.  It wasn’t like it happened ten times, but it did happen at least five times, and that was way too many.

My final niggle with this story is once again a personal preference.  This book is published by Revell.  When I read a Revell book, I expect there to be at least some reference to faith.  Here, in a story with so much darkness and despair, was an amazing opportunity for Kendra (and others) to find true healing and understanding.  Instead, there is not a single mention of Christianity whatsoever, beyond maybe a mumbled prayer at some point.  That may have been why the Andreas storyline low-key annoyed me.  Replacing a love interest with Kendra coming to God would have made this entire story much more readable.  Instead, because we never see the characters place their story into any kind of eternal context, it’s an overall downer – a sad and depressing story with a sad and depressing ending.  As I’m writing this, I’m wondering if Bartels was trying to make Andreas a kind of Jesus-analogy-figure with his unconditional love and acceptance??  Maybe??  But I would have preferred to see some real Jesus in Kendra’s life.

I didn’t hate this book, and a large part of the reason I didn’t really like it was because it wasn’t really “my” kind of book.  It was a lot darker than I was expecting, and even though Kendra comes to some peace with her past, I was left feeling depressed about her whole story.  Not a bad read, but not a book that made me want to see what else Bartels has written.

December Minireviews – Part 5

Believe it or not, this is the LAST of my 2021 reviews!!  Woohoo!!!  Usually I try to divide my reviews up evenly, but for some reason I just wasn’t paying attention and ended up with only two reviews for this one!  Part of it is because the last book I read in 2021 was the first book in a series, so I’m going to add it to my January reviews, when I read the rest of the series.  Whoops.  I also can’t believe how close I was to finishing the 2021 reviews before the end of January, but then dropped the ball!!!  But here they are, before mid-February, anyway, so that’s something!

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.

Faking Under the Mistletoe by Ashley Shepherd – 3.5*

//published 2019//

I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I actually really liked the characters and the banter was great. On the other hand, the book felt overly long and somewhat unfocused. There’s also the whole dating-your-supervisor thing that felt weird, and then the book made a sudden turn away from fluffy romcom into sexual assault/MeToo territory. I was so confused because there was a point where Olivia literally has JUST BEEN TOLD that a male character is a known sexual predator, and then she just wanders off with him and ends up in a dangerous situation?!!? Like why did she go with him?!?! And it wasn’t sneaky, he’s basically like, “you should come sit with me in this isolated spot“ and she thinks “oh this guy is really bad and keeps getting away with it because he’s a horrible person“ and then says, “oh, okay!“ and goes with him!?!?!?

Also, even though this book is listed as a standalone, it apparently has characters from Shepherd’s first book, and she doesn’t do a very good job at explaining them or their relationships to one another, so I felt myself floundering a bit at time because of the complete lack of background information.

Still, there were so many moments were this book made me snort with laughter and I really did ship the main characters completely. I think this one would have benefitting from another editing round to tighten it up, but I can also see myself checking out Shepherd’s other book.

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson – 3*

I’m sure I’ve read this original story at some point, but I really couldn’t remember it, and wow was it weird.  However, I have a lovely edition that includes several other fairy tales, so that part was fun lol  It was interesting to read this original tale since I’ve read variations and adaptations of it, but I did find it confusing when the story just seemed to wander away from the main plot.  Plus, I never exactly understood what the Snow Queen’s motivation was.  Still an interesting story and the edition I read had lots of fun illustrations.