It’s gardening season again!!! So even less time for blogging than ever!! However, there is also less reading time, so maybe that will balance out as far as my attempt to catch up on reviews goes??
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.
Coffin Road by Peter May – 4*
I really need to read more by Peter May. I read the Lewis Trilogy back in 2015, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but somehow this is the first May book I’ve picked up since then. The story opens with a man staggering onto the beach from the sea, wounded and borderline-hypothermic. He has no idea who he is or where he comes from, and as he begins to piece together this own story, he starts to realize that he may have been living a lie… The story is pacey and engaging, and while I couldn’t say that I was shocked by any of the twists, I still felt compelled to keep turning the pages. Watching the main character struggle to piece together his life while not letting anyone know that he has lost his memory was completely engaging, especially as you (and he) begin to realize that things aren’t really as they seem. This wasn’t the best thriller I’ve ever read, but I really enjoyed it and definitely will read some more by May in the future.
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott – 3.5*
This one was actually my February classic read, but at a chapter-a-day pace I didn’t finish it until mid-March. While it was okay, it didn’t become an instant favorite that I see myself rereading. When I was growing up, one of my favorite books was The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. (I haven’t read that one in years and don’t know why – I NEED to read it again!!) In that book, the main character and her friend are reading Ivanhoe, and I’ve always meant to read it ever since. Almost 30 years later, here we are LOL I’m not 100% sure it was worth the wait, but it was a perfectly fine story and can see why it was so popular when it was published. I went into it completely blind and thus did not realize that this is actually a Robin Hood tale! Many of the characters traditionally found in the band of Sherwood outlaws make an appearance, so it was also interesting to see how those myths have changed over time. The story was quite long-winded – it’s rare that I read a book and think “I really should have gone with an abridged edition,” but I thought it a few times while reading this one. It can be a bit repetitive and sometimes the conclusion of a scene feels obvious far too early. There is also an astounding amount of anti-Semitism in this story, but I can’t really be mad about it being in the story as it’s an accurate portrayal of how the Jews were treated/viewed at the time. It’s honestly so fascinating to trace back the roots of the Nazis and Jewish stereotypes literally a couple of centuries. I also found myself doing research to learn more about why Jews became moneylenders and how many of the negative stereotypes came to be. Ivanhoe is a worthwhile read and I think deserves its place on the classics list, but I doubt I’ll come back to this one again.
Into the Forest by Rebecca Frankel – 4*
It was ironic that while I was reading the anti-Semitism in Ivanhoe, I was also reading a nonfiction book about Jews who escaped and survived in the woods of eastern Poland. Frankel weaves together the stories of several people from the region, discussing the hardships and horrors they suffered under both the Russians and the Germans. Despite the darkness, this book was inspiring and hopeful, as so many Holocaust stories somehow are. The determination, faith, and grit shown by people living under unlivable circumstances was beautiful to read. I do wish that Frankel’s afterword, explaining how she came to write the book and how she was connected to some of the people in it, had been a foreword, as it added a lot to the story for me. Many of the people in this story were related and I also found myself wishing that I had a family tree to reference. But all in all, I highly recommend this book. I was also intrigued when Frankel said that one of the people she wrote about had written his own book about his experiences, published in the 1950s – Faith and Destiny by Philip Lazowski. It appears to be out of print, but I am going to see if I can find a copy somewhere as I’m sure that is an amazing read as well. That one seems like it would be especially engaging as Lazowski went on to become a rabbi, so it is obvious that his experiences strengthened his faith rather than weakened it, and I would love to read his story. All in all, this was an excellent book that I definitely recommend.
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah – 3*
I struggled to get through this one as I found all three of the main characters to be incredibly unlikable/frustrating, and in the end was just left feeling depressed by the way the mother had treated her daughters their entire lives. The story is about Anya and her two adult daughters, Meredith and Nina. Anya has always been distant and borderline emotionally abusive to the girls all their lives, and their dad was always the glue that kept the family together. When he passes away unexpectedly towards the beginning of the book, he extracts a deathbed promise from the women that Anya will tell her story and the girls will listen. The rest of the book is that story of Anya’s history escaping Russia and the daughters coming to grips with everything. The main problems was that I didn’t like anyone. Meredith is one of those people who huffs around like a martyr doing everything because “no one else will do it [right]” and ignoring everyone (like her amazing husband) who offers to help her in any way. Nina has a job where she travels and acts like anyone who chose to be part of a committed relationship or (horror) raise a family needs to have their head examined because she’s soooo free and sooooo happy! As for Anya – like, I get it, her backstory is tragic. So why the heck did she ever have children if she was just going to ignore and belittle them their entire lives?! Nothing in her story excused the way she treated her daughters like garbage. Nothing. It’s great that they were able to forgive her and start to move forward, but I was just mad the whole time at the way she had literally wasted her ENTIRE life and also emotionally crippled her daughters while she was at it, plus making her husband’s life a constant difficulty. Just. Like. Whatever. And if Anya really was “incapable” of being able to share this stuff – why didn’t their dad?!??! When the girls were old enough to understand, why didn’t he tell them some of her story so that they could understand what was going on in her head?? He was supposedly this amazing kind, loving, sweet, compassionate person, but he let his daughters suffer needlessly, constantly thinking that the reason their mother didn’t love them was their fault, when he had all the information he needed to at least give them some closure about it. The book still gets 3* for being a decent story and an interesting piece of historical fiction during those sections, but I couldn’t connect with any of these characters and spent most of the book feeling annoyed.
Pride by Ibi Zoboi – 2*
This Pride & Prejudice variation is a modern retelling set in a mostly-black neighborhood in Brooklyn. I found the Elizabeth-character, Zuri, to be completely obnoxious and bratty. She was super judgy about everyone and everything, and then also offended if anyone dared judged her. She literally never once considers even the POSSIBILITY that Darius might be, I don’t know, SHY?! She also just immediately was against her (Jane) sister dating the Bingley character for literally no reason other than cause drama in the story. The guy is funny, friendly, good-looking, and treating her sister great – and Zuri is just like “THIS GUY IS EVIL WHY ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT DATING HIM ARE YOU CRAZY?!!?!” It made no sense and gave me a lot of negative feelings towards Zuri right off the bat. There were some aspects of this that were fun and interesting, but for the most part Zuri kept this book at a big fat no for me, and I didn’t remotely buy her sudden and completely 180* turnaround at the end.