Free to Fall // by Lauren Miller

//published 2014//

Several years ago, I read Parallel by Lauren Miller.  While I overall didn’t love it because of some logic-lacking scenarios, I still really enjoyed the concept, the characters, and even some of the philosophizing – basically everything except for the fact that some of her plot lines just didn’t make sense.  Still, I thought I’d see if she had written anything else, and all the way back in 2016 when I read Parallel, I added Free to Fall to my TBR.  And, four years later, I actually read it!

Set in the not-so-distant future, Rory’s world doesn’t look super different from ours.  It’s no big surprise to learn that people have become even more addicted to their cell phones than ever (now mostly called “handhelds”).  In particular, over the last several years a specific app has grown in popularity – Lux analyzes everything to give the optimal results to every decision.  Instead of wondering what to wear, just ask Lux.  No more agonizing over what to have for lunch, what time to leave for your dentist appointment, or trying to decide which classes you should take next semester – Lux’s algorithm means it’s conclusion is never wrong.  While not every depends on Lux (Rory’s best friend routinely does the opposite of whatever Lux suggests, just for kicks), it’s a big part of everyday lives.

The story begins when Rory is accepted to a prestigious high school.  A boarding school for juniors and seniors in high school, it has a reputation for sending its students on to colleges and careers that most people only dream of having.  Getting into the school means that Rory has to move from her home in the Pacific Northwest to the campus in western Massachusetts.  Just before she leaves, her dad takes her out for a farewell supper – and tells her that Rory’s mother, who died when Rory was born, also attended Theden.  He gives Rory a mysterious letter, leaving Rory with more questions than answers.

When she arrives on campus, Rory does her best to settle in, but in between meeting up with a townie boy and being initiated into a secret society, things are a lot busier than she anticipated – especially when things begin to take a more sinister turn.

There were a lot of things that I enjoyed about this book.  At 469 pages it did have its slow spots, but overall the pacing was good.  Rory herself was a likable protagonist, although a bit slow on the uptake from time to time.  I enjoyed the concept of stopping the dystopian society before it began.

Negatives – a weirdly high body count, some logical flaws, and one of those Snape-scenarios where the adult who has been hating on you actually turns out to be your behind-the-scenes ally!  Um.  No thank you.

However, once again I appreciated Miller’s philosophy.  This book felt weirdly religious, but not preachy, if that makes sense.  Part of the introduction of Lux to society at large is tied in with discouraging people from listening to that small voice inside – now called the Doubt, people who hear/listen to that voice are considered mentally ill.  After all, who would listen to a voice that tells you to do crazy, selfless things?  But listening to that voice is a huge part of what makes us human.  And, as one of the characters points out – “Selfless people are impossible to control.”  When people start doing illogical things that benefit others instead of themselves, the entire algorithm for controlling that population begins to fall apart.

Not a perfect book, but one I felt was well worth reading.  It got a little ridiculous and rushed at the end, but overall an enjoyable 4* read.

Take a Chance On Me // by Jill Mansell

//published 2010//

This was another #LMPBC book (thankfully much better than Not the Girl You Marry!)and yet another book that I’m not completely sure I would have picked up on my own.  I tried a Mansell book once and didn’t really warm to it, and while I haven’t been actively avoiding her since then, I haven’t been especially keen to pick up another of her titles.  All in all, while Take a Chance On Me had it’s slower moments, it still ended up being an enjoyable read, mainly because I found the main character to be likable – something that, for some reason, many authors don’t seem to think is an important characteristic for their leads!

Cleo is one of those people who hasn’t quite done much with her life.  It isn’t bad, but she still lives in her hometown, she doesn’t have a college degree, and she’s single.  These aren’t necessarily negatives, and I liked the fact that Mansell didn’t paint Cleo as a loser.  Instead, she’s a hard worker (with a completely random job – she’s a driver for a company that picks up and drops off people, so she gets to drive limos and other fun, fancy cars) and lives an overall contented life in her small town, next door to her best friend who is a guy but who (surprisingly, honestly) isn’t gay.  Still, like most people, Cleo yearns for that special relationship, and is wondering if she may have found it with Will, a dashing, handsome fellow she’s been dating for a few months.

Of course, romance novels being what they are, things go sideways pretty quickly.  Turns out that Will is a bit of a stinker, but because the rest of the men in this book are actually decent and likable human beings, I didn’t mind the fact that Will was a jerk.  I was also concerned because from the synopsis it sort of sounds like Cleo is mentally-cheating on Will when her old childhood nemesis, Johnny, moves back into town, but Will is actually out of the romance picture pretty early in the story, which made the slow burn between Cleo and Johnny much more enjoyable for me.

This is a chunkier book than a lot of romances I’ve read, mainly because there are multiple stories going on.  While Cleo is the main character, a large part of the book is devoted to her sister, Abby, who is about ten years older than Cleo and has been married for a long time to Tom.  This was another storyline that I was leery of because, as my readers may have picked up, I really don’t like reading about cheating, but Mansell handled this entire situation deftly, creating the necessary drama without actually making anyone a bad person somehow.  Abby frustrated me a LOT more than Cleo – it really felt like, after all these years of marriage, she should have been more trusting of/had better communication with her husband – it was still an interesting part of the book.

The third love story is about Cloe’s neighbor/best friend, Ash, who is kind of a nerd.  He isn’t particularly good looking, but he jokes that that doesn’t matter since his job is working as a radio host.  While he is witty and entertaining on the radio and with people he knows well, he’s extremely shy when it comes to girls, so much of his love story is a series of miscommunications between him and his crush.  Mansell manages to not make it horrifically embarrassing, though, so I could roll with it for the most part.

Like I said, Cleo’s story is the main thrust, and I really loved watching not just love, but friendship grow between her and Johnny.  They have some history to overcome and discuss, but for the most part it felt natural.

There were a few times where the drama just got to be a bit much, a few times where I was incredibly frustrated with the lack of communication between various characters, and spots where the pacing seemed to drag, which means this read hovered between 3.5* and 4*.  But I rounded up to 4* because I think I will give Mansell another go, especially since this book stayed out of the bedroom (yay), which is getting harder to find these days.

While Take a Chance On Me didn’t blow me away, it was still a perfectly enjoyable and pleasant read, and I’ll keep an eye out for more Mansell titles in the future.

87th Precinct // Books 26-30 // by Ed McBain

  • Sadie When She Died (1972) – 3.5*
  • Let’s Hear It For the Deaf Man (1973) – 4*
  • Hail to the Chief (1973) – 4*
  • Bread (1974) – 4*
  • Blood Relatives (1975) – 3.5*

Still working my way through the numerous 87th Precinct books.  As I say every time I do one of these reviews, batches of five are just about right.  Enough time to get into the groove of the characters, but not so much as to burn out on them, as they do have a lot of stylistic similarities.

Sadie When She Died was probably my least favorite out of the batch.  It just ended up being a really sad story, with a broken marriage at its center.  While the pacing was good, it was definitely a downer.  Although I have to admit that most of McBain’s books aren’t exactly upbeat.  He loves to go off on tangents, little side stories of life in the city, and those side stories are invariably depressing.

Let’s Hear It For the Deaf Man was my favorite out of the bunch, because the Deaf Man is such a fantastic villain.  I read somewhere that McBain said the reason he didn’t write more Deaf Man stories was because the Deaf Man is smarter than he is and he just couldn’t come up with clever enough plots haha  But this one was done really well.  Someday, after I’ve read all these, I may go back through and just read the handful of titles with the Deaf Man at the center.

In Hail to the Chief McBain takes a slightly different pattern.  Part of the story is the normal third person narration with the detectives slowly closing in on the solution.  Alternating chapters are first person from the police interview with the president of the gang at the heart of the mystery.  During these sections, the president explains his motives and methods, justifying it all by explaining how he wanted the “war” between the gangs to be over – so that meant that his orders to murder various people were actually altruistic in nature.  The pacing in this one was excellent, and I actually always enjoy McBain’s gang stories (although many reviewers seem to find those the most “purple prose”-ish).  As he always does, McBain thoughtfully explores why gangs exist, along with various aspects of racism and poverty.

While I really enjoyed Bread, it was more of a traditional mystery style than McBain’s books often are, and there were a lot more names to track than usual.  At the heart of almost every crime is a desire for money, and that concept is definitely on display here with lots of back-stabbing and betrayal among various groups.

Finally, Blood Relatives was a good mystery, but I’m always really weirded out by anything vaguely incestuous, and there was a relationship between cousins in this one that felt extra weird because one of the cousins had been orphaned and come to live with her aunt and uncle as a young girl, so the relationship felt more like it was between siblings, if that makes sense.  Still, the pacing was really good here.

As always, it’s the gang of detectives that run the 87th that make these books so enjoyable.  I’m more in love with Carella than ever, having a huge soft spot for Kling and Meyer, and Cotton Hawes has totally grown on me.  McBain has a genuine respect for law enforcement and the work they put in to bring about justice, and presents their struggles well.  While these aren’t the best books in the world, I’m finding them enjoyable in small batches.  It’s also fun to see how McBain’s writing is changing over time.  There are 55 books in the series, the first of which was published in 1956 and the last of which was published in 2005.  That’s a pretty big swath of time, with a great deal of social change both in society in general and within law enforcement, so it is rather fun to watch it evolving.

These aren’t exactly books I recommend in general, but if you like detective stories, McBain definitely helped set the tone of the genre of more realistic, gritty, Dragnet-y stories.

Rearview Mirror // January 2020

Well, well, here we are, a whole week into February!  Of 2020!  Seriously, 2020 doesn’t even sound like a real year, and I definitely can’t believe that over a month of it is gone already!  January was a busy month.  I wrapped up my season at the orchard, and worked a few random days at my new spring job at the greenhouse (regular hours should start late Feb-early March).  Tom built a crazy cupboard for the end of the lower room AND a gorgeous sideboard.  I’m actually filling them with stuff today and it’s SO exciting!  It finally feels like things are coming together in this crazy lil house.  We actually have snow today, which is exciting – we didn’t get any to speak of in January, kind of weird.  I love snow when I’m not driving in it, so I’ve been happy looking out my window today.

Favorite January Read

My overall favorite read was a reread, The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.  But my favorite new read was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, mostly surprising because I wasn’t even expecting to particularly like that one, much less absolutely love it.

Most Disappointing January Read

Probably How to Stop Time by Matt Haig.  I know that part of my problem with that book was reading it at the same time as Stoner, but still the overall down tone of the book, combined with some ?!?! moments left me feeling a little underwhelmed.

Other January Reads

January Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  29 (25 physical; 4 Kindle)
  • Total Pages Read:  8030
  • Average Star Rating for January:  3.72
  • Longest Book:  Jurassic Park  (448 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  A Mouse Called Wolf (98 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  Around the World in Eighty Days (published 1872)
  • Newest Book:  Off Balance (published February 2020)
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  11

January DNFs

Only one this month – Not the Girl You Marry by Andie Christopher.  It was SO. AWFUL.  I don’t mind a little bit of steamy in my books, but this one was wayyyy on the vulgar side of the line and led to me instituting a new personal rule: If a book uses the phrase “dipping his wick” more than once, it’s not for me.  Geezy crimeny, it was dreadful.  Every single page was just about sex – having sex, finding sex, wishing for sex, wondering if someone else was thinking about sex, angling for sex.  UGH.  After a multi-page dissertation about the main character’s “bush” and whether her embarrassment about how “out of control” it was would be enough to keep her from giving into her desperate inclination to have sex with a guy that she apparently shouldn’t, I threw in the towel.  To top it off, both main characters were just horrible, obnoxious people.  I despised Hannah, who was abrasive, vulgar, selfish, and annoying.  Jack was also vulgar, selfish, and annoying, but instead of being abrasive he was slimy.  And of course the entire premise is that they are both lying to/using each other.  Setting aside the utter vulgarity of every page, it felt like the whole story would have read better as a fake relationship story, where they both knew the other was using them?

In fairness, there are LOADS of good reviews for this one – I’m definitely in the minority.  But I have zero regrets about bailing on this one, and wouldn’t touch another of Christopher’s books if you paid me.

TBR Update

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

  • Standalones:  483 (up THIRTY-SEVEN!  This is because I finally transferred random books I’ve been adding from Litsy onto my official TBR.  Sigh.)
  • Nonfiction:  115 (up ten… see excuse above!)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  660 (up fifteen – this one is because Mom was getting rid of a bunch of gardening books and also Ohio history books… my weaknesses!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  243 (up six)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 115 (up three)

Okay, so not so hot on reducing the TBR this month (despite reading 29 books!), but I’m sure I’ll see a difference in February, right??

Reading Challenge Updates

  • #ReadingEurope2020 – visited two countries: Belgium and Sweden (total 2/46 complete)
  • #ReadtheUSA2020 – visited seven states: California, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Vermont (total 7/50 complete)
  • #SeparatedbyaPondTour – visited the seven states above, plus one Canadian province (Ontario) and three English counties/regions (Bristol, Devon, and Greater London). (Total 14/159 complete.)
  • #LitsyAtoZ – 17 books (17/26 complete)
  • #BackwardsAtoZ – 11 books (No A – No K complete – I’m trying to do this one in order)

I’ve also been doing a bunch of book bingos, which are kind of my new favorite thing!

Current Reads

I picked up The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons last night.  I’ve had it on my shelf for a while (one of those random book subscription box books).  It’s a gorgeous hardcover copy, and the premise sounds intriguing, but it’s almost 600 pages long, has multiple narrators/timelines, has 10+ pages of glossary information in the back, is full of footnotes, and of course is set in an entirely different world from our own.  All that to say, I’m not completely sure this book is for me, but I’m going to give it a hundred pages to see how it rolls.  My usual method of reading is snatching pages here and there all day, but this is NOT that kind of book, at least not to start, so it’s currently my eating book (because yes, I’m one of those terrible people who reads every time she eats… my husband does, too, so we get along fine haha), and I’ve picked up Well Met (by Jen DeLuca) for my floater book.  It’s lighthearted and fluffy, so a perfect counterbalance.

Up Next

On deck…  probably going to be –

  • The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehad (he’s Litsy’s #authoramonth for February, so I’m interested to try some of his writing)
  • How to Save Your Child From Ostrich Attacks, Accidental Time Travel, And Anything Else That May Happen on an Average Tuesday by James Breakwell – I have a lot of love for this guy, whose weekly newsletter totally makes my day.  Even if this book ends up terrible, it’s still worth the price just to thank Breakwell for all the laughs he gives me for free.
  • The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – this one came in for me at the library right around Christmas/New Year’s, and I just didn’t have the head space for it.  I sent it back and put my name back on the list, and here it is again!  I think I’m ready to actually give it a go this time.
  • Jane in the Orient by Louis Swinehart – I’ve had this book forever, picked up at some yard sale or something, and have never gotten around to read it.  Funny story, the only place I can find it is on ebay for almost $200, and my edition happens to be signed by the author so.  Now I need to get on Antiques Roadshow, apparently.
  • Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter – I have an up and down relationship with this author’s books, but this one should at least be worth a try.

So that’s the update here!  Hope all is well with all of you out there,  Happy reading!

Jurassic Park & The Lost World // by Michael Crichton

//published 1990//

I have a lot of books under the heading of “classics I somehow haven’t gotten around to reading yet,” and until recently this pair was on that list.  It’s been literal decades since I watched the Jurassic Park movie, so I thought this would be a good time to pick these up, since I could only remember the basic gist of the story.

The basic gist, of course, is DINOSAURS!  I found myself wondering, through the first few chapters where there are tales of people coming across mysterious lizard-like creatures, what the advertising was like for this book when it was first published back in 1990.  Did readers  know that this was going to be a book about honest-to-goodness dinosaurs, or was there a real shock value when they found out what was happening?  Despite knowing that the mysterious lizard-like creatures were, in fact, dinosaurs, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jurassic Park.  It completely ruined my productivity for a day (three days, really, if you count The Lost World) because I really wanted to know what was happening.

These were the type of books that, while I was reading them, I could barely put them down, but when I finished and reflected back on what I had just read, I realized that I actually had a lot of issues.  The biggest one was the never-ending philosophizing by Ian Malcolm.  At one point, he’s been horrifically injured and is probably going to die (sadly, he doesn’t).  Outside, the velociraptors are literally nomming their way into his room.  And Malcom just lays there, explaining how science replaced religion and how life changes and adapts, etc. etc.  Um.  HELLO?  VELOCIRAPTORS?!  And everyone in the room is just sitting there nodding and listening, like Oh my how wise you are, Dr. Malcom!  Please tell us more, I guess this is distracting us from the fact that velociraptors are LITERALLY ABOVE OUR HEADS CHEWING THROUGH THE BARS AND WILL BE IN THIS ROOM RIPPING US TO SHREDS WITHIN MOMENTS.  I mean seriously.

//published 1995//

It was even worse in The Lost World.  Here they are on this beautiful island with this literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to SEE LIVE DINOSAURS and they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting around in their trailer listening to Malcom natter on about evolution and natural selection and scientific discoveries and the scientific method yadda yadda YADDA.  Oh my GOSH we could have easily lost 50 pages of Malcom lectures and the story would have been even better for it.

A few things that felt weird to me, especially reading the two books together.  At the end of Jurassic Park, after we’ve spent pretty much the entire book escaping from dinosaurs, and after we’ve spent a big chunk of the story explaining how velociraptors are incredibly dangerous and intelligent – for some reason they decide to go find the raptor hatching place?????????  Why?????  It’s never really explained.  The entire ending the book felt very tacked on and abrupt to me.  Guess we’ll sneak into a cave FULL of the dinosaurs we’ve been running away from for the last however many chapters?!  I was left feeling very confused.  There was also the fact that the beginning of the book is about people finding dinosaurs (albeit small ones) on the mainland – but it’s never really addressed in the end.

I think I liked the story/concept of The Lost World even better than Jurassic Park, but there was SO much lecturing by Malcom that it really brought down my overall enjoyment of the story.  I was especially confused by the fact that, as part of Malcom’s lectures, he explains that the raptors, and other dinosaurs, haven’t been able to form their real, natural society because they haven’t been taught – because the dinosaurs were created in a lab, they have been able to live from some instincts, but aren’t able to create the same kind of society as they would have back when dinosaurs were actually alive.  And that’s all well and good except… at the end of Jurassic Park, that entire weird tacked-on ending was about finding how the velociraptors were forming their own intricate society, with adults caring for and raising young ones, etc. etc. – all the things that suddenly they aren’t capable of doing in The Lost World – in fact, they find a raptor nesting site, and it’s a disaster, with broken eggs and dead younglings, and no effort from the adult dinosaurs to raise their broods.  It seemed weird.  Here are Malcom’s thoughts in The Lost World – 

But animals raised in isolation, without parents, without guidance, were not fully functional.  Zoo animals frequently could not care for their offspring, because they had never seen it done.  They would ignore their infants, or roll over and crush them, or simply become annoyed with them and kill them.

The velociraptors were among the most intelligent dinosaurs, and the most ferocious.  Both traits demanded behavioral control.  Millions of years ago, in the now-vanished Jurassic world, their behavior would have been socially determined, passed on from older to younger animals.  Genes controlled the capacity to make such patterns, but not the patterns themselves.  Adaptive behavior was a kind of morality; it was behavior that had evolved over many generations because it was found to succeed – behavior that allowed members of the species to cooperate, to live together, to hunt, to raise young.

But on this island, the velociraptors had been re-created in a genetics laboratory.  Although their physical bodies were genetically determined, their behavior was not.  These newly created raptors came into the world with no older animals to guide them, to show them proper raptor behavior.  They were on their own, and that was just how they behaved – in a society without structure, without rules, without cooperation.  They lived in an uncontrolled, every-creature-for-himself world where the meanest and the nastiest survived, and all the others died.

Now this does somewhat make sense, unless you happen to contrast it with the end of  Jurassic Park.  At this point, the characters have discovered the cave where the raptors are nesting, and are observing the behavior of the dinosaurs:

There were three nests, attended by three sets of parents.  The division of territory was centered roughly around the nests, although the offspring seemed to overlap, and run into different territories.  The adults were benign with the young ones, and tougher with the juveniles, occasionally snapping at the older animals when their play got too rough.

There was a female with a distinctive stripe along her head, and she was in the very center of the group as it ranged along the beach.  That same female had stayed in the center of the nesting area, too.  He guessed that, like certain monkey troops, the raptors were organized around a matriarchal pecking order, and that this striped animal was the alpha female of the colony.  The males, he saw, were arranged defensively a the perimeter of the group.

?!?!?!?!  Literally nothing like the nesting site in The Lost World, despite the fact that BOTH sets of dinosaurs were created in a lab…???  Sorry to ramble on about this, it just left me feeling mighty confused.  If any of you are Jurassic Park fans and have researched this seeming discrepancy more, do let me know.

One last thing that left me scratching my head:  at the beginning of  The Lost World, large animal bodies are being found dead on the beach.  Later, this is explained.  However, there are also reports of dinosaurs migrating/living in colonies in the jungles of Costa Rica… never addressed.  All in all, it almost felt like Crichton was planning to write another book and then just didn’t get around to it, because there are definitely some weird loose ends left.

I can see why these books were made into movies.  There is something about the enormity of the dinosaurs that is hard to imagine when reading.  It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen the films that I really can’t remember if they followed the books in any more than a basic sense or not, but I’m looking forward to rewatching them ASAP.

In the end, I really did thoroughly enjoy these stories.  When Malcom wasn’t lecturing, they were fast-paced and completely engaging.  The premise is genuinely brilliant.  I’m not sure I enjoyed them enough to find more of Crichton’s works, but these classics are definitely worth the read.

January Minireviews – Part 4

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.

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne – 3.5*

//published 1872//

I’m not sure I had ever read this Verne classic, and there was a bit more mystery than I was anticipating.  This is a book that, in order to enjoy, you have to keep in mind when it was published.  I was kind of mind-blown about how much of the around-the-world travel meant moving through British territory at the time!  My favorite part was when Fogg’s servant rescued the girl, but the girl views Fogg as the hero!  Part of the reason that I can’t rate this book higher is just because Fogg himself is a very dull character in the sense that we never get to see what he is thinking or feeling.  We spend way more times with the thoughts of his somewhat bumbling servant and the policeman who is determined to catch Fogg.  Still, it was a really fun story, and a way easier read than I was anticipating.  As usual, Verne tends to get a little lecture-y but not nearly as much as he does in, say, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse – 5*

//published 1923//

It’s really hard to go wrong with Wodehouse, and even harder to go wrong with a Bertie and Jeeves Wodehouse.  This is really more of a collection of short stories gently connected by tales of Bertie’s friend Bingo’s disastrous love life.  These definitely follow a pattern (Bertie reluctantly gives up several pieces of dreadful clothing for the sake of Jeeves throughout the book), but when the pattern is so delightful, it’s hard to complain.  I loved every page.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

//published 1937//

I really wanted to get a bingo on my January Bingo card, so I needed to read a book that was being made into a movie this year, and apparently Death on the Nile is hitting the big screen sometime in 2020.  I’ve read this one before and when I started to read it again, I remembered whodunit, but weirdly that almost made me enjoy this one more than I have in the past.  This time, I was able to watch how Christie really does give her readers enough clues to solve the mystery themselves if they know where to look.  It was sort of like being behind the scenes of a play, watching how all the tricks are done.  I’ve reviewed this book before, talking about some of Christie’s more philosophical moments in this story, which I still enjoyed.  It is obvious from Christie’s writing in general that she strongly believed that we choose whether to do good or to do evil, and that is a particularly strong theme in this story.

Some Kind of Wonderful by Barbara Freethy – 3.5*

//published 2011//

This was another free Kindle book I picked up many moons ago (March 2017 if you’re interested) and finally got around to reading.  Like Your Perfect Yearwhich I read back in November, this book definitely suffers from having a romcom cover/synopsis, but actually being a more serious, novel-ish read.  It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t what I was expecting, and I really wish that publishers would stop making these books look like they are lighthearted fluff when they aren’t (or maybe authors need to decide whether they are writing lighthearted fluff or something more serious).

Anyway, this was a decent story about a guy who finds a baby outside his apartment door. When he reads the note attached to the baby’s car seat, he finds out that the baby is actually his niece, the daughter of his sister for whom he’s been looking for years, ever since they were separated into different foster homes as children.  He has no real idea how to take care of a baby and ends up asking help from his across-the-hall neighbor who, conveniently, is both kindhearted and single.  However, instead of being a fluffy romp with baby shenanigans, this ended up being a more serious story about adoption, infertility, addiction, abuse, and helping those in need.  I thought the issues were handled sensitively and well, and I really appreciated that there was a Christian character – a pastor, no less! – who was actually a decent human being who was trying to help and serve the people around him.  I had a few issues with the way the story was written – there is the weird “maybe our mom is an angel guiding us” thing, the whole situation with the pastor’s church possibly getting closed down felt a little clunky, and there really wasn’t a way that everyone who loved the baby could end up being the baby’s parents, so there was always going to be some kind of bittersweet ending for some characters.  All in all, a decent read, but not one I would pick up again, and not quite the relaxing story I was hoping to find.

ALSO there was literally NO beach in this story and definitely no bride on a beach, so WHAT is with the cover?!

A Man Called Ove // by Fredrik Backman

//published 2014//

This is one of those books that I’ve seen floating around the blogosphere for a long time.  Every time I would read a review of it I would think,  Would I like this book?  Maybe I should read it.  Sometimes I would add it to my TBR, but then I would take it back off because I just wasn’t convinced that it would be a book I would actually like.  It sounded like it might be kind of sad, and we all know that I don’t really enjoy reading books that are kind of sad.

But then I decided to participate in the #AuthoraMonth challenge on Litsy, which I talked about when I reviewed Beartownbecause Backman both wrote Beartown and was January’s author.  And since I didn’t hate Beartown – in fact, I found it to be a rather compelling read – I decided to pick up Ove, even though multiple people told me that it was a very different kind of book.

And it was a very different kind of book, but I ended up loving it.  I’m not sure I’ll exactly be able to explain why I loved it, and I also can’t explain why loving this book has not particularly made me want to read anything else Backman wrote.  It’s honestly kind of weird!  But overall this was a read that made me both laugh and cry, and that honestly doesn’t happen very often.

My review is going to have some mild spoilers, so if you like to go into a book knowing nothing, don’t read any further.  I’m not going into every nitty-gritty detail, but it’s hard to talk about this book without talking about some of the events within it, but in fairness part of the delight of this book is watching it gently unfold in front of you.  But if you want the skinny: 4.5* and my favorite new read of January (as opposed to rereads).

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