Rearview Mirror – July 2021

Progress, friends!!!

Favorite July Read

Wow, I had a LOT of meh and so-so reads this months – and a lot that were perfectly pleasant but not particularly memorable.  Even my rereads of The Last Battle and Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix weren’t my favorites from those two series.  I think I’m going to go with The Summer Seekers.  Even though I had some issues with that one, it was still a really enjoyable read with likable characters.

Most Disappointing July Read

On the whole, I think Jane Austen Made Me Do It.  I always expect ups and downs in a short story collection, but these were pretty consistently downs.

Other July Reads

July Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  22 (6 Kindle, 16 physical)
  • Total Pages Read:  6237
  • Average Star Rating for July:  3.54
  • Longest Book: Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix (800 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  And All Through the House (40 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  The Last Battle (published 1956)
  • Newest Book: Caroline & the Colonel and The Summer Seekers were published this year.
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  3, plus several in the anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It

July DNFs

Three this month!

  • A Blissful Marriage by Lory Lilian – I’ve read other P&P variations by this author before that were okay, but this one was so cringe that I just couldn’t finish, even though I made it about halfway through.  I managed to roll with the absurdity of Darcy and Elizabeth adoption this truly random child out of nowhere only a few days into their marriage, but then it just turned into this whole thing with a secret pedophile ring run by Lord someone-or-other and Elizabeth confronts this guy all on her own and just… toooo much.  Also, it’s this running “gag” that things keep happening to prevent Darcy and Elizabeth from consummating their marriage and I think it was supposed to be funny but just felt really weird and awkward.
  • 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne – Ironically, another story with a Darcy in it… I’ve enjoyed a couple of Thorne’s other books, but this one just wasn’t working for me.  I got over a hundred pages in and realized that I didn’t like Darcy, I didn’t like Tom, I didn’t like Darcy’s brother – I didn’t like anyone!  The story just felt choppy and weird to me and I wasn’t into it.
  • Part of Your World by Liz Braswell – Apparently this woman is writing a bunch of variations of the Disney versions of fairy tales.  In July, someone on Litsy was having a challenge to read variations of The Little Mermaid so I thought this would be a good chance to try one of Braswell’s books since they actually do look intriguing.  However, this is on my short list of least-favorite Disney movies from my childhood, so the book wasn’t working for me.  It’s been probably close to 30 years since I saw this movie and I hated it then, so I couldn’t really remember the characters or their interactions from the original movie.  However, I thought the concept was really interesting and the writing wasn’t bad, so I definitely can see myself checking out another of her books for a movie that I’m more familiar with.

TBR Update

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

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:  500 (down three!!)
  • Nonfiction:  127 (holding steady)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  64 (down two!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  254 (up one)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 113 (down one – I actually finished the 87th Precinct books!!!)
  • 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.): 148 (up two)

Current Reads

Not a lot of buddy reads going on at this exact moment, so I’m only in the middle of one book – The Safest Lies by Megan Miranda.  It’s a YA thriller and pretty good so far.

Last Time on “Up Next…”

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

  • The Shetland Island series by Ann Cleeves – this is a partial completion!  I’ve read 4/8.  They’re really good and not super long, but they seem to take forever for me to read!  So I took a break from them to read some other stuff, but I’m hoping to read at least a couple more this week.
  • Books 6-10 of Leaphorn & Chee – yes!!!  I just finished book 10 yesterday.  This set of five was even better than the first five, so I’m really excited about reading more of this series – honestly, I would have kept going, but I don’t have the next five from the library yet!
  • The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie – yes!! This was a reread for me but it had been a while, so I really enjoyed it.  Plus, I had a new gorgeous special edition to enjoy!!
  • The Jackal’s Head by Elizabeth Peters – yes!!  Another solid read, which was fun because Peters can be hit or miss for me.  I didn’t LOVE this one, but it was a solid one-off read.
  • The Birdwatcher by William Shaw – not yet!!  Still hoping to read this one this month, though.

Up Next…

The probable next five(ish) reads –

  • As mentioned above, The Birdwatcher by William Shaw, which I’ve owned since June 2020 and had on my TBR even longer haha
  • The rest of the Shetland Island series – book 4 took a very unexpected turn in the personal life of the protagonist (I honestly was not a fan of the decision but hey) so I am intrigued to see where these books go next.
  • Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys – Like I mentioned in my last Rearview Mirror, Litsy has a big readathon all of October so I’m focusing on getting some thrillers off my list.  This one has lingered for a while, and then I got an edition on the cheap from Book Outlet a while ago, so maybe I’ll actually get to it!!
  • The Third Victim by Phillip Margolin – I’ve really liked most of the Margolin books I’ve read, so I’m interested to read this stand alone.
  • Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall – this is my Traveling Book Club book for this month.  It looks like the rest of the group had mixed feelings about it AND it’s kind of fat, so we’ll see how it goes!!

So that’s the wrap for July + some random October news LOL  We’ll see if I can get through August reviews soon.  Thanks for sticking with me!!!

Leaphorn & Chee – Books 2-4 // by Tony Hillerman

  • Dance Hall of the Dead (1973)
  • Listening Woman (1978)
  • People of Darkness (1980)
  • The Dark Wind (1982)

I read the first book in this series, The Blessing Wayin June, but for various reasons wasn’t able to get to the next few books until the end of July/early August.  When I read the first book, I really enjoyed the setting and thought the concept was interesting, but the mystery itself was a little weak, and I also struggled with the fact that we aren’t really given any personal information about the protagonist, Joe Leaphorn.  However, I decided to give the next books a chance, and I’m glad I did, as they have steadily improved.  Hillerman does a great job giving us plenty of context and background information to create a unique and engaging setting.  In Listening Woman, there is a whole subplot involving the AIM (American Indian Movement), which was very current for the time the book was published.  I was a little concerned as the books pushed into the 80s because so many crime writers seemed to think during that decade that you couldn’t be a real crime writer without lots of weird sex (I’m looking at you, Ed McBain), but these books have actually stayed pretty clean, greatly adding to my enjoyment of them.

I got a little confused because in People of Darkness, the protagonist abruptly changed from Joe Leaphorn to Jim Chee.  We’re given a little paragraph of reference to Leaphorn now being Lt. Leaphorn and working in an office in the norther part of the reservation, but both People of Darkness and The Dark Wind completely focus on Chee.  I really like Chee a lot, so it wasn’t like this was a bad thing, but it felt really weird and abrupt to suddenly have the stories focus on a completely different guy with a very different method of solving mysteries.

About halfway through Dance Hall of the Dead I finally found a map of the Navajo reservation and printed it off.  Reading these books without a map was just incredibly frustrating because the characters are constantly driving around to different places – everything is very spread apart out west – and Hillerman uses names without a lot of explanation (for instance, getting the map made me realize that Mexican Water is actually a town, not a lake or river, and Window Rock is both a town AND a mountain).  Finding the map increased my enjoyment of these books a LOT.  I’m just a super visual person, and being told things like “they drove from Albuquerque to Shiprock that evening” without any concept of how far apart those two places are was driving me batty.

Hillerman does a great job introducing aspects of the Navajo culture with respect.  I love how Chee really embraces his family’s traditions and is interested in becoming a Singer, learning many of the healing ways.  I’ve just finished the next five books in the series, and both Chee and Leaphorn (who returns as a protagonist later haha) have become a lot more personable, so that’s been lovely.

All in all, this has been a really worthwhile series that is getting steadily better as it goes.  These were all 3.5* & 4* reads for me, and the second batch were all 4*, so I’m quite excited to continue on!

July Minireviews – Part 3

Can I finish July before the end of October???

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.

Jane Fairfax by Joan Aiken – 4*

//published 1990//

After reading Emma in June, in July I read this variation, which focuses, as Aiken says, on Emma’s other heroine.  While overall I enjoyed this story and getting some background on Jane, I didn’t care for the way Aiken really made Frank Churchhill be Jane’s way of “settling” – I think it would have been much more fun and happy if she had actually had these two care for each other more.  Still, a well done story with some interesting interpretations of Austen’s characters.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It  edited by Laurel Ann Nattress – 2.5*

//published 2011//

This is a collection of Jane Austen-inspired short stories written by various authors, but on the whole it was pretty disappointing.  Several of the stories were about Jane Austen herself (except fictional), which is not my thing – I honestly do not like authors writing fictional stories about real people.  In one story, a bunch of Austen’s couples came back and complained about their lives, which kind of made it feel like no one in her books ended up happy, which I didn’t like.  There were a bunch of stories here and a couple of them were okay, but I don’t think I rated any of them higher than a 3.5* and most of them were more in the 2-2.5* range.  I was expected some Austen variations, but mostly got really random stuff.

To Have and To Hoax by Martha Waters – 3*

//published 2020//

Wow, where to even start with this one.  I felt bad because I chose it for my traveling book club pick, and then it was kind of a bust.  The blurb on the back cover tells us that James and Violet are married but estranged. Violet receives word that her husband has been thrown from a horse and is dying, so she dashes off to the country estate, only to find him alive and well. Assuming that he was pranking her, she decides to get back at him with a prank of her own.  Sounds fun, right?  And we all know I’m a sucker for stories where the main characters are already married.  But what the back cover does NOT mention is that they’ve been estranged for FOUR YEARS and that during that time they’ve been LIVING IN THE SAME HOUSE.  So I’m supposed to believe that they were madly in love and got along great, had ONE argument and then spent the next FOUR YEARS barely speaking to each other while still living together?!  This seems just so ludicrous to me that I really struggled to get on with this book at all.  I could have understood if it had been, say, four MONTHS, or if James had gotten so mad during that fight that he flounced off to the country estate and they hadn’t seen each other since, but the way this was presented made no sense.

The book continued to make no sense by giving both James and Violet no real clear motivation for their actions.  Is it petty revenge?  An attempt to embarrass the other?  Trying to make the other person talk?  Attempting to solicit some kind of apology for past actions?  To hurt their feelings?  No clue, because the motivation seemed to change about every other paragraph.  And of course in the end, EVERYTHING is James’s fault, from beginning to end.  It’s all because he wouldn’t share his feelings because of all that “toxic masculinity” except she had a different phrase for it because it’s the Regency era.  You can’t see me right now, but trust me, I’m rolling my eyes a LOT.  On top of that, Waters kept having her characters swear by saying things like “Jesus Christ!” which was just so period incorrect and jarring every time it happened.  I tend to give authors a LOT of leeway with their historical accuracy, but this was so obviously wrong and unnecessary that I just couldn’t deal with it.

So why did this even get 3 stars, you ask?  Great question!  At the time, I think I felt it still had some funny moments and good potential, and I liked the secondary characters.  But in retrospect, it’s the negatives that have stuck with me.  This traveling book club book is due to come back to me next month – they travel to three other people and then return – and it sounds like the others hated it as much or more than I did, so I should at least have some blistering commentary to enjoy in November!

The Summer Seekers // by Sarah Morgan

//published 2021//

I read another of Morgan’s books last winter, The Christmas Sistersand surprisingly enjoyed it, even though it was bit more “novel-y” than I usually prefer.  I decided to give her newest book a chance, and while it’s not one I see myself revisiting, I did enjoy it and have put several of Morgan’s backlist books on my TBR.  As with The Christmas Sisters, The Summer Seekers follows three different women at different stages of their lives.  Kathleen is getting older, and her (adult) daughter Liza thinks Kathleen needs to give up her house and move into a retirement home of some kind.  But Kathleen, who was a travel journalist throughout her life, is actually craving adventure and decides that what she needs is a roadtrip.  And what better place to take one than across the US?  Knowing she can’t do all the driving herself, she advertises for a travel companion – which is how she meets Martha, a young woman, newly divorced and feeling adrift, who is actually a terrible driver, but who decides to take the plunge and head off with Kathleen anyway.  Meantime, Liza, feeling completely overwhelmed by life, a busy husband, and unappreciative daughters, thinks her mom has completely lost it – and then has a bit of a mini-breakdown of her own.

There were several strands of this story that felt a little overdone (Martha’s mother felt just almost comically bad – would any mother actually tell her daughter that said daughter’s husband was justified in having an affair because the daughter had gained some weight???).  I hated the fact that Kathleen had literally spent her whole life not opening letters – one of my least favorite plot tropes of ALL TIME.  And Liza’s breakdown felt a little over-the-top.  I also got annoyed because we are told repeatedly that Kathleen wasn’t a very good mother, what with all the traveling and all – and the fact that she has NEVER TOLD HER DAUGHTER SHE LOVED HER – but it’s presented as basically justified because if Kathleen had been a man/father, everyone would have been fine with it??  First off, no, I’m not fine with men being horrible parents, and secondly – that’s the best you can come up with?  Men suck as parents, so women should be allowed to suck also??  How does that make sense??

BUT to balance it out, there are so many fun and happy scenes.  Martha’s little love affair was a bit insta-lovey, but still fun, and I enjoyed seeing her grow in self-confidence throughout the story.  I appreciated that Kathleen was able to face up to mistakes she had made and apologize for them, even if it did take her like 50 years to do it.  Better late than never, I guess.  (Moral:  FREAKING READ LETTERS PEOPLE WRITE TO YOU)  Liza’s storyline had the real potential to make or break this book for me, because I genuinely hate when women “discover” that they’ve actually “wasted” their lives taking care of their families – but instead Morgan made the incredibly realistic decision to have both Liza’s husband AND Liza BOTH realize that they had made mistakes throughout their marriage and that if they wanted to make it work – and they do – then they will BOTH have to work together going forward.  So many times authors just make the husband do all the groveling because OBVIOUSLY the wife can do no wrong – but here Liza actually faces up to the fact that she’s been expecting her husband to just read her mind and ignore the fact that she keeps telling him everything and everyone is fine, even when she’s not.  I felt really optimistic about their marriage at the end of the book, like they had turned onto a good path and were going to have a great marriage going forward.

While The Summer Seekers wasn’t my favorite book of the year, it was still and enjoyable and engaging read.  If you like your novels with some fluffy romance, or your romance with some more serious themes, this may be a good read for you.

July Minireviews – Part 2

Over halfway through October already!!! Time is running away so fast!!  I’m still living in July!! :-D

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.

And All Through the House by Ed McBain – 2.5* 

As I continue my journey through the 87th Precinct, this short story (with pictures…) was next on the list, although it appears that it was actually published in 1984 rather than the mid-90s, so I’m not exactly sure why it’s listed as book #46.  This was a bit of an odd one, just a short (less than 50 pages) story of a “typical” Christmas Eve at the precinct.  There wasn’t really any kind of plot or story, so it felt a little weird.

Romance by Ed McBain – 3.5* – published 1995

This one is about an actress who gets stabbed… twice!  And since the actress is the main character in a play that is about an actress who gets stabbed, there are a lot of rather ridiculous scenes that read a bit like an Abbott & Castello sketch, which is great fun.  McBain is always mildly preachy in his books and it came through a little heavy-handed in this particular one, which brought down my overall rating of the book, but still a solid installment to the series.

Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling – 4* – published 2003

Definitely my least favorite of the series, I’m just not sure why we have to listen to Harry be a jerk for so long.  Rowling makes a few plot decisions in this book that I also don’t like.  However, overall still an enjoyable read.

Nocturne by Ed McBain – 4* – published 1997

This was another one where the main mystery, about an elderly, once-famous concert pianist being murdered, was really good, but the secondary plot, about a prostitute being slaughtered, was a bit much.  For the most part these books aren’t that gruesome, but the murder of that poor girl will stay with me for a long time, and not in a good way.  It just didn’t feel like we needed that much detail for that part of the story.  Still, the rest of the book was a solid read.

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis – 5* – published 1956

This is always a really hard book for me to read, and I’ve actually read it the fewest times out of the whole series.  I can understand why Lewis decided to end the series the way he did, but it’s still tough.  Although I will say that, reading this as a child, this was the first time I ever understood wanting to go to Heaven because of it being a beautiful and perfect place rather than just as a better option than hell!

The whole deal with Susan, which I believe has been completely misrepresented and poorly interpreted, always makes me somewhat hesitant to review this one, because how much do I really want to get into this controversy?  Suffice to say that I think it’s clear that Lewis wasn’t trying to say that Susan no longer believed in Narnia because she decided to embrace “womanly” things like makeup and dating, but because she had embraced worldly things to the detriment of her priorities.  Makeup and dating aren’t bad things objectively, but it’s clear from the context that those types of things have become Susan’s driving force.  Susan wasn’t on the train with everyone else, so I personally believe that the deaths of her loved ones helped her to readjust her life.

I actually wrote a little piece on this on tumblr wayyy back in the day – https://manycurrentssmallpuddle.tumblr.com/post/105298215925/can-you-explain-the-susan-pevensie-post-the and when I was looking that one up, I found another post that I really liked – https://manycurrentssmallpuddle.tumblr.com/post/129939476895/just-to-clarify – that summarizes why Gaiman’s “The Problem With Susan” just absolutely misses the ENTIRE point.

Sons of Pemberley by Elizabeth Adams – 3.5* – published 2020

Basically, this AU of P&P explores what would have happened if Darcy’s mother hadn’t died when Georgianna was born.  Adams gives us just bucketloads of extra characters, which while fun, also made this story extremely bulky and somewhat confusing, especially when she works both backward and forward in time AND decides multiple characters should have the same name from different generations – there are at LEAST two characters for almost every name, which really doubled-down on the confusion aspect.  Adams also takes pretty much every unlikable “villain” character from the original and gives them a backstory that makes them understandable and a forward-story that makes them redeemable, which is nice but… also means the entire story is somewhat boring.  I did enjoy this one, and recommend it to people who enjoy a good P&P variation, but it’s not one I see myself revisiting.

The Big Bad City by Ed McBain – 4* – published 1999

Overall, once McBain got through the rather dreadful 80s entries, the series really improved.  Most of the 90s books were done really well without nearly as much gratuitous (and bizarre) sex.  I also really appreciate when he would have a plot line for one of the detectives and then follow it through in the background of multiple books – here, we finally see the main conclusion of what happened when Carella’s dad was murdered a few books ago, although McBain makes sure to still show us how Carella continues to work through his grieving process over the next several books after this one as well.

July Minireviews – Part 1

Progress!!!

Also, I’m getting so lazy with these minireviews that since I didn’t review them on Litsy (thus taking pictures of them), I’m not even bothering to look up cover images for them. This blog really is going downhill LOL

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.

Caroline & the Colonel by Shannon Archer – 3* (published 2021)

I was in the mood for fluffy romance/P&P variations at the beginning of July and this one sounded fun.  However, it’s hard to rate, because I thought it was going to be an easy 4* read, maybe even 4.5*, for the first 70% of the book… and then it went totally off the rails.  All of the sudden there was all this extra drama, this weird scene with Caroline making a public apology that made zero sense, and just… it got weird.  Which is a real shame, because I really loved the concept and characters for over half the book, but it was basically like Archer decided she wanted to write a sequel, but in order for that to happen she was going to need to have some loose ends, so instead of tidying things up, she decided to fray the edges.  Disappointing.

Ship to Shore by Elizabeth Adams – 3* (published 2019)

Another one that’s hard to rate.  I have read a few of Adams’s other books and really enjoyed them, so I thought I would try this random contemporary romance by her.  I was just absolutely loving this book with a fun premise and likable characters, but then at 80% (this was a Kindle book), the story literally STOPS – I can’t even explain how abruptly it stops – and says, “To Be Continued…” and then the remaining 20% is some other random story!!!!  This annoyed me so much that it colored my feelings about the entire rest of the book.  There was definitely no reason not to FINISH THE BOOK AS ONE BOOK, especially considering there still doesn’t appear to be any kind of sequel despite the fact that this was published in 2019…!!!!

Tips for the Lazy Gardener by Linda Tilgner – 3* (published 1985)

This one should really have been called something like “Tips for Gardeners Who Want to Be More Organized” or something like that.  So yes, being organized means less work further down the line, but in the meantime… well, basically gardening is just a lot of work no matter how you cut it.  It was a so-so read, but the other problem was that it really was just a collection of tips, so just a few sentences per paragraph, then the next paragraph some other random tip, making it kind of difficult to use as a reference book.  It wasn’t terrible, but it went in the giveaway box when I was done reading it.

A Timely Elopement by Joanna Starnes – 3* (published 2020)

This was another P&P variation, where Darcy’s proposal at Hunsford is interrupted with news that ANNE has eloped with WICKHAM!  I had read other books by this author before and found them to be decent, but this one needed another strong round of editing.  The concept was fun and I liked the way that she portrayed the characters, but the whole story was poorly executed with weird scene changes that made the reading choppy.  The ending was a bit out of left field as well.  Not a terrible read, but definitely could have been improved with some proofreading.

The Rogue’s Widow by Nicole Clarkston – 3.5* (published 2020)

I was TRYING to play it safe by reading books by authors who had written other P&P variations I liked, but this was kind of a batch of duds.  This one wasn’t terrible but was a bit of a yawn-fest without a lot happening.  Here, Wickham has an older brother (who is just as terrible as the original Wickham).  Through a mildly complicated series of events (orchestrated by Darcy), Elizabeth ends up marrying this guy on his deathbed, which means that she, as the widow, inherits his Pemberley-adjacent estate instead of George Wickham.  My notes just say, “Boring but inoffensive” which pretty much sums it up.

Sorrow & Second Chances by E. Bradshaw – 3.5* (published 2019)

In this variation, after Elizabeth rejects him at Hunsford, Darcy is mooning about London when he learns of Mrs. Bennet’s untimely demise.  He and Bingley head back to Meryton for the funeral, and from there reinstate themselves with the family.  This wasn’t exactly a bad variation but we pretty much only hear Darcy’s perspective and trust me, he spends WAY too much time worrying about literally everything.  This was a story that needed some tightening up as it felt repetitive (Darcy thinks and thinks about having a conversation, then we have to listen to the actual conversation, then we listen to Darcy analyze the conversation…) and thus a little too long.

Rearview Mirror // June 2021

Definitely not behind on these LOL  Okay, so this is the fourth post I’ve typed in two days, so maybe I’m kind of catching up???  We’ll see what happens.  In the meantime, some numbers that are only four months behind!!

Favorite June Read

Unusually, I think I’m going to go with a nonfiction book for this slot – I really enjoyed The Perfect Horse so much.  It was everything I want from nonfiction history: engaging, interesting, informative, and readable.  I probably enjoyed my rereads of the Narnia books more, but I like to choose new reads for this spot when I can!!

Most Disappointing June Read

The Sleeper and the Spindle.  It was just weird and creepy to me.

Other June Reads

June States

  • Total Number of Books Read:  33 (0 Kindle, 33 physical)
  • Total Pages Read:  9027 (highest for the year so far)
  • Average Star Rating for September:  3.69
  • Longest Book: Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire (627 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  The Sleeper & the Spindle (69 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  Emma (published 1815)
  • Newest Book: Written in Starlight, People We Meet on Vacation, Mister Impossible, Every Vow You Break, 10 Truths & a Dare, and The Soulmate Equation were all published this year.
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  3

June DNFs

None this month!!

TBR Update

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

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:  503 (down six!!)
  • Nonfiction:  127 (up two)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  645 (down three!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  253 (up one)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 114 (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.): 146 (up three)

Current Reads

Only reading two books right now – a lot of my series buddy reads have wound down for the year!!  I’m reading Emily’s Quest by L.M. Montgomery.  It’s the third in the Emily of New Moon trilogy, which I have somehow never read before… and am not planning to ever read again.  They are definitely more depressing and serious than the Montgomery books that I love.  I just don’t find Emily as likable as Anne, either.  They’re interesting and I’m glad to read them, but don’t see myself revisiting, especially since her one love interest is just DREADFUL.

I am also, believe it or not, on THE FINAL BOOK of the 87th Precinct series – book FIFTY-FIVE!!!!

Last Time on “Up Next…”

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

  • Lexie Star mysteries – I read the first one and it was DREADFUL! So that’s an entire series off the list!
  • The Duke’s Disappearance – Yes! I read this one and it was decent but not amazing.
  • Flint Spears – another yes!  This was a solid read – Will James’s writing is so different yet engaging.
  • Sam in the Suburbs – despite rather needing a Wodehouse fix, the answer to this one is no… but soon!!
  • Holdfast – another no.  This one just keeps getting ditched in line!!

Up Next…

The probable next five(ish) reads –

So for the month of October, Litsy has a giant “contest” called Scarathlon.  Everyone who wants to read along signs up to be on a team (one team focuses on horror/supernatural books while the other team focuses on mysteries/thrillers), so I decided to take October and focus on either wrapping up and progressing on a few of the mystery series I’m reading!!  So –

  • Beside finishing the 87th Precinct series, I’m also planning to read the entire Shetland Island series by Ann Cleeves.  I read the first book in September and really enjoyed it, so I’m intrigued to read the rest (eight books altogether).
  • I read the first five Leaphorn & Chee books in July & August.  There are 20-something of them altogether so I won’t be finishing this series this month, but I am hoping to read books 6-10!
  • The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie – this is the next book for the Agatha Christie club on Litsy; we’re reading all of Christie’s books in published order, although I’ve skipped a few haha
  • The Jackal’s Head by Elizabeth Peters – Peters’s books are hit or miss for me, but I’m always willing to at least give them a try.  This one has been on my TBR for quite a while and is due back at the library next week, so it’s actually probably going to be next up after I finish the last 87th Precinct book.
  • The Birdwatcher by William Shaw – I’m also hoping to read at least a few of the thrillers that have been on my shelf for a while, like this one – books that looked really interesting and that I really wanted to read when I acquired them (mostly through BookOutlet; curse those $2 books!) but still haven’t actually read!!!

So that’s a wrap for JUNE… stay tuned for July in October!! :-D

June Minireviews – Part 4

Believe it or not, my final batch of books for 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.

Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne – 4.5*

//published 1926, 1928//

I had both of these books in one volume, The World of Pooh.  It had been years and years since I read these, and I was honestly surprised at how readable they were.  These are just delightful little children’s stories with lovable characters and adorable adventures.  And as a side note, although Disney generally butchers every book they get their hands on, I really do think they got their original Winnie-the-Pooh animation right.

Russian Magic Tales edited by Robert Chandler – 4*

//published 2012//

This was an utterly fascinating collection of stories from Russia, arranged in somewhat chronological order, allowing the reader to watch the stories morph through time.  There are some tidbits about different story tellers/collectors (basically Russian versions of Hans Christian Anderson) and just enough editorial material to provide context and interesting background.  It was really interesting to see what concepts seem to be somewhat universal from both these stories and the ones that I’m more familiar with – things like siblings in groups of three, evil stepmothers, the youngest sibling being the one that is the most clever, etc.).  However, there were also a lot of differences.  Especially in the earlier stories, rather than a character who is compassionate and wise being the victor, frequently it was a character who was aggressive and demanding – even violent.

All in all, these were dark stories (as many old/original fairy tales tend to be) but quite interesting.  I read this one spread out over a month and think I enjoyed it more in small doses than I would have if it had been my main reading fare.  I also wish that the essay about the Baba Yaga, which is included as an appendix, had actually been at the beginning of the book as it had a lot of insight and information about the Baba Yaga and how she fits into Russian stories and culture.  This one was a win, and if you enjoy the un-Disney-fied versions of fairy tales, there’s a lot to explore in this volume.

Missee Lee by Arthur Ransome – 4*

//published 1941//

While I have been absolutely loving the Swallows & Amazon series, this one was definitely one of the weaker entries – although, as you can see, even a weak entry for this series still garners a very-much-enjoyed 4* from me!  The main thing was that this one felt completely unbelievable, so it was a little difficult to really get into.  Still, there is just so much to love and enjoy in this series as a whole, and once I was able to suspend disbelief more than usual, Missee Lee was also an entertaining read.  I’m enjoying this series so much that I’m thinking about rereading them once I finish them!! I just finished reading The Picts & the Martyrs, which means I only have one book left!!

When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne – 3.5*

//published 1924, 1927//

I read these two volumes of poetry after the Winnie-the-Pooh books.  Poetry isn’t really my jam, so while these were perfectly nice, they didn’t really speak to me on any real level.  There were some cute little ditties here, along with some delightful illustrations, but they weren’t instant classics for me.

The January Girl by Joslyn Gray – 3*

//published 1920// I forgot to take a picture of this one so this is a random cover haha//

This was a random book my sister picked up somewhere, mainly because my sister was born in January and is named Mary Rose, while this book is focused on two characters whose names are January and Rosemary.  Unfortunately, while I generally enjoy books from the early 20th century, this one just didn’t do anything for me.  The entire book is just constant drama and misunderstandings, and Rosemary is pretty much the biggest brat the grace the pages I’ve read recently.  It also read like a sequel, and I found out that it WAS a sequel and that the entire first book was supposedly about Rosemary getting over herself and accepting her stepfather, except apparently she didn’t actually learn anything because she’s sooo completely self-absorbed STILL in this book and never really seemed to learn anything.  I think I wouldn’t have minded the drama as much if it actually felt like Rosemary grew as a person, but I just didn’t get that impression.  Ah well, you can’t always win the buy-a-random-old-book lottery, I suppose!

The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2021//

I’ve read a few of Lauren’s books now and still am working my way through the (mostly enjoyable) backlog, so I thought I would pick up their newest book as well.  However, while this was a fine book, I definitely didn’t love it.  There were loads of ethical questions raised that were never really addressed, which made the whole story feel somewhat gimmicky to me.  Basically, the idea is that one of the characters has created a way to genetically match people by studying different matching genes between super happy couples who have been together for a long time.  And like I get that this is chick lit so maybe they didn’t want to spend too much time on the science of this kind of thing (although honestly, you brought it up so), but, for instance, it feels like real-life relationships are about balance, so shouldn’t you also have certain genes that NEVER match with happy couples – i.e., your contrasts?  Like relationships aren’t about finding someone who is exactly like you.  And maybe that’s what they meant by “matching” was actually “complementary” but it isn’t exactly put that way and left me feeling a little confused about the entire process.  I was also confused when I saw multiple reviews of this book accusing it of supporting eugenics… which just proves that either these people didn’t read the book or they have no idea what eugenics actually is, since there was nothing in this story about forcing people (or forcefully not allowing people) to reproduce, or about eliminating certain characteristics from the gene pool, or even anything about the matches being physical (there was nothing about only matching people to other physically similar people).

Anyway.  All that to say that this was an okay book for a one-off read, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite book by this duo, and it felt like if they wanted to get all “sciencey” then maybe they should have had some explanations.  Still, I’m sure that I’ll keep reading Christina Lauren books because there was a lot of good banter and some fun scenes as usual.

The Perfect Horse // by Elizabeth Letts

//published 2016//

Those of you who have been with me for a while have probably noticed that I read significantly more fiction than nonfiction.  But I do also have a nonfiction TBR and have been trying to read more from that as well.  In June I started The Perfect Horse because I had read another book by Letts a couple of years ago, The Eighty-Dollar Champion, and really enjoyed it.  In The Perfect Horse I was so pleased to see that Letts’s attention to detail and ability to tell an engrossing story had definitely carried over.

During the 1930s, while Hitler was amassing territory and power, he also was working on a project to create the ideal war horse.  In World War I, horses were hugely instrumental to the war effort, so the concept of making a perfect “race” of horses fit in well with Hitler’s overall scheme of a perfect “race” of humans.  As various countries fell under German control, many assets of those countries were centralized, including famous stables and horses.  Letts follows the journey of several different horses, including two famous Arabian stallions from Poland, and several Lipizzaner stallions from the Spanish Riding School in Austria.  She also introduces us to the people connected to these horses.  There are a lot of people and places in play, but Letts’s writing is compulsively readable, and I honestly had trouble putting this one down.

The first two sections of the book focus on introducing the horses, people, and places involved.  Letts gives the readers the background of why Hitler found horses to be such an important part of his military program, and also discusses what the US Calvary was doing at the time (they were still on horseback!), yet we also begin to see the writing on the wall – horses are not actually going to be critical military assets for much longer.  It was really interesting to see the way that the horses were shifted around and centralized, and how the focus of Hitler’s horse breeding program was on creating virtually identical stallions for war, a horse factory if you will, with horses being trained and used as young as possible, and mares producing foals as rapidly as they could.  This was especially in contrast with the incredibly slow-moving and precise breeding/training program of the Lipizzaner horses, who aren’t ridden until they are several years old.

In the third part of the book, the war is moving along and Germany is falling.  It’s at this point that an American officer finds out, through a captured German, that a small herd of incredibly valuable horses are just across enemy lines.  With the Russians closing in from the east, and willing to literally eat anything and everything in their path, a decision is made to cross lines and basically steal the horses.  An interesting part here was the discussion about whether or not it was worth it to risk human lives to rescue equine ones, and I appreciated the way that Letts explained this –

This mission mattered to him – he wanted to save the horses.  All over Europe, there were men whose express job was to protect cultural artifacts and recover stolen art.  At the highest level, the American military was aware that even in the darkest times, care must be taken to protect irreplaceable cultural treasures.  But the horses, equally beloved, equally treasured, infinitely precious because they were living things, did not have the same official protection afforded to museum pieces.

For me, the book fell off a bit in the final section, which looks at the aftermath of the rescue.  Because the focus is more on this group of specific horses than it is on the Lipizzaner breed as a whole, it’s honestly a little bit of a downer.  The American Calvary stopped using horses after World War II, which meant that the horses were sold rather than used.  The American Jockey Club refused to acknowledge the meticulously-kept records of the heritage of rescued horses, which meant that they were almost valueless in America.  Consequently, the end-destination of many of the horses is unknown, although the fates of the four stallions that Letts focused on the most were happy.

All in all, I definitely recommend this one.  It was completely engrossing and an intriguing look at yet another aspect of both the war and Hitler’s regime.  Letts kept me completely engaged in the fates of these beautiful horses and the men who cared about them.  I felt like this quote really summarizes the story well –

World War II is still the most destructive event ever to have occurred in human history, with estimates of the total death toll as high as sixty million, or 2.5 percent of the world’s total population.  The irreparable loss to civilization that resulted from people being slaughtered and entire cultures being obliterated is impossible to measure.

Against the backdrop of all this wreckage, the saving of the horses was a small thing; and yet as Hank Reed’s men instinctively knew, it was only through individual acts of compassion that the world was able to climb out of the trough it had dug for itself and attempt to find its way into a more peaceful future.

Later, when people asked why he had decided to save the horses, Colonel Reed’s answer was simple:  “We were so tired of death and destruction.  We wanted to do something beautiful.”

The Stanislaskis series // by Nora Roberts

  • Taming Natasha (1990)
  • Luring a Lady (1991)
  • Falling for Rachel (1993)
  • Convincing Alex (1994)
  • Waiting for Nick (1997)
  • Considering Kate (2001)

Nora Roberts is stupidly prolific, so I’m still working my way through her entire body of work here and there.  Even when they aren’t great, they’re usually good for a one-off read.  I still haven’t read anything by her that I love as much as the Bridal Quartet, which I’ve read multiple times (Nora, don’t you want to do a second-gen story about that group??? Please??), but generally speaking her writing is fun and fluffy.  She writes a lot of romantic suspense, so that was kind of what I was expecting from these, but they ended up being pretty much just straight romance.  Consequently, they weren’t super exciting, but they were definitely relaxing and enjoyable.

The first four books follow one of my favorite tropes – focusing on different members of a sibling group.  I really enjoy series that build this way (or within a group of close friends), where each book stands on its own, but you’re rewarded by reading them all in order because you get to see the fun of earlier couples being happy and adorable in the background.  Honestly, there wasn’t anything super innovative or memorable about these books, but sometimes I just need some brain fluff!!!

The last two books focus on children of the original group of siblings, another favorite thing of mine.  I loved seeing everyone a decade or so later.  They were my favorite two books of the bunch and the ones I would be most likely to reread.

All in all, nothing crazy, but an enjoyable series and another batch of books checked off of my Nora Roberts to-read list!!