April Minireviews – Part 1

Still catching up on a bajillion reviews!  Now that I’ve checked off February (ha!), it’s on to March!!

Coot Club by Arthur Ransome – 5* – finished March 5

//published 1934//

So it may not come as a surprise to learn that I am still in love with these books!  I’m reading this series very slowly, savoring each one.  I’ve also been purchasing them as I go in the Jonathan Cape editions, which come with amazing end maps that I love.  This story was about a gang of children on a sailing expedition.  I usually think of sailboats (when I think of them, which, if I’m honest, is rarely) in association with large, open bodies of water, but in this story the characters are sailing on a river!  There was loads of adventures and excitement, the most adorable characters, and just so many happy things.  I loved every single page, as always.

Wild Horse Running by Sam Savitt – 4* – finished March 5

//published 1973//

This is another children’s books, and a fairly short read with loads of gorgeous illustrations by the author, who is one of my favorites.  This is a story about a wild horse, and like the countryside the horse roams, the story is a bit sparse.  Although it was choppy at times, Savitt still pulls together a tale that tugs at your heartstrings.  Published at a time – tragically not very long ago! – when it was still legal to pursue wild horses by car and plane, run them to exhaustion, and then ship them off to make dog food, it’s obvious that part of the reason Savitt is writing is to shine a light on this horrific practice, but his writing never feels polemic.  If you like horse stories, than you’ll enjoy this one.  If you don’t, this one probably isn’t for you, as there isn’t a great deal of human interest aspect.

Mystery in the Pirate Oak by Helen Fuller Orton – 3* – finished March 6

//published 1949//

As you may be able to tell, I was on a run of children’s books at the beginning of the month, looking for some light, fast reads.  (Although Coot Club was particularly fast – it was 352 pages and still not long enough for me!)  This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I picked up at a booksale back in 1997!  Considering it’s barely 100 pages long, you think I would have bothered to read it sometime in the last 20+ years, but here we are.  This was overall a pretty average, if someone haphazard story, but what really blew my mind was the historical context – published in 1949, yet the characters’ grandma went west in a covered wagon.  It just never ceases to amaze me how actually close we are to that kind of history.

Watership Down by Richard Adams – 4.5* – finished March 6

//published 1972//

It had been years since I last read this classic, so I was rather excited that one of my group members chose it as her book to mail for #LMPBC (Litsy Markup Postal Book Club – four people in a group – each person picks a book to read and annotate – every month everyone mails whichever book they have to the next person until you get your own back).  Not only did I get the pleasure of reading it, I got to read notes and thoughts from the other members as well, which was super fun!

Anyway, if you enjoy animal stories, you have to read this one.  An epic adventure of a small group of wild rabbits who leave their home warren in search of someplace new.  Like truly great animal tales, the rabbits don’t behave unnaturally, other than their ability to converse with one another. (And who is to say they can’t do that in real life anyway?)  Adams even uses words that are part of the rabbits’ language that are “not translatable” into English, which somehow adds to the authenticity.  While this is an animal story, there is a lot of depth to the characters and world-building, and some thought-provoking lessons as well.

Fallen Into the Pit by Ellis Peters – 3.5* – finished March 8

//published 1951//

Ellis Peters wrote the Cadfael mysteries, which are some of my favorite books of all time.  Fallen Into the Pit is one of her much earlier books, and is a “modern” mystery (set just after WWII, which is when it was published) rather than a historical mystery like Cadfael.  While this was a perfectly enjoyable book, I didn’t love it, or particularly bond with any of the characters.  It was an interesting concept – a look at the way that WWII German POWs were being assimilated into Britain by sending them out to live in small villages.  I think part of the reason that I struggled with this book is because the German is definitely one of the bad guys, and was SUCH a jerk, so in a way it felt like the lesson of the book was that Yes, you SHOULD be paranoid about Germans living among us because they SUCK.  So the whole thing felt vaguely racist against Germans, if that makes sense.  Still, a decent if not stellar mystery, and with a likable enough protagonist that I reserved the next two books in the series from the library.  Of course, they are still there because the libraries have been shut down what feels like years, but someday!

The Last Waltz by Dorothy Mack – 3.5* – finished March 10

//published 1986//

Another paperback out of the box of random Regency romances, this one was set in Brussels rather than England, which was a fun switch.  With Napoleon closing in, the setting was more interesting than the actual story, which was incredibly bland.  Truly nothing unpredictable happened in this book, to the point that I can only vaguely remember it a month later!

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward – 3.5* – finished March 12

//published 2015//

This is the first in a series revolving around a group of (modern) detectives in Derbyshire.  While this was a decent read, it was a bit garbled since one of the characters was doing her own research about the killer at the same time as the police, and it was easy to get confused about which people knew what – something that always frustrates me a little.  There were also SO MANY illegitimate babies.  SO MANY.  Basically every time there was a plot twist, it was because someone had had an unexpected pregnancy, and that got old after a while, especially with the not-so-subtle “if only they could have gotten an abortion at the time all their problems would have been solved!” message.  That’s right, because killing your baby solves all your issues and definitely doesn’t create any others. *eye roll*  Anyway, it was a fine mystery, but nothing about it inspired me to pick up the next book in the series.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold – 3.5* – finished March 15

//published 2015//

Quite a while ago I read another of Arnold’s books, Kids of Appetitewhich I genuinely loved.  I’ve been meaning to read Mosquitoland ever since, so I decided to choose it for one of my #LMPBC picks this round.  While I did like it, it just didn’t have the magic of Kids of Appetite.  In this story, teenager Mim has been forced to move with her dad and stepmom from northern Ohio to Mississippi, leaving her mother behind.  Lately, even letters and phone calls from her mom have stopped coming in, and when Mim overhears part of a conversation between her dad and stepmom, implying that Mim’s mom is sick, she steals some cash from her stepmom, jumps on a Greyhound bus, and starts heading north.  The book is journey, with plenty of adventures throughout.

My two main issues with this book – the first was just that most of it was way over-the-top.  I never really believed that any of these things happened to Mim.  There were way too many coincidences and genuinely ridiculously crazy characters.  While some of the episodes were entertaining, most of them just had me rolling my eyes in disbelief.  The book is very episodic in nature, which added to the overall choppy feel.

My second big issue is just that Mim’s dad didn’t tell her what was really going on with her mom.  Mim is 16, not 6, and there wasn’t really any reason that she shouldn’t have been told the truth immediately.  Literally all of Mim’s problems could have been avoided if her dad had had ONE honest conversation with her – and there was literally no reason for him not to, which I found frustrating.

All in all, Mosquitoland was interesting as a one-time read, and I am definitely curious to get it back in a few months and see what notes my fellow #LMPBC readers have left, as it does have a lot of potential discussion points, but it wasn’t a book that I really bonded with.  I do love the cover, though!

The Happy Camper // by Melody Carlson

//published 2020//

Revell very kindly sent me a review copy of this book, which doesn’t impact my opinions.  I do apologize that this review is later than the due date assigned, but life has been a little topsy-turvey lately!

The story begins with Dillon quitting her job, breaking up with her noncommittal boyfriend, and heading back home to stay with her grandpa in a small town in eastern Oregon.  She knows her grandpa has been lonely since his wife died, and she’s hoping that she’ll have some time to figure out what she wants to do with her own life, while helping her grandpa out on his farm.  Dillon was basically raised by her grandparents since her mom, Margot, is a “free spirit” type who didn’t really want to be tied down to motherhood.  But when Dillon arrives at the farm, it turns out that her mom has also decided she needs a break from life, and is already living in Dillon’s old room.  As always, Margot has come up with a new, brilliant, money-making scheme and is determined to stay at the farm so she can get her new business off the ground.  Throughout the course of the story, Dillon comes to grips with herself, her mom, and her life, as she fixes up a vintage pull-behind trailer to live in.

So overall I really enjoyed this story.  It’s fluffy and easy to read.  Dillon is a pretty likable main character, and I appreciated that she was the one who made the decisions to uproot her life – so often these types of stories start with the main character hitting a string of absurdly bad luck.  But in this instance, Dillon herself is the one who decides that she wants more from life, and she’s the one who quits her job and tells her boyfriend that it’s over, and I liked that.  I also appreciated that the book wasn’t entirely romance – a lot of the story is about Dillon dealing with some of the issues between her and her mom, and I honestly would have liked even more of that aspect of the story.

However, the story suffers from lack of direction.  Things move along pretty well up to the point where Dillon receives and starts renovating the trailer, but that’s also the point that she really gets to know the potential love interest, Jordan.  There’s another woman who likes Jordan, and who has known him a lot longer, so Dillon keeps seeing them together and misinterpreting the situation, and then being reassured by Jordan that he really is interested in her (Dillon), etc.  At the same time, Dillon’s (truly) obnoxious ex-boyfriend shows up and is very persistently trying to prove to Dillon that he isn’t afraid of commitment – this means that Jordan keeps seeing them together and misinterpreting the situation, and then being reassured by Dillon that she really is interested in him (Jordan), etc.  It was okay the first few times that this misunderstanding occurred, but it began to get very repetitive and uninteresting as that aspect of the story felt like it went on forever.

Also, as someone who owns a vintage motorhome – one that was in pretty good shape when we bought it – I was a little eye-roll-y on how easily and quickly Dillon was able to get her trailer completely road-and-living-worthy.  But hey, that’s fiction.

And one more completely unreasonable thing to be annoyed about?  Dillon names her trailer and her truck – but it’s super obvious that the author doesn’t really understand the concept of naming cars, because she italicizes the names as though they are boats – you know, like The Minnow.  Except when you name a car, it’s more like naming a pet.  My car is Pruitt, not Pruitt.  No idea why, but it genuinely aggravated me to see the constant references to the names in sentences like this – “Yes, I wanted to get Jack looking good.  Couldn’t let Rose show him up.”  WHY.

In the end, this was a really relaxing one-time read that I liked and can recommend, but it wasn’t a book that I’ll keep and cherish and reread forever.

PS Also mildly confused by the cover image.  Considering the camper is a HUGE part of the story, how hard would it have been to put a picture of the actual kind of trailer that Dillon owns??  It’s VERY specifically named as a 1964 Aloha Oasis with a cab-over, like this one –

March Minireviews – Part 2

I’m back, with another lightning round of minireviews!!

Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter – 3* – read February 22

//published 2019//

Hunter can be hit or miss for me, and this one was mostly a miss.  SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THIS REVIEW.  The main thing that frustrated me about this book was that every single guy in the story was a jerk except for the main romance.  I found it ridiculous that the main character finds out that not only was her dad a serial cheater, but her grandpa was, too.  I mean, seriously?  And what exactly did that add to the story??  The reason her sisters don’t get along is because back in college they both fell in love with the same guy – guy was engaged to Sister A, but then leaves her and marries Sister B, which pretty much puts him in the jerk category, too.  Then we think that at least Sister A eventually found love – but no, her guy is a white collar thief who’s in jail now.  Sister B’s marriage is on the rocks, too, although at least he shows up at the end and they seem to be getting back together.  I’m just really over the “all guys are cheating jerks trope.”

On the other hand, the story had its moments.  I liked the grandma and her sneaky way of bringing her granddaughters together, and I did like the build of the romance between the two main characters.  However, I got frustrated by the sisters, who both needed their heads smacked together on more than one occasion.  All in all, this was a so-so read for me, that I would have enjoyed more if there had more than one nice guy in the entire story.

How to Save Your Child From Ostrich Attacks, Accidental Time Travel, and Anything Else That May Happen on an Average Tuesday by James Breakwell – 3.5* – read February 24

//published 2019//

I follow Breakwell on a few different social media platforms and really appreciate his humor.  I highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter – I think that length is the absolutely best for his humor.  How to Save Your Child is his third “parenting” guide, and probably my least favorite of the three.  While there were some entertaining moments and quotes, the overall book got a little repetitive.  Still, if you’ve enjoyed his other books, you’ll like this one, too.  Below, my three favorite quotes:

If your child falls off the bed and hits their head, you might wonder if you need to take your kid to the emergency room.  You don’t.  If it were a real emergency, you would know, because you would be on your way to the emergency room instead of wondering if you could keep your kid home to save some money.  In a real crisis, your survival genes override your cheapness genes.

When Godzilla starts a rampage, calmly move your child away from the destruction zone and head out to the countryside.  Godzilla is mainly concerned with demolishing tall buildings.  That’s why there’s no footage of him pointlessly stomping around empty farm fields.  If you already live in a rural area, congratulations:  Nothing in your life is worth destroying.  Sit back and watch as those condescending city-dwellers get their comeuppance.  Not that it will bother them.  Like crime and traffic, radioactive monsters are just a part of city life.

The world of Harry Potter is filled with dangers.  I’m talking about the version described in the books and movies, not the version J.K. Rowling retroactively changes on a daily basis to confuse and annoy the internet.  By the time my book goes to print, Dumbledore and Grindelwald could have an entire secret family together and the main character of books one through seven might be a frozen treat from Dairy Queen.  You’re a Blizzard, Harry.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – 4* – read February 25

//published 2019//

Wow, I don’t even know how to review this book.  Overall, I liked it, although I sometimes felt like it was trying a little too hard to be clever, with all the layers upon layers and stories within stories.  I also don’t feel like I should have to read a 500-page book twice to “get” it, but because of the way that all the stories are interconnected and the way time flips around, I was definitely left feeling like I would have to read it a second time to really grasp what was going on.  While much of the world-building and description was fantastic, I weirdly never felt particularly connected to any of the characters, and really didn’t buy the romance between the two main characters, which was definitely quite insta-love-y.  There also was basically not an actual plot, which added the dream-like feel of the whole thing.  Overall, there were a lot of things about this book that I really loved, but it still felt a little flat.  Worth reading, and I’ll probably even read it again sometime, but definitely not the instant winner that The Night Circus was.

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie – 4.5* – read February 27

//published 1925//

Christie rarely lets me down, especially in her pre-1930’s books.  A group on Litsy is reading and discussing one Christie book per month, and this was February’s book.  I’ve read all of them before, so this was obviously a reread, but it had been quite a while and I couldn’t remember all the details of what was going to happen.  This is one of her spy thriller-ish books, so strong on humor with a dash of campiness, but still a fun romp.

For a more detailed review on this one, check out my review from when I read it back in 2016.

Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck – 3* – read February 29

//published 2011//

I read this series several years ago and remember finding them entertaining if a bit too YA (even though the main character is 18).  Since then, Houck has published another book in the series, so I thought I would give it another go.  However, I found this really difficult to get through this time.  Kelsey, who narrates the books, is just too annoying for words, and I had also forgotten how the love triangle really plays a very prominent part in the plot.  So even though I really do want to read a story with handsome princes who are cursed to be tigers, I just couldn’t handle wading through 2000 pages of Kelsey dithering about which perfect brother she loves the most.

*****

Okay!!  That brings us to the end of February’s reviews!  I think I’m going to write a February Rearview post – despite the fact that it’s basically April – and then start minireviewing March’s books in a continued effort to catch up!

March Minireviews – Part 1

Wow, friends, it has been over a month since I posted here!  I would love to be able to give you some dramatic reason why, but the truth of the matter is that my brother introduced me to the joys of playing Stardew Valley and I have become a total addict.  So most of my extra computer time is spent doing chores on my computer farm that I also do in real life.  I may need help! :D

Anyway, I have been reading, even if I haven’t been reviewing.  I’m going to see if I can get a few batches of minireviews out the door and get somewhat caught up.  I never even got around to doing a February Rearview, and now it’s time for March’s!  I haven’t READ a single blog post in weeks!  I really miss all of you and am sad that I have no idea what is going on in your lives!

Since I last posted, all the corona craziness began.  At this point, I’m still considered an “essential” worker (agriculture) so I have been super busy at work.  We aren’t exactly sure what is going to happen with all the plants we are transplanting (most of our business is wholesale and thus dependent on what our customers decide/are required to do) but we are still transplanting them like crazy!!  Despite the stress of everyday life right now, and even though working in a greenhouse can sometimes be stupidly hot and frustrating, I still really like it there and love coming home smelling like basil and lavender, since the majority of the plants we raise are herbs.

Anyway, that’s the skinny.  Here are some book reviews, and maybe I’ll post some more soon…

Well Met by Jen DeLuca – 4* – read February 8

//published 2019//

This is a happy little piece of chick lit, although it’s a bit obvious that it’s a debut as well, as there were places where the story dragged a bit.  The setting – a Renaissance fair – was fun, unique, and done well.  Anyone who has ever worked behind the scenes for an event even somewhat similar to this will find plenty to relate to.  Emily was a likable character, although a bit slow on the uptake at times.  However, I had mixed feelings about Simon.  The idea is that he’s a bit strict and cranky in real life, but when he is playing his character he becomes more more relaxed and dashing… okay, except that still leaves him being a bit of a jerk the rest of the time, and I wasn’t ever quite convinced that the relaxed and dashing version was the “real” Simon, if that makes sense.  I also get annoyed when a female character complains about men “ogling” women, but then proceeds to go on and on and ON about how attractive a man is.

Still, this was overall a great deal of fun, and I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel.

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead – 2.5* – read February 11

//published 1999//

This is a book I picked up for Litsy’s #AuthoraMonth challenge – each month all the participants try to read at least one book by that month’s author.  I hadn’t read anything by Colson before, but was rather attracted to the premise of an elevator inspector, simply because of the complete randomness of it.  However, I just never really got into this story.  Long stretches of it were incredibly boring and wordy.  The whole things feels like an overwrought allegory, with Whitehead trying to make some kind of point about racism but never actually getting there.  Also, I’m not sure if it’s just because of my ignorance about elevators, but it was really hard to tell where reality stopped and Whitehead’s made-up world began, which added to the confusion of the story (for me, anyway).  I also always get aggravated when people mix up racism and classism – was the character really being ignored because she was black, or was she being ignored because she was a waitress?  Because whenever she was dressed in her professional suit/office attire, everyone paid attention to her as much as anyone else, so it seems like the difference was the societal position, not the color of her skin.

At any rate, this was an alright read, but not one that remotely encouraged me to pick up another of Whitehead’s books, despite glowing reviews for several others that I saw on Litsy, especially for his most recent release, The Underground Railroad.  I’m really just not a fan of serious novels that work too hard to make a point, and this definitely fell into that category.

Particular Intentions by L.L. Diamond – 4* – read February 12

//published 2016//

We all know that I love P&P variations.  In this one, Elizabeth overhears Darcy and Bingley discussing the Bennett family, and Darcy actually defends them, rather than insults them, meaning that Elizabeth becomes much more open to Darcy as a person.  This was a fun little romp of a variation.  However, there was a lot of missed potential with the Wickham angle – instead, Diamond decides to create all her drama with some random chick who is desperate to marry Darcy, and that all felt unrealistic and melodramatic.  Overall, though, the characters were likable and the story not too terrible.

Particular Attachments by L.L. Diamond – 3.5* – read February 13

This is the sequel to Particular Intentions, set after Darcy and Elizabeth are married, and focusing more on Georgianna.  This one was a lot slower than the other.  Basically, this fellow shows up whose family has known the Darcys for a long time and he has always secretly been in love with Georgianna.  However, his life-long devotion seemed a little unbelievable since he hasn’t really seen her much since she was basically a little girl.  I could have understood him wanting to get to know her better, but to immediately jump to “We were meant for each other and I’ve never loved another!” just made me roll my eyes.  A lot.  The middle of the book dragged, with Georgianna dithering about telling Nathaniel about Wickham – because obviously Nathaniel isn’t going to actually reject her no matter what she says, so that all felt a tad overwrought.  Still, a perfectly pleasant sequel, even if it wasn’t anything groundbreaking.

Falling for Mr. Darcy by Karalynne MacRory – 3.5* – read February 17

I tend to read multiple P&P variations in a row, and this one was on Kindle Unlimited so I picked it up, since I had read another MacRory variation before and enjoyed it.  This one was fine, but not particularly memorable.  Elizabeth hurts her ankle while on a walk, and Darcy is the one who finds and rescues her, which means they actually have a conversation like adults.  It also means that Elizabeth doesn’t walk into town and meet Wickham.  This was fine for a KU read, but one I was glad I hadn’t spent any money to read.

The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy – 4* – read February 20

//published 2012//

I don’t exactly remember where I heard about this book, but I ended up being quite surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  Part of my enjoyment was because I really enjoy animal stories (think Black Beauty, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, etc.).  Set in India, this story is about a clan of stray cats who live there.  Cats can communicate with one another even over a reasonable distance via the “whisker network” but every once in a while a cat is born who is called a Sender, who can communicate not just with other cats, but with all other animals, over far great distances.  At the beginning of the story, a Sender appears in the clan’s territory, causing much consternation, especially since the legend is that Senders are only born during times of great needs – and the clan is actually experiencing a time of great prosperity.  Meanwhile, there is a creepy house in the middle of the territory where an old man lives with his band of house cats, who are all terrifyingly evil.  Roy does an amazing job pacing this story, and while her cats may talk with one another, they never behave in any way other than how cats would behave, which makes the story believable at some level.  I was completely caught up in this adventure, and actually have the sequel on my shelf to read very soon.

Lucky Caller by Emma Mills – 3.5* – read February 21

//published 2020//

While I have enjoyed a lot of Mills’s other books, this one didn’t really spark anything for me.  It almost felt like Mills had an idea for a story, but then rushed to finish it and left some stuff just dangling.  A lot of the concepts were really disjointed, and the whole point of the story – the radio program – was really underdeveloped.  Even the tie-in to the title was a little weak, and there was a whole side story with Nina’s sister that just kind of … was there.  This is probably my least favorite of her books so far.  It wasn’t bad, it was just pretty meh, and even the moments of friendly banter – the reason I always come back to Mills’s books – wasn’t quite enough to bring this up any further in my ratings.

Also, as a side note, I was also sad to see a departure of the cover style of all of Mills’s other books.

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.

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.