Study Series // by Maria V. Snyder

I’m not really sure where I first heard about the Study series, but Poison Study came across my radar at some point and has been languishing on the the TBR for eons.  I finally got around to requesting it from the library.  I like to get the first book from a series, and if I like it, then I request the rest.  I reserved the rest of the series about three chapters into Poison Study.

According to Goodreads, this is a series of six books, followed by the Glass series, and there are several short stories interspersed throughout.  Since I decided to read the shorts, I happened to actually be on Snyder’s website, where I found out that Goodreads really has the order wrong: Snyder wrote the first three Study books, then the three Glass books, and finally the three Soulfinder books, which, because they have the same main character as the Study series, have now been lumped in with those first three books, despite the fact that the Glass books fall in between, both in publishing order and chronologically within the series.

Since one of my few obsessions in life is reading all the books in a series in the order they were meant to be read, I was pretty tickled that I discovered this after finishing the third of the Study books, allowing me to jump right into the Glass trilogy on schedule, even though it did mean that I had to check them out as Kindle books instead of getting the hard copies like I prefer.

This is a lot of digression.  The point is – I am really enjoying these books.  And what this post is SUPPOSED to be about is the first three Study books:  Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study.

//published 2007//

The trilogy focuses on Yelena, a young woman who, at the beginning of the tale, is in prison awaiting execution.  But she is presented with a choice: die as scheduled, or die… later.  In the meantime, if she chooses, she can become the Commander’s new food taster.  Yelena accepts the position, and soon is in training by the Commander’s second-in-command, Valek.

Snyder paces this book quite well, and does an excellent job with world-building.  I was completely drawn into the story, mostly because I actually really liked Yelena.  So often in YA, female protagonists (who are all the rage) are quite obnoxious.  I found Yelena to be refreshing.  She was intelligent and athletic, but not at the expense of being a girl.  Throughout Snyder’s world, women are in positions of power, and there is no real fuss made over it, which I really liked!  I’m quite tired of heavy-handed attempts to ‘rebel against the patriarchy’ within YA (especially fantasy), wherein authors create worlds in which women have no rights, and then spend the entire time complaining about.  I much, MUCH prefer this method, where a world has been created where women and men work equally, side by side, and individuals are chosen by whether they are best for the position, not whether they are male or female.  In the next two books, which take place mostly in the neighboring country where there is magic, there are multiple clans of people – but again, instead of creating a world with different races and lots of racism and then griping about it, Snyder has created a world with several clans of people (with different physical aspects, cultures, and skills) – who actually all work together and treat one another as equals.  Delightful!

//published 2007//

I also loved the complete absence of a love triangle!  Yelena falls in love in the first book, but is separated from her heart-mate (such a lovely term) in the second book.  Towards the beginning, she runs into this other guy, and I was super scared that he was going to become this other love interest, but in a refreshing twist, Yelena stays true to her original love and completely sees through the second guy’s act.  Fabulous.

//published 2008//

These books aren’t perfect.  At times they felt rushed and a bit chaotic, but overall I found the pacing to be good and the characters felt real and reasonable.  I’m kind of in love with Valek, and I’m sooo excited that Yelena and her brother start working together, because sibling teams are one of my favorite things.  I really liked watching Yelena grow, especially as she learns about her magical powers and how to wield them.  She was a bit obnoxiously independent at times, which got a little old, but on the other hand, I felt like it fit with her background.

I think these are probably considered YA, but Yelena is a bit older than the traditional YA protagonist, being around 19-22 throughout the course of the books.  I much preferred this and found everything far more believable at this age.  It also meant that even though there is some sex in these books (100% off-screen, hurrah!), while I wasn’t exactly okay with it, I was way more okay with it than I am when it’s a couple of 16-year-olds pledging their undying love.

However, I will say that I feel like Snyder really uses the whole kidnapping/rape scenario a bit too freely.  I kept remembering that viral video from a while back – ‘Hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife, cuz they rapin’ ever’body up in here!’  Legit, like how many people can get kidnapped and raped in a three-book period of time…???

My other big beef with these books is none of the covers are very good.  There’s so much potential for some really fabulous cover art with these, and they are all super bleh.

Overall, 4/5 for the trilogy. I’m almost done with the third Glass book – I haven’t liked that trilogy quite as well, but it’s been alright.  I’m looking forward to rejoining Yelena, though!

Also, I’m having a bit of a personal dilemma.  A couple of weeks ago, puppy Paisley rooted through my library book basket while I was gone and completely destroyed a paperback, so I had to pay for it and it was all quite embarrassing.  Now, would you believe that she swiped Poison Study OFF THE COUNTER while I was at work the other day, and destroyed that one, too!?  It is at least still readable (which was a good thing, because I wasn’t actually done reading it at the time), but I’m quite embarrassed to take it in and confess to yet ANOTHER dog fiasco!  I’m thinking about just continuing to renew it forever….

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‘Love Inspired’ – Part 1

A while back my great-aunt passed away, and somehow my grandpa ended up with two boxes full of books.  Almost all of them are ‘inspirational’ romances published by Harlequin as ‘Love Inspired’.  At one point (not sure if you still can) you could subscribe and have a new book mailed to you every month.  Aunt Darby did just that, and now I’m in possession of somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 or so of these ‘Love Inspired’ titles.  Most of them are pretty cheesy but alright for a one-time fluff read.  I’m sure that I’ll binge through some of them periodically.  They’re perfect to grab out of the crate when I’m just looking for a quick, no-brainer book.  However, most of them will probably end up exiting this house after that one-time read, because they just aren’t worth the shelf space to me.  So if there’s one that sounds especially appealing to you… let me know, and I’ll be quite happy to mail you a gift!  ;-)

Oklahoma Reunion by Tina Radcliffe

//published 2011//

This book has what is basically my least-favorite trope of all time – the one where a woman shows up and tells a fellow, ‘oh, by the way, I had your baby years ago and never got around to telling you about it.’  It always fills me with rage when women act like it’s perfectly okay to make these sorts of decisions, especially when the baby was created when the people were in a loving relationship.  How is it ever okay to not tell a man that he’s a father?!?!!?

Still, Radcliffe manages to work around this problem in a way that seems plausible if still aggravating.  Unfortunately, this book was bland as plain potatoes – zero surprises, zero twists, zero anything remotely interesting.  Everyone just got back together and had a few adult conversations and then got along just fine.  Very mature and admirable, but not particularly exciting…

Homecoming Hero by Renee Ryan

//published 2010//

Dude has just returned from an overseas tour in the Middle East.  While he was there, a truck he was in got blown up and he is the only one who survived.  One of his best friends died in the incident, and the dude promised his friend that he would look up the friend’s sister and pass on a message.  Sister is determined to be a missionary in the Middle East, inspired by the life of her brother.  Unfortunately, the final message from her brother, as delivered  by the dude, is that the brother didn’t want her to ever come the Middle East, as things are a bit uncomfortable there.

Overall, this was actually a pretty decent story.  Ryan handled a lot of different issues really well.  I wasn’t sure where she was going with the tension over whether or not the sister should become a missionary, but she did a good job of balancing different perspectives on the issues.  Dude is also (understandably) suffering from PTSD, which I felt was handled sensitively.

But while the issues were done well, the story itself was a little weak, and I just didn’t ship Dude and Sister as much as I wanted to.  Plus, I felt a little let down that the puppy on the cover doesn’t show up until the VERY end of the book.  I mean seriously.  A decent 3/5 read, but not a favorite.

Fireman Dad by Betsy St. Amant

//published 2011//

Marissa is a widow raising her young son on her own.  Her husband was a firefighter and died in a fire; Marissa also grew up with her dad as the town’s fire chief and felt like he was never there for her as he always prioritized work.  When Marissa meets Jacob, she is immediately attracted to him and begins to wonder if maybe there could be romance in her future.  But when she finds out that he’s a firefighter, she’s determined to not get at involved with him, as she’s sworn off of firefighters forever.

Honestly, this book aggravated me quite a bit as Marissa was just a tad too ridiculous.  She was so bitter and obnoxious about her dad, and I kept wondering that if the whole ‘firefighters work too much’ thing bothered her so much, why did she marry one the first time around?  She’s completely unreasonable on the subject, and when her son, who is in kindergarten or first grade, I can’t remember, talks about wanting to be a firefighter, she basically flips out.  Hello?  He’s six?  How many of us have followed our six-year-old dreams – or even remember them??  I skimmed through large portions of this story hoping that Marissa would become less aggravating, but she really didn’t.  A 2.5/5, and another book off my shelves and off to someone else’s!

The Perfect Gift by Lenora Worth

//published 2009//

Goldie is in a car wreck and, dazed and disoriented, stumbles to – and into the nearest house, where she collapses on the couch.  Luckily, the couch doesn’t belong to a serial killer, but a super nice guy, widower Rory who is the father to two sons.  Turns out that Rory knows Goldie’s grandma, and after Goldie recovers from her head-whacking, everyone is on their way to being friends – or maybe more.

I really liked Rory and Goldie’s grandma, and I even liked Goldie – except when she did things that made no sense, like deciding that even though Rory is A+ Awesome, she can’t even go on a single date with him because she is planning to go back to her home in Baton Rouge (she is staying with her grandma during this story) – which is only like an hour away, so it really didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Goldie’s motivations never felt natural, so it made the whole story feel a little wonky.

There were also random errors in logic.  At one point, Goldie is helping babysit Rory’s sons and nieces, because he has had a family emergency.  However, she can’t find the one son and starts to look around:

I can’t call Rory, she thought.  She’s just look around the house and yard.  Maybe Sam had gone outside.  But she would have seen him coming through the house since both the front and back doors were in plain sight of the open den and kitchen.

So, having determined that Sam couldn’t have gone outside without her noticing him, obviously Goldie starts by looking through the house, right?  No, of course not – she goes right outside and wanders around in the yard, the driveway, the storage shed, the bayou – for a couple of hours?!  Which would have been fine if she hadn’t JUST TOLD ME that there was no way that Sam could have gone outside to begin with!

Anyway, this was a nice little 3/5 read that was overall pretty relaxing and perfectly fine, but there were little glitches like that that just disproportionately aggravated me.

September Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Recently, life has felt crazy, so I’m attempting to catch up on some reviews…!!!

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

//published 1953//

This book definitely felt like Chandler had his footing back.  While it wasn’t quite as hilarious as the first couple of books, it was way better than The Little Sisterwhich was downright depressing.  In this book, a lot of Marlowe’s snarky narration is back, and there was a nice trick to the mystery.  It did at times feel like everyone was a bit too casual with the body count, but you’ll have that.

Kiss the Bride by Melissa McClone, Robin Lee Hatcher, and Kathryn Springer

//published 2016//

These three novellas were basically all very average.  Each one had some niggling thing that really aggravated me, but overall worked alright.  On the whole they were just pretty forgettable.

Playback by Raymond Chandler

//published 1958//

This is the final Phillip Marlowe book that Chandler wrote (although he left another incomplete at the time of his death – more on that to come), and fell more along the lines of the earlier couple of books, with a lot of snark and dry humor.  The mystery had a good tempo to start and I was completely engaged as Marlowe is hired to follow a mysterious woman.  However, this story had 100% more sex than the other books – in other books it’s either been bypassed (woman always seem to want Marlowe more than he wants them) or glossed over, but in this one it felt like Marlowe was having sex every couple of chapters, and it happened with at least three different women.  So that felt really weird, and through it all he keeps quietly pining for this woman he met in The Long Goodbye.  In the end, the mystery sort of fizzled out, and Marlowe suddenly gets back together with The Long Goodbye woman.  All in all, another 3/5 for an interesting read, but not one I’d visit again.

An Unlikely Duet by Lelia M. Silver

This one is a DNF at around halfway, just because it’s become so boring.  I really liked the idea of just a straightforward sequel to Pride & Prejudice that focuses on Georgiana.  The story starts well, with her meeting a charming young man while visiting Charles and Jane Bingley.  However, despite the fact that they talk all the time, the two never really seem to talk.  At one point, it seemed to me that he had stated his intentions to court Georgiana pretty clearly to her brother, but then there are misunderstandings and everyone is spirited away and they never get to talk……. the book just never really engaged me and since I haven’t picked it up in a least three weeks, I don’t think it is ever going to.

Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker

//published 1989//

When Chandler died, he left four chapters written of his next Marlowe book.  In 1989, thirty years after Chandler’s death, Poodle Springs was finished by Robert Parker.  Overall, I thought that Parker did a decent job with this book, capturing the essence of Marlowe’s narrative voice and keeping the mystery nice and twisty.  The biggest difference to me was that in Chandler’s books, Marlowe is always one step ahead.  He may get caught and beaten up, but he still knows what’s what – he may appear to be wandering aimlessly, but in the end we find out exactly what he was up to.  But in Poodle Springs, it kind of felt Marlowe really was wandering aimlessly, always a few steps behind what’s going on.  In multiple places he says things like, ‘I wish I knew what was going on; none of this makes any sense.’  So Marlowe felt a lot more like a stooge than an intelligent investigator.

I enjoyed the book, even if I felt like the conclusion to Marlowe’s romance was quite weird and, frankly, illogical (‘We love each other too much to get married’???), and it ranked a solid 3/5 for me.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed my foray into the gritty detective world, but if I ever come back to these books, it will only be to the first four.  They were funnier and more engaging than the second half of the series.

Vertigo // by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

//published 1954//

Despite the fact that I do love a good Hitchcock film, I’ve somehow never actually watched Vertigo – I think possibly because I don’t really care for heights myself, and my least favorite part of any movie is the bit where someone is up high and on the verge of falling.  Going into this book I knew genuinely nothing about the plot – and it turns out that it isn’t really all that much about falling off of something tall (although it does play a part)!

The writing in this story was excellent, and the pacing virtually perfect.  I found myself gradually sucked into the story, and the setting – France at the beginning of WWII – added a perfect level of tension in the background that really gave the story depth.  It wasn’t a story that was incredibly exciting, but I found myself compelled to keep reading nonetheless.  And when the ending was revealed, my mind was genuinely blown.  It was a conclusion that made completely and total sense – but that I would never have guessed.

It was interesting to read a book that was centered on a character who wasn’t really at all likable.  Flavieres is weak and rather sly, and the kind of person who always believes his troubles are because of circumstances beyond his control.  His growing obsession with Madeline was super creepy; I loved it.

Madeline’s story, the possibility that she is her ancestress come back to life, is done so well.  As the reader, you know this cannot be true.  Flavieres knows it cannot be true.  And yet – what other explanation can there be for the things happening to Madeline?  Brilliant.

The ending was completely satisfactory, although I felt like it was a bit rushed.  So much information all at once – and then it was over.  I found myself almost startled that I had reached the ending already.

One annoyance was that, despite the fact that this book was translated from its original French, for some reason the translators didn’t bother translating everything…???  So I would get something like this –

He had only to think of her to lose his sense of proportion.  La femme a la tulipe!

And while I’m pretty sure that that means ‘the woman with the tulip,’ I’ve never actually studied French, and many of the other phrases/words weren’t so obvious.  It was rather aggravating to have to stop and try to find a quick translation from time to time.  Like I got that a lot of those instances were when Flavieres was going off on a flowery ramble and was ‘titling’ a moment of Madeline’s life as though she was portrait, but it seemed like that could have been accomplished in English by using capital letters or italics or both – Woman With a Tulip!  Although maybe it’s because leaving it in French makes it sound much more poetic than our poor prosaic English…

Anyway, Vertigo was well worth the read, and it’s one that I may read again sometime now that I know the trick, to see if I can find the clues that I missed the first time around.

Special thanks to FictionFan, whose review of this classic inspired me to add it to the list!

A Season to Wed // by Cindy Kirk, Rachel Hauck, and Cheryl Wyatt

After really enjoying the happy little novellas from the first Year of Weddings (set by seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn), I thought that I would give the second year a whirl.  These are still set by month, but the titles don’t reflect it the way the first set did.  I’ve actually read the first three seasons at this point, and I’ve overall been disappointed as these stories are really not up to par with the first set.  This first book in particular was quite weak, and there was one story in the second book that I didn’t even bother finishing.  The third book was more at the level of the first year, though, so I will probably still end up finding the autumn book at some point (it isn’t at the library even though the other three are…??)

Anyway, on to this set of three stories –

Love at Mistletoe Inn by Cindy Kirk – 2.5/5 – this was a story that was almost really good, but was executed so clumsily that I couldn’t get into it.  The premise is that Hope eloped with her high school sweetheart, John, the night of their high school prom.  But right after they got married, she panicked and changed her mind.  The guy who married them said that was fine and he just wouldn’t file their paperwork and everyone could go on with life.  Now, ten years later, John is back in town AND Hope has just found out that they are still legally married even though the paperwork never got filed.

First, I wasn’t convinced that they were legit married.  Isn’t the whole point of getting married so that the government can acknowledge your marriage?  If it’s never filed, the government never knows about it??  So maybe they are ‘morally’ married (or something), but I don’t think they would suddenly be able to just sit down and start filing taxes like a married couple.  I don’t know, I’m not a legal expert, but the the whole thing seemed sketch.

Secondly, Hope goes to John to tell him this whole story.  And… they sleep together!?  Like right then?!  This is ‘Christian’ romance, so there is nothing graphic, and in fact it was so NOT graphic and so incredibly random that I had to read the paragraph multiple times to make sure that that was what had actually happened.  Here’s how it goes down – they’re sitting on John’s couch and share a kiss.  John, of course, has always been desperately in love with Hope through all the years.

This was the woman who held his heart.  Whether she wanted it or not, she had it for all eternity.

John had always felt connected to her.  He’d never forgotten the vows they’d made and the promise given.  In this moment, he saw those same sentiments in her expression.

Several hours later, Hope left John’s bed and headed downtown for an appointment she’d made after speaking with the county recorder.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I have edited nothing!  What just happened!?  It was just SO obvious that Kirk didn’t want annulment to be an option, so she had to make them sleep together right away, apparently.  It was just weird and forced and bizarre.  So even though I actually liked the characters and even parts of the story, that whole bit was just so weird that I couldn’t get past it.

A Brush with Love by Rachel Hauck – 2.5/5 – I really enjoyed Hauck’s contribution from the first round of seasonal weddings, but this was a really weak story.  The whole story was way too melodramatic, and it seemed impossible to believe that Ginger would suddenly and completely do a 180* turnabout and now everything is fine.  The story was just weird and cheesy, and not in a relaxing way.

Serving Up a Sweetheart by Cheryl Wyatt – 3/5 – This one wasn’t too bad and I actually enjoyed most of it.  However, the story was really choppy, and the whole hate-to-love thing happened waaaay too fast to be convincing.

The Light Between Oceans // by M.L. Stedman

//published 2012//

Sometimes, I life gets busy and I don’t have a lot of time for book blogging.  When that happens, I can usually manage to work in some reviewing UNLESS it occurs at the same time that I have a book that I consider to be a block – a book that gave me a lot of feelings and that I really do want to review well, but I just can’t seem to get my thoughts into coherent order.  So September has had a busy start, and the next book on the review pile – The Light Between Oceans – has been one that I’ve been struggling to review.  Hence, no reviews for this month, and a HUGE pile of books awaiting attention!  So it’s time to at least attempt to get some thoughts down on this one.

It can sometimes be a bit awkward when someone loans you a book.  I’m always scared that I’m not going to love it like this person does!  And while I didn’t dislike The Light Between Oceans, it wasn’t really a book I probably would have picked up on my own, being a bit too ‘A Novel’ like for my tastes.  Still, it was a decent read with an engaging premise and an excellent setting.  The writing was beautifully evocative and I was genuinely drawn into the story.  Although I have to say that Stedman does employ that irritating trick of randomly inserting present-tense paragraphs in the midst of a past-tense narrative.  This drives me crazy and consistently felt jarring and odd.  I think it’s supposed to ‘pull us into the moment’ or some such nonsense, but it really just felt like the editor missed a lot of chunks of the book that needed to be switched to past tense.

The book was loaned to me by my boss – I work for a small orchard, and the couple that own it are quite fantastic.  The wife said that she made the mistake of cutting through the book section of our grocery store, and read a huge chunk of this book while she was standing in the aisle… and then went back the next day and bought it!  I admired her self restraint, as I don’t think there is any way that I could have waited until the next day…

The setting is Australia, just after World War I.  Tom is the main protagonist, a quiet man who just wants to put the war behind him and go on with his life.  He ends up with a job as a lighthouse keeper on an isolated island off the southwest coast, an excellent job for a reliable, steadfast, not-particularly-sociable man.  Eventually, Tom marries Isabelle and brings her to the island, and they are very happy together.  The only dark spot in their lives is Isabelle’s inability to carry a baby to term.  After multiple miscarriages and a stillbirth, Isabelle is grieving for the family she cannot have.  Only a week or so after her stillbirth, the ocean brings a small boat to the shore of the island.  Inside of it is a dead man and a live baby.

What follows is a story of what happens when people try to build their lives on a lie.  And while I could always see how this was all going to come crashing down sometime, Stedman makes the whole situation very plausible – I completely could understand Isabelle’s justifications, and could see how she could convince herself that they were true.  The isolation of the island, the way the supply boat only comes twice a year and they only make it to the mainland every couple of years, makes the whole story possible.  Watching Isabelle and Tom grow to love the baby that isn’t theirs is heartbreaking.

The big takeaway I really had from this book was how all of their troubles started when Isabelle convinced Tom to go against his conscience.  Tom knew what was right and wanted to do it, but Isabelle forced him into a position where he had to choose between his convictions and his wife, something that no spouse should ever do to their beloved.  It was SO heartrending to watch Tom continue to struggle with their choice and the lies they were telling, and while Isabelle was always a very sympathetic character, I just found her to be incredibly selfish.  It was especially ironic because she married him for his integrity and reliability, and then basically emotionally blackmailed him into betraying himself.

On the other hand, it was easy to see the terrible toll that Isabelle’s miscarriages had had on her, and I found it very easy to believe that her mental health was struggling with grief and hormonal imbalances, so that the lies that she told became, at some level, truth for her.  Sometimes our minds prefer to accept easy lies rather than difficult truths.

Of course, part of the trouble is that my husband’s name is Tom, and book-Tom reminded me a great deal of husband-Tom, so Isabelle’s lies and insistence on Tom’s lies somehow felt very personal!

I think the hard part about this book for me is that there wasn’t really a way to end it happily.  There was going to be a lot of grief and sadness for someone somewhere (and there was), and I’m more of a happy-ending kind of girl.  So while it was a decent ending, it was still sad, and I felt like Stedman made it even a little sadder than it had to be.

Overall, I wouldn’t personally reread this book, but I can see it having a great deal of appeal to many readers.  It was an emotional and intense read with intriguing characters and a gripping story.  While it was a bit too melancholy for my personal tastes, it never felt so in that pretentious way that many novels do – it was honest, not wallowing.  The setting was perfection and the writing very beautiful.  A 3.5/5 for me, but a book I would recommend to people who don’t mind books where not everyone gets a happy ending.

August Minireviews – Part 2

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

I’ve had a lot of meh reading going on, plus a minimal desire for blogging, so this actually the second round of minireviews this month.  Part 1 can be found here.

The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler

//published 1949//

After really enjoying the first few books starring the gritty Californian private investigator Phillip Marlowe, The Little Sister was a bit of a disappointment.  While I was still give it a 3/5 for having a decent mystery, the overall story really lacked the wit and tongue-and-cheek-ness of the earlier books.  Instead, Marlowe is completely disillusioned with…  well, everything, it seems.  It’s a sort of midlife crisis kind of book, and doesn’t really make for uplifting reading.  I struggled to get through it, as it also seemed to lack some of cohesiveness of the earlier books.  It made me give up on these books for a while, but I think I’m about ready to pick up The Long Goodbye and give Chandler another try.

PS Reading the introduction to this book, the introducer stated that The Little Sister was the only one of his books that Chandler never read again – apparently he disliked it as well, and was writing it during a dark time when his wife was dying, so that all makes sense in a very sad sort of way.

The Whisky Wedding by Elizabeth Ann West

//published 2016//

I got this Pride and Prejudice variation for free, which was really the only good thing about it.  It starts with a decent premise – the Bennets receive word of Lydia’s elopement before Elizabeth and the Gardiners leave on their journey.  However, I was already a little leery of the tale when Mr. Bennet, Mr. Gardiner, and Jane go to London while Elizabeth, Mrs. Gardiner, and all the Gardiner children (??!!) head north on the road to Scotland.  Despite the incredibly impracticality of this, I was willing to let it slide for the setting up of the story… except that was only the first in a long litany of absolutely ridiculous actions, including Darcy and Elizabeth eloping while Elizabeth is drunk, Mrs. Gardiner abandoning Elizabeth in Scotland and returning to London by herself, Elizabeth running off with no one but a footman for company, Jane wandering around London by herself looking for Lydia, and Mr. Bennet shrugging his shoulders because Oh well Lydia is a whore now, nothing we can do about it, guess I’ll just read a book.

In between, conversations were nonsensical, characters didn’t remotely resemble their originals, and no one was particularly likable.  Mr. Bennet was ridiculously uncaring (while lazy and selfish, I never get the impression that Mr. B would willingly just stop looking for his daughter after one day of halfhearted searching).  Mr. Bingley was portrayed as a pathetic, whimpering puppy, which always annoys me – yes, in the original he was swayed by his friend, but the arguments that kept him from returning to Jane were Darcy’s reassurances that (1) Jane didn’t actually care for Bingley and (2) that Jane’s mother would force her into a marriage with Bingley regardless of Jane’s feelings.  Thus, Bingley’s non-return to Jane wasn’t completely due to a weak spirit, but also due a misguided attempt to do what was best for Jane.  But in this version he is a completely pathetic wuss, and Jane is instead won over by the manly spirit of Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Point being, I slogged through this for over half the book and then realized that I was just being bored out of my mind (because yes, on top of everything else, it was SO so boring), so this book ended up as a DNF at 67%, with my only regret being that I waited that long.

Mail-Order Bride by Debbie Macomber

//published 1987//

Something quite strange is the fact that The Whisky Wedding isn’t the only book I’ve read lately that involved a drunk bride!  I was trapped at the doctor’s office once day and finished my current book.  This Macomber book was a freebie I had picked up recently, and since I really enjoy the trope of marriage first and then love, I knew I had to at least give it a try.  Despite the fact that Macomber is incredibly prolific, I actually don’t particularly remember reading any of her books, although I probably have at some point.  This is one of her earliest books, recently released as an ebook for the first time.

Unfortunately, the story just wasn’t that great.  The trope itself was done well – the events leading up to the  marriage are completely believable and I was pretty pleased that the story was actually going to be plausible.  Carolyn’s aunts give her a trip to Alaska to help Carolyn recover from the breakup with her fiancee… except that they’ve actually answered an ad for a bride, placed by Paul who lives in a remote Alaskan village but yearns for companionship and a family.  Of course, Carolyn is upset when she finds out that she’s married to Paul (the drunk thing is actually done in a way that is mostly believable), but it felt like Macomber just cut a big chunk right out of the middle of this book, as we go from Carolyn being angry and trying to escape to Carolyn being desperately in love with Paul and super jealous of his past.  There never felt like there was a time where they were just becoming friends and learning about each other’s pasts.

I really wanted to like this book, but in the end it was just another 3/5 meh read with a decent set-up followed by a pretty sloppy plot.  I’m sure I’ll end up reading another of Macomber’s books one of these days, but Mail-Order Bride didn’t really inspire me to hunt any up.

Mind Your Manors by Lucy Lethbridge

(British title: Spit and Polish)

//published 2016//

I think the problem I had with this book was that I was a bit misled by the synopsis, which says, “Lethbridge reveals these old-fashioned and almost-forgotten techniques that made British households sparkle before the use of complicated contraptions and a spray for every surface. A treasury of advice from servants’ memoirs and housekeeping guides…”  Going in, I think I just thought that this would be somewhat of a reference book, when in fact it is more of just a book full of little tidbits that were interesting, but not necessarily for practical application.  (The ‘practical application’ part was basically ‘use vinegar and baking soda!’)

So while I did enjoy this book and find it interesting, it was much shorter and less practical than I anticipated.  I also couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the American edition, which not only changed the title, but even the subtitle from ‘Old-Fashioned Ways to Banish Dirt, Dust and Decay’ to ‘Tried-and-True British Household Cleaning Tips’ because apparently Americans didn’t clean things the same way as British servants, so we need to clarify that these are going to be British tips, not American tips!  Why, publishers, WHY?!

Overall, while this book was a pleasant read, I didn’t feel any need to add it to my personal reference library.