Hostile Intent // by Lynette Eason

//published 2021//

I’ve really been enjoying Eason’s Danger Never Sleeps series, so I was excited when I received a copy of the final book from the publisher in exchange for this review.  Links to my thoughts on the rest of the series can be found here.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this book.  The pacing is solid and I was interested to find the conclusion.  Some of the twists I guessed, but not so many that it ruined my reading experience.  The characters are overall likable, although Ana does flirt with the “perfect character” line – I’m kind of over characters who literally speak six languages, are masters of self-defense and firearms, know how to scuba-dive and rock climb, can fly a helicopter, and somehow manage to go four days in a row with no sleep yet keep going – but, haha, they don’t cook so it’s not like they’re PERFECT! *eye roll* Sometimes it’s just a little too much.

Setting aside her perfection, I was still rooting for Ana to not only stay safe from the guy who is after her, but for her to be able to find out the truth about her father and reach a place of peace with her past.  Eason does a really good job of making her characters be Christians, but in a quiet way – it’s just a part of their essence, and they live by those values without making a big deal about it.  I also appreciate that Eason doesn’t have everyone participate in “missionary dating” where one person is a Christian and the other isn’t.

While Hostile Intent wasn’t the best thriller I’ve ever read, it was still an enjoyable and engaging read.  I really feel like this series could have been better connected – while there are overlapping characters because they are all friends with each other, there wasn’t any kind of overarching plot that linked the books with one another.  These could definitely be read as standalones, so I guess there are pluses and minuses to the minimal connections.

Thanks again to Revell for providing me with a copy of this one, and I look forward to seeing what Eason writes next!!

June Minireviews – Part 2

Well, we are almost done with peaches – on to apples!!  Things continue busy at the orchard, but I’m home today and it’s gloomy enough to feel like it’s a good day to catch up on some computer work!!

Edit: That was actually several days ago, but I’m finally going to post this for real!!

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.

All About Us by Tom Ellen – 4*

//published 2020//

In college, Ben had a bit of a crush on his friend Alice, but one night changed everything – just when he was thinking about asking Alice out, he met Daphne and fell in love.  But now, years later, he’s starting to wonder if Alice was “the one who got away” and whether marrying Daphne was actually a mistake.  When a mysterious stranger in a bar gives Ben a watch that sends Ben back in time to relive some of the critical moments of his life, he’s suddenly faced with the real-life opportunity to change his fate…

There was a lot about this story that I really enjoyed.  I was afraid that it was just going to be about Ben cheating on his wife, but it’s actually about Ben reassessing his marriage and his life and recognizing his shortcomings and the way that he can make things better going forward.  I liked Ben a lot and found him an easy character to root for – it was really nice to have a male main character in this type of story, and extra nice to have him be a total jerk as so many fictional men are.  (Real-life men, too, I realize, but I feel like the jerks are disproportionately represented in romantic fiction.)  The time-travel aspect was also handled really well.  My main issue with this one involved the incredibly heavy-handed TOXIC MASCULINITY message.  There were constant passages about how ALL MEN hide ALL THEIR FEELINGS from ALL THE PEOPLE because that’s what they were taught by other men in their lives, yadda yadda (“Our friendship – like most male friendships – has been built primarily on ripping the piss out of each other”).  Like actually while most of the men I know aren’t likely to sit down and pour out every deep feeling they have, they’re fine with sharing what they need to share.  I genuinely do believe that there is a difference between men and women and the way they process feelings and emotions, and that men don’t actually have the same need to “get it all out” like women do, so this constant reiteration that the only reason men have problems is because they aren’t SHARING enough starts to really annoy me after a while.  Connected to that, but different, was my other big issue with the story – magically, Daphne is actually PERFECT and 100% of ALL their marriage issues are Ben’s fault (because he doesn’t share all his feelings!).  Absolutely NONE of them are hers!  She’s a PERFECT COMMUNICATOR and an ideal human being in every way and ONLY Ben needs to change to make their marriage blissfully happy.  This just… literally can never be true.  Human beings make mistakes and none of us are perfect, so it’s impossible that Daphne made zero mistakes in their marriage.  Laying all the blame on Ben just felt unrealistic and unfair.

BUT overall this was still a fun little story.  Serious enough that I wouldn’t quite call it a romcom, but lighthearted enough that it didn’t feel like a drudge.  If you like your romances with a dose of thoughtfulness, this is probably one you’ll enjoy.

The Sleeper & the Spindle by Neil Gaiman – 2*

//published 2013//

I’ve had this book on my TBR for a while.  It’s a picture book kind of thing with a retelling of Sleeping Beauty… ish… honestly, do you ever read books and wonder what the heck you’re missing??  That’s how I felt reading this one.  To me, it was just kind of bizarre and didn’t hang together very well, but I have seen so many raving reviews for this one.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the artwork, either.  I think this would have worked better as a full novel instead of a short story – the concept was interesting but not fleshed out at all, making it hard for me to connect with the characters.  Not for me, but loads of people love it, so it may be for you!

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry – 3*

//published 2021//

My lower rating for this one is a combination of having higher expectations for it because I really enjoyed Beach Read last year, and the fact that the main character would literally NOT STOP hating on Ohio.  Like basically every couple of chapters there had to be another paragraph or two of Poppy going on and on and on about how horrible it was to grow up in Ohio and how literally the worst thing that could ever happen in her life would be if she was forced to move back to that dreadful place.  Obviously I’m extra sensitive to Ohio because I freaking LOVE IT HERE, but in general I’m over novels having characters grow up in small Midwest towns that they can’t escape fast enough and then finding fulfillment and joy in the big city… like that would be okay if they didn’t then spend their entire time in the big city moaning about how they barely escaped the Midwest with their lives, as though they were literally going to DIE if they had to live there for another day.  I just.  Eye roll.  Whatever.  Believe it or not, most people who don’t live in a big city have CHOSEN to not live in a big city because they think cities suck, so you can stop feeling sorry for us.  We’re actually super happy with our lives in the countryside, so please find someone else to pity and insult.  I’m pretty over the whole “only people too stupid to escape live in the Midwest”… like actually we chose to stay here because it’s awesome so… suck it lol

ANYWAY the actual story itself was so-so.  Apparently literally all of Poppy’s problems (and everyone else’s) could be solved just be seeing a therapist, so it’s nice to know that that fixes everything.  I never really shipped Poppy and Alex – although I enjoyed their banter and thought they were great friends, it never felt like they were actually on the same page about what they wanted from life.  I personally found Poppy to be super self-centered and annoying.  It wasn’t a terrible read – there were a lot of funny and fun moments and some entertaining characters and adventures – but it definitely wasn’t one I would read again, although I’ll still try whatever Henry writes next, because I really did enjoy Beach Read.

Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater – 4*

//published 2021// And yes, this is the reversible OwlCrate cover with artwork from Stiefvater and I love the way the sword lines up on the spine. //

Earlier in the year I finally got around to reading The Raven Cycle and the first book in the spin-off series, Call Down the Hawk – just in time to read the second book in the spin-off trilogy, Mister Impossible.  While I kind of wish that Stiefvater had chosen to do more with the ley line magic instead of the dreamer magic, I’m still really enjoying these books.  I also loved that Ronan’s brothers were a more important part of this story – I really love Declan, who is definitely my personality match of the brothers, so spending more time with him was great.  I really don’t want to wait an entire year to see how this story wraps up!!

Side note: Sometimes books in a series can be read as stand alones, but definitely not here – I even went back and read the last 50 or so pages of Call Down the Hawk to refresh myself as to where things had left off because Stiefvater jumps directly into the action!!

Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson – 4* or maybe 2* or possibly 3*

//published 2021//

So on Litsy when you post a book review you can choose to rate it as a Pick, So-So, Pan, or Bail. My contention is that they need to add a “WTF” option for books that are, frankly, batshit insane yet compulsively readable.  This would definitely fall into that category!

I blew through this entire book in one evening because I did not want to put it down – despite the fact that no one was particularly likable, the plot was completely unbelievable, every twist just made the story more absurd, and the more I think about it the more questions I have… But I couldn’t stop reading!! Does that make it 2* or 4*? Do I rate it on whether I would recommend it to others or on how much I wanted to keep reading when I was reading it? It’s hard to say, so I guess I’m just going middle of the ground for my rating. If you don’t mind thrillers that are just genuinely over-the-top ridiculous, this may be the read for you!

June MiniReviews – Part 1

Have I mentioned that my life is pretty much just peaches right now???  You all really just can’t understand LOL  In the meantime, here are a few books that I read all the way back in 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.

The Horse & His Boy by C.S. Lewis – 5*

//published 1954//

Growing up, this was one of my least favorite books in the series (along with The Silver Chair), but every time I reread it, I enjoy it more.  There’s a lot to soak in here about providence and why bad things happen to people and how that all works together for good, plus it’s just a fun story.  Narnia is always a joy to me.

Kitty’s Class Day & Other Stories by Louisa May Alcott – 3*

//published 1882//

I’m a huge fan of Alcott, and some of my all-time favorite books were penned by her.  However, I’ve had this collection of short stories on my shelf for literal years and somehow never read it… and when I did, I honestly wasn’t that impressed.  The subtitle for this one is “Proverb Stories” and each tale has a little saying/proverb at the beginning and then the story goes on to illustrate it.  Consequently, these came across as a little on the preachy side.  Alcott is always a fan of making her writing somewhat moralistic, but I feel like that works better with her longer-form writing, as we are able to see characters grow and mature organically.  Here, with only a few pages per story, the lessons felt a bit too in-your-face for my tastes.  Perfectly fine but honestly not particularly engaging.

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling – 4*

My reread of the Potter books also continued in June with a chapter a day of the fourth book.  I think this is where the series really starts to take off, with a lot of connections being made.  It’s a chunkster of a book and sometimes does feel a little ponderous, but overall I still find this series plenty entertaining.

Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibañez – 3.5*

//published 2021//

In May I read Woven in Moonlight and found it to be a decent enough read that I wanted to pick up the sequel, Written in Starlight.  It’s hard to tell about this one without giving away some spoilers for the first book, but basically there is a character from the first story who ends up being sent away into the jungle as a punishment at the end of the book.  It honestly felt a little jarring, so reading the second book felt like reading the other side of the coin.  Although the main character is different, it really ties in with the first story and, I felt, tied up a lot of loose ends.  Overall, I think I actually liked this one better, even if the main character was super dense from time to time.

Led Zeppelin: Heaven & Hell by Charles Cross & Erik Flannigan – 3.5*

//published 1991//

My husband is a huge Zeppelin fan, so we have several nonfiction books about the band.  In my quest to read all of the books I own (LOL) this one was the next stop.  Published in 1991, it was written at a time when there was still a lot of chatter about whether the band would get back together, with John Bonhome’s son, Jason, as the drummer.  This book read more like an extended fanzine, with a lot of information about band paraphernalia, concerts, albums, concert memorabilia, etc.  If you already love Zeppelin and are just looking for some random tidbits, it’s worth picking up for the photographs if nothing else, but if you don’t know much about the band, this isn’t really a great place to start, because the authors definitely assume that you already have foundational knowledge about the band members and the trajectory of the band itself.  I definitely preferred Flannigan’s sections to Cross’s – I find Cross’s writing to be somewhat condescending, something I also noted when I read his biography of Kurt Cobain, Heavier Than HeavenUltimately, Cross felt like it was super important to spend a great deal of time hating on Hammer of the Gods by Stephen Davis (which I haven’t gotten around to reading yet), which, whether or not his claims were justified, just came through as rather petty.  A moderately enjoyable read, but not one I’d particularly pick up again.

May Minireviews – Part 3

Oh look, more minireviews from the backlog!!!

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.

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez – 3*

//published 2020//

This one has been on my radar for a while because of that gorgeous cover, and also because I’m always interested in books with a Central/South American flavor to them.  This book was, I think, what you might call magical realism rather than fantasy.  It was a solid story about a group of people holed up in hiding because they people that they conquered several generations ago have now risen up and conquered them.  There’s a lot of discussion about imperialism and what it means to have a group conquer another group, and which culture is the “real” culture, etc etc.  Some of it was handled well while other bits felt a little too polemic.  While I liked the characters, I also somehow couldn’t connect to them.  There were really random scenes that felt over-the-top violent for the rest of the story, and Ibañez decided to arbitrarily kill off a character I really liked, which always annoys me.  The author also chose to put a LOT of Spanish words in her text, which did add to the flavor of the story, but there was no glossary in the back, and the context did not always make the meaning of the words obvious, which meant I frequently had to stop to look up words, which always takes me out of the story – for some reason way more than it does when all I need to do is flip to a glossary.  (I think because looking it up means I have to actually set down the book and pick up a completely different item – my phone or a computer – to find the answer, which frequently leads to other distractions.)

In the end, I did like this book, and I think some people might like it even more than me, but it just wasn’t a perfect match.

The Marriage Game by Sara Desai – 4*

//published 2020//

I had actually been meaning to read this book for a while, and then a member of the traveling book club chose the sequel, The Dating Game, for her pick.  Even though the second book could be read as a stand alone, I figured this was a good chance to go ahead and read this one, and I ended up really enjoying them both.  This is just the kind of fun and fluffy romance I like (although a little on the sexy side).  Layla was quirky without being obnoxious; Sam was angsty but reasonably so; and Layla’s family was absolutely hilarious while still filling realistic.  This one definitely hit the spot and I can totally see myself rereading it at some point.

The Dating Plan by Sara Desai – 4*

//published 2021//

I didn’t like this one quite as well, but still really enjoyed it.  My main issue with this one is that Daisy and Liam are in a fake relationship, but are CONSTANTLY talking about how it’s fake when the people they are supposed to be fooling are just in the next room, or around the corner, or what have you.  It was driving me crazy how they would basically get into a shouting match about how the whole thing is fake, and yet Daisy’s nosy family never noticed???  It just didn’t jive.  Liam also spent a little too much time hating on himself – we get it, you were a jerk.  Still, all in all it was still great fun.  A third book is scheduled to be published in November, and I’ll definitely be reading it!

Living in Norway by Solvi Dos Santos & Elisabeth Holte – 3.5*

//published 1999//

This was another book that I read for the Food & Lit Club, where we “visit” one country per month with books and recipes.  May’s country was Norway, and I read this one in addition to a travel guide that I didn’t review (it was very travel guide-y).  Reading Living in Norway was like reading a PBS special. I could practically hear the soothing voiceover of a narrator the entire time.  Going season by season the authors visit different homes in Norway, discussing architecture, history, hobbies, and ways of life. I’m not sure how much this book reflects the majority of Norwegians’ lives as it seemed to focus a lot on the artsy types, but the photography was gorgeous and it was all and all an enjoyable read.  I’m fascinated by life so close to the Arctic Circle in terms of daylight and weather and loved reading how the people who live here embrace winter and the long hours of darkness.  So many of the architectural details there are because of the long winters, so it was very interesting to learn more about them.  Maybe not a book for everyone, but if you’re looking for some gentle nonfiction with a lot of photographs, this was pretty fun.

Love at First by Kate Clayborn – 3*

//published 2021//

I read Love Lettering last year and had a lot of mixed feelings about it, but decided to give Clayborn’s new book a try.  Once again, I was left with a book that had a fun concept but, for me, no follow-through.  I really liked Will and Nora, but this whole thing with Will needing to sublet the apartment felt weird and forced.  The synopsis makes it sound like Will’s going to, I don’t know, tear down the entire apartment building or something, but instead he literally just wants to make it into an Air B&B? Like I get you not wanting that to be your next-door neighbor, but it didn’t seem worth the amount of angst that was going on.  What redeemed the story were all the secondary characters – all the other apartment building folks were delightful and fun and I really enjoyed them.  This one weirdly reminded me a lot of Second First Impressions which I had read earlier in the month, and, like that one, this one just didn’t quite hit the mark for me, because all the conflicts felt strangely manufactured instead of natural.

The Nature of Small Birds // by Susie Finkbeiner

Well, friends, as I feared, the orchard has taken over my life!!  It’s been several years since we had a decent crop of peaches, but this year it’s a bonanza!!  We have peaches, plums, nectarines, and blackberries EVERYWHERE!  We’re always short-staffed at the beginning of the season because the hours are all over the place and it can be hard to find people who are interested in just working for a couple of months.  Since I absolutely love the people who own this orchard and since I only live a mile away, I end up filling a lot of gaps!!  Surprisingly, although I’ve eaten several peaches every day for the last three weeks, I’m still not tired of them.  They are SO DELICIOUS.  So take a road trip to central Ohio and get your fix!! :-D

In the meantime, I honestly haven’t been reading nearly as much as I usually do.  However, I did have this review copy of The Nature of Small Birds that I finished last week and have been meaning to post about.  I enjoyed this gentle story about a family who adopted a young girl from Vietnam, yet it somehow failed to really stir a great deal of emotion for me.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

In 1975, three thousand children were airlifted out of Saigon to be adopted into Western homes. When Mindy, one of those children, announces her plans to return to Vietnam to find her birth mother, her loving adoptive family is suddenly thrown back to the events surrounding her unconventional arrival into their lives.

Though her father supports Mindy’s desire to meet her family of origin, he struggles privately with an unsettling fear that he’ll lose the daughter he’s poured his heart into. Mindy’s mother undergoes the emotional roller coaster inherent in the adoption of a child from a war-torn country, discovering the joy hidden amid the difficulties. And Mindy’s sister helps her sort through relics that whisper of the effect the trauma of war has had on their family–but also speak of the beauty of overcoming.

Told through three strong voices in three compelling timelines, The Nature of Small Birds is a hopeful story that explores the meaning of family far beyond genetic code.

The three timelines are Mindy’s adopted father, Bruce, in present day/2013; Mindy’s adopted mother, Linda, in 1975; and Mindy’s adopted sister, Sonny, in 1988.  Choosing to not have Mindy – the actual Vietnamese girl who was adopted – be one of the narrative voices was an interesting choice to me.  I can see why the author made that choice, but it also kept me distanced from the character who seemed like she should be the center of the story.  I never felt like I really knew Mindy or understood her choices – but it almost didn’t matter because she honestly didn’t make a lot of choices in this story.  Things happened to her a lot more than she made things happen.

//published 2021//

From the synopsis, I expected more of the story to focus on Mindy’s search for her birth family in Vietnam, but in reality that was a very small part of the story.  In the present day, Bruce is wrestling with the failing health of his parents, which frequently took precedence over Mindy’s search.  In 1975, Linda is struggling to please her strict, overbearing mother-in-law while still doing what she believes is right – adopt a child from Vietnam despite Bruce’s mother’s outrage – Bruce’s brother was killed in Vietnam during the war, and his mother can’t believe that they are willing to adopt “one of them.”  Sonny’s storyline takes place when she is a senior in high school/the summer right after her graduation (Mindy is a couple years younger) and is a lot about Sonny realizing that even though they all love Mindy a lot, they can never truly understand the difficulties and prejudices she will always face.

Each of these storylines was perfectly interesting and pleasant, but there never was any zing to the story.  It was a very straightforward narrative without a lot of complications, but in many ways it felt rather directionless.  At the end of the story, I just wasn’t sure what the “point” had been.  This was especially emphasized by the fact that Bruce’s mother treats Mindy like garbage consistently across all three timelines, yet no one else in the family ever actually stands up for Mindy or tells Bruce’s mother to shape up.  I was very disappointed by the way this was presented, that basically it felt like everyone was willing to compromise on Mindy’s well-being for the sake of peace within the family.  Sometimes, there are reasons that there shouldn’t be peace in your family, and treating a child cruelly is definitely one of them.  This aspect of the story really brought down my overall enjoyment of the book.

I have mixed feelings about whether or not I would actually recommend this book.  It was an interesting look at a piece of history (Operation Babylift) that I hadn’t really heard much about before, and it was a perfectly fine story.  However, I honestly found it rather boring in places because the story wasn’t actually going anywhere, and there were just too many instances of Bruce’s mother being a jerk and no one saying anything about it for me to really like this book or consider rereading it at any point.  In the end, it’s 3* for this one, and another case of a book I wanted to like more than I did.

May Minireviews – Part 2

Oh no, I already started work at the orchard!  Does this mean I’ll NEVER catch up on reviews??  ::cue dramatic music::

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.

The Gin O’Clock Club by Rosie Blake – 3*

//published 2020//

Add this one to my long list of books I wanted to like more than I did…  Lottie is caught up in her career and her grandpa, Teddy, is afraid that she’s taking life too fast, especially since Teddy’s wife died.  Teddy has three buddies and together they comprise the Gin O’Clock Club, which gets together for cards, shenanigans, and gin, and he enlists their help in showing Lottie that she needs to slow down and enjoy her blessings while she can, including her (live-in) boyfriend, Luke.  Basically, the guys convince Lottie and Luke to try some “old-fashioned” dates.  In exchange, Teddy agrees to try some “new-fashioned” dates, since Lottie is concerned that Teddy hasn’t really bounced back since his wife passed away.  Throughout the book, we also get letters that Teddy is writing to his wife as part of the way that he is working through his grief, and those letters were absolutely so touching and sweet without feeling over-the-top that they alone almost made reading the book worth it.

There was so much about this book that I liked.  Teddy and his friends were absolutely fantastic – funny without being cutesy – and Luke was a total dreamboat that no woman in her right mind would take for granted.  All the date ideas were great fun without being weird and I just overall loved seeing the older guys working with the younger folks and all of them learning from one another.

The problem – and it was a BIG PROBLEM – is Lottie herself.  There’s no other way to say it: she was a total bitch.  Like, hardcore.  She literally treats everyone around her like disposable trash, while spending her entire internal monologue saying Oh wow I’m treating everyone like disposable trash; I should really stop that.  And then NOT STOPPING.  And at first I was okay with it because she was showing growth, right?  Like she starts going on these dates and realizing how awesome Luke is and how important it is to hang out with her grandpa and how people are more important than things….  And then she literally just goes exactly back to where she started with no hesitation.  It was like the book was starting over!  There was also this big drama where Lottie was stressed out about something Luke was doing but Teddy couldn’t say anything because it involved someone else that he’d promised not to tell and like – the completely obvious solution was for Teddy to ASK this other person if he could tell Lottie??  But instead he just lets it keep going on and on and poisoning everything in Lottie’s life and it was SO unnecessary.

In the end, I honestly wanted Luke to run far, far away.  Lottie was emotionally and verbally abusive to him on more than one occasion.  I’m really over this whole “the female MC is a horrible person, but it’s really the fault of someone else/society, not her.”  Like no, she’s just a dreadful person, and if Luke had said/done half the things that Lottie did, he would have been crucified, but since Lottie is a woman, she gets a HUGE pass and I’m not okay with it.  I really wish that I had liked Lottie better, because I loved everyone else in this story, and everything else about it, including that the story is about a couple trying to stay together instead of breaking up and moving on to someone else.  All the not-Lottie characters were just delightful, but I couldn’t get past how horrible Lottie was.

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis – 5*

//published 1953//

For some reason, I never liked this story as much when I was a kid, but I thoroughly enjoyed my reread of it this time around, especially the character of Puddlegum.  It’s just been so much fun to read these again!

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – 4.5*

//published 2021//

This was actually one of my favorite books that I’ve read so far this year.  I read The Martian last year and had super low expectations for it because I’m not usually a “space story” person, but I ended up really enjoying it.  Consequently, I decided to read his newest book when it came out this spring, and even though it went a completely different direction from what the synopsis made me assume, I honestly was totally here for it.  The pacing here was fantastic, the flashbacks that filled in the MC’s background were well-placed, and I couldn’t believe how much I fell in love with Rocky.  As the book was drawing to a conclusion I didn’t really see how Weir was going to give me an ending that both made sense and didn’t make me completely depressed, but he 100% pulled it off – I absolutely loved the way everything came together in the end.

There is a lot of science-y stuff here.  I have literally no idea if what he’s saying is realistic/true/practical or not.  I just rolled with the adventure haha

Anchored Hearts by Priscilla Oliveras – 4*

//published 2021//

Last year I read Island Affairand while it wasn’t my favorite romance ever, it was still a perfectly fun little read, so when I saw the next book in the series was out, I decided to pick it up.  Luis is the male MC from the first book; the female MC of Anchored Hearts is his sister, Anamaria.  Overall this was a pretty typical romcom read with likable main characters and a splash of angst.  I absolutely loved the warm families that both these characters possessed, even if those families weren’t perfect.  Some of the issues with the male MC and his dad dragged out a little too long for me, but overall I ended up liking this one better than the first book, and I would definitely read another book in this series.

The Night Dance by Suzanne Weyn – 3*

//published 2005//

This was a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and while it was okay, it was rather choppy and the entire story revolves around literal INSTA instalove, which definitely led to some eye-rolling moments for me.  I really loved the setting – Weyn chose to have this story take place just after the death of King Arthur, with the hero one of his knights trying to fulfill a promise to the king to return Excalibur to the Lady in the Lake.  This mean that even though the story was short, the world-building didn’t feel too compromised (since the reader already has the basic gist from Arthurian lore).  All in all, a pleasant one-off, but not a new fave.

May Minireviews – Part 1

Well, I’m finally delving into May’s reviews, and since May does seem like more recent past than April, I at least feel like I’m making progress!!  May is traditionally a super busy month for me since I work at a greenhouse, which means there aren’t as many books to review as there are in most months…

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.

Happiness Hill by Grace Livingston Hill – 4*

//published 1932//

I read a lot of fluff in May, because that’s what I trend towards when I’m busy (or stressed or depressed or in a reading slump or just feel like it haha).  I actually own this one, so I know I’ve read it before, but I couldn’t remember the details – not that the details of a GLH book varies much from one book to the other, but still.  If you don’t like your romances to be clean, somewhat religious, a little saccharine, and quite predictable, don’t pick up GLH.  But I find that that’s frequently exactly what I want, and I quite enjoyed this one, with the traditional strong-moraled heroine, the goofy brother, the gentle-but-in-poor-health parents, and the lonely young hero who yearns for some family.  Basically, if you like GLH, you’ll like this one.

PS No, I’m not the heathen who used this book as a coaster at some point!

100 Years of Color by Katie Greenwood – 3*

//published 2015//

This nonfiction book had such an intriguing premise, but for me it just didn’t quite follow through.  Greenwood looks at each decade from 1900 through 2000, pulling advertising posters, artwork, and textiles, and discusses the colors that were popular during that decade and why… except she doesn’t really get to the “why” all that much.  Instead, each decade has a (very) short discussion page, then several images with no explanation as to why she particularly chose those or thought they were good examples of the decade.  There was so much potential here to really delve into popular colors and patterns but instead she barely skims the surface, making the book more or less unmemorable.  It was definitely a case of me wanting to like a book more than I did.

Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse – 5*

//published 1925//

I’m still working my way through all of Wodehouse’s works in published order.  The 1920s were a great decade for Wodehouse’s writing, as he invents the immortal duo of Jeeves and Bertie, and this book did not disappoint.  I’ve read all of the Bertie and Jeeves books in the past, but am never adverse to revisiting them.  This collection of loosely connected short stories included a couple of favorites, like a chapter from Jeeves’s point of view.  And who can resist a story titled, “The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy”??  Certainly not me!

Unicorn Famous by Dana Simpson – 4*

//published 2021//

This is the latest installment of the Phoebe & Her Unicorn comics, and just as much fun as the rest of the series.  While these can obviously be read in any order, they’ve been so much fun to read in publication order, as characters (and unicorn lore) do develop throughout the series.

Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne – 3*

//published 2021//

In my attempt to read newly published books by authors that I like as they get published, I reserved Second First Impressions at the library and was intrigued to read it after thoroughly enjoying The Hating Game.  However, this one just didn’t really hit the right notes for me.  While I did like the main character, Ruthie, she also frustrated me a lot.  The snarky best friend/coworker also really got on my nerves and I felt like she crossed the line and became condescending towards Ruthie, acting like Ruthie was just too sheltered and backwards to really know what she wanted from a relationship.  Like Ruthie would make a statement about what she wanted from life/a relationship and the snarky best friend was like, “Oh, no, that’s what losers would want!  THIS is what you REALLY want!”  I honestly found it a kind of offensive that Ruthie’s desire for a quiet, not-drama-filled life was dismissed as boring and pathetic.

I’m also personally a bit over having a character’s Tragic Back Story be because of a horrible “religious“ father. Can we please stop having background characters be “Christians“ just so you can talk about how hypocritical they are? Thanks.  I definitely felt like Ruthie could have had a terrible dad and a lot of the same issues without all the extra effort of emphasizing how “religious” her dad was.

Finally, while the two old ladies who lived at the retirement home were funny and sweet, their whole schtick of only hiring good looking young men so they could make them do embarrassing things until they cracked just felt, for lack of a better word, cringe.  I can’t even imagine how this aspect of the story would have gone over if it was two old men who hired young women so they could comment on how good they looked in various outfits and then send them off to do demeaning and difficult tasks just to see how long it would take them to quit.  I mean seriously.

So while this one was an okay read for me, I definitely didn’t love it.  It really lacked the chemistry, snark, and snap of The Hating Game, and read closer to women’s fiction than romcom for me.  The “humor” felt a little forced, like Thorne was writing a serious story but kept trying to make it into a romcom instead.

Three-Act Tragedy AKA Murder in Three Acts by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1934//

While this isn’t my favorite Poirot story, it was still quite good and, as usual, I had no idea what the solution was.  Hopefully no one ever needs me to solve their murder, because I can 100% promise that I won’t be able to do it!  One of my favorite parts of this book was the fun way Christie listed the cast of characters in the front.  The chapter/section headings also aligned with the parts of a play, carrying the theme throughout.

The Mansfield Trilogy // by Lona Manning

Do you ever read a trilogy that (a) should have only been two books at the most, not three, and (b) just kind of gets worse the further you go along?  That’s what happened to me with this retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

  • A Contrary Wind
  • A Marriage of Attachment
  • A Different Kind of Woman

So basically this trilogy explores what would have happened if the winds blowing Sir Thomas home had remained contrary – meaning that the scandalous play being rehearsed at Mansfield Park went on as scheduled, and the various relationship train wrecks that almost happen in the original DID happen.  I really enjoyed this concept, especially since the version gives Fanny a little more backbone – she leaves Mansfield Park to find a post as a governess, following her own path.  I really enjoyed the first book.  Even though it was a little over-the-top in places, I felt like, for the most part, Manning did a good job capturing the essence of the original characters and took the story in a direction that felt possible.  I felt like Manning had a lot of leeway in her variation because most people don’t actually like the way Mansfield Park ends.  So basically if someone writes a Pride & Prejudice variation, you KNOW Darcy and Elizabeth are going to end up together – otherwise, what’s the point?  But few people view Fanny and Edmund the same way, so basically no hard feelings when Manning decides to have their romances go in different directions.

Things started to come apart a little in the second book, mostly because there were long sections that just felt like padding.  In the first book, Fanny falls in with an abolitionist group (which actually read really well), but here the societal-improvement sections began to feel a little preachier.  This series is also about lots of other characters besides Fanny – the Crawfords, Edmund, and Fanny’s brother William are the main other characters.  Some of their storylines got a little ridiculous, but on the whole I still was engaged enough to delve into the third book.

For me, the third book just felt like Manning was dragging everything out.  There wasn’t really any kind of plot, so when she was jumping around between characters, it felt clunky and manufactured instead of like things were coming together as it was in the first two books.  All the preaching about doing good and helping the poor was a lot more polemic, and there was this whole side plot with Mary Crawford and the real-life poet Shelley that just felt like it was NEVER going to end and also felt COMPLETELY pointless.

Overall, I did like the conclusions for the various characters, and I did love the way that Manning decided to develop Fanny’s character.  There were several side plots that I thoroughly enjoyed, but while I gave the first book 4*, the second book only got 3*, and the finally book got 2*.  However, there were a few of us reading this at the same time on Litsy and the others seemed to enjoy the concluding book more than I did.  So, if you’ve always felt vaguely that Fanny got a little ripped off, I think it’s well worth picking up because Manning does go some creative directions.

The Raven Cycle + Call Down the Hawk // by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater is one of the few authors that I just really like and enjoy as a person (honestly I usually try to find out as little as possible about authors; I just want to enjoy their writing, not analyze their personal belief systems), and I loved the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, despite being definitely in the angsty YA paranormal genre (not my usual wheelhouse) as well as The Scorpio Races.  The Raven Cycle has been on my TBR for many moons and I finally got around to reading it this spring!!

  • The Raven Boys 
  • The Dream Thieves
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue
  • The Raven King

These were all solid 4* reads for me; I would honestly bump Blue Lily, Lily Blue to 4.5* as it was my favorite of the four.  I don’t even know how to review this series.  Stiefvater creates a world that is magical, complicated, and intricate, while at the same time keeping it tied down to reality with knowable, likable characters, a wry sense of humor, and strong friendships.  I fell in love with everyone in these books, and finished every book wanting more.

She ended up concluding the series in a way that was not how I would have chosen/how I hoped it would go down, but it still made sense and pulled things together.  Also, she really made me want an old Camaro even more than I did originally.

Call Down the Hawk is the first book in a spin-off trilogy that focuses on one of the main characters from the original series and his brothers, as well as what was ironically my least favorite part of the magic from the Raven Cycle – the dream magic.  I feel like more could be explained about the connections between the ley lines and the dream magic, as well as the trippy aspect of Ronan dreaming/creating things that he can then access in the real world but that we didn’t originally know were created by him… there are times that things get a little tangled (I was still definitely left with some questions at the end of The Raven King), but in many ways CDtH sort of shakes off some of those things and goes in its own direction.

All in all, if you like YA fantasy where the romance is more in the background than the foreground, there’s a lot to like here. The Raven Cycle does lean a little too heavily on tarot for my taste, but on the whole was new and different.  I really liked CDtH and felt like it did a good job tying to the original story while still doing its own thing.  However, I would definitely recommend reading The Raven Cycle before CDtH – technically it’s a stand alone, but I’m not convinced the story would make that much sense without the background you get from the original books.

A solid 4* for this batch.  Spoiler alert: I already read Mister Impossible, the second book in the Dreamer Trilogy, which just came out in late May or June or whenever it was, and it was also quite good – I can’t believe I have to wait all the way until next year to find out how everything ends!!

Seeking Mansfield trilogy // by Kate Watson

This trilogy has actually been on my radar for a while, so when I reread Mansfield Park in March, it seemed like a great time to pick up this modern adaptation.  I’d been putting it off because it had been so long since I read MP that I couldn’t really remember the details.  At the time that I added this one to the TBR I didn’t realize that there were two sequels (or maybe there weren’t two sequels at the time… we all know how long books linger on my TBR lol).

  • Seeking Mansfield (2017)
  • Shoot the Moon (2018)
  • Off Script (2020)

In Seeking Mansfield, Fanny’s character has been updated to Finley, a teenage almost-orphan (her father has died and her mom is in prison) who has been adopted by her parents’ best friends, the Bertrams.  Mr. Bertram is cool but busy with business, Mrs. Bertram has some chronic health problems, and the four children of the original story have been reduced to three (although let’s be real, we didn’t really need both sisters since they act almost exactly the same anyway) – Tate (in college), Oliver (Finley’s crush), and Juliette (a total brat).  Finley’s older brother is a professional soccer player, so even though they’re close, she doesn’t get to see him often.  Shy and a little uncertain about her place in the world, Finley is nonetheless drawn to the theater (in stage manager/director roles) and is hoping to seize an opportunity to work with the prestigious Mansfield Theater over the summer.  Finley’s dad was a famous actor, so in many ways the theater is in Finley’s blood.

Of course, everything changes when teen stars/heartthrobs Harlan and Emma Crawford move in next door to live with their aunt and uncle for the summer.  Emma immediately sets her sights on Oliver, and Juliette is desperate to date Harlan, even if it means ditching her son-of-a-local-important-politician boyfriend.

It’s YA, so there is plenty of angst to go around, but overall I thought this was a really solid modernization of MP, despite the characters in this version being a lot younger than the characters in the original – the drama of the intersecting love lives actually fit the YA scene pretty well.  I felt like the essence of the original story was captured really well and enjoyed watching Finely find her inner strength.  There were a few times where the drama felt pretty over-the-top, but I was willing to roll with it.  It also seemed like there could be more/better resolution between Finley and her mother – I wasn’t sure how I felt about the whole “Finley HAS to visit her mom and forgive her” – it was just a really complicated and nuanced situation that felt like it was kind of shoehorned in for no real reason.

Shoot the Moon focuses on the oldest Bertram, Tate.  In Seeking Mansfield we find out that Tate has a gambling addiction.  When we start the second book, he’s going to therapy and meetings, but doesn’t really think that he has a problem, despite the fact that he’s also secretly running a underground gambling ring in his friend’s apartment.  When his dad finds out, Tate is in huge trouble.  His aunt Nora offers to let him work for her on her political campaign, where Tate also runs into his old crush/nemesis Alexandra.

This book was pretty terrible and I honestly more or less hated the entire thing.  First off, we meet Aunt Nora multiple times in Seeking Mansfield, and as the modernized Aunt Norris character she’s DREADFUL.  She’s constantly saying hateful, cruel things to Finley for no reason, is obsessed with political/societal posturing, and is just an all-around jerk.  But suddenly, in Shoot the Moon, she’s the good guy??  She’s the kind, understanding, empathetic relative who is the only one willing to stick her neck out to help Tate.  I couldn’t get over the fact that I spent the whole first book hating this character, but am supposed to magically love her in the second book AND totally support her running for public office!  Sorry, but I would not vote for this woman – she had ZERO redeeming qualities, but anyone who didn’t like her or who pointed that out was just labeled as someone who “hates women” and doesn’t want them to be in politics.  *HUGE EYE ROLL!*

On a similar note, we find out in the first chapter that Finley and Oliver have broken up?!  I mean, seriously, what was even the point of the first book if every single aspect of character development is completely mitigated in the first few pages of the second book??  There was also a lot of personal family drama going on in my life in early April, so honestly a book about a spoiled brat refusing any and all advice from the people who actually care about him, insisting that he has no problems/any problems he does have are the fault of his family and not him, and that character never really acknowledging that he said or did anything wrong just wasn’t the story that I needed.  I get that Tate is supposed to be self-centered and self-destructive, but I was really over watching him make the same mistakes over and over and over and over and then whining about how hard his life was.  The love interest, Alex, was pretty much just as bad – she’s completely self-absorbed and consistently a jerk, but for some reason I’m supposed to think she and Tate will make a great couple??  I literally never shipped them for even a second, and honestly wished that the story had ended with them realizing that they weren’t good for each other – because they WEREN’T!  This book was an incredible disappointment and I almost bailed on it multiple times.

And in fairness, I think I should mention that Oliver and Finley do end up together again by the end of the book, but they’re really just extremely peripheral to the entire story, so it just felt like Watson had broken them up so she could create awkward love triangles.  It was super annoying.

That said, I approached Off Script with trepidation, especially since it was supposed to be a riff on Emma, my other least-favorite Austen.  However, this book was significantly better – much closer to Seeking Mansfield in story quality – and ironically I didn’t need to have read Shoot the Moon at all in order for this one to make sense (although I would definitely recommend reading Seeking Mansfield.)  This story follows up on the Crawford siblings from the first book, and I thought the modern/YA adaptation of Emma’s character (and story) was done extremely well, with Emma Crawford focusing on the career of her new assistant (she’s so beautiful that she has to be a movie star!) and the Knightley character being filled by Finley’s older brother, Liam, who is totally fine with calling Emma out on her nonsense.  There was a lot about this book that I really enjoyed, although it did definitely go off into an extremely preachy/polemic #MeToo essay at the end that didn’t feel particularly organic or natural.  Like I thought the decision that Emma made to create the organization she did made total sense, but listening to expound on the evils of the patriarchy for paragraphs at a time felt clunky. I also felt like things could have been better resolved with her brother.

In the end, if you enjoy YA and are interested in Austen variations, I would totally recommend reading Mansfield Park and Off Script.  Definitely skip Shoot the Moon, though, because it’s pretty terrible and adds nothing to the overall story arc of the series.