July Minireviews + #20BooksofSummer

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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine – 2*

//published 2006//

I recently reread Ella Enchantedwhich was a childhood favorite and is still a book that I love.  Full of delightful characters, fun world-building, and a really excellent story, I’ve read it many times and still enjoy it.  Somehow, I hadn’t realized that Levine had written another book set in the same world as Ella, although not a direct sequel.  Part of me wishes that I still didn’t know that, because Fairest was pretty terrible.  The main problem was the heroine, Ava, who was incredibly boring, and spent the entire book whining about how ugly she was.  I mean CONSTANTLY.  Every.  Page.  And it never really felt like a lesson came out of that, or if it did it was very muddled.  If the prince thought she was beautiful the first time he saw her… was she really not as ugly as she thought?  Because here’s the thing, ugly/plain people often DO become more beautiful in our eyes as we get to know and love them, but if you’re just sitting there and someone walks into a room – you don’t know anything about them, and literally just judge them on how they appear at that moment.  So the prince is either lying, has horrible taste, or Ava isn’t actually that ugly.  All of those answers annoyed me.

Anyway, the rest of the story was also very weak – I’m never a fan of a plot where the villain is actually NOT the villain but is being controlled by another, in-the-background villain.  This seems convoluted and confusing.  All in all, I skimmed large portions of Fairest, and had trouble focusing on the pages because I was so busy rolling my eyes at Ava’s endless whining about her appearances.

Frederica by Georgette Heyer – 4.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1965//

This was my third read for #20BooksofSummer (you can find my original post here), and a thoroughly enjoyable one it was.  While I had read Frederica quite a while ago (2012), it had been several years.  At the time of my initial reading, it was actually one of the first Heyer books I had read (somehow, I didn’t discover her until adulthood!), but even after reading several of Heyer’s other books since then, I still found this one to be adorable and fun.  I think that part of the reason I love this one so much is that Alverstoke, the unwilling hero, falls in love not just with Frederica, but with her whole family.  I just loved the way that he went from being a selfish, lonely Mr. Grumpy-pants to being part of a happy, loving family.  While Alverstoke was a smidge *too* selfish to really be my favorite Heyer hero, he was still quite nice.  Frederica is a typical, but nonetheless enjoyable, Heyer heroine, being independent and intelligent without being too sassy and obnoxious.  She doesn’t take any nonsense from Alverstoke (or anyone else) and is such a wonderful sister.  My only complaint about her was how she could possibly be blind to her sister’s preferred beau??

All in all, Frederica is a delightful read for anyone looking for a bit of relaxation.  I wasn’t feeling super great over the weekend, and this ended up being the perfect book to devour.

Scotty by Frances Pitt – 3.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1932//

I purchased this book years ago at a book sale somewhere, but somehow had never gotten around to reading it before.  This ended up  being a perfectly enjoyable, although not outstanding read about a Highland fox cub who is raised in captivity buy then escapes and adjusts to life in the wild.  It had a very Jim Kjelgaard-y vibe for me, and it was fun to read an outdoors book about an area of the world that is unfamiliar to me.  It was written between the Wars, so it was also an interesting, if somewhat limited, glance into life when things were starting to really undergo a big cultural change.  While I’m not convinced this will be a classic that I read time and again, it was still engaging – and also Book #4 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit – 4.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1907//

This book is so precious that I just wanted to eat it up.  Every time I thought the story couldn’t get more adorable, it did.  These are the kind of children’s books that I grew up with, and I can’t believe that I didn’t discover Nesbit until adulthood!  This wasn’t a story full of angst or the need for anyone to “discover” herself – just a roly-poly happy story about four children and some magical adventures.  I can’t wait to read more Nesbit!!!  #6 for #20BooksofSummer.

NB: #5 for the list is actually A Wrinkle in Time which I have already read but won’t be reviewing until I have finished some more books in the series.

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June Minireviews – Part 3

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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West – 3*

//published 2013//

I’ve read a couple of Kasie West books, and I really like them.  They’re everything YA chick lit should be – fluffy, funny, a little bit ridiculous, and overall just happy.  They aren’t full of ridiculous amounts of angst or sexual dilemmas, just straightforward little stories with likable characters.  That said, this wasn’t really my favorite book, mainly because I got so tired of Cayman constantly assuming that she already knows what everyone is thinking/what their motivations are… and she’s wrong a LOT.  Consequently, all the misunderstandings seemed like they could have been avoided easily if Cayman would just USE HER WORDS and have some conversations.  Despite my aggravation with her at times, I still liked Cayman and basically everyone else as well.  Perfectly happy for a one-time read, and I really need to delve into some more of West’s back catalog.

Elizabeth Bennet’s Deception by Regina Jeffers – DNF (#20BooksofSummer)

//published 2015//

I don’t usually worry about updating you all on DNF books, but since this was on my original list for my #20BooksofSummer challenge, I thought I would let you know that it was SO terrible that I didn’t even bother finishing!  If you’re interested in the full rant, be sure to check it out on my P&P blog here.  Meanwhile, I’ve selected another book to finish out the 20 Book challenge!

The Holiday Swap by Zara Stoneley – 3*

//published 2016//

This was a free Kindle book that I got a while back.  This summer, when we’ve been taking the Zeppelin out for the weekend, I’ve been loading some super fluffy Kindle books so I have plenty of spares, and this one totally fit the bill.  Two friends have two bad romantic situations and decide to switch homes for a few weeks.  While I enjoyed this story while I was reading it, it didn’t really inspire me to find more of Stoneley’s books, and I don’t really see myself going back to this one.  It was a little too heavy on the “finding the right man fixes all your problems” (and I say this as someone who is happily married), and so it ended up feeling like neither of the women really grew that much – they just switched out their loser boyfriends for nice ones.  It also seemed like it ended kind of abruptly – this is definitely a book that would have benefited from a little epilogue from a few years later talking about how happy everyone is.

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle – 3*

//published 2013//

Yet another book that I really wanted to like more than I did.  While this was a perfectly pleasant sequel focusing on Mary, it was just rather unexciting.  Lydia shows up with a new scandal trailing behind her, but somehow the story just didn’t quite click together.  Many of the characters seemed rather stagnant, and I felt like Henry, in particular, was inconsistent.  I did like Mary and it wasn’t a terrible story, but not one that I particularly see myself returning to.

My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1919//

In my quest to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, this collection of short stories, many of which feature the Bertie/Jeeves combo, was next on the list.  While Jeeves and Bertie made their debut in another short story collection (The Man With Two Left Feet), it is here that they begin to genuinely become the individual characters that are so beloved.

Overall, this collection was much more up to classical Wodehouse levels.  While the Bertie tales were my favorites, there were some other solid little tales in this collection.  This was the first collection where it felt like Wodehouse genuinely decided that all of this worrying about being serious stuff was really nonsense, and instead just embraced the joy of happy chaos.

Swamp Cat by Jim Kjelgaard – 3.5*

//published 1957//

It had been a while since I picked up a Kjelgaard, and this was another one that I hadn’t read as a youth – so apparently our library didn’t have it!  From the title, I assumed that the story was going to be about a Florida panther or a bobcat or some other type of wild cat – but it was actually about a regular domestic cat!  Of course, Frosty isn’t really a REGULAR cat, as he learns to survive, and thrive, in the wilds.  He of course adopts a young man who lives off the land, and I quite enjoyed the parallel story of Andy and the beginnings of his muskrat farm (right??).  All in all, this was a surprisingly engaging tale.  I read it as a free Kindle book, but I would definitely like to add it to my hard-copy collection if I can find a copy.

June Minireviews – Part 2

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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Second Chance by Joana Starnes – 3*

//published 2014//

In this P&P variation, the characters from that classic also meet up with the characters from Sense and Sensibility.  This was a book that I really wanted to like, but just didn’t.  It was boring, there wasn’t really any kind of villain, Darcy spent way too much time wandering around being morose, and the whole book was just kind of choppy.  It wasn’t horrible, but it definitely wasn’t great.

For those who are interested, there is a more detailed review over on my P&P blog here.

Planting With Perennials by Richard Bird – 3*

//published 2002//

This is a really basic introduction to perennials.  If you literally aren’t even sure what a perennial is, this would be a great place to start.  However, if you’ve worked with them at all, you probably already know most of the information in this book.  There are a lot of photographs and some nice charts.  And since this book doesn’t claim to *be* anything other than an introduction to the topic, I can’t really fault it for being just that.

Ring of Truth by Jaclyn Weist – 3*

//published 2015//

I love a good fake-relationship trope, but I have to admit that this one wasn’t really very good!  While it would have made decent sense for these two people who just met to pretend they were dating, pretending that they were engaged made legit no sense and just created all sorts of unnecessary drama.  I was also confused about why they both acted like they couldn’t make their relationship real…  like… nothing to lose??  You were total strangers a week ago, so even if the other person thinks dating for real is stupid, oh well??  Finally, in the end, they go straight into being really engaged, even though they’ve only known each about three weeks!  What?!

The thing is, despite the fact that this book was thoroughly implausible, I completely enjoyed it!  It was just so innocent and happy.  No sex, no swearing, just purely relaxing and adorable.  I actually really liked the characters a lot, and would have been willing to forgive a lot of the story if they had just started dating in the end (and then an epilogue where they are happily married a year later or something), but leaping straight into being engaged felt ridiculous given the short time frame.

For now, I’m giving the rest of this series a miss, but if I find myself yearning for some quietly innocent romance, I may pick the next one up!

This is Book #2 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Child by Fiona Barton – 3.5*

//published 2017//

I recently read and enjoyed The Widow by the same author, so when I saw she had another book with some overlapping characters, I checked it out from the library.  I picked up this book coming off a bit of a slump wherein I basically was reading nothing but terrible P&P variations, so it took me a little bit to get into it, but once I did, I found it engaging but not electrifying.  While I wanted to find out how things were going to come together, there was never really any sense of urgency.  There were also some reveals that felt just painfully obvious but took forever to get to.  In many ways, it felt like it didn’t really matter if the mystery was ever solved or not.

The reporter from The Widow, Kate, is the main recurring character, and I liked her even better in this book.  And while it was fun to read this story with the background of The Widow in my mind, this could definitely be read as its own book with no trouble.  All in all, a 3.5* read.  It looks like Barton is going to publish a third book early next year, so I’ll probably pick that one up as well.  Hopefully it will have a little more zip.

The Possible by Tara Altebrando – 3*

//published 2017//

This was a book that came in a book box, so it was a totally random read for me.  I kind of like picking up the book box books, because they get me a little out of my comfort zone.  This one was engaging, but the story was a bit scattered at times, and there was some inconsistency with the characters.  (For instance, the lady doing the interviews is presented in the end as though she is a “good guy,” but at one point earlier in the story she had obviously manipulated what people had said to make things more dramatic/imply things that weren’t true… and that’s never addressed, she just goes back to being a good guy…)  The conclusion was decent, and I definitely was kept unsure throughout the story as to whether or not the ability to control things with the mind was a real possibility.  All in all, I didn’t mind reading this book, but it didn’t inspire to find out what else Atlebrando has written.

 

Pride and Prejudice Variations

Sometimes my brain wants nothing but fluff, and during these times of brain vacation I frequently turn to terrible Pride & Prejudice variations.  Actually, it’s such an addiction that I have a separate book blog just for ranting about them.  :-D  I went through a whole batch of them at the end of May/beginning of June.  If you want the full reviews (which include a spoiler section with extra ?!?!?!), feel free to click through on the title to the P&P blog.  Below, I’ve just listed titles, authors, star-rating, and what makes this variation different from the original…

Unequal Affections by Lara Ormiston – 4.5*

Instead of giving Darcy what-for during the Hunsford proposal, Elizabeth keeps her temper in check and, eventually, decides to accept Darcy.  Lots of good conversations and interesting interactions.

An Unpleasant Walk by C. Rafe – 3.5*

If you consider a stroll where you are assaulted and almost raped to be merely “unpleasant”, your life may have some serious issues.  Anyway, instead of proposing at Hunsford, Darcy ends up extricating Elizabeth from a difficult situation.  Turns out he isn’t as bad of a guy as she thought, especially compared to a potential rapist.

Rain & Retribution by L.L. Diamond – 3.5*

Mr. Bennet decides Elizabeth actually should marry Mr. Collins when he proposes.  Elizabeth skips town and ends up trapped at an inn with Mr. Darcy, who turns out to not be as terrible as she originally thought.

Bluebells in the Mourning by KaraLynne Mackaroy – 4*

If Lydia is the main reason you don’t like P&P, this is the variation for you, as she gets killed off in the first chapter.  Elizabeth receives this news while at Hunsford, so instead of proposing, Darcy helps Elizabeth to get back to her family, where everyone rallies ’round and they all become better people as they work through their tragedy.

Remembrance of the Past by Lory Lilian – 2.5*

Have you ever wished that you could read Pride and Prejudice, except there would be this other random character who was super, super obnoxious and interfered in everyone’s lives but was viewed as a paragon by all who met her?  Then this is the variation for you!

Mr. Darcy & Mr. Collins’s Widow by Timothy Underwood – 3*

When Elizabeth is but 15, her father dies and she marries Mr. Collins.  When he dies less than a year later, everyone feels only relief.  Several years later, Darcy and Bingley arrive at Netherfield, and Elizabeth strikes up a friendship with the intelligent and handsome Mr. Darcy.  Both of them struggle against falling in love for different reasons, but who can resist fate?!

Alone With Mr. Darcy by Abigail Reynolds – 3*

Darcy and Elizabeth get trapped in a cottage together during a blizzard, which gives them a chance to talk things out.  But thanks to Mr. Bennet being an annoying brat in this version, they’re still kept apart through a bunch of miscommunications that I thought were never going to get ironed out.  Bonus: Darcy has a stepmother, and that whole side-plot makes zero sense!

Mr. Darcy’s Letter by Abigail Reynolds – 3.5*

Elizabeth refuses to read Darcy’s letter of explanation at Hunsford, and returns to Meryton still believing that Darcy is a jerk and Wickham is a darling.  Good concept, but Bingley was even more obnoxiously indecisive in this version than ever.

An Unwavering Trust by L.L. Diamond – 3.5*

If you’re going to ruthlessly slaughter most of the characters from the original, is it really a P&P variation??

Royal Wedding Series // by Rachel Hauck

  • Once Upon a Prince (2013)
  • A March Bride (2014)
  • Princess Ever After (2014)
  • How to Catch a Prince (2015)
  • A Royal Christmas Wedding (2016)

This series has been on my radar ever since I got the first book as a free Kindle book.  Last year, when I was reading through the novella series A Year of Weddings (by various authors), I realized that A March Bride was actually a follow-up to Once Upon a Prince.  I kind of enjoy the concept of modern fairy tales (after all, The Princess is still a go-to fave of mine), and that’s basically what this series does.  Hauck has created a kingdom, Brighton, which is a small island in the North Sea.  Conveniently, English is their first language, so everything works out when, throughout the series, several Brightonian princes fall for American girls.

Overall, I really enjoyed these books.  They were relaxing and fun little love stories, with some good character development and some thoughtful questions.  They are definitely Christian books, with strong (although not misplaced) Christian themes/conversations without, and this also means that they are delightfully devoid of graphic sex.  For the most part, Hauck does a good job of creating likable female characters who are strong and independent without being obnoxious, and creating male characters are kind and thoughtful without being weak and stupid.  There were times that the angst factor was a little too strong (especially in How to Catch a Prince… I mean, COME ON, STEPHEN, MOVE ON WITH YOUR LIFE), but for the most part, the amount of angst felt realistic for the complicated problems!

However, the further along the series went, the more Hauck depended on basically supernatural encounters to further her story – angels, small miracles, etc.  I wasn’t exactly against this, and as a Christian I  believe these things can happen, and I felt like it was consistent with the rest of what Hauck was saying.  BUT it also felt like sometimes she was able to use this as a way to just sort of tidy things up.  This seemed especially evident at the end of Princess Ever After, where conveniently God has apparently just kept this entire barn full of Important Things hidden from human eyes for a hundred years, and now it reappears and has everything they need to fix all their problems.  In that instance, it felt more like a plotline cop-out than proof that God still works in our lives today.  (That book definitely had the weakest ending anyway.  Guy spends the entire book being a political enemy, and then in the end one short conversation means he’s suddenly on the other team??  That didn’t seem likely at all.)

I did appreciate the way that A Royal Christmas Wedding not only told Avery’s story, but also kind of wrapped things up for the other couples I had met along the way.  It had a very happily ever after vibe that I totally could get behind.

This ended up being a 4* series for me for the most part.  I enjoyed reading these books and liked most of the characters.  There were times that they were a bit slow, or where the use of supernatural forces felt a little heavy-handed, but I could usually get behind it.  While I’m not sure this will become a go-to series for me, they were very enjoyable for a one-time read, and I can definitely see myself picking up other books by Hauck in the future.

‘Love Inspired’ // Part 5

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!  ;-)

I guess the real question is – why do I keep reading these??  I can’t seem to help it.  Somehow, I feel like I owe it to Aunt Darby!  This  batch of five was just as mediocre as the rest, although I’m getting better at just DNFing the really terrible ones.  :-D

Cattleman’s Courtship by Carolyne Aarsen

This one wasn’t too bad, with a likable pair of main characters.  Cara and Nicholas were engaged a few years ago and broke things off due to some misunderstandings.  Now their best friends are getting married, so Cara and Nick are back together for the wedding planning.  All in all, this would have been a pretty decent story, except it went off the rails at the end – Cara is a veterinarian and is trying to decide whether or not she wants to join her uncle’s practice.  In the meantime, her uncle has hired this other guy… who kind of turns out to be arbitrarily a terrible person??  He felt like this really random evil villain who swoops in and decides that Nick’s entire herd has TB and has to be slaughtered.  It just felt like there should have been a lot more research done before making that kind of decision, and the whole thing felt superfluous to the story which was otherwise basically finished.  Still, 3.5/5 for what was overall not a bad story.

Fresh-Start Family by Lisa Mondello

This is one of those tales where there is an emotionally wounded man who meets a sweet widow and her son.  All in all, I really liked Tag and Jenna, but felt like their relationship was really choppy.  Another 3.5/5 for a decent story.

Their First Noel by Annie Jones

DNF.  Not even sure why exactly.  Just boring.  I skimmed the rest to see what happened.

The Marine’s Baby by Deb Kastner

DNF.  This actually seemed like one I should enjoy, where a dude inherits a baby and needs help taking care of it, but I was immediately put off by Nathan’s family, and there were already these huge jumps in logic in just the first couple of chapters.  (e.g. the baby is running a really high fever and instead of “rush her to the hospital,” Jesse is like, “oh, let’s just try to bring her fever down ourselves” – huh??)

Rocky Point Reunion by Barbara McMahon

Not a bad little story, although sometimes it really just felt like these two needed to sit down and talk.  I understood why Marcie was wary of Zack, but it felt like that part just went on and on.  Like did she really think he couldn’t change at all in ten years?!  3/5 for a story that was alright for a one-time read.

April Minireviews // Part 2

I keep thinking that I’m through my blogging funk and am ready to write some solid full reviews… and then I start to write and realize I just don’t wanna!  :-D  So here’s another batch of minireviews from this month…

Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

//published 2011//

Before I picked up this book and read the introduction I didn’t realize that it’s actually a book based on a movie.  I’m not completely sure I would have bothered checking it out of the library if I had known that before, as it’s not something I generally enjoy.  And, like other movies-to-books that I’ve read, this one felt a little flat.  There wasn’t a lot of character development, and the third person POV jumped around between characters in a manner that was very choppy and confusing.  There was a lot of potential with this story, but instead it just felt like it dragged on and on and created more questions than it answered.

Why have the villagers been offering sacrifices to the werewolf for years but now all of a sudden decide that it must die?  That was the biggest one for me.  These people have been living with this situation for decades, but all of a sudden it’s this huge emergency/crisis and everyone is flipping out about killing the wolf.  I hated the blend of religion/paranormal in this book, as the “good” guy, who is a bishop or something, is also a total jerk + arrogant + stupid, and goes around proclaiming how he is “working for the power of God” etc etc and it really felt like he could have been the same character minus the constant blathering about God and wouldn’t have been nearly as offensive.  The main character, Valerie, basically sucked and was completely passive and also inconsistent and we had to spend WAY too much time listening to her dither about which guy she should be with; she and everyone else just kind of ran around like a bunch of sheep, making every stupid decision possible.

THEN, the final kicker – there’s no last chapter!  The book just stops!  Apparently, the book came out just before the movie, so they didn’t want the ending spoiled and didn’t post the lats chapter until after the movie appeared.  Now you can go online and read it (and I did, and it genuinely was a terrible ending that STILL didn’t really make the story make sense), but it seems like a pretty obnoxious marketing device to not put the ending in a book.  All in all, a 2/5 for this one – I did want to see how things came out, so I feel like I can’t justify only 1*, but it’s close.

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer

//published 1948//

It had been way too long since I had indulged in the sheer joy and relaxation of a Heyer book, and I was excited to read this one for the first time.  I genuinely loved the main character, Gilly, and laughed out loud on more than one occasion at his ability to get tangled in some genuinely ridiculous situations.  It was funny to read a Heyer that was more about a guy than a girl, but Gilly was so completely likable that I really enjoyed it.  I wish there was a sequel to this book that was nothing except Gilly and his new wife and all of their adventures because I shipped them SO HARD.  4/5.

Ride Like an Indian by Henry Larom

//published 1958//

A while back I read the Mountain Pony series by Larom and really enjoyed it, so I checked to see if he had written anything else.  I found a copy of Ride Like an Indian on eBay and took the $5 splurge.  This was aimed at younger readers than the Mountain Pony books – it’s almost a picture book – but it was pretty adorable, even if it wasn’t very exciting.  I enjoyed the reading, but it wasn’t really an instant classic for me.  3.5/5.

The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillup

//published 1988//

I’ve had kind of mixed results from McKillup’s writing.  Everything I’ve read has been good but they have not all been magical.  That was the case with this book.  The story was a pleasant and engaging one, but didn’t have that magic that made me want to add it to my permanent collection.  3/5.

Don’t Believe a Word by Patricia MacDonald

//published 2016//

I read about this book over on Fictionophile’s blog a while back, and thought I would give it a whirl.  While I enjoyed reading it and definitely wanted to see how everything came together, it wasn’t a book that I loved, and it didn’t particularly inspire me to find more of MacDonald’s writing.  For some reason, this book just had a negative vibe for me, and I’m not even sure exactly why.  There is also this weird plot twist where it turns out that two of the characters are actually half-siblings and have been having an incestual relationship.  That was never really addressed as a negative thing and it made me kind of uncomfortable that the conclusion was just that it was basically their business and they should be able to do whatever they feel is right.  Still, that was a minor part of an otherwise decent story.  3.5/5.