August Minireviews // Part 1

August was an insanely busy month for me at the orchard – we had a huge peach crop and were quite short-staffed.  My reading definitely suffered as a result – I only read 18 books, which is about 10 fewer than my average.  And as usual, they were quite the mixed bag!!

Nudges by Loren Anderson – 3.5*

//published 2021//

Loaned to me by a friend, this book was written by a man who was a missionary to Guatemala.  Having been to Guatemala myself, I was interested to read this one.  However, the execution was a little flat – in some ways, this book almost felt like a thank you letter to the many people who have helped and inspired Anderson and his wife through the years, and there were times that I wanted to hear more about what they were doing rather than who was doing it, if that makes sense.  Much of this story takes place in 1950s and 60s, and Anderson and his family DROVE from Ohio to Guatemala more than once!!  Those are the types of things I would have liked to have read about in more detail, but are just sort of glossed over.  All in all, a perfectly nice book, but I just didn’t find it as engaging as I wanted to.

Rosalind by Clarice Peters – 3.5*

//published 1985//

This book was just so close to being fun.  There are some engaging characters and witty dialogue, but it also felt like the author had ideas for about a dozen different stories and decided to cram them all into this 203 page book.  There was just way too much going on, so the story felt cluttered and choppy.  A lot of potential here, but it just didn’t work.

The Hidden One by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2022//

I’m always excited to read the next installment in the Kate Burkholder series.  I absolutely love Kate and have so enjoyed watching her character grown and develop throughout the series.  This is the 14th book, and while you don’t HAVE to read them in order, it definitely gives the characters more depth and interest if you do.  I’m always a bit sad when the story takes place away from Painters Creek, but on the other hand, how many murderous Amish people can you plausibly have in one community??  The pacing here was good, and while I guessed some of what was coming, I didn’t guess all of it.  Another solid installment.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This is one of those books that I feel like I saw everywhere for a while.  As usual, I’m late to the party.  My main issue with this book was that January herself felt a little slow on the uptake.  There were several things that I figured out way, way, WAY before she did, to the point that it was making her seem kind of slow and stupid that she didn’t see these things and how they connected and who was really the bad guy, etc.  The world-building was interesting and I did LIKE January, but the pacing in this one was off.

The Secret Road by Bruce Lancaster – 3.5*

//published 1952//

Another one that I’ve owned FOREVER, finally off the list.  Historical fiction set during the Revolutionary War – the most unbelievable part of this one was the love story, which felt like it was getting in the way of the story instead of furthering it.  There is some fun spy action here and fairly likable characters, but the ending was quite abrupt and left me wanting some more resolution.

The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa – 2.5*

//published 2020//

This one just didn’t hit the right notes for me.  Lina was super annoying and spent most of her time whining about how she has to work 50x harder than everyone else because she’s a WOMAN trying to make it in a MAN’S WORLD (…of wedding planning…) blah blah blah.  Don’t care, Lina.  Max felt like a manic-pixie-dream-feminist-man-who-says-all-the-right-things-as-though-it’s-a-script.  Literally, has Sosa even MET a man?  Max was incredibly boring, trite, and unrealistic.  He felt like a doll where you pull the string and a little feminist by-line comes out.  To top it all off, we included one of my absolutely least-favorite tropes, the “we’re just having sex; it doesn’t mean anything” bit – UGH.  Gross, stupid, and annoying.  There are loads of positive reviews for this one, and plenty of people found it fun and funny, but although it had it’s moments here and there, on the whole it just wasn’t for me.

July Minireviews // Part 2

It’s -3* right now, so this seems like a good time to travel back to July in my mind…

(I wrote most of this post just before Christmas but didn’t finish it – a bit warmer now, a whopping 42*!!)

Her Mother’s Keeper by Nora Roberts – 3*

//This one included Her Mother’s Keeper (published 1983) and Island of Flowers (published 1982)//

I was actually sick in July, so I went on a bit of a Nora Roberts binge, reading four of her books in pretty short order.  What can I say?  She’s a comfort author for me haha

Unfortunately, this was definitely one of her weaker stories – even 3* may be generous.  Gwen is worried that her mother, who lives by herself in a large, rambling house in the bayou, is being taken in by her latest boarder.  Gwen heads home to make sure her mother isn’t in trouble, believing that her mother and Luke are romantically involved, despite Luke being almost 20 years younger than Gwen’s mother, and despite Gwen having zero proof that this is happening.  This misunderstanding drags through the entire book, when normal people would just have a five-minute conversation along the lines of, “Oh, you must be my mom’s boyfriend” “What? No, I’m not”.  Like I get that we need conflict to make a story, but this conflict was so unbelievable that it made the whole story annoying.  Plus, this is the somewhat-typical 80s romance where there is a lot of grabbing and kissing in lieu of actual conversation.  All in all, this wasn’t terrible for a one-off read, especially if you’re running a fever and drifting in and out of sleep, but it’s not one I would particularly recommend.

Island of Flowers by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

Following the theme of “a simple conversation would solve a lot of problems,” in this one Laine is traveling to Hawaii to reconnect with her dad after years of not hearing from him.  However, her dad’s business partner, Dillon, is convinced that Laine is just trying to get her dad’s money, so he pretty much treats her like garbage the entire time.  Of course, it turns out that Laine’s dad actually had been sending Laine letters and money through the years, but Laine’s selfish mother (now deceased) never told Laine about any of it, which is where the “we could have a simple conversation” bit comes in.  Dillon was definitely not the hero for me, as frankly he was an ass the entire time, one minute being all romancy and then the next minute accusing Laine of being a con-artist and treating her like trash.  He’s the reason that this book wasn’t a win for me.  However, Roberts’s descriptions of Hawaii were amazing and totally made me want to go there, despite the fact that I’m not really into beaches or warm weather (or flying), so there’s that.

Black Hills by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2009//

This is a newer Roberts novel, and it really is interesting to me how much her work has matured over the years.  This one is somewhat of a romantic suspense and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Lil has always loved her childhood home in South Dakota, and has fulfilled her dream of opening a large-cat wildlife sanctuary there.  (Random, I know, but Roberts makes it work.)  Growing up, her neighbors’ grandson, Cooper, used to come and stay with them, and the two of them were best friends, who fell in love in high school.  But then Cooper OF COURSE broke her heart and headed off to The Big City to become a Hotshot Lawyer.  Now he’s back because his grandparents are in poor health.  Sparks fly between them, while at the same time someone seems intent on shutting down Lil’s sanctuary, as several instances of sabotage occur.

Overall, I did enjoy this one a lot.  The whole sabotage storyline kept the pace up, and I did like Lil a lot.  However, it’s been something like 12 years since Cooper broke her when she was 19, and it felt like she was really hanging onto the bitterness/suspicion way too long.  I can understand not just like leaping into his arms, but at some point you need to move on.  Cooper was also an uneven character – he starts off treating Lil like trash, then all of the sudden is like, “actually it’s because I’ve been in love with you forever!!!!!!”  There’s also a secondary love story going on that I either wanted more of or less of, because while I totally shipped it, sometimes it just felt like filler wedged in here and there, and it felt clunky.

While this wasn’t my new favorite Roberts, it’s one I can see myself rereading, especially when I need to check South Dakota off my read-the-USA list!

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – 4*

//published 1891//

This is one of those classics that it feels like I should have read but never had.  While I didn’t love it, I did find it engaging.  My edition had notes about the differences between Wilde’s original book and the additions he made for a later edition, which was interesting.  This one gave me the creeps in a good way.

The Girl on the Boat by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1922//

A reread for me, this isn’t my favorite Wodehouse, but it’s still a great deal of fun, as always.  Billie is a bit of a flake, but there are plenty of ridiculous shenanigans and fabulous one-liners.  Basically, if you enjoy Wodehouse, you’ll probably like this one as it is pretty typical fare.

July Minireviews // Part 1

Okay, July!! Woohoo!!

Also!  I happened to be on my phone the other day and looked at something on my blog and realized that the mobile version has decided to completely ignore my paragraph breaks!  I don’t really know how to fix that – maybe I should go back to the old-school method of inserting the paragraph symbol whenever a new one is started?? ¶  So apologies to anyone who may attempt to read these posts on mobile as apparently WordPress is determined to make me look a bit ridiculous, probably because I insist on using the Classic Editor instead of the horrific Block Editor that I genuinely hate.  Lack of paragraph breaks is a small price to pay to avoid that atrocity!

Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier – 3.5*

//published 1956//

Apparently this one was also published as The Silver Sword.  Set in Warsaw during WWII, the story follows a family whose parents are arrested by the Nazis, leaving the children alone and homeless.  Their father manages to escape the prison camp, but doesn’t know how to find the children.  Meanwhile, the children decide to try and make it to Switzerland to their mother’s family and begin a cross-country journey.  Along the way they pick up another orphan who has been living on the streets even longer than they have, mostly by stealing stuff.  He’s quite obnoxious and drove me crazy for the entire book.  This wasn’t a bad story, but was a bit disjointed.  An author’s note explained that although he made up this story, he based their adventures on various true stories, which could account for the way this book felt like it was kind of pulling together bits and bobbles that didn’t always go together.  I think this also greatly increased the “we need a coincidence to move this along” factor.  It wasn’t at all a bad book, and I can see the middle grade audience for which it’s intended getting very caught up in the drama and excitement, but this one did go into the giveaway box when I was done reading it.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson – 4*

//published 2015//

I’ve been working my way through Swanson’s backlog of books, and I feel like this is the one that always comes the most highly recommended.  While it was a good, pacey thriller, I didn’t absolutely love it.  Swanson has an amazing knack for being able to keep me 100% engaged in a book to the point that I really don’t notice all the niggling coincidences and inconsistencies and completely lack of character development until I’m done!  So he gets great kudos for keeping me in the moment, but maybe not so much for actual writing lol  I also get a little exasperated that he seems to think that sex is the ONLY motivation for 100% of men and 98% of women.  Like no one does anything unless the angle involves sex in some way, and that gets old to me.  But still – his pacing is impeccable.  It’s rare for me to start one of his books and not finish it within 24 hours!

Harbor Lights by Sherryl Woods – 3*

//published 2009//

Another mediocre installment to the Chesapeake Shores series.  Woods has a great habit of writing a book that I’m totally fine with it until she gets to the final drama and then I just want to bonk everyone’s heads together.  Just.  Why.  In this one, Kevin is a widower with a young son (I think… maybe it was a daughter, I can’t remember, this was back in July haha) and he meets the new girl in town, Shanna, who is opening a bookstore.  Kevin spends literally the entire book (because he has ZERO character growth) saying things like, “I really like Shanna but I want to take it slow” which honestly makes sense given his relationship history.  Consequently, while I generally enjoy books with large, boisterous, slightly-obnoxious families, the O’Brians really got on my nerves here as they just were constantly trying to force Kevin to up his relationship with Shanna, to the point that I was starting to cringe every time they all got together.  There was one particularly dreadful scene where Kevin’s in-laws (parents of his deceased wife) are there to visit their grandson, and while at supper with the whole family, Kevin’s sisters start teasing him about Shanna, despite the fact that it’s obviously making the in-laws, who are still, you know, mourning the death of their daughter, seriously uncomfortable.  It was terrible!  This isn’t that much of a spoiler, because these books are designed to have the HEA, but even the proposal at the end made NO sense.  Kevin literally says something like, “I still really think we need to take this relationship slowly because I’m not sure of myself” and Shanna is like, “Look, I need some actual commitment from you if you want to keep going” (which I honestly also thought was fair) and Kevin IN THE SAME CONVERSATION where he has JUST SAID that he IS NOT READY to progress this relationship PULLS AN ENGAGEMENT RING OUT OF HIS POCKET and says, “oh wow you’re right, we should go ahead and get married, I am 100% on board with this”  WHAT??!?!?!!  I couldn’t deal.

Summer Days and Summer Nights by various authors – 3*

//published 2016//

I got this collection of short stories from Book Outlet for a dollar or two, but didn’t pay very close attention and thus didn’t realize that they were actually all YA stories.  Whew boy, there were some doozies in here.  And maybe it was just me, I actually didn’t realize it but I was getting sick the two days I was reading this book (maybe this book got me sick?  Could be), but none of these stories hit right for me.  They were pretty much just girl meets boy, they argue, they fall in love, now they’re together forever!  I read these kinds of collections in hopes that a new author will tickle my fancy, but while most of these were okay, none of them really wowed me.

A Chesapeake Shores Christmas by Sherryl Woods – 3.5*

//published 2010//

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I went ahead and picked up the next Chesapeake Shores book even though Kevin had driven me batty in the previous book.  The background story of this entire series is that the parents, Mick and Megan, got divorced back in the day, but now that all the kids are grown, Mick wants to try their relationship again.  It’s actually handled pretty well, with all of the now-adult children coming to grips with their parents having their own reasons for why the relationship didn’t work, and neither Mick nor Megan completely blaming the other for the failure of their marriage, and both of them admitting that they screwed up with how they handled it.  But for the last couple of books they have slowly been trying to rebuild something between them, and this book focuses on the two of them.

Here’s my problem with all of the books by this author that I’ve read so far.  She introduces a legitimate concern between the two potential lovers.  The characters discuss it and try to work through things throughout the story.  Then, in the end, they’re just like, “yay, we’re in love, everything is good!” WITHOUT ACTUALLY FIXING THE PROBLEM.   Like I get that I’m supposed to get a HEA here, that’s the whole point of reading this, but why introduce a problem that you aren’t going to solve??  It leaves me feeling like these characters aren’t actually going to have a successful relationship long-term.  And that was the case here – I actually really like Mick and Megan together and feel like they have made some great progress over the course of the first three books, but there is this whole thing with Megan’s art gallery that is a huge part of what they are trying to work out, and in the end it’s just kind of glossed over like of course everything is going to fall into place, despite the fact that it has NOT fallen into place during ANY conversation so far!  It’s what keeps making these books a soft pick for me.  Why do I keep reading the next one???  I can’t even explain it LOL

June Minireviews – Part 3!!

Lies by T.M. Logan – 4*

//published 2017//

A few mixed feelings about this one, but overall an engaging thriller.  I really liked Joe, but also got annoyed with him sometimes because he always seemed to make the choice that would make him look like the bad guy, sometimes unnecessarily.  Also… while I kind of agreed that the final twist made sense, what didn’t make sense was why they had to blame Joe.  So this was a fun one to read, but not one that I absolutely loved.

The Copenhagen Connection by Elizabeth Peters – 3.5*

//published 1982// Also thank you library for literally covering up the title, great idea //

Did this book actually make sense?  No.  Was it held together by improbable coincidences and a good dose of instalove?  Yes.  Did I have a fabulous time reading it?  Also yes.  This was classic Peters, full of wry humor, historical facts, and a good dose of ridiculousness.  I wrote down that this was a “romp of a book” which really sums it up quite well.  There’s a lot of dashing about hither and thither and a lot of tongue-in-cheek mockery of tropes, and I still completely enjoyed it.

Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman – 4*

//published 1993//

Although my journey through the Leaphorn and Chee mysteries is slow, I am really enjoying them.  I think these two men make such a great contrast in both their personal beliefs (Chee is strongly traditional and believes in the importance of following the Navajo religion while Leaphorn is definitely a skeptic) and their detecting methods (Leaphorn is methodical and good at spotting patterns and inconsistencies while Chee tends to follow his gut), which helps keep the different strands of the mystery engaging.  I feel like Hillerman handles the religions and cultural aspects of the Navajo in a sensitive manner.  I especially loved this quote from Chee when he is explaining to someone what the Navajo belief of hozho means to him – “This business of hozho … I’ll use an example.  Terrible drought, crops dead, sheep dying.  Spring dried out.  No water.  The Hopi, or the Christian, or maybe the Moslem, they pray for rain.  The Navajo has the proper ceremony done to restore himself to harmony with the drought.”  I actually love Chee’s view on harmony and being at peace with where you are in life (a perspective that I do not think conflicts with my personal belief in Christianity) and enjoy the way that this is woven into the stories.  However, I did get a bit over Chee’s constant mooning over what to do with Janet.  SHE ISN’T RIGHT FOR YOU, BUDDY.  MOVE ON.

My only concern with these books is that Leaphorn is already getting old and this is only book 11/25??

The Fall of the Ottomans by Eugene Rogan – 4*

//published 2015//

This was overall an informative and thorough look at the Middle Eastern theater during WWI.  I didn’t really know anything about this topic going into the book, and while I didn’t walk away with a bunch of dates and names memorized, I did feel like I got a good overview of what happened there, and it was definitely interesting to see the stage being set for conflicts that are still occurring a hundred years later.  This book was D R Y as dust and somewhat difficult to read, so I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but if it’s a topic that interests you then this one is worth picking up.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – 3.5*

//published 1999//

Even though I had read this one ten or so years ago, I really couldn’t remember anything about it.  When someone gifted me a copy, I decided to reread it.  It’s an engaging enough story, but somehow just doesn’t resonate with me.  It’s very fairy-tale-esq in style, and while I liked the concept, I couldn’t connect with the characters.  An enjoyable one-off but one that moved on to the giveaway box once I was finished reading it.

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton – 4*

//published 2021//

I read this book last fall and just thoroughly enjoyed it, so when the sequel came out I decided to reread this one to remind myself of who all the characters are.  I enjoyed it just as much, or maybe even more, this time around, since I was somewhat more prepared for flying houses!  I still think the phrase “delightfully bonkers” sums this one up perfectly.  It’s madcap and ridiculous and just so much fun.

The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton – 3.5*

//published 2022//

Which brings us to the slight-disappointing sequel.  This one fell into the “trying a little too hard” category.  It reminded me of that scene in Groundhog Day where Phil and Rita build the snowman and it’s so magical, but then when he tries to recapture that in the future iterations of the day, it just feels awkward. A lot of the jokes and innuendo in this one felt forced and clunky.  There is a LOT more sex in this one, which made me uncomfortable just because of the way it fit into the story/made zero sense for the time period it is supposedly set.  And while the difference between the pirates and witches made sense (back in the day, two groups interpreted the whole “flying house” magic thing differently), it made ZERO sense to me that the witches are being hunted and are illegal… like why is this police officer obsessed with witch hunting when there are literally pirates FLYING HOUSES over his head???  I honestly had a lot of trouble getting past this break in internal logic as it’s never explained why everyone is exasperated with but ultimately cool with pirates, but the witches, who do the exact same thing, are evil and must be hunted to extinction!!  This also made all the coy little “IF witches existed!” jokes feel a little weird.  Like I think all the flying houses may prove that witches exist????

Still!  It was a fun read and parts of it were funny.  It took me a lot longer to warm up to this female MC than it did the one in the first book, but I absolutely loved the male MC, who was a carry-over character from book one. There is a third book to the series coming out next year and I will for sure read it, but am hoping that it finds the rhythm of the first book.

By Your Side by Kasie West – 3*

//published 2017//

I usually really enjoy West’s books, and I generally do enjoy YA, but this was definitely YA that made me feel my age.  First off, Autumn, who I actually liked just fine on the whole, gets trapped in a library.  And what is her first concern??  Her first concern is that she’s going to be BORED.  IN A LIBRARY.  SURROUNDED BY BOOKS.  In fact, she goes on to spend most of the time she is trapped in the library WATCHING TV IN THE BREAK ROOM.  What.  Even.  What a waste!  So I was annoyed by this one from the get-go haha  I was also a little perplexed because I really do think public buildings are set so that you can always exit them, so it doesn’t seem like it should have been possible for her to be actually trapped – perhaps unable to exit without setting off an alarm, but not genuinely trapped.

There was a lot of bonus drama that just didn’t feel necessary in this one.  I actually liked Dax and felt like he and Autumn were a good pair, but there was all this stuff with the other guy Autumn had a crush on and his best friend being a complete jerk for literally no reason and it got kind of old for me.  Autumn suffers from anxiety and doesn’t always feel comfortable going to parties and other activities.  While I appreciated the message of you do what is right for you instead of what you feel pressured to do, I didn’t care for the concept that Autumn HAD to explain her anxiety in order to get a pass.  Everyone talks about normalizing stuff, well let’s normalize just saying “no thank you” and then not showing up at something and not having people demand an explanation.

In the end, this was an okay read.  I didn’t hate it, but I did find myself annoyed by it pretty frequently.  And I’m still not over how much Autumn whined about being bored when she was locked in the library.

Dangerous Beauty // by Melissa Koslin

We all know I’m a sucker for the marriage of convenience trope, so I requested this book from Revell’s reviewer program in hopes that it would be an engaging read.  Unfortunately, this one just didn’t really work for me.  I didn’t buy the chemistry between the main characters, the marriage scenario felt rather weak, and for a story about human trafficking, I found myself somewhat disengaged.  I did like the Lillian as a character, and the concept, but on the whole this one just ended up falling flat.

We meet Liliana when she is fleeing from traffickers.  She’s escaped their custody and runs into a gas station.  When they close in on her, she’s rescued by a random stranger, Meric.  During the ensuing interview with police, etc., Meric offers to marry Liliana so that she won’t have to worry about getting deported back to Mexico.  And she just says yes??  And everyone goes along with it??  Marriage of convenience really only works if the scenario surrounding it makes sense, and two absolute strangers deciding to get married within 15 minutes of meeting each other just didn’t work for me.

Throughout the story, we rarely hear anything from Meric’s perspective, and the story really suffers because of that lack.  Koslin uses almost entirely negative words to describe him, like cold, hard, barely controlled rage, emotionless, abrupt, etc.  He’s constantly brushing off Liliana and leaving her alone.  She’s supposedly in constant danger, but he encourages her to go out and go shopping.  She tells him repeatedly that she hates being kept in the dark and needs information to feel safe, but he’s always withholding information and telling her it’s because “she needs to heal,” even after she straight-up says that, for her, the way to healing is understanding what is going on.

Of course, in the end, we find out Meric has been in love with her all along but didn’t want her to feel pressured so that’s why he couldn’t bear to spend time around her yadda yadda but since we never hear anything from his perspective, he just comes across as a real jerk, and it honestly made zero sense to me why Liliana even liked him, despite her CONSTANTLY talking about how kind he is and how she sees “behind the coldness in his eyes” and that kind of nonsense.  This made the emotional pacing the of the story feel uneven and disjointed, and left me never really rooting for them as a couple because I honestly never actually liked Meric.

I also didn’t like the way Liliana says repeatedly (to herself) that she views herself as “damaged” and “impure” because of her experiences with the traffickers.  Then at one point she just suddenly goes, “Oh no wait actually that’s not true!” and then it’s never mentioned again.  For as much as she referred to it negatively, it would have been extremely positive to have this epiphany actually be more involved.  And since Liliana is presented as someone who, if not a Christian, at least a believer in God/that He has a plan for her life, and since Revell is a Christian publisher, it was a pretty amazing opportunity to talk about how Liliana (and everyone) is valued by God no matter what happens to us.

Meric and Liliana have both gone through major trauma, yet in the end apparently their love for each other is all they need to “heal” and go forward.  I found it somewhat hard to believe that Liliana was really so quickly past a lot of what had happened to her.  Meric also finds out this huge thing about his past right at the end of the book and is basically just like, “Oh.  Well, at least I have love!”  It just didn’t feel realistic.

I hate to spend most of a review bashing a book.  I did feel like this incredibly complicated topic of human trafficking was handled really well and presented in a realistic yet not horrifically graphic way, which made it feel more approachable.  I would have loved it if this book had included some kind of information about a ministry or organization that is working against human trafficking that I could look up for more information on what I could personally do to help, just a little “here’s a place to start” kind of thing.

This book has over a 4* average rating on GR, so I’m definitely in the minority on this one, so if the synopsis sounds intriguing to you, I would still check it out.  I really loved Liliana, who is an incredibly strong and brave character and who doesn’t just roll over and give up, despite everything she has been through.

NB: This book was given to me for free from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

June Minireviews // Part 2

On to the next batch of 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.

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl – 4*

//published 1950//

This nonfiction account was a bit of a mixed bag for me.  On the one hand – fascinating!  On the other hand… Heyerdahl just isn’t the most compelling writer, so even some of their more exciting adventures felt a little flat.

In the 40s, the author, who was living on a Polynesian island at the time, theorized that instead of those islands being originally populated from Asia, the could have come from South America. He based his theory on many oral traditions and stories of the native people he had met, who had a lot of stories of gods and ancestors coming from the east. Determined to prove that it was at least a possibility, he and five others built a raft out of balsa logs, using only materials that would have been available at the time, and actually did sail from Peru to a Polynesian island just east of Tahiti – 4300 nautical miles in 101 days. They were mostly carried by trade winds and the Humboldt Current.  Since this book was published, this theory has fallen out of favor, because genetic testing has shown that “most“ of the native people of Polynesia did have ancestors from Asia. However, even the article I read that was incredibly dismissive of Heyerdahl, both as a person and of his theory, admitted that genetic testing had also shown that that some people were descended from South Americans as well. I’m a little confused as to why it can’t be both, but I’m just a layman haha  Heyerdahl definitely proved that it COULD have been done, and I was honestly just so intrigued by things like water storage, food provisions, surviving storms, etc.  It was so interesting!

This book was published in 1950 so there are a few things that jar with modern sensibilities, but for the most part Heyerdahl has a great respect for the native peoples both in Peru and the Polynesian islands. As a story, this is great fun, even if the author does tend to somehow make even very exciting moments a little dry.  It’s also obvious that Heyerdahl has already decided that his theory is the correct one, so his material is presented in a somewhat prejudiced manner, but on the other hand… he did it!

Something Wilder by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2022//

Do you ever read a book expecting one thing and then it just goes completely off the track, and even though it’s not a bad story, it’s just kind of like… the heck just happened??  That’s how I felt with this one.  I read it expecting a little second-chance romcom, and I … kind of got it??  About 100 pages in this book was just like, “Now for something completely different!” and I wasn’t exactly here for it.  I think if this plot twist had been hinted at a bit in the synopsis I may have been more on board.  It was supposed to be a little silly and fun, but it honestly just felt kind of ridiculous and unbelievable to me instead.  Not the worst book I’ve read this year, but definitely one of the odd ones.

National Velvet by Enid Bagnold – 3*

//published 1935//

Speaking of odd…  it’s honestly surprising to me that I never read National Velvet growing up, as I was a total horse-book girl, but somehow I never did.  I finally got around to it in June and it was… strange??  Mostly because it wasn’t actually a horse book!  It’s more of a slice-of-life kind of story in which horses are peripherally involved.   Basically all of The Pie’s training, and even most of the big race, happened off-page. We rarely see Velvet’s thoughts and I honestly never understood why she was so passionate about racing The Pie because we only saw incredibly rare glimpses of her interacting with him on-page. This was a fun story as a not-horse book – I fell in love with the entire Brown family, and some of Bagnold’s wry observations made me smile. I loved the complete and utter lack of romance between Velvet and Mi, and the utter randomness of Donald’s wild stories. But for all that, it’s still just a soft pick for me – not one I see myself rereading. The actual story was odd and disjointed and frequently felt like it was going nowhere. We spent significantly more time on the aftermath of the race than the race itself. I felt completely ripped off that the race wasn’t from Velvet’s perspective! There’s an entire side story involving an entire pile of other horses that felt odd and unnecessary and also didn’t really go anywhere. So, on the whole, a perfectly fine story, but one that I wouldn’t particularly label as a genuine Horse Story, despite the presence of multiple horses, and not one that I see myself rereading time and again.

The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

I feel like I should just summarize this entire series with “it was fine” because that’s pretty much how I felt when I finished each of these books.  I didn’t dislike them but also found them really unmemorable.  I never finished one feeling compelled to grab the next.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte – 4*

//published 1848//

After suffering through Wuthering Heights, I was a bit sad when the PemberLittens decided to read another Bronte.  I had never even really heard of this one before, but decided to give it a go nonetheless, and I actually enjoyed it WAY more than WH, although that’s not honestly saying much!  Another review I read said, “I respected this novel more than I enjoyed it” and I have to echo that sentiment. This was really a bold story for its time and I found Helen to be a remarkable heroine, absolutely hardcore devoted to her religion and her morals, refusing to ever take the easy way out if it meant compromising her beliefs. The entire story is such a call-out for so many things that were (and in many cases, still are) socially acceptable but objectively wrong, and Anne, through Helen’s voice, isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade and rake everyone over the coals.

That said, I didn’t really have a great time reading this book. It’s kind of a downer, Helen can definitely get preachy, and Gilbert made me roll my eyes CONSTANTLY. The ending especially went on too long.  I especially couldn’t get over Gil whining about how Helen “left him” when he thought she was getting married – like dude, you haven’t reached out to her in over a year?? Seems a little ridiculous to blame her if she DID find someone else who, you know, actually talked to her?! 

Part of the reason I didn’t really love this one may have been because there wasn’t a single likable guy in the entire story. Gilbert is spoiled, sensitive, prideful, and whiny. Helen’s brother is smug and self-satisfied. They’re supposedly the best out of the bunch, and, in fairness, the male characters do all go downhill from there. Anne keeps this story from going into a full-on screed against the entire male half of the population, but barely. And in fairness, considering women were virtually property and unable to make any independent decisions about their own lives, an anti-man screed may have been warranted at some level lol

All in all, this is definitely a worthwhile read, and I found the story and characters significantly more engaging and relatable than those in Wuthering Heights. But despite my 4-star rating, this isn’t a book I see myself reading again.

June Minireviews // Part 1

Woohoo!! June reviews!!

NB: All links in this post go to my personal reviews of the books mentioned.

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.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This one was a traveling book club book that I was intrigued to read because Kristoff is the coauthor of the Aurora Cycle, which I loved.  While I found this one to be really interesting with some creative world-building, it was ultimately a bit too dark for my personal tastes, so even though it’s the first book in a series, I didn’t particularly feel engaged enough to read the next book.  Part 1 was really slow – if I hadn’t been reading this with the group, I would have DNFd.  Kristoff uses copious footnotes to explain various things, so loads of small print and a lot of infodumping.  The pace definitely picked up as the book progressed, though, and I could barely put it down during the final section.  There were some interesting characters and some terrifying creatures (sand krakens! Brilliant!) but while I did enjoy this one, the series just wasn’t for me.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry – 4*

//published 2022//

I really enjoyed Henry’s book Beach Read, but felt quite meh about People We Meet on Vacation (still not over how annoying the main character of that one was), so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Book Lovers.  However, even though it wasn’t my new most favoritest read ever, I did really enjoy this one and snorted with laughter on multiple occasions.  I feel like I have to add the caveat that literally I don’t understand city people, or people who think cities are amazing, or people who want to hang out in cities for more than like, an hour, much less live in them.  These people literally make zero sense to me – just… why???  So I did have trouble getting over the way Nora just literally LOVES the city and LOVES living in the city and can’t imagine anything else.  What a weirdo haha But I could appreciate her genuine love for her home nonetheless.

What I absolutely loved were the upside-down tropes – they were just written so perfectly, Nora’s self-awareness of them made everything work, and it was fantastic.  The snark between Nora and Charlie is perfect.  Out of all the romances I’ve read this year, they may be the couple I shipped the hardest.  I just really did genuinely feel that they brought out the best in each other, and that they could see each other’s real selves and appreciated each other for who they truly were.  (Wow, my tenses got really tangled up there, but you all know what I mean haha)  I could have done without the steamy scenes because that isn’t my thing, but I definitely didn’t feel like that was the only thing these two had going.

My biggest complaint about this book is the tension between Nora and her sister.  The whole reason Nora is spending her vacation in a small town is because her sister wants them to hang out together.  It’s obvious that Libby has something big on her mind, but we spend the entire book not knowing what it is.  Is Libby’s husband cheating on her?  Is Libby unhappy with the way her life is going?  Is she mad at Nora about something?  Does she have cancer?  Not knowing what was going on with her actually drove me somewhat crazy and detracted from my overall enjoyment because it low-key stressed me out for the entire book.  This is a book I would enjoy more the second time around, already knowing what’s going on with Libby.

Magic for Marigold by L.M. Montgomery – 4*

//published 1929//

This was June’s book for Kindred Spirits group on Litsy, and was another Montgomery that I hadn’t read in absolute years.  My reread reminded me why – this is a perfectly pleasant book, but for some reason it just doesn’t stand out to me.  Part of it is because it’s very episodic in nature – it reminds me a lot of my least favorite Anne book, Rainbow Valley, where each chapter is just sort of its own little stand-alone adventure.  They aren’t bad, it just never really felt like there was an overarching story driving the book.  The only real common theme is Marigold wishing she had a friend, and several of the stories center on adventures wherein she meets someone and either they turn out to be not at all what she expected/an actual person who could be a friend, or something else prevents them becoming very close, usually distance.  Considering that this seems to sort of be the main point of the book, the ending felt especially odd, with Marigold becoming friends with a new neighbor, who is a boy.  She puts up with a lot of adventures she doesn’t want to participate in, like chasing frogs, to keep him happy.  Another new kid moves into the neighborhood, also a boy.  Boy A immediately drops Marigold and becomes best buddies with Boy B.  Eventually, Boy A comes back to Marigold and they restart their friendship, with Marigold realizing that it’s better to be friends in a situation where she can be herself instead of having to pretend like she likes all that “boy stuff” (not that Boy B is around to take care of that part of Boy A’s friendship needs) and the final line is something basically about her always being willing to wait for whenever Boy A needs her, or something kind of weird and dumb like that.  There are a couple of Montgomery books that I think always end up rated lower in mind because of the way they end, and this is one of them. (A Tangled Web, which was July’s book, is another.)  Anyway, all in all a perfectly pleasant read, but if I was rating all the books Montgomery has written, this one wouldn’t be particularly near the top.

The Randolphs by Isabella Alden – 3*

Alden was an aunt to Grace Livingston Hill, and an influence on Hill’s writing.  She mostly wrote under the pen name of Pansy, books similar to what Hill would write during the next generation – gentle romances and stories with Christian faith at the center.  I own a few collections of GLH that have three of her books plus one of Alden’s included.  What I didn’t realize is that The Randolphs is actually a sequel – the first book centered on the oldest (adult) son of the family, Tom, who apparently became saved during the first book.  Here, Tom is trying to live out his faith, but the main character is his sister Maria, who is skeptical of faith and how it can actually be useful for her life.  This was a perfectly pleasant story for the most part, but I did feel like Alden 100% copped out by having Maria’s actual transformation take place off-page!  It’s the old “she gets sick/injured and is bedridden and it makes her reassess her life” trick, and then Alden skips a couple of YEARS and suddenly Maria is a paragon and inspiration to everyone.  What a cheat!  Still, this was a nice little story, and honestly just a fun look at its time – this one was originally published in 1876 – I especially loved how one character they went on and on about how he came from “the west”… which turns out to be Michigan!

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4*

//published 1883//

This was my classic that I started in May, but what with being out of town for a week in May and such, I didn’t finish it until June.  Although I’ve seen the amazing Muppets version of this story more than once, I had never read the original.  While this was a fun story – and I can definitely see how it appealed to young lads when it was published in 1883 – honestly, I liked the Muppets better!!  It’s still a fun and creative yarn, although things did get a little muddled when they got to the island, I thought, and the book was sadly devoid of angry natives and musical numbers.  A week or two ago my whole family sat down for the Muppet version, and I just can’t believe how they managed to capture the spirit and essence of the story and its characters so very well.  The original book is definitely worth a read – I’m quite enjoying working through Stevenson’s works.

May Minireviews – Part 2

Part 2 and final for May!!  Also, after I published Part 1 I realized that I had literally labeled it April Minireviews.  Losing my mind LOL

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1937//

This is one of my favorite Montgomery books, and I couldn’t believe it had been so long since I had reread it!  Victoria Jane lives with her mother, grandmother, and aunt in a large and gloomy house.  Grandmother is incredibly overbearing and jealous of Jane’s mother’s attention.  Jane assumes that her father is dead, but when she is 11 learns that actually her parents are just separated, and her father lives on Prince Edward Island – and he wants Jane to come visit him so that he can have a chance to get to know her as well.  Jane doesn’t want to go, convinced that her father must be a terrible person since her mother is so sweet – but she falls in love with her dad, the Island, and her life of freedom and industry there.

This is a typical Montgomery story of a sturdy young heroine finding her independence.  My only complaint is that Jane definitely seems older than 11 a lot of the time.  I love all the many side characters and adventures, although I would like the ending to be a little less rushed.  Still, this is overall just a delightful story that always reminds me of a younger version of The Blue Castle.

The Heart’s Victory by Nora Roberts – 3*

//Heart’s Victory – published 1982// Rules of the Game – published 1984//

This story and the next one I read because they were republished together – a lot of Roberts’s 80s romances seem to be republished this way as they are shorter stories (~200pgs).  These were both pretty dreadful if I’m honest haha  In this one, the heroine was raised by her older brother, a racecar driver, so she grew up on “the circuit“ and always had a crush on her brother’s friend. Now she’s back on the circuit on assignment as a photographer and sparks fly. This one had a little too much of the “grabbing and kissing until she gives in“ routine that was so popular in the early 80s and made a really weird jump in the middle of the story where they suddenly decide to get married and now all their issues are about her settling in with his rich family?? It felt like two stories in one and was a bit confusing.  There was basically no character development and I never really believed in the success of these two as a couple.

Rules of the Game by Nora Roberts – 3*

Here, the protagonist directs commercials and her new client is an up and coming baseball star. This one wasn’t too bad, it just didn’t really go anywhere. There wasn’t really any reason that the two of them couldn’t be together, other than the female MC being all “I don’t do commitments,” which felt underdeveloped and kind of pointless because she didn’t really have a reason not to other than just… not wanting to?  Which is totally a fine choice to make, obviously, but here just felt like filler/trying to cause drama.  Once again – no confidence in the long-term success of this relationship!
Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson – 3.5*

//published 2022//

This one was a decent read but not a book I loved or want to reread.  Savannah works for a small publishing house that focuses on serious, nonfiction topics.  The owner despises “fluff” books, especially romcoms.  However, Savannah loves them and has secretly been writing one of her own.  Through a series of events, someone else finds her manuscript and leaves her editorial notes that turn out to be helpful, and soon they are passing the manuscript back and forth – except Savannah doesn’t know who her secret editor is.  Of course, it’s a romcom, so the reader knows who it is, but still.  This book was just kind of boring, and I found pretty much nothing about Savannah’s job to be realistic, especially the ending.  (No one’s getting laid off??  For real??)  I was hoping for more notes between the two of them, but we get almost none of those.  It was a perfectly fine story, but not one that I really loved.
Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter – 3.5*

//published 2021//

Liz is starting her senior year of high school, and her childhood crush, Michael, has just moved back to town.  She really wants to reconnect with him but isn’t sure how, and ends up enlisting the help of her neighbor (who was also good friends with Michael back in the day), Wes.  Liz has always considered Wes to be her nemesis as he has teased and played tricks on her through the years, so she is surprised by how well they get along as they start to hang out.  Liz’s mom died when Liz was little, and the way that she stays connected is through the movies and music that her mom loved.  All of the movie and music references made sense within the story, but they made this story kind of feel like it was actually for adults, despite being a YA story, since I’m not sure that current YA readers watch a lot of 90s romcoms or listen to Radiohead and Beastie Boys (although maybe they do, I don’t know a lot of teens right now lol).  This was another pretty forgettable story for me.  All the drama with Wes just felt like it went on way too long.  There is also a scene where Liz is at a party and someone throws up on her, and there were literal PAGES of clean up that involved describing texture, color, scent, etc. of this vomit – just why.  It felt so unnecessary and gross.
All in all, another perfectly fine read, but one I was glad I had checked out of the library instead of buying.

April Minireviews – Part 3

Last batch for April!!

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.

Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This was one of those books I wanted to like more than I actually did.  It had been a while since I had really immersed myself in a historical fiction, especially one set during not-a-war.  Overall, I felt like this Oregon Trail based story was well-told, but I personally found the two first-person voices to be incredibly similar, especially considering that they shouldn’t have been similar at all.  Yet I found myself not infrequently flipping back a couple pages to double-check who was talking.  In the beginning of the story, Harmon sets the scene by killing off a huge pile of people – then goes back to the beginning of their journey to give me 200+ pages of getting attached to all the people I know are going to die.  I had a lot of mixed feelings on that – it made it really difficult to emotionally connect to the characters, but I can’t imagine how mad I would have been if they had all died without me being mentally prepared!

But overall, that was really my issue with the story – despite a lot of emotional, high-stakes occurrences, I just never really connected with the characters and often felt like dramatic, horrific things were relayed rather clinically, especially for a first-person narrative.  The story itself was well-told and I felt like was well-balanced as far as bad guys/good guys/complicated scenarios, but I never really felt like the characters were real people.

Divots by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1923//

Only Wodehouse could make me enjoy reading a collection of short stories centered around golf! Tales told by the “Oldest Member” of the golf club to generally unwilling audiences, these stories are typical Wodehouse fluff. If you aren’t into golf and have never read Wodehouse, I probably wouldn’t start here, but if Wodehouse is your jam, these were pretty fun, even if a bit ridiculous!!  I was honestly surprised at how entertaining I found these.

This book was also published as The Heart of a Goof.

Big Jump for Robin by Suzanne Wilding – 3*

//published 1965//

Sometimes I buy a book just for the cover, and this was definitely the case when I purchased this one at an antique store back in 2005.  I can’t resist Sam Savitt’s illustrations!  Overall, this was rather typical 1960s horse-girl-story fare.  The story opens with Robin selling her pony to the neighborhood Obnoxious Rich Guy because she has overheard her parents worrying about money and wants to do her part.  Throughout the story, Robin works hard to help her family and become a better horsewoman, and I was definitely rooting for her.  The story was rather underdeveloped in places and didn’t turn into a new favorite, but Savitt’s illustrations mean that I’ll keep it on my shelf despite the fact that I don’t particularly yearn to reread it.

Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson – 3.5*

//published 2021//

This was a traveling book club book, and probably not one I would have read on my own.  I really enjoyed the world-building here and the way that religion was a legitimate part of life, where prayers and such actually did make a difference.  However, the whole bad guy/good guy aspect felt consistently muddled and I was frequently uncertain who I was actually supposed to be rooting for, and demon possession, even in fantasy-land, doesn’t seem like something fun and fluffy to be embraced.  It wasn’t a bad story, just not exactly my jam.

The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

The third book in the Percy Jackson series confirmed my opinion of them as solid but not mind-blowing books.  I’m enjoying the series but don’t really see myself rereading them again and again.  The characters are likable and the adventures engaging, and I do love some of the modern interpretation of the gods, but they somehow just lack that special magic that really connects me to a series on a deeper level.

April Minireviews – Part 2

Well, peach season starts next week, so I never did get caught up… amazing how far behind I can stay!!

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.

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson – 4*

//published 2022//

I always read a new book by Swanson.  I frequently get done with his books and think “Well, that was nonsense,” but I rarely think while I’m actually reading his books, which is what counts haha

Nine seemingly unconnected individuals each receive a letter in the mail with a list of (the same) nine names. It seems like a prank – until each of those people start getting murdered. While this wasn’t exactly a slow book, it was slow compared to Swanson’s usual frenetic pace. There isn’t really an investigation – instead, each section (which counts down from nine as people are killed) hops between the different people and what is happening with them as different ones of them either completely ignore the circumstances or try to fit together the pieces. This definitely wasn’t my favorite Swanson book because of the pace and because part of the story just didn’t jive with me (spoiler below) but it was still an engaging read with a generous nod to Agatha Christie.  While it wasn’t my new favorite, it was still a solid thriller with some fun little twists.  But in the end, I just didn’t really find the motivation of the killer to be sufficient for what had happened.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER:  Concerning the motivations… Basically, this book was a homage to Christie’s And Then There Were None, possibly one of the greatest mysteries ever written. However, in ATTWN the victims (theoretically) deserve to be killed because they have gotten away with with murder in the past, which is why the killer lures them all to a remote location and picks them off, one by one.  And so, even though people are dying, you’re also finding out that they literally killed someone else in the past so you don’t exactly feel bad for them.  Here, the killer decides to murder the (adult) children of those he blames for his sister’s death (which was definitely a tragedy, but also – they were ALL children when she died??).  Consequently this one really felt like a downer since (mostly) innocent people were killed for revenge instead of vigilante justice being handed out.  I think the story would have read better – and made more sense – if the actual people involved in the sister’s death had been the ones to die.  Killing off their kids just felt… off… and I never quite bought it.

London Under by Peter Ackroyd – 3*

//published 2011//

This nonfiction book looks at the “secret” underground world of London, which, like many large cities, has a complete city-under-the-city, where an astounding amount of infrastructure resides. Unfortunately, I found this book ultimately disappointing, mainly because Ackroyd didn’t particularly take the time to organize his information or go in depth about many of the things he mentioned. Instead, this book felt very fragmentary, almost like an outline for a book instead of the actual book. It’s only 205 very small pages and contains no maps! He would toss out intriguing factoids, but never follow up on them. In the end, I just found myself wanting more. This book didn’t really teach me anything, and Ackroyd seemed more interested in emphasizing (constantly) how “mysterious“ the underground is and how it’s associated with things like death and darkness, yet also safety and security… but then just kind of wandering away without really getting into it.  There is a lot of potential here, and this wasn’t a BAD book per se, as I did find bits of it interesting, I just wish that this book was about twice as long and full of maps!

Flowers on Main by Sherryl Woods – 3*

//published 2009//

Book 2 in the Chesapeake Shores series, and another middle-of-the-road read.  Honestly, if I was reading this series all in one go instead of at a rate of one per month (ish), I probably would have already given up on them as they really aren’t that great!  In this story, focusing on a different O’Brien sibling, Bree has returned to her hometown after a big kerfuffle in her play-writing job in Chicago. She decides to use her savings to open a flower shop downtown, and it turns out (you won’t believe this) that the only place to wholesale flowers within a reasonable distance is a greenhouse owned by her old boyfriend, the one she abandoned to chase her big-city dreams!!!

This wasn’t a bad story, per se, the drama just never felt balanced.  I was so over Jake whining about his feelings and how much Bree had hurt them and how scared he was about letting her potentially hurt him again, and how he could never believe that she was really here to stay, blah blah blah blah blah  Just, oh my gosh, get OVER yourself, Jake!  I would never have been as persistent as Bree, and honestly never felt like Jake was worth all the effort she put into their relationship.  I’ve also noticed throughout this series (I’ve read two more since this one in April) that Woods has an extremely annoying habit of creating genuinely reasonable issues between her main couple, and then instead of actually RESOLVING the issue, just completely blows it off!  We spend a few hundred pages of Jake refusing to believe anything Bree says – then all of a sudden, he just magically wakes up one day and feels the complete opposite way!  Nice!  It’s uneven and annoying, and leaves me feeling more frustrated with the story on the whole than I otherwise would be.

The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2020//

The concept here is that Carey has worked for Melly and Rusty Tripp for years, back before they were famous.  Now, the Tripps are huge home-remodeling gurus with their own show, books, etc. etc. The problem is that even though they seem wonderful and lovable in public, their marriage is actually falling apart, and Carey is the one trying to hold things together.  James, in the meantime, was hired as an engineer, yet seems to be working more as Rusty’s personal assistant than anything else.  He and Carey end up heading off with the Tripps on their book tour, trying to keep everything together so they can all keep their jobs.

While I found a lot of this to be fun and funny, this book also low-key stressed me out.  Watching the Tripps marriage fall apart was kind of depressing, and the whole book ended up feeling a lot more about Melly and Rusty than it was about Carey and James – which would have been fine, if we had more resolution with the Tripps in the end, instead of a HEA for James and Carey and yay! The end!  I needed an epilogue reassuring me that the Tripps went through counseling and are doing better!  Also, supposedly Melly was this amazing mother-figure to Carey yadda yadda, but now she’s treating Carey horribly, so I also wanted more resolution with their relationship as well, because I wanted to see them rebuild the friendship they had had in the past.

I guess in a way I found some of this to be more serious than I want my romcoms to be, which meant I wanted some more serious resolutions.  Instead, the book felt a little choppy because parts of it were just silly pranks gone wrong, followed by “oh this person is actually emotionally abusive and totally using you,” kind of giving me some reading whiplash.  I did overall enjoy this one, but it’s not one I see myself rereading.

Great Northern?  by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1947//

My final Swallows & Amazons book, and I loved it just as much as the rest!!  I have no idea of Ransome intended this to be the final book, or if it just happened to be so, but it was an absolutely delight to see the entire gang all together for this final story involving birds, boats, misunderstandings, and adventures.  I loved every page of all 11 of the books in this series, and wish there were 11 more.  I laughed out loud reading this one, and was honestly on pins and needles as to what would happen with the birds.  It’s rare for me to read a children’s book and wish that there was a book about the same characters as adults, but I would totally read about this gang in adulthood – I love to picture them still messing about with boats and teaching their own children to do the same.  I can’t recommend this series highly enough, and am thinking about rereading them right through again!

North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell – 2*

//published 1854//

This was April’s buddy-read with the PemberLittens, and another classic I hadn’t read before.  I pretty much disliked this entire book and struggled to understand why people consider it romantic in any way.  I found to be pretty relentlessly depressing, and Gaskell’s only “plot twist” she seemed to know was to just kill off someone else every time things seemed like they were getting a little slow.  Poor Margaret!  Of course, I didn’t really feel that bad for her as she’s self-absorbed, mealy-mouthed, and unutterably dull, but still!  Thornton was also just painfully boring, so I guess they probably are set for long-term felicity, but I absolutely never felt remotely interested in seeing these two get together.  In fact, I felt like they were actually a pretty bad match.  And talk about insta-love!  Thornton just sees Margaret and falls in love, and then that’s it!  The entire rest of the book is him being dumb about it, or his mom being dumb about it, or Margaret being dumb about it.  Everyone wanders around and whines about things and worries about whether or not they’re doing the right thing, and then every fifty pages or so Gaskell would kill off some other perfectly nice character who didn’t deserve to die.

The whole story was just Margaret mooning around, taking care of everyone because she’s literally surrounded by child-adults who don’t know how to do anything beyond hand-wringing (apparently killing off everyone was Gaskell’s way of giving Margaret something else to do – i.e., mourn and also think about how she could have been a better person and so we could read about how her eyes are constantly full of unshed tears). I absolutely never liked Margaret – and I say this as a religious person with a strong moral black/white life-framework – because she spends the time that she’s not devotedly caring for those close to her worrying about her conscience and whether she’s said or done something that shouldn’t have been said or done, or not said or done something that she should have said or done. So tedious! So self-absorbed, clothed as unselfishness! We get it. You told a lie. ONE LIE in a moment of panic. Yes, you’ve determined that was wrong. BUT YOU CAN’T CHANGE THE PAST SO PLEASE FREAKING MOVE ON WITH YOUR LIFE. If I had to hear about that lie ONE MORE TIME I was going to PERSONALLY turn her brother in myself just to give Margaret something else to worry about oh my GOSH.

There were moments that I thought it was going to be okay – I loved Mr. Bell, for instance (spoiler: don’t get too attached -_-). I did appreciate the character growth that Thornton eventually showed – how interesting this book could have been if we spent more than about five pages on that aspect of the story! I did admire Margaret’s strong convictions and unwavering commitment to them. But for the most part, I was bored out of my mind and sighed every time I picked up the day’s chapter, wondering what sort of emotional torture Margaret was going to be put through today. I can see why many people admire Margaret and find her story romantic, but this one was not for me.