March Minireviews – Part 1

Greetings, friends! Here I am with more reviews from the way-back. Let’s see how good my memory/notes happen to be!!

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.

Books 41-45 of the 87th Precinct Series by Ed McBain

Yes, I’m still working my way through this series. There are only (!) 55 books so I have two batches left!! This group, comprised of five one-word-title stories (Lullaby, Vespers, Widows, Kiss, and Mischief) were a 3.5* average group without anything especially outstanding.  My favorite was Kiss, and my least favorite was Lullaby.  In a weird way, Mischief was the most disappointing, though, because the Deaf Man was the returning villain and it was definitely the worst Deaf Man story yet – jumbled and overly complicated.  This batch (published 1989-1993) continued the trend of weird sex situations, which I find rather bothersome.  Hopefully, as the books move into the 90s, we’ll get over the 80s everything-is-sex motif.  Still, I’ve developed a huge soft spot for the detectives of the 87th and will be a little sad to bid them farewell when I get to book #55.

Meet Me in London by Georgia Toffolo – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I’m always a sucker for a fake relationship trope, and while this one wasn’t anything groundbreaking, it was a nice palette-cleanser in the midst of the gritty 87th Precinct books.  I really appreciate modern romances without explicit sex scenes, so that bumped this one up a little in my ratings even if it was a little slow in spots.

Tonight & Always by Nora Roberts – 2.5*

//published 1983//

It’s rare that I’m disappointed by Nora Roberts, but this was one of those times.  This book was just SO 80s.  The drama was over-the-top, the hero was ridiculously brooding and macho, the heroine was ridiculously independent, several borderline-rapey scenes where the hero grabs the heroine and kisses her into submission, and I spent most of this book just rolling my eyes.  The concluding drama genuinely infuriated me (hint: nothing makes me more angry then women who get pregnant and decide it’s “for the best” to not tell the father), and this is one Roberts book I don’t ever see myself revisiting.

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane – 4*

//published 2020//

McFarlane is one of those authors I keep meaning to read since I’m always on the lookout for good romcoms.  I decided to choose this one for my contribution to the next round of the traveling book club.  In the end, I did enjoy this one a lot, but it definitely was more of a novel than a romcom.  It’s one of those books that while I did like it a lot, I’m going to end up talking about the negatives more than the positives, but you’ll have that haha

So basically the main character, Laurie, is devastated when her live-in boyfriend not only breaks up with her – but announces that his new girlfriend is already pregnant.  Because they also work together, Laurie has to see Dan/hear about his new family on the regular.  Through a series of events, she agrees to a fake relationship with another coworker, Jamie, with a convoluted plan of staged pictures and social media posts.  Of course, this is romance, so eventually the fake romance turns into a real one, and everyone lives happily ever after.

The problem with this book is that Laurie and Dan had been together WAY too long to make this a fun and fluffy romance – almost 20 years!  So the majority of the book ended up being about Laurie working through the grief of having such a long-term relationship fall apart, which meant loads of flashbacks to their relationship throughout the years.  I felt like this book was a lot more about Laurie and Dan than it was about Laurie and Jamie.  It gave the whole story a really down tone and also meant it felt incredibly unrealistic for Laurie to be into Jamie so quickly.  McFarlane would spend pages telling us about special moments between Laurie and Dan, about the many times Laurie knew that Dan was “the one,” etc. – but then we’re supposed to turn around and believe that Laurie and Jamie are the ones with something special between them.  The whole book would have been so much more believable (and enjoyable) if Laurie hadn’t been with Dan for so long.  As it was, I was almost uncomfortable with her getting with Jamie so quickly, despite the fact that I shipped the two of them and thought they were a great match.

The overall tone of the book also tends to be really sexist against men.  There were a lot of one-off sentences basically dismissing men as sex-hungry neanderthals, and Jamie and his dad are the only two decent guys to make an appearance.  Literally every other male in the story is a total dick.  Laurie also spends loads of time whining about sexism at work and how the men have it easy and the women have it hard yadda yadda yadda despite the fact that her (male) boss is constantly telling her what an awesome employee she is, frequently stands up for her against anyone who says anything remotely negative about her or her work, brags about her to everyone, and recommends her for promotions.  I just couldn’t really buy the “oppressed woman at work” story when Laurie wasn’t remotely oppressed!  A lot of Laurie’s “problems” came across that way – I realize she’s at a low point in her life, but she’s also just so whiny about everything.  It’s hard to empathize with a character who is successful, makes good money, has a boss who respects her and treats her well, has good and supportive friends, and spends all her time whining about how hard her life is.

BUT despite all that I actually did enjoy this book haha  The parts with Laurie and Jamie were SO fun, their banter was fantastic, and they had great chemistry.  I loved the random set-ups they created, and loved watching them both get over their initial prejudices against each other and come to appreciate the other.  I really wish this book had focused more on the two of them and LOT less on Laurie and Dan and the way their relationship failed.

I’ll definitely be checking out more of McFarlane’s books, and if you don’t mind your romances a little angsty, there’s a lot to enjoy with this one.

February Minireviews – Part 3

We’re just going to pretend like it’s perfectly normal to review books three four months after I read them… (because yes, I wrote half this post in May and am only just now coming back to it!)

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

The Substitute Guest by Grace Livingston Hill – 3.5*

//published 1936//

Are GLH’s books predictable and cheesy?  Yes.  Is that what I want sometimes?  Also yes.  This one was pretty normal GLH fare, but that’s not actually a bad thing in my mind – sometimes I just want something warm, relaxing, predictable, and happy.  It’s rare that GLH doesn’t deliver.

Gods of Jade & Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was one of those books that I wanted to like more than I did.  While the concept was quite good, somehow the book just lacked magic.  The third-person narrative – which I usually prefer – here felt distant and almost stilted.  There were times that there would be an somewhat lecture-y tone to the tale, filling the reader in on a piece of culture or fable, rather than letting those things be a natural part of the story’s flow.  This was also a book that definitely needed a map, as I had no real grasp on the distances they were traveling.  All in all, while it was a fine one-off read, it didn’t really make me interested in seeing what else Moreno-Garcia has written.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever by John Donohue & JT Malloy – 3.5*

//published 2020//

It’s always hard to review a book that’s memoir-ish, and this one is no exception. The author was in his late 20s during the Vietnam War. He had been a Marine straight out of high school but was considered “too old” to enlist for Vietnam, so he was working as a merchant marine. When the war protests started to turn on the soldiers themselves, the guys from Chick’s hangout-bar thought it would be amazing if someone could go visit all the active duty guys from their neighborhood, take them some local beer, & reassure them that what they were doing was appreciated & they were missed & loved. Chick’s job enabled him to hop on a boat headed to Vietnam with the idea that he would take 3 days shore leave when he got there & find some of the guys. What with one thing & another, his boat left without him, leaving him stranded in Vietnam in the days leading up to & the first couple of weeks of the Tet offensive!

Reading this book is basically like listening to your old uncle tell his stories from the war. It wasn’t a bad book at all, but it did tend to ramble off & sometimes go into back stories not directly related to the main plot & it wasn’t always easy to tell what was happening “now“ & what was an explanation from the past. (i.e. a few paragraphs telling a story to illustrate why Chick doesn’t like ship captains – it was hard to tell if it was THIS ship captain, or one from his past.) Chick is also very pro-unions, which I’m not against unions but I also got a little tired of every chapter having at least a few sentences explaining why unions are awesome & solve everyone’s problems.

For the most part it doesn’t get too political & there’s some great perspective here on how basically the soldiers were just doing their best to do what they were told. Most of them had been drafted, they weren’t passionate about being there, & they didn’t have the ability to see any kind of big picture concerning how the Vietnamese people really felt about the situation. In the end, Chick decides that the protestors weren’t wrong to protest the war, but still felt that harassing the young men being sent to fight wasn’t the right way to execute that protest.

This is a memoir so it’s inherently biased, but was overall an interesting read for a bit of a different look at the war – Chick is pro-soldier, but also a civilian. It was a pretty fast read & I appreciated that the author decided to keep the language pretty clean throughout.

The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold – 4*

//published 2021//

I’ve read a couple of Arnold’s books now and have enjoyed them all.  This one is his newest and I read it as part of my personal campaign to read new books by authors I like as they come out instead of just sticking them on the TBR and maybe getting to them in five years.  This one is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with a girl who has to take a cross-country journey to find a mythical portal that her father is convinced is real.  She meets up with several other travelers on her way.  This was a book that was eerie and engaging, and one that folded back on itself in a way that was somehow believable.  It had just a few too many unanswered questions for me in the end, but still completely sucked me in and kept me turning the pages.  Like Kids of Appetite, it had elements that it felt like I shouldn’t like, but somehow worked.

You Have a Match by Emma Lord – 3*

//published 2021//

After really enjoying Tweet Cute last year, I was interested to read Lord’s new book.  However, this one just fell short for me.  Mostly, there was just too much going on.  The main character, Abby, finds out that she has an older sister who was adopted.  She and Savvy start communicating without telling any of their parents and agree to meet at a summer camp.  There was a lot of potential here to explore the dynamics between the two sisters and how they related with the adults involved, but Lord’s writing gets sucked into typical YA drama, with way too many pages spent on Abby’s crush on her best friend, Leo.  This was definitely a story that would have been significantly better without the love story aspect.  I was looking for an adoption story with Parent Trap vibes and instead got boring YA-romance angst with bits of adoption drama thrown in.  It made the story feel rather choppy and disconnected.  All in all, it wasn’t a bad read, it just wasn’t for me.

February 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!  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.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – 4.5*

//published 1934//

This is a hard one to review.  Christie does a magnificent job with this one, but overall it’s not actually one of my favorites because it’s also pretty depressing.  Still, it’s brilliantly done, and one of those stories that leaves you pondering the ending.

As a side note, I started collecting these absolutely gorgeous editions from HarperCollins and am IN LOVE!  So far they have been putting out two a year, so now that I’ve caught up, hopefully I can stay with them!  I’m including a bonus picture of all of them I’ve collected so far – just LOOK at those end papers!!!

Of Beasts and Beauties by various authors – 3*

//published 2018//

One of this year’s challenges on Litsy is to read the original and variations of a different fairy tale each month.  I’ve been using it as a chance to read retellings already on my TBR.  February’s fairy tale was Beauty & the Beast, so I thought it was a good time to pick up this collection of B&B retellings that I got as a free Kindle book eons ago.  Unfortunately, it was 810 pages of mediocrity and five books that literally were NOT B&B retellings at all?!?!  I was SO confused by that part.  I struggled through these, hoping that one of them was going to make it worth my while, but they were all just boring and angsty without anything particularly engaging.

In the first, a princess marries a Dark Elf to try and build a better relationship between their cultures. It went on F O R E V E R and basically nothing happened except for her whining about how oppressed she was because her dad is a jerk (which he is but… okay, we get it, he’s a jerk). In the second, a young warrior is kidnapped by a tribe of lizard women who need him to participate in their not-sexual ceremony so the next generation of lizard women can emerge. Another yawn-fest that I skimmed a LOT.  Story 3 was a contemporary thriller that wasn’t bad exactly, it was just soooo dramatic, basically her cousin already works there and the chick needs out of the city so her cousin gets her a gig working here (for the “the beast“) as a maid but then they FALL IN LOVE and now she feels SO HORRIBLE because she has LIED TO HIM about BEING A MAID. Wait, what? Like, you took the job, you’ve been cleaning the house, so actually you ARE a maid. When she “confesses“ he struggles to forgive this “lie“, leaving me honestly super confused. The whole story was like that – tiny things blown way out of proportion.  Story 4 had this fun superhero concept, but the world-building was horrible and way too much was trying to be jammed into 150 pages – super choppy writing, almost like it was supposed to be longer and the editors were like, nah, you need to get rid of about half of this. I constantly felt like I was missing something.  Story 5 (& final, thank goodness) was the best out of the bunch, I think, although still overly complicated for its space. Still not remotely B&B although at least there was a daughter making a sacrifice to save her dad so… kind of??

I pick up these kinds of collections thinking that I may find a new author out of them, but none of these made me remotely interested in anything else these people had written.  But honestly, my review could be colored by the fact that I was really excited to read five B&B retellings and this did NOT deliver.

Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – 4*

//published 1997//

Yes, I know it’s Sorcerer’s Stone here in the US… but this time around I’m actually reading British editions!  I got these fancy Hufflepuff editions a while ago (well, I’m actually still in the process of collecting them) and have been meaning to reread the series ever since.  Another Litsy readalong this year is #PotteraDay and it’s actually been really fun to read these books at a slower pace – I usually race through them as fast as I can.  This way I’ve been soaking them up more and noticing more details.  It’s also entertaining to read the British editions, which do have a lot of different words and phrasings.  I really wish that, on the whole, books written by British authors in Britain would not be “translated” into American English as I think they lose a lot that way.  If I’m reading a book set in England, I want it to be authentic!!  These aren’t the best-written books ever, but they’re still great stories and I always find them enjoyable to revisit.

The School for Good & Evil by Soman Chainani – 2*

//published 2013//

This one was just not for me, and I think a big part of it was because it did NOT feel like a middle grade book.  Maybe I have a dirty mind, but here’s a phrase I don’t want to be used to describe a 12-year-old girl OR to have a 12-year-old girl read:  “Her extremely short dress showed off long, creamy legs.”  The entire book was like that.  It wasn’t overtly sexual, but there were extremely weird phrases used that just made me feel uncomfortable.  At one point, one of the girls gets tangled in a magical thorn patch and is being attacked by the plant – she’s stabbed by a “dark and engorged thorn” during a scene that felt like it spent way too much time talking about how the thorn was going to “enter” her.  There are multiple instances where the girls wear skimpy clothes and make up in a way designed to attract the attention of the boys with details like the “creamy legs” sentence above.  In one scene, one of the girls enters the cafeteria during lunch wearing an outfit that shows off her legs and is low-cut in the front and we’re told that the boys’ food “dribbled in their laps.”  I don’t know, maybe I’m overly sensitive, but this book really gave me the weirds, which was disappointing because it seemed like, from the description, something that should be right up my alley.  And on top of all of that, the whole message about good/evil/beautiful/ugly just felt extremely muddled and confusing – like in the end, it actually did feel like beautiful = good and evil = ugly, so I wasn’t exactly sure what the point was supposed to be?? On the plus side, it’s an entire series checked off my list by just reading one book!

February Minireviews – Part 1

February was a really low reading month for me.  I read a few books that were kind of downers and took me a while to get through.  But hopefully that means I can catch up on reviews a little faster!!!

Edit: I wrote most of this post literal weeks ago but… life has just been crazy!! This is my busiest time of year, plus we are working on our crazy bathroom/closet/laundry room remodel still lol But since I know you all are quite interested to hear what I was reading back in February – and considering I already wrote the post but just never got around to putting the pictures in – here you go!!

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.

1984 by George Orwell – 4.5*

//published 1949//

What.  Even.  This is one of those classics that I had never read because it just sounds so dang depressing.  But, current life in this country being what it is, I thought maybe it was time to set aside my prejudices and and read it – and I have no regrets because it was SO GOOD.  Yes, it’s incredibly depressing – but that’s also kind of the point.

This is definitely a book that you read and while you’re reading it, you assume that your political opposition = the government from 1984 – like I can see both conservatives and liberals thinking that the opposite are the ones who best represent everything that is creepy about the politics in this book.  That said… we all know I’m conservative, so it’s probably no surprise that I could see a lot of parallels between the Party and certain groups here at home who find it necessary to rewrite books, “cancel” everything that doesn’t fit their strict narrative, tear down all statues of historical figures they don’t like, and try to get us to ignore basic biological facts because, you know, 2+2=5.

But even beyond this, in many ways this book transcends political differences as well, reminding us of what happens when we, as a people, allow the government to have complete and total control over our lives.  To me, the warnings in 1984 are beyond “don’t let such-and-such party be in charge of your government” – it’s “don’t let ANY government take away your basic human rights.”  And no matter what side of the fence you’re on, if you don’t have a big problem with our freedoms and privacies being swiftly eroded, well, maybe it’s time for you to read 1984 as well.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams – 3*

//published 2019//

This was a book I’d had on my list for quite a while, so I was really looking forward to a lighthearted romcom when I picked it up.  (I needed a little 1984 contrast!)  Unfortunately, this one just didn’t live up to the hype for me.  The idea is that the main character is having marital issues with his wife, who feels neglected and uncherished.  Yearning to recapture the romantic magic they had when they were first together, Gavin turns to his buddies for advice – and finds out that they have a secret book club wherein they, all men, read romance novels and then try to apply the lessons on love they find there to their relationships.  It’s a super fun concept, but it just fell really flat for me.

My main issue – it’s obvious that both Gavin AND his wife (Thea) have problems, but the entire book is all about how EVERY problem in their marriage is 100% Gavin’s fault – Thea has been PERFECT the entire time.  Gavin spends the entire book groveling, begging, pleading, and kissing Thea’s feet, only for her to repeatedly shrug him off and basically say it isn’t good enough.  And you know, it’s one thing to say that if it’s just you and another person involved, but Gavin and Thea have daughters, and it just made me SO angry when Thea kept blowing Gavin off because “it’s better for the girls to have no father than one who isn’t really committed” and a bunch of other BS.  Thea also has a sister who I genuinely wanted to thrown down a flight of steps.  She’s a complete bitch and half the reason Thea was so reluctant to take Gavin back was because Thea’s sister basically kept telling Thea she wasn’t “allowed” to forgive Gavin because what he did was “unforgiveable.”  (Please keep in mind that Gavin DID NOT EVEN KIND OF CHEAT ON HIS WIFE – his “unforgiveable” offense was… being busy with his job… earning a lot of money… for Thea and his girls… and the freaking sister who LIVES WITH THEM)  There were times that Thea would soften towards Gavin and then her sister would just go off on Thea about how she “doesn’t need a man” and she just needs to be “strong” for the “sake” of the girls, yadda yadda.  The sister was a HORRIBLE person and I despised her – she honestly made it hard for me to even get through this book.  There’s also the part where the men’s book club chapters are basically the guys just sitting around reeling off feminist platitudes about “toxic masculinity” etc.  So boring, and completely unrealistic.  Honestly, this entire book felt like the author had never had a conversation with an actual man in her entire life. Finally, it’s a sexy-times book, which I’m sometimes okay with, but this was one of those stories where that aspect just permeated the entire narrative, like Gavin finds out that Thea’s been “faking it” their entire marriage and it’s this whole involved thing (and I’m sorry, but is it really Gavin’s fault that he hasn’t been “satisfying” his wife if his wife freaking has been lying THE WHOLE TIME?!?!) that just kept going on and on and I frankly did not care and did not want details.

So… a weak 3* because there were some funny moments and I like the concept.  I also liked poor Gavin although I felt like he deserved better and also I feel sorry for anyone with a sister-in-law as obnoxious as Thea’s sister.  But this one definitely wasn’t a win for me, and although at the time I had the next books in the series out from the library, I flipped through them and decided to send them back without bothering to read them – especially since the second book was about the horrible sister!

The Big Six by Arthur Ransome – 4*

//published 1940//

I’m still working my way through the Swallows & Amazons books.  This wasn’t my favorite in the series – possibly the first time I’ve given one of these books less than 5* – but it was still a lot of fun.  My main problem with this one is that someone is casting off boats on the river and three of the local boys (members of the Coot Club from an earlier book) are getting blamed for it.  It just seemed painfully obvious who had the motive to do this (hint: not the boys who were getting blamed for it) so I was really frustrated/stressed by the adults in this story who were being so mean to the boys throughout the story.  I don’t like it when people are getting in trouble for something they didn’t do, so since that was a big part of this story, it bothered me.  I will say that the boys’ parents actually did believe the boys were innocent, though, so I appreciated that part of it.

While I didn’t love this one, it was still an overall really enjoyable story with adorable characters – I genuinely am loving these books!!

A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell – 3.5*

//published 2019//

While this wasn’t the best thriller I’ve ever read, it was the first thriller I had read in a while and I’d kind of forgotten the way a decent one can just suck you in and refuse to let you do anything else with your life besides find out what happens.  In this one, Caroline (who is super rich) finds out her husband is having an affair.  She goes to a local dive bar and ends up having a one-night stand with the bartender.  For Caroline, it’s just a one-off.  For Aidan, it’s much more, as he becomes obsessed with her and begins stalking her… or does he?  The first half/two-thirds of the book is told from Caroline’s first-person perspective and Aidan’s third-person perspective, but while what they have to say about different events is mostly the same, they differ at critical moments, leaving the reader unsure which of them is lying.  When a Big Event occurs, the narrative switches to straight third person. I did figure out what was going on, but it was pretty close to the end when I did, and there were still had some details that I hadn’t worked out.  If you read a lot of thrillers, this one may not bring anything fresh to the table, but if you’re like me and you only pick them up from time to time, this one was pretty entertaining.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – 3.5*

//published 2018//

This was a reread for me – I read this one back in 2018, and you can read my more detailed review from that time here.  I did like it a little better this time around, but I still just don’t love this one.  Most of my criticisms from my original reading still stand – this book is unrelentingly depressing; the romance between two of the main characters is really underdeveloped, leaving me confused about why I’m supposed to hope they end up together; there are way too many different voices; having the story center around a Jewish family means that the story is somehow too rooted in our real world instead of a fictional one, which makes the rhythm of the story feel weird to me; and the women in this story all end up betraying someone throughout the course of the tale, adding to the overall downer tone of the story.  It’s not a bad book, and so many people really love it.  There is loads of gorgeous writing, and the concept is fantastic.  But in the end, this book just isn’t magical to me.

January Minireviews – Part 2

Lately, I’ve considered giving up book blogging since I’ve been quite terrible at keeping up with it. Life is busy and I have a lot of other commitments. Plus, I’m not going to lie, I hate the new WordPress block editor with a seething passion. HATE. IT. It’s so counter-intuitive, overly-complicated, and absolutely nonsense when you just are trying to have a regular blog where you write stuff and stick in a few pictures – I’m not attempting to create an actual webpage here, I’m trying to write a BLOG. Every time I start to write a new post, I just remember how much I hate working on WordPress now, which makes me extra depressed because I’ve always been such a huge fan of this site and have had several different blogs here over the years. Is anyone using a different host that they like better? I’m up for exploration because WordPress now SUCKS.

But anyway, all that to say, at the end of the day I actually use this blog to track what I read and whether I liked it, so even if other people don’t read my reviews, I actually use them as a reference point all the time haha So for now, even though I’m always a couple months behind, I’m going to keep at it. I do enjoy writing the actual reviews (usually) (except for the part where I have to use WordPress’s stupid new editor) so I’m going to keep posting a few reviews whenever I get the chance.

And so – here are some books I read back in January!!!

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.

Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll – 3.5*

//published 1865, 1872//

These books (generally published together now, although originally published seven years apart) are classics that I hadn’t read in decades. There’s a group on Litsy visiting one fairy tale per month, the original and then whatever variations or retellings anyone wants to read, so it seemed like a good way to hit up some of the stories I either haven’t read or haven’t read in a long time, starting with Alice. As I had vaguely remembered, I didn’t particularly enjoy these stories. They’re okay, but they are just a little too frenetic for my personal tastes. I’m consistently intrigued by what books become classics. Why are these books, published way back in 1865 and 1872 still considered childhood classics that everyone should read? I honestly don’t know because while they’re fine stories, I really don’t find them particularly inspiring or engaging. I didn’t mind reading them, but don’t particularly see myself returning to them again.

Thirteen at Dinner AKA Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1933//

This is a crafty little Christie starring Poirot and the faithful Hastings. It’s kind of impossible to talk about this one without using spoilers, but I’m still, after all these years and rereads, consistently impressed with Christie’s story-crafting abilities. It isn’t just the mystery, which was solid, but her ability to make the reader care about what happens to various characters. She pretty much always “plays fair”, giving the reader the facts needs to solve the case… but I pretty much never do. Some of the time for my rereads, as with this one, I remember who the villain is, but still enjoy watching Christie line up the red herrings .

The Pioneers by David McCullough – 4*

//published 2019//

This is a nonfiction book that originally drew my attention because its focus is on the settling of Marietta, Ohio, and the impact that that had on the push of settlers into the Northwest Territory. I’ve read maybe one other McCullough book, but can see myself checking out some of his other titles. Overall, this was a solid read, but at less than 300 pages, not particularly a deep one. While I enjoyed the quotes and diary entries that made the text more personable, I also sometimes felt like McCullough let them dictate the direction of his book a little too much. The last section, especially, wanders away from Marietta and kind of all over the place, almost as though he still had some good quotes but didn’t know how to work them in. But there were loads of fun facts, like how there is a recorded instance of the settlers cutting down a tree that was TWENTY-ONE FEET in diameter, or how one community was so determined to establish a library that they collected animal pelts and sold them to buy their books – Amesville still bills itself as the home of the Coonskin Library. I’ve been to Marietta several times and visited the museums there, but it was interesting to hear about some of the other settlers, as much of the information in Marietta is focused on the most famous of them, Rufus Putnam.

All in all, a decent read about pioneer history, but one that I would label as a starting point rather than all-inclusive.

Bill the Conqueror by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

I’m always in the mood for Wodehouse even when I think I’m not in the mood for Wodehouse. As always, this book followed Wodehouse’s classic formula, but he does it so well and with such funny, funny one-liners that I always enjoy every page. With a whole slew of likable and unlikable characters all engaged to the wrong people, this was another fun read by my favorite author.

The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack – 3*

//published 2017//

This is where waiting two months to write a book review really does the book an injustice. At the time that I read this one, I had a LOT of opinions about it, but now most of them have fizzled away. Basically, the main character works for an auction house that sells incredibly high-quality, expensive stuff. She’s an appraiser, and the story opens with her assessing a collection of books and documents. In them, she finds a manuscript that claims to have been written by a woman from the time of Cleopatra, but what really shocks the MC is when she comes across HER NAME in the manuscript. As things unwind, we discover that the manuscript’s author was a seer and she is writing this entire thing about various future descendants of herself.

I wanted to like this book, and if I turned off the logic side of my brain I did like it, but there were just too many gaps and issues for me to really get behind it. The MC herself is super annoying and a total user of everyone around here. She’s recently found out that she was adopted and is acting like a petty, spoiled child about it and at times is downright cruel to her adopted mother. For someone supposedly in her late 20s/early 30s, she frequently sounded like a petulant, sulky teenager. Even if I accepted the fact that the author of the manuscript was a seer with the ability to look to the future, I couldn’t believe that she would have the mental capacity to understand everything that she was seeing. Could someone from Cleopatra’s time have a vision that involved airplanes and cars and understand them – and have words for them?? The stories that the seer was writing were far too complete to actually make sense as a prophetic manuscript, although the stories themselves were engaging.

The plot with the missing tarot cards was convoluted and choppy and still didn’t make sense at the end. This was one of my traveling book club books, which is why I read it – it wasn’t particularly a book I would have picked for myself, or finished reading if I had. Not a terrible book by any means, but it didn’t really inspire me to find out if Womack has written anything else.

Accidentally In Love Series // by Cindi Madsen

  • Falling for Her Fiance (2013)
  • Act Like You Love Me (2013)
  • An Officer & a Rebel (2014)
  • Resisting the Hero (2014)

Madsen has been on my radar for a while, but for some reason I hadn’t gotten around to any of her books before. I’m always a sucker for a fake relationship trope, so this series seemed like a fun place to start.

In the first book, Dani and Wes have been best friends since college and decide to be fake-engaged for a variety of reasons. There was all of the fun that usually surrounds this type of scheme, and the main characters were overall super likable. My biggest issue was that both of them had had serious relationships with other people in the past, but part of the reason that those relationships didn’t work out was because the exes didn’t like the close friendship between Dani and Wes, both of whom acted like that was super ridiculous since they were “just friends.” And just… (a) if my husband had a female friend that he’d known longer than me and that he spent hours talking to on the phone every week, I would not be comfortable with it, so I don’t feel like that’s an absurd thing to raise objections in a relationship and (b) the exes were right! Deep down Wes and Dani really were in love, but they never acknowledge that, instead acting like the exes were just soooo clingy and jealous! It really got on my nerves whenever they would bring it up. But for all that, the overall story was honestly good fun and an easy 3.5* read.

In Act Like You Love Me, Brynn used to be the awkward “ugly” girl in high school, so when her crush not only moves back into town, but ends up being the director for the community play she’s in, she’s quite nervous about what he’ll think of her – except Sawyer doesn’t even recognize her! Instead, he mistakenly assumes that she’s a spoiled actress here for some R&R – and Brynn lets him think it. Even though this was overall relaxing fluff, I’m never a huge fan of a story where lying is the central drama. There were multiple times when a simple conversation could have cleared up some big misunderstandings, and it just doesn’t happen when it should. 3* because I wanted to shake both these characters several times. PS, asking someone to move in with you is not a romantic ending.

An Officer and a Rebel is actually a novella, so this was an even faster read than the main books. It’s Christmastime and Kelsey is driving to Kentucky to visit her mother, but decides to take a side detour to the town where she lived in high school. Unfortunately, a snowstorm makes the roads treacherous, and she slides into a ditch, only to be rescued by her ex-boyfriend’s starchy older brother, Nate. Because of the bad weather, Nate takes Kelsey home and they end up snowed in together. Nate’s always had a thing for Kelsey but doesn’t want to make a move on his brother’s ex – plus, he’s a police officer and Kelsey has always been a bit… free-spirited. This was a fast read and pretty fun even if there wasn’t a lot of depth.

The final book in the series was pretty much in line with the others. Faith’s father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty when she was growing up. Her brother is a police officer now and has recently joined the SWAT team, meaning he’ll be in even more potentially dangerous situations. Faith lays the blame for his decision at the feet of her brother’s best friend/fellow officer Connor, and is pretty salty whenever he’s around. Even when sparks fly between them, she’s determined to resist them because she doesn’t want to be in a relationship with a cop. Like the others, fun and fluffy and ultimately pretty forgettable.

Overall, I enjoyed this series enough to check out some more of Madsen’s books, but I don’t really see myself returning to these again and again. They were fun as one-off reads, all in the 3.5* zone, but didn’t really hit me as instant classics.

January Minireviews – Part 1

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.

Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer – 4*

//published 1932//

Heyer didn’t tend to write sequels/connected books, so I was bit surprised when I read These Old Shades and then discovered that there was actually a sequel. Devil’s Cub is set a generation later – focusing on the son of the main couple from Shades. You don’t necessarily have to read Shades first, but it did add a level of fun, knowing more about the various characters. This wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was good, fluffy, Heyer fun with plenty of snappy dialogue, likable characters, and slightly-absurd adventures.

The Flip Side by James Bailey – 3.5*

//published 2020//

Most romcoms are written by women, and focus on the woman as the main character, but I genuinely appreciated Bailey’s story, which focuses on a guy, and puts that guy in the situation that so many female characters start with. Josh has arranged an incredibly romantic date with his girlfriend with the intention of proposing. Except not only does she turn him down – she confesses that she’s been cheating on him and no longer “feels the magic.” Within the first chapter, Josh is single, jobless, and back to living with his parents in the suburbs. As he looks at his life, he feels completely overwhelmed by all the choices he has to make, and all the choices he has made to get where he is – he feels like a failure and can’t see a way forward. And so, he decides to stop making decisions. Instead, he starts flipping a coin and letting fate decide what happens next. And as one might expect – shenanigans ensue.

There was a lot to enjoy about this story. There are fun and slightly-ridiculous scenarios, mostly likable characters, and a little bit of thoughtfulness about life choices and where they take us. On the other hand, a lot of the pacing felt stuttered, a few of the characters were extremely underdeveloped, and there’s this whole weird thing where Josh gets a ride with a taxi driver named Jesus, which leads to this whole conversation/scenario that felt kind of sacrilegious to me.

At the end of the day – an entertaining and overall enjoyable, but it isn’t one I see myself reading again and again.

The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer – 4.5*

//published 2004// Also, the cards are for another Litsy challenge haha //

These are the sequels to Sorcery and Cecelia, which I reread in December. Like the first book, they are fun and happy epistolary novels. In The Grand Tour, the two couples from Cecelia have just gotten married and are off on a joint honeymoon around the Continent, where they run into another magical mystery. The Mislaid Magician takes place about ten years later – both families now have several children, adding to the fun. This one is extra entertaining as there are letters between the husbands as well.

All in all, these are just such fun books with enjoyable characters and a very fun world-building concept – highly recommended.

Eyewitness Guides: Brazil4*

//published 2020//

Another challenge on Litsy this year is #FoodandLit – there’s a country each month, and participants try to read some books set in that country or written by authors from it, and we also share recipes, although I’m not particularly good at that aspect haha Because I’m really trying to keep my challenges focused on reading books already on my TBR, my goal is to read two books for each country – one nonfiction, most likely a travel guide of some sort – and one fiction, mostly based on what’s available at the library! These Eyewitness guides are great fun – super colorful, full of photographs and maps, and I learned all sorts of things about Brazil, which is actually a HUGE country. It was also fun to read this one before I read my fiction choice (next review) since I had a much better grasp on the geography of the country by the time I got to Ways to Disappear, in which the characters hop around the country quite a bit.

A fun way to armchair travel, especially to countries I’ll probably never visit in person.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This was a weird book that I would never have picked up if it wasn’t for the #FoodandLit challenge. The story is about Emma, who works as a translator. Her main focus for several years has been translating novels by a Brazilian author named Beatriz Yagoda. The story opens with Beatriz climbing up a tree with a suitcase – and that’s the last anyone sees of her. Emma, in snowy Pittsburgh, receives an email that she thinks is from someone connected to Beatriz’s publishing house, and spontaneously decides to go to Brazil to see if she can help locate Beatriz, a decision that makes Emma’s live-in boyfriend/almost fiance quite annoyed. In Brazil, everything is as opposite to Pittsburgh as it can be. It turns out that the email was actually from a mafia-like guy to whom Beatriz owes thousands of dollars in gambling debts. The story wanders through Brazil as Emma and Beatriz’s adult children try to find the missing author all while dodging the increasingly intense threats of the loan shark. The entire book has an almost dream-like quality to it, with an emphasis on the hot, sticky weather (in contrast to wintry Pittsburgh). Emma has an affair with Beatriz’s son, struggling with feeling conflicted about the marriage proposal she knows is coming from her boyfriend back home. Beatriz’s daughter, Beatriz’s opposite in almost every way, is frustrated that Emma is there at all, much less than Emma thinks she knows so much more about Beatriz than anyone else. The whole novel meanders around – it feels like, with the whole loan-shark-deadline-if-you-miss-it-we’re-going-to-kill-you thing, that there should be more of a sense of urgency, but there just isn’t. The ending is odd, but not necessarily out of character for the rest. A book I’m not exactly glad I read, but also not mad that I did, either. It was a fairly quick read, which helped, because I’m not sure how long I could have put up with the complete bizarreness of the whole thing.

December Minireviews – Part 5

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.

My friends, this is the FINAL post of December reviews!!!

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz – 2.5*

//published 2017//

I’m always up for a P&P variation and even though I had heard a lot of mixed reviews about this one I decided to give it a try. This one wasn’t for me, though – I ended up skimming the entire second half just to get through it. The main issue was – this shouldn’t have been written, labeled, or marketed as a P&P retelling because it was drawing the comparisons between the two stories that left me feeling aggravated the entire time I was reading this. This story is a gender-swapped tale, with (first name) Darcy coming home to see her family and running into her old high school nemesis Luke Bennet. But if it wasn’t for the names, I would never have assumed this was supposed to have anything to do with P&P. P&P’s Darcy’s driving motivation is his intense commitment to caring for his family, estate, and the many people who depend on his responsibility. Mistletoe’s Darcy is a selfish, whiny little brat who decided her family was too “unsupportive” of her life choices (because of course anyone’s parents would be SO ANGRY if their daughter decided to have a successful career) and so left to strike out on her own. The implication is that she refused any and all money from her family, yet somehow now she’s one of the richest women in the country…??? P&P’s Darcy has no immediate family left besides his sister, and the tragedy of this is a huge part of what has left him cautious about relationships. Mistletoe’s Darcy still has both her parents plus multiple siblings, all of whom she treats like trash. P&P’s Charlotte is Elizabeth’s practical best friend – Mistletoe’s Charlotte is Luke’s bitter, obnoxious girlfriend. P&P’s Darcy had semi-legitimate reasons for being concerned about Bingley’s crush on Jane – there was no good reason for Mistletoe’s Bingley (Darcy’s gay best friend) to not like Luke’s brother, so we had this weird thing where Darcy just says she thinks they’re “going too fast” leading to completely contrived and almost immediately resolved conflict between Bingley and Luke’s brother. In P&P we have a fabulous slow burn between the two main characters where they both can’t stand and yet are drawn to each other. In Mistletoe, Darcy and Luke start snogging in basically the first chapter and other than Darcy remembering their past animosity, we really don’t get any reason for why the two of them shouldn’t like each other.

This wasn’t the worst book I read in December, but it was close. I think the entire story would have been SO much better if de la Cruz had just written a fun romcom about a bratty rich girl who gets her comeuppance. Instead, she tried to force a lot of P&P characters into the story, which made everything she was writing come up short.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – 3.5*

//published 2014//

At this point in December (the 27th, to be exact) I ran out of Christmas books!! It was sad because I actually still wanted to read more. (I’m not sure if it was sadder that I was out of them when I wanted to read them, or that I’d already read so many and still wanted to read more haha) So I picked up the next book on my TBR instead, which happened to be this one. It’s about a grumpy widower who runs a small bookshop on an island in New England. The story opens when one of the publishing companies sends a new sales rep to see him and he’s super rude to her. From there the story meanders around through AJ’s backstory, showing how he got to this point. It also moves forward in time to the moment when he someone leaves a baby in his bookstore with a note asking him to take care of her. AJ ends up adopting the baby (which honestly felt like a big weak point of the story, considering he just keeps the kid the entire time the process is ongoing… it really felt like she should have been put into an official foster home at first considering he’s just technically some dude not at all related to her) and of course his life changes as he softens up and opens up and ends up marrying the sales rep etc etc. I wasn’t expecting this book to cover so much time, but it continues right up through the baby becoming an adult and AJ’s eventual death and what happens to the bookstore after that. All in all, this wasn’t a bad story in any way and I found it perfectly pleasant to read, but it almost tried to cover too much time and too many characters, since we’re also following the life of AJ’s first wife’s sister and her husband and also a random policeman and maybe someone else that I’m forgetting right now. It’s not actually that long of a book (258 pages) so it kind of felt like we were skimming through a lot of things, and despite the main focus being on AJ, I never felt like I knew him all that well.

This is sort of literary fiction lite, so for people who like those types of stories they’ll like this one as well. It wasn’t a great fit for me, but that’s more on me than the book.

Foxes in Love by Toivo Kaarinen – 4.5*

//published 2020//

I follow this comic on Instagram and honestly love it so hard. The foxes remind me of Tom and me all the time. I try to support artists whose work I usually enjoy for free by buying their books when they appear, so I preordered this one and was delighted when it arrived on my doorstep a few months later.

I will say that apparently the foxes are based on the artist and his boyfriend, but their sexual orientation is not really a part of the comics – I didn’t even know they were both guys for a long time – for the most part it’s just about their every day lives and it makes me quite happy.

Christmas Weddings by various authors – 3* average

//published 2007//

I know I said I ran out of Christmas books but THEN two of them came in the mail from Paperback Swap! The day was saved!!!

This one has three stories in it and they pretty much went from terrible to regular. The first was His Christmas Eve Proposal by Carole Mortimer and it was one of the worst stories I read all month. First off, the author used exclamation points constantly! She would use them just for regular sentences! He made her a cup of coffee! She refused to drink the coffee! He didn’t know what to do with the cup of coffee! If she wasn’t using exclamation points, she was fading away with ellipsis… Slowly he walked back to the kitchen… Apparently he would just have to pour the coffee down the drain… IT WAS HORRIBLE. Plus, to top it off, they also win the instalove award of the month since they had known each other TWENTY-FOUR HOURS before he PROPOSED MARRIAGE! Oh my gosh.

Next was Snowbound Bride by Shirley Jump. This one was a little more regular. The female MC designs wedding dresses and is flying her most expensive, fanciest one yet in person to California – but she gets stranded in the Chicago airport because of a snowstorm. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she runs into her old exboyfriend, and he’s looking pretty delicious.

The final story was my favorite, Their Christmas Vows by Margaret McDonagh. I guess this one is loosely part of a story about a group of medical professionals at a Scottish hospital. In this one, the female MC has just started a new job as an helicopter EMT which means she has to work with this one doctor a lot. He has a reputation for being a big flirt and she’s super suspicious of him. She’s coming out of a bad relationship where her husband of less than a year left her when she had to have her breast removed because of cancer. The entire part about her cancer recovery, surgery, and how she felt about herself afterwards was handled really sensitively and well and added some depth to story.

In the end, 1* for His Christmas Eve Proposal, 3* for Snowbound Bride, and 4* for Their Christmas Vows.

White Christmas Wedding by Celeste Winters – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Beth has lived in NYC for several years and is getting ready to marry a rich guy from the city. Through various circumstances, however, the wedding is being held back in her small town hometown in Michigan. Beth’s best friend from her hometown, Jen, has taken on the role of wedding planner, with hopes that if this goes well she can continue to build her own business from there, using her family’s barn as an event center. As everyone arrives from NYC, a huge snowstorm hits, adding a lot of complications to the situation.

I really ended up enjoying this one, which was definitely more novel-y than it was romcom-y. What I liked the best was also the book’s biggest weakness – Winters decides to tell a LOT of stories here. Not only do we learn a lot about Beth and Jen, but Beth’s soon-to-be mother-in-law, both Beth and Jen’s parents, and both of Beth’s bridesmaids. For the most part, Winters manages to weave it into a coherent whole and I felt like she chose good topics to tackle for each woman, but this book is only 244 pages long, so in some situations it felt like we barely skimmed along the surface of what was happening.

It also felt like at times she suddenly realized that she wanted to write a romcom, so she would create some kind of “omg!” situation. The one that was the most ridiculous was when snow blew into the barn overnight – it seemed completely absurd to think that the barn door that was “cracked” open when Jen arrived would somehow let in enough snow to cover the ENTIRE barn in “inches” of snow. Even if the door was wide open, a barn large enough to comfortably seat a hundred or so people would not be buried in several inches of snow in the entire building. That was the most dramatic one, but there were a few other scenes that just made me roll my eyes instead of feel like there was a legitimate crisis and/or humorous situation.

But for all that it was still an enjoyable book – probably not one I’ll reread, but a nice way to conclude my December of romance!!

December Minireviews – Part 4

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.

Someday, my friends, I will be caught up on December reviews!! …but today is not that day!

The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss – 4*

//published 2020//

This was one of my favorite reads this month. Kate lives in a small town where there aren’t a lot of dating prospects, so she’s pretty much ready to resign herself to a peaceful life of singleness. However, she decides to give love one last chance when her best friend convinces her to sign up for a holiday blind-date event – 12 different dates with 12 different people in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

There’s always a danger that this type of story is going to lead to something super weird (plus I was extra paranoid after the train-wreck read of Match Made in Manhattan with its complicated timelines that made it basically feel like the MC was cheating on all the guys she was dating) but here it was exactly as it should be – fun and fluffy with a likable character and a good balance of guys on the dates instead of “wow every dude out there is a jerk.”

My biggest complaint about this book is that because it’s set in a small town everyone knows everyone – but I do not know everyone! Bayliss would casually mention someone’s name and how they were connected to someone else, and then just expect me to remember that person two chapters later. There were a LOT of names going on and it got a little confusing for me. But overall, a mild complaint for what was, on the whole, a fun and enjoyable read that I’ll probably revisit again next year.

Sorcery & Cecelia by Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer – 4.5*

//published 2003//

This one isn’t Christmasy, but it was my other traveling book club book for December. A reread for me, this is actually an old favorite of mine. It’s set in early 1800s England (just after the Napoleonic wars) except in an AU where magic is just a part of life. Cecelia’s cousin Kate has just gone up to London for her first Season, leading to a great deal of correspondence between the two, who are close in age and best friends. Shenanigans both magical and romantic in nature take place, making this one just a great deal of all-around fun. I also read this one back in 2016, if you want a more detailed review.

Christmas Camp by Karen Schaler – 3*

//published 2018//

This one was trying just a little too hard, and I wasn’t surprised to find out that it was written by one of Netflix’s screenwriters rather than an actual author, as the entire story felt like someone was telling me about a movie they watched, and I can’t even exactly explain why. The sentence structure and dialogue was just off somehow, making it really difficult for me to get into the story and actually embrace the cheesiness. Instead, it was just toooo much, like a sugar overload. Every Christmas movie cliche possible was jammed into this one book. Decent writing could have overcome it, but the whole thing just felt stilted. Ironically, I think it would make a fun movie (and actually it may already have done so) but the writing wasn’t good enough to make it work as a book for me.

Snowflakes at the Little Christmas Tree Farm by Jamie Admans – 4*

//published 2019//

One would expect that if I was so willing to pooh-pooh Christmas Camp for being too cheesy, that I would be ready to completely tear apart a book whose premise is that the MC accidentally purchases a Christmas tree farm in Scotland and then has to depend on the goodwill of the hunky pumpkin farmer who lives next door to help her get everything organized, but this was actually a super fun story and ended up being one of my favorites for the month. Leah is a really likable character who has been struggling somewhat with her life after the sudden death of her parents in a car wreck the year before. While drunkenly purchasing a Christmas tree farm sight-unseen is, in fact, a crazy thing to do, Admans makes it work with Leah’s character, especially as we learn more about her parents, their dreams, and Leah’s background. I really liked the male MC as well, and while this was definitely a fluffy romance, Admans balances it with some more serious themes about grief and loss (the guy’s dad died of cancer when the guy was in his teens… sorry, can’t remember the guy’s name right now haha), and just about how you move on when a huge chunk of your life is suddenly not there any more. There were times that this book got a little too silly (and Admans was OBSESSED with having Leah be obsessed with the guy’s lip piercing; she mentions it CONSTANTLY, like okay, I get it, even though he’s a Scottish pumpkin farmer in a remote corner of the country he’s still HIP and HOT because he has a PIERCING!) but on the whole this one really hit the spot.

Three Christmas Wishes by Sheila Roberts – 4*

//published 2016//

While I don’t see myself returning to this one again and again, it was really fun as a one-off read. Much like The Christmas Sisters, it balances the fun and fluffy with some more serious storylines that made it a story of substance as well as entertainment. Riley’s fiance dumps her in the first chapter of the book – three weeks before their Christmas wedding. Riley’s best friend, Noel, and Riley’s older sister, Jo, convince her to come to the mall with them for some shopping therapy. While there, they decide to visit the mall Santa on a lark – except this Santa seems strangely omniscient…

All three of the story lines were good fun. I related the most to Jo, who has been married several years and is due to have a baby at any minute. Her husband is in the Navy and so is gone on tour for large chunks of time and she’s struggling with his decision to re-up when what she really wants is for him to be home now that a baby is in the picture. While my life doesn’t look anything like Jo’s, I found Roberts’s handling of trying to find balance within marriage to be done really well.

My biggest issue with this one was with Noel’s story – Noel writes children’s books about a character named Marvella, and Marvella frequently “talks” with Noel in Noel’s mind – “Marvella” is rather obnoxious and I was pretty over the internal monologue. But on the whole this was a fun one that I enjoyed.

Christmas Comes to Dickens by various authors – 3.5* average

//published 2020//

This is a collection of ten stories, each one by a different author, but all set in the same New England town of Dickens, famous for their celebration of Christmas. On the whole these were pretty regular, for lack of a better term. I was hoping for a little more continuity between the stories, but other than mentioning the same stores along the main drag, they didn’t feel connected in any way – I wasn’t even sure if they were supposed to be happening during the same Christmas season or not. Some were pretty terrible and some were decent, but none were outstanding. Entertaining but not enthralling.

December 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!  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.

Will I finish December reviews before the end of January???

The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith – 5*

//published 1956//

I always think of this as a Christmasy book, as that’s when the bulk of the action takes place, and since this is one of my all-time favorites, it seemed like a lovely time to revisit it yet again. Smith is so clever and humorous, with characters that are easy to love and a villain that’s easy to hate. As always, one of the most important parts of this story are the absolutely magical illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnston – I can’t imagine reading this story without them! If you’ve never picked up this story, you absolutely should.

The Starlight Barking by Dodie Smith – 4*

//published 1967//

I only discovered this sequel a few years ago, and while I don’t love it nearly as much as the original story, it is fun to see where Pongo and Missis’s children have ended up!! Again the illustrations make the story, and while this one definitely leans more heavily on magic (which was nonexistent in the first story), it’s still a great deal of fun.

Christmas With You by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1989, 1986//

One would expect the first (and longest) story in an anthology entitled Christmas With You and composed of only two stories to actually be, you know, Christmasy, but I honestly think some editor someone saw the title of this one (Gabriel’s Angel) and saw that there was a snowstorm in the first chapter and just assumed that it must have something to do with Christmas! In truth, the snowstorm is a freak spring blizzard and the entire story wraps up by the following fall, so there is literally not a single Christmas event in the entire tale! Setting that aside, I did enjoy this story (we all know I’m a sucker for a marriage of convenience) although there were some aspects that got a little too drama-y for me. Still a good time.

When I started reading the second story, Home for Christmas, I realized that I had already read it in the past and it employs my LEAST favorite trope (teehee oh btw I had your baby years ago but I never bothered to tell you because I’m pretending like I have your best interests at heart) BUT it takes place in New Hampshire, which I hadn’t visited yet for my #ReadtheUSA2020 challenge and it was less than a hundred pages long, so I rolled my eyes a lot and got through it. Despite the trope making me want to smack the female lead in the face, it wasn’t that bad of a story. However, I can’t believe I’ve ended up reading this one twice!

Santa’s On His Way (various authors)

//published 2018, just like all the Christmas books I read this year for some reason//

Another anthology, this one had four stories in it. Lisa Jackson’s name is in the biggest letters on the cover, so apparently she’s the keynote writer, but hers was the one story (A Baby for Christmas) that I didn’t finish – the characters just weren’t working for me. It was also weird because the other three stories were all published in 2018, but this one was from 1997??

What the Cowboy Wants for Christmas by Maisey Yates and A Cowboy for Christmas by Nicole Helm were solid 3.5* reads – nothing terrible innovative but perfectly pleasant. I’m not a big cowboy-romance reader, but these weren’t too bad.

Snowed In by Stacy Finz was my favorite of the collection (even though I would still give it 3.5* haha) It’s a fun trope and it was done well here. Plus, I liked the way it all came together in the end.

All in all, I probably won’t revisit this anthology again next year, but I may see if Finz has written any full-length novels.

Mutts and Mistletoe by Natalie Cox – 4*

//oh look, this one was also published in 2018//

Sometimes Hallmark-movie-type reads are just predictable and annoying, but other times they are predictable and fun, and this one was the latter category for me. It’s absolutely ridiculous that Charlie’s apartment just happens to be rendered uninhabitable at the same time that her cousin decides to dash off to meet her online-girlfriend, meaning that it’s the perfect situation for Charlie to take over the cousin’s upscale dog boarding business, especially considering that Charlie doesn’t even like dogs. But somehow Cox makes the whole thing work, keeping things light and fun and the scenarios mostly on the right side of believable. Charlie is overall likable and not too stupid despite her lack of knowledge about dogs and country life, and who doesn’t love a grump veterinarian hero? While not perfect, this was the exact kind of fluff I was looking for, and I kept this one for a reread next year.

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer – 3.5*

//published 1926//

This was borderline between 3.5* and 4*. It’s one Heyer’s earliest books, and it shows. Compared to most of her stories, the action in this one is choppy, the dialogue sometimes stilted (especially because most of the story is set in France with a French heroine who is constantly exclaiming things in French except I have no idea what she’s saying so I had to keep stopping to look things up because sometimes it was actually important to the plot of the conversation…), and the age gap between the two main characters was so great that I was honestly a little surprised that that was the direction the romance was headed. Despite all this, the bones of a good Heyer story are still here. It’s a fun story and when Leonie wasn’t shouting in French she was a likable character. The duke is a little over-the-top but I still ended up liking him and I absolutely loved his brother and sister and the family dynamics at work. So while I didn’t love this one, I did still enjoy it. It’s not where I would recommend someone to start if they’ve never read a Heyer story before, but if you already love her books you’ll probably enjoy this one as well.

Also, I just finished Devil’s Cub which is actually about the duke and Leonie’s now-adult son and it was absolutely delightful, so if nothing else it’s worth reading Shades just to get the full impact of the fun in Devil’s Cub.

This wasn’t a Christmas read, but it was December’s book for one of my traveling book clubs and thankfully still fit into my theme of an all-fluff month!!