December 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.

Onward with more December fluff reads!!

The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan – 4*

//published 2018//

While this one was a little more “novel-y” that I usually like, it ended up being one of my favorite reads of the month. At first, I was afraid that it was just going to be super angsty with a bunch of discontented, whiny women who have perfectly nice lives except they spend all of their time complaining about them. But I was pleasantly surprised by this story about three sisters who love one another but have grown apart. As we come to learn more about their childhood and the circumstances that have shaped them, I was completely drawn to the entire family. While yes, this is a feel-good Christmas story, it’s also a really lovely story about forgiveness, family, and realizing that even the people that we love the most have parts of themselves that we don’t know – everyone has something in their life that’s hard, no matter how perfect that life may look from the outside. I really enjoyed this one and will definitely be on the lookout for more books by this author.

Silent Night by Mary Higgins Clark – 3.5*

//published 1995//

Just to keep things lively, I picked up this short thriller. Clark does a great job giving motivation to multiple characters, which is what keeps this story from feeling completely ridiculous. It’s a fast read – nothing incredibly ground-breaking, but intense and hard to put down.

Christmas Gifts Collection by Elena Aitken – 3.5*

//published 2018//

In my mind, a “stand-alone” book is one that is not part of a series. However, some people use that term to label a book that theoretically can be read independently of the series of which it is a part. So while this collection was billed as a group of stand-alone stories, they were actually all part of a series that centers around a hotel called Castle Lodge. I hate reading books out of order but didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late, so for once I just went along with it. These were perfectly enjoyable stories, although I will say that the last story in the trio was the weakest – supposedly she, as the maid of honor, is helping her best friend plan her best friend’s wedding, but then in end – surprise! It’s her wedding! Except… literally the original bride was the one who was going to get married?? I just ended up feeling annoyed that the original bridesmaid was stealing the beautiful day away from the woman who was supposed to be the bride.

But anyway, they were fine stories, but didn’t make me feel like I wanted to jump in and read the whole series.

Husband Under Construction by Karen Templeton – 2.5*

//published 2011//I didn’t even read the other book in this anthology… I don’t do the ‘surprise baby’ trope lol//

I should have been warned from the title that this wasn’t going to be my kind of book. The problem was that Templeton creates two perfectly likable characters that I totally shipped, and puts them in a no-win situation. Either the female MC is going to have sacrifice her dream job, or the male MC is going to have to leave behind his wonderful, warm-hearted family AND family business to move hours away. I’m sorry, but that just isn’t my idea of a happy ending. Yeah, they end up together, but they do the one where the leave behind Noah’s entire family so they can live where the woman’s new job is – which okay, except literally the female MC goes on and on and on and on about how what she wants to do is have a huge family with lots of kids and spend her time hanging out with them etc etc so – in the epilogue now they have several kids and she’s only working part time here and there. So Noah sacrificed his spot in his family business AND left behind his completely awesome family (and the female MC – sorry, can’t remember her name haha – only has one living relative who also lives in the same town as Noah’s family) so that they could be close to the job that she isn’t even really doing?!?! It felt like a completely stupid way to end the book.

How the Dukes Stole Christmas 3*

//published 2018//

This one had four stories written by different authors – Meet Me in Mayfair by Tessa Dare, The Duke of Christmas Present by Sarah MacLean, Heiress Alone by Sophie Jordan, and Christmas in Central Park by Joanna Shupe. All of them were pretty lame, although Dare’s was probably the best of the bunch. They weren’t horrible as one-off reads, but I already passed this book on because it’s not one I see myself rereading for next year’s Christmas binge.

The Christmas Wish by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1994, 1984//

Two stories here – All I Want for Christmas and First Impressions – both of which were pretty standard Roberts fare. I had read the first story before, about twin brothers writing a letter to Santa for a new mother since theirs died several years earlier. It’s pretty adorable and I really liked the two main characters. First Impressions was published in 1984 so it has that 80s edge to it, but was still fun and frolicky even if the male MC is a little over-the-top grumpy.

87th Precinct Mysteries // Books 36-40 // by Ed McBain

  • Ice (1983)
  • Lightning (1984)
  • Eight Black Horses (1985)
  • Poison (1987)
  • Tricks (1987)

I’m still slowly working my way through this series of 55 books in batches of five, which feels about right as they can get a little samey if you read too many at once. The first book in this series was published in 1956, and I’m not in the midst of the 1980s part of the series. While McBain’s characters have aged and changed throughout, they definitely haven’t aged in real time – but the background/technology/procedures have. Somehow McBain makes that all work.

This set of five was quite the rollercoaster, as it included one of my favorites I’ve read yet (Eight Black Horses) and also one of my least-favorites (Lightning). It’s been over a month since I actually read these, so I’m sure you’ll be willing to excuse me if I’m a bit hazy on the details…

Ice was a pretty typical entry with a solid and engaging story and plenty of McBain’s trademark snark. At this point in the series, one of the detectives (Bert Kling) has been in multiple romantic entanglements, all of which have ended in disaster, so when he started dating one of the women from a neighboring precinct, a character who floats in and out and that I actually like, I got a little concerned. Their relationship has gotten a little rocky but at least she’s still alive as of the end of Tricks!

A lot of these books can be rather dark, but Lightning was definitely a contender for the weirdest/creepiest premise so far. Several women have been raped, and each one has been raped more than once – all by the same man. I’m going to completely spoil the reason for this happening, so if you don’t want to know, skip to the next paragraph – but basically it turns out that the perpetrator is strongly prochoice, so he started targeting women who were Catholic and had also donated money to a prolife organization. He raped them more than once because he wanted them to get pregnant so they would have to get an abortion, and thus would realize that their prolife stance was wrong. I just… I don’t even know where to start with the problems in this plotline. Part of it is, of course, that I’m very strongly prolife myself, and despite the fact that the prochoice guy is the villain, it’s obvious that McBain is prochoice as well. So he’s in this weird corner where he has to condemn this guy’s actions, but still defend the guy’s actual beliefs. Of course, the women who do end up getting pregnant by this guy (two, I think) do get abortions because obviously no one who is prolife would actually stick to their prolife beliefs if they were in a situation like carrying a rapist’s baby! The whole story just was completely gross and creepy, and honestly any book that’s entire purpose is to convince people that they should be able to murder their babies isn’t really going to fly with me anyway. So this one was definitely a miss.

However, Eight Black Horses was a total win, and reminded me why I’ve been continuing to read this series. The precinct’s ultimate nemesis, the Deaf Man, is back again, and the whole story is just fantastic.

Once thing that’s definitely changed in these books as we’ve moved into the 80s is that these books are significantly sexier. They’ve always been somewhat that way, but more in a “we can’t really avoid this because this is what life on the streets looks like” kind of way. But this batch of books was definitely more, “oh books should just have random sex scenes and a lot of smutty conversations in them” and I wasn’t a fan. Poison was definitely that way, plus it had this kind of weird ending that left me feeling a little confused about the whole story.

Finally, Tricks brought this set of five full-circle – another solid, engaging entry to the series. I really enjoy the stories where McBain just chooses one night and follows along with all the various detectives as they each track their own case. This one was set on Halloween so it felt very seasonal when I was reading it in late October. While a couple of the story lines were honestly ridiculous, they still felt at least somewhat plausible, which kept everything moving.

All in all, I’m this far now so I think I will finish the series out, but I definitely won’t be reading all of them again. At some point, I’ll probably go back and read all the books with the Deaf Man in them as those have definitely been the best. For December, I’m planning to just 100% indulge in fluffy Christmas romcoms, so I probably won’t be reading any more of McBain until 2021. Since I started reading them in April 2019, this definitely isn’t a fast-moving series read!!

September 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.

Chasing the Dead by Tim Weaver  – 3.5*

//published 2010//

I’m not sure how this mystery series first appeared on my radar.  The main character, David Raker, used to be an investigative reporter, but now works finding missing persons.  In this first installment, he’s hired by a mother whose adult son disappeared.  His body was found months later.  But now, a year after that, she’s convinced that she saw him walking down the street and that he’s alive.  David isn’t convinced, but agrees to at least try to find out where the son was between the time of his disappearance and the time that his body was found in a fiery car wreck.

There were a lot of things about this book that I like, especially David himself.  I also love the concept of him using his old reporter contacts to work these types of cases.  However, this one just went a little too over-the-top for me, especially the weird quasi-religious cult that just never actually seemed to be adequately explained in a way that genuinely justified everything that had happened.  While I liked this one fine, I didn’t love it, and there were a couple of torture scenes that I skimmed because that kind of thing makes me really queasy.  Still, I enjoyed it enough to pick up the second installment.

The Dead Tracks by Tim Weaver – 3.5*

//published 2011//

Oh look, here’s the second installment!!  A 17-year-old girl disappears into thin air.  With a genuinely happy home life, excellent grades, no boyfriend, and a solid future ahead of her, she seems like an unlikely candidate for a runaway.  Convinced the police aren’t giving it all, her parents hire David to find out what really happened, and soon he’s sucked into a complicated plot involving a serial killer and the Russian mafia.

Once again, I really liked David himself, and the story wasn’t bad, it was just… over-the-top.  Again.  Not every missing person disappears into the clutches of insane psychopaths, but here’s the second book in a row where that’s exactly what happened.  There were once again some a-little-too-gruesome-for-me scenes, and the killer/kidnapper was just… a little too bizarre.  All in all, while these weren’t bad books, they just aren’t for me.  They didn’t exactly feel like they could really happen, if that makes sense, and the fact that David keeps getting into these basically-should-be-dead situations and then getting out of them had me rolling my eyes a little.  It’s also possible that I just wasn’t in the mood for these.  Either way, I’ve checked the series off the TBR as I just don’t think it’s a great fit for me, despite not actually being bad reads.

Fangs by Sarah Anderson – 4*

//published 2020//

This is an absolutely adorable collection of comics about a vampire and a werewolf who are dating.  While not groundbreaking, I enjoyed every page.  The concept is done so well, and both characters come through as thoroughly likable.  I also appreciate the effort that went in to making the physical book a joy to handle – clothbound, black page edges, wonderful paper quality, and the perfect size.  Well worth a read if you enjoy the concept, and the book itself is fantastic.

Second Chance Summer by Jill Shalvis – 4*

//published 2015//

Sometimes I pick up a book and then realize it’s part of a series.  Luckily, this was book one, so I went ahead and rolled with it.  Lily has to return to her hometown in Colorado when her career in California goes bust.  Of course, in typical chick lit style this means running into her old crush, Aidan.  While this book wasn’t anything stunning, it was a really enjoyable romance, with a fairly balanced angst level.  Lily is working through some other family history that made a lot of what was happening feel reasonable.  Aidan wasn’t perfect, either, which I always like.  There were were a few too many sexy times for this to get my wholehearted approval (just not my thing) but overall total brain candy, which was exactly what I wanted.  There are two more books in the series, focused on two of Aidan’s siblings (who own a ski resort!!  I love hospitality romance haha) so I have those on reserve at the library.

Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1917//

My reread of the Anne series continues.  In this book, Anne and Gilbert start their new life together on a different part of Prince Edward Island.  They meet their new neighbors and settle into life.  There are some wonderful side stories here, and one in particular really explores the importance of doing what is right even if it looks as though the results may not be what you want.  This book is always a little bittersweet to me, as we leave behind so many friends from Avonlea, but I still love it so much.  Also, I Gilbert and Anne were my first ship growing up, and I’m still here for it!

August 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.

Uhoh, we’re into September now!!  Still trying to knock out August reviews.

A Dance Through Time by Lynn Kurland – 3*

//published 1996//

While I do enjoy romance, time travel romance is a subgenre that I’m not usually into.  This read was for the traveling book club, though, so I waded through it.  While it wasn’t a bad story, and I did overall like the characters, it just went on FOREVER.  Some of the jumping-through-time bits got a little muddled as well (they brought their horses with them from the past??).  While I didn’t mind this as a one-time read, it definitely didn’t inspire me to check out the rest of the series, and solidified the idea that time-travel romance just isn’t my thing.

Sweet Revenge by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 1988//

I rarely worry about issuing trigger warnings for books (mainly because I don’t really read books that need them), but this book was hard to read at times as it dealt with a situation where a woman was repeatedly raped and abused.  The whole point of the story is that the main character is getting revenge on her father for the way he treated her mother, but I felt like Roberts felt way too long with the bits explaining why the daughter would want revenge.  There’s a lot here about the mother’s suffering and horrible life. Even after she escaped from her horrific husband, she struggled with depression and drug/alcohol abuse and eventually commits suicide, and it’s all quite depressing, to the point that I almost DNF’d this book more than once.  (Just to clarify, none of this was super explicit, but it’s all THERE.)  But when we FINALLY got through that section, the story really picked up.  Basically, the daughter becomes a jewel thief to pay all of her mother’s medical bills (she’s technically royalty, as her father is a ruler of a middle eastern country, so she runs in rich circles) and her ultimate goal is to steal an incredibly valuable necklace from her father – one that technically belonged to her mother, as it was his bridal gift to her.  Along the way, she runs into another jewel thief/romantic interest (my favorite character) and that whole bit of the story is really quite delightful.  I could have used a LOT more heist shenanigans and way less spousal abuse chapters.

In the end, while I actually really enjoyed the way this whole story played out, and quite liked the main characters, the first part of the story was just SO depressing and dragged on for so long that I don’t ever see myself reading this one again.

Summer at Lake Haven by RaeAnne Thayne – 4*

//published 2020//

Last December I read the entire Lake Haven series and thoroughly enjoyed them.  They weren’t groundbreaking, but they were relaxing and happy romances with likable characters and a small-town setting.  Summer at Lake Haven is the latest installment and was just as enjoyable as the rest.  My favorite part about this book was the way that the main characters actually had conversations with each other like adults instead of making assumptions and then staying mad for no reason, as so often happens in this type of book. So refreshing!  I also loved how Ian’s parents were actually super nice.  Lots of times the parents are these evil background characters, but here they were kind, welcoming, and supportive, and I thought it was fantastic.

Like the rest of the books, this wasn’t anything that will blow your mind, but if you’re just looking for a way to veg out, I definitely recommend this series.  While this one can be read as a stand alone (as they all can), all the background characters will make way more sense if you read the series in order.

Outsider by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2020//

Another series that I read last year, with another latest installment.  This mystery series is set in Ohio’s Amish country and focuses on the sheriff of a small town.  Kate was raised Amish but left the faith, eventually becoming a police officer and then moving back to her own hometown.  This series overall is really just excellently written.  Kate is likable, and the Amish community background is handled so well.  This particular book took a slightly different direction, as it was much more “thriller” rather than a murder mystery like the rest.  In this book, the Amish were also more background than foreground.  Still, I really enjoyed this read a lot, and hope there are many more books about Kate Burkholder to come.

While this one can be read as a standalone, it will also make a lot more sense in the context of the series, which is so enjoyable that I recommend reading them all anyway.

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1929//

I really love Tommy and Tuppence so much.  Tommy now works for “the government” in a sort of vague way/implied that he works in intelligence.  He and Tuppence go somewhat undercover by taking over a private detective agency that is suspected of being used to move “information” by a mysterious foreigner known as 16.  However, the majority of the book is actually connected short stories as Tommy and Tuppence solve legitimate mysteries to keep up their detective cover.  For each one, they take on the persona of a famous detective, which is both the fun part and the weakness of this story, as many of the detectives that were well-known in 1929 have fallen out of favor 90 years later.  Still, if you enjoy Christie’s writing, you’ll find a lot to like here as the mysteries themselves are clever.  Not my favorite Christie, but still an enjoyable read.

August 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.

Still reviewing August books in August… making progress!!  :-D

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – 4*

//published 2016//

Quite a long while ago Maggie Stiefvater – pretty much the only “famous” person I follow on social media – mentioned that she was reading this book.  It looked magical, and I’ve always thought winged horses would be the most amazing magical creatures, so I added it to the TBR.  And now, years later, I actually got around to reading it!  While somewhat bittersweet, this was a lovely read about a young girl who can see winged horses in the “mirror world” – i.e. she can only see them in mirrors.  She’s the only one who sees them (or is she??) and has learned to not talk about it much.  She’s staying in an old manor house in the English countryside.  The house has been turned into a tuberculosis hospital for children during World War II, so there is definitely a dark tone to the story, especially since it is set in winter – somehow, the entire book feels grey, which is actually a big part of the story.

There were a lot of things I liked about this story.  It was so imaginative and imagery was beautiful.  I really wish that it had been paired with better illustrations – there is so much in this story just begging for gorgeous pictures.  This is technically a middle grade book, but I wouldn’t just hand it over to a youngster without making sure that they’re ready for some of the serious themes presented here, like terminal illness, war, death, etc.  These things are handled sensitively and well, but to me this is more a book you would read with your child rather than one they would read on their own.

One small niggle for me was that the main character does steal several items throughout the story for a “good cause” – and this is never really addressed.  It’s just sort of implied that she was justified in her actions because she “needed” the items, which I’m not sure is actually that great of a life-lesson.  Still, on the whole I really enjoyed this atmospheric tale that gave me a lot of feelings.

Side note – once again, several of these pictures include my BookSpin Bingo board for my challenge on Litsy, because that’s where I originally posted the pictures!!

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull – 3.5*

//published 1938//

I see a lot of these mysteries that are being reprinted by the British Library Crime Classics, but this is the first one I’ve gotten around to picking up.  The main thing about this story that has kept it in the “classics” category is the way the mystery is presented.  The reader is placed in the middle of a murder trial from the get-go – except we don’t know who is on trial until much later in the book.  Hull weaves the murder, the courtroom scenes, and the background for the murder throughout the story in a way that seems like it should be muddled but which, for the most part, works.

While I did enjoy this one overall, it was definitely slow in spots, with a great deal of time being spent making sure that the reader doesn’t like the victim at all.  This is all part of the point (is one justified murdering someone who deserves to be murdered?  Murder, as it were, with “excellent intentions” in mind?) but did get old sometimes.  The story also runs out of steam at the end, with a long chapter devoted to the jury’s arguing back and forth about whether or not they should convict the accused.  But overall it was an enjoyable one-time read with a crafty mystery wherein the reader can slowly decide who is on trial as the story progresses.

Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1924//

As I continue to work my way through Wodehouse’s books in published order, Ukridge was next on the list.  Featuring a character who appeared in Love Among the Chickens, Ukridge is one of those people who is constantly broke, constantly coming up with a ridiculous scheme for making money (that doesn’t really involve work), and generally coming out alright (although usually still broke).  I think we’ve all met someone like this – I know I’ve definitely found myself in situations, wondering how I got there, pushed in by my family’s Ukridge.  (My second anniversary, spent huddled with my husband in a sopping wet one-man tent on the top of a 40* mountain in the rain, comes to mind.)  At any rate, this isn’t Wodehouse’s strongest work, but it was still enjoyable.  While Ukridge may be ridiculous, he’s never mean-spirited, and he genuinely believes that each of his schemes is going to pay off.  This probably isn’t where I would start if I were going to introduce someone to Wodehouse, but if you already love his writing, there’s a lot to enjoy here as well.

Blackbird by Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Lately I’ve been reading more graphic novels, and while I think this one is technically a comic (I’m still a little hazy on the differences), when I saw this gorgeous cover on a Litsy review, I knew I wanted to at least give it a try.  Overall, I really liked it, and the artwork is great fun.  The main character’s life changed when she was a child and an earthquake hit her city.  During that catastrophe, she was rescued by a huge magical creature that everyone else saw but no one else remembers.  Since then, she’s been the “weird kid,” obsessed with trying to find real magic that she’s convinced is out there.

While I really liked the concept and the magic in this story, it was told in a very choppy manner, making it a little difficult to put together the linear storyline.  There’s also this crazy twist that I did like but also didn’t really seem to fit with the other character’s character.  All in all, this volume felt more like a big set-up than it did its own story.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is going to be a sequel, and I haven’t been able to find much information.  (This volume included the first six issues as one.)  I would definitely read a sequel, but I’m not sure I would especially recommend this one just because the ending is so open-ended.

Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers – 4*

//published 2020//

If you’ve ever wished you had a scifi, gender-swapped Cinderella retelling centered around a royal matriarchy set on a distant planet, then this is the book for you.  It’s rare that I buy a book just for the cover, but that’s totally what happened here.  I just love it, and can’t even explain why!  I got this one for only $2 on BookOutlet, and ended up enjoying it way more than I was anticipating.

Princess Delia, heir to the throne, knows that she needs to marry a prince from a neighboring planet that will help save her own, and while she isn’t excited about it, she’s at least resigned to it… mostly.  But when a series of events leads to her meeting Aidan, a kitchen worker with his own reasons for needing to escape the planet (and who isn’t afraid to steal from those who can afford it to help him towards his goal), she’s introduced to parts of her kingdom she didn’t realize existed.  While this is someone Cinderella-y, it also has an Aladdin vibe as well, and I was totally here for it.  I really liked the characters, and while there were some jolts in the plot that felt chunky (and I had to make a cheat-sheet to keep all the prospective-groom princes straight), overall I quite enjoyed this one.  The setting was completely unique and the world-building was intriguing.  Overall recommended, especially if you’re looking for a unique fairy tale variation.

PS I will say that there are a lot of negative/meh reviews for this one, so there’s a strong possibility that I was just in the right mood for it??  I love the way different books are for different people, and sometimes for different versions of myself at different moments in time!

87th Precinct Mysteries // Books 31-35 // by Ed McBain

31. So Long as You Both Shall Live (1976)
32. Long Time No See (1977)
33. Calypso (1979)
34. Ghosts (1980)
35. Heat (1981)

As usual, this batch of five 87th Precinct mysteries was a mixed bag.  Long Time No See and Heat were my favorites of the group, with Calypso not only my least favorite of these five, but possibly my least favorite of the series so far.

Bert Kling finally gets married in So Long as You Both Shall Live, but his wife disappears from their honeymoon suite.  In this one, the mystery felt like a bit of a stretch, but it wasn’t too bad.

In Long Time No See, someone keeps murdering blind people.  Is there a connection?  The pacing in this one was pretty snappy and kept me engaged in the story.

Calypso was just way over-the-top.  I’m going to give away the entire shebang here – basically, this crazy woman has kidnapped this guy and kept him as a sex slave on private island for seven years…..?????!!!!!!  I’m sorry, that’s just not an actual solution to a mystery to me, and all the coincidences were just way too much.  Plus, in the end there is a pretty horrific torture scene that was completely unnecessary.  Ugh.

Ghosts was a pretty decent mystery, but there are actual ghosts in it, which felt like a departure from the norm for this series.  However, since the ghosts weren’t the solution to the mystery, I was willing to go with it.

Finally, Heat had a good main mystery, but there was a side quest with Kling’s wife having an affair that really just felt like (a) filler and (b) a way to emphasize the fact that Kling has terrible luck with women.  (Pro tip: Don’t date Kling.)

Overall, I’m still enjoying my trek through the 87th Precinct mysteries, but I still have 20 to go and am not as excited about them as I once was.  However – the Deaf Man is back as the villain for one of the stories in the next batch, and those have been my favorites by far, so at least I have that to look forward to!!

May Minireviews – Part 2

Here we are with the final books for May!!!  Hopefully this book blog will get back on track this summer!!

NOTE: I wrote most of these a week or two ago… still trying to get May’s reviews published before July starts!

King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry – 5*

//published 1948//

I read a lot of children’s books in May (and this pattern has carried over into June) as life was very busy and I was looking for quick, simple reads.  Most of them were rereads from many moons ago, and King of the Wind was no exception.  Regular readers of my blog may recall that Henry was one of my favorite childhood authors, and I read King of the Wind probably a dozen times growing up – but then hadn’t read it in, oh, probably 20 years!  I wasn’t sure if the story would hold up, but I shouldn’t have worried.  The combination of Henry’s storytelling and Wesley Dennis’s drawings worked its magic yet again!

This tale is, as are many of Henry’s stories, a mixture of fact and legend.  The story is about a horse named Sham and the boy who cared for him, Agba, and the tale begins in Morocco, where Agba works as a stable boy. The sultan decides to send several of his fastest stallions to the king of France as a gift, with a stable boy in charge of each horse, and so Agba and Sham begin their journey together.  Legend says that Sham, later known as the Goldophin Arabian, became one of the founding stallions of the Thoroughbred breed – every Thoroughbred can trace its lineage back to one of three stallions, one of which is the Goldophin Arabian.  Sham and Agba have many ups and downs in their journey, as Sham’s worth isn’t recognized at first, making an engaging and interesting story.

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1928//

This is one of those Hercule Poirot stories where Poirot doesn’t come into it until about halfway through.  Sometimes that annoys me, but it worked with this story, although it’s always difficult when the reader (theoretically) knows more about what’s going on than the detective, because we’re privy to scenes and conversations were the detective isn’t.  Still, the mystery is a good one, and Poirot is at his most pompous.  If you love Poirot because of his Poirot-isms, this one is definitely worth the read.

Little Gods by Meng Jin – 2.5*

//published 1972//

Another bust for the traveling book club, Little Gods was unbelievably depressing.  (Don’t worry, for the next round of traveling book club, I signed up for romcoms and fantasy, so hopefully I’ll get some books that don’t make me dread picking them up!)  This was a weird story told from random viewpoints (and written without quotation marks, why) about (??? sort of???) a young woman whose mother has died, and now the young woman is journeying back to China to try and find out more about her mother.  In many ways, the book is way more about the mother, who was a brilliant scientist (although not so brilliant at relationships). Throughout, there is loads of scientific theory (so boring, and basically felt like the author showing off how intelligent she is) that really bogged the story down.  Literally zero characters were remotely likable.  Every single parent hated their children, and every single child hated its parents.  No relationships actually were built on respect or love or anything like that – everyone was just in it for what they could get out of it, and, big surprise, none of them worked out.  It felt like there was no point to this story (or at least not one that I could find), and I thought it was never going to end.

That said, there was some lovely writing in between the science, and while the characters were thoroughly unlikable, they were well drawn.  For people who actually like Novels, in all their grimness, there may be something to like here.

Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater – 4.5*

//published 1990//

It had been way, way too long since I had picked up a Pinkwater book.  His books are basically impossible to describe, and definitely aren’t for everyone, as they are full of absolute nonsense.  In this one, a boy ends up traveling through space, time, and other with his uncle (who may not actually be related) and his dog (who is super grumpy).  If you’ve ever thought that maybe time was like a map of New Jersey and space was like a poppyseed bagel, this may be the book for you. It’s also a great read if you love popsicles.

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster – 4.5*

//published 1912//

I really love this epistolary novel, published way back in 1912.  Judy has grown up in an orphanage, but is now old enough to be sent out on her own.  One of the trustees, who desires to remain anonymous, decides to send Judy to college because he has read one of her English papers from high school and believes she has talent that should be cultivated.  While he pays for everything, he asks that in return Judy write him one letter a month to update him on her progress, stating that letter-writing is an excellent way to develop creative writing skills.  Thus, the entire book, except for the introductory chapter, is comprised of Judy’s letters to her benefactor, whom she has never met and only saw in shadow as he was leaving – a shadow that looked like it was made entirely of long legs and arms, leading to her nickname for him, Daddy-Long-Legs.

This book is honestly just plain delightful.  Judy is going to girls’ college (no coed at the time), but has never really spent so much time around “regular” girls, so much of her education is more than just reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.  Her enthusiasm for life and adventure, and lack of family, means that she writes to Daddy-Long-Legs far more than once a month, and her warmth (and illustrations) make for wonderful reading.  For me, the only thing that keeps this from being a full five stars is that there is one point in this story where Daddy-Long-Legs feels a smidge manipulative, which makes me a little uncomfortable, but in the end it’s just such a fun story, and Judy is such a wonderful character, that I’ve read this one time and again.

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster – 5*

//published 1915//

The sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs, I honestly love Dear Enemy even more.  The story centers on Judy’s best friend from college, Sallie McBride (who is also the writer of all the letters in this book).  Judy has purchased the orphanage where she grew up and hires Sallie to help turn it into a happy, healthy place to raise children instead of the sad institution it has always been.  Sallie is a wonderful character who really matures throughout the story.  I love how she wants be a frivolous person who doesn’t do anything useful, but her natural inclination to care for others and do a job well slowly takes over.  The romance in this story is also done so very well, and I really appreciated Webster’s exploration into the difference between a relationship built on mutual trust and respect and one built on an exchange of desires (i.e. you be my nice society wife and I will provide you with money and nice clothes).  Considering when this book was published, it was a rather bold statement to make, that a woman could and even should look for more from a marriage than mere financial security, yet Webster also doesn’t go too far – she still treats marriage as a delightful partnership when done right.

This story is full of escapades and adventures and Sallie’s temper and I love every page – highly recommended.

April Minireviews – Part 1

Still catching up on a bajillion reviews!  Now that I’ve checked off February (ha!), it’s on to March!!

Coot Club by Arthur Ransome – 5* – finished March 5

//published 1934//

So it may not come as a surprise to learn that I am still in love with these books!  I’m reading this series very slowly, savoring each one.  I’ve also been purchasing them as I go in the Jonathan Cape editions, which come with amazing end maps that I love.  This story was about a gang of children on a sailing expedition.  I usually think of sailboats (when I think of them, which, if I’m honest, is rarely) in association with large, open bodies of water, but in this story the characters are sailing on a river!  There was loads of adventures and excitement, the most adorable characters, and just so many happy things.  I loved every single page, as always.

Wild Horse Running by Sam Savitt – 4* – finished March 5

//published 1973//

This is another children’s books, and a fairly short read with loads of gorgeous illustrations by the author, who is one of my favorites.  This is a story about a wild horse, and like the countryside the horse roams, the story is a bit sparse.  Although it was choppy at times, Savitt still pulls together a tale that tugs at your heartstrings.  Published at a time – tragically not very long ago! – when it was still legal to pursue wild horses by car and plane, run them to exhaustion, and then ship them off to make dog food, it’s obvious that part of the reason Savitt is writing is to shine a light on this horrific practice, but his writing never feels polemic.  If you like horse stories, than you’ll enjoy this one.  If you don’t, this one probably isn’t for you, as there isn’t a great deal of human interest aspect.

Mystery in the Pirate Oak by Helen Fuller Orton – 3* – finished March 6

//published 1949//

As you may be able to tell, I was on a run of children’s books at the beginning of the month, looking for some light, fast reads.  (Although Coot Club was particularly fast – it was 352 pages and still not long enough for me!)  This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I picked up at a booksale back in 1997!  Considering it’s barely 100 pages long, you think I would have bothered to read it sometime in the last 20+ years, but here we are.  This was overall a pretty average, if someone haphazard story, but what really blew my mind was the historical context – published in 1949, yet the characters’ grandma went west in a covered wagon.  It just never ceases to amaze me how actually close we are to that kind of history.

Watership Down by Richard Adams – 4.5* – finished March 6

//published 1972//

It had been years since I last read this classic, so I was rather excited that one of my group members chose it as her book to mail for #LMPBC (Litsy Markup Postal Book Club – four people in a group – each person picks a book to read and annotate – every month everyone mails whichever book they have to the next person until you get your own back).  Not only did I get the pleasure of reading it, I got to read notes and thoughts from the other members as well, which was super fun!

Anyway, if you enjoy animal stories, you have to read this one.  An epic adventure of a small group of wild rabbits who leave their home warren in search of someplace new.  Like truly great animal tales, the rabbits don’t behave unnaturally, other than their ability to converse with one another. (And who is to say they can’t do that in real life anyway?)  Adams even uses words that are part of the rabbits’ language that are “not translatable” into English, which somehow adds to the authenticity.  While this is an animal story, there is a lot of depth to the characters and world-building, and some thought-provoking lessons as well.

Fallen Into the Pit by Ellis Peters – 3.5* – finished March 8

//published 1951//

Ellis Peters wrote the Cadfael mysteries, which are some of my favorite books of all time.  Fallen Into the Pit is one of her much earlier books, and is a “modern” mystery (set just after WWII, which is when it was published) rather than a historical mystery like Cadfael.  While this was a perfectly enjoyable book, I didn’t love it, or particularly bond with any of the characters.  It was an interesting concept – a look at the way that WWII German POWs were being assimilated into Britain by sending them out to live in small villages.  I think part of the reason that I struggled with this book is because the German is definitely one of the bad guys, and was SUCH a jerk, so in a way it felt like the lesson of the book was that Yes, you SHOULD be paranoid about Germans living among us because they SUCK.  So the whole thing felt vaguely racist against Germans, if that makes sense.  Still, a decent if not stellar mystery, and with a likable enough protagonist that I reserved the next two books in the series from the library.  Of course, they are still there because the libraries have been shut down what feels like years, but someday!

The Last Waltz by Dorothy Mack – 3.5* – finished March 10

//published 1986//

Another paperback out of the box of random Regency romances, this one was set in Brussels rather than England, which was a fun switch.  With Napoleon closing in, the setting was more interesting than the actual story, which was incredibly bland.  Truly nothing unpredictable happened in this book, to the point that I can only vaguely remember it a month later!

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward – 3.5* – finished March 12

//published 2015//

This is the first in a series revolving around a group of (modern) detectives in Derbyshire.  While this was a decent read, it was a bit garbled since one of the characters was doing her own research about the killer at the same time as the police, and it was easy to get confused about which people knew what – something that always frustrates me a little.  There were also SO MANY illegitimate babies.  SO MANY.  Basically every time there was a plot twist, it was because someone had had an unexpected pregnancy, and that got old after a while, especially with the not-so-subtle “if only they could have gotten an abortion at the time all their problems would have been solved!” message.  That’s right, because killing your baby solves all your issues and definitely doesn’t create any others. *eye roll*  Anyway, it was a fine mystery, but nothing about it inspired me to pick up the next book in the series.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold – 3.5* – finished March 15

//published 2015//

Quite a while ago I read another of Arnold’s books, Kids of Appetitewhich I genuinely loved.  I’ve been meaning to read Mosquitoland ever since, so I decided to choose it for one of my #LMPBC picks this round.  While I did like it, it just didn’t have the magic of Kids of Appetite.  In this story, teenager Mim has been forced to move with her dad and stepmom from northern Ohio to Mississippi, leaving her mother behind.  Lately, even letters and phone calls from her mom have stopped coming in, and when Mim overhears part of a conversation between her dad and stepmom, implying that Mim’s mom is sick, she steals some cash from her stepmom, jumps on a Greyhound bus, and starts heading north.  The book is journey, with plenty of adventures throughout.

My two main issues with this book – the first was just that most of it was way over-the-top.  I never really believed that any of these things happened to Mim.  There were way too many coincidences and genuinely ridiculously crazy characters.  While some of the episodes were entertaining, most of them just had me rolling my eyes in disbelief.  The book is very episodic in nature, which added to the overall choppy feel.

My second big issue is just that Mim’s dad didn’t tell her what was really going on with her mom.  Mim is 16, not 6, and there wasn’t really any reason that she shouldn’t have been told the truth immediately.  Literally all of Mim’s problems could have been avoided if her dad had had ONE honest conversation with her – and there was literally no reason for him not to, which I found frustrating.

All in all, Mosquitoland was interesting as a one-time read, and I am definitely curious to get it back in a few months and see what notes my fellow #LMPBC readers have left, as it does have a lot of potential discussion points, but it wasn’t a book that I really bonded with.  I do love the cover, though!

March Minireviews – Part 2

I’m back, with another lightning round of minireviews!!

Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter – 3* – read February 22

//published 2019//

Hunter can be hit or miss for me, and this one was mostly a miss.  SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THIS REVIEW.  The main thing that frustrated me about this book was that every single guy in the story was a jerk except for the main romance.  I found it ridiculous that the main character finds out that not only was her dad a serial cheater, but her grandpa was, too.  I mean, seriously?  And what exactly did that add to the story??  The reason her sisters don’t get along is because back in college they both fell in love with the same guy – guy was engaged to Sister A, but then leaves her and marries Sister B, which pretty much puts him in the jerk category, too.  Then we think that at least Sister A eventually found love – but no, her guy is a white collar thief who’s in jail now.  Sister B’s marriage is on the rocks, too, although at least he shows up at the end and they seem to be getting back together.  I’m just really over the “all guys are cheating jerks trope.”

On the other hand, the story had its moments.  I liked the grandma and her sneaky way of bringing her granddaughters together, and I did like the build of the romance between the two main characters.  However, I got frustrated by the sisters, who both needed their heads smacked together on more than one occasion.  All in all, this was a so-so read for me, that I would have enjoyed more if there had more than one nice guy in the entire story.

How to Save Your Child From Ostrich Attacks, Accidental Time Travel, and Anything Else That May Happen on an Average Tuesday by James Breakwell – 3.5* – read February 24

//published 2019//

I follow Breakwell on a few different social media platforms and really appreciate his humor.  I highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter – I think that length is the absolutely best for his humor.  How to Save Your Child is his third “parenting” guide, and probably my least favorite of the three.  While there were some entertaining moments and quotes, the overall book got a little repetitive.  Still, if you’ve enjoyed his other books, you’ll like this one, too.  Below, my three favorite quotes:

If your child falls off the bed and hits their head, you might wonder if you need to take your kid to the emergency room.  You don’t.  If it were a real emergency, you would know, because you would be on your way to the emergency room instead of wondering if you could keep your kid home to save some money.  In a real crisis, your survival genes override your cheapness genes.

When Godzilla starts a rampage, calmly move your child away from the destruction zone and head out to the countryside.  Godzilla is mainly concerned with demolishing tall buildings.  That’s why there’s no footage of him pointlessly stomping around empty farm fields.  If you already live in a rural area, congratulations:  Nothing in your life is worth destroying.  Sit back and watch as those condescending city-dwellers get their comeuppance.  Not that it will bother them.  Like crime and traffic, radioactive monsters are just a part of city life.

The world of Harry Potter is filled with dangers.  I’m talking about the version described in the books and movies, not the version J.K. Rowling retroactively changes on a daily basis to confuse and annoy the internet.  By the time my book goes to print, Dumbledore and Grindelwald could have an entire secret family together and the main character of books one through seven might be a frozen treat from Dairy Queen.  You’re a Blizzard, Harry.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – 4* – read February 25

//published 2019//

Wow, I don’t even know how to review this book.  Overall, I liked it, although I sometimes felt like it was trying a little too hard to be clever, with all the layers upon layers and stories within stories.  I also don’t feel like I should have to read a 500-page book twice to “get” it, but because of the way that all the stories are interconnected and the way time flips around, I was definitely left feeling like I would have to read it a second time to really grasp what was going on.  While much of the world-building and description was fantastic, I weirdly never felt particularly connected to any of the characters, and really didn’t buy the romance between the two main characters, which was definitely quite insta-love-y.  There also was basically not an actual plot, which added the dream-like feel of the whole thing.  Overall, there were a lot of things about this book that I really loved, but it still felt a little flat.  Worth reading, and I’ll probably even read it again sometime, but definitely not the instant winner that The Night Circus was.

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie – 4.5* – read February 27

//published 1925//

Christie rarely lets me down, especially in her pre-1930’s books.  A group on Litsy is reading and discussing one Christie book per month, and this was February’s book.  I’ve read all of them before, so this was obviously a reread, but it had been quite a while and I couldn’t remember all the details of what was going to happen.  This is one of her spy thriller-ish books, so strong on humor with a dash of campiness, but still a fun romp.

For a more detailed review on this one, check out my review from when I read it back in 2016.

Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck – 3* – read February 29

//published 2011//

I read this series several years ago and remember finding them entertaining if a bit too YA (even though the main character is 18).  Since then, Houck has published another book in the series, so I thought I would give it another go.  However, I found this really difficult to get through this time.  Kelsey, who narrates the books, is just too annoying for words, and I had also forgotten how the love triangle really plays a very prominent part in the plot.  So even though I really do want to read a story with handsome princes who are cursed to be tigers, I just couldn’t handle wading through 2000 pages of Kelsey dithering about which perfect brother she loves the most.

*****

Okay!!  That brings us to the end of February’s reviews!  I think I’m going to write a February Rearview post – despite the fact that it’s basically April – and then start minireviewing March’s books in a continued effort to catch up!

87th Precinct // Books 26-30 // by Ed McBain

  • Sadie When She Died (1972) – 3.5*
  • Let’s Hear It For the Deaf Man (1973) – 4*
  • Hail to the Chief (1973) – 4*
  • Bread (1974) – 4*
  • Blood Relatives (1975) – 3.5*

Still working my way through the numerous 87th Precinct books.  As I say every time I do one of these reviews, batches of five are just about right.  Enough time to get into the groove of the characters, but not so much as to burn out on them, as they do have a lot of stylistic similarities.

Sadie When She Died was probably my least favorite out of the batch.  It just ended up being a really sad story, with a broken marriage at its center.  While the pacing was good, it was definitely a downer.  Although I have to admit that most of McBain’s books aren’t exactly upbeat.  He loves to go off on tangents, little side stories of life in the city, and those side stories are invariably depressing.

Let’s Hear It For the Deaf Man was my favorite out of the bunch, because the Deaf Man is such a fantastic villain.  I read somewhere that McBain said the reason he didn’t write more Deaf Man stories was because the Deaf Man is smarter than he is and he just couldn’t come up with clever enough plots haha  But this one was done really well.  Someday, after I’ve read all these, I may go back through and just read the handful of titles with the Deaf Man at the center.

In Hail to the Chief McBain takes a slightly different pattern.  Part of the story is the normal third person narration with the detectives slowly closing in on the solution.  Alternating chapters are first person from the police interview with the president of the gang at the heart of the mystery.  During these sections, the president explains his motives and methods, justifying it all by explaining how he wanted the “war” between the gangs to be over – so that meant that his orders to murder various people were actually altruistic in nature.  The pacing in this one was excellent, and I actually always enjoy McBain’s gang stories (although many reviewers seem to find those the most “purple prose”-ish).  As he always does, McBain thoughtfully explores why gangs exist, along with various aspects of racism and poverty.

While I really enjoyed Bread, it was more of a traditional mystery style than McBain’s books often are, and there were a lot more names to track than usual.  At the heart of almost every crime is a desire for money, and that concept is definitely on display here with lots of back-stabbing and betrayal among various groups.

Finally, Blood Relatives was a good mystery, but I’m always really weirded out by anything vaguely incestuous, and there was a relationship between cousins in this one that felt extra weird because one of the cousins had been orphaned and come to live with her aunt and uncle as a young girl, so the relationship felt more like it was between siblings, if that makes sense.  Still, the pacing was really good here.

As always, it’s the gang of detectives that run the 87th that make these books so enjoyable.  I’m more in love with Carella than ever, having a huge soft spot for Kling and Meyer, and Cotton Hawes has totally grown on me.  McBain has a genuine respect for law enforcement and the work they put in to bring about justice, and presents their struggles well.  While these aren’t the best books in the world, I’m finding them enjoyable in small batches.  It’s also fun to see how McBain’s writing is changing over time.  There are 55 books in the series, the first of which was published in 1956 and the last of which was published in 2005.  That’s a pretty big swath of time, with a great deal of social change both in society in general and within law enforcement, so it is rather fun to watch it evolving.

These aren’t exactly books I recommend in general, but if you like detective stories, McBain definitely helped set the tone of the genre of more realistic, gritty, Dragnet-y stories.