March Minireviews – Part 3

Hmm.  In June.  Checks out.

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.

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White – 3.5*

//published 2014//

One of those books that I really wanted to like more than I did.  It’s an intriguing concept/world and that cover is GORGEOUS, but it was just really light on some plot points.  It was only 275pgs long and should have been longer as some parts of the story felt more like an outline than the actual story.  The main character was also a little too “independent and sassy” at times – like girl, I get it, you’re independent, but that doesn’t mean you just do the opposite of what everyone thinks you should do??  This was a fun one as a one-off, but I just wanted more!

The Inn at Eagle Point by Sherryl Woods – 3.5*

//published 2009//

Woods is one of those romance authors whose books I see everywhere but somehow haven’t gotten around to reading yet.  I had a few of the books from her Chesapeake Shores series so thought I would start there.  This was a perfectly nice and regular romance and a good set up for the series, which follows the romances and adventures of a sibling group, one of my favorite ways to do a series.  I didn’t fall in love with this one, but it was good enough to get me to pick up the second book.

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

//published 2006//

The second book in the Percy Jackson series was perfectly enjoyable, even if it did follow the same basic outline as the first story.  There were a lot of fun capers here and it’s an engaging way to meet some of ye olde gods in a new context.  Percy himself is likable, especially as a middle grade hero, and the book does a decent job of being its own thing while still building towards a series finale.

Sensible Kate by Doris Gates – 3*

//published 1943//

I have another of Gates’s books on my shelves that I’ve read several times and weirdly enjoyed, The Cat and Mrs. Cary, so when I came across this one I thought I would give it a try.  However, this one just didn’t quite strike the right tone with me.  It was an odd little book about an orphan named Kate who has decided that since she can’t be beautiful, she can at least be sensible, a word that was used about 500 times too many in 189pgs.  This book had a lot of potential with some interesting side characters, especially the grumpy old lady next door who doesn’t like children, but Gates never really went anywhere with it.  She also ruthlessly killed off another side character for literally no reason – I kept expecting him to come back, not dead, but he never did!  I was genuinely upset by it.  Everything came together okay in the end, but this definitely wasn’t a book I’ll be rereading.

Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century by Dick and James Strawbridge – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I’m always on the lookout for new books to add to my nonfiction collection of practical literature, but while this was a decent one to check out of the library, it didn’t have enough new information for me to want to keep it forever.  This is the 2020 update to the original 2010 book by the same title. This father/son duo own and operate their own homestead in the UK, and this book is full of concepts and ideas for becoming (as the title implies) more self-sufficient. While there were a lot of things about this book that I really liked, the organization and direction felt muddled to me. For instance, the entire first section of the book just jumps directly into getting off the grid – generating your own electricity, dealing with your own waste water, running plumbing that works from collecting rain water, building a water wheel, building a windmill, etc. It felt strange to start the book with these huge, expensive, complicated, advanced projects. There also isn’t really any kind of progression – nothing like “the top five goals you should set“ or anything along those lines. It’s just page after page of somewhat haphazardly organized projects and ideas.

It’s definitely not a book I would recommend to a beginner, but if you have already been gardening and that sort of thing for a few years and are looking to “level up“, this book may be good for inspiration and ideas. It’s not detailed enough to be an actual handbook, but for instance, while if you wanted to build a windmill you’d need to do some more research, there is enough info here to help you decide if a windmill would even work for you at all.

I did feel like this book’s emphasis on self-sufficiency sometimes meant that they skipped middle steps. Instead of going from “buying all your food at the big-box grocery store“ to “using a small electric food dryer to try preserving some of your own“ they dismiss a small dryer like the one I have (~$40) as “too expensive“ and give you a two-page spread on building a solar dryer, the materials for which had to be at least $40 in and of themselves. There were a lot of things like that, where middle steps that can help you decide if this is even something you want to do (for instance, do you even LIKE smoked meat? That would be good to know before investing in building an entire smokehouse) were basically dismissed as not self-sufficient ENOUGH – straight to the big guns.  I liked some of the ideas, but honestly in some ways this book felt overwhelming and discouraging because of its lack of progression, and the tone sometimes came across as a little condescending if you weren’t willing to go ALL IN.  For most people, it’s not practical or possible to go straight off-the-grid completely, based on how much time it takes up in your day alone, but the Strawbridges didn’t really seem to see it that way.

March Minireviews – Part 1

March was kind of a slow reading month for me.  I read a few chunksters that took up some time, and also started a few buddy reads that didn’t finish until April, but hogged up March reading time haha  Anyway, here’s the first few books I read in March!!

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 White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham – 3.5*

//published 1927//

This is the first book I’ve read by Allingham, and while it didn’t become a new favorite, I did enjoy it.  This one was originally published as a serial story, and it felt really obvious as the chapters were very episodic and ended on dramatic cliffhangers.  The story also jumped around a bit with some odd dialogue.  The mystery itself was quite good, though, and I can see myself enjoying some of Allingham’s other works that were meant to be novels from the get-go.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – 5*

//published 1937//

Wow.  Steinbeck just… I can’t even describe his writing.  I kind of hate it.  It’s depressing.  Zero happy endings ever.  And yet – I just don’t know.  He captures emotions so well, can make you feel things you don’t want to feel.  This book is so short, yet I’ve thought about it more than most books I read that are four times as long.  Steinbeck writes absolutely brilliantly about everyday tragedies in a way that gets under your skin and keeps you chewing on it for a long time.

Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2005//

I really struggled with rating this one because I overall liked it a lot, but there was one scene that was unusually dark for a Roberts book, that disturbed me enough that I’ll never reread this one… so 4* for most of the book, but negative stars for including a bizarrely brutal rape scene, I guess???

The rest of the book was typical Roberts romantic thriller fare.  Reena’s family owns a restaurant and they are close-knit and happy.  When she was a little girl, someone set fire to their restaurant and the aftermath of that inspired Reena to become an arson inspector, which is a job that I think sounds so fascinating.  (The guy I work for was also an arson inspector for several years and the way he understands how fire originates and moves is just amazingly interesting.)  Roberts chose to let the reader know who was behind the destructive fires that haunt Reena’s life, which I honestly didn’t think worked very well for this story.  The fires are spread apart throughout Reena’s life and are purposefully set differently each time to make sure that she doesn’t realize they’re connected.  But because, as the reader, we KNOW they’re connected, it kind of makes Reena look dumb – even though from her perspective there really isn’t any way that she would realize they had anything to do with one another.  The parts of the story that were from the villain’s perspective were also the parts that I didn’t like at all – I’m not a huge fan of thrillers where we get to see how the bad guy is reveling in the pain and destruction he’s causing.  It’s not normally a part of Roberts’s repertoire, so I wasn’t exactly expecting it, and it also led to the really dark rape scene late in the book that was just… unnecessarily nasty.  In the end, while I did enjoy so much of this – especially Reena’s just delightful family (Roberts does siblings SO well), it’s definitely not one I’ll reread.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – 2.5*

//published 2019//

There are some books that I really should review when I first read them because they give me SO MANY FEELINGS at the time but then fade after, you know, two months have gone by.  Priory was a case of me judging a book by the cover but not actually looking at anything about it, and this totally backfired on me.  I mean, look at this cover!  It’s even more gorgeous in real life.  The dragon is sooo blue and glossy.  And honestly, I was drawn to the compete HEFT of this one  – sitting at 806 pages, plus glossaries and the like, I just really was physically drawn to how beautiful this book was.  But.  In the end, it just did not work for me, and even though I struggled through all 806 of those pages to reach the end, I’m not sure it was worth it.  (Please note: There are LOADS of 5* reviews for this one and it has over a 4* average on GR so I am DEFINITELY in the minority on this one… but that happens sometimes!)

The biggest problem was that I didn’t like a SINGLE character.  All of them were completely self-absorbed.  There are multiple strands in this book with several main characters (literally all of whom are gay, as an aside, which felt… unlikely) and all of them are completely motivated by what will be best for them, personally.  Even the characters who LOOK like they’re doing something for “the greater good” are actually doing it because that will make their personal life significantly better – i.e., Ead is supposedly concerned about the fact that the whole world is going to end up going to war and consequently runs away… but I’m not remotely convinced that she would have cared if she wasn’t trying to get back to her lover.  Another main character, Niclays, was just plain dreadful, completely motivated by greed and fear.  His lover is dead, so we only hear about him in the past tense, but their so-called love story was 100% unbelievable to me on every level, and my eyes almost rolled out of my head when Niclays’s lover’s wife tells him how “glad” she was that her husband had someone he could “truly cherish”… riiiiiiiiight.  Even the dragons were completely self-absorbed!  (Speaking of which – there were not NEARLY enough dragons!)

Despite this book being almost three inches thick, parts of the world-building still felt incredibly underdeveloped, like literally the entire thing with the queens having a daughter made almost no sense – out of centuries, NONE of them have had more than one child…????  And I couldn’t stand Sabran, supposedly this amazingly strong woman/heir to the queendom, who literally spends the entire book walking around wringing her hands and whining about the fact that she’ll have to have a baby someday.

At its heart, this book didn’t feel pro-woman as much as it felt anti-mother.  All the mothers are bad ones, none of them want to be mothers, and everyone who could be a mother in future views that possibility with literal revulsion.  Shannon claims that this saga is a great feminist work, but all I saw were the same tired lines that women are too weak to be both a mother and a fulfilled individual – you have to pick.  That’s not empowering, it’s insulting.  Telling me that motherhood ruins the lives of women just doesn’t seem like a positive message, but it was one of the big takeaways from this story.  She creates this world where women are rulers and even strong warriors, yet tries to convince the readers that women are still only viewed by the culture as “breeding stock” – which literally makes no sense.  Sabran is literally obsessed with the idea that she will have to bear a child, to the point that I wanted to smack her in the head with this brick of a book and tell her to suck it up and move on with her life.  Maybe do something worthwhile between now and having a baby instead of doing nothing except whining about how you hypothetically need to have a baby someday???  I was just SO over every character in this book acting like having a baby is the quickest way to destroy your life – ugh.

There were many things I did enjoy while reading this one – Shannon does weave a very complicated story, pulling together myths and legends from multiple in-world cultures and turns them into a (mostly) cohesive story. Much of it was incredibly well-written and I can see why so many people love this book. But I found basically every character to be unrelatable and, or the most part, unlikable, which meant that in the end I was somewhat relieved to finally finish this one.

February 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.

A Deal With the Elf King by Elisa Kova – 4*

//published 2020//

Sometimes I think I enjoy a book more when I have kind of low expectations going in lol  This one was for the traveling book club, which can be hit or miss reads for me, but I actually ended up really enjoying this one (although it did get a bit too sexy for my tastes towards the end).  The world-building was done really well, and when the main character goes to the magical land, she asks questions and people actually answer them, almost like it’s important for her to have useful information so she can accomplish the things they need her to do.  (I’m looking at you For the Wolf and From Blood & Ash.)  I think part of the reason this book worked for me was that it wasn’t trying too hard to be clever.  It was just a fun, enjoyable story with a dash of magic, instead of trying to create this involved and complicated and mysterious system that no one ever really explains.  There’s a second book out in this series, and it is on my ereader, waiting for me to get to it!

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood – 4*

//published 2021//

I struggled a little with rating this one.  There was SO much that I really enjoyed.  I absolutely loved the two main characters together.  There was so much fun banter and snark and several ridiculous situations that felt at least moderately plausible.  I actually liked Olive a lot, and even though she works in STEM, Hazelwood for the most part managed to not get all preachy about how men suck, which was nice.  I realized while I was reading this that some of my book issues are actually culture issues with the way our current society approaches sex.  I just really hate that dating = sex in modern vernacular.  Keeping in mind that this is a fake relationship book, so Olive and Adam aren’t actually dating, but Olive’s friends think they are – at one point, pretty early in the “relationship” her friends say something along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s nice that you have a boyfriend, but it’s just SO GOOD that you’re finally get LAID” as though Olive’s lack of sex in her life was this horrific situation that no one would have to suffer.  Throughout, even at the beginning when Olive and Adam have only (supposedly) been dating for a week or two, Olive feels obliged to kiss/have physical contact with Adam in order to “sell” the relationship – I just don’t feel like you should have to full-body kiss someone after you’ve been dating them for a couple of days because otherwise no one will believe you’ve really been on a few dates???  The general attitude towards sex has, in general, greatly reduced my enjoyment of contemporary romances, because more and more it’s just literally portrayed as an obligatory part of, if not a first date, definitely a second, and I honestly think that’s kind of gross.

BUT ANYWAY I digress.  The actual story had a lot of fun points, and people who aren’t as old-fashioned as I am have given this book many rave reviews because the characters really are great fun.  All in all, I did enjoy this one, but I already have chucked it in the giveaway box because I won’t be reading it again.

Star Sand by Roger Pulvers – 2*

//published 2015//

This was an odd book. I rolled with it in Part 1 because it’s translated from Japanese, so some of the odd sentence structuring and odd dialogue could be due to translation. The premise was interesting – a small Japanese island, a girl helping two AWOL soldiers – one Japanese and one American. The girl is somewhat obsessed with collecting star sand from the beach – which I had to look up because no one was actually telling me what star sand is. Fast forward to 2011. A college-aged girl, whose POV reads like a hyperactive 11-year-old, learns about the diary of the Japanese girl and the fact that three skeletons were found in the cave where the soldiers were hiding. Blah blah blah eventually she meets someone who tells her what “really“ happened in the cave and it just – didn’t make sense?? What didn’t make sense is someone going back and rearranging bodies after people were dead??  I was just so confused. Why go back a decade or more after the war, dig up the bodies, and move them around?! Also, I could be wrong here (I’m not known for being a sciency person), but if a body has disintegrated to the point that it’s just a skeleton, doesn’t it like… not stick together any more? Like if you want to rearrange a skeleton so the person is sitting instead of laying in a grave, wouldn’t you have to move each bone individually and put them back together in the new position!?! Literally nothing in the final section of this book made sense, and combined with the modern narrator, supposedly in her early 20s, whining about her brother putting games on her cell phone and saying things like “I just HATE my brother he’s SO AWFUL!!!!!!!!“ Her voice was NOT remotely believable.  The motivations of the Japanese girl’s actions were incomprehensible to me, and it made the whole story fall apart.  Interesting premise that went no where.

Family for Beginners by Sarah Morgan – 4*

//published 2020//

Sarah Morgan is turning into one of my favorite authors.  I just love the way that she writes relationships, and while there is always some romance in her stories, they are usually more about the connections between parents, spouses, children, and siblings, and Family for Beginners was no exception.  Flora is very happy with her life, but she’s an orphan with no siblings, and now that she’s older and most of her friends are married and starting families of their own, she’s lonely.  When she meets Jack, she’s immediately drawn to him.  But Jack has been widowed less than a year and has two children home.  Izzy, a teenager, is completely devastated that her dad has a girlfriend.  This all sounds like it should be ridiculously melodramatic, but somehow Morgan just makes it feel like a real story.  I genuinely felt so bad for Izzy, who is trying her best to keep her family together.  Flora was incredibly likable without being annoying, and even though Jack could be dense at times, I liked him as well and really did feel like he is trying to do the best he can for his family.

The deceased wife’s name was Becca, which I thought was an interesting choice as there were echoes of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in this story – Flora hears a lot about how perfect and amazing Becca was and feels intimidated by the legacy Becca has left behind.  There was a bit of drama concerning Becca’s past that felt rather drawn out, but everything was resolved in a way I found very satisfactory.  Another win for Sarah Morgan, who is turning into an auto-buy author for me.

The Golden Road by L.M. Montgomery – 3.5*

//published 1913//

The sequel to The Story Girl is not as enjoyable of a read for me, as it tends to be a bit more bittersweet as the cousins are getting older and starting to look towards the future.  However, there are still some fun stories and adventures here.  This time around what really struck me is that Felicity, who is a bit bossy/snobby in The Story Girl is a LOT bossy/snobby in The Golden Road – there were multiple times where she was basically like “that’s the right thing to do, but it would make me look bad so I’m not doing it” and it really annoyed me.  I actually would have loved it if Montgomery had written one more book about this crew, as she left them at a very awkward age.  I would loved a story where they’ve all grown up and some of them have left the family farm – a book of letters and a reunion would have been great fun, and would have given some of these characters an opportunity to be more mature and likable than they are here.  A pleasant read, but not my favorite of Montgomery’s works.

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.

Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron – 3*

//published 2009//

As part of my goal to get some old unread Kindle books cleaned off my ereader, I breezed through this one in February.  It had a solid start, with a pregnant woman disappearing at a yard sale, placing the couple who hosted said yard sale as the prime suspects in her disappearance/possible murder.  The set up was good, but I 100% knew everything about this book by about 25% and there was not a single twist/event that surprised me after that.  I’m not sure if I’ve read too many thrillers, or if this one really was that uninventive.

An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott – 5*

//published 1870//

This is one of my all-time favorite books, one that I grew up with and have read over and over.  Polly has always been one of my role models for her kindness, industry, modesty, and gratitude.  Rereading this is like being wrapped up in a big soft blanket.  I love the way that Alcott delivers her life lessons so gently throughout this story.

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor by Shaenon Garrity & Christopher Baldwin – 4*

//published 2021//

When the Litsy group was reading Wuthering Heights, someone recommended this graphic novel so I checked it out of the library.  A girl loves gothic romances, so when she finds herself swept into one, she isn’t as upset as one might fear.  This book was a lot silly but a great deal of fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as long a I didn’t think about it too hard.  The artwork was also great fun.

From Blood & Ash by Jennifer Armentrout – 2.5*

//published 2020//

This series has been on my peripheral for quite some time – Armentrout in general always crops up when I’m perusing fantasy book recommendations.  This was on my list of books to tackle this year since I’m reading some longer books, but in the end I felt really meh towards it.  At the time, I couldn’t get the second book from the library.  That one just came in last week and I realized that I don’t actually care enough to keep reading the series so.  From Blood & Ash is just soooo slow, plus it’s way into the whole “mysterious fantasy world” bit where the reader isn’t allowed to know critical things about the world/magic, which drives me CRAZY.  I feel like, within the first few chapters, I should know as much about what is going on in this world as the main character does.  I don’t mind discovering things AS the main character learns them, but this whole thing where I’m the only person who doesn’t know what’s happening is just aggravating as all get out.

This book went on and on with a main character I only felt lukewarm about anyway.  She was so whiny and ungrateful and annoying about everything, and it felt like Armentrout couldn’t decide whether or not Poppy should actually believe in the country’s religion or not.  If Poppy DOES believe in it, then it makes all of her choices even more self-absorbed and stupid.  If she doesn’t – then why is she doing any of this??  There was a lot more sex than I was expecting in this one as well, and at times where it made literally no sense for it to happen, so that just felt weird and awkward.  Then, the way the book ends, it basically turns this entire 613 pages into one long introduction.  In the end – way too long, in need of a hard edit, and maybe make Poppy’s motivations be something besides “is me getting to have sex more important than literally saving the entire world.”

I will say that this book is very popular (over 4* average rating on GR) so I’m in the minority here… but this book did nothing for me, and every time I think about it, I just get annoyed that I spent that much time wading through it.

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley – 4*

//published 1997//

McKinley is one of those weird authors who has some books that I genuinely LOVE (like Spindle’s End, which I’ve read sooo many times) and other books that just do nothing for me.  I remembered reading Rose Daughter, a Beauty & the Beast retelling, sometime in the past, but couldn’t remember any details.  It was a fine version that I enjoyed, but I didn’t feel like I needed to buy it, and it will probably be another ten or fifteen years before I read it again.

February 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.

Veg in One Bed by Huw Richards – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was a solid vegetable gardening book but with one big weakness – it wasn’t clear which zone Richards is planting in.  Basically, the entire book is set up with specific instructions on what to do each week of the year in order to have a raised 10×4 vegetable bed in constant production.  Richards says all you need is that one bed and also a sunny windowsill for starting seeds.  His instructions are clear and he also does a nice job of providing you with substitutes in case one of the veggies he’s planting aren’t to your taste.  He glosses over what I call the “hungry” veggies – tomatoes and peppers – by saying they do best in their own, separate containers (like a 5-gallon bucket) and focuses on lettuces, peas, beans, and that sort of thing.  It’s very well organized and tells you what to do on what specific day… except it’s completely unclear as to what region this plan is for.  Where I live in Ohio is completely different weather/frost dates than South Carolina or Minnesota, but there isn’t any guidance as to where Richards assumes you live in order to implement his date-specific plan.  The book was originally published in the UK, so maybe just everyone in the UK has the same frost dates??  Some suggestions for altering some of the dates to accommodate different growing regions would have been extremely helpful, as the rest of the information is quite useful.

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten – 3.5*

//published 2021//

This was another traveling book club book, and while I overall did enjoy it, the world-building was extremely uneven, which made it hard for me to really get into the story.  The story centers on two sisters, Neve and Red, princesses in a small kingdom backed up against an (evil) enchanted forest.  Throughout the centuries, any time a second daughter has been born to the royal family, said second daughter is destined to be sacrificed to the Wolf who lives in the forest.  This appeasement keeps the Wolf from unleashing evil monsters out of the forest… or so everyone has always been taught.  It will come as no surprise to the reader to discover that the Wolf is actually a handsome man, bound to the forest against his will and doing his best to keep things under control.

I actually really liked the characters in this one and thought the concept was interesting – a sort of Red Riding Hood/Beauty and the Beast mashup – but the world building was SO uneven and mysterious – Whitten dribbles out tiny bits of information and I spent way too long being confused about how the magical system worked, what the woods were all about, why the Wolf was even there, etc. Because the Wolf actually needs Red to work with him, it seems like it would be pretty freaking natural for him to actually EXPLAIN some things when she arrives… but no one does.  Instead, we just spend more time wandering around with everyone being mysterious and no one actually telling anyone about anything that’s going on and it was SO annoying, because it felt more like a device than the way things would actually have happened.  Still, I’ll probably check out the second book when it’s released this year because now that I know more about what’s going on, I think I’ll enjoy the writing more.

First Date by Krista McGee – 3*

//published 2011//

This one was a mixed bag.  Part of it was that I didn’t really realize it was supposed to be a riff on the (Biblical) story of Esther until about halfway through the book – in that context, it actually made more sense, because some of the random little things flowed better when I thought about them within the Esther framework.  Basically, Addy, along with a pile of other teenage girls, is chosen to be on a reality show which, over several episodes, will allow the president’s handsome teenage son to pick out his date for prom (or maybe homecoming, whatever).  Addy is an orphan whose parents were killed when they were serving as missionaries.  Now she attends a small Christian school and lives with her uncle.  Her principal and her uncle both encourage her to participate in the show, even though she thinks it sounds dumb, because it could be a good opportunity for her to share her faith.  Throughout the story, the other girls are bratty, the president’s son is super nice, and Addy was… well, Addy was really my problem with this book.  She’s supposed to be the good Christian example, but she was really just kind of selfish and self-centered.  She’s constantly worried about what other people think, so instead of sharing her faith, she’s always hiding it.  That entire aspect of the story was really uneven and made it difficult for me to root for her.  She’s just such a cardboard Good Girl (TM) who doesn’t care about boring, worldly things like makeup or clothes or dating – she cares about getting good grades and going to college!  I found the dichotomy between Good Girl Addy and Bad Girl Everyone Else to be borderline offensive in its shallowness – girls who like to do their hair are automatically little bitches, apparently, and I didn’t think that was a good message.  It wasn’t a terrible book, but my inability to like Addy made it a pretty blah read.

Made in Manhattan by Lauren Layne – 3.5*

//published 2022//

I’m always excited to pick up a new Lauren Layne book, and while I enjoyed this one, it wasn’t my favorite of her books.  The antagonistic attitude between the two main characters went on a little too long, and this book could have REALLY benefitted from hearing something from the male MC’s perspective.  Having just Violet’s thoughts/opinions made it hard to get behind the sudden (?) change of heart when the two eventually got together.  There was some fun banter and entertaining side characters, but this wasn’t one I particularly see myself revisiting.

Hadley Beckett’s Next Dish by Bethany Turner – 3.5*

//published 2020//

It’s funny, as I’m writing these reviews I realized that I read three books in a row where someone was a jerk for a little too long to make the story work.  Same thing happened in this one – Max is a complete dick and stays that way for far too long into the story.  By the time he finally becomes a “better” person, I legit didn’t trust him because he kept acting like he was going to change and then not.  Hadley was a little too goody-goody and I never felt like she really acknowledged the fact that she wasn’t actually perfect.  While there were some fun moments and I liked the concept, once again I just couldn’t get behind these characters enough to really enjoy the story.

 

January Minireviews – Part 2

Happy March, everyone!!! This week things are starting to smell like spring and I’m so excited!!!  In the meantime, 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.

Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi – 3*

//published 1883//

Do you ever read a book that just leaves you feeling !??!?!  That book was Pinocchio.  I never thought I’d say this, but Disney actually made this story more cohesive and actually somewhat make sense compared to the original!  Part of my problem with this one is that the sense of time was all wrong.  It seems like Pinocchio is only with his carpenter-father for like, a day, yet constantly references things his father taught him.  There were a lot of situations where I was confused about how long something had been going on.  It wasn’t a bad book, exactly, just choppy and confusing.  I did appreciate that Pinocchio’s attempts to be a “good boy” did cycle a lot – he would learn a lesson, be good for a while, and then slip-slide back into something he knew he shouldn’t be doing.  Been there, Pinocchio.  This was an interesting read, but did also make me wonder, once again, about why certain stories become classics while others fade away.

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1937//

This one was a reread for me (as most Christies are these days) and I really enjoyed it.  Poirot receives a letter from an elderly woman who, in a roundabout way, seems to be fearing for her life.  However, the letter is dated nearly two months earlier – and Poirot finds out that the woman is dead.  Seized with a sudden feeling that because this woman wrote to him, she’s technically his client and he owes it to her to investigate her (supposedly completely unsuspicious) death, Poirot and Hastings head off to the countryside to chat up the family.  As always, there are tons of red herrings and potential murderers, plus the usual everyday people holding back irrelevant information that makes them look bad.  Not my all-time favorite, but a very solid entry.

The Fire by Katherine Neville – 3.5*

//published 2008//

This follow-up to The Eight, published twenty years later, was not as strong as the original story.  Following the daughter of The Eight’s main character, there is a lot of running around but it just felt like this book’s main character, Xie, wasn’t really the main character.  Things happened TO her the entire time, but it never felt like she was in charge of what was going on.  Her best friend, Key, felt way more like the MC and I think the whole book would have been more interesting (and made more sense) if either Key was the MC, or Xie had some of the circumstances in her life that Key did, if that makes sense.  There was also this thing where I literally lost count of how many times characters realize that the room/conversation is bugged, to the point that I was confused about why they even attempted to have a conversation inside of any building or within 20 yards of any electrical device ever.  It was kind of ridiculous.  In The Eight the second story-strand set during the French Revolution enhanced and explained a great deal of what was going on in the modern-day story.  But in The Fire the historical part never really made sense to me and just felt like filler.  All in all, while there were some good elements here – and I really liked the ending – The Fire just didn’t jive like The Eight did.

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour – 3.5*

//published 2011//

In this nonfiction book published by favorite homesteading publishers, Storey Publishing, Jabbour explores ways to extend the gardening season beyond the frost dates.  A resident of Nova Scotia, Jabbour has added cold frames and a non-heated greenhouse to her personal garden, and also examines methods like cloches, row covers, etc. as ways to protect crops from the cold and lengthen the growing season.  There’s a lot of good information here, but no matter how you cut it, the main plants that are going to grow in the cold, even in cold frames, are plants like lettuce, spinach, carrots, etc., so in the end it seemed like a lot of work for not a lot of payback.  However, Jabbour also has a really great vegetable index in the back with notes on different varieties, varieties of various veggies that are more cold-tolerant, and planting/harvesting notes.  This comprises probably half the book and has some really great information.  All in all, not my favorite gardening book, but it is one that I’ve referenced a few times, and I’m still thinking about putting in a cold frame for some early season plants.

January Minireviews – Part 1

Oh, I’m back with more minireviews since I apparently have no idea how to blog in a timely manner any more.

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.

Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2013//

This one was a borderline between straight romance and romantic suspense.  When in the midst of a bitter divorce, Eli’s soon-to-be-ex-wife is murdered, Eli becomes the prime suspect. A year later, the case against him has been dropped, but the actual murderer’s identity is unknown, meaning a cloud of guilt still follows Eli everywhere. He comes to stay in the old family home on Whiskey Beach, where he meets Abra, a jill-of-all-trades who should have really annoyed me but actually didn’t. Her free-spirit “be yourself“ attitude somehow actually came off as genuine so I ended up really liking her. Various other things happen at the old homeplace, including another murder, leaving Eli and Abra wondering how it’s all connected. This wasn’t on-the-edge-of-your-seat-are-they-all-going-to-die tension, but it did keep the story up-pace. This wasn’t my favorite Roberts ever, but it’s one I can see myself rereading at some point.  I actually really liked Eli’s character development, and somehow Abra was actually likable and sincere instead of being obnoxious.

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George – 3.5*

//published 2007//

Every year this one Litsy user sets up a “book list swap” where you sign up and include your top 10-20 books of the year, and she actually takes time to really match you with someone else with similar tastes.  Then you and your match swap best-of lists and try to read some of the other person’s books.  Theoretically you’re supposed to read them all in January, but I prefer to spread mine out, one per month, until I run out lol  Dragon Slippers was on my match’s list, so even though I actually had read this one before, I decided to give it a reread.  Overall, I enjoyed it, but not enough to bother rereading the whole series.  I don’t know why this book doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot for me, despite having a lot of the components I usually enjoy.  You can read my original review of the entire trilogy here.

20 Hrs., 40 Min by Amelia Earhart – 4*

//published 1928//

This book is Earhart’s personal account of her journey across the Atlantic by plane – she was the first woman to fly across the ocean, although she was a passenger and not one of the pilots.  Still, even being a passenger took some guts at this time, as only a few people had made the journey at all.  A lot of the book consists of excerpts from the journal she kept on the way.  At less than 200 pages, Earhart’s account was much more lighthearted and less technical than Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of St. Louis (which I read several years ago and never reviewed!  Why didn’t I review it??  I still don’t know!)

Towards the end of the book, Earhart mentions that it has only been 7 weeks since the flight itself, so this was written and published with a couple months of the historic flight. Earhart is modest and depreciating, even in the chapters where she is talking about her personal pilot experience. She’s very open about the fact that she, personally, did nothing to facilitate the journey of The Friendship other than go along for the ride, but it was still so interesting to read about. Because she was writing with the presumption that her readers already knew a lot of the background for the flight (since it had literally just happened), there were times that I felt a little lost, but it was still an enjoyable read. I also loved hearing her thoughts on what direction the aviation industry should/would take, and different ways she believed people (and women) should be involved. Almost a century after this flight, it’s amazing to see how much of what she suggested did come to pass.

This isn’t exactly a book I finished and felt like everyone should rush out and read, but it was an easy read with a likable and intelligent narrator, and a worthwhile piece of history to explore, if nothing else than for a glimpse of the aviation industry in its infancy.

The Eight by Katherine Neville – 4*

/published 1988//

Another book that’s been on my TBR for quite some time, but I’ve put it off for quite a while because it’s about 600pgs long.  While I did enjoy it overall, this was one of those books that made me feel a little stupid while I was reading.  It’s full of chess, math, music, and history, and sometimes I felt like my base knowledge on those topics wasn’t enough to get the full impact of what was going on.  This book also has dual timelines, something that doesn’t always work for me, but I was fully invested in both the French Revolution timeline and the present-day one.  One funny thing was that this book is a lot older than I thought it was – published in 1988, so its setting of the 1970s was a bit of a different vibe that I get from a lot of books (and I actually had to look up info about the gas crisis).  This was a long one and quite dense, so it took me a while to read, but it was overall a worthwhile endeavor.

The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel – 3*

//published 2020//

This romance, which I read for the traveling book club, was a bit of a struggle for me, mainly because I found the main character, Liya, to be just incredibly unlikable.  I get that she had suffered a lot and had some trauma/abusive situations she was overcoming, but she was still 100% bitch 100% of the time and it really got old for me.  I don’t feel like having bad things happen to you means you get to treat everyone around you like garbage, especially since those people literally have nothing to do with the bad things.  It also felt like every character in the story hated the concept of marriage and spent a LOT of time explaining why marriage and being married is such a horrible idea.  This was emphasized by the ending, where the main characters agree to move in together, rather than actually make a legitimate commitment to each other (the moving in wasn’t like “we’re doing this for life” but like “we’re doing this because it will be much easier to get untangled if it doesn’t work out” vibe), which I hate.  As usual, I’m doing a lot of whining – but there were some really fun moments in this one as well, and several of the background characters were great fun.  It was an okay read for me, but I’m not particularly interested in finding more books by this author.

The Waterfire Saga // by Jennifer Donnelly

I was doing so well about posting there for a hot minute!  I guess it’s time to delve into some reads from January…

  • Deep Blue (2014)
  • Rogue Wave (2015)
  • Dark Tide (2015)
  • Sea Spell (2016)

I’m not sure when or how this series got added to my TBR, especially since mermaids aren’t usually my thing.  However, I really got drawn into Donnelly’s world and adventures centered around the heiress to a mermaid throne, Serafina.  I thought that Donnelly did a great job of keeping me aware that we were underwater without emphasizing it too much, although there were times that I was confused about how things really worked in a world where everyone is floating all the time (like how does one sit on a chair??), and also where things are constantly underwater – but I’ll also admit that the magic part of the world felt pretty seamless to the point that if something didn’t make 100% sense to me, I was willing to think, “Well, it’s probably magic!” and move on without getting too distracted.

Although Serafina is the main character, a prophecy draws together several other mermaids from different kingdoms.  This was a point where things could have gotten very confusing, but Donnelly did a great job of pacing her introduction of new characters.  While I wished some of them could have been fleshed out more, I got enough to make me actually care about each of them and what was going on with them.

The grand finale came together fairly well.  There were a couple of different things going on and I wasn’t sure if they were all going to tie together, but I felt pretty satisfied on the whole.

At the end of the day, a solid 4* series.  I don’t feel like I need to buy these and read them time and again, but they were really well done and perfect for me at the beginning of January when I was feeling a little overloaded on Christmas romances!!  I can also see myself checking out some of Donnelly’s other books, although I’m not sure where to start – let me know if you have a favorite.

December Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, so I honestly thought about not reviewing the books I read in December, because, if I’m honest, these reviews are going to start to sound a little same-y.  I read a LOT of Christmas fluff last month!!!  But just for the sake of having a record of what I read, I think I’m going to go ahead and plunge in and hope there were enough random ones to be interesting!

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 Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan – 4*

//published 2021//

I started strong with a Sarah Morgan book – I’ve really enjoyed all of her books that I’ve read so far, mainly because her married couples stay married and actually work through their problems like adults instead of storming off and having an affair with the attitude of a petulant child.  This book, like her others that I have read, also has a strong focus on the importance of friendship, family, and forgiveness – basically, even though these are kind of romance, they really just are about relationships in general and how we need to work to keep them strong.  With a journey to Lapland and an actual reindeer-sleigh ride, this one also checked off a lot of prompts for my million Christmas bingo cards!!

Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie – 4*

This was a perfectly pleasant collection of Christie shorts, although the “midwinter” aspect was definitely a stretch for some of them.  And even though I absolutely love these special editions, I really do wish they would just focus on reprinting her full-length novels instead of randomly cobbling together shorts.  Still, reading these was like eating potato chips – they were so quick and fun that I just kept reading one more.

The Little Christmas Shop on Nutcracker Lane by Jaimie Admans – 4*

//published 2020//

If you enjoy absolutely saccharine Christmas stories with extremely long titles, you should definitely check out Admans.  I read Snowflakes at the Little Christmas Tree Farm last year and actually really enjoyed it, so I tried Nutcracker Lane this time around.  If you’re looking for in-depth character development, surprising plot twists, or a new take on the holiday season, this is NOT the book for you. But if you’re looking for some relaxing fluff and complete predictability, you’ll love this one.  My only real complaint was that it was so incredibly, painfully obvious who James actually was that it felt ridiculous that the MC couldn’t realize it.  Still, a perfectly enjoyable read with likable characters.

Christmas Angels by Nancy Naigle – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This one was excellent for the first 2/3 of the story, but then it went a bit off the rails.  The MC purchases a run-down inn that used to belong to her grandparents up in the mountains of North Carolina.  She moves there and begins renovations with the help of a hunky contractor who happens to be in town.  She has nothing but happy memories of spending time there as a child and is so excited about the entire project even though it’s going to be a lot of time and money.  All of this was great, but then she falls and injures her ankle and all of a sudden decides this is a “sign” that she’s supposed to give up on the entire project???  It felt completely out of left field that Liz would suddenly do a complete 180 and literally be ready to just sell the inn and move back to the coast.  This would have been a super fun story if it had just focused on the inn renovations and rediscovering all her grandparents’ Christmas traditions and decorations + romance with the hunky contractor, but the extra drama felt really shoehorned in, like the author was just trying to fill some pages.  I did enjoy it, but could have done without the weird section of Liz suddenly being a completely different character.

Forest of Souls by Lori Lee – 4*

//published 2020//

This was a completely not-Christmas book, as it was my December book for the traveling book club.  It really reminded me a lot of Poison Study when I was reading it, except a bit more violent and 100% devoid of any romance.  There was some great world-building, but seriously who includes an EIGHT-PAGE glossary but NO MAP?!?!?!  I REALLY needed a map!  The characters and plot were interesting, though, and I was really engaged in this one.  It’s the first of a trilogy that is set to wrap up this summer, so I may read all three of them later this year.

A Princess for Christmas by Jenny Holiday – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I had a hard time rating this one.  The story itself was perfectly fine with likable characters, but when I pick up a book that looks like a cherry little Christmas tale, I’m not mentally prepared to be bombarded with f-bombs on every page.  It felt like Holiday was trying wayyyyy to hard to make Leo the tough guy from the Bronx.  I get it, he’s tough.  So tough that he swears every-other word.  My gosh.  I do enjoy a good royalty read, so this one was fun that way, but the overall crudity meant I didn’t bother reading the sequel.

November Minireviews – Part 2

Orchard life is wrapping up fast.  I always think that that means I’m going to have more spare time… but we’ll see if that’s actually true!!!

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.

Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey – 4*

//published 2019//

This one has been on my TBR for so long that the sequel has already been published as well haha  I really enjoyed this one overall, although I have to admit that a large part of that was because it is set so close to home and Winfrey hit so many fantastic Columbus/German Village/Ohio references.  The Columbus skyline is even on the cover!!  Our own amazing bookstore, The Book Loft, is featured, which was super fun.  The story itself was fine.  I really liked the male MC, Drew, but the female protagonist, Annie, did get on my nerves just because she kept purposefully misunderstanding/taking offense at literally everything Drew said.  Basically he says one teasing thing to her when they first meet, she immediately decides to take it offensively, and then does nothing but complain about him and assume the worst about him (while complaining that HE assumes the worst about everyone else!) despite the fact that he’s actually being perfectly lovely to her and everyone else around him??  It got old fast.  But overall, the humor, the fun side characters, the PG13 rating, and (of course) the fun setting meant that I really enjoyed this one.

Not Like the Movies by Kerry Winfrey – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I didn’t like the sequel quite as well, mainly because while I really enjoyed Chloe as the side character, she got on my nerves when she moved to the MC position.  She spends about 50% of her time talking about how marriage is not for her and it’s a terrible idea and ew gross why would anyone do that and marriage is for losers and she would rather DIE than get married on and on and on and ON to the point that it started to feel offensive.  Another huge chunk of internal dialogue is devoted to the fact that she’s bisexual which apparently means you spend all of your time sexually evaluating literally every person you see; she was constantly thinking things like “I couldn’t decide if I would rather hang out with her or kiss her” or “he’s okay as a friend but I didn’t find him as attractive as his sister”, like she was always objectifying pretty much everyone she met and it really got on my nerves.  It got to the point where it felt like Winfrey wanted to write a romance that would appeal to her straight readers, but still score points for being “diverse” but that meant she had to constantly remind everyone that even though Chloe’s main crush is a dude, she would still be into that guy even if he was a girl!  She likes girls!  Like sexually likes girls!  Enough that she’s always looking at them and thinking about whether or not she would like to sleep with them!  As long as she doesn’t have to marry them, because getting married is for losers!!  So parts of this were still fun and engaging, and the actual plot line was good, but Chloe herself was SO annoying that it really brought down my overall enjoyment of the book.

Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – 4*

//published 2021//

So it’s funny because I’ve had the first book in this series, Aurora Rising, on my TBR for so long that it wasn’t even part of a series when I added it, yet I managed to actually read it only two months before the final book appeared!  Quite fortuitous.  I really enjoyed this grand finale, and there was a fabulous little summary that was just enough to get me back in the groove at the beginning of the book, but easy to skip/skim if you already remembered what was going on.  This one definitely flirted with the overly-complicated line, but I think it managed to not quite cross, despite the time loops making some of the story feel repetitive.  I definitely plan to reread this series in the future, and I’m interested to see if I like this one better when I read it closer to its predecessors.

You Lucky Dog by Julia London – 3*

//published 2020//

I was attracted to this one because of its cute cover and fun premise – Carly and Max both own basset hounds, but come home to find that their dog walker has mixed up the dogs!!  Returning accidentally-swapped dogs seemed like a fun meet-cute, and it was… kind of.  The problem with this book was that it was just Too Much.  Literally every person in Carly’s life is a Drama Queen set at 11, full of bizarre quirks and weird backstories.  Her parents were having all this just over-the-top drama and the entire love story basically got drowned out by the honestly somewhat-depressing complications and people in Carly’s life.  I never really shipped her and Max that much, mostly because they both got on my nerves in their own way, and because they never seemed to have an actual conversation that made sense or wasn’t interrupted by Carly just running off to solve some other crisis.  They were horrible communicators, and once again the whole thing where the woman has a great job opportunity and doesn’t even discuss it with the guy she likes because obviously he will demand that she relinquish the job and stay with him because OBVIOUSLY NO ONE UNDERSTANDS THE CONCEPT OF COMMUNICATION AND COMPROMISE.  Nothing makes me mad about a story faster than someone “already knowing” what the other person is going to say and so they DON’T EVEN TALK ABOUT IT.  UGH.  So anyway, this story was okay and some of the plot had some promise, but overall it was a little flat because of all the extra drama and a complete inability for the main characters to have a normal conversation.

Sleigh Bells Ring by RaeAnne Thayne – 4*

//published 2021//

Thayne has become one of my go-to authors for relaxing, low-angst, clean romance.  I really enjoyed her newest book, which happened to be Christmasy and just right for a little seasonal preview, as I read it right before Thanksgiving, mostly because it was due back at the library haha  Nothing crazy here, 100% predictable story with likable characters, realistic drama, and a fun family.  My only complaint was that I would have liked this to have turned into a series, as some of the secondary romances could easily have been their own books.