June Minireviews // Part 1

Woohoo!! June reviews!!

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

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

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff – 3.5*

//published 2016//

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

Book Lovers by Emily Henry – 4*

//published 2022//

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

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

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

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

//published 1929//

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

The Randolphs by Isabella Alden – 3*

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

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4*

//published 1883//

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

The Lunar Chronicles // by Marissa Meyer

  • Cinder
  • Scarlet
  • Cress
  • Fairest
  • Winter
  • Wire & Nerve
  • Wire & Nerve: Gone Rogue
  • Stars Above

Well, the majority of my May reading was spent in the Lunar Chronicles universe.  These books had been on my radar for quite some time, but I still went into them with low expectations because I’ve become cynical as a person haha  However, I ended up absolutely loving this series, with all of these books rating 4 or 4.5* from me.

I was gifted Cinder a while back, and actually read it in April.  I enjoyed it so completely that I decided to go ahead and purchase the rest of the series (used – have you guys checked out Pango Books yet??  I am IN LOVE with that app and have sold several books there so far – my favorite part is that it’s like eBay used to be, where you actually see photos of the book you’re purchasing, so I was able to make sure I was buying the new-cover editions, which I love), and when they finally arrived in May I absolutely devoured them!!  Conveniently, we went on vacation in May as well, which gave me some extra reading time.

So basically these books are set in the future, and Cinder is about a cyborg girl – someone who has had human parts replaced with machinery/computer parts.  Following the basic outline of Cinderella, Cinder is an orphan whose adoptive father has died, leaving her with a stepmother who despises her (cyborgs are considered barely human and can be bought and sold as slaves) and two stepsisters.  Cinder spends her day working as an android mechanic, and it is there that the prince visits her with a special android that he needs repaired.

In this world, the moon was settled at one point, but Lunars have developed a special ability that enables them to manipulate other’s feelings and even what they see.  Lunars are distrusted and hated, and Earth is on the brink of war with them.  Meanwhile, a horrible plague is breaking out all around the world.  Scientists are racing to try and find a cure or a vaccine, to no avail.  I wasn’t surprised to find out that Cinder is more important than anyone knows (including herself), but the way the story unwinds through the series is fantastic.

I loved the way new characters were introduced throughout the series.  It can be difficult to balance a lot of different characters going a lot of different directions, but for the most part, Meyer pulled it off.  I was genuinely invested in everyone, even the evil Lunar queen.  Each of the main books is a different fairytale retelling (Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Snow White) and honestly, that aspect was also done incredibly well.  Meyer rings true to the original story while adding her own twists.  These were some of the best revisited fairytales I’ve ever read.  I especially loved her interpretation of Rapunzel in Cress.

Other things I loved – the love stories!  I shipped each of these couples and there were NO LOVE TRIANGLES!  There was also no sex!  It was fantastic!  Each couple had there own issues and difficulties to overcome, but I was rooting for all of them to succeed.  Cress really was my favorite of the series, partially because I absolutely love her love interest – he’s totally my fave.

I read these books in the author’s recommended order, including inserting various short stories from Stars Above at various points between the main novels.  My biggest complaint is that she has a recommended reading order for the short stories but DIDN’T PUBLISH THEM IN THAT ORDER IN THE BOOK!  What’s the point of creating a certain order and then publishing them all together in the same book, if you aren’t going to use the order in the book!?!?  It made zero sense and aggravated me way more than it should have.

I wasn’t sure about reading Fairest.  After finishing Cress I really wanted to see how everything came together, not read the evil queen’s backstory.  However, while that wasn’t anywhere close to my favorite book or anything, I actually enjoyed it way more than I anticipated.  Meyer did a great job giving Levana a believable background that explained many of her actions and motives, but still emphasizing that her choices were her own – she had many opportunities to do the right thing, but instead found ways to convince herself to do what she knew, deep down, was wrong.  It meant Levana was somewhat explained as a character, but still didn’t become too sympathetic.

The grand finale in Winter was done pretty well.  It did somewhat feel like there was a lot more build-up than there was action, but overall Meyer pulled together the many threads and gave me an ending that I found satisfying.  While it’s the technical conclusion of the series, the two Wires and Nerve graphic novels, plus a short story occur chronologically after this book.  Those were all super fun to see how things went on with the entire gang.  I wasn’t sure if I would like the graphic novels since the main character is an android who has basically morphed into human understanding, but it ended up working for me after all.

Overall, I really loved this series.  With a total of 3363 pages, I’m not sure if I’ll read this series again anytime SOON, but I can definitely see myself rereading it at some point, as I really liked these characters a lot and would love to revisit them.  If you like fairytale retellings and some scifi, these are definitely worth picking up!!

April Minireviews – Part 3

Last batch for April!!

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

Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon – 3.5*

//published 2020//

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

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

Divots by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1923//

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

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

Big Jump for Robin by Suzanne Wilding – 3*

//published 1965//

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

Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson – 3.5*

//published 2021//

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

The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

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

April Minireviews – Part 1

I didn’t read as many books in April so I’m sure that means I’m going to get caught up, right?  LOL

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

A Dance With the Fae Prince by Elise Kova – 4*

//published 2021//

I read the first book in the Married to Magic series, A Deal With the Elf Kingfor the traveling book club and found it surprisingly enjoyable.  The books are set in the same world but don’t really overlap very much, so they can be read independently.  I liked this one even better, actually, because I found the main characters more likable.  While not my new all-time favorites, these books were really enjoyable romantic fantasy.

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers – 3*

//published 1903//

This is one of those classics that is considered so because of the way that it created a new subgenre.  A sort of spy-thriller, when it was published this book was a bit controversial because of the way it pointed out weaknesses in Britain’s naval defense.  However, I really struggled with this book because I was reading it as an ebook, which did NOT include the original story’s charts and maps!  These were referred to regularly throughout the text, and half the story is the main characters exploring these complicated channels, bays, inlets, rivers, etc. so not being able to visually reference the charts made the story confusing and also someone boring.  This wasn’t a book that was big on the action anyway, but I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if, when the text told me to refer to a chart, I could have actually done so.

Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery – 4*

//published 1910//

This was a buddy read with the Kindred Spirits group on Litsy, and a reread for me, as most Montgomery books are.  This has never been a particular favorite of mine.  It’s perfectly pleasant but not magical, and I’ve never been completely comfortable with the romance, because Kilmeny has been so incredibly isolated her entire life and then just falls in love with the first decent guy she meets and it feels a little weird.  One of the other members of the group said this story seemed like something Anne and her friends would have written for their Story Club, and that cracked me up because it’s SO true.  This one is just a little too melodramatic.

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow – 3.5*

//published 2020//

There are some books that I read a chapter-a-day and that keeps me plugging away at them when I honestly may have not finished them if I had just been reading them straight through, and this was one of them.  This story focuses on the “forgotten” sister in P&P, Mary.  There was a LOT of time spent on Mary being miserable and sad and people being mean to her and her feeling rejected – it just went on and on and on.  While Mary’s character growth seemed natural and good, some of the other characters were uneven, especially Charlotte.  The concluding drama also dragged out way longer than it needed to.  So, basically, a pretty good read that needed about a hundred pages edited out haha

I’ll Take Forever by Barbara McMahon – 2*

//published 1988//

This one was pretty bad, although I’ll admit I somewhat softened my attitude when I realized it was published in 1988.  This was a free Kindle book from back in the day, and the entire story is about an undercover federal agent trying to find out where illegal marijuana is being grown and he has to stay with a civilian – literally NONE of it felt remotely realistic haha  There are several instances where Kyle just assumes Jenny is going to be doing this cooking/cleaning/laundry that felt really awkward because he’s literally just mooching off of her.  Jenny herself was honestly kind of stupid and always did stupid things that miraculously would turn out to be the right thing.  For some reason, McMahon decided Jenny should be a widow at the age of 25 (her husband died in a car wreck a year earlier) – I have no idea why she needed to be a widow, I guess so the agent could be “her husband’s cousin” but it just felt awkward, especially since we are told a lot that they had a really lovely marriage but Jenny is totally over it!  After a year!  Woohoo!  Like I realize everyone has a different grieving process, but I’m still not over my grandma dying in 2009 so I didn’t find it particularly convincing that Jenny is basically like, “Oh yeah, I was married, I remember that guy!  He was cool!”  The attitude towards marijuana in this story is definitely very 80s.  I’m not here to advocate marijuana usage, but I also truly don’t think smoking a joint will immediately lead you down the path of hard drugs for life.  This was a super short book so I skimmed a lot of it just so I could be amazed at how it made no sense.  Sometimes it’s fun to get a little hate-reading in!

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.