August Minireviews // Part 3

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens – 4*…ish

//published 1870//

Can you give 4* to a book that isn’t even finished?  I actually didn’t realize that this one was never completed until after I had started it.  (Thankfully I found out before I got the abrupt stopping point!)  I would have LOVED to see where this story ended up.  There are some great characters here and some very sinister set-ups.  It seems obvious what is going on – except towards the end of this partial story, Dickens is already starting to muddy the waters.  A really engaging piece of writing, even if it is rather disappointing that it just ends!

Jade Fire Gold by June C.L. Tan – 4*

//published 2021//

I wasn’t expecting to so thoroughly enjoy this OwlCrate book, but I actually was completely engaged with the world-building and characters.  It’s a debut novel, so there were times that the pacing was a little off, but on the whole I definitely wanted to keep reading this Asian-based fantasy.  It’s listed as a standalone and I can find nothing about a potential sequel, but the ending/epilogue of this one definitely gave off “in the next book” vibes, so that was a little confusing.  While looking for information about the nonexistent sequel, I did find an official map on the author’s website – why it wasn’t in the book, I’ll never know, as it was VERY HELPFUL.  I printed it off and stuck it in the book so it will be ready next time I read it!

The Lies We Told by Camilla Way – 4*

//published 2018//

This was a perfectly fine but ultimately forgettable thriller.  I’m never a big fan of the “inherently evil child” trope, but once the other storyline started, I was able to work with them both and wanted to see how they were going to come together.  As with many thrillers, this one works best if you just suspend some disbelief and roll with it. I didn’t want to put it down once I got hooked, which bumped it up to 4* for me.

The Hidden Hand by E.D.E.N. Southworth – 4*

//published 1859//

Originally published in 1859, this book was reissued by Lamplighter Press back in the 1990s.  Keeping in mind the publication date, you would be correct in assuming that there are language and actions that don’t fit our modern sensibilities, but I found it to honestly be a completely engaging look at life in the “wilds“ of the Virginia mountains. “Old Hurricane“ is an Revolutionary War veteran who, through a series of events, ends up adopting an orphan girl named Capitola, mainly for his own selfish reasons – Cap is actually the long-lost heiress of a neighboring estate, currently owned by Hurricane’s arch-enemy. However, Hurricane is not remotely nefarious (although very temperamental) and soon is completely won over by Cap’s bold, saucy ways. Cap is no missish heroine, waiting to be rescued. She makes things happen, charging about the countryside on her pony, rescuing people herself, and causing all sorts of trouble. This story is completely ridiculous, with melodramatic villains, sweeping coincidences at every turn, and plenty of absurdities, but I honestly enjoyed every page.

I Found You by Lisa Jewel – 4*

//published 2016//

Pacey, engaging, and intriguing, this was a solid thriller that kept me going.  Even though I figured out parts of it ahead of time, I didn’t solve all of it.  I’ve really enjoyed all of the Lisa Jewel books I’ve read so far, and have several more on the shelf that I want to get to soon.

August Minireviews // Part 1

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

Nudges by Loren Anderson – 3.5*

//published 2021//

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

Rosalind by Clarice Peters – 3.5*

//published 1985//

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

The Hidden One by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2022//

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

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

//published 2019//

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

The Secret Road by Bruce Lancaster – 3.5*

//published 1952//

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

The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa – 2.5*

//published 2020//

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

July Minireviews // Part 3

I’ve long decided that the idea of me ever being caught up on reviews is kind of hopeless.  But now I find myself wondering the opposite – is it possible that I will eventually become so far behind on reviews that readers won’t even know which July I am referring to without further explanation??  Only time will tell.

At any rate, Happy New Year!! And here are some books I read back when it was a million degrees out and super muggy.

Nightwork by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2022//

Continuing my July Roberts binge, I also picked up her latest novel.  I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews for this one, and even though I, personally, enjoyed it, I can understand why a lot of people didn’t.  It’s really more of a story about the main character, Harry Booth, than it is about romance or suspense – which is a bit of a departure from most of the Roberts books I’ve read.  The story starts with Harry as a small boy.  His single mother has cancer and can only work irregularly so they struggle to make ends meet.  Harry starts stealing, and, as he grows into adulthood, becomes a con artist and a professional thief.  Despite Harry’s job, this story was slow, and the heists never felt particularly pulse-pounding.  Personally, I liked Harry as a character, and I enjoyed the descriptions of the various places he lived and worked (especially New Orleans), so I enjoyed the book.  But both the romance and the suspense are on the slow side, so this one probably isn’t for everyone.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym – 4*

//published 1952//

I read this one as a buddy read with a group on Litsy.  It definitely wasn’t a book that I would have picked up on my own, but I ended up enjoying it, especially at the chapter-a-day pace.  It’s not a particularly fast-paced read, a story of an older spinster just after WWII.  It’s an interesting look at a specific layer of British society, one of a generation of women whose potential husbands were slaughtered on the battlefields.  I ended up liking Mildred and sympathizing with her quiet, industrious life, where most of her work was taken for granted.  I was a little let down by the ending, which felt rather sitcom-like, where everyone just ends up exactly where they started, but overall while this wasn’t a new favorite that I see myself reading time and again, I found to be an engaging, quiet novel.

A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery – 4*

//published 1931//

It had been probably 15-20 years since my last reread of this one.  It was never one of my favorite Mongomery’s growing up, but I appreciated it a lot more now than I did when I was in my early 20s, finding several of the storylines a bit more sympathetic.  There are a lot of characters here and a lot of threads (hence the title), so there are definitely stories within this one that I prefer to others.  The Sams were never my favorites before or now, and it does make me sad that their weird racism bit is the what comprises the final pages of this book, considering that the rest of the novel is old-fashioned but pleasantly so.  This isn’t where I would start with Montgomery’s books, and it’s definitely more adult than many of her other novels, but there are plenty of enjoyable characters and interesting motivations here.  This was an especially fun one to read with the Kindred Spirits group on Litsy as there is a lot to discuss!!

Lost Lake by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 2005//

I really enjoy Margolin’s legal thrillers.  This one wasn’t my favorite, but it still kept me turning the pages.  Ami is a single mother and struggling attorney.  She rents out the apartment above her garage for extra income, and her latest tenant seems like a regular, kind man a little older than herself.  But when he goes berserk at her son’s baseball game and almost kills someone with his bare hands, Ami sees an entirely different side of him.  Now in prison, he shares an almost unbelievable story with her, about a secret group of trained killers, hired by the government entirely off the books and headed up by a famous general who is now running for president.  His story is corroborated by the General’s own daughter, Vanessa – who had a mental breakdown in her past and spent time in a mental hospital, meaning that now no one takes her accusations very seriously.  Margolin does a great job of presenting information against the General that makes you think Carl and Vanessa are right, followed by the General explaining away everything in a perfectly reasonable manner, leaving you convinced that Carl (a Vietnam vet) and Vanessa are actually just paranoid and delusional, pitiable individuals who need help.  However, this did mean that book was slightly repetitive at times, especially when we would hear about something from Carl’s view, than Vanessa’s, then the General’s.  And towards the end of the book there is a big courtroom scene where everything is summed up in far too much detail – like, I literally just read the book?? I don’t need an entire chapter-long synopsis!  However, I genuinely didn’t know who to believe up until the ending, so, a good one-time read, but not my new favorite by this author.

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan – 4*

The final book in the Percy Jackson series wrapped everything up nicely.  On the whole, while I enjoyed the series just fine, it didn’t really reach out and grab me.  There are various spinoff and other related series, but I don’t see myself picking up any of the others.

June Minireviews – Part 3!!

Lies by T.M. Logan – 4*

//published 2017//

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

The Copenhagen Connection by Elizabeth Peters – 3.5*

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

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

Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman – 4*

//published 1993//

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

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

The Fall of the Ottomans by Eugene Rogan – 4*

//published 2015//

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

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – 3.5*

//published 1999//

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

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

//published 2021//

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

The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton – 3.5*

//published 2022//

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

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

By Your Side by Kasie West – 3*

//published 2017//

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

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

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

June Minireviews // Part 2

On to the next batch of June!!!

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

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl – 4*

//published 1950//

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

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

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

Something Wilder by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2022//

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

National Velvet by Enid Bagnold – 3*

//published 1935//

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

The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

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

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte – 4*

//published 1848//

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

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

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

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

June Minireviews // Part 1

Woohoo!! June reviews!!

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

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

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff – 3.5*

//published 2016//

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

Book Lovers by Emily Henry – 4*

//published 2022//

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

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

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

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

//published 1929//

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

The Randolphs by Isabella Alden – 3*

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

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4*

//published 1883//

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

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.