Leaphorn & Chee – Books 6-10 // by Tony Hillerman

  • The Ghostway (1984)
  • Skinwalkers (1986)
  • A Thief of Time (1988)
  • Talking God (1989)
  • Coyote Waits (1990)

While the first five books of this series were an average of 3.5*, the next set moved firmly into the 4* range.  In Skinwalkers, Leaphorn reappears on the scene, and throughout the next four books, both men are involved in the mystery solving, although not always as a team – it’s interesting to have them sometimes almost opposing because of their different styles of detecting, and their different beliefs about the old ways.  The personableness of both characters vastly improved during this group of books, with more about their family lives and backgrounds, leaving me a lot more interested in them as people as well as interested in the mysteries themselves.

The actually mysteries were solid and did a decent job of wrapping things up.  Hillerman does a good job of talking about nuanced topics without it feeling preachy.  For instance, the entirety of Talking God is about ancient Native American artifacts and bones and managed to present varying viewpoints on whether old bones belong in museums or should be returned to modern Native Americans (even though in many instances there is not a direct oral history between them), and how archeological sites should be handled.  It was all very interesting and thoughtfully done, but never came across as polemic or divisive.

All in all, I’m thoroughly enjoying these.  The next five are in the pile waiting to be read, but that probably won’t happen until January as I am intending to fully embrace Christmasy reads all throughout December!!

Shetland Island Mysteries – Books 1-4 // by Ann Cleeves

  • Raven Black
  • White Nights
  • Red Bones
  • Blue Lightning 

This series has been on my radar for a while (haven’t they all??) and I finally read the first half of them in October.  Litsy has a month-long readathon focusing on mysteries/thriller/horror/etc. and while I don’t enjoy anything in the horror/graphic violence area, I decided it would be a great opportunity to make some forward progress on several mystery series I’ve been working through, including finishing the 87th Precinct, the first half of this series, the next five books in the Leaphorn & Chee series, plus knocking out a few standalone thrillers that have been on my shelf for way too long.

Set in the Shetland Islands, the main character/detective of this series is Jimmy Perez, a detective on the police force.  However, Cleeves takes her time with these stories, giving back stories and insight into multiple people involved in each murder.  Even though these are a little longer than the average thriller (350-400 pgs), they felt a LOT longer as the pace is rarely urgent.  Instead, there is plenty of time to examine and contemplate the interactions of the main players.  Somehow, instead of being boring, Cleeves makes this work.  It fit the setting of an isolated and insulated community, where the seasons take their time, and the methodical rhythm of the natural world is reflected in the human residents.

I have mixed feelings about these books.  I enjoyed them while I was reading them, but never felt an urgency about picking up the next book.  Cleeves made a decision to kill off a character at the end of Blue Lightning that I didn’t really like as well, and I’m not completely sure that I’ll get around to finishing this series (there are four more books).  Yet on the whole, I think I do recommend them if you enjoy your mysteries thoughtful instead of frantic.  They could definitely do with a bit of editing, yet at some level I rather enjoyed the contemplative pacing, feeling that I was really getting to know the motives and relationships of the characters involved.

These weren’t my new favorites, and they didn’t make me want to rush out and read everything Cleeves has written, but I probably will read those last four books one of these days, just to see how everyone adjusts to the sudden death at the end of Blue Lightning.  

87th Precinct – THE FINAL FIVE BOOKS!!! // by Ed McBain

I honestly don’t know why I originally started reading the 87th Precinct books.  I think maybe they were listed somewhere as classics, and my innate inability to read books out of order meant I had to start at the beginning and work my way through them.  However it happened, I read the first of this series back in April 2018, and FINALLY read books 50-55 in October 2021!!  Breaking them into groups of five actually worked really well for working through this series.  So, here are a few thoughts on the final books, and then some thoughts on the series as a whole.

  • Money, Money, Money
  • Fat Ollie’s Book
  • The Frumious Bandersnatch
  • Hark!
  • Fiddlers

All in all, these ended up all being 4* reads and were a great way to conclude this series ALTHOUGH tragedy struck at the final hour – somehow, I had these written down wrong, and after reading FIFTY-THREE BOOKS in order, I somehow read #55 BEFORE reading #54!! I cannot possibly express to you how aggravated at myself I was! How could I do this?!  It literally made no difference except in my heart, but still!  I’m still mad!

ANYWAY the weirdest part about these last five books was the involvement/attempt at character redemption of Fat Ollie.  He’s one of those background characters who has popped in and out of several books.  He works for another precinct and everyone dislikes him because he’s a racist, sexist jerk.  However, he’s also weirdly good at being a detective.  Suddenly, in these books, McBain tries to somewhat redeem Ollie’s character by having him fall in love with a girl, which makes him start to reassess some of his prejudices.  I had mixed feelings about this.  I actually did feel like Ollie was growing as a person, but I’m also not sure how realistic it was, or even why McBain felt it was necessary to wander away from the detectives in the 87th to focus on Ollie instead.  When I looked at other reviews, there were a lot of complaints about this that basically said Ollie’s character was irredeemable, but I’m not sure I agree with that, either.  I do think people can change – and if we aren’t willing to believe that, to hope for that, to accept it when it happens – then the world really is a rather hopeless place.  So I decided to embrace the efforts to make Ollie a better person and hope that he continues on that path going forward.

All five of these had really good pacing and a bit more humor than a lot of the other books.  They also avoided the gratuitous and weird sex scenes from some of the earlier books, which was great.  McBain still enjoys killing people off more than I’d like him to (especially in The Frumious Bandersnatch – I was SO upset about a character he killed off there!), but they ARE murder mysteries soooo

McBain died the same year that the final book was published (2005) so I’m not sure if he actually intended that to be the final book in the series.  He did leave several of the regular characters in good places – I especially loved watching Carella wrestle with and come to grips with the changes in his family.  There’s a beautiful scene where he finally accepts his stepfather that honestly choked me up a bit.

All in all, I don’t regret reading this series, but I don’t see myself rereading them ALL.  I’ve held on to a few/marked a few that I would reread, but there are also several that I would NEVER read again even if they were the only book around lol  I do think it was worthwhile to see the way that various characters developed and evolved throughout the series.  I loved the way that McBain didn’t age his characters as rapidly as he aged the tech (the series spans 50 years of tech, but only about 15 years of detective-life haha).  The books definitely went through a rough patch in the 80s – my least favorite books were all from that decade – but the final five left me wishing that there were more left to read.

I’m not sure I can exactly recommend this series, but I did enjoy it and am a bit sorry to part ways with the fellows from the 87th.  I may have to revisit them from time to time… just not all 55 books!!

September Minireviews – Part 2

I’m starting to be cautiously optimistic that, in the very near future, I’ll be reviewing books only ONE month behind!!!

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.

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley – 5*

//published 2000//

I’ve reviewed this book a couple of times (here and here), because I have reread it so often.  In fact, for some unknown reason it’s because important to me to take this with me and read it whenever I go on vacation.  So when Tom and I went to Maine in September, Spindle’s End came along.  I can’t exactly explain why I love this one so much, or why I don’t get tired of rereading it, but the very act of holding this book and turning its pages has somehow become comforting to me.  I think the book is now imbued with the power of multiple happy vacations haha  At any rate, my earlier reviews do a much better job summarizing the story, so do check them out if you’re interested.  This one isn’t for everyone as it’s very rambly, but I love it a lot.

Yours Truly, Thomas by Rachel Fordham – 3.5*

//published 2019//

I also took several fluff books with me on vacation, ones that I’ve picked up on the cheap from Book Outlet over the last year but haven’t gotten around to reading.  I really liked the concept of this one – Penny works at a post office in the Dead Letters office.  In a final effort to find the recipient of a letter, the post office can open the letter and look for clues.  Penny finds letters written by a man named Thomas to a woman he obviously loves, telling her how sorry he is about how things turned out, and writing about how he is trying to live a new, better life.  Penny becomes emotionally invested in these letters and is determined to help reunite Thomas with his love.  Etc. etc. This wasn’t a bad book, but it honestly was rather boring for most of it, and then has this absolutely ridiculously dramatic ending that felt completely unrealistic.  It was readable but not one I’d revisit, and also not one that made me yearn to find out what else Fordham has written.

To Sir, With Love by Lauren Layne – 4*

//published 2021//

Continuing my trend of books-based-on-letters (I didn’t realize it when I packed for vacation, but I brought five books and four of them were based around letters??), this one is Shop Around the Corner vibes that was really fun to read.  Gracie did get on my nerves a bit, but I liked the chemistry between her and Seb (even if it was ridiculously obvious that he was also Sir) and liked the way things came together in end.

When You Read This by Mary Adkins – 3.5* (published 2019)

I was drawn to this one because of the format, which includes emails, blog posts, text messages, and other media.  Sometimes epistolary books can feel a little narrow in their scope, but including other conversations kept this one engaging, although it did sometimes get confusing if the same person said something twice in a row – so there’s an email heading for each email telling who it is to and from, but if the same two characters are going back and forth, I tended to skim that bit and not really register it… and then get confused because someone had emailed twice in a row instead of going back and forth.  Basically, the story starts because a woman named Iris has died of cancer.  She worked for years for a guy named Smith, and leaves him a letter telling him that she’s actually been writing a blog and wants him to get it published as a book after her death.  But in order to do so, Smith needs permission from Iris’s sister, Jade, who is NOT a fan of the concept.  This is one of those books that the synopsis makes it sound sort of romcomy, but it actually is a bit of a downer.  It deals not just with the death of Iris, but also addiction, cancer, and midlife crisis.  While I found the writing engaging and liked the characters (mostly), and even found myself laughing at some points, the overall tone was definitely a downer.  One of the characters has a serious gambling addiction, and it felt like that was wrapped up way too tidily by this person just being like “oh you’re right, I do have a problem so now that I’ve acknowledged it, my addiction will magically go away!”  I was also annoyed because the only person presented as having any kind of religious belief was Jade’s mother who, we’re told repeatedly, is VERY conservative and VERY Christian, yet also had a life-long affair with a married man and just… sorry, yes, I know a lot of hypocritical people (both in and out of the church), but I don’t know a single church that would agree that having a decades-long affair with a married man jives with being a Christian.  I mean, seriously.  So that came across as just plain annoying.

On the whole, this was another of those pleasant-to-read-once-but-I’ll-never-reread-it kind of books.  I was perfectly happy to send this off to someone else when I was finished.

The Picts & the Martyrs by Arthur Ransome – 5* (published 1943)

It’s no surprise that my favorite book for the month was the next installment of the Swallows & Amazon series.  Only one left after this, and I’m going to miss them!!  This one was full of the regular shenanigans and adventures of the other books.  I just love these stories SO much.  They’re so funny and adorable, and the characters feel so realistic to me.  I enjoyed every page and wished for more.

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – 4*

//published 2019//

My second-favorite read of the month was a total surprise.  Scifi can be really hit or miss for me, so I didn’t have very high expectations for this one – and ended up being SO fun.  Snarky, entertaining, engaging – conversations explaining the world-building that felt natural – likable characters – tons of humor -I loved it!  My only slight beef is that entire thing is first person, but from SO many different perspectives, like it bounces around between ALL the characters, so that did sometimes get a little confusing, plus they don’t really sound THAT different from each other.  But it still worked on the whole, meaning this one ended up being tons of fun.

Note: This is book one in a trilogy – I read the second book in October, and the third book wasn’t published until this month, so it’s waiting for me at the library!!

The Stars Duology // by Diana Peterfreund

  • For Darkness Shows the Stars
  • Across a Star-Swept Sea

Quite a long while back I read Across a Star-Swept Sea, and while I overall liked it, there were parts of it that I found really confusing/not well-explained.  Well, guess what, it’s because it was actually a sequel, despite there being NO indication of this anywhere on the cover or in the front of the book.  THIS IS  A PET PEEVE OF MINE – I do not understand WHY publishers publish sequels and act like it’s a secret.  Just.  Why.

Anyway.  I’ve been meaning to go back and read both books and I finally got around to it!

The first book, For Darkness Shows the Stars, is a riff on Persuasion, which is what finally made me get around to it – after rereading Persuasion, I thought it would be fun to read this one while the original was fresh in my mind.  I thought this book did a great job capturing the basics of Austen’s story, but all the characters were somehow amplified.  In Persuasion, Anne’s dad is self-absorbed and a bit ridiculous; here he’s cruel and willing to do anything as long as he has everything he wants.  Austen’s Wentworth is a bit stubborn about recognizing that Anne had valid reasons for her past choices; here he is harsh and unforgiving, to the point of purposefully inflicting pain on Anne with cruel and snarky comments and actions.  It made this story grittier and the stakes higher, as now it’s not just that Anne’s family may have to tighten their belts and live a little more frugally, it’s that the lives and livelihoods of so many people are on the line.

This book would have garnered an easy 4*, maybe even 4.5*, from me except for one HUGE problem – the ages of the characters.  Like I think what was happening here was Peterfreund wanted this book to be YA, so she needed her characters to be YA-aged.  But the problem is that the whole POINT of Persuasion is that TIME HAS PASSED, so Peterfreund’s brilliant solution?  That the Anne/Wentworth characters were FOURTEEN when they separated and now it’s only FOUR YEARS LATER so they are still only EIGHTEEN and I’m sorry but it made the entire story COMPLETELY, and I do mean COMPLETELY, unbelievable.  Like sometimes I can kind of get behind young people doing things that are obviously beyond what they would actually do, because circumstances can swiftly mature some individuals… but this just made no sense, especially since Peterfreund also chose to make Wentworth’s character SO harsh and unforgiving about the fact that Anne didn’t come with him… WHEN THEY WERE FOURTEEN.  I’m sorry, but you’re still mad because she didn’t come with you when you were both CHILDREN?!  I can’t even begin to describe how distracting these ages were from the actual stories.  There are lots of times that I can kind of pretend the ages are different or somehow work around in my brain, but it was impossible here and it made the entire story absolutely absurd, to the point that even though I thought it was really a great story overall, I almost can’t recommend it because the age thing made the whole book just stupid and pointless.  It just turned the Anne/Wentworth story into some ridiculous teenage angst instead of an actual crucible of maturation like it was in the original story.

This just shouldn’t have been a YA story, and I think this is where the obsession with categorizing books by the age of the intended audience has screwed everyone up.  Now adults feel like they can’t writing stories about adults because obviously no teen would ever be interested in a book about adults.  I see adults basically apologizing for reading YA because it’s not “for” them, and other adults saying that only teens should be “allowed” to read YA because otherwise adults are “stealing” those books and fandoms.  It just annoys the heck out of me.  Who cares how old the characters are if the story is good??  The characters should be the age that fits their actions, attitudes, and situations, not the age of the intended target audience.  It’s just absolute nonsense, and For Darkness Shows the Stars definitely emphasized the ridiculousness of forcing fictional characters to be a certain age just so a certain age will read your book.

ANYWAY.  After that I reread Across a Star-Swept Sea.  I gave a pretty detailed review of this Scarlet Pimpernel retelling in my original review (linked above).  I enjoyed this one even more the second time around, because it made so much more sense as a sequel!  Here, the youth of the characters is still somewhat annoying, but also somewhat makes sense, because, let’s be real, smuggling people across enemy lines while pretending to be a complete airhead definitely sounds like something teens would get into.

All in all, I did enjoy both these books and actually would love to read a third book set in this world (although since the second book came out back in 2013, it probably isn’t going to happen).  There were fun scifi/futuristic reads and both (besides the age thing) were actually great riffs on their original stories, stay true to the essence of the tale while still making it something new.  I don’t particularly see myself rereading these again and again, but I did enjoy them this time around. 4/5 for the pair.

The Emily Trilogy // by L.M. Montgomery

  • Emily of New Moon
  • Emily Climbs
  • Emily’s Quest

Please note:  There will definitely be spoilers for these books in this review.

When I first read Anne of Green Gables and its sequels back when I was but a young’un, I read several of Montgomery’s other books as well, but Mom told me not to bother with the Emily books.  “They’re depressing,” she said, which was enough to keep turned off of them because, as those you who have been with me for a while well know, I don’t do depressing in my fictional life!  But recently a group on Litsy read through the Anne books together.  I had just reread them last year, so I didn’t join along, but that group had such a nice time with Anne that they decided to continue through some of Montgomery’s other books, starting with Emily.  And I thought to myself, I’m 38 years old, so maybe it’s time to go ahead and give these a try!  But in the end, while I’m glad I gave them a read, I didn’t really like them very well.  Much as it pains me to do so, this group of books barely rated 3* altogether, and I really had to drag myself through Emily’s Quest.

There are several parallels between Emily and Anne, and the two heroines frequently are compared to each other.  Both are orphaned at a young age, both are spirited and imaginative, both are ambitious and independent.  But while Anne is full of optimism and hope, Emily is pessimistic and always expecting the worst.  And maybe she has a good reason to do so – nothing ever seems to go Emily’s way.  While Anne’s initial situation with Marilla and Matthew seems unlikely to lead to her happiness, both of those characters soften and adjust to Anne’s rambunctious “scrapes,” they’re proud of her intelligence, and they encourage her to pursue her education and ambition.  Emily, on the other hand, is reluctantly taken in by relatives – Aunt Elizabeth, who “rules the roost;” Aunt Laura, who is sympathetic but weak; and Cousin Jimmy, who does all the hard work on the farm, but was accidentally pushed down a well as a child by Elizabeth and injured his head, meaning he’s “childlike”, despite the fact that he never does or says anything that remotely makes him seem like he’s not a competent adult, meaning I spent most of the book being confused about why everyone always refers to him as “slow” and incapable of taking care of himself.  Elizabeth is absolutely a dreadful person throughout the majority of series – she finally softens a VERY SMALL AMOUNT by book three – who never takes even half a second to consider anyone’s perspective but her own.  Time and again she willfully misunderstands and misconstrues Emily, stifling every spark of individuality that she can in a way that was painful to read.  Where Anne is surrounded, for the most part, by adults who love, cherish, and encourage her, Emily is surrounded by adults who tear her down and suppress her at every opportunity.

Part way through the first book Emily makes the acquaintance of a man named Dean.  We’re told that Dean is in his 30s (Emily is only around 12 at the time), but he basically decides that Emily “belongs” to him and there are many hints from him that he plans to marry her as soon as she’s old enough.  They become very good friends, including writing letters while he is traveling other places (where are you now, Aunt Elizabeth?!), and the whole relationship is SUPER SUPER CREEPY.  He’s so possessive and weird, with a lot of his conversations verging on grooming.  It was genuinely disturbing, especially since it wasn’t just Dean – while in the Anne books, all the children tease about “liking” each other, there is nothing serious and no genuine romantic hints until the characters are in their later teens.  But in Emily, even while she’s only 10 or 11, the adults in her life are constantly asking her (very seriously, not joking) about who she is going to marry, and frequently referring to her in physical descriptions that made me honestly somewhat uncomfortable.  (Things like being “well-formed” for her age, or talking about how gracefully she moves, like someone much older than she is, that kind of thing – not overtly sexual, but weird within the context.)

Things were slightly better in book 2 – it was my favorite of the three (which isn’t saying much, but still).  Emily is forbidden to continue her education via Queens, where she could earn a teaching certificate (as Anne & co. did), because “Murray women don’t need to earn a living.”  Throughout book 1, Emily writes constantly and is passionate about becoming a published writer someday.  Through a bit of family bargaining, Emily is allowed to attend high school in a nearby larger town, where she stays with another aunt, who, if anything, is even stupider and less imaginative than Aunt Elizabeth.  Still, there are some fun school shenanigans, and Emily actually gets to have some experiences that match her age.  Throughout, she continues to develop her writing and is still determined to forward herself – but at the end of the story, when she has an opportunity to actually go forth unto the world and really seize that ambition, she turns it down and decides to return to New Moon instead.  This decision made literally no sense to me within the context of Emily’s character, and that was part of my problem with this entire series.  We’re repeatedly told that Emily is ambitious and determined to make a living from her writing, yet she does almost nothing to actually develop her skills, and turns down chances to go out into the wider world and have experiences that would actually help her accomplish her goal.  You all know me, you know that I’m all about staying home and not being crazy, but for Emily herself, Montgomery’s decision to have her turn down this big opportunity just didn’t make any sense to me.

Basically, throughout the entire series, every time something good happens to Emily, there’s some big dose of bitterness to go with it.  She doesn’t have anything happy happen without the other shoe dropping.  Every.  Single.  Time.  And while Anne has an extremely well-developed sense of humor that frequently sees her through her difficult times, Emily spends a LOT of time crying and sighing and writing all about her hurt little feelings, and she really got on my nerves.

Finally, I got to book 3.  (Warning: Spoilery rant ahead, as I actually really disliked this book A LOT.)  Emily is close to 20 now, and living back at New Moon with relatives who still don’t really understand her, but are more willing to let her live her writing life.  She even has some stuff published.  But even though we’ve been told repeatedly that Emily is super ambitious and yearning to “climb the alpine path” to glory, we actually spend ALL of book 3 watching her make bad decisions about men.  A LOT.  Basically, Emily is in love with Teddy and Teddy is in love with Emily, but they literally can’t get their act together and constantly misunderstand and misconstrue each other, then Emily gets in a snit goes all icy so Teddy assumes that she doesn’t really love him after all, then he goes off and does whatever is next in his life while she mopes around New Moon for months and months until he comes back and she’s like, Oh he likes me after all! And then she misunderstands something he says/does so then she goes all icy so Teddy assumes that she doesn’t really love him after all, then he goes off and does whatever is next in his life while she mopes around New Moon for months and months OVER AND OVER AND OVER.  It was SO BORING.  In the middle of all that, she gives up on Teddy and agrees to marry freaking CREEPY DEAN who has still been hanging around over the years and he’s all like “At last!  I knew you belonged to me!” and they make all these wedding plans and buy a house and furnish it and blah blah blah then Emily has a dream and realizes that actually Teddy is the only man for her!  And finally breaks up with Dean but IN THE MEANTIME freaking CREEPY DEAN has convinced Emily that the beautiful book that she poured her soul into was actually garbage and because she TRUSTS HIM she BURNS HER BOOK and then later he confesses that actually it was fantastic, but he was JEALOUS OF HER WRITING so he told it was garbage because he didn’t want her to be successful! ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?  And you would think that AT LEAST this would mean that Emily is FINALLY going to get together with Teddy but NO they have ANOTHER misunderstanding and in the final chapter we’re told that several years go by before they finally figure it out?!?!  While I was 100% convinced that Anne and Gilbert were meant for each other and would have a long and happy marriage, I’m not even sure Teddy and Emily are going to be able to make it 24 hours without needing couples therapy because they freaking CANNOT COMMUNICATE.

In the end, it was hard to read a Montgomery book that I liked so little as I did Emily’s Quest.  The other two books were okay – Emily of New Moon was super depressing and Emily Climbs was boring, but Emily’s Quest was just boring AND depressing, and it felt like Emily got stupider as time went on instead of smarter.  I can see why many people like Emily, who is quieter and more serious than Anne, and who has to work very hard for anything to go her way because she has just unbelievably bad luck and the most unsupportive family imaginable, but I spent most of my time wanting to slap her and tell her to get over herself.  Emily takes herself SO SERIOUSLY and there were so many things that Anne would have laughed off and moved on from, while Emily broods over them for DAYS.

It was worth reading these just to experience this end of Montgomery’s writing spectrum, but I’m so sure that I’ll never reread these that they’re already in the giveaway box.

September Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, reviewing September books in November actually feels not completely unreasonable haha At least we’re in the same season!! September was actually a really slow reading month for me, so it shouldn’t take me too long to get through these!!

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 Duke’s Disappearance by Margaret Summerville – 3.5*

Another paperback from my box of eBay Regency romances, this one was actually one of the better ones I’ve read from that pile.  While it didn’t become a new favorite that I wanted to read again and again, the set-up actually felt plausible and the story was a lot of fun.

Fallen by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2021//

Ever since I read the Kate Burkholder series in 2019, I’ve tried to stay on top of reading the new installments as they appear.  Fallen was an overall solid thriller, although there was one point where the bad guys had an opportunity to kill Kate outright and not doing so felt a little unrealistic for the situation lol  I really enjoy this series a lot as Castillo does such a great job with the Amish community in her writing.  I highly recommend reading these in order – I think they would work individually, but reading them as a whole gives us a real picture of Kate as a person.  I have loved seeing her grow and work through various issues in her life.  Also, I’m still in love with Tomasetti haha

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

//published 2021//

I literally don’t even know how to review this book.  It’s set in Regency-ish times and there are pirates and flying houses and a homeless pirate and romance and betrayal and tea and rogues and genteel ladies and just absolute insane amount of shenanigans.  There’s a blurb on the front cover that says, “Delightfully bonkers” and I honestly can’t think of a better way to sum this one up.  If you’re looking for something sensible and orderly, give this one a miss.  But if you’re willing to just set aside any hope for logic and plausibility and go along for the ride, this was a pretty fun read.  And the cover!!!

Flint Spears by Will James – 4*

//published 1938//

A while back I read James’s most famous book, Smoky the Cow-Horse, and was surprised at how engaging and readable it was.  The following fall, we were on vacation and stopped at a bookstore in Wall Drug, South Dakota, where I saw a reprint of another of James’s books and decided to add it to my collection.  This one didn’t have much of a plot, but I found myself drawn into the story nonetheless.  James follows the career of a cowboy named Flint Spears who is around when rodeos were first becoming a commercial enterprise.  And… that’s pretty much the whole story.  If you think about someone’s life, it doesn’t exactly have a plot, it’s just you going around doing your everyday thing and hoping for the best, and that’s pretty much what happens here.  I really liked Flint a lot and learning about the origins of the rodeo and seeing how different aspects of it developed was really interesting, but there wasn’t a big finale or anything like that.  James also decided to kill off a character I really liked and it honestly broke me up a lot.  I loved James’s illustrations (he drew them himself), and despite this story just being kind of meandery and not really going anywhere, I would definitely read another of his books.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling – 5*

September saw the conclusion of my reread of the Harry Potter series.  I still really love how everything comes together in the end, and still think Snape was a terrible person despite some redeeming qualities.  Sorry, a teacher who verbally and emotionally abuses students every chance he gets isn’t a good person, period.  I was struck this time, probably because I was reading it a chapter-a-day instead of as fast as I could, how much of the book not much is actually happening, the trio are just wandering around trying to figure out what they should do.  It was an interesting way to write the book, and I feel like an honest way, if that makes sense.  Sometimes you don’t know what to do, and you just go along and hope for a breakthrough.  On the whole, this series definitely has its weaknesses, but I still enjoy it nonetheless.

August Minireviews – Part 2

I’m getting sooo lazy about the reviews!!  I dream that someday I’ll be caught up and do really nice reviews with actual pictures and real thoughts! LOL  But in other news – this wraps up August reviews!!!

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.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4*

I had somehow never read this classic, even though of course I knew the basic premise.  Stevenson does a great job setting everything up and giving his readers a very eerie background of foggy London.  I found myself thinking about how I would feel about this story if I had never heard anything about it before – this would have been absolutely a brilliant read when this story was first published, and was still a fun one even though I knew what was going to happen.

The Bottle Imp by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4*

My copy of Dr. Jekyll included a short story by Stevenson that I had never even heard of.  While still a little creepy, this was also a story that had bit of a moral to it – what exactly are you willing to sacrifice for success and riches?

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows – 3.5*

This one has been on my TBR since it was first published, as it seemed to race through the blogging community at the time, garnering loads of positive reviews.  All in all, I really did enjoy this one a lot.  Such a fun concept, and I appreciated the authors telling the readers that they were planning to butcher history haha  It’s definitely a completely ridiculous story, so if you’re looking for some serious historical fiction, give this one a pass.  I enjoyed the humor and the likable characters, and appreciated the way everything came together.  I did find it a bit over-long.  Even though this isn’t one I see myself rereading, it was pretty fun as a one-off.

The Cross & the Switchblade by David Wilkerson – 4*

This nonfiction story, originally published in 1963, is about a pastor in a small Pennsylvanian town who felt called to minister to gang members in New York City.  Wilkerson tells his story simply and owns up to the mistakes he made along the way, while crediting God with any successes.  I really appreciated his honesty about times he felt weak and confused, but chose to carry on.  This edition was published in 2001 and included and afterword telling what happened to many of the main players in Wilkerson’s original story, and it was a beautiful thing to read about how the majority of the gang members who had decided to become Christians in the 60s had stuck with it through the decades, embracing and growing in their faith.  Wilkerson’s story wasn’t especially polished, but it’s heartfelt and sincere, and I found it to be an encouraging read, touching on the importance of prayer, faith, and community.

Leave No Stone Unturned by Jeanne Glidewell – 1*

I owned this one on Kindle for a while and decided to finally give it a go.  It’s been a long time since I actually finished a book this bad instead of just bailing on it, but it was only 189 pages and I really wanted to read a book set in Kansas for my #SeparatedByaPondTour that I’m still working on haha  But this one was REALLY REALLY TERRIBLE.  The story made no sense, the characters made no sense, the mystery made no sense, every decision someone made made no sense.  It was BAD.  SO BAD.  But at least I can write off this entire series!

The Home Edit by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin – 2.5*

This home organization book had lovely photographs but almost zero practical advice.  A lot of it was the authors talking about spaces they had organized for almost-famous people, yet even those – no before/after photos or anything like that.  For a book I checked out of the library, it was pleasant enough to page through, but as far as using it as any kind of reference book or actually gleaning useful information from it – total fail.

An Irish Hostage by Charles Todd – 4*

The latest installment in the Bess Crawford series did not disappoint.  I really like this series a lot.  Bess is very likable and the setting of World War I (and now post-war) is done SO well.  This one did drag here and there, and I’d really like to see more progress in Bess’s personal relationship with a certain fellow, but it was overall still another solid entry for the series.

August Minireviews – Part 1

I’m SO determined to actually catch up on reviews!!!

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 Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley – 3.5*

This is a really fun, although honestly pretty straightforward, variation of the Robin Hood story that I overall really enjoyed.  However, I wasn’t a huge fan of the way McKinley decided to end her story, so it left me with mixed feelings on the whole.  This was one of her books that I read a really long time ago and couldn’t really remember, but I don’t particularly see myself revisiting it again any time soon.  It just didn’t have any zing.

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson – 4*

I read this one for the traveling book club and loved it!  It definitely had some eye-rolling moments, and got a little melodramatic at the end, but on the whole it was just delightfully fun fluff with main characters that I totally shipped.  And this one was super swoony without being sexy, which I really appreciated.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens – 3*

This one sounded fun but just didn’t pan out, mainly because multiple murders plus a lot of discussion about illegitimate children felt inappropriate for the middle-grade age range for which this book is written.  The main character, Daisy, is a bit of a bully (in my opinion) and I didn’t feel like she treated Hazel, the narrator, very well, often making rather snide comments or pressuring Hazel to do things that made her uncomfortable.  Daisy is one of the popular girls at the boarding school, so a lot of Hazel’s hero-worship felt awkward to me, like she was willing to let a lot of Daisy’s actions slide so that Daisy would keep liking her.

On the other hand, this is the first book in a series, so maybe it’s just as well that I didn’t enjoy this one – nine books off the TBR with minimal effort!!

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling – 4.5*

This is actually one of my favorites (maybe even THE favorite) of the series. I absolutely love world-building and backstory, which is a huge part of what this book is all about. I love learning about the horcruxes and Voldemort’s background.  It’s a sort of calm-before-the-storm book that I really enjoy reading every time.

Sail Away by Lisa Jackson – 2.5*

This one and the next book, Million Dollar Baby, were in one volume that I got in a big box of mystery and romance books that someone on Litsy sent to me a while back.  Sail Away was pretty terrible.  Marnie’s dad really wants her to marry this dude named Kent, and Kent and Marnie were even engaged for a while.  Marnie broke it off when she found out that (surprise surprise) Kent was cheating on her.  The problem is, she never told her dad so he keeps going on and on about how Kent is perfect for Marnie and blah blah blah and like Marnie’s dad really loves her a lot and made zero sense for her not to just tell her dad that Kent is actually a secret sleezeball and she’s never going to marry him, because her dad would have totally been on her side if she had just told him the truth!  So that just super annoyed me the entire time that she wouldn’t just have this one basic conversation with him.  Meantime, the “good” love interest, Adam, was just really pushy and annoying as well.  In romance novels I can usually give a little leeway to the “he grabbed her and kissed her” routine, but I felt like Adam was just too far.  He was constantly forcing her to “submit” to his kisses, like she would be mad and he would just start kissing her until she gave up – it felt really uncomfortable to me.  In the end, a combination of annoying characters and not really being able to ship Marnie and Adam meant that I didn’t really enjoy this one all that much.

Million Dollar Baby by Lisa Jackson – 3.5*

But did not enjoying Sail Away keep me from reading the other book in that volume, Million Dollar Baby?  No, no it did not, because I have a problem haha  This one was more regular cheesy romance, with a woman with a mysterious past finding an abandoned baby in her barn, which forces her to connect with the local (ruggedly handsome) ER doctor.  This one was a bit melodramatic for my personal taste, but not a bad one-off read.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan – 3.5*

Quite a while ago I read The Joy Luck Club by this author, which was one of those books I wasn’t exactly expecting to enjoy but then did, so I’ve had a few of Tan’s other books on my TBR since then.  Like The Joy Luck Club, The Bonesetter’s Daughter explores themes of motherhood/daughterhood in a way that feels poignant and realistic.  I found myself drawn into this story and genuinely concerned about LuLing, and felt that the dual timeline aspect of the story was handled really well.  While I did find this one to be really well-written, it was soooo sad that I can’t exactly say that I enjoyed it.  It was a worthwhile read, but left me feeling a bit depressed.

Persuasion by Jane Austen – 5*

I really love this novel so much, and rereading it was a delight.  I’m not always a huge fan of the “second chance” romance just because it seems so sad that so many years have been wasted on misunderstanding each other, but Austen’s story just brings me a lot of happiness.

July Minireviews – Part 3

Can I finish July before the end of October???

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.

Jane Fairfax by Joan Aiken – 4*

//published 1990//

After reading Emma in June, in July I read this variation, which focuses, as Aiken says, on Emma’s other heroine.  While overall I enjoyed this story and getting some background on Jane, I didn’t care for the way Aiken really made Frank Churchhill be Jane’s way of “settling” – I think it would have been much more fun and happy if she had actually had these two care for each other more.  Still, a well done story with some interesting interpretations of Austen’s characters.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It  edited by Laurel Ann Nattress – 2.5*

//published 2011//

This is a collection of Jane Austen-inspired short stories written by various authors, but on the whole it was pretty disappointing.  Several of the stories were about Jane Austen herself (except fictional), which is not my thing – I honestly do not like authors writing fictional stories about real people.  In one story, a bunch of Austen’s couples came back and complained about their lives, which kind of made it feel like no one in her books ended up happy, which I didn’t like.  There were a bunch of stories here and a couple of them were okay, but I don’t think I rated any of them higher than a 3.5* and most of them were more in the 2-2.5* range.  I was expected some Austen variations, but mostly got really random stuff.

To Have and To Hoax by Martha Waters – 3*

//published 2020//

Wow, where to even start with this one.  I felt bad because I chose it for my traveling book club pick, and then it was kind of a bust.  The blurb on the back cover tells us that James and Violet are married but estranged. Violet receives word that her husband has been thrown from a horse and is dying, so she dashes off to the country estate, only to find him alive and well. Assuming that he was pranking her, she decides to get back at him with a prank of her own.  Sounds fun, right?  And we all know I’m a sucker for stories where the main characters are already married.  But what the back cover does NOT mention is that they’ve been estranged for FOUR YEARS and that during that time they’ve been LIVING IN THE SAME HOUSE.  So I’m supposed to believe that they were madly in love and got along great, had ONE argument and then spent the next FOUR YEARS barely speaking to each other while still living together?!  This seems just so ludicrous to me that I really struggled to get on with this book at all.  I could have understood if it had been, say, four MONTHS, or if James had gotten so mad during that fight that he flounced off to the country estate and they hadn’t seen each other since, but the way this was presented made no sense.

The book continued to make no sense by giving both James and Violet no real clear motivation for their actions.  Is it petty revenge?  An attempt to embarrass the other?  Trying to make the other person talk?  Attempting to solicit some kind of apology for past actions?  To hurt their feelings?  No clue, because the motivation seemed to change about every other paragraph.  And of course in the end, EVERYTHING is James’s fault, from beginning to end.  It’s all because he wouldn’t share his feelings because of all that “toxic masculinity” except she had a different phrase for it because it’s the Regency era.  You can’t see me right now, but trust me, I’m rolling my eyes a LOT.  On top of that, Waters kept having her characters swear by saying things like “Jesus Christ!” which was just so period incorrect and jarring every time it happened.  I tend to give authors a LOT of leeway with their historical accuracy, but this was so obviously wrong and unnecessary that I just couldn’t deal with it.

So why did this even get 3 stars, you ask?  Great question!  At the time, I think I felt it still had some funny moments and good potential, and I liked the secondary characters.  But in retrospect, it’s the negatives that have stuck with me.  This traveling book club book is due to come back to me next month – they travel to three other people and then return – and it sounds like the others hated it as much or more than I did, so I should at least have some blistering commentary to enjoy in November!