March Minireviews // Part 1

Well, I didn’t quite get my first batch of March reviews in before the end of May, but I consider this progress nonetheless!!

Under Currents by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2019//

One day I was in town running errands and realized that I had forgotten my book, and since several errands were going to involve downtime, it obviously made sense to just buy a cheap paperback off the discount rack, right?  RIGHT.  :-D  One of the big reasons I keep coming back to Nora Roberts time after time is that I just simply love her characters.  She rights people that, even when they’re doing crazy things like marine archeology or running a “big cat” sanctuary in the Dakotas, still somehow feel like real, genuine people.  This one was on the long side, and honestly should have ended after Part 3 (of 4) because literally everything that happened in Part 4 felt a bit over-the-top… BUT I really liked everyone so much, including all the background and secondary characters, that I just simply didn’t mind spending more time with them!

This book tackles the topic of domestic/spousal abuse.  Somehow, NR writes about difficult topics in a way that feel realistic yet sensitive, and she did it again here.  There are scenes that are hard to read, but none of them felt like she was just creating misery porn.  I also appreciated that there were many happy, loving couples and families involved in the story to balance out the darker homes, reminding readers both that we have no idea what goes on behind closed doors (could be quite bad) but also that most people really can find good, loving relationships if they work for them.

One of the main characters is into landscape design, and when I read other reviews of this book a lot of people complained that there was “so much talking about plants”… have to say that I didn’t particularly feel that way BUT I also really love plants and gardening so maybe that’s it haha

I was mildly… frustrated is a strong word… mildly eye-roll-y, I guess, that one character is very stereotypical “redneck” and we are very specifically told that he (a) was homeschooled, (b) has a bumper sticker supported 2A rights, and (c) has always enjoyed hunting.  Oh guess what, he’s also an abusive jerk whose family lives in a creepy compound in the hills.  Just.  I’m really over the portrayal of homeschoolers as borderline cult members.  (Because actually, we all walk among you as normal citizens!)  It’s almost as annoying as the portrayal of everyone who owns guns and/or hunts also being someone who glories in violence and torture.  I know I’ve ranted about this before, but I know a LOT of people who enjoy hunting – including my own husband – and literally none of them are creepy psychopaths who delight in tormenting living creatures.  What they actually are, are people who enjoy sitting about in the woods for hours at a time.  Anyway.

At any rate, on the whole I really did enjoy Under Currents, although I really wanted the title to be one word, Undercurrents, because that made more sense to me.  This wasn’t my new favorite NR read, but it is one I could see myself rereading at some point.

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley – 5*

//published 1941//

Honestly, this is just one of my childhood favorites, so even though it has some weaknesses, how could I rate it less than 5*??  When I was little, I had a picture book adaptation called Big Black Horse, which tells the story of Alec heading home to New York via steamer from India, where he meets a black stallion, wild and untamed despite being wrestled unwillingly onto the ship.  During a terrible storm, the ship goes down.  Alec, overboard with a life belt, grabs a rope attached to the Black’s halter as he swims by.  Thus, they both ended up stranded on a deserted island, desperate to survive.  Big Black Horse ends with their eventual rescue, so I didn’t know until I was around probably 12 or 13 and finally read the actual full-length novel that that’s only the first half of the book!  The second half of the story is Alec and the Black settling back into life stateside.  Alec finds a place to house the Black near his house in a barn owned by an older man named Henry, who turns out to be a retired jockey/race horse trainer.  Henry sees how fast the Black is, and he and Alec want to race him – but the Black has no papers.  Through a series of events they manage to get him into a match race between two of the fastest Thoroughbreds in the country.

I love this book!  I love the adventure and survival story of the first half, and I love the prep for the horse race and the thrill of the big race.  Several years ago, I read the entire Black Stallion series.  Sadly, this is a series that fades out as it goes along – my understanding is that Farley had a lot of personal tragedies that influenced his writing – but this book will always be one of my all-time favorites.  I read it every few years – here’s my review from five years ago as well.

The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis – 3.5*

//published 2022//

I see Davis’s name a lot around Litsy, so I thought I would give one of her books a try.  While this one was okay, it didn’t make me want to rush out and read everything else she’s ever written.  The dual timelines were handled deftly, although I rarely remembered that the 1960s timeline was in the 60s and not present day.  Lily aggravated me because she never did what I would do in her situation, but she was still believable and likable.  The ending was a little shaky for me – I felt like we spent the whole book establishing one person’s character as someone who is very unreliable and who says she will do something and then not do, and then in the end she is the one who is magically fixing everyone’s problems, and it just made me kind of uneasy about the future.  So not a bad read, but not a great one.

The Runaways by Elizabeth Goudge – 4.5* (aka The Linnets and Valerians)

//published 1964//

This was a reread for me, and I enjoyed it just as much this time around.  A rather odd tale, but it somehow works for me.  Four children end up living with their crotchety old bachelor uncle for the summer.  There’s a bit of magic (or is there?).  Much of this story is rather predictable, and I do wish that Lady Alicia’s husband had been missing for a more reasonable amount of time (30 years just feels ridiculous), but I loved absolutely everyone, even the villains.  I would marry Uncle Ambrose myself given half a chance, and since he oddly reminded me of my husband, maybe that all makes sense haha
Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie – 4* (aka Easy to Kill)

//published 1938//

This was a reread for me, and I did remember who the murderer was, but Christie’s books are such a delight that I didn’t mind.  In fact, it was fun to watch her plant the red herrings and clues.  There are bits where this one drags a little as Luke seems to really enjoy hashing and rehashing the possibilities, but overall this is another great setup with a satisfying conclusion.
Running Total: Books that I’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet: 63!!!  High/Low: 97/58

The Winternight Trilogy // by Katherine Arden

I know I said I was going to do the February Rearview next, but I kind of forgot that I was going to review this trilogy first.  I read the first book at the end of February, and then the rest of the trilogy at the beginning of March.  But since this ended up being my favorite book of the month, it seemed like I should review it with the February books!!

  • The Bear and the Nightingale
  • The Girl in the Tower
  • The Winter of the Witch

I’ve had these books on my radar for a while and have heard a lot of good things about them.  But sometimes that doesn’t match up to my expectations, so I wasn’t completely sure what I was going to get.

These books are a bit too complicated for a brief synopsis, but they are medieval Russian in setting and focus on a young woman who can see and speak with “the old gods” aka household spirits.  At this time, the Church is moving through the countryside and telling people they need to stop believing in/praying to/etc the old ones.  But because Vasya can see and speak with them, she knows that these creatures play an important part in the wellbeing of the people, and that it is belief that keeps them alive.  As fewer people believe in them, they are fading away, leaving homes and villages unprotected.  There was a LOT going on here, and I absolutely raced through these books.  While the second book did suffer a bit from second-book syndrome, overall the action just didn’t let up – honestly, these books genuinely stressed me out!!!  There were times I just wanted to grab Vasya to keep her from making the wrong choice!!!  And look, if someone constantly threatens you and your family and everyone you love and wants to destroy all of you, I’m not saying you should go out and kill that guy but… maybe stop saving his life?!?!

Here was the biggest issue I had with these books, and it may sound nit-picky to some, but hey, this is my blog.  These magical creatures are just that – magical creatures.  They aren’t gods, and the people don’t really worship them per se, they just do things like leave out a bowl of milk in exchange for the creature protecting the house, that sort of thing.  In short, I didn’t think of these beings as being religious in any way, good or evil.  Consequently, it really bothered me that Arden referred to them almost uniformly as “demons.”  I understood why the people who couldn’t see the creatures would think of them that way – invisible beings lurking about.  But demons are, you know, connected to hell and serve satan, and these creatures did not do that.  So, in fact, they were not demons, and it annoyed me that they were called that constantly.  In the end, Vasya works hard to help the church people see how the household magic creatures actually help the people and do not detract from the people worshiping God.  I could honestly 100% get behind the church working with magical beings, but the church working with demons??  NO.  Literally the OPPOSITE of all church teachings!  I would have loved this story so much more if the word “demon” had only been used by ignorant people who didn’t really understand the nature of the magic creatures.  Here’s the thing – if you’re reading a story that involves dryads or naiads, you don’t consider them demonic – and that’s literally the same type of thing that these creatures were.  I honestly believe that if God wanted, He could have (and who knows, maybe He did!) create magic and creatures who are magic.  But by calling them demons, you have automatically placed them in the anti-God category, which means I can’t exactly get excited about the church working with them, if that makes sense.

So anyway, that got super rambly, but it was honestly my biggest (and almost my only) issue with these books.  I loved these characters, loved the concept, loved the execution, loved the setting, loved the pacing.  I’ll definitely reread these at some point as well.  If you enjoy fantasy, these are definitely worth a read.

The Secret to Happiness // by Suzanne Woods Fisher

I’m still here!!! Things have just gotten a little crazy again, as they do haha  I’m hoping to post my February Rearview soon, but in the meantime, here is a review from a book I just read!!

//published 2023//

After reading the first book in this series, The Sweet Life, last year, I was honestly excited for a chance to revisit these characters in book two. In book one, Dawn and her mother, Marnie, open an ice cream shop in a small Cape Cod town. Here in book two, they are now in the middle of winter when business isn’t as brisk, still trying to find their way to a successful business. Meanwhile, Dawn’s cousin, Callie, has gotten fired from her job as a top chef because her error led to giving an entire conference of people food poisoning. With her life in shambles and her dad constantly nagging her to “get back out there,” Callie invites herself to stay with Marnie and Dawn.

While I sometimes found some of these characters to be annoying, they honestly annoyed me in realistic ways so I didn’t mind as much, if that makes sense haha I felt like these characters worked together and communicated like real people would in their situations. I really enjoyed the way that the two cousins had completely different perspectives on their relationship – I think that we often make assumptions about how other people feel about something because of the way we feel about it, when that person may have had a completely different takeaway. Starting to realize that the other person didn’t view that relationship and events from the past in the same way really helped Dawn and Callie to grow closer.

A lot of this book is about depression and dealing with it, and there were times that the book bogged down a little into self-help territory. Dawn convinces Callie to attend a class about “happiness” and throughout the story Callie is reading the book written by the class’s teacher. So there were frequently quotes from this book or from the class, and while I mostly agreed with what was being taught, it did come through a little heavy-handed at times.

But I did feel like the subject was handled well. You can’t just “be happy,” it’s true, but there are ways to help train your brain and get out of negative spirals and I felt like this book handled that small-step method really well, although I did find the little “summary” of what Callie had learned at the very end of the book to be a bit much.

This may sound a little dumb, but I was actually quite glad that Callie showed up and eventually was able to get the creamery’s kitchen into order. I’ve worked in the food industry a lot, and Dawn’s methods absolutely gave me the heebie jeebies so I feel a lot better about their chances of success haha

This is a Revell book, so there is a Christian perspective to the story that I appreciated, although I honestly wanted it to be a little stronger. Still, there is a solid message here that God doesn’t “fix” you problems, but He does help you to see the purpose of what life is bringing you.

All in all, an enjoyable read. It looks like there will be a third book next year, and I definitely plan to read it.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me this book in exchange for an honest review.

February Minireviews // Part 3

The final February batch!!!  I also read The Bear and the Nightingale in February (and it honestly was probably my favorite book of the month), but since I read the other two books in the trilogy in March, I’m going to review them all together in a separate post.  So here are the rest of February’s reads!!

Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers – 3.5*

//published 1923//

A group on Litsy is reading some various vintage/Golden Age crime books.  I’ve always meant to pick up Lord Peter Wimsey, so I thought I’d read the first book in this series along with the group.  This one was fun with a good mystery. I got a little tired of the constant dropping of the letter g in the dialogue (“I’m just sayin’ that you must get goin’ if you want to be there on time”) and there were times where there were odd shifts in location in the narrative that felt a little confusing. For instance, at one point Peter and two other people are one place, then in the next scene Peter is at his mother’s house talking with her – when did he go there? Are the two people who were with him earlier now at his mother’s house as well? As the conversation progresses, we find out this information, but the initial shift feels rather jolting, and this happened a few times.

Overall, a decent start to a series, but one with a definite “first book feel” to it. However, I have the second book on my shelf as I definitely intend to give Sir Peter another try.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust – 2.5*

//published 2017//

Honestly, this book was just boring. There was a lot of potential here, but I never felt any kind of connection with the characters. Everyone was very cardboardy, especially the two main male characters, Mina’s father/the magician, and the king/Lynet’s father/Mina’s husband. Why was the magician so evil? Just for fun, I guess. We get nothing of his motivations, he’s just this dreadful, mean person lurking about in the background. Ditto for the king – why is he so obsessed the memory of his wife, to the point that he can’t bear to care about Mina? Why wouldn’t he be happy to let Lynet have a mother? Why would he rather pit them against each other? No clue, he just does and says stuff that doesn’t really make sense. There are only three men in this entire story. Two of them are emotionally abusive, creepy, selfish, and completely unlikable. The third one turns out okay, but he was literally created by a woman, so this book definitely has an anti-man taste that is always going to turn me off. Why does “feminist” in a book description always end up meaning “all the male characters suck”?

It’s a sad book, too. I liked the ending, but what a lot of wasted time, with everyone (especially Mina) assuming the worst about everyone else! I was so tired of listening to Mina go on about how no one could love her, even when people explicitly said that they loved her. I get that she was emotionally abused by her father (you know, the one that was a jerk for no reason that was ever explained… I guess because he’s a man?), but at the same time… oh my gosh, can you stop staring at your own navel for like half a second?? Please?? The author wanted so badly for Mina to be both the catalyst and still be a good guy that in the end she just annoyed the heck out of me.

Lynet is also boring and self-absorbed. It also felt a little creepy that she’s been living in a fairly insulated and isolated society, yet we’re supposed to believe that the first person she’s ever met who is around her age is also the perfect person for her to fall in love with. I’m sure that makes more sense than her just having a crush on the first attractive person her age to show up since she’s been a teenager. I think the story would have been a lot stronger with a friendship between these two instead of “love.”

I also found myself wondering throughout the entire book why any not-rich people are still living north of the frost line? It’s been snowing for literally years and years and years. Why would these people not have immigrated south by this time? What are they living on? How do they make any kind of living? What is keeping them here??

In the end, there was a lot of potential here, but none of these characters worked for me. In turn, that made the action feel clunky because none of the characters felt like they were speaking or acting naturally. I wanted to like this one, but mostly found myself bored.

Not the Witch You Wed by April Asher – 3.5*

//published 2022//

This one was gifted to me in a swap box, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.  It ended up being pretty funny with some good banter and likable main characters, and I’m always here for a fun fake dating trope.  However, while I do enjoy supernatural romances from time to time, I don’t care for one that also include angels/demons.  I believe angels and demons are real; shifters aren’t.  So stories that make demons out to be good, or even regular/just like people, are always going to be a turn-off for me.  So this was okay as a one-time read, but I won’t be reading the sequel, since it’s literally about one the sisters dating a “half-demon.”

Mystery by Moonlight by Mary C. Jane – 3.5*

//published 1963//

This is another one of those children’s mystery books that I bought at a booksale back in the mists of time.  This was a fun, if somewhat forgettable, little story involving some kids and the neighborhood “haunted” house.  It was pretty cute.  I’ve read and enjoyed several of Jane’s mysteries – while they are somewhat simplistic for adult reading, I know I would have loved them as a kid!

Running Total: Books that I’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet: 58!!!  High/Low: 97/58

February Minireviews // Part 2

The Horse-Tamer by Walter Farley – 4*

//published 1958//

While technically a part of The Black Stallion series, this Farley story reads quite well on its own.  In the first chapter, Alec and his horse trainer/friend, Henry, are waiting to take off in an airplane with The Black.  While they are killing time, Henry recounts a time from when he was growing up and went to live with his older brother, Bill – and this reminiscing is the rest of the book.   Originally a carriage-maker, during the course of the story Bill begins to travel around and teach people some of his methods for dealing with recalcitrant horses (during a time period when basically everyone had or worked with horses).  The more adventurous part involves a shyster who is doing the same thing as a big, money-making production, but uses cruel and unsafe methods, so Henry’s brother is determined to expose him for the fraud that he is.

This was one of my favorites growing up, and I still have a bit soft spot for it.  There are some fun stories about the methods Bill uses to break horses of bad habits, and the final scene (with a vicious zebra!!!!!) is still pretty exciting.  It’s geared for younger readers, so you can’t expect too much from it, but it’s a fun and engaging read.

The Time-Traveler’s Guide to Regency Britain by Ian Mortimer – 4*

//published 2022//

The PemberLittens read The Jane Austen Project in January, which was a fictional story about two people traveling back in time to meet/befriend/steal from Jane Austen.  So when we were choosing our nonfiction read for February, this one seemed to be a natural choice!  Apparently Mortimer has done an entire series of these books covering various time periods in Britain, and I may try some more as this one was very readable and engaging.  It was a little difficult for me to get into at first.  Mortimer is writing as though you, the reader, are a time traveler and are using this book to help you navigate through Regency Britain.  Thus, the entire book is written in the second person, with Mortimer telling you things that you shouldn’t miss seeing, or things you are likely to smell, or people you may run into, etc.  Even though you’re taking in a lot of legitimate information, it feels somewhat casual and a little silly at first (to me anyway) because of the informal use of “you” throughout.  But as I got used to it, it did make the book feel friendly and welcoming.

I didn’t 100% agree with all of his conclusions about society, and felt that he did make sure to emphasize all the negatives of religion at the time without any of the positives. In the same chapter, within a few paragraphs, to claim that “all” Christians at the time were satisfied with the status quo because “it’s God’s will for some people to be poor,” and then turn around and immediately start talking about William Wilberforce with barely any acknowledgement that Wilberforce’s entire driving force were his strong Christian beliefs, was genuinely a bit offensive. He does mention that Quakers were the founders of most of the prison and insane asylum reform at the time, but without acknowledging that it was literally their Christian beliefs in the value of all human life that led them to do so. Yet he somehow manages to mention not infrequently the hypocrisy abundant among members of a society who pretty much all attended church, yet lived lives that involved ignoring what we would consider basic human decency. It’s almost as though many people went to church because it was expected, not because their faith was in any way personal or important to them, but that those who did have a strong, personal faith frequently found the motivation to fight to improve the lives of those around them. Hmm.

Despite Mortimer’s religious prejudices, I still found this to be an engaging, informative, interesting read.  It’s friendly and accessible, yet still well-organized and educational.  This book did a great job providing an overview of the era that was the right amount of detailed and has given me loads of background information for many of the books I read and love.

Brave New World by Aldous  Huxley – 3.5*

//published 1932//

This is definitely one of those classics that I have “always” meant to read, so I was rather pleased when it was drawn as my random classic for February.  It’s a hard book for me to review.  As a story, it was definitely lacking.  As a look into human nature – rather more interesting, even if I didn’t agree with the conclusions.  Because I so often see this book paired with 1984, I couldn’t help but compare the two of them as I read them.  This is probably a great place for a reminder that this is just my opinion, not a educational analysis haha  To me, Huxley weirdly comes through as more optimistic than Orwell.  In Huxley’s world, the government is working for the good of the people.  Those who dissent are allowed to go off and live their own quiet lives on various islands and reservations, separate from the more “forward thinking” population.  The government does everything it can to keep everyone happy and contented, but there doesn’t really seem much of a motivation for them to do so, because they don’t really seem to need the “upper class” of people to do much – because they’ve developed ways to create “lower classes” who have been manipulated to want to do what they are needed to do (generally all the jobs no one really wants in real life), it seemed a little odd to me that the government would keep around this “superior” class at all, much less go through so much effort to keep them content.  Orwell’s future, where people are controlled by fear, mind games, and the complete lack of privacy/freedom, makes much more sense to me.  Part of that is my perspective of human nature: I don’t believe people are inherently good; I believe we are programmed to care for ourselves and our intimate family group/tribe/whatever you want to call them first, which is why systems like communism sound good but never work in the real world.  People in power always want more power, so to me Orwell’s version, with the Party doing whatever it took, up to and including elimination of anyone who dissents, seems much more realistic than Huxley’s government that is working, in its own twisted way, to continue to serve the people.

That said, Huxley’s version is still a very interesting conversation about human nature.  I didn’t agree with a lot of the conclusions, but there was plenty to think about.  I’m quite disappointed in myself because I really thought I took some notes on this when I read it, but I can’t find them so… all you’re getting are my three-months-later vague memories haha  In the end, I found this a worthwhile read, but not necessarily one I would revisit, and while 1984 felt like an ominous warning, Huxley’s future felt more like a strange, unlikely mind game.

Running Total: Books that I’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet: 66!!!  High/Low: 97/59

February Minireviews // Part 1

Oof, I was doing so well and then, as always, fell off the bandwagon!!  Things got really crazy around here as we decided to jump into the exciting project of putting down vinyl plank flooring all over pretty much our whole house!! Ourselves!!  So yeah, that was lively, but we are DONE and it looks FABULOUS! But it took two full weekends and some evenings and here we are haha

And, more importantly, here are some FEBRUARY reviews!!

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik – 4*

//published 2006//

I liked the second book in this series better than the first, mainly because Laurence isn’t as much of a prig.  Still, the story is rather dense, with a lot of characters to track.  I had to print off a character list – it really annoys me when authors have huge, complicated worlds with a zillion characters but don’t  bother giving any kind of information.  This series desperately needs a glossary, a drawing of how the dragon battle harnesses work, explanations about the different kinds of dragons, and character lists.  I think the main reason it annoys me is that I know the author has to have these things in order to write the story, so why not share so the rest of us can get our heads around what you’re writing???  A solid story, and I am planning to continue the series, but I do keep kind of putting off book three, so that may be an indication of how much I am really enjoying these haha

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart – 4*

//published 2016//

I really love The Secret Benedict Society books, and this story (by the same author) has a similar vibe.  Reuben and his mother are on their own, and struggling financially.  Reuben’s mother has to work two jobs, which means Reuben spends a lot of time on his own, exploring the city even though he’s supposed to stick to approved areas.  One day, he discovers a mysterious device.  While trying to find out what it is and how it works, he gets drawn into a complicated plot as it becomes apparent that he isn’t the only person who wants this item.  There were times that this story dragged a little, or that Reuben made such a cloth-headed decision that I wanted to bop him on the head, but overall this was a fun middle grade read with a likable protagonist and plenty of excitement to keep the pages turning.  And nothing like a villain who can go invisible to keep things scary!

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder – 4*

//published 1935//

I thoroughly enjoyed my reread of this one.  As a kid, I remember thinking it was exciting and full of adventures.  As an adult, I was absolutely terrified by everything they went through!  And sometimes frustrated with the parents who made some decisions that I found a little questionable, all things considered.  It was very interesting to read this with the Litsy group, as a few of our fellow readers were so inclined to take offense at everything that I was a smidge confused as to why they were reading this book to begin with.  While yes, Ma especially had a strong prejudice against the Native Americans in the region (and I realize that they were illegally homesteading in Indian Territory), I was honestly amazed at how callous some of the modern readers were about the very real dangers and fears the family faced.  In particular, there is one chapter where Pa has had to ride to the nearest town, a multi-day journey, leaving Ma and three small girls all alone in their cabin.  Two Native American men come into the house, force Ma to cook them dinner, stead multiple things from the home, and leave.  Several of our readers had the audacity to think Ma had overreacted by being absolutely terrified by this event!  Setting aside race, in what world is it not absolutely horrifying to imagine two strange men, who don’t even speak the same language as you, coming into your home where it is just you and your three small daughters and no way of protecting yourself??  Personally, I think there is simply a great deal to discuss and learn from in this story, as from other historical pieces.  The Ingalls’s story is only one side of the story, yes, but it IS a side and still worth understanding, as is the perspective of the native people whose land was being stolen at the time.  Both are valid and both are a real part of our history.  All I know is that I would have spent all of my time perpetually petrified by all the dangers to be faced!

Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2018//

Wow, this was kind of a tough one.  It’s a great story and I really grew attached to the characters.  However, the material is tough to get through – the story starts with a terrifying killing spree, with three teens shooting up a busy shopping mall.  This part of the story is handled well – it didn’t feel unnecessarily gruesome, but it did capture the absolute horror and helplessness of the victims.  The story then jumps forward in time, focusing on the lives of two of the people who lived through the event – one young man who went into law enforcement because of his experience that night, and a young woman who was one of the first people to call 911 during the shooting.  The biggest reason that I don’t see myself rereading this one is because the whole point is that the mastermind behind the shooting wasn’t actually there that night – and now is going on to kill people who survived that night who “should” have died.  The shooting itself was pretty horrific, but then to watch people who survived and changed their lives after living through it still get senselessly murdered – that was just so hard to read.  It made for a great, suspenseful story, but parts of it were just so incredibly sad.  In some ways, this was one of my favorite of her books that I’ve read, just because it was written so well, with the sensitive material handled deftly, but I doubt it’s one that I’ll revisit.

The Provincial Lady in London by E.M. Delafield – 3.5*

//published 1933//

In completely contrast to Shelter in Place are the lighthearted adventures of the Provincial Lady.  In this, the second volume, the PL has come into some money from selling her first book (Diary of a Provincial Lady) and is convinced by her friends that she should rent a small flat in London where she can escape from the daily cares of life and focus on writing her second book – except every time she goes to London, she seems to get more distracted than ever!  I read the first volume of this series with the Traveling Book Club, and because the same group of us decided to read together again for another round, we chose this second volume as one of our books.  However, this one fell just a little flat – some of the situations felt a little forced, and it’s obviously that the PL has learned nothing when it comes to things like living with her budget, appreciating her life, and not trying to impress others by exaggerating her accomplishments!  I did enjoy parts of this – there were some very fun little shenanigans and whatnot, but it lacked some of the sparkle that the first volume had, and the little undertone of bitterness and discontent that would flash from time to time in the first book felt even more prevalent here.  I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the third volume – although in it the PL does come to America! – and even though I’m reading with this same group of ladies for another round of Traveling Book Club, we decided not to continue the PL’s adventures together.

January Minireviews // Part 4

Final batch for January!!

Twelve Percent Dread by Emily McGovern – 2*

//published 2022//

This graphic novel started strong, with an fun story and likable characters, but the story went literally nowhere.  There is a bunch of build-up and then it just… ends.  No resolution.  Every single character is left hanging.  It was incredibly frustrating.  I also struggled with this one because the writing is SO tiny and hard to read, and because many of panels are so small, it could sometime be difficult (especially at first) to tell characters apart.  And also, I’m sorry but this is just the way it is, having someone’s pronouns be they/them can make it SO hard to follow a narrative when you can’t tell if the narrator is referring to one person or several.  I really like McGovern’s artwork, and many of her short-form comics (especially the Background Slytherin comics), but this book just really fell short of the mark.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – 3.5*

//published 1818//

I had never read this classic before and was honestly quite intrigued to pick it up, considering that it is such a foundational piece of literature.  However, it wasn’t really for me.  The narrative structure can definitely be confusing (it’s someone writing a letter telling a story, and then he starts quoting someone else telling a story, who frequently quotes someone else telling a story… I mean, seriously), and while I understood why Shelley wrote it that way, it was sometimes difficult to remember who was telling who what.  Frankenstein himself drove me a little crazy and frequently did and said things that made no sense to me.  I was especially aggravated with (1) the fact that he creates the monster and then literally runs away immediately without a moment’s hesitation – seriously???  and (2) how long it takes him to actually take up arms against the monster, like literal months trailing this thing around and not actually figuring out a battle plan against it.  I also found the monster to be a bit unbelievable – I could buy him teaching himself to speak and read, but to be able to eloquently quote from ancient classics, and to formulate the kinds of arguments he did?  Well.

As a story warning about the dangers of dabbling in things we really don’t understand, and claiming that “science” justifies things like creating the atom bomb or seeing what kind of horrific diseases we can create in a lab, this reads great. As gothic horror, it reads okay.  It was definitely worth the one-time read, and I think it deserves its status as a classic, but it isn’t one I see myself rereading.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach – 2*

//published 1970//

My husband was given this book to read at an influential age, and would mention it from time to time as the first time he ever considered the concept of transcendence, so I got him his own copy for his birthday.  It’s the story of a seagull who isn’t content to just hang out on the beach and eat stuff like the rest of the flock – he wants to pursue the true magic of flight, beyond just the necessities.  Of course, this kind of attitude can’t be tolerated (for some unknown reason) so he is cast out from the rest of the flock.  Over time, Jonathan Livingston Seagull uses his extreme flight speeds to achieve another level of existence, which he teaches to the other young, rebellious seagulls as well, as they all pursue their flying nirvana, much to the horror of those boring, traditional seagulls who just want to do regular seagull stuff.

My husband enjoyed the nostalgia trip, although he wasn’t quite as enamored with the story as he was when he was 13.  That said, he did write, “Seagull is to flying as I am to _____” on our chalkboard as he contemplated what it is in his life that makes him fly haha  However, I’m not as “heady” as my husband, so I honestly just found the entire parable to be quite aggravating.  What’s the big problem with wanting to just hang out on the beach and eat breakfast?  Why does everyone have to suffer and struggle to try and transcend to the next level?  At the end of the day, it wasn’t a bad book, it just wasn’t a match for me.  I like doughnuts and sitting in the sunshine too much to spend my days trying to transcend!

Ben and Me by Robert Lawson – 4*

//published 1939//

Lawson wrote a few of these books, taking historical figures, putting some kind of animal in their life, and then telling the person’s story from the perspective of the animal.  This is the most well-known of them, with the life of Ben Franklin told from the perspective of his friend and companion, Amos the mouse.  Amos helps Ben make most of his discoveries and inventions, and helps him become a renown diplomat as well.  Amos lives in Ben’s hat, where it’s convenient for him to take notes and give Ben advice on the fly.  My favorite part was how many other famous people from the time had their own secret mouse-companions helping them along.  This one is fun and silly with fabulous illustrations by the author.  An all-around good time.

The Roundhill by Dick King-Smith – 3*

//published 1999//

King-Smith was incredibly prolife, writing, I don’t know, probably close to a hundred children’s books over his lifetime.  (I mean seriously, look at his list of published works on Wiki!)  I pick up his books whenever I come across them on the cheap, and have quite a few of them sitting unread on my shelves, despite most of them only being around 75-100 pages long.  With such a large body of work, some are definitely stronger than others (he’s best known for The Sheep-Pig, which is what the movie Babe the Gallant Pig is based from; I personally have a soft spot for the first of his books I ever read, The Fox Busters.)  All that to say, while this story was okay, it wasn’t one of his best (in my opinion).

Evan is a rather lonely boy who has a love for his special, secret place, which he calls The Roundhill. One day, he finds a girl there, who tells him her name is Alice.  At first annoyed that someone else has invaded his space, over the next few meetings Evan finds himself drawn to her.  However, she is also rather mysterious – to the point that Evan begins to wonder if she is even real.  This book is weirdly sad and doesn’t exactly go anywhere.  I never could particularly like Evan, who is rather mean to his visiting cousin at one point, and whom I just never quite connected to.  At the end of the book he is an elderly adult reflecting on his life, and I felt quite sad for him as he said he wished he could believe in God but just couldn’t.  All in all, there is a sad undertone to the story that kept me from really enjoying it.  At only 84 pages long it didn’t take me long to read, but I doubt I’ll pick this one up again.

Mr. Mulliner Speaking by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1929//

Like Meet Mr. Mulliner, this collection of short stories are all told by Mr. Mulliner from his usual spot in the Angler’s Rest.  With so many relatives inclined to get entangled in all sorts of adventures, Mr. Mulliner has a tale for every occasion.  These stories are fun and silly, and delightful Wodehouse fare.

Salute by C.W. Anderson – 4*

//published 1940//

Anderson’s Billy and Blaze books were some of my first introductions into the joys of horse stories, and I still snatch up any book written and/or illustrated by him that I can find.  He wrote several books for younger readers that are short chapter books (so a step up from the Billy and Blaze picture books, difficulty-wise), and Salute is one of those.  At only 64 pages, many of which are illustrated, it’s not a very in-depth book, but is still a fun story about a boy who is given a retired racehorse.  The odd part about this story is that Salute himself doesn’t show up until the very end of the story – it’s more about this first horse that the boy owns, helps restore to health, and then retrains to race.  Still, a nice little story that definitely added to my conviction as a child that someone would just show up and give me a horse someday!  LOL

Running Total: Books that I’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet: 59!!!  High/Low: 97/59

January Minireviews // Part 3

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn – 3*

//published 2017//

Add this to the large pile of books that I wanted to like more than I did.  In this one, set in the near future, time travel exists, but is used very sparingly and for very specific purposes.  Recently, a previously unheard-of letter from Jane Austen has been discovered, and it references a hitherto unheard of, unpublished novel.  Rachel and Liam are chosen to go back to 1815, befriend Jane, and then steal this novel by using fancy technology to copy it onto a flash drive-like thing.  Their cover story is to pose as a brother and sister moving to London from Jamaica to hopefully cover the fact that they don’t know anyone and maybe sometimes get a little bit of the “politeness rules” wrong.  Rachel is a doctor, and the secondary aspect of the mission is to try and find out what killed Jane at such a relatively young age.

I actually really liked the concept of this book and overall even though it was executed fairly well.  However, I found Rachel and Liam both to be extremely unlikable.  The entire story is narrated by Rachel, and they haven’t been in 1815 for very long before we start hearing about how she finds Liam strangely attractive and really wishes she could sleep with him, yadda yadda yadda.  She also acts like it’s SO horrid that she has to go SO LONG without having any sex (months!), what a burden .  She has a lot of opinions about how strong and independent she is, which means she sleeps with lots of different guys with no strings attached.  (Side note: really tired of that being the definition of “strong and independent woman”.)  Eventually, despite the fact that it wildly endangers their entire mission, she and Liam DO sleep together, and then I have to hear about THAT.  On top of all of this, Liam is actually engaged to someone back home!  But both of them think this is relatively unimportant, and in fact have an entire conversation about how it’s fine to cheat on someone because that person doesn’t “own” you.  I’m sorry, what?!?!  Rachel especially uses words like “own,” “possession,” and “control” to describe monogamous relationships, which was both creepy and insulting.  I get that Rachel and Liam aren’t actually from 1815, but it was still very jarring to have so much of the story revolve around Rachel’s sex life, all mixed up with the two of them getting to know the Austen family.  Of course, in a weird way I needed to have Rachel keep telling me how attractive she found Liam, because there was absolutely ZERO chemistry between these two, so their entire relationship felt completely forced anyway.  In the end (spoiler) Rachel and Liam do end up together, which left me pretty underwhelmed.  They both are terrible people who think cheating is fine, so I didn’t hold out a great deal of optimism for the long-term success of their relationship, and was genuinely disgusted by their completely callous attitude towards Liam’s fiancee.

Other than completely disliking the main characters, I weirdly liked the story.  The concept really was a lot of fun.  The ending was a little rushed and thus not particularly believable, but it did mostly tie things up.  The 3* is a bit of a generous rating because I did keep reading even with some unlikable characters, and I feel like the book deserves some credit for that!

Skeleton Man by Tony Hillerman – 4*

//published 2004//

Another fantastic installment for the Leaphorn & Chee series.  Excellent pacing and an engaging mystery.  The characters in this series are just so dang likable, and per usual, Hillerman weaves a great deal of culture and tradition into the reading in a natural way.

Indian Island Mystery by Mary C. Jane – 3.5*

//published 1965//

Did you know that there is an Indian Reservation in Maine??  I had no idea!  The story is about two siblings who haven’t been living in the area very long and who have befriended some of the Native American children living on the reservation. The story touches lightly on being friends even if someone doesn’t look or live like you, and the main character concludes by realizing that everyone is different from everyone, and that’s part of what makes life so interesting. The mystery itself is simple but fun, and I was a bit mind-blown that their parents just let these two kids take the bus to Bangor and back on their own to see if they could find a man that none of them actually know very well…!!! This one isn’t going to be some kind of forever classic, but it’s a typical fun little MG mystery from the era and I quite enjoyed it.

The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman – 3.5*

//published 2006//

This was one of the weaker installments in this series, and sadly is also the last of these books that Hillerman wrote before he passed away and his daughter took over the series.  (I haven’t read any of her books yet, so I’m interested to see if there is a noticeable change in the writing style.)  My biggest confusion was continuity – Leaphorn has been retired for several books, yet suddenly here it’s only been a month or so.  Other changes in the characters’ lives indicate that we haven’t gone back in time, so I was genuinely perplexed.  The mystery was rather weak, and where in most books the conversations about culture and religion feel natural and engaging, here it just felt like filler, especially an overly-long section where Leaphorn and another character are driving and talk for probably a full chapter about different religions and beliefs they have in common.  It wasn’t a bad book, and I still overall enjoyed it, but definitely was not one of the stronger books in this overall fantastic series.

Frederica by Georgette Heyer – 5*

//published 1965//

It’s hard to go wrong with Heyer, and Frederica is one of my favorites.  I was happy to revisit it for the traveling book club.  The typical Heyer hero, the Marquis of Alverstoke is handsome, rich, and a bit bored.  He’s also determined not to marry, despite the pressure from all his female relatives.  Enter some distant country cousins in need of his help, which he fully intends to NOT give… only to find himself embroiled in their lives against his will.  I absolutely love this book because Alverstoke doesn’t just find love, he finds an entire warm, happy family, which is exactly what he needs.  Frederica’s siblings are just the right amount of adventurous without being too obnoxious, and Frederica herself is the typical Heyer heroine – independent, intelligent, and has a strong sense of humor.  This is one of my all-time favorite Heyer books, and always worth a reread.

Murder at the Piccadilly Playhouse by C.J. Archer – 4*

//published 2021//

The second Cleopatra Fox mystery felt like the series is beginning to find its stride.  Archer finds a (mostly) natural way for Cleo to get embroiled in another mystery, and it was fun to see some developments with the secondary characters as well.  While this series hasn’t blown me away, they are enjoyable historical mysteries.

Running Total: Books that I’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet: 66!!!  High/Low: 97/66 – Making progress!!!

January Minireviews // Part 2

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin Craig – 3*

//published 2019//

I had really mixed feelings on this one.  I actually really loved it for the majority of the book, but the ending (a) got unexpectedly gruesome, way more down the horror spectrum than I was anticipating, and (b) the ending used a plot device that I somewhat consider cheating, especially since it didn’t really fully explain a lot of the mysteries.  I really liked the characters, especially the narrator, and the concept is done quite well, with a good creepy mystery going on, but then – it just kind of went a little sideways towards the end for me.  But a sequel is coming out the summer and I’ll probably read it, so there’s that haha

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder – 5*

//published 1933//

Continuing the chapter-a-day readalong of the Little House books, our group picked up Farmer Boy next.  For some reason, I always read this one much later in the series when I was growing up, so it was especially interesting for me to read this one right after reading about Laura being the same age.  If I had to pick, I would probably pick Almanzo’s life – much more settled, and SO MUCH good food!!  I really loved reading about all the “how tos” around the farm, and seeing Almanzo learn lessons about life.  I wish that Laura had written another book about Almanzo so that we could learn more about how he got from a prosperous farm in New York to the little frontier town in the Dakotas!

Murder at the Mayfair Hotel by C.J. Archer – 3.5*

//published 2020//

My sister started this mystery series and thought it would be fun for us to read together.  We’re going quite slowly, but that’s better than not at all haha

This one is set just before the New Year of 1900.  Cleo is moving in with her uncle, aunt, and two (adult) cousins, who own a luxury hotel in London (the Mayfair, naturally).  Cleo has been estranged from them for her entire life due to the usual mother eloped with an “unsuitable” man, etc.  This does a great job of giving Cleo an in-between position – she isn’t a guest, but she’s still an outsider learning her way.  She’s always been poor, but now she has money and is expected to act “appropriately” for her class.  When the murder happens, she doesn’t have too many preconceived notions to interfere with her theories.  Some aspects of this story definitely stretched my credulity, but on the whole I liked Cleo herself and found this to be a decent historical mystery with a fun setting.

Living With Pattern by Rebecca Atwood – 4*

//published 2016//

A while back I read Living With Color by this author, and absolutely loved it.  Living With Pattern is actually her earlier book, which I found intriguing since Color seems like a more natural place to start than Pattern (to me).  While I did enjoy this one and found some useful information in it, I didn’t love it the way that I did Color.  I think, for me, “pattern” as a concept is harder to grasp than color.  Pattern involves color, texture, shapes, space, distance, texture, etc.  While this can work if you’re looking at, say, one piece of furniture, it’s hard for me when you’re looking at a room as a whole and trying to identify what patterns you see and how they are interacting with one another.  Honestly, I would love it if Atwood wrote more books breaking down Pattern into more specific subcategories, like she did with Color.  I would happily read a book about texture or furniture placement.  When I read her book about color, I made my husband read it, too, and we discussed SO much of it.  (Part of this, I’ll admit, is because he works with color for a living – he paints cars, which involves a great deal of matching and adjusting color, so he is already familiar with terms and concepts like saturation, vibrance, and hue.)  But I never felt that kind of connection with this book.  And while the book about color had me looking around my whole house and thinking about my spaces, this book left me feeling a little overwhelmed and without a lot of starting direction.  I do think part of this is that our house is very open, and not very big, so while we have distinct spaces without our home, you can see almost everything from any point in the house.  From where I am sitting at my computer in the corner I can see our pantry, the kitchen, a work area, a sitting area, and part of the lower room.  So it can be a tad overwhelming to try and thinking about how all these different spaces are interacting with one another.  Although I did find myself starting to count rectangles, as that seems to be our favorite shape around here!

All in all, Living With Pattern was still a worthwhile read, it just was a bit more academic and less practical than Living With Color was for me.

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie – 4.5*

//published 1930//

This was a reread, of course, of an old favorite.  I absolutely love this mystery.  Partially because I adore Miss Marple, but partially because I love the narrator of this book.  The Vicar is such a likable, self-depreciating individual, and he really levels up the story.  No matter how many times I read this one, I always seem to forget who the murderer is, and even when I do remember, I’m still just caught up in admiration for Christie’s many red herrings.  While not my all-time favorite Christie, this is still an absolute classic.

Running Total: (I think I forgot this on my last post!) Books that I’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet: 74!!!  High/Low: 97/74

January Minireviews // Part 1

Well, well, well, would you look at that!  Reviews from THIS YEAR!  Progress!!!

Well Traveled by Jen DeLuca – 3.5*

//published 2022//

This series started with Well Met, in which the main character gets sucked into helping with the local Renaissance Festival.  I’ve enjoyed the other books in the series (although not as much as the first book if I’m honest) and appreciate the creative ways DeLuca finds to keep us on the RenFaire circuit.  If you’ve enjoyed the earlier books in the series, you’ll probably like this one as well, as it has a lot of the same ingredients.  I really liked these characters together.  However, I do always find DeLuca’s books to be quite sexist against men, and this one was true to form, with Lulu constantly going off on mental rants about how all men are inherently jerks.  It also really annoys me how frequently her female characters complain about men objectifying women, while also constantly going on about how hot men in kilts are.  Almost sounds… hypocritical?? My final eye roll for this book was the fact that DeLuca dedicated the book to herself for being so amazing.  I just.  So tasteless.  So all in all a fine, middle-of-the-road read, but filled with those annoying little nags that so often mix into romcoms these days.

The Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This one is a slow burn yet has weirdly addictive writing. As a child, Olivia was swept into her town’s drainage system while sleepwalking, yet managed to survive three days and was rescued, becoming a national story in the process. Years of being harassed and judged (she and her mother received a lot of money as a result of the rescue) has led her to change her name and try to escape the pressure of the past. But as the 20th anniversary approaches, Olivia is finding it harder to maintain her anonymity – especially when someone from her past appears in her front yard… murdered.

The whole sleepwalking thing was kind of creepy; it’s so scary to think that you can just get up and wander around doing things and not know it. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to wake up someplace different from where you went to sleep! This added just the right amount of unreliability to Olivia’s account. The reason that it stayed a soft pick for me is that while the ending was mostly satisfying, I felt like a lot of the secondary characters were just kind of left hanging. I wanted more resolution with some of the other people I had come to know throughout the story. Still, a solid read, and I can see myself reading another of Miranda’s books if it comes my way.

Wallace the Brave by Will Henry – 5*

//published 2017//

I’ve followed this account on Instagram for quite some time, so I used some Christmas money to purchase the four books Henry has published so far.  Set in a small coastal town in Rhode Island, it focuses on the adventures of young Wallace, his parents, his half-feral younger brother, and Wallace’s group of friends, especially his BFF Spud.  I genuinely love the warm, happy characters, especially Wallace’s parents, who are perfect.  The artwork is so fun.  My only complaint is that there aren’t a lot of longer storylines – most of the comics are self-contained, which is fine, but sometimes it’s fun to have a multi-comic story arc.  Still, these are just so delightful and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey – 4*

//published 2021//

As the star rating reflects, I did enjoy this book a great deal.  The characters are warm and funny, and I’m a sucker for the way Winfrey sets her stories in Ohio and fills them with people who actually enjoy living here.  I did have some nitpicking annoyances with this one, the biggest one just being that I’m over the message that EVERYONE has a THING that is their PASSION and if you want to be TRULY HAPPY you just have to FIND THE THING!!!  I just don’t think everyone has a THING and I also think it’s perfectly possible to be content, happy, and fulfilled without finding that THING.  The weird part was that this aspect of the story was left weirdly unresolved, as it never actually did feel like Teddy found her thing, so that seemed strange.  There were also some inconsistencies with Everett’s character that I struggled to get past.  All in all, not my favorite read of Winfrey’s, but still a fun and fluffy read, definitely above the average when it comes to contemporary romance.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren – 4*

//published 2020//

I’ve had this one on my shelf for a couple of years and finally got around to it.  It was a really fun romcom, although the fake relationship led to multiple situations where I got serious secondhand stress from the lies!!  I loved the banter between the two main characters and did overall ship them together.  However, Olive herself got on my nerves a lot, especially her tendency to hold a grudge.  There is a point in the story where Ethan sides with his brother instead of Olive.  Later, he apologizes to her about it, and that’s the point where Olive should have been willing to admit that she would have done the same thing for her sister if the situation had been reversed, but instead she acts super snotty about it.  Part of being in a relationship is not just admitting when you’re wrong, but being graceful towards your partner when they admit that they were wrong, and Olive has a LOT of work to do in that department.  This book would have really benefited from giving us Ethan’s perspective – Olive was just a little too abrasive for me to fully enjoy being 100% in her head the entire time.  A fun read, but not necessarily one I’ll pick up again.