February Minireviews – Part 2

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

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – 4.5*

//published 1934//

This is a hard one to review.  Christie does a magnificent job with this one, but overall it’s not actually one of my favorites because it’s also pretty depressing.  Still, it’s brilliantly done, and one of those stories that leaves you pondering the ending.

As a side note, I started collecting these absolutely gorgeous editions from HarperCollins and am IN LOVE!  So far they have been putting out two a year, so now that I’ve caught up, hopefully I can stay with them!  I’m including a bonus picture of all of them I’ve collected so far – just LOOK at those end papers!!!

Of Beasts and Beauties by various authors – 3*

//published 2018//

One of this year’s challenges on Litsy is to read the original and variations of a different fairy tale each month.  I’ve been using it as a chance to read retellings already on my TBR.  February’s fairy tale was Beauty & the Beast, so I thought it was a good time to pick up this collection of B&B retellings that I got as a free Kindle book eons ago.  Unfortunately, it was 810 pages of mediocrity and five books that literally were NOT B&B retellings at all?!?!  I was SO confused by that part.  I struggled through these, hoping that one of them was going to make it worth my while, but they were all just boring and angsty without anything particularly engaging.

In the first, a princess marries a Dark Elf to try and build a better relationship between their cultures. It went on F O R E V E R and basically nothing happened except for her whining about how oppressed she was because her dad is a jerk (which he is but… okay, we get it, he’s a jerk). In the second, a young warrior is kidnapped by a tribe of lizard women who need him to participate in their not-sexual ceremony so the next generation of lizard women can emerge. Another yawn-fest that I skimmed a LOT.  Story 3 was a contemporary thriller that wasn’t bad exactly, it was just soooo dramatic, basically her cousin already works there and the chick needs out of the city so her cousin gets her a gig working here (for the “the beast“) as a maid but then they FALL IN LOVE and now she feels SO HORRIBLE because she has LIED TO HIM about BEING A MAID. Wait, what? Like, you took the job, you’ve been cleaning the house, so actually you ARE a maid. When she “confesses“ he struggles to forgive this “lie“, leaving me honestly super confused. The whole story was like that – tiny things blown way out of proportion.  Story 4 had this fun superhero concept, but the world-building was horrible and way too much was trying to be jammed into 150 pages – super choppy writing, almost like it was supposed to be longer and the editors were like, nah, you need to get rid of about half of this. I constantly felt like I was missing something.  Story 5 (& final, thank goodness) was the best out of the bunch, I think, although still overly complicated for its space. Still not remotely B&B although at least there was a daughter making a sacrifice to save her dad so… kind of??

I pick up these kinds of collections thinking that I may find a new author out of them, but none of these made me remotely interested in anything else these people had written.  But honestly, my review could be colored by the fact that I was really excited to read five B&B retellings and this did NOT deliver.

Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – 4*

//published 1997//

Yes, I know it’s Sorcerer’s Stone here in the US… but this time around I’m actually reading British editions!  I got these fancy Hufflepuff editions a while ago (well, I’m actually still in the process of collecting them) and have been meaning to reread the series ever since.  Another Litsy readalong this year is #PotteraDay and it’s actually been really fun to read these books at a slower pace – I usually race through them as fast as I can.  This way I’ve been soaking them up more and noticing more details.  It’s also entertaining to read the British editions, which do have a lot of different words and phrasings.  I really wish that, on the whole, books written by British authors in Britain would not be “translated” into American English as I think they lose a lot that way.  If I’m reading a book set in England, I want it to be authentic!!  These aren’t the best-written books ever, but they’re still great stories and I always find them enjoyable to revisit.

The School for Good & Evil by Soman Chainani – 2*

//published 2013//

This one was just not for me, and I think a big part of it was because it did NOT feel like a middle grade book.  Maybe I have a dirty mind, but here’s a phrase I don’t want to be used to describe a 12-year-old girl OR to have a 12-year-old girl read:  “Her extremely short dress showed off long, creamy legs.”  The entire book was like that.  It wasn’t overtly sexual, but there were extremely weird phrases used that just made me feel uncomfortable.  At one point, one of the girls gets tangled in a magical thorn patch and is being attacked by the plant – she’s stabbed by a “dark and engorged thorn” during a scene that felt like it spent way too much time talking about how the thorn was going to “enter” her.  There are multiple instances where the girls wear skimpy clothes and make up in a way designed to attract the attention of the boys with details like the “creamy legs” sentence above.  In one scene, one of the girls enters the cafeteria during lunch wearing an outfit that shows off her legs and is low-cut in the front and we’re told that the boys’ food “dribbled in their laps.”  I don’t know, maybe I’m overly sensitive, but this book really gave me the weirds, which was disappointing because it seemed like, from the description, something that should be right up my alley.  And on top of all of that, the whole message about good/evil/beautiful/ugly just felt extremely muddled and confusing – like in the end, it actually did feel like beautiful = good and evil = ugly, so I wasn’t exactly sure what the point was supposed to be?? On the plus side, it’s an entire series checked off my list by just reading one book!

February Minireviews – Part 1

February was a really low reading month for me.  I read a few books that were kind of downers and took me a while to get through.  But hopefully that means I can catch up on reviews a little faster!!!

Edit: I wrote most of this post literal weeks ago but… life has just been crazy!! This is my busiest time of year, plus we are working on our crazy bathroom/closet/laundry room remodel still lol But since I know you all are quite interested to hear what I was reading back in February – and considering I already wrote the post but just never got around to putting the pictures in – here you go!!

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.

1984 by George Orwell – 4.5*

//published 1949//

What.  Even.  This is one of those classics that I had never read because it just sounds so dang depressing.  But, current life in this country being what it is, I thought maybe it was time to set aside my prejudices and and read it – and I have no regrets because it was SO GOOD.  Yes, it’s incredibly depressing – but that’s also kind of the point.

This is definitely a book that you read and while you’re reading it, you assume that your political opposition = the government from 1984 – like I can see both conservatives and liberals thinking that the opposite are the ones who best represent everything that is creepy about the politics in this book.  That said… we all know I’m conservative, so it’s probably no surprise that I could see a lot of parallels between the Party and certain groups here at home who find it necessary to rewrite books, “cancel” everything that doesn’t fit their strict narrative, tear down all statues of historical figures they don’t like, and try to get us to ignore basic biological facts because, you know, 2+2=5.

But even beyond this, in many ways this book transcends political differences as well, reminding us of what happens when we, as a people, allow the government to have complete and total control over our lives.  To me, the warnings in 1984 are beyond “don’t let such-and-such party be in charge of your government” – it’s “don’t let ANY government take away your basic human rights.”  And no matter what side of the fence you’re on, if you don’t have a big problem with our freedoms and privacies being swiftly eroded, well, maybe it’s time for you to read 1984 as well.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams – 3*

//published 2019//

This was a book I’d had on my list for quite a while, so I was really looking forward to a lighthearted romcom when I picked it up.  (I needed a little 1984 contrast!)  Unfortunately, this one just didn’t live up to the hype for me.  The idea is that the main character is having marital issues with his wife, who feels neglected and uncherished.  Yearning to recapture the romantic magic they had when they were first together, Gavin turns to his buddies for advice – and finds out that they have a secret book club wherein they, all men, read romance novels and then try to apply the lessons on love they find there to their relationships.  It’s a super fun concept, but it just fell really flat for me.

My main issue – it’s obvious that both Gavin AND his wife (Thea) have problems, but the entire book is all about how EVERY problem in their marriage is 100% Gavin’s fault – Thea has been PERFECT the entire time.  Gavin spends the entire book groveling, begging, pleading, and kissing Thea’s feet, only for her to repeatedly shrug him off and basically say it isn’t good enough.  And you know, it’s one thing to say that if it’s just you and another person involved, but Gavin and Thea have daughters, and it just made me SO angry when Thea kept blowing Gavin off because “it’s better for the girls to have no father than one who isn’t really committed” and a bunch of other BS.  Thea also has a sister who I genuinely wanted to thrown down a flight of steps.  She’s a complete bitch and half the reason Thea was so reluctant to take Gavin back was because Thea’s sister basically kept telling Thea she wasn’t “allowed” to forgive Gavin because what he did was “unforgiveable.”  (Please keep in mind that Gavin DID NOT EVEN KIND OF CHEAT ON HIS WIFE – his “unforgiveable” offense was… being busy with his job… earning a lot of money… for Thea and his girls… and the freaking sister who LIVES WITH THEM)  There were times that Thea would soften towards Gavin and then her sister would just go off on Thea about how she “doesn’t need a man” and she just needs to be “strong” for the “sake” of the girls, yadda yadda.  The sister was a HORRIBLE person and I despised her – she honestly made it hard for me to even get through this book.  There’s also the part where the men’s book club chapters are basically the guys just sitting around reeling off feminist platitudes about “toxic masculinity” etc.  So boring, and completely unrealistic.  Honestly, this entire book felt like the author had never had a conversation with an actual man in her entire life. Finally, it’s a sexy-times book, which I’m sometimes okay with, but this was one of those stories where that aspect just permeated the entire narrative, like Gavin finds out that Thea’s been “faking it” their entire marriage and it’s this whole involved thing (and I’m sorry, but is it really Gavin’s fault that he hasn’t been “satisfying” his wife if his wife freaking has been lying THE WHOLE TIME?!?!) that just kept going on and on and I frankly did not care and did not want details.

So… a weak 3* because there were some funny moments and I like the concept.  I also liked poor Gavin although I felt like he deserved better and also I feel sorry for anyone with a sister-in-law as obnoxious as Thea’s sister.  But this one definitely wasn’t a win for me, and although at the time I had the next books in the series out from the library, I flipped through them and decided to send them back without bothering to read them – especially since the second book was about the horrible sister!

The Big Six by Arthur Ransome – 4*

//published 1940//

I’m still working my way through the Swallows & Amazons books.  This wasn’t my favorite in the series – possibly the first time I’ve given one of these books less than 5* – but it was still a lot of fun.  My main problem with this one is that someone is casting off boats on the river and three of the local boys (members of the Coot Club from an earlier book) are getting blamed for it.  It just seemed painfully obvious who had the motive to do this (hint: not the boys who were getting blamed for it) so I was really frustrated/stressed by the adults in this story who were being so mean to the boys throughout the story.  I don’t like it when people are getting in trouble for something they didn’t do, so since that was a big part of this story, it bothered me.  I will say that the boys’ parents actually did believe the boys were innocent, though, so I appreciated that part of it.

While I didn’t love this one, it was still an overall really enjoyable story with adorable characters – I genuinely am loving these books!!

A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell – 3.5*

//published 2019//

While this wasn’t the best thriller I’ve ever read, it was the first thriller I had read in a while and I’d kind of forgotten the way a decent one can just suck you in and refuse to let you do anything else with your life besides find out what happens.  In this one, Caroline (who is super rich) finds out her husband is having an affair.  She goes to a local dive bar and ends up having a one-night stand with the bartender.  For Caroline, it’s just a one-off.  For Aidan, it’s much more, as he becomes obsessed with her and begins stalking her… or does he?  The first half/two-thirds of the book is told from Caroline’s first-person perspective and Aidan’s third-person perspective, but while what they have to say about different events is mostly the same, they differ at critical moments, leaving the reader unsure which of them is lying.  When a Big Event occurs, the narrative switches to straight third person. I did figure out what was going on, but it was pretty close to the end when I did, and there were still had some details that I hadn’t worked out.  If you read a lot of thrillers, this one may not bring anything fresh to the table, but if you’re like me and you only pick them up from time to time, this one was pretty entertaining.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – 3.5*

//published 2018//

This was a reread for me – I read this one back in 2018, and you can read my more detailed review from that time here.  I did like it a little better this time around, but I still just don’t love this one.  Most of my criticisms from my original reading still stand – this book is unrelentingly depressing; the romance between two of the main characters is really underdeveloped, leaving me confused about why I’m supposed to hope they end up together; there are way too many different voices; having the story center around a Jewish family means that the story is somehow too rooted in our real world instead of a fictional one, which makes the rhythm of the story feel weird to me; and the women in this story all end up betraying someone throughout the course of the tale, adding to the overall downer tone of the story.  It’s not a bad book, and so many people really love it.  There is loads of gorgeous writing, and the concept is fantastic.  But in the end, this book just isn’t magical to me.

January Minireviews – Part 3

Oh my gosh.  Okay.  I’m still here.  I had a mild breakdown today because freaking WordPress changing literally E V E R Y T H I N G on top of my already crappy week was just more than I could take.  I even started to set up a new blog on Blogspot.  But for now I am going TRY to continue working with this stupid website because I feel like I have so much invested here!

A bit of whining first, then book reviews.  Feel free to skip this paragraph.  I’m in a Mood haha  So besides the fact that the entire dashboard is just stupid now, my biggest issue is that the Pages are just in some kind of random order.  (Maybe what’s been edited recently?  But it doesn’t really seem to be that.  Definitely not alphabetical.  Definitely not in the order they are on my site, or anything else that I can figure that actually makes sense.)  I use these pages every time I make a post because it’s how I index everything.  Each book I review then has a link filed on at least three index pages – the ones you can see at the top of the website.  However, even though I can’t sort those pages and the whole thing looks stupid I can apparently “search” them so I think I can use the search function to find the pages I want when I want them… maybe.  Mostly.  Honestly I’m just flat pissed at how horrible the new set up is.  It’s so, so horrible.  

But onward, right?  I’m going to try to see if I can make this stupid website do what it’s always done for me, even if it now takes about 15 extra steps and makes no sense.  At least I can now “seamlessly create a podcast” from my website.  Because that’s definitely what I want to do.  Oh my GOSH.

As a side note I can “kind of” use the Classic editor by choosing it as a block in the Block editor.  Because that makes sense, right? *HUGE EYE ROLL*

EDIT EDIT EDIT EDIT

I FIGURED IT OUT!!!!!  Okay, sorry, this almost feels like it should be its own post instead of one with reviews but whatever haha  OKAY so if your dashboard has also gone completely wonky – I went to My Profile and then on the left sidebar clicked Account Settings.  Now here’s the stupid part.  Just the other day I had to UNCLICK the button that says “Show advanced dashboard pages” so that the update would NOT show up.  Today I turned it ON and now everything is back to normal.  WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!

I’m SO SORRY that I’ve been whining about WordPress so much lately!!!  I’m going to try to go back to being the upbeat person that I usually am haha  Thanks so much for listening to me rant lately and for giving me helpful possible solutions!!!  Maybe this whole thing is back under control!?!?  Time will tell…  For now – on to a few 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.

Time & Time Again by Ben Elton – 4*

The sad part about being way behind on reviews is that books that I really found interesting and thought-provoking at the time have now faded into the distance.  When I read this book back in January, it completely sucked me in.  A fantastic concept well-executed with a great twist – it honestly doesn’t fit my usual style of reading as it wasn’t a particularly happy book, but it was done so well that I didn’t mind.  If you’re someone with a rosier view of the human race than I have (i.e., if you think people are on a generally upward trajectory and are constantly improving rather than devolving), you may not like this book as well.  But since I actually think people are on a cyclical but steady downward trend, this book rather fit with my life philosophy in many ways.  

There were a few too many unanswered questions for me to rank this more than 4*, but all in all it was a solid and engaging read a bit outside of my normal parameters.  

Sheriff Bo Tully mysteries by Patrick McManus

  • The Blight Way – 4*
  • Avalanche – 3.5*
  • The Double-Jack Murders – 3.5*
  • The Huckleberry Murders – 3.5*
  • The Tamarack Murders – 3*
  •  Circles in the Snow – 2.5*
I usually give a series its own post, but I’m so far behind on reviews that I’m not even going to do that haha  
 
I grew up on McManus’s collections of essays/articles and many of my life philosophies are based on his theories.  This series was written late in his life and was one of his few forays into fiction.  Set in a small town in Idaho, the books focus on the county sheriff, Bo Tully, and various murders/adventures/shenanigans that occur in Blight County.  While the series started well with a likable group of characters, the last couple of books fell off sharply, with the stories getting weirder and the final book not even including most of the characters who had been regulars in the earlier books.  I can see myself reading the first two or three books again, but not the whole series.
 
Susannah the Pioneer Cow by Miriam Mason – 3.5*
 
Susannah the Pioneer Cow

//published 1941//

This is a simple children’s story about a pioneer family who moves west (all the way to Indiana haha) in a covered wagon but told from the (third person) perspective of the family cow, Susannah.  It was a happy little story but since it was focused on the cow it was lacking in a lot of details about pioneer life.  I think I would have loved this book when I was an early reader, though, because Susannah does have some exciting adventures.


Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

A fun little collection of short stories based around Miss Marple.  I actually rather enjoyed these because I quite like Miss Marple’s random-yet-somehow-make-sense connections between different people/situations, and those really shine in these shorts.  Not the best Christie has to offer, but still rather fun.

Unknown Threat // by Lynn Blackburn

//published 2021//

For a moment, I’m going to take a break from my January reviews (lol) and talk about a book I read more recently, mainly because the publishers were kind enough to gift me a copy in exchange for my insightful opinions.  :-D

It appears that someone may have a vendetta against the Secret Service office in Raleigh – one agent was killed a few months prior to the opening of the book, and in the first chapter more agents are attacked.  Although there is always some inter-office friction between the FBI and the Secret Service, the FBI is called in to help work through the case, with Faith in charge of the investigation.  Working in close contact with Secret Service Agent Luke, there is some romance in the story, but the main focus is the mystery of who could be staging these horrific attacks and why.

There was a lot to enjoy in this story.  I really liked the characters and felt like Blackburn gave them a believable amount of backstory/issues without it getting ridiculous.  Both Luke and Faith have aspects of their past that they need to overcome, both to help them through the case and to help them come together as a couple.  This is published by Revell so there is a Christian message to the story, but the conversations about Christianity, prayer, doubt, and faith felt organic to the story rather than shoehorned in as is so often the case.  However, on that note, it did feel a little too tidy at the end – I would have liked some more specific resolution concerning Faith’s issues with her faith.  The ending of the story also felt a little too… complicated?  It did make sense, but in a somewhat convoluted manner.

Still, on the whole I really enjoyed this one.  It was an easy 4* read for me, and I’m looking forward to checking out the next book in the series when it appears.

January Minireviews – Part 2

Lately, I’ve considered giving up book blogging since I’ve been quite terrible at keeping up with it. Life is busy and I have a lot of other commitments. Plus, I’m not going to lie, I hate the new WordPress block editor with a seething passion. HATE. IT. It’s so counter-intuitive, overly-complicated, and absolutely nonsense when you just are trying to have a regular blog where you write stuff and stick in a few pictures – I’m not attempting to create an actual webpage here, I’m trying to write a BLOG. Every time I start to write a new post, I just remember how much I hate working on WordPress now, which makes me extra depressed because I’ve always been such a huge fan of this site and have had several different blogs here over the years. Is anyone using a different host that they like better? I’m up for exploration because WordPress now SUCKS.

But anyway, all that to say, at the end of the day I actually use this blog to track what I read and whether I liked it, so even if other people don’t read my reviews, I actually use them as a reference point all the time haha So for now, even though I’m always a couple months behind, I’m going to keep at it. I do enjoy writing the actual reviews (usually) (except for the part where I have to use WordPress’s stupid new editor) so I’m going to keep posting a few reviews whenever I get the chance.

And so – here are some books I read back in January!!!

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

Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll – 3.5*

//published 1865, 1872//

These books (generally published together now, although originally published seven years apart) are classics that I hadn’t read in decades. There’s a group on Litsy visiting one fairy tale per month, the original and then whatever variations or retellings anyone wants to read, so it seemed like a good way to hit up some of the stories I either haven’t read or haven’t read in a long time, starting with Alice. As I had vaguely remembered, I didn’t particularly enjoy these stories. They’re okay, but they are just a little too frenetic for my personal tastes. I’m consistently intrigued by what books become classics. Why are these books, published way back in 1865 and 1872 still considered childhood classics that everyone should read? I honestly don’t know because while they’re fine stories, I really don’t find them particularly inspiring or engaging. I didn’t mind reading them, but don’t particularly see myself returning to them again.

Thirteen at Dinner AKA Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1933//

This is a crafty little Christie starring Poirot and the faithful Hastings. It’s kind of impossible to talk about this one without using spoilers, but I’m still, after all these years and rereads, consistently impressed with Christie’s story-crafting abilities. It isn’t just the mystery, which was solid, but her ability to make the reader care about what happens to various characters. She pretty much always “plays fair”, giving the reader the facts needs to solve the case… but I pretty much never do. Some of the time for my rereads, as with this one, I remember who the villain is, but still enjoy watching Christie line up the red herrings .

The Pioneers by David McCullough – 4*

//published 2019//

This is a nonfiction book that originally drew my attention because its focus is on the settling of Marietta, Ohio, and the impact that that had on the push of settlers into the Northwest Territory. I’ve read maybe one other McCullough book, but can see myself checking out some of his other titles. Overall, this was a solid read, but at less than 300 pages, not particularly a deep one. While I enjoyed the quotes and diary entries that made the text more personable, I also sometimes felt like McCullough let them dictate the direction of his book a little too much. The last section, especially, wanders away from Marietta and kind of all over the place, almost as though he still had some good quotes but didn’t know how to work them in. But there were loads of fun facts, like how there is a recorded instance of the settlers cutting down a tree that was TWENTY-ONE FEET in diameter, or how one community was so determined to establish a library that they collected animal pelts and sold them to buy their books – Amesville still bills itself as the home of the Coonskin Library. I’ve been to Marietta several times and visited the museums there, but it was interesting to hear about some of the other settlers, as much of the information in Marietta is focused on the most famous of them, Rufus Putnam.

All in all, a decent read about pioneer history, but one that I would label as a starting point rather than all-inclusive.

Bill the Conqueror by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

I’m always in the mood for Wodehouse even when I think I’m not in the mood for Wodehouse. As always, this book followed Wodehouse’s classic formula, but he does it so well and with such funny, funny one-liners that I always enjoy every page. With a whole slew of likable and unlikable characters all engaged to the wrong people, this was another fun read by my favorite author.

The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack – 3*

//published 2017//

This is where waiting two months to write a book review really does the book an injustice. At the time that I read this one, I had a LOT of opinions about it, but now most of them have fizzled away. Basically, the main character works for an auction house that sells incredibly high-quality, expensive stuff. She’s an appraiser, and the story opens with her assessing a collection of books and documents. In them, she finds a manuscript that claims to have been written by a woman from the time of Cleopatra, but what really shocks the MC is when she comes across HER NAME in the manuscript. As things unwind, we discover that the manuscript’s author was a seer and she is writing this entire thing about various future descendants of herself.

I wanted to like this book, and if I turned off the logic side of my brain I did like it, but there were just too many gaps and issues for me to really get behind it. The MC herself is super annoying and a total user of everyone around here. She’s recently found out that she was adopted and is acting like a petty, spoiled child about it and at times is downright cruel to her adopted mother. For someone supposedly in her late 20s/early 30s, she frequently sounded like a petulant, sulky teenager. Even if I accepted the fact that the author of the manuscript was a seer with the ability to look to the future, I couldn’t believe that she would have the mental capacity to understand everything that she was seeing. Could someone from Cleopatra’s time have a vision that involved airplanes and cars and understand them – and have words for them?? The stories that the seer was writing were far too complete to actually make sense as a prophetic manuscript, although the stories themselves were engaging.

The plot with the missing tarot cards was convoluted and choppy and still didn’t make sense at the end. This was one of my traveling book club books, which is why I read it – it wasn’t particularly a book I would have picked for myself, or finished reading if I had. Not a terrible book by any means, but it didn’t really inspire me to find out if Womack has written anything else.

January Minireviews – Part 1

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

Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer – 4*

//published 1932//

Heyer didn’t tend to write sequels/connected books, so I was bit surprised when I read These Old Shades and then discovered that there was actually a sequel. Devil’s Cub is set a generation later – focusing on the son of the main couple from Shades. You don’t necessarily have to read Shades first, but it did add a level of fun, knowing more about the various characters. This wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was good, fluffy, Heyer fun with plenty of snappy dialogue, likable characters, and slightly-absurd adventures.

The Flip Side by James Bailey – 3.5*

//published 2020//

Most romcoms are written by women, and focus on the woman as the main character, but I genuinely appreciated Bailey’s story, which focuses on a guy, and puts that guy in the situation that so many female characters start with. Josh has arranged an incredibly romantic date with his girlfriend with the intention of proposing. Except not only does she turn him down – she confesses that she’s been cheating on him and no longer “feels the magic.” Within the first chapter, Josh is single, jobless, and back to living with his parents in the suburbs. As he looks at his life, he feels completely overwhelmed by all the choices he has to make, and all the choices he has made to get where he is – he feels like a failure and can’t see a way forward. And so, he decides to stop making decisions. Instead, he starts flipping a coin and letting fate decide what happens next. And as one might expect – shenanigans ensue.

There was a lot to enjoy about this story. There are fun and slightly-ridiculous scenarios, mostly likable characters, and a little bit of thoughtfulness about life choices and where they take us. On the other hand, a lot of the pacing felt stuttered, a few of the characters were extremely underdeveloped, and there’s this whole weird thing where Josh gets a ride with a taxi driver named Jesus, which leads to this whole conversation/scenario that felt kind of sacrilegious to me.

At the end of the day – an entertaining and overall enjoyable, but it isn’t one I see myself reading again and again.

The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer – 4.5*

//published 2004// Also, the cards are for another Litsy challenge haha //

These are the sequels to Sorcery and Cecelia, which I reread in December. Like the first book, they are fun and happy epistolary novels. In The Grand Tour, the two couples from Cecelia have just gotten married and are off on a joint honeymoon around the Continent, where they run into another magical mystery. The Mislaid Magician takes place about ten years later – both families now have several children, adding to the fun. This one is extra entertaining as there are letters between the husbands as well.

All in all, these are just such fun books with enjoyable characters and a very fun world-building concept – highly recommended.

Eyewitness Guides: Brazil4*

//published 2020//

Another challenge on Litsy this year is #FoodandLit – there’s a country each month, and participants try to read some books set in that country or written by authors from it, and we also share recipes, although I’m not particularly good at that aspect haha Because I’m really trying to keep my challenges focused on reading books already on my TBR, my goal is to read two books for each country – one nonfiction, most likely a travel guide of some sort – and one fiction, mostly based on what’s available at the library! These Eyewitness guides are great fun – super colorful, full of photographs and maps, and I learned all sorts of things about Brazil, which is actually a HUGE country. It was also fun to read this one before I read my fiction choice (next review) since I had a much better grasp on the geography of the country by the time I got to Ways to Disappear, in which the characters hop around the country quite a bit.

A fun way to armchair travel, especially to countries I’ll probably never visit in person.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This was a weird book that I would never have picked up if it wasn’t for the #FoodandLit challenge. The story is about Emma, who works as a translator. Her main focus for several years has been translating novels by a Brazilian author named Beatriz Yagoda. The story opens with Beatriz climbing up a tree with a suitcase – and that’s the last anyone sees of her. Emma, in snowy Pittsburgh, receives an email that she thinks is from someone connected to Beatriz’s publishing house, and spontaneously decides to go to Brazil to see if she can help locate Beatriz, a decision that makes Emma’s live-in boyfriend/almost fiance quite annoyed. In Brazil, everything is as opposite to Pittsburgh as it can be. It turns out that the email was actually from a mafia-like guy to whom Beatriz owes thousands of dollars in gambling debts. The story wanders through Brazil as Emma and Beatriz’s adult children try to find the missing author all while dodging the increasingly intense threats of the loan shark. The entire book has an almost dream-like quality to it, with an emphasis on the hot, sticky weather (in contrast to wintry Pittsburgh). Emma has an affair with Beatriz’s son, struggling with feeling conflicted about the marriage proposal she knows is coming from her boyfriend back home. Beatriz’s daughter, Beatriz’s opposite in almost every way, is frustrated that Emma is there at all, much less than Emma thinks she knows so much more about Beatriz than anyone else. The whole novel meanders around – it feels like, with the whole loan-shark-deadline-if-you-miss-it-we’re-going-to-kill-you thing, that there should be more of a sense of urgency, but there just isn’t. The ending is odd, but not necessarily out of character for the rest. A book I’m not exactly glad I read, but also not mad that I did, either. It was a fairly quick read, which helped, because I’m not sure how long I could have put up with the complete bizarreness of the whole thing.

The Broken Earth Trilogy // by N.K. Jemison

Oh man, I was SO CLOSE to actually being caught up on book reviews and stuff… and then somehow the entire end of January just disappeared!!! So here I am in February, writing up some January reviews!

  • The Fifth Season
  • The Obelisk Gate
  • The Stone Sky

I’ve had this series on my TBR for quite some time, so when Jemison came up as January’s #AuthoraMonth on Litsy, I decided it was time to finally read them. While the world-building was excellent and the concept quite good, this story was also relentlessly depressing, which made it a difficult read for me. There is also one view of the narrative that’s told in second person – it was annoying to start with and only got more annoying as the story progressed. Even when I found out who was talking and why – I was still aggravated because not only was it second person, it was second person present tense, which literally made ZERO sense within the context of the tale. Finally, the conclusion of the story really depends on the motivations and actions of one character who I felt was entirely too young for that scenario to make sense – and even if she was older, I still wouldn’t have really believed that she was willing to destroy the world because of this one certain situation, which meant that the entire third book/conclusion to the story arc left me feeling a little so-so about the entire series.

I was going to say some more about these books (mostly complain about the second person thing), but now it’s been a month since I read them and a lot of my stronger feelings have faded haha In the end – interesting but so depressing that I’m not really planning to read any more of Jemison’s books. I also felt like there was a strongly polemic undertone about racism that at times felt a little like I was getting clunked in the head with it, and that wore on me after a while.

All in all, I don’t exactly recommend this trilogy, but if it sounds intriguing to you, it’s worth giving it a try. In retrospect, the story telling really must have been pretty strong for me to stick out even though all that second person nonsense, but that really did drive me absolutely crazy.

Active Defense // by Lynette Eason

YAY!! Reviews for January IN January!! A momentous occasion! While Active Defense wasn’t the first book I read in January, it was a book that I received from the publisher so I wanted to get this review written before I delved into the rest of this month’s books.

Third in Eason’s Danger Never Sleeps series, this story focuses on Heather and was probably my favorite of the series so far. All of these books are centered on a group of friends who met/served together in the military in Afghanistan, but I appreciate the fact that Eason doesn’t try to politicize her stories. Most of the action takes place stateside, but Eason uses the military and Afghanistan as a backdrop that is effective and engaging.

//published 2021//

Heather worked as a field surgeon when she was in Afghanistan, and is now back home in South Carolina as a civilian, working in a hospital there. However, she’s recently become convinced that someone is following her – and she can’t figure out why. She confesses her concern to her friends one night when they’ve gathered for a cookout. Present are several characters from the last two books, including Travis, who owns a security agency and employs a couple of the other characters. That night, when Heather gets home, she notices several things out of place at her house and even though her alarm hasn’t been triggered, believes someone is hiding in her house. When she sees a picture of her and her closest friends on the refrigerator, each of them now sporting a red dot on their foreheads that weren’t there earlier, she grabs her emergency cash and emergency gun and bails, only letting her friends know that she’s going into hiding and that they may be in danger, not telling them where she’s headed.

The action in this one felt well-paced and (for the situation) believable. Now that more relationships have been established within the group of friends, the story was more cohesive than the earlier books – originally the readers were just told that these people all trusted one another, but now we’ve seen them working together and have watched that trust develop.

Sometimes the “side story” feels extraneous and distracting, but here I liked the addition of Ryker’s story. His background with an abusive father tied in well to Heather’s background, giving her more depth and helping us to better understand some of her actions, while also showing how situations where someone is being abused are frequently nuanced – not because the abuse is ever justified, but because it can be so difficult for victims to extract themselves from these horrible situations.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read – what I would call “lite” thriller – definitely a thriller, but not necessarily with the dark intensity that that term generally conjures up. While this reads best within the context of the earlier two books, it still stands independently and can be read that way, although you’ll miss some of the background connections between other characters. I’ve liked Heather from the beginning of the series and was glad to see her get her own story. Also, while I originally thought this was going to be a trilogy (mainly because Eason seems to favor them) but it appears that a fourth book is scheduled to be published this year.

Conclusion – 4* for an engaging and enjoyable read. Special thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy, which didn’t impact my opinions at all.

December Minireviews – Part 5

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.

My friends, this is the FINAL post of December reviews!!!

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz – 2.5*

//published 2017//

I’m always up for a P&P variation and even though I had heard a lot of mixed reviews about this one I decided to give it a try. This one wasn’t for me, though – I ended up skimming the entire second half just to get through it. The main issue was – this shouldn’t have been written, labeled, or marketed as a P&P retelling because it was drawing the comparisons between the two stories that left me feeling aggravated the entire time I was reading this. This story is a gender-swapped tale, with (first name) Darcy coming home to see her family and running into her old high school nemesis Luke Bennet. But if it wasn’t for the names, I would never have assumed this was supposed to have anything to do with P&P. P&P’s Darcy’s driving motivation is his intense commitment to caring for his family, estate, and the many people who depend on his responsibility. Mistletoe’s Darcy is a selfish, whiny little brat who decided her family was too “unsupportive” of her life choices (because of course anyone’s parents would be SO ANGRY if their daughter decided to have a successful career) and so left to strike out on her own. The implication is that she refused any and all money from her family, yet somehow now she’s one of the richest women in the country…??? P&P’s Darcy has no immediate family left besides his sister, and the tragedy of this is a huge part of what has left him cautious about relationships. Mistletoe’s Darcy still has both her parents plus multiple siblings, all of whom she treats like trash. P&P’s Charlotte is Elizabeth’s practical best friend – Mistletoe’s Charlotte is Luke’s bitter, obnoxious girlfriend. P&P’s Darcy had semi-legitimate reasons for being concerned about Bingley’s crush on Jane – there was no good reason for Mistletoe’s Bingley (Darcy’s gay best friend) to not like Luke’s brother, so we had this weird thing where Darcy just says she thinks they’re “going too fast” leading to completely contrived and almost immediately resolved conflict between Bingley and Luke’s brother. In P&P we have a fabulous slow burn between the two main characters where they both can’t stand and yet are drawn to each other. In Mistletoe, Darcy and Luke start snogging in basically the first chapter and other than Darcy remembering their past animosity, we really don’t get any reason for why the two of them shouldn’t like each other.

This wasn’t the worst book I read in December, but it was close. I think the entire story would have been SO much better if de la Cruz had just written a fun romcom about a bratty rich girl who gets her comeuppance. Instead, she tried to force a lot of P&P characters into the story, which made everything she was writing come up short.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – 3.5*

//published 2014//

At this point in December (the 27th, to be exact) I ran out of Christmas books!! It was sad because I actually still wanted to read more. (I’m not sure if it was sadder that I was out of them when I wanted to read them, or that I’d already read so many and still wanted to read more haha) So I picked up the next book on my TBR instead, which happened to be this one. It’s about a grumpy widower who runs a small bookshop on an island in New England. The story opens when one of the publishing companies sends a new sales rep to see him and he’s super rude to her. From there the story meanders around through AJ’s backstory, showing how he got to this point. It also moves forward in time to the moment when he someone leaves a baby in his bookstore with a note asking him to take care of her. AJ ends up adopting the baby (which honestly felt like a big weak point of the story, considering he just keeps the kid the entire time the process is ongoing… it really felt like she should have been put into an official foster home at first considering he’s just technically some dude not at all related to her) and of course his life changes as he softens up and opens up and ends up marrying the sales rep etc etc. I wasn’t expecting this book to cover so much time, but it continues right up through the baby becoming an adult and AJ’s eventual death and what happens to the bookstore after that. All in all, this wasn’t a bad story in any way and I found it perfectly pleasant to read, but it almost tried to cover too much time and too many characters, since we’re also following the life of AJ’s first wife’s sister and her husband and also a random policeman and maybe someone else that I’m forgetting right now. It’s not actually that long of a book (258 pages) so it kind of felt like we were skimming through a lot of things, and despite the main focus being on AJ, I never felt like I knew him all that well.

This is sort of literary fiction lite, so for people who like those types of stories they’ll like this one as well. It wasn’t a great fit for me, but that’s more on me than the book.

Foxes in Love by Toivo Kaarinen – 4.5*

//published 2020//

I follow this comic on Instagram and honestly love it so hard. The foxes remind me of Tom and me all the time. I try to support artists whose work I usually enjoy for free by buying their books when they appear, so I preordered this one and was delighted when it arrived on my doorstep a few months later.

I will say that apparently the foxes are based on the artist and his boyfriend, but their sexual orientation is not really a part of the comics – I didn’t even know they were both guys for a long time – for the most part it’s just about their every day lives and it makes me quite happy.

Christmas Weddings by various authors – 3* average

//published 2007//

I know I said I ran out of Christmas books but THEN two of them came in the mail from Paperback Swap! The day was saved!!!

This one has three stories in it and they pretty much went from terrible to regular. The first was His Christmas Eve Proposal by Carole Mortimer and it was one of the worst stories I read all month. First off, the author used exclamation points constantly! She would use them just for regular sentences! He made her a cup of coffee! She refused to drink the coffee! He didn’t know what to do with the cup of coffee! If she wasn’t using exclamation points, she was fading away with ellipsis… Slowly he walked back to the kitchen… Apparently he would just have to pour the coffee down the drain… IT WAS HORRIBLE. Plus, to top it off, they also win the instalove award of the month since they had known each other TWENTY-FOUR HOURS before he PROPOSED MARRIAGE! Oh my gosh.

Next was Snowbound Bride by Shirley Jump. This one was a little more regular. The female MC designs wedding dresses and is flying her most expensive, fanciest one yet in person to California – but she gets stranded in the Chicago airport because of a snowstorm. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she runs into her old exboyfriend, and he’s looking pretty delicious.

The final story was my favorite, Their Christmas Vows by Margaret McDonagh. I guess this one is loosely part of a story about a group of medical professionals at a Scottish hospital. In this one, the female MC has just started a new job as an helicopter EMT which means she has to work with this one doctor a lot. He has a reputation for being a big flirt and she’s super suspicious of him. She’s coming out of a bad relationship where her husband of less than a year left her when she had to have her breast removed because of cancer. The entire part about her cancer recovery, surgery, and how she felt about herself afterwards was handled really sensitively and well and added some depth to story.

In the end, 1* for His Christmas Eve Proposal, 3* for Snowbound Bride, and 4* for Their Christmas Vows.

White Christmas Wedding by Celeste Winters – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Beth has lived in NYC for several years and is getting ready to marry a rich guy from the city. Through various circumstances, however, the wedding is being held back in her small town hometown in Michigan. Beth’s best friend from her hometown, Jen, has taken on the role of wedding planner, with hopes that if this goes well she can continue to build her own business from there, using her family’s barn as an event center. As everyone arrives from NYC, a huge snowstorm hits, adding a lot of complications to the situation.

I really ended up enjoying this one, which was definitely more novel-y than it was romcom-y. What I liked the best was also the book’s biggest weakness – Winters decides to tell a LOT of stories here. Not only do we learn a lot about Beth and Jen, but Beth’s soon-to-be mother-in-law, both Beth and Jen’s parents, and both of Beth’s bridesmaids. For the most part, Winters manages to weave it into a coherent whole and I felt like she chose good topics to tackle for each woman, but this book is only 244 pages long, so in some situations it felt like we barely skimmed along the surface of what was happening.

It also felt like at times she suddenly realized that she wanted to write a romcom, so she would create some kind of “omg!” situation. The one that was the most ridiculous was when snow blew into the barn overnight – it seemed completely absurd to think that the barn door that was “cracked” open when Jen arrived would somehow let in enough snow to cover the ENTIRE barn in “inches” of snow. Even if the door was wide open, a barn large enough to comfortably seat a hundred or so people would not be buried in several inches of snow in the entire building. That was the most dramatic one, but there were a few other scenes that just made me roll my eyes instead of feel like there was a legitimate crisis and/or humorous situation.

But for all that it was still an enjoyable book – probably not one I’ll reread, but a nice way to conclude my December of romance!!

December Minireviews – Part 4

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.

Someday, my friends, I will be caught up on December reviews!! …but today is not that day!

The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss – 4*

//published 2020//

This was one of my favorite reads this month. Kate lives in a small town where there aren’t a lot of dating prospects, so she’s pretty much ready to resign herself to a peaceful life of singleness. However, she decides to give love one last chance when her best friend convinces her to sign up for a holiday blind-date event – 12 different dates with 12 different people in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

There’s always a danger that this type of story is going to lead to something super weird (plus I was extra paranoid after the train-wreck read of Match Made in Manhattan with its complicated timelines that made it basically feel like the MC was cheating on all the guys she was dating) but here it was exactly as it should be – fun and fluffy with a likable character and a good balance of guys on the dates instead of “wow every dude out there is a jerk.”

My biggest complaint about this book is that because it’s set in a small town everyone knows everyone – but I do not know everyone! Bayliss would casually mention someone’s name and how they were connected to someone else, and then just expect me to remember that person two chapters later. There were a LOT of names going on and it got a little confusing for me. But overall, a mild complaint for what was, on the whole, a fun and enjoyable read that I’ll probably revisit again next year.

Sorcery & Cecelia by Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer – 4.5*

//published 2003//

This one isn’t Christmasy, but it was my other traveling book club book for December. A reread for me, this is actually an old favorite of mine. It’s set in early 1800s England (just after the Napoleonic wars) except in an AU where magic is just a part of life. Cecelia’s cousin Kate has just gone up to London for her first Season, leading to a great deal of correspondence between the two, who are close in age and best friends. Shenanigans both magical and romantic in nature take place, making this one just a great deal of all-around fun. I also read this one back in 2016, if you want a more detailed review.

Christmas Camp by Karen Schaler – 3*

//published 2018//

This one was trying just a little too hard, and I wasn’t surprised to find out that it was written by one of Netflix’s screenwriters rather than an actual author, as the entire story felt like someone was telling me about a movie they watched, and I can’t even exactly explain why. The sentence structure and dialogue was just off somehow, making it really difficult for me to get into the story and actually embrace the cheesiness. Instead, it was just toooo much, like a sugar overload. Every Christmas movie cliche possible was jammed into this one book. Decent writing could have overcome it, but the whole thing just felt stilted. Ironically, I think it would make a fun movie (and actually it may already have done so) but the writing wasn’t good enough to make it work as a book for me.

Snowflakes at the Little Christmas Tree Farm by Jamie Admans – 4*

//published 2019//

One would expect that if I was so willing to pooh-pooh Christmas Camp for being too cheesy, that I would be ready to completely tear apart a book whose premise is that the MC accidentally purchases a Christmas tree farm in Scotland and then has to depend on the goodwill of the hunky pumpkin farmer who lives next door to help her get everything organized, but this was actually a super fun story and ended up being one of my favorites for the month. Leah is a really likable character who has been struggling somewhat with her life after the sudden death of her parents in a car wreck the year before. While drunkenly purchasing a Christmas tree farm sight-unseen is, in fact, a crazy thing to do, Admans makes it work with Leah’s character, especially as we learn more about her parents, their dreams, and Leah’s background. I really liked the male MC as well, and while this was definitely a fluffy romance, Admans balances it with some more serious themes about grief and loss (the guy’s dad died of cancer when the guy was in his teens… sorry, can’t remember the guy’s name right now haha), and just about how you move on when a huge chunk of your life is suddenly not there any more. There were times that this book got a little too silly (and Admans was OBSESSED with having Leah be obsessed with the guy’s lip piercing; she mentions it CONSTANTLY, like okay, I get it, even though he’s a Scottish pumpkin farmer in a remote corner of the country he’s still HIP and HOT because he has a PIERCING!) but on the whole this one really hit the spot.

Three Christmas Wishes by Sheila Roberts – 4*

//published 2016//

While I don’t see myself returning to this one again and again, it was really fun as a one-off read. Much like The Christmas Sisters, it balances the fun and fluffy with some more serious storylines that made it a story of substance as well as entertainment. Riley’s fiance dumps her in the first chapter of the book – three weeks before their Christmas wedding. Riley’s best friend, Noel, and Riley’s older sister, Jo, convince her to come to the mall with them for some shopping therapy. While there, they decide to visit the mall Santa on a lark – except this Santa seems strangely omniscient…

All three of the story lines were good fun. I related the most to Jo, who has been married several years and is due to have a baby at any minute. Her husband is in the Navy and so is gone on tour for large chunks of time and she’s struggling with his decision to re-up when what she really wants is for him to be home now that a baby is in the picture. While my life doesn’t look anything like Jo’s, I found Roberts’s handling of trying to find balance within marriage to be done really well.

My biggest issue with this one was with Noel’s story – Noel writes children’s books about a character named Marvella, and Marvella frequently “talks” with Noel in Noel’s mind – “Marvella” is rather obnoxious and I was pretty over the internal monologue. But on the whole this was a fun one that I enjoyed.

Christmas Comes to Dickens by various authors – 3.5* average

//published 2020//

This is a collection of ten stories, each one by a different author, but all set in the same New England town of Dickens, famous for their celebration of Christmas. On the whole these were pretty regular, for lack of a better term. I was hoping for a little more continuity between the stories, but other than mentioning the same stores along the main drag, they didn’t feel connected in any way – I wasn’t even sure if they were supposed to be happening during the same Christmas season or not. Some were pretty terrible and some were decent, but none were outstanding. Entertaining but not enthralling.