November 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.

The Cats of the Louvre by Taiyo Matsumoto – 2*

//published 2017// Also originally published in Japan so it reads “backwards” for me… which the library apparently didn’t realize as they stuck the barcode directly over the title!! //

Lately, if I see a review of a graphic novel that I think looks interesting, I just check it out of the library right then. This was one of those cases, but here it was a complete fail as Cats ended up being way more bizarre than I had bargained for, although maybe I should have been forewarned since it was a book originally written in Japanese about a French museum and translated into English…

The story is supposedly about these cats that secretly live in the Louvre, which is what drew me in – doesn’t that sound fun?? But it turns out that these are like cat/human hybrid things?? Or maybe not and the artist just drew them that way to give them more personability?? Either way they completely weirded me out and made the whole story feel strange and creepy. Part of the story is also about a little girl who got sucked into a painting decades ago, and then one of the kitten children also gets sucked in… I can’t even describe it, the whole thing was just so weird. I did finish it because it’s a graphic novel so it goes really fast, but was left feeling like I’d had a incredibly bizarre dream. This one just wasn’t for me.

A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Perry – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was another case of cover love for me. Based on the true story of a wolf who (we know through tracking devices) left his home range in northeast Oregon to end up in southwest Oregon in an area that had not previously had wolves (at least not in recent history). This was a decent middle grade read, although not one that I fell in love with, mainly because Perry somewhat romanticizes wolves. For example, at one point Wander is very judgy about another pair of wolves who have killed a cow – or maybe it was a sheep, can’t remember – because obviously their pack leader hadn’t taught them any sense of “honor”… I’m just not convinced that “honor” really comes into it, although wolves do tend to prefer to hunt whatever their parents taught them to hunt.

My only other bit of confusion is that the title of the story is A Wolf Called Wander, but she actually names the wolf Swift, which is his name for most of the story until he chooses to change it, and in real life the wolf’s nickname was actually Journey. It just felt like a lot of names for one wolf. And yes, it makes sense that a wolf wouldn’t have chosen the same name for himself as the humans did, but why wouldn’t you just name the wolf Journey anyway???

But overall minor complaints. On the whole I did enjoy this book and if you have a younger reader who is intrigued by wolves/wildlife, they would probably like this one as well.

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater – 2.5*

//published 2020//

Another graphic novel to add to the “didn’t work for me” pile – while I haven’t read all of Stiefvater’s books, I’ve read enough to know that she’s an author I generally enjoy, so I checked out her graphic novel (illustrated by Morgan Beem) and it just ended up being another story that didn’t jive with me.

Twin brothers – one introverted and obsessed with plants/biology, the other extroverted and easygoing – head out to the swamplands to stay with their honestly bizarre cousins in a “we’re in redneck country” way that made me a little uncomfortable and felt out of character for Stiefvater’s writing. Sciencey brother’s experiments start getting weird when they turn things into plants that are still able to think and move like the people/animals they were before they were changed, and it’s a little vague as to whether they’re just going to be plants forever or… The story was just odd and choppy and hard to follow. I’ll also admit that the artwork style wasn’t for me, either, and if you don’t like the artwork of a graphic novel, it makes the whole experience somewhat negative as well.

Definitely my least-favorite Stiefvater book I’ve read to date. I’m not sure if there is supposed to be a sequel at some point, but this one ended quite abruptly. I think it was also supposed to be somewhat based on the comic book creature Swamp Thing, but I know literally nothing about comic book stories/heroes/villains/etc so I can’t say whether or not it even vaguely resembled the original or not. This one wasn’t for me, but people who enjoy the horror vibe and also think everyone who lives in the south is a stupid redneck may enjoy this one more.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1932//

It had been quite a long time since I read this one, so I couldn’t remember exactly how it came out. The plotting was brilliant as always, and I have a soft spot for Hastings so I was glad to see him here in this one. Christie is pretty much always a win for me, and I’ve been enjoying revisiting some of her earlier books.

Two of a Kind by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

This book contained two stories, Impulse (published 1989) and The Best Mistake (published 1994) and were pretty typical Roberts fare for that era.

In Impulse, the heroine spontaneously sells everything she owns, quits her job, and goes to Europe to travel until her money runs out. It will come to no surprise that she finds an insanely rich Greek to marry. Predictable and a bit ridiculous, but all in good fun.

I really enjoy stories about women who “should” have gotten an abortion, but instead decided to keep their child, a reminder that women are strong enough to be successful and accomplish whatever they want to without having to sacrifice their offspring to get there. The heroine in The Best Mistake was a model on the fast-track to big money when she got pregnant. Now, several years later, she’s living a quieter but still successful life raising her child with no regrets for the career she left behind. She decides to take in a renter in her over-the-garage apartment, and readers will be shocked to discover that he’s both good-looking AND single!!! No one knows what will happen next!!

These weren’t stories I want to read again and again but they were fun as one-off reads.

November 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.

Still trying to catch up. Conveniently, November was a terrible reading month for me so it shouldn’t take as long to get through those books!! Part of my issue in November, besides being insanely busy and somewhat depressed, was that I was doing two buddy reads on Litsy – one of Northanger Abbey, which was a delight, and one of Moby-Dick, which was not. Moby-Dick especially interfered with my other reading time, as I was determined to read each day’s chapters from that book before picking up anything else to ensure that I actually got through it. My plan worked, but it definitely colored a lot of my other reading throughout the month!

Complete Home Landscaping by Catriona Tudor Erler – 4*

//published 2005//

This is one of those book that I got a book sale or Half-Priced Books or someplace like that eons ago but never actually picked up. While there wasn’t anything groundbreaking here, it was a well-organized and interesting book that broke down the concept of landscaping your entire property into bite-sized chunks. Sometimes I like to read books about gardening and landscaping because even when it goes over the same stuff as a different book, it just helps make it stick in my brain. This book was also full of really useful photographs and drawings that I really liked.

The Tea Dragon Tapestry by Katie O’Neill – 4*

//published 2020//

The latest in the Tea Dragon stories, these continue to be almost painfully adorable. I do wish that there was more emphasis on friendship instead of romantic relationships, which are almost entirely comprised of homosexual pairings, especially between the two main girls in the story – I feel like their relationship would have been so much more meaningful as friends instead of girlfriends. It’s not like this is all super explicit or anything, but the overall vibe of the book is that if you find someone who is a friend, you’re meant to be romantically involved, and it just feels somewhat awkward, especially in a story geared for younger readers.

However, the story itself is very enjoyable and the artwork is just amazing.

The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1931//

It’s been a few years since I’ve read this one (my 2016 review is here) so even though I kind of remembered who did it, I couldn’t remember how it was done or how some of the red herrings played out. The one is also known as The Murder at Hazelmoor which makes so much more sense since the murder actually takes place at Hazelmoor, not Sittaford, but whatever. Anyway, this is one of Christie’s standalone mysteries. The pacing is great and there are a few twists that I never seem to remember are coming. Great fun as always.

Entwined by Heather Dixon – 3.5*

//published 2011//

I read this one a long time ago (before WordPress days) and vaguely remembered liking it but not much more, so I chose it for my traveling book club book this time around. Unfortunately, November was just not a good reading month for me so I think that colored my enjoyment of this story as my reading opportunities were really choppy and difficult. Parts of this book just felt like they went on forever. The sisters in the story are mad at their father pretty much the entire time, and I’ll agree that he’s a jerk at first, but later he starts trying to make amends and they are mean to him for way too long. I did appreciate that the author did not give the sisters a bunch of names that sounded alike and even went so far as the alphabetize them, with the oldest starting with A and going down from there which really helped keep all the sisters straight. I had a few minor continuity issues with this one, especially with the supposed ages of a few of the sisters versus their actions/attitudes. Overall, I didn’t dislike this story but I also didn’t love it.

The Wild Path by Sarah Baughman – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I 100% picked up this book because of that gorgeous cover. This one is a middle grade story about a girl named Claire who lives with her parents in a rural area of Vermont. Claire’s older brother has recently been admitted to a full-time rehab clinic after having issues with a drug addiction formed when he started taking painkillers after an accident. Claire’s parents have announced that they are going to have to sell the family’s two horses in order to save money, but Claire is determined to find a way to save them. The story deals with Claire learning more about her brother’s situation and coming to grips with the way that some parts of our lives are out of our control, and that we can’t make other people “better.” It was actually a lovely story with likable characters, but it did feel a little preachy at times. Somehow, it just never kicked me in the emotions like it seemed like it should. However, this may be a good book for a younger person in a situation similar to Claire’s re: a family member with an addiction (especially if read together with a caring adult) as that was handled sensitively and in a way that felt approachable. In part, that was kind of why I didn’t connect with this story – in some ways it seemed like it was written to specifically be used as a discussion tool more than it was written to tell a story, if that makes sense.

September Minireviews – Part 3

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

Yes, I know it’s almost the end of October!! But here are the last three books I read in September…

Beach Read by Emily Henry – 4*

//published 2020//

This was a traveling book club read, and for some reason I wasn’t particularly expecting to enjoy it. I think I’ve been burned a few times lately about books that look like romcoms but then turn out to be really serious novels, and I’d heard somewhere that this was along those lines. But while I wouldn’t exactly classify it as a romcom, Beach Read ended up being a lot of fun. Frequently, authors like to make the female lead be super annoying and, frankly, bitchy, but that wasn’t the case here. I ended up really liking January and Gus both, and I liked them together.

My biggest annoyance with this story is that I’m just kind of over the tired trope of “girl finds out her perfect dad was actually a cheating jerk and now she has to Get Away From It All”… maybe because I have a perfect dad who isn’t a cheating jerk, and know several others as well. Whatever. Anyway, the point is that when January’s dad died suddenly, she finds out that he had had an affair. He left her a house in his hometown (where he also had the affair) and that’s where she’s staying for the summer. He also left her a letter, which she refuses to read. And THAT is what annoyed me the most. She spends all this time being super mad at her dad when she has literally no idea what actually happened. She complains internally all the time about how she’ll “never get to hear his side of the story” since he’s dead EVEN THOUGH HE FREAKING WROTE HER A LETTER THAT SHE WON’T READ. Guess what, January – you could probably hear your dad’s side of the story if you READ THE LETTER.

So yeah, I enjoyed the romance part and the writer’s block part, but wasn’t a huge fan of the dad plot mostly because of January not reading the letter but spending the whole time complaining about how she wished she could talk with her dad one more time. ::eyeroll:: Next paragraph is a SPOILER for what was going on with her dad:

SPOILER – In the end, despite the fact that January assumed that her dad had been cheating on her mom forever up until his death, that just wasn’t true. He did have an affair when her mom was super sick, but in the end he went back to January’s mom, confessed what had happened, and they moved forward with their marriage and he didn’t cheat again. Yes, that was a horrible thing for him to do, but I also felt like her parents were adults who could decide what to do about their marriage, so January being low-key mad at her mom for forgiving January’s dad really annoyed me. I don’t think her dad was justified in his cheating (at all) but also didn’t feel like what he did meant that he wasn’t at all the man she “thought she knew” yadda yadda. -END SPOILER

So yes, overall I did like this one. There was a lot of snark and entertaining moments between January and Gus and I really liked them together. I could have done with less self-induced dad angst, but it was still a fun read.

Virtual Unicorn Experience by Dana Simpson – 4*

//published 2020//

I read all of these books earlier this year, so I was excited to snag this one from the library when it came out. It’s nothing particularly different from the earlier books, but they are still just fun, happy comics that I always enjoy.

The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine – 4*

//published 2001//

Levine is a hit-or-miss author with me, and while I had vague memories of reading this book several years ago, I couldn’t really remember what it was about or even if I liked it. Recently I ended up with a copy of the prequel (ish), The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre, so that inspired me to check this one out of the library.

While not a ground-breaking book, it was an overall enjoyable story. Addie and Meryl are the princesses from the title, and their kingdom is small but happy, other than a disease called The Grey Death, for which there is no cure. Years ago, a prophecy was made about when and how the cure would be found, but it has yet to be fulfilled. Of the two princesses, Meryl is the brave and outgoing one, eager for adventures and excitement. Addie is shy and quiet and prefers indoor activities. But when Meryl sickens with The Grey Death, Addie has to set out on a quest to find the cure.

Large parts of this book were pretty predictable (or maybe my subconscious remembered how it was going to turn out??) but it was still a solid MG read. Sadly, the prequel wasn’t as good – I didn’t even end up finishing it! (More on that when I talk about September’s DNFs in my next post.) But I did enjoy reading this one.

September 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.

Chasing the Dead by Tim Weaver  – 3.5*

//published 2010//

I’m not sure how this mystery series first appeared on my radar.  The main character, David Raker, used to be an investigative reporter, but now works finding missing persons.  In this first installment, he’s hired by a mother whose adult son disappeared.  His body was found months later.  But now, a year after that, she’s convinced that she saw him walking down the street and that he’s alive.  David isn’t convinced, but agrees to at least try to find out where the son was between the time of his disappearance and the time that his body was found in a fiery car wreck.

There were a lot of things about this book that I like, especially David himself.  I also love the concept of him using his old reporter contacts to work these types of cases.  However, this one just went a little too over-the-top for me, especially the weird quasi-religious cult that just never actually seemed to be adequately explained in a way that genuinely justified everything that had happened.  While I liked this one fine, I didn’t love it, and there were a couple of torture scenes that I skimmed because that kind of thing makes me really queasy.  Still, I enjoyed it enough to pick up the second installment.

The Dead Tracks by Tim Weaver – 3.5*

//published 2011//

Oh look, here’s the second installment!!  A 17-year-old girl disappears into thin air.  With a genuinely happy home life, excellent grades, no boyfriend, and a solid future ahead of her, she seems like an unlikely candidate for a runaway.  Convinced the police aren’t giving it all, her parents hire David to find out what really happened, and soon he’s sucked into a complicated plot involving a serial killer and the Russian mafia.

Once again, I really liked David himself, and the story wasn’t bad, it was just… over-the-top.  Again.  Not every missing person disappears into the clutches of insane psychopaths, but here’s the second book in a row where that’s exactly what happened.  There were once again some a-little-too-gruesome-for-me scenes, and the killer/kidnapper was just… a little too bizarre.  All in all, while these weren’t bad books, they just aren’t for me.  They didn’t exactly feel like they could really happen, if that makes sense, and the fact that David keeps getting into these basically-should-be-dead situations and then getting out of them had me rolling my eyes a little.  It’s also possible that I just wasn’t in the mood for these.  Either way, I’ve checked the series off the TBR as I just don’t think it’s a great fit for me, despite not actually being bad reads.

Fangs by Sarah Anderson – 4*

//published 2020//

This is an absolutely adorable collection of comics about a vampire and a werewolf who are dating.  While not groundbreaking, I enjoyed every page.  The concept is done so well, and both characters come through as thoroughly likable.  I also appreciate the effort that went in to making the physical book a joy to handle – clothbound, black page edges, wonderful paper quality, and the perfect size.  Well worth a read if you enjoy the concept, and the book itself is fantastic.

Second Chance Summer by Jill Shalvis – 4*

//published 2015//

Sometimes I pick up a book and then realize it’s part of a series.  Luckily, this was book one, so I went ahead and rolled with it.  Lily has to return to her hometown in Colorado when her career in California goes bust.  Of course, in typical chick lit style this means running into her old crush, Aidan.  While this book wasn’t anything stunning, it was a really enjoyable romance, with a fairly balanced angst level.  Lily is working through some other family history that made a lot of what was happening feel reasonable.  Aidan wasn’t perfect, either, which I always like.  There were were a few too many sexy times for this to get my wholehearted approval (just not my thing) but overall total brain candy, which was exactly what I wanted.  There are two more books in the series, focused on two of Aidan’s siblings (who own a ski resort!!  I love hospitality romance haha) so I have those on reserve at the library.

Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1917//

My reread of the Anne series continues.  In this book, Anne and Gilbert start their new life together on a different part of Prince Edward Island.  They meet their new neighbors and settle into life.  There are some wonderful side stories here, and one in particular really explores the importance of doing what is right even if it looks as though the results may not be what you want.  This book is always a little bittersweet to me, as we leave behind so many friends from Avonlea, but I still love it so much.  Also, I Gilbert and Anne were my first ship growing up, and I’m still here for it!

August 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.

Still reviewing August books in August… making progress!!  :-D

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – 4*

//published 2016//

Quite a long while ago Maggie Stiefvater – pretty much the only “famous” person I follow on social media – mentioned that she was reading this book.  It looked magical, and I’ve always thought winged horses would be the most amazing magical creatures, so I added it to the TBR.  And now, years later, I actually got around to reading it!  While somewhat bittersweet, this was a lovely read about a young girl who can see winged horses in the “mirror world” – i.e. she can only see them in mirrors.  She’s the only one who sees them (or is she??) and has learned to not talk about it much.  She’s staying in an old manor house in the English countryside.  The house has been turned into a tuberculosis hospital for children during World War II, so there is definitely a dark tone to the story, especially since it is set in winter – somehow, the entire book feels grey, which is actually a big part of the story.

There were a lot of things I liked about this story.  It was so imaginative and imagery was beautiful.  I really wish that it had been paired with better illustrations – there is so much in this story just begging for gorgeous pictures.  This is technically a middle grade book, but I wouldn’t just hand it over to a youngster without making sure that they’re ready for some of the serious themes presented here, like terminal illness, war, death, etc.  These things are handled sensitively and well, but to me this is more a book you would read with your child rather than one they would read on their own.

One small niggle for me was that the main character does steal several items throughout the story for a “good cause” – and this is never really addressed.  It’s just sort of implied that she was justified in her actions because she “needed” the items, which I’m not sure is actually that great of a life-lesson.  Still, on the whole I really enjoyed this atmospheric tale that gave me a lot of feelings.

Side note – once again, several of these pictures include my BookSpin Bingo board for my challenge on Litsy, because that’s where I originally posted the pictures!!

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull – 3.5*

//published 1938//

I see a lot of these mysteries that are being reprinted by the British Library Crime Classics, but this is the first one I’ve gotten around to picking up.  The main thing about this story that has kept it in the “classics” category is the way the mystery is presented.  The reader is placed in the middle of a murder trial from the get-go – except we don’t know who is on trial until much later in the book.  Hull weaves the murder, the courtroom scenes, and the background for the murder throughout the story in a way that seems like it should be muddled but which, for the most part, works.

While I did enjoy this one overall, it was definitely slow in spots, with a great deal of time being spent making sure that the reader doesn’t like the victim at all.  This is all part of the point (is one justified murdering someone who deserves to be murdered?  Murder, as it were, with “excellent intentions” in mind?) but did get old sometimes.  The story also runs out of steam at the end, with a long chapter devoted to the jury’s arguing back and forth about whether or not they should convict the accused.  But overall it was an enjoyable one-time read with a crafty mystery wherein the reader can slowly decide who is on trial as the story progresses.

Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1924//

As I continue to work my way through Wodehouse’s books in published order, Ukridge was next on the list.  Featuring a character who appeared in Love Among the Chickens, Ukridge is one of those people who is constantly broke, constantly coming up with a ridiculous scheme for making money (that doesn’t really involve work), and generally coming out alright (although usually still broke).  I think we’ve all met someone like this – I know I’ve definitely found myself in situations, wondering how I got there, pushed in by my family’s Ukridge.  (My second anniversary, spent huddled with my husband in a sopping wet one-man tent on the top of a 40* mountain in the rain, comes to mind.)  At any rate, this isn’t Wodehouse’s strongest work, but it was still enjoyable.  While Ukridge may be ridiculous, he’s never mean-spirited, and he genuinely believes that each of his schemes is going to pay off.  This probably isn’t where I would start if I were going to introduce someone to Wodehouse, but if you already love his writing, there’s a lot to enjoy here as well.

Blackbird by Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Lately I’ve been reading more graphic novels, and while I think this one is technically a comic (I’m still a little hazy on the differences), when I saw this gorgeous cover on a Litsy review, I knew I wanted to at least give it a try.  Overall, I really liked it, and the artwork is great fun.  The main character’s life changed when she was a child and an earthquake hit her city.  During that catastrophe, she was rescued by a huge magical creature that everyone else saw but no one else remembers.  Since then, she’s been the “weird kid,” obsessed with trying to find real magic that she’s convinced is out there.

While I really liked the concept and the magic in this story, it was told in a very choppy manner, making it a little difficult to put together the linear storyline.  There’s also this crazy twist that I did like but also didn’t really seem to fit with the other character’s character.  All in all, this volume felt more like a big set-up than it did its own story.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is going to be a sequel, and I haven’t been able to find much information.  (This volume included the first six issues as one.)  I would definitely read a sequel, but I’m not sure I would especially recommend this one just because the ending is so open-ended.

Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers – 4*

//published 2020//

If you’ve ever wished you had a scifi, gender-swapped Cinderella retelling centered around a royal matriarchy set on a distant planet, then this is the book for you.  It’s rare that I buy a book just for the cover, but that’s totally what happened here.  I just love it, and can’t even explain why!  I got this one for only $2 on BookOutlet, and ended up enjoying it way more than I was anticipating.

Princess Delia, heir to the throne, knows that she needs to marry a prince from a neighboring planet that will help save her own, and while she isn’t excited about it, she’s at least resigned to it… mostly.  But when a series of events leads to her meeting Aidan, a kitchen worker with his own reasons for needing to escape the planet (and who isn’t afraid to steal from those who can afford it to help him towards his goal), she’s introduced to parts of her kingdom she didn’t realize existed.  While this is someone Cinderella-y, it also has an Aladdin vibe as well, and I was totally here for it.  I really liked the characters, and while there were some jolts in the plot that felt chunky (and I had to make a cheat-sheet to keep all the prospective-groom princes straight), overall I quite enjoyed this one.  The setting was completely unique and the world-building was intriguing.  Overall recommended, especially if you’re looking for a unique fairy tale variation.

PS I will say that there are a lot of negative/meh reviews for this one, so there’s a strong possibility that I was just in the right mood for it??  I love the way different books are for different people, and sometimes for different versions of myself at different moments in time!

Phoebe & Her Unicorn Series // by Dana Simpson

I originally picked these up because I saw them on Litsy.  My understand is that they were originally webcomics that are now being published in books as well.  They’re absolutely delightful, with the basic premise being simply that Phoebe makes friends with a unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils.  The comics are just their day-to-day adventures.  Marigold is very self-absorbed (I mean, she’s a unicorn), but it’s fun to see their friendship develop as time goes on, with both Phoebe and Marigold learning to appreciate the other more.

Some comparisons have been made between this comic and the classic Calvin & Hobbes, and there are a lot of similarities, especially in the way that this comic is entertaining and engaging for readers of all ages, with stories and characters that appeal to younger readers, and a wry sense of humor that had me, as an adult, cracking up multiple times.  But while Hobbes only interacts with Calvin, Marigold is “real” and is also friends with Phoebe’s parents and Phoebe’s friends.  She gets around this by having a magical veil of boringness that means people realize she’s a unicorn but aren’t blown away by it as they would be without the spell.  I actually especially found Marigold’s interactions with Phoebe’s parents to be entertaining, probably because I’m Phoebe’s parents age!

Speaking of which, one of the things I really enjoyed about this series were Phoebe’s parents, who are just lovely characters with their own interests and jobs, but care about each other and Phoebe (and Marigold!).  Phoebe’s dad loves video games and technology, while her mom is an artist, so there’s plenty of contrast to be had between them.

The books don’t have to be read in order (which I’ve listed below), but there are some characters that make more sense if you read them chronologically, especially Phoebe’s frenemy, who ends up also becoming a friend of the goblins (long story).  Because yes, other magical creatures do appear throughout the series, including other unicorns, dragons, goblins, and more.

All in all, these ended up being a surprise win for me.  I wasn’t expecting to find them so funny and heartwarming, but I enjoyed every page.  While yes, they can get a little same-y if you read them back to back to back, overall the artwork is so delightful and the characters so friendly that I will definitely be continuing to read these as they come out.

  • Phoebe & Her Unicorn (2014)
  • Unicorn on a Roll (2015)
  • Unicorn Vs. Goblins (2016)
  • Razzle Dazzle Unicorn (2016)
  • Unicorn Crossing (2017)
  • Phoebe & Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm (2017)
  • Unicorn of Many Hats (2018)
  • Phoebe & Her Unicorn in Unicorn Theater (2018)
  • Unicorn Bowling (2019)
  • The Unicorn Whisperer (2019)
  • Camping With Unicorns (2020)

April Minireviews – Part 2

Oh look, the last of March’s reviews!!!

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell – 4* – finished March 15

//published 2019//

I’ve seen a lot of love for this book, and since I like Rainbow Rowell and also needed to read a graphic novel to check off some challenges, I decided to give this one a whirl.  The artwork is pretty adorable and I loved the background story with the escaped goat!!  I always enjoy stories that are set in the country, and this one definitely had that going for it.  While the story was a bit simplistic, it was still perfectly fun and happy.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – 5* – finished March 18

//published 1908//

What can I possibly say about this book that hasn’t already been said?  I first read this book probably when I was 9 or 10 and have read it countless times since then.  I love absolutely every page – the warmth, the honesty, the humor – Montgomery writes people so well – even small characters are still perfectly sketched in just a few sentences of description.  Despite the fact that I’ve read this book so often, it still got me all choked up on multiple occasions.  This book is a classic for a reason, and it’s crazy to think that this was Montgomery’s first published novel!

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin – 4* – finished March 19

//published 2015//

A lot of mixed feelings on this one that I can’t completely get into without spoilers.  Overall this was a very engaging read that really pulled me in and made me want to keep reading.  However, I did feel like in some spots the tension was lacking.  I also wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending, but since it did technically make everything work I’m okay with it.  Overall while I enjoyed reading this one, it didn’t particularly make me feel like rushing out to see if Heaberlin has written other books.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie – 5* – finished March 26

//published 1926//

(Did I really go almost a week without finishing a book??  No, of course not.  I read a truly dreadful “Regency” romance and also struggled through half of another book before bailing on it.  My reading stats are partially low in March and April because of so many DNFs!)

If there is some way that you’ve never read this book, you DEFINITELY should.  And I highly recommend knowing as little about it as possible, because if you know nothing, the ending will blow your mind.  It’s a twist that has been used since, but Christie was one of the earliest pioneers of this concept – sooo good!  Christie’s writing is strong enough that even though I’ve read this one several times, and obviously know the twist, I still greatly enjoy seeing how she carefully sets it all up, giving us clues and hints as we go along.  This is one of her finest books, and a hallmark of the genre.

Hot Ice by Nora Roberts – 3.5* – finished March 30

//published 1987//

I’m haphazardly working my way through Roberts’s backlog because it’s so easy to find her books everywhere!  This one was a romantic suspense, a genre she usually writes really well (and that I greatly prefer to her paranormal stories).  This one felt VERY 80’s but was still fun for a one-time read, despite the somewhat high body count, and the fact that just because the baddy went to jail in the end, I was NOT convinced that he would stop trying to avenge himself!  Still, when I’m looking for a fun romp of a read, Roberts rarely disappoints.

White Stallion of Lipizza by Marguerite Henry – 4.5* – finished March 30

//published 1964//

Regular visitors here know that I have a huge soft spot for Henry’s work, which I read over and over again as a child.  Over the last few years I’ve been revisiting her books, and have been pleasantly surprised to find that most of them hold up well as an adult.  Part of it is immense charm of Wesley Dennis’s illustrations, and White Stallion is no exception.  Dennis has a brilliant knack of sketching emotions, and also understands that just as no two human faces look alike, animals all of different looks to them as well – thus his horses and dogs especially become distinct characters on the page, even in a book like this one where theoretically a bunch of large, white horses should all look basically the same.

The story itself is delightful as usual – a young boy, growing up Vienna, loves the stallions and yearns to become a rider.  Based on a true story, as most of Henry’s tales are, eventually this young hero overcomes the odds and learns the discipline of riding these magnificent horses.

When I was in high school, the Stallions toured through my city and we went to see them – it was genuinely indescribable.  It’s amazing how long this breed of horse has been around, performing their almost-magical feats of agility.

December Minireviews

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.

Momentous day!  I am actually getting ready to review books in December that I  read in December!  (Well, except the first two. Those are still from November!)

Strange Planet by Nathan Pyle – 5*

I absolutely love Pyle’s comics and can’t recommend them highly enough.  His book is perfect – I especially loved that he had sequel comics for several of his more popular comics he had already posted online.  I follow Pyle on Instagram, where he gives me a little dose of happiness every day, so it was a no-brainer to support him by buying his book.

Aquicorn Cove by Katie O’Neill – 2.5*

//published 2018//

The 2.5* is 100% for the absolutely gorgeous artwork in this graphic novel.  The story itself is rather thin.  A girl goes to stay with her aunt on the coast to help clean up from a big storm.  The rest of the book is about how her aunt fell in love with a fish-woman-creature and also we need to save the coral reefs!  The message in this one felt incredibly heavy-handed, but if you see it at the library it’s well-worth taking a moment to enjoy the wonderful artwork.

The Stand-In Boyfriend by Emma Doherty – 3*

//published 2018//

This wasn’t a bad YA story, but it wasn’t the best I’ve read, either.  Liv has always been in love with her best friend, but he has never noticed.  Through a series of events (that actually felt not unreasonable), Liv agrees to fake-date one of the most popular boys in school, Chase, in an attempt to get Jesse to notice her.  I always enjoy the fake relationship trope, and that part was done pretty well here.  However, Liv just really got on my nerves with her complete ostrich attitude about everything, and overall the book was just a little too long – just when it should have been gaining momentum, it started to drag, which knocked it down to a 3* read for me.  Not bad for some low-stress YA angst (especially free on Kindle Unlimited), but not necessarily a book that made me want to run out and find other books by Doherty.

The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere – 3*

//published 2001//

It’s always awkward when someone else hands you a book to read.  The Christmas Shoes is a little too saccharine for my personal taste, but it was a short and easy (if very predictable) read.  Mostly it felt like it should have been longer – almost like an outline of a book instead of an actual book.  There were also weird jumps backward and forward in time, which led to awkward tense changes.  That kind of thing is always jarring for me when I’m reading.  I’m not really a great person to review this book because it’s not my style, but it was an alright Christmas read.  I guess it’s the first in an entire series, but I didn’t really feel inspired to pick the rest up.

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1923//

Over on Litsy, I’m part of the Agatha Christie Club, which is reading one Christie book per month and then discussing it at the end of the month.  We’re going through her books in published order, and November’s book was Murder on the Links.  (Yeah, I was late reading it haha)  I’ve already read all of Christie’s books, but I love them all, even the ones I don’t love as much as others, so this seems like a fun and leisurely way to make my way back through them.  This one is Poirot’s second appearance.  As always, it’s actually Captain Hastings that I love, even if he is a little dense at times.  I was slightly concerned because they apparently put the murdered man’s body in a shed (???) for a few days (?????) even though everyone was complaining about how hot it was (????!!!).  There is also a slightly ridiculous competition between Poirot’s little grey cells method vs. a famous French detective aka The Human Bloodhound, but honestly I thoroughly enjoyed all the over-the-top posturing between the two of them.  All in all, while this may not be Christie’s best work, it’s still a great deal of fun with some solid red herrings to keep readers guessing.

October Minireviews

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.

Technically, these are actually September minireviews still, since I’m THAT far behind haha

Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern – 3.5*

//published 2019//

The internet is a weird place for artists and authors and creators of all kinds.  It can be an amazing way to let others see your work, but everyone expects everything on the internet to be free.  I’ve really been making a conscious effort the last few years to find ways to financially support internet people whose creations I regularly enjoy, and my preferred method of showing that support is by preordering books they create.  Emily McGovern’s webcomic,  My Life as a Background Slytherinhas brought me a great deal of laughter over the years, so even though her book didn’t look like my normal cup of tea, I preordered it nonetheless.

As I suspected, Bloodlust & Bonnets, a graphic novel set in Regency times that involves a great deal of vampire stabbing and a little too much gender identity questioning, wasn’t really my type of book.  But it was honestly a very fun one-time read.  The artwork is stellar, the story was actually quite hilarious, and there were several good zingers throughout.  So while it doesn’t get my wholehearted recommendation, it was still a lot of fun.  And, if you’ve ever read Harry Potter, you should definitely check out McGovern’s comics, as they are A+ hilarious.

The Clue of the Broken Wing by Margaret Sutton – 3.5*

//published 1958//

I’m still reading my way through the Judy Bolton books, although I’m almost at an end, as I only have one or two left that I own. I’m missing the last five or six of the series, but they are too expensive for me to justify purchasing them, so I think I’m just going to have to hope Judy and Peter ride happily off into the sunset.  At any rate, Broken Wing was another pretty regular addition to the set, although there was a rather odd scene where she stops by someone’s house to ask them some questions, and they basically lock her in the attic?!  I was so confused.  And what is up with Judy’s face on this cover?!

The Fugitive Heiress by Amanda Scott – 3.5*

//published 1981//

This was one of those random Regency novels I’ve acquired, and it was another fun one-time read, although the two main characters were a little too volatile for me to really get behind them as a couple.  Still, it was an overall fun book with decent pacing.  However, Georgette Heyer sets a high standard for witty Regency tales and has consequently kind of ruined me for these types of stories – this one was just felt like it was taking itself a little too seriously.

Me, You and Tiramisu by Charlotte Butterfield – 3*

//published 2017//

This is one of those books I’ve had on my Kindle forever.  It started out alright – Jayne is a quite, introverted type who has recently reconnected with a boy from her high school days.  She and Will always had a special connection then, and in the present day their dating relationship feels completely natural and happy.  When she moves in with Will, Jayne’s twin sister, Rachel, moves into the spare bedroom (and no, that isn’t the source of drama in this book THANK GOODNESS) and the three of them have a seemingly idyllic life.  Will owns a small deli/bakery and loves cooking.  Through a series of events, he becomes a YouTube sensation, and soon has his own agent, is appearing on national television, and has the potential to have his own cooking show.  He gets practically mobbed in the streets and is absurdly popular.  Meanwhile, Jayne feels a bit left behind and hates being in the spotlight.

This was a book that needed to be at least 25% shorter.  The middle dragged on for so long I thought I might not ever finish it.  Part of the problem was that I felt like all three characters were contributing to the miscommunications and issues, but in the end, it turns out that everything was Jayne’s fault, so once SHE apologizes and starts acting “right” then everything is okay.  But I actually thought Jayne had some valid points about how both Will and Rachel were acting, so it really annoyed me that they got to be all self-righteous and act like they had never done anything wrong ever.  Meanwhile, Will really was blowing off Jayne’s legitimate concerns about privacy and their personal relationship, while Rachel was hiding a huge part of her life from her sister under the extremely annoying guise of “if you really cared about me, you would notice without me saying something.”  URGH. It was especially annoying because part of what was bothering Jayne was that Will’s agent thought he “sold” better as a single guy, so he was basically not particularly publicly acknowledging his relationship with Jayne, but everyone acted like Jayne was the one being unreasonable by saying that that made her feel unloved!  I mean seriously!

Overall, the story had a lot of potential, but it just fell flat for me.  It was one of those books that I wanted to like a lot more than I actually did.

The House of a Thousand Lanterns by Victoria Holt – 2.5*

//published 1974//

Do you ever read a book that can’t quite decide what it wants to be?  This book was too not-romantic to be a romance, too slow to be a thriller, and too narrowly-focused to be historical fiction.  I picked this one up all the way back in 2011 at Salvation Army for a quarter, and now that I’ve finally read it, I think it’s headed back to Salvo’s shelves.  I read the first half, hoping that maybe this was the kind of book that was just slow to get started but then went somewhere.  But it was actually just the slow part.  Part of my problem with this book was the big romantic story just didn’t seem that romantic to me.  The guy that she loves (sorry, I’ve forgotten everyone’s names) has to be presented as somewhat untrustworthy in order for the plot of “maybe he killed his uncle” to work, but all that really did was just make me not like this guy as he’s super irresponsible and annoying.  Consequently, I really never could get behind her pining away for him for years.

So I skimmed the second half, thinking that maybe something would happen, but I didn’t really regret my decision to not thoroughly read each page, as it was still a whole lot of super slow and a kind of ridiculous ending.  This one is heading to the giveaway pile for now, and maybe my next 25¢ read will be a better one!!

Thornhill // by Pam Smy

//published 2017//

I saw this book recommended somewhere or other and thought the formatting looked quite intriguing.  This story follows two timelines.  Mary’s story is set in 1982, while Ella’s is set in the present (2017).  Mary’s story is told through her diary entries, while Ella’s story is told entirely through illustrations.  This method worked very well, and also made the book read quite quickly.  I loved the way that the sections were divided by two solid black pages each time.  All the illustrations are in grayscale as well, which adds to the atmosphere of the story.

The two tales are connected because Mary is living in a children’s home in an old, large house called Thornhill.  Her diary entries talk about how the home is going to be closed and she isn’t sure what is going to happen to her.  In the meantime, she is suffering a great deal because of a terrible bully in her life.  In 2017, Ella moves into a house whose back yard backs up to Thornhill, now abandoned.  Ella sees strange goings-on in the abandoned house and starts to explore what is happening.  Ella’s mother is not in the picture (presumably dead), and her father is buried in his work, leaving Ella alone a great deal of the time.

From the beginning I realized that this was supposed to be a sort of creepy/horror book, but it’s also a children’s book.  To that end, I felt like this book’s ending crossed a line that shouldn’t have been crossed.  More details concerning the ending (so, big spoiler) below.

While I found this book completely gripping while I was reading it, and was anxious to see what was going to happen next to both girls.  But the ending just ruined this book for me, so I ended up only going 2/5 and not particularly recommending it.  I loved the formatting, but just couldn’t get behind the story’s message.

Spoilers below.

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