Well, I didn’t quite get my first batch of March reviews in before the end of May, but I consider this progress nonetheless!!
Under Currents by Nora Roberts – 4*
One day I was in town running errands and realized that I had forgotten my book, and since several errands were going to involve downtime, it obviously made sense to just buy a cheap paperback off the discount rack, right? RIGHT. :-D One of the big reasons I keep coming back to Nora Roberts time after time is that I just simply love her characters. She rights people that, even when they’re doing crazy things like marine archeology or running a “big cat” sanctuary in the Dakotas, still somehow feel like real, genuine people. This one was on the long side, and honestly should have ended after Part 3 (of 4) because literally everything that happened in Part 4 felt a bit over-the-top… BUT I really liked everyone so much, including all the background and secondary characters, that I just simply didn’t mind spending more time with them!
This book tackles the topic of domestic/spousal abuse. Somehow, NR writes about difficult topics in a way that feel realistic yet sensitive, and she did it again here. There are scenes that are hard to read, but none of them felt like she was just creating misery porn. I also appreciated that there were many happy, loving couples and families involved in the story to balance out the darker homes, reminding readers both that we have no idea what goes on behind closed doors (could be quite bad) but also that most people really can find good, loving relationships if they work for them.
One of the main characters is into landscape design, and when I read other reviews of this book a lot of people complained that there was “so much talking about plants”… have to say that I didn’t particularly feel that way BUT I also really love plants and gardening so maybe that’s it haha
I was mildly… frustrated is a strong word… mildly eye-roll-y, I guess, that one character is very stereotypical “redneck” and we are very specifically told that he (a) was homeschooled, (b) has a bumper sticker supported 2A rights, and (c) has always enjoyed hunting. Oh guess what, he’s also an abusive jerk whose family lives in a creepy compound in the hills. Just. I’m really over the portrayal of homeschoolers as borderline cult members. (Because actually, we all walk among you as normal citizens!) It’s almost as annoying as the portrayal of everyone who owns guns and/or hunts also being someone who glories in violence and torture. I know I’ve ranted about this before, but I know a LOT of people who enjoy hunting – including my own husband – and literally none of them are creepy psychopaths who delight in tormenting living creatures. What they actually are, are people who enjoy sitting about in the woods for hours at a time. Anyway.
At any rate, on the whole I really did enjoy Under Currents, although I really wanted the title to be one word, Undercurrents, because that made more sense to me. This wasn’t my new favorite NR read, but it is one I could see myself rereading at some point.
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley – 5*
Honestly, this is just one of my childhood favorites, so even though it has some weaknesses, how could I rate it less than 5*?? When I was little, I had a picture book adaptation called Big Black Horse, which tells the story of Alec heading home to New York via steamer from India, where he meets a black stallion, wild and untamed despite being wrestled unwillingly onto the ship. During a terrible storm, the ship goes down. Alec, overboard with a life belt, grabs a rope attached to the Black’s halter as he swims by. Thus, they both ended up stranded on a deserted island, desperate to survive. Big Black Horse ends with their eventual rescue, so I didn’t know until I was around probably 12 or 13 and finally read the actual full-length novel that that’s only the first half of the book! The second half of the story is Alec and the Black settling back into life stateside. Alec finds a place to house the Black near his house in a barn owned by an older man named Henry, who turns out to be a retired jockey/race horse trainer. Henry sees how fast the Black is, and he and Alec want to race him – but the Black has no papers. Through a series of events they manage to get him into a match race between two of the fastest Thoroughbreds in the country.
I love this book! I love the adventure and survival story of the first half, and I love the prep for the horse race and the thrill of the big race. Several years ago, I read the entire Black Stallion series. Sadly, this is a series that fades out as it goes along – my understanding is that Farley had a lot of personal tragedies that influenced his writing – but this book will always be one of my all-time favorites. I read it every few years – here’s my review from five years ago as well.
The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis – 3.5*
I see Davis’s name a lot around Litsy, so I thought I would give one of her books a try. While this one was okay, it didn’t make me want to rush out and read everything else she’s ever written. The dual timelines were handled deftly, although I rarely remembered that the 1960s timeline was in the 60s and not present day. Lily aggravated me because she never did what I would do in her situation, but she was still believable and likable. The ending was a little shaky for me – I felt like we spent the whole book establishing one person’s character as someone who is very unreliable and who says she will do something and then not do, and then in the end she is the one who is magically fixing everyone’s problems, and it just made me kind of uneasy about the future. So not a bad read, but not a great one.
The Runaways by Elizabeth Goudge – 4.5* (aka The Linnets and Valerians)