March Minireviews – Part 3

I dream of a day where I’m reviewing books from only, like, two months ago instead of three!

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.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – 3.5*

//published 1814//

It’s tough to decide sometimes which Austen is my least favorite – Mansfield Park or Emma.  I just finished the latter, after reading the former in March, and I’m still kind of undecided. The problem with MP is that Fanny is so freaking apathetic about everything in her life except for Edmund.  She’s definitely the Austen heroine most influenced by being “in love” and unfortunately I really don’t like Edmund either (such a twat) so it’s hard for me to really empathize with Fanny even on that.  The ending is also so strange and rushed, just basically “haha they get married after all, eventually, and trust me, they’re super happy!” like… I’m not actually convinced, Jane.  MP has its moments and definitely has some Austen humor to get it through, but I do think it’s overall the most boring of Austen’s novels, with Fanny as the most passive of heroines.

Andy & Willie by Lee Sheridan Cox – 4*

//published 1967//

This is just some old random 1960s book I picked up somewhere along the line.  I think I may have read it way back in the day, but it had been so long I couldn’t even remember if I liked it.  (One would think that since it is still on my shelves, it meant I liked it.  Unfortunately, that’s not always true haha)  But I actually really did enjoy this one a lot.  It was surprisingly funny.  Basically, it’s just a kid telling about his life and adventures in the small Indiana town where he lives.  He and his best friend are always getting into scrapes, and Cox does a great job of letting the older readers in on the reasons why some of Willie’s adventures end up the way they do, even if Willie himself is perplexed by the way adults’ minds work.  This isn’t really a book you’re likely to find around, but if you do, it’s definitely worth a read.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – 2*

//published 1904//

This was March’s fairy tale for the #FairyTaleReadAlong on Litsy.  For most of the fairy tales, I read an adaptation, but in this case I had never actually read the original so I decided to give it a try, and wow was it dreadful.  It’s violent and creepy and weirdly hateful towards adults in general and parents in particular.  I think maybe some parts were supposed to funny, or tongue-in-cheek??  But to me it just came across as bizarre and I didn’t like it at all.  What really sent me over the edge was a line in the final chapter/epilogue – “Mrs. Darling was now dead and forgotten” – just… wow.

The Boomerang Clue AKA Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1933//

First off, real talk, why would you ever publish this book under the second title??  It literally gives away half the plot?!  At any rate, this was another great Christie novel with absolutely delightful main characters and plenty of entertaining humor and rather ridiculous adventures.  And let’s be real, the actually question is, why didn’t they KILL Evans?!  I mean seriously!

Defiant Dreams by Cheri Michaels – 3*

//published 1985//

This was one of those random paperbacks from the box of Regency romances I bought from ebay eons ago.  This one is actually set in the US during the Civil War and is about a southern belle who has to go north for safety and ends up staying with relatives in Gettysburg.  Spoiler alert: the war comes to her!  Of course she falls in love with a northern soldier, etc. etc.  This wasn’t a terrible story, but it jumped around a lot instead of actually explaining things.  There are also scenes that just make no sense, like when she calmly removes a bullet from a soldier’s side as though she’s had literally any kind of training in this??  There were just too many moments like that, where the protagonist magically knows how to do something, for me to really get into this one.

Rilla of Ingleside // by L.M. Montgomery

It’s possible that Rilla is my favorite from the series, despite the fact that it isn’t centered on Anne at all (as the title implies). In many ways, you could probably read it as a stand-alone, although it’s much more meaningful when you know all the characters and their backstories. The story begins just as Rilla is turning 15. On the cusp of womanhood, she looks forward to the next few years being full of fun and frivolity. She freely admits that she doesn’t really have any “dreams” like her older siblings (she’s the youngest of Gilbert and Anne’s children), no particular talents or inclinations. She doesn’t even like babies! But Rilla is a wee bit spoiled and is confident that life will continue to fall into place as it always has. But then – World War I begins and everything changes.

//published 1921//

This book works on so many levels. It’s just a plain good story, and a wonderful glimpse at life “at home” during the war. In many ways, it’s a book about women and how, so often, their job through the ages has been to wait and keep the home fires burning. I think what I love about this story is that Rilla doesn’t disguise herself and sneak into war as a boy. She doesn’t even join up with the Red Cross and become a heroic nurse on the front lines. Instead, she just does her best to work hard and be a better person at home. For me, there’s a paragraph towards the end of the book that summarizes the spirit of the story. Victory has just been announced, and Susan, the older woman who works for the Blythes, runs up the flag –

As [the flag] caught the breeze and swelled gallantly above her, Susan lifted her hand and saluted it … “We’ve all given something to keep you flying,” she said. “Four hundred thousand of our boys gone overseas – fifty thousand of them killed. But – you are worth it!” The wind whipped her gray hair about her face and gingham apron that shrouded her from head to food was cut in lines of economy, not of grace; yet, somehow, just then Susan made an imposing figure. She was one of the women – courageous, unquailing, patient, heroic – who had made victory possible.

Montgomery lived through this war – Rilla was published in 1921 – and I think that in many ways this was her ode to the women who stayed behind.

I highly recommend this series on the whole, and Rilla in particular. Montgomery has a wonderful knack for writing about people who feel real, and for writing about everyday circumstances in a way that emphasizes the beauty, heartache, joy, and sorrow that encompasses everyone’s lives, even those of us who are “regular.” Some books that are classics just don’t seem to deserve that classification to me, but the Anne series does – wonderful books that capture a time, place, and people in a way that is still relatable to read about a century later.

Bellewether // by Susanna Kearsley

Most of the time it doesn’t really matter to me that there’s a big gap between reading the book and writing my review, but with this book I really wish I’d taken the time to sit down and dash off my thoughts when they were still fresh because I really, really enjoyed this book. As a side note, I read it for the traveling book club, so it’s already been mailed off to the next reader – this means I may get a big vague on names because my notes aren’t very good!!!

//published 2018//

Generally speaking, two things that I don’t really enjoy in books are: (1) dual timelines and (2) a touch of the paranormal. But this is my second Kearsley book (the first was Mariana), and both times Kearsley has taken plot devices that normally grate on my nerves and somehow produced a story with likable characters that kept me completely engaged.

Charley (a woman) has recently taken on the job of a curator for a historic home that the town is turning into a museum. The Wilde House belonged to a Revolutionary War hero, and the idea is that they will restore the house to it’s 1770s state. Charley has lived several years in the city, but was originally from this town. Part of the reason that she moved back was because of the recent death of her brother, who left behind his teenage-but-adult daughter. Charley has moved in with her niece to help her out during this time (since the niece’s mom has been out of the picture forever). There was a big falling out between Charley’s dad and his parents, and Charley has never known her grandparents, even though they live in the town where Charley is now living. It will come to no surprise to learn that the contractor for the historic house is a good looking, single, and practically perfect in every way. As Charley is gathering research for the museum, she is intrigued by a local ghost story/legend that says that during the French & Indian War (when the Revolutionary War hero was just a young man), two French officers were held as prisoners of war at the Wilde House and that while they were imprisoned there, one of them fell in love with Wilde’s sister – they tried to elope but one of her brothers killed her lover and she later killed herself from grief. Charley begins to dig deeper into the Wilde family’s history, trying to find more information to confirm or contradict the story.

Meanwhile, Kearsley gives us the historic story of what really happened in the Wilde’s home during the French & Indian War – a tangled tale of a family conflicted by opposing loyalties and frustration with the British government that is supposed to be protecting and helping them but isn’t. The seeds of the Revolution are shown well here, a harbinger of the complications that would divide families a few years later.

I ended up loving basically everyone in this book. Kearsley writes sympathetic characters, doing an excellent job of showing different perspectives and motivations, meaning that even unlikable characters are still understandable at some level. I love the parallel between Charley’s research and what we, as the reader, are learning about the true story of the past. Kearsley does a fantastic job of reminding us that all of history is based on interpretation because we weren’t there – the best we can do is piece together puzzles from the past and make our best guess at the motivations behind what was happening. The clearest example is when Charley finds records that prove that the Wildes were renting a slave from another relative, making an annual payment to him for her services. But as the reader, we’re privy to what was actually happening – the relative refused to sell this slave because he knew the Wildes would free her, so the best they could do for her was to pay her rent each year and keep her with their family, still paying her a wage for her services as though she were free. The present-day people pass a judgment on the Wilde family for “supporting slavery”, but the reality of what was happening was much more nuanced and complicated. It was just such a good reminder that our present-day view has decided what was right and what wrong in the past – but when you are actually trying to live through these things, it’s much more difficult to find the right path.

There is some argument to be made that the storyline for the present-day was wrapped up much to easily, but I’m honestly all about happy endings, so I was here for it, even if it was a bit too tidy. There was also a minor complication for me concerning written records from the past versus what actually happened, and why the discrepancy was there, but overall I enjoyed this story so much that I was willing to overlook it. There is a bit of a ghost story aspect in the present-day line that can only be explained by the actual presence of a ghost, something that isn’t usually my cup of tea, but that honestly worked here.

All in all, this story was much more layered and engaging than I was anticipating. I was completely drawn in to both stories, and loved the way that Kearsley wove them together in multiple ways. (My favorite – having something in the present link to a moment in the past – i.e. a thunderstorm in the present… and then the past chapter opens with a thunderstorm as well.) This was a 4.5* read for me, and one of my favorite books of the year.

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!

June Minireviews – Part 3

So after spending a couple of weeks basically reading books for younger readers, I suddenly was filled with the yearning to read something for grown ups!  I happened to have an unread duology by Nora Roberts sitting on the shelf, so I started with those and then went on a bit of a book-buying binge, something I very, very rarely do because I mostly use the library to check out books I haven’t read yet, and spend my money buying books I already know that I love and want to reread.  But there was something kind of magical about getting a box of books I’ve never read, especially since I got most of them either on the super cheap via Book Outlet (which I just discovered) or thanks to an Amazon gift card I had been hoarding for just such an emergency as this.  Anyway, the next batch of minireviews is more focused on romcom and fun.

Sacred Sins by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1987//

This is another 1980’s romantic suspense from Nora Roberts, and really that’s about all the description you need.  I really liked the main characters and enjoyed the story at the time, but it was overall pretty forgettable.  The big reveal was a little bit confusing since it was someone who had been in the story earlier but I couldn’t remember very well, so it seemed like he either needed to be more in the story or just be a stranger, if that makes sense.  The pacing was good, and it was just nice to read a book about adults haha

Brazen Virtue by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 1988//

A loose sequel to Sacred Sins, I ended up liking this one better.  In the first book, one of the main characters is a cop, and this book is about that cop’s partner, who I actually really liked in the first book as well.  This is one of those books where the reader knows who the murderer is from the very beginning, but that didn’t make it any less suspenseful.  A big part of this book is that the original person who gets murdered works for a company that provides phone sex, so that aspect was rather eye-roll-y for me, since it’s presented as a sort of “harmless” way to cheat on your wife, but overall the pacing and story really came together well for this one.

Side note – since I now publish little reviews on Litsy much closer to when I read the book, I’m back to mostly posting pictures of books that I take myself – which means you get a lil pic of Paisley with this one, and some background of my house/garden for some of the others!

My One Square Inch of Alaska by Sharon Short – 2*

//published 2013//

This was another traveling book club book, and another bust for me.  Part of it is the incredibly misleading synopsis, which acts as though the road trip that Donna and her brother take to Alaska is the driving plot of the book.  However, that was pretty far off base.  The book is actually about Donna, a teen in a small 1950’s Ohio town.  Donna spends most of the book whining about her life, and the author spends most of the book reinforcing any stereotype you can think of about small town residents, emphasizing how literally EVERYONE who lives in a small town is narrow-minded, prejudiced, uneducated, boorish, stupid, etc. etc.  As someone who lives in a small Ohio town, it was honestly genuinely offensive.  FINALLY Donna and her brother actually go to Alaska, and that entire part of the book felt completely unrealistic.  This was a book that annoyed me so much when I was reading it that I don’t even feel like reliving it via a cathartic rant.

Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams – 3.5*

//published 2019/

So the way I picked which books I was going to buy was mostly finding anything on my TBR that looked romcom-y, because that was really, really what I wanted to read.  Sadly, it’s been a pretty mixed bag.  So far none of them have been terrible, but I’ve struggled to find any that have that actual fun, fluffy magic.  Our Stop was kind of typical.  The premise is great fun – Nadia loves to read the “Missed Connections” section of the paper (online of course) and one day reads an ad that may actually be addressed to her.  Daniel finds himself attracted to a woman he does know – he overheard a conversation she was having when she was in the park that made him admire her brains and empathy, and he has seen her a few times on his commuter train in the mornings. But how do you meet a stranger without coming across as creepy?  And so he writes the Missed Connection.  Throughout the story, Daniel and Nadia keep almost meeting through a series of circumstances that feels believable.

Whenever this book was being a romcom, it was funny and enjoyable.  However, it felt a bit like Williams wrote this happy, lighthearted story and someone read and told her that she really needed to remember that this is the 21st century, and people aren’t allowed to have fun books unless they also get some social commentary.  So there are all these random conversations where characters talk about loads of buzzwords.  Literally none of those conversations felt realistic or natural in their context, instead coming through as incredibly polemic – Remember, while we might be having fun here, we’re still feminists!  Never forget!  There’s an especially awkward scene involving Daniel’s roommate bringing home a very drunk girl from the bar and Daniel preventing the roommate from having sex with her because “If she can’t say yes, it means no!”  Which yes, is true, but doesn’t really fit the whole romcom flavor??  It was things like that that I didn’t necessarily disagree with what was being said, it just didn’t need to be said because it had literally nothing to do with the story.  That whole scene is a complete one-off that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of the plot, so apparently it was only inserted there to give readers a little mini-lesson on consent, I guess.

ANYWAY as seems to be the pattern with most of the books I got, this was fun for a one-time read, but not one I’m going to come back to again and again.  Enjoyable but not magical.

Roomies by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2017//

I literally cannot resist a marriage of convenience story.  It’s my all-time favorite trope, and even if a book sounds terrible, or has bad reviews, if it’s marriage of convenience, I’ll probably still read it!  Roomies ended up being a sort of meh read, mainly because it felt like the authors did literally zero research on green cards and how they work.  They were doing things like photoshopping pictures of themselves on a beach so they would have “photos” of their honeymoon… as though the government wouldn’t bother to check and see if they actually left NYC at any point?!  They were sending sexy text messages so they would be “on record”… as though they weren’t going to also be time-stamped??  It was just weird stuff like that that made the story feel really unrealistic and thus less enjoyable to me.  The actual romance was perfectly fine, although a smidge too angsty, but it was a struggle for me to get past their plans for “tricking” the government.

June Minireviews – Part 2

So, like I said, I read a lot of children’s books in June.  I was in the mood for some comforting rereads!!

The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink – 4*

//published 1959//

In this adorable book a family inherits a motel in Florida.  They go down over winter break to get things in order to sell it.  Of course, the children love it and want to stay, especially when they arrive and find that the motel is painted a bright, vibrant pink – which, in turn, seems to attract unusual residents, some of whom have been coming to stay there for years.  All the characters in this book are great fun, and there is just enough mystery to keep things moving.  This is an old favorite that I highly recommend.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – 4*

//published 1960//

I hadn’t read this book since high school, but it’s held up pretty well over the years.  I was always a sucker for books about people living on their own in the wilderness, and that’s the premise of Blue Dolphins as well.  This book covers a weirdly long amount of time (I realize it was based on a true story and the author was working within those parameters but still) so it somewhat lacks urgency, but was still an interesting and engaging story.

The Snarkout Boys & the Avocado of Death by Daniel Pinkwater – 4.5*

//published 1982//

Wow, I love this book so much.  Pinkwater is absolutely insane and his books are not for everyone, since they frequently read like a weird dream, but I honestly love every page of this book.  It had been a long time since I’d actually read it all the way through and it’s even more ridiculous than I remembered, but in a way that made me super happy.  If you’re looking for something that is complete and utter nonsense, look no further than Pinkwater. This book may also appeal to you if you: love avocados, have ever known a mad scientist, think high school is biggest waste of time ever, ever used to sneak out of the house, or wish you had a 24hr movie theater in your neighborhood.

The Snarkout Boys & the Baconburg Horror by Daniel Pinkwater – 4*

//published 1984//

If you enjoy Avocado of Death, you’ll enjoy Baconburg Horror as well.  This one is a little more scifi trope-y (it involves a werewolf), but the main reason I don’t enjoy it quite as much is because Avocado is a first-person narration and the narrator is a huge part of what makes that book entertaining.  The same kid is narrating in Baconburg, but he only narrates part of the book – other parts jump around to third person randomly, which makes the whole story feel a lot more choppy and not quite as fun.  Still, Baconburg is well worth the read if you enjoyed the first book, and this photo of Pinkwater’s “biography” in the back of the book may give you a small clue as to whether or not you will find him entertaining!

O the Red Rose Tree by Patricia Beatty – 3.5*

//published 1972//

Believe it or not, I’m still slowly working my way through all the books that I own, many of which I haven’t read since high school!  This is one of those books that I purchased back in the mid-90’s and hadn’t read since then.  This is a perfectly nice historical fiction about a group of friends who help an elderly neighbor complete a quilt she’s always dreamed of making. Set in Washington state in the 1890’s, the challenge to the girls is to find several different types of red cotton (that doesn’t bleed) at a time when that type of cloth was rare and expensive.  This leads to several entertaining adventures and a few life-lessons.  While I enjoyed this one just fine, I don’t really see myself rereading it – so it has headed off to a new home, giving me one more spot for a new book on my shelves!!

May Minireviews – Part 2

Here we are with the final books for May!!!  Hopefully this book blog will get back on track this summer!!

NOTE: I wrote most of these a week or two ago… still trying to get May’s reviews published before July starts!

King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry – 5*

//published 1948//

I read a lot of children’s books in May (and this pattern has carried over into June) as life was very busy and I was looking for quick, simple reads.  Most of them were rereads from many moons ago, and King of the Wind was no exception.  Regular readers of my blog may recall that Henry was one of my favorite childhood authors, and I read King of the Wind probably a dozen times growing up – but then hadn’t read it in, oh, probably 20 years!  I wasn’t sure if the story would hold up, but I shouldn’t have worried.  The combination of Henry’s storytelling and Wesley Dennis’s drawings worked its magic yet again!

This tale is, as are many of Henry’s stories, a mixture of fact and legend.  The story is about a horse named Sham and the boy who cared for him, Agba, and the tale begins in Morocco, where Agba works as a stable boy. The sultan decides to send several of his fastest stallions to the king of France as a gift, with a stable boy in charge of each horse, and so Agba and Sham begin their journey together.  Legend says that Sham, later known as the Goldophin Arabian, became one of the founding stallions of the Thoroughbred breed – every Thoroughbred can trace its lineage back to one of three stallions, one of which is the Goldophin Arabian.  Sham and Agba have many ups and downs in their journey, as Sham’s worth isn’t recognized at first, making an engaging and interesting story.

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1928//

This is one of those Hercule Poirot stories where Poirot doesn’t come into it until about halfway through.  Sometimes that annoys me, but it worked with this story, although it’s always difficult when the reader (theoretically) knows more about what’s going on than the detective, because we’re privy to scenes and conversations were the detective isn’t.  Still, the mystery is a good one, and Poirot is at his most pompous.  If you love Poirot because of his Poirot-isms, this one is definitely worth the read.

Little Gods by Meng Jin – 2.5*

//published 1972//

Another bust for the traveling book club, Little Gods was unbelievably depressing.  (Don’t worry, for the next round of traveling book club, I signed up for romcoms and fantasy, so hopefully I’ll get some books that don’t make me dread picking them up!)  This was a weird story told from random viewpoints (and written without quotation marks, why) about (??? sort of???) a young woman whose mother has died, and now the young woman is journeying back to China to try and find out more about her mother.  In many ways, the book is way more about the mother, who was a brilliant scientist (although not so brilliant at relationships). Throughout, there is loads of scientific theory (so boring, and basically felt like the author showing off how intelligent she is) that really bogged the story down.  Literally zero characters were remotely likable.  Every single parent hated their children, and every single child hated its parents.  No relationships actually were built on respect or love or anything like that – everyone was just in it for what they could get out of it, and, big surprise, none of them worked out.  It felt like there was no point to this story (or at least not one that I could find), and I thought it was never going to end.

That said, there was some lovely writing in between the science, and while the characters were thoroughly unlikable, they were well drawn.  For people who actually like Novels, in all their grimness, there may be something to like here.

Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater – 4.5*

//published 1990//

It had been way, way too long since I had picked up a Pinkwater book.  His books are basically impossible to describe, and definitely aren’t for everyone, as they are full of absolute nonsense.  In this one, a boy ends up traveling through space, time, and other with his uncle (who may not actually be related) and his dog (who is super grumpy).  If you’ve ever thought that maybe time was like a map of New Jersey and space was like a poppyseed bagel, this may be the book for you. It’s also a great read if you love popsicles.

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster – 4.5*

//published 1912//

I really love this epistolary novel, published way back in 1912.  Judy has grown up in an orphanage, but is now old enough to be sent out on her own.  One of the trustees, who desires to remain anonymous, decides to send Judy to college because he has read one of her English papers from high school and believes she has talent that should be cultivated.  While he pays for everything, he asks that in return Judy write him one letter a month to update him on her progress, stating that letter-writing is an excellent way to develop creative writing skills.  Thus, the entire book, except for the introductory chapter, is comprised of Judy’s letters to her benefactor, whom she has never met and only saw in shadow as he was leaving – a shadow that looked like it was made entirely of long legs and arms, leading to her nickname for him, Daddy-Long-Legs.

This book is honestly just plain delightful.  Judy is going to girls’ college (no coed at the time), but has never really spent so much time around “regular” girls, so much of her education is more than just reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.  Her enthusiasm for life and adventure, and lack of family, means that she writes to Daddy-Long-Legs far more than once a month, and her warmth (and illustrations) make for wonderful reading.  For me, the only thing that keeps this from being a full five stars is that there is one point in this story where Daddy-Long-Legs feels a smidge manipulative, which makes me a little uncomfortable, but in the end it’s just such a fun story, and Judy is such a wonderful character, that I’ve read this one time and again.

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster – 5*

//published 1915//

The sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs, I honestly love Dear Enemy even more.  The story centers on Judy’s best friend from college, Sallie McBride (who is also the writer of all the letters in this book).  Judy has purchased the orphanage where she grew up and hires Sallie to help turn it into a happy, healthy place to raise children instead of the sad institution it has always been.  Sallie is a wonderful character who really matures throughout the story.  I love how she wants be a frivolous person who doesn’t do anything useful, but her natural inclination to care for others and do a job well slowly takes over.  The romance in this story is also done so very well, and I really appreciated Webster’s exploration into the difference between a relationship built on mutual trust and respect and one built on an exchange of desires (i.e. you be my nice society wife and I will provide you with money and nice clothes).  Considering when this book was published, it was a rather bold statement to make, that a woman could and even should look for more from a marriage than mere financial security, yet Webster also doesn’t go too far – she still treats marriage as a delightful partnership when done right.

This story is full of escapades and adventures and Sallie’s temper and I love every page – highly recommended.

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.

January 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.

Minireviews for books that I’ve read in the same month that I’m writing the reviews?! This is madness!!

The Secret Quest by Margaret Sutton – 3.5*

//published 1962//

This is my final Judy Bolton book for now.  I’ve really enjoyed revisiting this series, and now own almost all of them.  Maybe someday I’ll find the missing 10ish that I don’t yet own.  I really do love the way these stories build on each other and the characters get older with time.  Judy and her friends are just super likable, and even if some of their adventures are absurd, it’s all in good fun.

Sophia & Augusta by Norma Lee Clark – 4*

//published 1979//

This was a fun little Regency read – always nice to have one where the sisters actually love each other and want to help each other.  It went on just a smidge too long – there was a point where the happy endings could have been handed out, but Clark decided to add ONE MORE TWIST to keep it going for another 40 pages or so, and that was just a bit too much.  But still, overall good fun with likable characters and nothing too crazy.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig – 3*

//published 2017//

I had a tough time with this one, probably because I was reading it at the same time that I was reading Stoner, which sort of made me focus more on the negative, depressing aspects of this story rather than the positive, happy ones.  Basically, the concept is that the main character, Tom, is someone who lives for centuries, rather than decades.  He was born in the 1600’s (I think… it’s been a while since I read this one, may have been late 1500’s lol), and now, in the present day, only looks as thought he is in his mid-40’s.  Quite a long while ago, Tom was approached by a group known as the Albatross Society, comprised of other individuals who live ridiculously long lives.  The goal of the Albatross Society is to collect and protect long-lived individuals, and to make sure that the general public don’t find out that the Albatrosses exist.

So yes, there’s this whole thing of Tom just trying to live a regular life, parts of Tom’s backstory being filled in, and a sense of unease concerning the leader of the Albatross Society.  I had trouble really getting into this book, especially since Tom’s (extremely long) life was mostly depressing.  Also, yes, he’s lived a long time, but he has been a “regular” kind of guy most of the time, so it seemed a bit eye-roll-y that he managed to be friends with lots of famous historical figures.  All in all, while the concept was interesting, I just couldn’t get into it.  I’m also almost completely positive that I either started this book or one very similar to it several years ago and didn’t finish, but can’t remember for sure (it seems like the main character of the other book was Ben??  Does this sound familiar to anyone??).  As for this one – not bad, but not particularly memorable.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1926// I’ve never been to PEI, but Grandma went and brought me back this copy <3 //

Oh wow, this is one of my all-time favorites.  I’ve read and reread this book so many times, and love it more every time.  The story begins on Valancy’s 29th birthday.  She is unmarried and lives with her widowed mother and widowed cousin.  They are not destitute, but are definitely poor, and they are part of a large family “clan” – the kind that has innumerable traditions and rules and not-to-be-missed gatherings.  Valancy has always been rather meek and downtrodden, living in constant fear of offending her relatives.  But when she finds out that she only has a year to live, she realizes that she no longer has anything to fear and begins to live her life the way that she wants.  Which, in 1926 isn’t anything too terribly crazy, but since I ought to have been born in 1897 myself, this book is just at my pace.  Valancy is funny and delightful, and her journey of self-discovery and independence is wonderful.  Her love story resonates with me a great deal as well.  If you’ve never read this book, you definitely should.

And, if you’re interested in more of my gushing about it, I also reviewed it back in 2015.

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith – 4*

//published 2018//

A couple of years ago I read and absolutely loved The Nesting Place by this author.  While I had picked up that book hoping for some advice on home decorating, what I found was a book about contentment and accepting the fact that life isn’t perfect.  It’s a fantastic book that I still pick up and flip through from time to time just for a bit of encouragement.

So, I was intrigued to pick up Smith’s next book, especially since her style in The Nesting Place did not seem remotely minimal.  In this book, Smith looks at the concept of minimalism and talks about how it is possible to be more minimalist without your home becoming sterile and barren.  While I didn’t find this book as engaging as The Nesting Place, it still had a lot of useful information.  Smith is more practical in this book, actually going step by step through decorating and furnishing a room.  She doesn’t backtrack on her concepts from her first book, but does build on them and look at how sometimes decorating means leaving empty spaces so that there is room to actually live in your home.

There are a LOT of snarky reviews of this book on Goodreads, and I honestly don’t understand them, and was a bit shocked at how harsh some of them were.  Like… it’s published by Zondervan so the odds are extremely high that the author is going to mention God at some point (and it’s not like Smith spends the whole book preaching the Gospel or anything, it’s more of a side thing, that part of her inspiration for creativity is because of God’s creativity).  Yes, her style is similar to Joanna Gaines, but it’s just a popular style right now, and I don’t think that makes her a “Joanna Gaines wanna-be without the real style.”  My favorite was the person complaining about how Smith spent too much time talking about her personal experiences – um, hello?  That’s actually the point of the book!  Anyway, all that to say, this book may not be for you, and that’s okay.  But if you are looking for a simple base of where to start with how to decorate your home, this book offers some basics in a warm, friendly, approachable way.

Bess Crawford Mysteries // Books 6-11 // by Charles Todd

6. An Unwilling Accomplice (2014)
7. A Pattern of Lies (2015)
8. The Shattered Tree (2016)
9. A Casualty of War (2017)
10. A Forgotten Place (2018)
11.  A Cruel Deception (2019)

Wow, first off I just have to say that I am SO excited that this series is apparently still being written, because every book I read was better than the one before it.  This series was absolutely fantastic and I enjoyed every page.  While I had a few 3.5* reads in the first half of the series, these were all 4* and 4.5* reads.

In case you missed it, here is my review of the first five books in this series, which gives the background of the main character in this series, Bess Crawford, who works as a nurse during World War I.

I honestly don’t know exactly how to review these books other than to say that if you enjoy historical mysteries at all, you should definitely read them.  I also wasn’t sure how the series was going to work once the war was over, but book 9-11 are all post-war books, and they were my favorites.  The authors do such an amazing job capturing how the end of this war wasn’t exactly a joyous victory, but rather the slow, grinding halt of a tragedy that left a generation of men dead and maimed.  The absolute heartbreak of soldiers suffering from shell shock (so misunderstood at the time as well) and who would rather kill themselves than return home to a place where they no longer felt that they could be useful, due to the loss of a limb, was handled so, so well.

Yet these books aren’t all doom and gloom.  There is still a lot of hope there as well, the cautious optimism that maybe the world has learned something from this brutal, useless war.  The slow picking up of the pieces and trying to find a way forward.  Bess herself has, to this point, continued to work as a nurse for men recovering from the war, but she isn’t completely sure if that is what she wants to do forever.  It really feels like the door has been left open for Bess to explore a variety of places and adventures in future books.

There is a love interest (ish), but that has also been handled well.  Bess hasn’t felt like the war was the time or place to be worried about emotional entanglements, but now that it is over, there are a few glimmers of potential.

All in all, this series is moving from strength to strength.  I’ll be on the lookout for a twelfth book, and in the meantime may have to check out the other World War I series by this same mother/son writing duo.  As for the Bess Crawford books – highly recommended!