February Minireviews – Part 3

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

I seem to have a lot of these this month (plus, it’s just been a month of bad weather so lots of extra reading time!) – Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 can be found here.

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

//published 2016//

Honestly, it’s just been a while since I finished this book, and it isn’t super memorable to me.  It was a decent read that kept me interested, but even after I found out the answers I wasn’t convinced that the villain’s motives made a whole lot of sense.  Still, it was engaging while I was reading it, and while I’m not planning to hunt up more of Kubica’s books, I’m open to reading another one if someone has a recommendation.  For this one, 3.5/5 and kinda recommended.

NB: This book was originally added to the TBR thanks to two separate reviews – one from Cleopatra Loves Books and another from Reading, Writing and Riesling – be sure to check them out!

Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1915// or possibly 1911//

I’m attempting to read all of Wodehouse’s works in published order, but it’s made somewhat extra difficult by the fact that Wodehouse published both in the US and the UK, sometimes at the same time, or sometimes earlier in one place or the other.  Sometimes books have the same title in both countries and sometimes different titles.  And then to keep things really interesting, some books didn’t get published in other country at all, and instead Wodehouse would recycle part of a book from one country and incorporate it into a book that was only published in the other.  Of course now, a hundred years later, I can get all the books no matter where they originated, but pinning down an official and definitive “order of publication list” has been difficult, although I am doing my best.

All that to say that the original list I am working from listed The Prince and Betty as being published in 1912 and Psmith, Journalist being published in 1915.  Except a huge chunk of Betty is actually the entire plot of Psmith.  And it turns out that Psmith was actually published in the UK in 1911 (and in the US in 1915), while Betty wasn’t published there until some time later.  WHY.

But really, that’s all just rambling side notes.  The actual point is that Psmith, Journalist is one of my favorite Wodehouse titles.  I just love this story so much.  A lot of people find Psmith to be obnoxious, but he’s one of my favorites, and this entire story with Psmith helping another fellow run a newspaper makes me laugh every time I read it.  Definitely recommended – “Cosy Moments will not be muzzled!”

The Viking’s Chosen by Quinn Loftis

//published 2018//

This is a book I would never have picked up on my own, but because it came in a book subscription box, I thought I would give it a try.  It ended up being an engaging read that I overall enjoyed, but it ended on such a major cliffhanger that it basically felt like the book had just stopped in the middle of the book.  This probably wouldn’t annoy me quite so much if book #2 had already been published, but it HASN’T so I suppose I will just have to bide my time.

Still, overall an interesting story with decent characters, and a pleasantly not-full-of-sex-and-swearing plot.  3.5/5.

NB: This was published by Clean Teen Publishing, which I had never heard of.  What’s nice is that they actually have a content rating for the book, showing the level of swearing, violence, and sex you can expect in the book.  I honestly wish all books would do this!

The Mystery of the Empty Room by Augusta Huiell Seaman

//published 1953// I didn’t feel like this book had nearly as much drama or terror as the cover led me to believe //

This is an old Scholastic Book Club paperback that has been on my shelf for years.  I thought I had read it once, but reading it this time did not ring any bells, so it’s possible that either had never read it before, or found it completely unmemorable!  It’s not really a book that sticks with you, although it’s perfectly entertaining.  There was a lot of fun and intrigue, but I did feel like a lot of the story revolved around the fact that the characters weren’t actually communicating with one another, so everyone had a piece of the puzzle and things didn’t come together under everyone finally collaborated.  Still, an easy 3.5/5 for a somewhat dated but still pleasant story.

Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki

//published 1903//

I picked up this collection of 22 traditional Japanese fairy tales as a free Kindle book a while back.  I really enjoy reading fairy tales from different cultures, and was intrigued to see what kind of stories would emerge from an eastern culture.  Like all short story collections (and, let’s be honest, fairy tale collections), there were some stories that were stronger than others, but they were all interesting in their own right.  None of them emerged as stories I loved, but I could definitely see some of them turning into longer and more involved tales.

Like most western fairy tales, there were a lot of evil stepmothers (apparently they are universally hated) and a lot of random – and sometimes quite violent – deaths.  Also talking vegetables, children who arrive inside of various pieces of produce, evil badgers, and a dragon king who rules under the sea.

While I don’t see myself returning to these stories time and again, they were fun for a one-time read.

An Odd Situation by Sophie Lynbrook

//published 2018//

In this P&P retelling, Darcy is thrown from his horse on his way to Netherfield.  Because he has a head injury and is in a coma, he is moved to the closest house – Longbourn.  Despite the fact that he is an unknown stranger, the Bennetts take him in.  The doctor recommends that he not be left alone, and that people talk to him/in the same room as him because some studies have shown that people with these types of injuries respond well to outside stimulation.  The doctor also tells them that Darcy (at this point a John Doe) may or may not be able to hear what everyone is saying.

Of course, Darcy can hear what everyone is saying, and this story involves him listening to all of the many conversations that swirl around his sickbed.  Throughout, he comes to realize that he’s a bit of a snob, and also comes to value the various members of the Bennett family, even the obnoxious ones.

Overall, this was a pleasant and engaging retelling, although weirdly passive.  The entire story is from Darcy’s (third person) perspective, and since he’s in a coma most of the time, there isn’t a lot of action.  It would have been nice to get some idea of what Elizabeth is thinking/doing as well.  And while I liked the way Darcy has a lot of self-realizations and makes good resolutions to be a better person going forward, the implication is that Elizabeth is already perfect and has no lessons to learn.  In the original, it’s important for both of them to recognize their shortcomings, and a large part of what makes the story so excellent is seeing them both grow as people.  In this version, only Darcy has to change.

Still, a 4/5 for an enjoyable (and completely clean) variation, and recommended to others who may be addicted to these types of stories. :-D


February Minireviews – Part 2

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

I seem to have a lot of these this month (plus, it’s just been a month of bad weather so lots of extra reading time!) – Part 1 can be found here.

The Basket of Flowers by Christoph von Schmidt

//originally published 1823//

I believe that I have mentioned Lamplighter Publishers in the past.  They are a Christian publishing house that finds old, out-of-print books with strong moral/Christian messages and reprints them in absolutely beautiful hardcover editions.  While I think their efforts are praiseworthy, they also frequently choose books that are a bit too simplistic for me to genuinely enjoy, and The Basket of Flowers falls into that category.

The story focuses on Mary, a young woman of strong moral fiber, who lives with her father, James, a gardener.  James is a widower, and does his best to raise Mary up into an upstanding and worthy individual.  When a jealous neighbor blames Mary for stealing a valuable ring, Mary and her father are banished from the region.

There was a lot to like about this story, which had its moments of excitement and interest, but every time anything would happen, James would go off on a long and prosy sermonette, and while I generally agreed with what he was saying, I couldn’t help but think that he made for a rather dull conversationalist.  And really, that’s the way the whole book was.  I agreed with virtually every life-lesson presented, but the author seemed so busy presenting life-lessons that there wasn’t a great deal of time left for the actual story.  I can see this being used as a read-aloud for younger children, but I’m not sure it has enough kick to engage older readers.  Still 3/5 and I did enjoy the melodramatic ups and downs of Mary’s life.

Amazing Gracie by Sherryl Woods

//published 1998//

Just a random chick lit kind of book I picked up somewhere along the line.  This was a pleasantly relaxing but ultimately forgettable story, and not one I particularly anticipate rereading, so it is off to the giveaway box!

Lost States by Michael J. Trinklein

//published 2010//

I love nonfiction books about random topics, and I also love maps.  Lost States incorporates both things!  Basically, Trinklein looks at a BUNCH of territories that almost became states, or wished they could become states, or would  be really cool if they could become states, etc.  He covers everything from random ways to divide the Northwest Territory, to the possibility of some of our current states splitting (California, Maine, and Texas have all considered it in recent years), to current US territories, to western states that didn’t quite make the cut.

While the book is really enjoyable – and also full of color pictures and maps, making it fun to read – it’s also very brief.  Each potential state only gets one (oversize) page, and one page of pictures/maps, so you don’t get a lot of details about anything.  There is also plenty of Trinklein’s snarky humor to go around, but luckily I enjoyed that part, too.

All in all, Lost States wasn’t necessarily the most educational nonfiction read I’ve come across recently, but it was quick and engaging, and gave me a lot of random trivia to pull out during those awkward conversational silences that come up from time to time.  4/5.

Wedding Date Rescue by Sonya Weiss

//published 2017//

This was one of those random Kindle books that I got for free or possibly 99¢.  It was a perfectly happy little romance that involved both a fake relationship trope and friends-to-more trope (two faves).  However, the last 15% of the book felt weirdly rushed.  There was a lot of time setting everything up and exploring the reasons that the pair were hesitant to make their relationship real, and then all of a sudden all their problems were solved in like five minutes and everything was sunshine and rainbows.  It felt abrupt, and I wasn’t convinced that they had legitimately worked through their problems.  Still, a 3.5/5 for a book that basically relaxing fluff.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

//published 2017//

I actually totally loved this book.  It had a very likable protagonist, a crazy madcap character who reminded me of Jackaby, and some super fun world-building.  While the story was an easy 4/5, it ended on a complete and total cliffhanger without really resolving any of the main plotlines.  The next book isn’t due out until sometime this year, so that always aggravates me.  Still, I will definitely be continuing this series as it appears.  It was so nice to read a children’s book that I felt like I could actually hand to children!

February Minireviews – Part 1

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Last Christmas in Paris by Elizabeth Gaynor and Heather Webb

//published 2017//

This book is a collection of letters written between several different individuals during World War I.  The majority of the correspondence is between Tom and Evie – Evie is the younger sister of Tom’s best friend, Will.  It’s pretty obvious that Tom and Evie are going to end up together, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story.

I really loved this book for about the first 3/4 of the way.  The letters were delightful, the characters engaging, and the voices different enough to make it really feel like I was reading letters from and to different people.  Epistolary tales can be rather narrow, but because we have letters between people besides the two main characters, the story felt fairly well-rounded.  It definitely had a Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society vibe about it.  I really liked the upbeat sense to this book.  It was serious, yes, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom and there were no plot twists were someone turned out to be gay.

But then Evie goes to France also, and the story just kind of fell apart.  The correspondence became disjointed, and the characters no longer felt like they were being true to themselves.  There were also a few instances where I was uncertain of the continuity because of weirdly long gaps between letters.  It was very strange to me that for the first three years, they write letters all the time, then suddenly in 1917 and 1918, there are only a handful of letters, which I think added to the feeling of disjointedness.

In the end, a 3/5 read for a book that started very strong and then just sort of petered out.

Something Fresh (AKA Something Newby P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1915//

In my quest to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, I have waded through over a decade’s worth of school stories and short story collections.  While all of them have been readable and even enjoyable for a one-time read, there have only been glimpses of what I consider to be genuine Wodehouse magic.

But the title of this book is definitely appropriate, as this is the first book that really begins to collect all the bits of what will later be the Wodehouse formula. Plus, it introduces one of my all-time favorite Wodehouse characters, Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle.  While this book may still not be up to the standards of some of Wodehouse’s later works, it was still a delight from beginning to end.

After reading a collection of Wodehouse’s correspondence back in late 2016, I sometimes refer to A Life in Letters to see if Wodehouse himself had anything interesting to say about my current Wodehouse read.  I was intrigued to find that even he thought that Something Fresh was a new and better direction for his writing as well.  Was it because he found and married the love of his life a few months earlier?  I like to think so.

Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry

//published 1953//

As I’ve mentioned before, Henry was one of my favorite authors growing up, and I devoured all of her books.  I collected a lot of them in cheap paperback editions published by Scholastic, and although I’ve upgraded a lot of them through the years, I still have a few of those paperbacks with my name scrawled in painful 2nd-grade cursive on the flyleaf.

I could look at his illustrations all day!

It had been a really long time since I had revisited this title, and while it was a decent story (and the illustrations by Wesley Dennis were magical as always), it really wasn’t one of my favorites.  In some ways, the story feels very choppy.  It’s about a little wild burro who lives in the Grand Canyon at the turn of the century (Theodore Roosevelt is president, and is even in the story!).  The problem is that Henry tries to tell both the story of Brighty’s everyday life + how he helped make the Grand Canyon the park that it is today AND the story of an old prospector who was murdered and how Brighty helped bring the killer to justice.  Except… the murder part feels very strange in a children’s book, and it also takes like ten years to solve the mystery, which makes no sense because why is Jake still around after all this time???  The murder mystery was definitely the weak part of the tale.  If it had been jettisoned and more focus had been made just on Brighty’s life in the Canyon, I think the book would have read better.

In fairness, Henry was basing Brighty on a real burro, who, in real life, did discover a clue that lead to the capture of a murderer – but still.  Brighty had plenty of other adventures.  Still, a very readable little book, and the illustrations really do make it a joy.  3.5/5.


January Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Copper-Toed Boots by Marguerite de Angeli

//published 1938//

This was a sweet, gentle children’s book with beautiful illustrations (by the author).  There really wasn’t much of a plot, other than Shad wanting boots and various adventures along the way to his earning them, but it will still a pleasant story.  4/5.

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Conner

//published 2008//

I had a lot of mixed feelings about this book.  It’s told from the perspective of 12-year-old Addie, who lives with her mother.  At the beginning of the book, she and her mom are moving into a small trailer.  As the story unwinds, we find that the trailer is owned by Addie’s step-father, who isn’t actually her stepfather anymore since he and Addie’s mom got divorced.  But even thought Dwight ended up with the two daughters he and Addie’s mom had together, he is not blood-related to Addie and couldn’t get custody of her, despite how unfit of a mother Addie’s mom actually is.  The overall book is just about Addie’s life with her neglectful mother – “she’s all or nothing” Addie says, and when she’s “all” she is fun and entertaining and exciting, but when she’s nothing – she’s gone.

My problem really wasn’t with the story, which was genuinely poignant and told very well.  I just don’t a single middle-schooler who would enjoy it or really take much away from the story.  So much of it is told in a sort of euphemistic kind of way that it felt like a book that would need a lot of explaining for a kid to really understand what’s happening – and that feels like it sort of defeats the whole purpose of Addie’s innocent voice telling the tale.

The event (in the backstory) that led to Dwight getting custody of his two daughters is when Addie’s mother left Addie (at the time age 9) and her two half-sisters (a toddler and a baby) unattended for three days.  What I found almost impossible to believe was that Addie wasn’t put in foster care/in her grandpa’s home at the time.  I just can’t believe that a judge would give Addie back to her mother without any kind of probationary period.  On the other hand, I have firsthand experience with just how jacked up the whole system is, so maybe they would.

All in all, while I wouldn’t say that Waiting for Normal was a pleasant read, exactly, it still was a good one, and one that I would recommend to adults, if not to the theoretical target audience of the book.  3.5/5.

The Cat and Mrs. Cary by Doris Gates

//published 1962//

I used to check this book out of the library when I was little, and then, later, I actually found that same copy as a discard on the library’s booksale shelf.  The funny part is, I really can’t explain why I like this book.  It’s not really a book that gives me lots of warm feelings, or one that I have strong emotional memories attached to.  It’s just a fun and happy little book.

Part of it may be that it really isn’t a typical children’s book in that it isn’t particularly about children.  The main character is actually an elderly widow, Mrs. Cary, who has recently moved into a small cottage in a small coastal village.  I think one of the other things that makes me love this book is that when The Cat first talks with Mrs. Cary, she is only momentarily stymied.  From there forward, she’s basically just like, “Huh, talking cat.  Okay.”  And then she rolls with it!

There’s a bit about smugglers that keeps things interesting, too.  It’s just overall a fun story with some nice characters, and everything comes together in the end very well.  The Cat is very cat-like, even when he talks, and never fails to make me snicker.  This book is very fitting for its age – for instance, we never do find out what Mrs. Cary’s first name is!  (Even her nephew refers to her as “Aunt Cary.”)  All in all, this is a 4/5 read for me, one that I still enjoy and do recommend.

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

//published 1913//

This is a classic thriller that I picked up thanks to a review by FictionFan last year.  The story is about the Buntings, and older couple who used to work in domestic service but now have their own lodging house. However, they’ve had quite a bit of bad luck and all of their money is gone.  They’ve been forced to pawn things they never thought they would pawn, and to give up every bit of pleasure, like ha’penny newspapers and a nice smoke.  Things are looking quite dark for them when a strange man appears on their doorstep and rents their rooms – a full month in advance!  Like magic, the money problems are gone – as long as Mr. Sleuth is kept happy.  Luckily, he’s really a very undemanding man, even if he is a bit odd (and arrived without any luggage).  Meanwhile, out in foggy London, women are being murdered by a mysterious man who leaves a scrap of paper on the bodies with his name: THE AVENGER.

There really is a lot of tension built up in this story, and I was completely engrossed.  Lowndes doesn’t make it obvious as to whether or not Mr. Sleuth is also the Avenger, and in fact gives us a perfectly reasonable bit of muddy water around the fact.  On one hand, Mr. Sleuth does have a lot of very strange habits.  On the other – most of these really can be explained by him being rather shy and eccentric.  The Buntings are now completely dependent on their income from Mr. Sleuth, so much of the story is about their moral quandary – should they report their suspicions?  If Mr. Sleuth is innocent, they will be on the verge of homelessness yet again.  But if he’s guilty and they say nothing – does that mean that they are partially responsible for the continued deaths?  It all plays out very, very well, and I honestly had no idea what I would do in Mrs. Bunting’s shoes.  (Well, other than try to not be quite as grumpy.  Mrs. Bunting was a rather cranky character.)

While this book is an easy 4/5, it lacks that final star because it did get a smidge repetitive in the middle and because I felt like the ending was a little rushed.  Still, I was completely engrossed in the Buntings’ dilemma.  Lowndes draws their situation so incredibly well that I felt strangely sympathetic towards literally everyone.  An excellent read and recommended.  (NB I read this as a free Kindle book, which can be found here.  There were also editions that cost money, so I actually had a little trouble finding the free one originally.)


‘Love Inspired’ // Part 3

A while back my great-aunt passed away, and somehow my grandpa ended up with two boxes full of books.  Almost all of them are ‘inspirational’ romances published by Harlequin as ‘Love Inspired’.  At one point (not sure if you still can) you could subscribe and have a new book mailed to you every month.  Aunt Darby did just that, and now I’m in possession of somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 or so of these ‘Love Inspired’ titles.  Most of them are pretty cheesy but alright for a one-time fluff read.  I’m sure that I’ll binge through some of them periodically.  They’re perfect to grab out of the crate when I’m just looking for a quick, no-brainer book.  However, most of them will probably end up exiting this house after that one-time read, because they just aren’t worth the shelf space to me.  So if there’s one that sounds especially appealing to you… let me know, and I’ll be quite happy to mail you a gift!  ;-)

Here is the next round of five for this project – a slightly better outing this time around!

A Time to Heal by Linda Goodnight

//published 2008//

I actually enjoyed this story, where ER doctor Kat returns to her hometown, completely burned out from her work in a big-city hospital.  She’s determined to give up her career and try something new.  Of course, she runs into her old flame, Seth, and the inevitable sparks fly.

There was a bit more grit to this story than these books sometimes have, as Kat and Seth were pregnant back before Kat left.  I think that this book would have read better if Kat had gotten an abortion back then instead of having a miscarriage, as her level of guilt didn’t really seem to fit something that wasn’t actually her fault, although I could still follow the “I really wished this baby was dead and then it was dead and now I feel horrible” logic to some extent.  It also felt really obvious that Kat should continue being a doctor, she just shouldn’t be an ER doctor in the middle of a city, so I appreciated that the author addressed that early on by explaining that opening a small-town clinic was just too cost-prohibitive.

Overall, while the story had its weaknesses, I still found it to be a fairly enjoyable read, although not enjoyable enough to keep on my shelves for another time.  :-D  3.5/5.

Safe in His Arms by Dana Corbit

//published 2011//

Six months ago, Lindsay and her sister were in a terrible car accident.  Lindsay’s sister died, and Lindsay is still recovering from her injuries.  On top of all of that, Lindsay has also inherited her sister’s daughter, who is just a toddler.  (Later we find out the sister was a widow, so the niece is now an orphan.)  When our story begins, Lindsay is seeking out the state trooper who was first on the scene, Joe, to ask him for more details about the accident, as she can’t remember the event.

I actually liked this story, and liked both Joe and Lindsay.  Joe is struggling with a lot of guilt because he was only able to save Lindsay and not both women – the car burst into flames before he could return for the sister.  Parts of the story felt a little weak on logic, and Lindsay’s parents are just so obnoxious, but overall a decent 3/5 read.

The Cinderella List by Judy Baer

//published 2010//

This book was actually a lot of fun.  Marlo is a caterer, and at a big event, she meets Jake, who is super rich.  But Jake also happens to fit a lot of Marlo’s husband requirements – a list that she and her sister started a long time ago.  While Marlo isn’t sure that she can really fit into Jake’s life, she of course does.

I really liked how Marlo was an adult living with severe dyslexia – I feel like these types of problems are only found/discussed in children’s books and YA, but they aren’t things that you outgrow.  It doesn’t define Marlo, but it’s a big part of her life that felt natural in this story.  Another part of the book is Jake trying to set up a program on his horse farm to help children with physical and mental disabilities, which also tied in with Marlo’s nephew, who was oxygen-deprived at birth.  There were just a lot of threads going on in this story, and they actually came together well and mostly made sense.

Things got a bit melodramatic, but were readable on the whole, and this was another 3.5/5.

Deadly Safari by Lisa Harris

//published 2014//

As a bonus, some of the “Love Inspired” titles are actually “Love Inspired SUSPENSE,” although this is the first one I’ve come across in my little project.  Meghan makes wildlife documentaries for a living, and is on assignment at a wildlife refuge in South Africa following the life of some young lion cubs.  Her father is a diplomat, and has been receiving threats made to Meghan if he doesn’t do something-or-other.  Meghan always blows this sort of thing off, so her dad hires Alex to come be her bodyguard without Meghan knowing it.  Of course, there are tons of near-misses that bring the couple together.

A lot of this story was fun, but it was really short in the logic department, so I couldn’t fully enjoy it.  (Like the whole point of the documentary is they are waiting for the big moment when the mother lioness introduces the cubs to the rest of the pride, and it could happen any minute, but they seem to spend an incredibly minimal amount of time actually watching the lions.)  But Meghan and Alex were overall likable and the suspense part did add a spark of interest to the story overall.  My actual notes say that this book was ridiculous but fun, and that’s a pretty good sum-up.  3.5/5.

Montana Hearts by Charlotte Carter

//published 2010//

Sarah Barkley was the recent recipient of a heart transplant, necessary because her heart was so weakened by childhood cancer treatments.  Of course, these are always anonymous, but Sarah has done some research and believes that she has found the family of her donor.  She’s traveled from her home in Seattle to a small town in Montana, with a vague idea that she might be able to find some way to anonymously give back to the family who gave her another chance at life.

But a series of events means that she starts working as a housekeeper for Kurt and his two children, and guess what two people fall in love with each other?!?!  Despite its predictability, I still enjoyed this story that actually dealt well with some difficult subjects.  While some things were tidied up a little too easily in the end, it was still a pleasant, 3.5/5 read.


December Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Album of Horses by Marguerite Henry

//published 1951//

This is an easy 4/5 read, and a childhood favorite – it just isn’t very long, so I don’t have a lot to say about it.  It’s an oversized book full of gorgeous illustrations by my fave, Wesley Dennis.  Each chapter is about a different breed of horse.  I love how Henry usually manages to tell a little story or anecdote about each breed.  She even says in the afterword that writing this book inspired her to write several of her other stories, because the little mini-story she was writing in Album just got way too involved and interesting!  If you have a young horse lover in your life, this is a perfect gift book.  The illustrations are amazing, and it’s just the right amount of information to get them going.

I will say that, rereading as an adult, I was intrigued by how some of the chapters did actually feel dated.  Album was published in 1951, and she says things about various draft horses still being used to plow fields, which was in fact still happening in the 1940’s, but has disappeared pretty much completely almost 70 years later.  However, rather than detracting from the book, I felt that it gave it even more charm!

Bronco Charlie by Henry Larom

//published 1951//

This children’s book is about a boy who becomes the youngest rider ever for the Pony Express.  It seems like a completely improbable tale, but I looked it up, and most of it is actually true!  I picked this up at a booksale eons ago, but hadn’t read it in years.  Of course, I was attracted to it because of the illustrations…  by Wesley Dennis!  Have I mentioned that he was an artistic genius??  :-D  In all seriousness, his pencil drawings really do add so much to this story, and made me want to saddle up right along with Charlie.  This is an adorable story, and definitely deserves a slot on the children’s bookshelves here at my house.

A Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer

//published 1972//

Another 4/5 read – the perfect combination of fun, frothy, and witty that Heyer always presents, even if it is in a rather predictable pattern!

November 9 by Colleen Hoover

//published 2015//

I’ve never actually read a book by Hoover before, but Stephanie mentioned reading this one a while back, so I thought maybe it would be a good place to start.  In this story, Fallon meets Ben right before she moves from California to New York.  They have an instantaneous connection, but Fallon doesn’t want to start a relationship at that moment.  Instead, they agree to meet on November 9 for the next five years, but to have no contact with each other – not even through social media – in between.

This book has a fun concept and I did enjoy it for the most part, but it began to feel kind of same-y, since we only get the story on November 9 each year – nothing in between.  Fallon and Ben are super insta-love-y, which I would have been okay with, except it began to translate into the sexual, so now the November 9 dates not only don’t have a lot of story, they do have a decent amount of sex, which also felt kind of weird since they don’t actually know each other all that well.  There was also a decent amount of swearing, and there is nothing like a string of completely unnecessary f-bombs to put me off a book.

Part of the problem was that I never liked Ben, like not even a little. I thought he was obnoxious and pushy and kind of a creeper. And while I did think the twist was clever, it didn’t really make me like Ben even more. He’s still kind of a self-centered whiner.

I did like the ending and felt like things came together well, and I really did want to see how things turned out, but overall I felt pretty meh about the whole book, and not particularly inspired to look up more of Hoover’s works.

The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne

//published 2005//

This story is about a woman who opens an agency that helps men get their lives together – she’ll help them shop for the right clothes, purchase nice gifts for people, redecorate their apartments, etc.  She’ll also provide herself as a date to various events where a plus one is needed – basically, she’ll help you with girlfriend stuff – but “no laundry, no sex.”  I really liked this concept and thought that this book would be about Melissa having various misadventures helping befuddled bachelors.  But this book turned out to be surprisingly boring.  Melissa aggravated me to no end, with her complete lack of self-confidence and the way she always knuckled under to her dad.  Her relationship with her long-time friend/flatmate (who is a guy) seemed extremely weird and confusing to me, especially since she was supposedly falling in love with this other guy.  Her dad was so horrifically obnoxious that I could hardly stand reading the scenes where she had to deal with him.  I was also confused about how Melissa was supposedly starting her own business but seemed to have no concept of how much money she had/was making/was spending…  I feel like I keep better records for my small, part-time Etsy shop than Melissa was keeping for a business that is supposedly becoming her livelihood.

I will say that I appreciated the lack of sex in this book.  While there were some romantic scenes, there was no shagging, and Melissa doesn’t sleep with anyone for the entirety of the book!  This was so refreshing and made me frustrated that I didn’t enjoy the book more overall.

The biggest problem was that this book wasn’t remotely funny.  There weren’t any humorous scenes at all, and there was so much potential!  Instead, it was basically just listening to Melissa waffle around and be stressed, which got kind of old after a while.  The next biggest problem was that there was not a single happily married person in the entire story.  Everyone who was married was miserable.  And I honestly didn’t feel like Melissa’s guy was going to make her happy, either.  It really put a damper on the overall tone of the book.

In short, this book didn’t make me feel happy to read, which is the whole purpose of chick lit.  It honestly made me feel low-grade stressed because I disagreed with so many of Melissa’s decisions.  And without anything funny to leaven the story, it just sort of dragged on with an overall dark gray tone to life.  3/5 for being fairly readable, but not particularly recommend.  At least I can mark this series off the TBR without bothering to read the other two books.

The Man Upstairs & Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1914//

Honestly, this was my least-favorite collection of Wodehouse stories that I’ve read to date.  While they weren’t terrible, they really lacked that sparkle and wit that I think of as trademark Wodehouse.  If I hadn’t known that these were Wodehouse stories, I wouldn’t have guessed it.  They were just rather flat, several with abrupt endings.  Not terrible for a one-time read, but rather disappointing on the whole, as I’ve come to expect more from Wodehouse, even with his earlier works.


The Burnaby Series // by Anne Emery

  • Senior Year
  • Going Steady
  • Sorority Girl
  • High Note, Low Note
  • Campus Melody

These are happy if somewhat unexciting books published back in the 1950’s by my old favorite Scholastic Book Service.  I can’t tell you how many of those 1950’s Scholastic paperbacks I have picked up for a dime at various book sales and garage sales, basically guaranteed to be good for at least one read.

And now I own even more because I only started with two of these books and ended up buying the other three on eBay.  :-D  (Because yes, my quest to read all of my own books sometimes involves needing to buy more books to accomplish this…)

//published 1949//

Senior Year focuses on Sally Burnaby, the oldest of five children, who is – you guessed it – a high school senior.  She’s excited about this final year of high school because she has a great life and figures that this grand finale will be even better.  She’s anticipating a year of fun and frolic, and also looking forward to going away to college – getting out of the house and away from the family for the first time.  Of course, not all is a bed of roses.  Sally’s best friend from childhood has received a special gift from an elderly relative and spending their senior year away at a boarding school, leaving Sally – who is something of a follower – feeling a bit adrift.  Her other best friend/long-time date/neighbor, Scotty, suddenly doesn’t seem as interested in escorting Sally on dates anymore, maybe because Sally has suddenly started thinking that going steady with Scotty might be nice.

I was honestly surprised at the casual way in which Emery approached some more difficult subjects.  Modern writers and readers frequently dismiss these older books as no longer relevant, because apparently everyone in the 50’s lived in a Leave It to Beaver sort of dream world.  But despite the fact that the Burnabys are a close-knit and happy family with two parents who love each other very much, and a mother who doesn’t work outside the home, the challenges and struggles that Sally face seemed quite modern to me.  She struggles with disagreeing with her parents on how she should be living her life and spending her time, struggling with that strange moment in time where you are still under your parents’ authority but are starting to become an adult, struggles with friends who are drinking and becoming more sexually involved than Sally was comfortable with (not in an explicit way, but being explicit isn’t actually necessary).  She struggles to find her true self, to understand what is really important in a friend, and learn whether it’s worth sacrificing standards just to avoid being single.

//published 1950//

In short, I really enjoyed watching Sally’s character develop and grow, which carried over in Going Steady.  In this book, Sally and Scotty decide to become a couple during the summer after they graduated from high school.  They have been good friends their entire lives, and this feels like the natural next step.  This book got a little too much about Scotty and felt repetitive at times, but still felt honest nonetheless.  I really loved one section of the book where one of Sally’s high school friends has gotten married right away, and then got pregnant right away.  At this point in time, Sally and Scotty are feeling rebellious because their families think they are moving too fast, and they have also decided to get married.  When they go to visit Sally’s newlywed friends, however, they recognize the wisdom of a lot of what their parents have had to say about the financial struggles of getting married so soon and other difficulties that really only work if you have a genuine foundation of lasting love – which Scotty and Sally are starting to realize they don’t actually have.

This was such an intriguing book to me because, in the end, the guy doesn’t get the girl – the girl gets single and realizes how happy she can be that way.  It wasn’t in this crazy feminist “a girl never needs a man” kind of way.  Instead, this book was really about how love works best when it happens at the right time instead of being rushed.  It wasn’t the right time for Sally and Scotty, and when they realized that, they were able to look to their futures in a more healthy, happy way.  Throughout the story, Sally had clung to her relationship with Scotty because being single seemed like such a terrible fate.  But int he end I love that she decides that it’s time “to be the kind of person who could have fun without a man.”  Not because relationships are inherently bad, but because being in one with the wrong person just so you aren’t alone is.

//published 1952//

The next three book focus on Sally’s sister, Jean, who is two years younger.  I was a little sad to leave Sally behind, but Jean is also a likable individual who had shown up quite a bit during the first two books.  Sorority Girl opens during Jean’s junior year of high school, right after the ending of Going Steady.  Sally is now attending their local college (where their father is a professor), so we do see her here and there, along with her new boyfriend, who is just adorable.  Throughout the first two books, Jean began hanging out with Jeff, who is her regular escort to various events, but not her official boyfriend.  They’re very close, though.  In the background of Sally’s books, Jean was finding her feet and becoming more outgoing, and is now thoroughly involved in high school activities with a close circle of friends.

I appreciated that Jean is really quite a different character from Sally.  Sally is quieter and follower who had to learn how to make her own way.  Jean is more outgoing and fun, and also more dependent on having people like her.  She’s very musical and is starting to think that she may be able to make a career of playing the piano.

However, things change when she is approached by the members of the high school sorority.  Technically, groups and clubs that “seeks to perpetuate itself by taking on its members on the basis of personal preference of its membership, rather than upon the stated qualifications for membership.”  But some allowances are made in a sort of “we pretend we don’t notice” kind of way, for two sororities and two fraternities.  Jeans adventures with becoming and joining the Nightingales were quite interesting to me.  Watching Jean get caught up in the “honor” of becoming part of an exclusive group, and then watching her realize that this mean also excluding people she likes and admires, was insightful.  There was a lot to learn from this book, and I appreciated that Jean didn’t just magically wake up perfect, but really wrestled – not just with figuring out what was the right thing to do, but then actually doing that right thing even after she knew what it was.

//published 1954//

High Note, Low Note follows Jean through her senior year.  She and Jeff are going steady, and both are looking to the future.  However, Jean feels uncomfortable because Jeff is a lot more serious about their future being together than she is.  This one was a little too much about boys to be as enjoyable as some of the others, but still read well.

//published 1955//

Finally, Campus Melody follows Jean to her freshman year at college, where she is attending on a music scholarship.  This was a good book about that initial adjustment to living away from home – away from that support system that you almost don’t even realize is guiding you throughout your teen years.  Jean makes some rather poor decisions and learns from them, especially involving a popular senior on campus who starts dating her.

I think the only thing that disappointed me in this book was the ending, which I felt like was a bit of a cop-out and didn’t actually fit with all the lessons Jean had been learning throughout the story.  However, it did mean that everything tied together neatly, so I was willing to forgive it a bit.

All in all, this review has been a lot longer and more rambly than I anticipated, but I really did enjoy this little series.  They weren’t ground-breaking books, but they were pleasant and engaging reads.  At my age, I think what I actually enjoyed the most were the parenting techniques of Mr. and Mrs. Burnaby, who were really fantastic background characters with a lot to offer.

One note – for some reason Goodreads does not have this series listed in the proper order.  Instead, they list Sorority Girl as book #5, when, by both publishing date and chronologically to the overall story, it is obviously #3.  Reading books in their proper order is extremely important to me, so I found that bit of misinformation to be quite aggravating.

Most of these books were a 3-4/5 for me, and I think the series as a whole is a 3.5/5.  While they aren’t ground-breaking literature, and could be a bit repetitive in parts, I think they have just as much to offer in terms of life-lessons and pleasurable reading as 85% of contemporary YA – and all without the sex, swearing, and divorce!