December Minireviews – Part 3

Am I writing as many of these posts on Monday as I can, and scheduling them to post throughout the week?  Yes, yes I am!  I am going to catch up!!!!

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.

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This one was perfectly fine, but it weirdly felt not-quite-gimmicky enough, if that makes sense.  If you’re going to do a Groundhog Day thing, then you should do it more than just like, three times.  I also was a little confused about what the “message” was supposed to be… I guess the universe just wants the MC to “be happy”??  Or something??  While I was actually reading it, though, I enjoyed it just fine, and it did check off some pesky time-travel-y bingo squares for all my holiday bingos, so there is that!

The Birds’ Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggins – 3.5*

//published 1886//

This is classic late-1800s reading material here – the dear, sweet, girl not long for this world, who does her best to make Christmas a little better for her impoverished neighbors.  While it was a little over-the-top with the sweetness, it was still a perfectly lovely little story, even if it was really sad.  I wasn’t surprised to find out that this was originally intended as a play – it definitely has that vibe about it.

Finding Christmas by Karen Schaler – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Another one that I struggled with a little.  Emmie has an amazing Christmas getaway planned with her boyfriend, including a scavenger hunt with clues for him to follow so that he will end up at a magical Christmas village where she has reserved a spot for them at a B&B and has loads of fun holiday activities planned.  She’s excited about introducing her to a season that means a lot to her, especially since it helps her cherish the memories of her parents who have passed away.  But things get a little mixed up, and the wrong guy follows the clues – Sam writes detective novels, but he’s been stuck ever since his sister died of cancer the year before.  He thinks the clues are a set-up by his agent to help get him back in the groove.  What with weather and other things, Emmie and Sam end up spending a lot of the week together, which was fine – except this was one of those borderline-cheating books, since Emmie is still in a relationship with her boyfriend, a relationship that, until this week, she thought was really serious/heading towards marriage.  Even though “nothing happens” I still didn’t like the vibe.  Schaler is also the author of a few Hallmark movie/books, and it was pretty eye-roll-y when she had Emmie talking about Schaler’s books and movies in this book, referring to them as “Christmas classics”.  All in all, another perfectly fine but not amazing holiday read.

The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss – 3.5*

//published 2020//

It’s funny because this one is a reread – I really enjoyed it last year so I decided to read it again this year, but actually didn’t enjoy it as much this time around.  The overall story was still really enjoyable and some of the dates humorous, but I was more aware of how it really felt like Kate’s best friend/secret crush is kind of a user… he’s always expecting her to help him with the cafe, or do some more baking for him, or run errands for him, etc.  There was one scene in particular where she is on her way back home late at night and is exhausted and thinking about how excited she is to go to bed… and Matt basically waylays her and guilt trips her into coming to help him do some more baking, and it felt kind of manipulative.  I think this story would have benefitted a lot from getting Matt’s perspective, as that’s part of the problem – we’re only in Kate’s head, so it’s hard to tell what Matt is really thinking, or what is motivations really are.  I did enjoy rereading this one, but I’m not sure it’s going to become an annual tradition.

A Christmas to Remember by Jenny Hale – 3.5*

//published 2019//

I realize all these books are pretty predictable, but this one felt extra predictable.  Girl goes to work as a nanny for a rich guy who is always busy at work… gee, I wonder what is going to happen next?  In this one, the dude is divorced, which honestly felt weird just because why does he need a nanny when his kids don’t even live with him??  He also has an awesome family… so again, why does he need a nanny??  It wasn’t a terrible read, but I kind of ho-hummed my way through it.

December Minireviews – Part 2

Can you tell that my life at work is slowing down??  How many days in a row is this??

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.

Christmas at Holiday House by RaeAnne Thayne – 4*

//published 2020//

Thayne has become another go-to romance author for me.  Her books are super low-angst and just have pleasant characters and reasonable situations.  In this one, Abby (a registered nurse) agrees to go stay with her friend’s grandma, who recently took a fall down the stairs.  Abby, a widow with a young son, is getting ready to move from one state to another and has several weeks off around the holidays, so it all works out.  Once she arrives at Holiday House, she finds out that the grandma was planning to have this huge Christmas tour fundraiser, and finds herself getting involved in decorating and organizing the event.  The synopsis makes it sound like the grandma’s grandson, Ethan, is kind of a jerk about the whole thing, but actually the level of concern he showed for his grandma made perfect sense – he’s just worried that she’s overdoing it to the determent of her health.  Nothing crazy in this one, but an enjoyable story with likable characters.

The Quiet Little Woman by Louisa May Alcott – 3.5*

This is actually a collection of three short stories, all of which were perfectly fine but trended towards Alcott’s moralistic side with some heavy-handed lessons.  However, they were all short, easy reads, and kind of an interesting look at the time they were published.

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1937//

This one isn’t remotely Christmasy, but it was December’s book for the Agatha Christie club.  Like most of Christie’s books, this one was a reread for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I did also have to look up the basics on playing bridge, because it’s a huge part of the plot.  In the beginning, Poirot meets a rich, self-indulgent fellow who, through the course of the evening, tells Poirot that he enjoys collecting rare things.  Some of his collections consist of information and knowledge rather than items, including, according to him, at least four people he knows who have successfully murdered someone.  This fellow gets the brainy idea that he will have a dinner party.  To it, he invites the four supposed murderers, along with four detective-types – Poirot, Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, and Mrs. Oliver (writer of detective stories).  After dinner, two tables are made up for bridge.  The four suspects play in one room while the four others play in another.  Meanwhile, the host sits by the fire and enjoys himself.  But at the end of the night, he’s dead.  There was a lot of fun in this one, the obvious fact that one of these four people murdered him, the delving into everyone’s backstories to try and find out if they really had committed a murder in the past, the complicated connections between them.  Other than the fact that I kind of needed to know how to play bridge for some of the plot points to make sense, this was an excellent read.

Starry Night by Debbie Macomber – 3.5*

//published 2013//

Macomber is one of those authors whose books always sound like I’m going to enjoy them but then when I actually read them, they just don’t quite hit the spot.  Starry Night was one of those – not a bad story, exactly, but just a little too melodramatic.  It’s painfully obvious what the Big Drama is going to be later, to the point that I was dreading it so much that it was hard for me to enjoy the story.  The whole thing is the female MC wanting to interview the male MC, who’s this crazy recluse.  After they get to know each other, despite knowing that interviewing him could literally change the entire course of her career, the dude still refuses to let her publish an interview with him, to the point that it really felt like he was just being a jerk for no reason, which meant I didn’t really like him all that well.  This wasn’t a bad one-off read, but it did kind of cement to me the fact that Macomber just isn’t an author for me.

One Charmed Christmas by Sheila Roberts – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This one was a 100% mixed bag that I struggled to rate.  Catherine, an older widow, is disappointed because her adult children and their children have decided to go other places for the Christmas holidays.  This was the first part that immediately didn’t make sense – everyone literally acted like there were zero other options for a time to get together and celebrate Christmas.  Maybe it’s just because I grew up in a family with multiple Christmas get-togethers, but there are other options besides Christmas morning??  You could get together before they go out of town, after they get back from being out town, like literally any time??  It wasn’t like they all lived far away and couldn’t make the trip – they live in the same town, but are going to travel away for Christmas.  I was so confused!  Catherine is all sad and disappointed that she won’t be there when her grandchildren open their gifts… so why not open them some time when she is there?!?!!?  Catherine also spends a lot of time blaming herself because the Christmas before this one was the first one after her husband died, and he died right before Christmas, so basically last year’s Christmas was super depressing.  And instead of being like “oh wow I was going through literally the hardest time of my entire life so maybe my jerk-face kids should have been a little more understanding” she spends all this time going on about how she ruined their holiday and no wonder they don’t want to spend this one with her.  Oh my gosh.  ANYWAY so her best friend convinces her to go with her on a cruise through the Christmas villages somewhere in Europe, like Germany or somewhere, up some famous river, I don’t remember.  Catherine goes and so we also meet all these random people on the boat and all their little stories, most of which were perfectly fine, but there were other weird things.  Like the one girl is in her 20s and is a hypochondriac so she’s decided the best thing she can do is marry a doctor.  She meets this doctor old enough to be her dad on the cruise and decides she should marry him.  Okay… except then this literally perfect man (young, hot, kind, sweet, and freaking OWNS A CHOCOLATE COMPANY) really likes her and keeps trying to date her and she keeps blowing him off so she can keep flirting with the old guy??  I’m sorry, this felt 100% unrealistic and also kind of dumb.  In the end, I liked a lot of the characters and enjoyed the overall story, but there were also so many ???? moments that I kept almost DNFing it.  Not a terrible read, but definitely not one I want to revisit!

December Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, so I honestly thought about not reviewing the books I read in December, because, if I’m honest, these reviews are going to start to sound a little same-y.  I read a LOT of Christmas fluff last month!!!  But just for the sake of having a record of what I read, I think I’m going to go ahead and plunge in and hope there were enough random ones to be interesting!

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

The Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan – 4*

//published 2021//

I started strong with a Sarah Morgan book – I’ve really enjoyed all of her books that I’ve read so far, mainly because her married couples stay married and actually work through their problems like adults instead of storming off and having an affair with the attitude of a petulant child.  This book, like her others that I have read, also has a strong focus on the importance of friendship, family, and forgiveness – basically, even though these are kind of romance, they really just are about relationships in general and how we need to work to keep them strong.  With a journey to Lapland and an actual reindeer-sleigh ride, this one also checked off a lot of prompts for my million Christmas bingo cards!!

Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie – 4*

This was a perfectly pleasant collection of Christie shorts, although the “midwinter” aspect was definitely a stretch for some of them.  And even though I absolutely love these special editions, I really do wish they would just focus on reprinting her full-length novels instead of randomly cobbling together shorts.  Still, reading these was like eating potato chips – they were so quick and fun that I just kept reading one more.

The Little Christmas Shop on Nutcracker Lane by Jaimie Admans – 4*

//published 2020//

If you enjoy absolutely saccharine Christmas stories with extremely long titles, you should definitely check out Admans.  I read Snowflakes at the Little Christmas Tree Farm last year and actually really enjoyed it, so I tried Nutcracker Lane this time around.  If you’re looking for in-depth character development, surprising plot twists, or a new take on the holiday season, this is NOT the book for you. But if you’re looking for some relaxing fluff and complete predictability, you’ll love this one.  My only real complaint was that it was so incredibly, painfully obvious who James actually was that it felt ridiculous that the MC couldn’t realize it.  Still, a perfectly enjoyable read with likable characters.

Christmas Angels by Nancy Naigle – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This one was excellent for the first 2/3 of the story, but then it went a bit off the rails.  The MC purchases a run-down inn that used to belong to her grandparents up in the mountains of North Carolina.  She moves there and begins renovations with the help of a hunky contractor who happens to be in town.  She has nothing but happy memories of spending time there as a child and is so excited about the entire project even though it’s going to be a lot of time and money.  All of this was great, but then she falls and injures her ankle and all of a sudden decides this is a “sign” that she’s supposed to give up on the entire project???  It felt completely out of left field that Liz would suddenly do a complete 180 and literally be ready to just sell the inn and move back to the coast.  This would have been a super fun story if it had just focused on the inn renovations and rediscovering all her grandparents’ Christmas traditions and decorations + romance with the hunky contractor, but the extra drama felt really shoehorned in, like the author was just trying to fill some pages.  I did enjoy it, but could have done without the weird section of Liz suddenly being a completely different character.

Forest of Souls by Lori Lee – 4*

//published 2020//

This was a completely not-Christmas book, as it was my December book for the traveling book club.  It really reminded me a lot of Poison Study when I was reading it, except a bit more violent and 100% devoid of any romance.  There was some great world-building, but seriously who includes an EIGHT-PAGE glossary but NO MAP?!?!?!  I REALLY needed a map!  The characters and plot were interesting, though, and I was really engaged in this one.  It’s the first of a trilogy that is set to wrap up this summer, so I may read all three of them later this year.

A Princess for Christmas by Jenny Holiday – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I had a hard time rating this one.  The story itself was perfectly fine with likable characters, but when I pick up a book that looks like a cherry little Christmas tale, I’m not mentally prepared to be bombarded with f-bombs on every page.  It felt like Holiday was trying wayyyyy to hard to make Leo the tough guy from the Bronx.  I get it, he’s tough.  So tough that he swears every-other word.  My gosh.  I do enjoy a good royalty read, so this one was fun that way, but the overall crudity meant I didn’t bother reading the sequel.

November Minireviews – Part 1

November was kind of a weird month, which I feel like I’ve said about every month in 2021, so maybe it’s just that 2021 was a weird year.  Anyway, I’m still working on the review backlong, so here are some reads from late fall…

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.

Sam in the Suburbs by P.G. Wodehouse – 5*

//published 1925//

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – even when I think I’m not in the mood for Wodehouse, I’m in the mood for Wodehouse.  I was somewhat ambivalent about this one when I picked it up, but I loved absolutely every page.  Wodehouse is just a delight and his farcical situations had me cracking up.  I don’t know how he does it, but it’s absolutely impossible to be in a bad mood when you’re reading one of his books.

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix – 3*

This was actually the first book in a trilogy but I felt so meh about it that I sent the other two books back to the library unread.  This one is about Cinderella after the events of the traditional tale – and things aren’t going so great.  It was kind of boring and not much really happened, and Ella was literally the only female in the entire story who was likable/not stupid, which is a trope that I genuinely hate.  It wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, but there was definitely nothing about it that made me think I wanted to drag myself through two more stories set in the same world.

Homeport by Nora Roberts – 4*

When I don’t really know what I want to read, I frequently just pick up a Nora Roberts book and go.  This one was sort of romantic suspense lite, and I really enjoyed watching the proper, rules-oriented Miranda be forced to work with a literal art thief.  As always, Roberts takes time to give background characters enough depth to make the story feel more real, but I felt like Miranda’s strained relationship with her mother was sometimes overplayed – it seemed hard to believe that her mother could be that much of a jerk that much of the time.  This wasn’t my favorite Roberts book ever, but I did enjoy it and can see myself rereading it at some point.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo – 3.5*

//published 2013//

Do you ever have a book on your TBR that feel obligated to at least try before you take it off?  Sometimes I don’t even know how books get there, and this is one of them.  It doesn’t exactly sound like “my” kind of book, so someone must have given a stellar review of it at some point along the line!! I started this one honestly expecting to give it 50-100 pages and then DNFing it, but to my surprise, I was drawn into the story.  The author does an excellent job of letting the reader understand the afterlife that correlates with the beliefs of the characters, considering I knew nothing before reading the book.  While I did want to keep reading and find out what happened, it was a book that was rather meandery – one of those books that I wanted to keep reading when I was actually reading it, but didn’t exactly feel inspired to pick back up once I set it down.  A fun one-off, but not a new favorite.

Chronicles of Avonlea and Further Chronicles of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery – 3.5*

The same group on Litsy that had a buddy read of the Emily books is continuing to work its way through some of Montgomery’s other stories (they actually started with the Anne series, but I had already reread those super recently so I didn’t join in for that part).  We decided to read these short story collections next, but they were just a so-so read for me for the most part.  A lot of Montgomery’s short stories are her playing around with concepts she later used in her full-length novels, so these started to feel somewhat repetitive after a while, and a few inclusions of Anne felt gimmicky, especially one story told in first-person from Anne’s POV.  They weren’t bad stories, and some of them were actually quite good – and more than one of them got me all choked up – but on the whole they didn’t wow me.

The Prepper’s Pantry Handbook by Kate Rowinski – 4*

//published 2020//

Surely I am not the only one who browses the book rack at Tractor Supply and then takes pictures of the books I find interesting so I can check them out of the library later??  At only around 150pgs, this isn’t a book intended to delve into the depths of prepping, but if you find yourself wishing you had some emergency food on hand and aren’t sure where to start, Rowinski does a great job covering the basics. The word “prepper“ has frequently been associated with wild-eyed conspiracy theorists in hidden bunkers, but I think we’ve all seen over the last couple of years how fragile many of supply chains are, and how a sudden weather event can knock out the power and cause a lot of trouble. Having shelf-stable food on hand that isn’t dependent on keeping the refrigerator running, and, more importantly, knowing how to actually cook it even if power isn’t an option, are practical plans for helping keep you and your family safe during emergencies. I really liked how Rowinski suggested starting with just a three-day plan. Focusing on menus/meal planning at first helps beginners to get their heads around keeping the pantry balanced & stocked with the things that you and your family actually like to eat. There are some really convenient charts here for assessing your pantry and making sure you have balanced food groups (for instance, I definitely need more beans/protein). The recipes are pretty simple and I noted a few that I want to try. I’ve been working on slowly building my “skills pantry“ as well by learning to bake bread, can, etc. Rowinski isn’t a doomsday writer suggesting that you prep for an apocalyptic fallout.   Instead, her book focuses on simple and practical steps to help families be prepared for if the power goes out for more than a day, or something happens that prevents you from getting the supplies you need. I appreciated how she pointed out that having more food on hand also makes you more able to help neighbors and others during those emergency times as well. All in all, not a book I need to own, but a great starter for those who aren’t sure where to start.  I actually still have this one checked out from the library (auto-renewal is magical haha) because I do want to try to implement a few of her plans and recipes, but just haven’t had the time!!  Work is finally starting to slow down, though, so maybe February will be my month to get my pantry a little more organized.

October Minireviews – Part 2

So this wraps up the October reviews… however, as usual, I’m reading like a fiend in December.  So will I actually be caught up on reviews on the end of the year so I can start 2022 with a fresh slate???

UPDATE: I wrote most of this post before Christmas and then, as usual, dropped off the face of the blogging planet LOL So I probably will NOT be caught up on reviews by the end of the year, but such is life!

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

The Third Victim by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 2018//

I’ve really enjoyed a lot of Margolin’s legal thrillers, and this was another solid entry, even if it wasn’t particularly outstanding.  Part of the problem was that I found out that this is actually the first book in a series, and it had that flavor of “setting things up” that sometimes interfered with the pacing of the actual story.  As usual, Margolin’s MC is a defense attorney, and I really like how he presents them as such a necessary and important part of our legal system.  Even if it means that they sometimes are defending people who have committed horrible crimes, our country allows everyone to receive a trial and places the burden of proof on determining that someone is guilty, not determining that they are innocent. While this one was a little slow in spots, it was still a solid read, and I can definitely see myself reading more of the Robin Lockwood series in the future.

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This one has been on my TBR for quite some time, and I finally got around to reading it.  Apparently it is also a prequel for a series, but while I found this one to be a decent read, it somehow just didn’t jive with enough to want to read the rest of the series.  A murder occurs in the neighborhood where a detective lives, so he is drawn into the murder investigation.  But the detective himself killed a man once and got away with it… it’s an interesting premise and it was a decent story, but it was also kind of a downer somehow, just a depressing feel to the whole story.  Plus, there were loads of birding terms, but thankfully since this was somehow my second British mystery focused on birders in the same month (I mean, what even) I had already done some research!

Real-Life Organizing by Cassandra Aarssen – 3.5*

//published 2017//

This was a nice, if somewhat basic, home organization book.  It was mildly aggravating because she basically complains that all Marie Kondo wants to do to organize is get rid of stuff, but then spends half the book telling you to get rid of stuff.  And actually I do agree that unloading little-used items is the key to making your home more organized, spacious, and comfortable, it was just annoying because Aarssen acted like it was so ridiculous to expect people to do that… and then expects people to do that.  Whatever.

Anyway, she did have a few tips that I really liked.  One of them was assessing areas you want to organize with a problem/solution mindset – so looking at a dresser and determining what is wrong (sock drawer is overflowing, there is always clutter on top, area is poorly lit, can never find the tshirt I want, etc) and then coming up with an individual solution for each issue.  So instead of just “organize dresser” you end up with some specific action items that will address the specific problems keeping the dresser disorganized (get rid of 10 pairs of socks, find a basket to organize clutter, add a lamp, fold tshirts a different way, etc).

Another tip was to use photographs – for one, taking pictures of areas around your house and then looking at them to determine what is actually clutter.  She talks about how we easily become “blind” to items that have been sitting around for a while, but looking at a photograph often helps us see those problem areas more clearly.  Another use for photographs was for “sentimental clutter” – i.e., someone in the book (I can’t remember who, it’s been a while) had some sort of collection (salt and pepper shakers maybe??) that people had given her over the years – as with so many things, once people find out you collect something, they love to keep giving it to you haha But at some point, those items can become something of a burden, but you hate to get rid of them because you remember the people who gave them and the occasions that led to the gifting.  Aarssen’s suggestion was to take photographs and to actually make a photo book of them, which can include captions that tell the story behind them, and then you can get rid of the physical items that no longer fit what you need in your life.  It doesn’t mean you have to purge the entire collection, but it can be a way to find balance between cherishing the sentiment behind the gifts and clearing away some everyday clutter.

A final tip from this book that actually made good sense to me was to identify the “prime real estate” of different areas of your house.  These are spots that are easily accessible.  So often, when we move into a house, we just put things away and then leave them there forever, even if it doesn’t match how we end up using the space.  By shuffling things around so that things you use everyday are in cupboards and drawers that you can get to easily, those items are much more likely to be put away whenever you finish with them.

All in all, there wasn’t a load of groundbreaking stuff here – it was a library book that I didn’t feel like I needed to add to my personal collection – it was still a worthwhile read.  There were also a lot of good tips for organizing playrooms/children’s areas that didn’t apply to me but sounded like they made sense, so the book may hold more value to individuals with little ones at home.

Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys – 2.5*

//published 2017//

This is another one that’s been on my TBR for several years, but in the end, although I got through it, I never really got on with this book.  In September 1939 Lily boards a ship heading for Australia where she is going to be work in domestic service for a few years.  The setting on board a ship with so many people of different classes and countries, all on the brink of a world war, was quite interesting.  The first chapter is at the end of the journey, and we know someone has been arrested for murder.  Then we go back to the beginning of the journey.  I kept waiting for something thriller-ish to happen, or for someone to get knocked off, or SOMETHING, but instead everyone just has a lot of feelings, many of which felt rather inconsistent.  I never really cared for or about Lily, and in the end the big reveal just… no, thank you.  It was a big eye-roll for me and honestly felt like a cheat.  It wasn’t a terrible read, and the setting was done really well, but it was SO slow that I felt like I was never going to finish it.

Well-Matched by Jen DeLuca – 3*

//published 2021//

This is the third in DeLuca’s romantic series that is centered around one town’s Renaissance Festival.  I’ve really enjoyed the first two books and was actually interested to read this story since I’ve always liked both April and Mitch.  However, April just honestly came across as a bit of a bitch in this one.  She’s a single mom and her daughter is getting ready to graduate high school and go to college.  April put her personal plans “on hold” when she had her daughter, and one of the biggest decisions she made was living in a small town instead of moving to the Big City to pursue her Career (yes, the capital letters are warranted because of how much time she spends talking about this).  And like, this is fine, and it’s fine that April is excited about the next stage of her life, but I cringed SO many times because of how excited she acted about all of this when her daughter was around.  Her daughter, who we’re told hasn’t even turned 18 yet, and is only going to college, not actually starting her own life/moving into her own house, has not actually graduated high school yet, and all April can talk about is how excited she is that she’s “finally” going to be an empty-nester, that she can “finally” sell their house and get out of town, that she can “finally” live in the city where things are awesome, that she can “finally” do all these things that apparently her daughter has just kept her from doing and it felt so cruel to me, especially when April would be all petty that her daughter wasn’t also excited.  Yeah, it’s crazy that your daughter isn’t thrilled that her home base is now not going to be in her hometown with her friends and family, but she shouldn’t be worried because you’ll have a “spare room” in your new place for her on breaks.  Just.  Ugh.  Plus, April spends all this time justifying things like not knowing her daughter’s teachers’ names and not really knowing what all activities she was involved in and not going to her extracurricular stuff because April was “so busy” providing for them… and I’m pretty sure that if it was a single father saying those things everyone would be up in arms because he was putting his job ahead of his family or something, but April’s just been “doing her best” and we should all be proud of her!  So brave!

It’s especially annoying because I didn’t actually dislike April in the other two books, but here DeLuca decided to turn the bitch up to about 11 and it REALLY brought down my overall enjoyment.  Mitch, however, rescued the story because he’s perfect and I loved him and I’m so sorry that he’s ending up with April.

My last complaint about this book?  Basically every adult having a conversation specifically about how having children is just, ugh, so much work and kind of gross and interferes with everything and why would anyone do that, like it’s okay for you, I guess, but that’s because you’re kind of weird and don’t have any REAL life plans.  The amount of unnecessary conversations about how having children is super lame really got on my nerves a lot.  And maybe that was my problem with this book in a more succinct form – it felt borderline anti-children, as though NOT having children is the natural thing to do, and having them is something only weird lame-o people with no other plans do.

I’m sure I’ll still read any books that DeLuca adds to this series because I have enjoyed them overall, and this one still had its funny and enjoyable moments, but I won’t be rereading this one because I don’t ever want to listen to April complain about how her daughter low-key ruined her life – to her daughter’s face! (but don’t worry, because we actually have had a lot fun even though it’s literally not what I wanted to have happen to me at all!) – again.

Snow White & Rose Red by Patricia Wrede – 3.5*

//published 1989//

Another 3.5* read to round out October.  I really love Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series and the Cecilia books she co-wrote with Caroline Stevermer, but some of her other books just lack that humor that makes those reads magical.  This wasn’t a bad book by any means, but it’s just a very straightforward retelling of the original fairytale, set in Elizabethian times to give it some historical flavor.  A book I enjoyed but don’t see myself rereading.

October Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, believe it or not, I AM making progress on these reviews!!! My goal is to be caught up by the end of the year!!!!

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.

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – 4.5*

//published 2020//

I read the first book in this series at the end of September and rolled directly into this one, and it did NOT suffer from second-book syndrome.  SO.  GOOD.  This is what YA is supposed to be!  Fun and snarky, loads of adventure, engaging world-building, likable characters, personal growth, strong friendship, a splash of romance.  The bajillion POVs is slightly distracting and there are times where it feels like things are getting a little out of hand, but overall I just enjoyed this one so much.  The worst part – it ended on a cliffhanger and the third book didn’t come out until November!

The Ex Hex by Erin Stirling – 3.5*

//published 2021//

I’m a sometimes-BOTM member (I skip a LOT) but this one sounded fun so I went for it.  It was a nice one-time read, but I mailed it on to someone else when I was done with because I don’t see myself reading it again, although I probably could be persuaded to read a sequel.  It’s one of those books where you don’t worry about character development or think too hard about the world-building… just roll with what’s happening.  Overall it was a fun palette-cleanser after reading five 87th Precinct books, but it was just a little bit too far on the smutty/vulgar scale for me to really rate it any higher.  When I’m reading fluff, I don’t really want to be bombarded by f-bombs the entire time.  (As a side note, it’s not the actual sex scenes that bother me so much, because they’re easily bypassed, it’s when characters THINK about sex and TALK about sex and the whole thing just turns into SEX that it starts to really get aggravating.  This one wasn’t the worst I’ve come across in that way, but it still sometimes got old.)

The Jackal’s Head by Elizabeth Peters – 3.5*

//published 1968//

Peters isn’t a 100% win for me as she has definitely written some books that didn’t click with me, but in this one she returns to Egypt, where she should always set her books.  I only wish the Emersons could have made an appearance!  This story was virtually unbelievable, but it was still a great deal of fun.

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1936//

I actually remembered how this one came about, but I still enjoyed reading it because it’s fun to watch Christie lay the red herrings when you know which ones they are.  Plus, I got to read my beautiful special edition (HEART EYES).  I took a picture of the back cover as well because I quite liked the quote on it.

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde – 3.5*

//published 2010//

The most entertaining part of this collection of Red Riding Hood retellings was Velde’s introduction where she explains how ridiculous the original story is.  Her actual retellings were mildly interesting but overall forgettable.

The Safest Lies by Megan Miranda – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This was one of those books that kept me reading while I was reading, but then I got done and I was like, “But what about…?????”  I also just never really connected with the characters, so a lot of the urgency was lost on me because I didn’t really care all that much about what happened to them.  This was a fun one-off read, especially if you like YA thrillers, but not one I’ll revisit.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight – 2.5*

//published 2015//

This is one that had been hanging around on my shelves for quite some time and I finally got around to it in October.  The premise sounds great.  A woman starts reading a book that’s on her bedside table – but then realizes that SHE is the main character.  Where did the book come from?  How did the author know about her life?  The only other person who knew about this situation is dead – RIGHT?  This sounds like it’s going to be a great thriller, and it was definitely compulsively readable (hence the 2.5* rating instead of like 1), but I didn’t feel like a single character in this story responded in a realistic way, meaning that no one felt like a real person.  The end of the book also just turned super preachy and also felt out of place.

I wrote a whole big long rant about this one but I’m just not feeling like publishing it.  There was a lot that annoyed me about this book, but I can see why so many people enjoyed it.  I personally find it difficult to root for a character who has lied to everyone in her life, including her husband, about really serious stuff, and then gets all offended that people don’t automatically assume that her behavior was impeccable during the situation she lied about.  But maybe that’s just me.

September Minireviews – Part 2

I’m starting to be cautiously optimistic that, in the very near future, I’ll be reviewing books only ONE month behind!!!

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.

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley – 5*

//published 2000//

I’ve reviewed this book a couple of times (here and here), because I have reread it so often.  In fact, for some unknown reason it’s because important to me to take this with me and read it whenever I go on vacation.  So when Tom and I went to Maine in September, Spindle’s End came along.  I can’t exactly explain why I love this one so much, or why I don’t get tired of rereading it, but the very act of holding this book and turning its pages has somehow become comforting to me.  I think the book is now imbued with the power of multiple happy vacations haha  At any rate, my earlier reviews do a much better job summarizing the story, so do check them out if you’re interested.  This one isn’t for everyone as it’s very rambly, but I love it a lot.

Yours Truly, Thomas by Rachel Fordham – 3.5*

//published 2019//

I also took several fluff books with me on vacation, ones that I’ve picked up on the cheap from Book Outlet over the last year but haven’t gotten around to reading.  I really liked the concept of this one – Penny works at a post office in the Dead Letters office.  In a final effort to find the recipient of a letter, the post office can open the letter and look for clues.  Penny finds letters written by a man named Thomas to a woman he obviously loves, telling her how sorry he is about how things turned out, and writing about how he is trying to live a new, better life.  Penny becomes emotionally invested in these letters and is determined to help reunite Thomas with his love.  Etc. etc. This wasn’t a bad book, but it honestly was rather boring for most of it, and then has this absolutely ridiculously dramatic ending that felt completely unrealistic.  It was readable but not one I’d revisit, and also not one that made me yearn to find out what else Fordham has written.

To Sir, With Love by Lauren Layne – 4*

//published 2021//

Continuing my trend of books-based-on-letters (I didn’t realize it when I packed for vacation, but I brought five books and four of them were based around letters??), this one is Shop Around the Corner vibes that was really fun to read.  Gracie did get on my nerves a bit, but I liked the chemistry between her and Seb (even if it was ridiculously obvious that he was also Sir) and liked the way things came together in end.

When You Read This by Mary Adkins – 3.5* (published 2019)

I was drawn to this one because of the format, which includes emails, blog posts, text messages, and other media.  Sometimes epistolary books can feel a little narrow in their scope, but including other conversations kept this one engaging, although it did sometimes get confusing if the same person said something twice in a row – so there’s an email heading for each email telling who it is to and from, but if the same two characters are going back and forth, I tended to skim that bit and not really register it… and then get confused because someone had emailed twice in a row instead of going back and forth.  Basically, the story starts because a woman named Iris has died of cancer.  She worked for years for a guy named Smith, and leaves him a letter telling him that she’s actually been writing a blog and wants him to get it published as a book after her death.  But in order to do so, Smith needs permission from Iris’s sister, Jade, who is NOT a fan of the concept.  This is one of those books that the synopsis makes it sound sort of romcomy, but it actually is a bit of a downer.  It deals not just with the death of Iris, but also addiction, cancer, and midlife crisis.  While I found the writing engaging and liked the characters (mostly), and even found myself laughing at some points, the overall tone was definitely a downer.  One of the characters has a serious gambling addiction, and it felt like that was wrapped up way too tidily by this person just being like “oh you’re right, I do have a problem so now that I’ve acknowledged it, my addiction will magically go away!”  I was also annoyed because the only person presented as having any kind of religious belief was Jade’s mother who, we’re told repeatedly, is VERY conservative and VERY Christian, yet also had a life-long affair with a married man and just… sorry, yes, I know a lot of hypocritical people (both in and out of the church), but I don’t know a single church that would agree that having a decades-long affair with a married man jives with being a Christian.  I mean, seriously.  So that came across as just plain annoying.

On the whole, this was another of those pleasant-to-read-once-but-I’ll-never-reread-it kind of books.  I was perfectly happy to send this off to someone else when I was finished.

The Picts & the Martyrs by Arthur Ransome – 5* (published 1943)

It’s no surprise that my favorite book for the month was the next installment of the Swallows & Amazon series.  Only one left after this, and I’m going to miss them!!  This one was full of the regular shenanigans and adventures of the other books.  I just love these stories SO much.  They’re so funny and adorable, and the characters feel so realistic to me.  I enjoyed every page and wished for more.

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – 4*

//published 2019//

My second-favorite read of the month was a total surprise.  Scifi can be really hit or miss for me, so I didn’t have very high expectations for this one – and ended up being SO fun.  Snarky, entertaining, engaging – conversations explaining the world-building that felt natural – likable characters – tons of humor -I loved it!  My only slight beef is that entire thing is first person, but from SO many different perspectives, like it bounces around between ALL the characters, so that did sometimes get a little confusing, plus they don’t really sound THAT different from each other.  But it still worked on the whole, meaning this one ended up being tons of fun.

Note: This is book one in a trilogy – I read the second book in October, and the third book wasn’t published until this month, so it’s waiting for me at the library!!

September Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, reviewing September books in November actually feels not completely unreasonable haha At least we’re in the same season!! September was actually a really slow reading month for me, so it shouldn’t take me too long to get through these!!

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

The Duke’s Disappearance by Margaret Summerville – 3.5*

Another paperback from my box of eBay Regency romances, this one was actually one of the better ones I’ve read from that pile.  While it didn’t become a new favorite that I wanted to read again and again, the set-up actually felt plausible and the story was a lot of fun.

Fallen by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2021//

Ever since I read the Kate Burkholder series in 2019, I’ve tried to stay on top of reading the new installments as they appear.  Fallen was an overall solid thriller, although there was one point where the bad guys had an opportunity to kill Kate outright and not doing so felt a little unrealistic for the situation lol  I really enjoy this series a lot as Castillo does such a great job with the Amish community in her writing.  I highly recommend reading these in order – I think they would work individually, but reading them as a whole gives us a real picture of Kate as a person.  I have loved seeing her grow and work through various issues in her life.  Also, I’m still in love with Tomasetti haha

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton – 4*

//published 2021//

I literally don’t even know how to review this book.  It’s set in Regency-ish times and there are pirates and flying houses and a homeless pirate and romance and betrayal and tea and rogues and genteel ladies and just absolute insane amount of shenanigans.  There’s a blurb on the front cover that says, “Delightfully bonkers” and I honestly can’t think of a better way to sum this one up.  If you’re looking for something sensible and orderly, give this one a miss.  But if you’re willing to just set aside any hope for logic and plausibility and go along for the ride, this was a pretty fun read.  And the cover!!!

Flint Spears by Will James – 4*

//published 1938//

A while back I read James’s most famous book, Smoky the Cow-Horse, and was surprised at how engaging and readable it was.  The following fall, we were on vacation and stopped at a bookstore in Wall Drug, South Dakota, where I saw a reprint of another of James’s books and decided to add it to my collection.  This one didn’t have much of a plot, but I found myself drawn into the story nonetheless.  James follows the career of a cowboy named Flint Spears who is around when rodeos were first becoming a commercial enterprise.  And… that’s pretty much the whole story.  If you think about someone’s life, it doesn’t exactly have a plot, it’s just you going around doing your everyday thing and hoping for the best, and that’s pretty much what happens here.  I really liked Flint a lot and learning about the origins of the rodeo and seeing how different aspects of it developed was really interesting, but there wasn’t a big finale or anything like that.  James also decided to kill off a character I really liked and it honestly broke me up a lot.  I loved James’s illustrations (he drew them himself), and despite this story just being kind of meandery and not really going anywhere, I would definitely read another of his books.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling – 5*

September saw the conclusion of my reread of the Harry Potter series.  I still really love how everything comes together in the end, and still think Snape was a terrible person despite some redeeming qualities.  Sorry, a teacher who verbally and emotionally abuses students every chance he gets isn’t a good person, period.  I was struck this time, probably because I was reading it a chapter-a-day instead of as fast as I could, how much of the book not much is actually happening, the trio are just wandering around trying to figure out what they should do.  It was an interesting way to write the book, and I feel like an honest way, if that makes sense.  Sometimes you don’t know what to do, and you just go along and hope for a breakthrough.  On the whole, this series definitely has its weaknesses, but I still enjoy it nonetheless.

August Minireviews – Part 1

I’m SO determined to actually catch up on reviews!!!

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

The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley – 3.5*

This is a really fun, although honestly pretty straightforward, variation of the Robin Hood story that I overall really enjoyed.  However, I wasn’t a huge fan of the way McKinley decided to end her story, so it left me with mixed feelings on the whole.  This was one of her books that I read a really long time ago and couldn’t really remember, but I don’t particularly see myself revisiting it again any time soon.  It just didn’t have any zing.

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson – 4*

I read this one for the traveling book club and loved it!  It definitely had some eye-rolling moments, and got a little melodramatic at the end, but on the whole it was just delightfully fun fluff with main characters that I totally shipped.  And this one was super swoony without being sexy, which I really appreciated.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens – 3*

This one sounded fun but just didn’t pan out, mainly because multiple murders plus a lot of discussion about illegitimate children felt inappropriate for the middle-grade age range for which this book is written.  The main character, Daisy, is a bit of a bully (in my opinion) and I didn’t feel like she treated Hazel, the narrator, very well, often making rather snide comments or pressuring Hazel to do things that made her uncomfortable.  Daisy is one of the popular girls at the boarding school, so a lot of Hazel’s hero-worship felt awkward to me, like she was willing to let a lot of Daisy’s actions slide so that Daisy would keep liking her.

On the other hand, this is the first book in a series, so maybe it’s just as well that I didn’t enjoy this one – nine books off the TBR with minimal effort!!

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling – 4.5*

This is actually one of my favorites (maybe even THE favorite) of the series. I absolutely love world-building and backstory, which is a huge part of what this book is all about. I love learning about the horcruxes and Voldemort’s background.  It’s a sort of calm-before-the-storm book that I really enjoy reading every time.

Sail Away by Lisa Jackson – 2.5*

This one and the next book, Million Dollar Baby, were in one volume that I got in a big box of mystery and romance books that someone on Litsy sent to me a while back.  Sail Away was pretty terrible.  Marnie’s dad really wants her to marry this dude named Kent, and Kent and Marnie were even engaged for a while.  Marnie broke it off when she found out that (surprise surprise) Kent was cheating on her.  The problem is, she never told her dad so he keeps going on and on about how Kent is perfect for Marnie and blah blah blah and like Marnie’s dad really loves her a lot and made zero sense for her not to just tell her dad that Kent is actually a secret sleezeball and she’s never going to marry him, because her dad would have totally been on her side if she had just told him the truth!  So that just super annoyed me the entire time that she wouldn’t just have this one basic conversation with him.  Meantime, the “good” love interest, Adam, was just really pushy and annoying as well.  In romance novels I can usually give a little leeway to the “he grabbed her and kissed her” routine, but I felt like Adam was just too far.  He was constantly forcing her to “submit” to his kisses, like she would be mad and he would just start kissing her until she gave up – it felt really uncomfortable to me.  In the end, a combination of annoying characters and not really being able to ship Marnie and Adam meant that I didn’t really enjoy this one all that much.

Million Dollar Baby by Lisa Jackson – 3.5*

But did not enjoying Sail Away keep me from reading the other book in that volume, Million Dollar Baby?  No, no it did not, because I have a problem haha  This one was more regular cheesy romance, with a woman with a mysterious past finding an abandoned baby in her barn, which forces her to connect with the local (ruggedly handsome) ER doctor.  This one was a bit melodramatic for my personal taste, but not a bad one-off read.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan – 3.5*

Quite a while ago I read The Joy Luck Club by this author, which was one of those books I wasn’t exactly expecting to enjoy but then did, so I’ve had a few of Tan’s other books on my TBR since then.  Like The Joy Luck Club, The Bonesetter’s Daughter explores themes of motherhood/daughterhood in a way that feels poignant and realistic.  I found myself drawn into this story and genuinely concerned about LuLing, and felt that the dual timeline aspect of the story was handled really well.  While I did find this one to be really well-written, it was soooo sad that I can’t exactly say that I enjoyed it.  It was a worthwhile read, but left me feeling a bit depressed.

Persuasion by Jane Austen – 5*

I really love this novel so much, and rereading it was a delight.  I’m not always a huge fan of the “second chance” romance just because it seems so sad that so many years have been wasted on misunderstanding each other, but Austen’s story just brings me a lot of happiness.

July Minireviews – Part 3

Can I finish July before the end of October???

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.

Jane Fairfax by Joan Aiken – 4*

//published 1990//

After reading Emma in June, in July I read this variation, which focuses, as Aiken says, on Emma’s other heroine.  While overall I enjoyed this story and getting some background on Jane, I didn’t care for the way Aiken really made Frank Churchhill be Jane’s way of “settling” – I think it would have been much more fun and happy if she had actually had these two care for each other more.  Still, a well done story with some interesting interpretations of Austen’s characters.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It  edited by Laurel Ann Nattress – 2.5*

//published 2011//

This is a collection of Jane Austen-inspired short stories written by various authors, but on the whole it was pretty disappointing.  Several of the stories were about Jane Austen herself (except fictional), which is not my thing – I honestly do not like authors writing fictional stories about real people.  In one story, a bunch of Austen’s couples came back and complained about their lives, which kind of made it feel like no one in her books ended up happy, which I didn’t like.  There were a bunch of stories here and a couple of them were okay, but I don’t think I rated any of them higher than a 3.5* and most of them were more in the 2-2.5* range.  I was expected some Austen variations, but mostly got really random stuff.

To Have and To Hoax by Martha Waters – 3*

//published 2020//

Wow, where to even start with this one.  I felt bad because I chose it for my traveling book club pick, and then it was kind of a bust.  The blurb on the back cover tells us that James and Violet are married but estranged. Violet receives word that her husband has been thrown from a horse and is dying, so she dashes off to the country estate, only to find him alive and well. Assuming that he was pranking her, she decides to get back at him with a prank of her own.  Sounds fun, right?  And we all know I’m a sucker for stories where the main characters are already married.  But what the back cover does NOT mention is that they’ve been estranged for FOUR YEARS and that during that time they’ve been LIVING IN THE SAME HOUSE.  So I’m supposed to believe that they were madly in love and got along great, had ONE argument and then spent the next FOUR YEARS barely speaking to each other while still living together?!  This seems just so ludicrous to me that I really struggled to get on with this book at all.  I could have understood if it had been, say, four MONTHS, or if James had gotten so mad during that fight that he flounced off to the country estate and they hadn’t seen each other since, but the way this was presented made no sense.

The book continued to make no sense by giving both James and Violet no real clear motivation for their actions.  Is it petty revenge?  An attempt to embarrass the other?  Trying to make the other person talk?  Attempting to solicit some kind of apology for past actions?  To hurt their feelings?  No clue, because the motivation seemed to change about every other paragraph.  And of course in the end, EVERYTHING is James’s fault, from beginning to end.  It’s all because he wouldn’t share his feelings because of all that “toxic masculinity” except she had a different phrase for it because it’s the Regency era.  You can’t see me right now, but trust me, I’m rolling my eyes a LOT.  On top of that, Waters kept having her characters swear by saying things like “Jesus Christ!” which was just so period incorrect and jarring every time it happened.  I tend to give authors a LOT of leeway with their historical accuracy, but this was so obviously wrong and unnecessary that I just couldn’t deal with it.

So why did this even get 3 stars, you ask?  Great question!  At the time, I think I felt it still had some funny moments and good potential, and I liked the secondary characters.  But in retrospect, it’s the negatives that have stuck with me.  This traveling book club book is due to come back to me next month – they travel to three other people and then return – and it sounds like the others hated it as much or more than I did, so I should at least have some blistering commentary to enjoy in November!