December Minireviews – Part 4

Oh look, more Christmas fluff from December!!!

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.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie – 5*

//published 1938//

I’m sure I must have read this one in the distant past as it was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t remember any of the details as to how it was going to come together.  When the grumpy, selfish, miserly, annoying patriarch of the family is murdered there is no lack of suspects from his own household – but he was killed in a locked room.  Absolutely loved the way everything came together in this one.

The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox – 3.5*

//published 2021//

I’m a BOTM member but skip a lot of months. I decided to go ahead and get December’s book, though, because who doesn’t need another holiday read?  This was a fun concept.  Identical twins decide to switch lives for reasons that somewhat made sense within the context of the story haha  My main frustration with this one – one sister has broken up with her long-time boyfriend, but he isn’t getting the picture.  When that sister switches out, she asks her replacement sister (supposedly the more “go get ’em” one) to really emphasize to this guy that things are over – but instead she waffles and puts him off all the time instead of just saying really basic things like “I appreciate you bringing me this coffee, but we aren’t dating any more and you don’t get to decide if I want to talk to another dude or not” like oh my gosh.  Meanwhile, the big-city sister has been working on a tv show with an absolutely horrific jerk of a cohost.  I found it a bit unbelievable that in 2021 this guy would get away with overt bullying and harassment, like constantly touching her, rubbing her shoulders, putting his arm around her, commenting on her appearance, etc etc, or that she would actually have put up with that.  All in all, the story worked and I did enjoy it, but the passive attitude of both sisters about their situations really frustrated me a lot of the time.

Mistletoe at Moonglow by Deborah Gainer – 3*

//published 2015//

This one honestly just had me feeling super confused.  It starts as though the reader should already know the background of the location/characters, so it’s possible that there was another book or series before this one?? But who knows.  It takes place at this inn in a small Montana.  The inn is owned by an older lady whose name I can’t remember, and she has this crazy chick named Mist (yes, seriously) working for her.  The two women are prepping the inn for their Christmas guests.  The owner tells Mist about the upcoming guests, some of whom have stayed there before, and their various backgrounds, most of which have some tragedy involved.  Mist is this weird “mystical” character who always seems to magically know what everyone wants or needs, cooks elaborate dinners for the restaurant part of the hotel with seemingly no effort, and sort of floats around vaguely from place to place.  However, we’re reassured that she is NOT magic, she just listens to people, and hears their hearts, so in a weird way this book felt a little like it was gently scolding me, the reader, for not being as hospitable, calm, and mind-reader-y as Mist, because she’s just a regular person who manages to do all these things, so why don’t you, o reader??  Maybe I’m broken, but I honestly kept wondering if Mist was smoking weed or something, because she really had a chill, no worries surfer-dude vibe except with out “hey dude” jargon.  Nothing ever rattled he and she was always prosing on about basically vibing with the universe.  The guests arrive and stay in their perfect rooms that have weird little things in them that they exactly need because Mist didn’t read their minds before they got there but somehow still knew exactly, like, what kind of flower is their very favorite and what kind of chocolate they love, and then… literally nothing happens.  Everyone eats the perfect meals that Mist has prepared and comes together to celebrate Christmas, including opening the handmade gifts that Mist perfectly crafted for each of them that exactly speaks to their heart in just the way they need it to because it only takes Mist 24 hours or less to know all about a person’s soul (AND make them a gift!), so why can’t YOU, o reader, make perfect gifts for your loved ones that you have known all your life??  Everyone basically is like, “oh this place is so perfect and healing, all my tragic problems like my son dying and my husband leaving me and getting cancer have all just magically gone away thanks to Mist’s beautiful gifts and the way she’s shown us all the True Meaning of Christmas (TM)!”  I can see how some people found Mist to be this special, inspiring character, but her constant life philosophies, her “silent footsteps,“ and the way literally nothing flapped her at all just low-key annoyed me the entire book.

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1960//

Like I said, I wish these special editions were more focused on full novels instead of short story collections.  This collection was originally put together by Christie herself, but a couple of the stories were farmed out (by HarperCollins) into Midwinter Murder, which I had read earlier in the month.  The confusing part was that the versions weren’t exactly the same!  The two overlapping stories were the title mystery and one called something like “The Baghdad Chest.”  In the pudding tale, here it is much more fleshed out, with more background and other characters, while the Midwinter Murder version was shorter and not as interesting.  In the Midwinter Murder version of the Chest story, the story is told by Hastings.  In the Christmas Pudding edition, it’s told in the third person and Poirot spends a lot of time lamenting the fact that Hastings isn’t around because he would really enjoy the story!  The rest of the stories included were perfectly good short stories, but weren’t remotely Christmasy or wintery, so that was a bit of a letdown.  All in all, good stories, but it seems like Christie has written enough that HarperCollins should be able to make these lovely special editions without repeating themselves!

One More For Christmas by Sarah Morgan – 4*

//published 2020//

Another lovely tale from Sarah Morgan that focused more on the relationship between two adult daughters and their mother than it did on the romance (although the romance was fun, too).  I feel like our current society is prone to label everyone who doesn’t agree with you or who ever hurt your feelings as “toxic” and then write them off forever.  And while sometimes you do need to make the giant step of cutting someone off, so many times reconciliation and forgiveness are possible in so many cases.  Here, the two adult daughters have a lot of deep hurts from their mother, but when the mother has an accident and starts rethinking many of her life choices (although they seemed the best to her at the time) she desperately wants to reach out and reconnect with her estranged daughters.  Both daughters struggle with whether or not they should even let their mother try to come back into their lives, and how that should look.  All of this is handled well – it doesn’t become super dark and heavy, but doesn’t completely gloss over the difficulties of a relationship that has always been complicated.  I think that’s why I enjoy Morgan’s books – she isn’t afraid to tackle some harder family themes, but doesn’t allow them to drag the entire story down in a depressing spiral of hopelessness like so many stories (both women’s fiction and literary fiction… basically all those books that say A NOVEL on the front) do.  My only real issue with this one is that one of the daughters has a daughter of her own.  Growing up, the daughters were never allowed to believe in Santa, and the daughter is determined that her little one will always be able to believe in the “magic of Christmas” to the point that she is basically obsessive about her little girl believing in Santa and spends so much time agonizing and worrying about whether or not her mother will tell the little girl that Santa isn’t real.  It’s all this huge drama and just… I don’t think Santa = Christmas magic.  We never believed in Santa growing up (although our parents also told us we weren’t allowed to tell our friends he wasn’t real) – but Christmas was always incredibly magical in our household.  I didn’t like this concept that Santa was the be-all end-all for Christmas magic and Christmas would be RUINED if Santa wasn’t real.  Saying that all Christmas magic is pinned on a character who isn’t actually real, to me, implies that Christmas magic isn’t real, either, which just isn’t true.  But anyway, all in all I really did enjoy this one.  There was a splash of romance, a happily married couple, and a lot of really good discussions about family and forgiveness, all in a fun Christmas setting.

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 3

Final set of reviews for November!!  Woohoo!!

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 Shallow Waters of Romance by Charlotte Darcy – 3*

This was a free Kindle book I finally got around to reading.  Not sure why I didn’t read it was soon as I got it, considering it’s only 65 pages long.  That was also the main problem with this one – 65 pages just wasn’t enough to actually tell a story.  The bones were there and they were good, but overall it felt pointless because there is zero real character development or opportunity for anyone to do anything.

Doctor’s Boy by Karin Anckarsvard – 3.5*

This is another one that has been on my shelves for absolutely ever.  A children’s chapter book, I was utterly charmed by it at first – a delightful story about a young boy learning about poverty and the importance of helping those around us.  However, this book literally just stopped – to the point that I wondered if my book had been published with a missing final chapter??  I’m still confused by the way this book ended without any real conclusion, and still am wondering if something was lost in the translation from its original Swedish!

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

This was November’s Christie book for the Litsy group that is reading through her entire bibliography, and while perfectly enjoyable, it’s not one of my favorites.  It’s all a little melodramatic, and I always prefer Poirot to be there the entire time instead of showing up in the middle.  Still, even though I had read it before I couldn’t remember the conclusion, and quite enjoyed watching the story unravel.

The Singles Table by Sara Desai – 3.5*

After really enjoying the first two books in this series, The Marriage Game and The Dating Plan, I was a little let down by this one.  First off, there was virtually no crossover from the earlier characters, so I’m not even sure why this is considered to be a part of the series.  Secondly, it felt like there were way more sexy times in this one than the other two books.  Thirdly, I didn’t really like Zara and found her character development to be quite uneven – as was Jay’s.  It felt like both of them were going back and forth a lot about everything, and I wasn’t sure if I should really be rooting for them as a couple or not.  A fine little romance, but it lacked the charisma of the two earlier books.

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.

Leaphorn & Chee – Books 6-10 // by Tony Hillerman

  • The Ghostway (1984)
  • Skinwalkers (1986)
  • A Thief of Time (1988)
  • Talking God (1989)
  • Coyote Waits (1990)

While the first five books of this series were an average of 3.5*, the next set moved firmly into the 4* range.  In Skinwalkers, Leaphorn reappears on the scene, and throughout the next four books, both men are involved in the mystery solving, although not always as a team – it’s interesting to have them sometimes almost opposing because of their different styles of detecting, and their different beliefs about the old ways.  The personableness of both characters vastly improved during this group of books, with more about their family lives and backgrounds, leaving me a lot more interested in them as people as well as interested in the mysteries themselves.

The actually mysteries were solid and did a decent job of wrapping things up.  Hillerman does a good job of talking about nuanced topics without it feeling preachy.  For instance, the entirety of Talking God is about ancient Native American artifacts and bones and managed to present varying viewpoints on whether old bones belong in museums or should be returned to modern Native Americans (even though in many instances there is not a direct oral history between them), and how archeological sites should be handled.  It was all very interesting and thoughtfully done, but never came across as polemic or divisive.

All in all, I’m thoroughly enjoying these.  The next five are in the pile waiting to be read, but that probably won’t happen until January as I am intending to fully embrace Christmasy reads all throughout December!!

Shetland Island Mysteries – Books 1-4 // by Ann Cleeves

  • Raven Black
  • White Nights
  • Red Bones
  • Blue Lightning 

This series has been on my radar for a while (haven’t they all??) and I finally read the first half of them in October.  Litsy has a month-long readathon focusing on mysteries/thriller/horror/etc. and while I don’t enjoy anything in the horror/graphic violence area, I decided it would be a great opportunity to make some forward progress on several mystery series I’ve been working through, including finishing the 87th Precinct, the first half of this series, the next five books in the Leaphorn & Chee series, plus knocking out a few standalone thrillers that have been on my shelf for way too long.

Set in the Shetland Islands, the main character/detective of this series is Jimmy Perez, a detective on the police force.  However, Cleeves takes her time with these stories, giving back stories and insight into multiple people involved in each murder.  Even though these are a little longer than the average thriller (350-400 pgs), they felt a LOT longer as the pace is rarely urgent.  Instead, there is plenty of time to examine and contemplate the interactions of the main players.  Somehow, instead of being boring, Cleeves makes this work.  It fit the setting of an isolated and insulated community, where the seasons take their time, and the methodical rhythm of the natural world is reflected in the human residents.

I have mixed feelings about these books.  I enjoyed them while I was reading them, but never felt an urgency about picking up the next book.  Cleeves made a decision to kill off a character at the end of Blue Lightning that I didn’t really like as well, and I’m not completely sure that I’ll get around to finishing this series (there are four more books).  Yet on the whole, I think I do recommend them if you enjoy your mysteries thoughtful instead of frantic.  They could definitely do with a bit of editing, yet at some level I rather enjoyed the contemplative pacing, feeling that I was really getting to know the motives and relationships of the characters involved.

These weren’t my new favorites, and they didn’t make me want to rush out and read everything Cleeves has written, but I probably will read those last four books one of these days, just to see how everyone adjusts to the sudden death at the end of Blue Lightning.  

87th Precinct – THE FINAL FIVE BOOKS!!! // by Ed McBain

I honestly don’t know why I originally started reading the 87th Precinct books.  I think maybe they were listed somewhere as classics, and my innate inability to read books out of order meant I had to start at the beginning and work my way through them.  However it happened, I read the first of this series back in April 2018, and FINALLY read books 50-55 in October 2021!!  Breaking them into groups of five actually worked really well for working through this series.  So, here are a few thoughts on the final books, and then some thoughts on the series as a whole.

  • Money, Money, Money
  • Fat Ollie’s Book
  • The Frumious Bandersnatch
  • Hark!
  • Fiddlers

All in all, these ended up all being 4* reads and were a great way to conclude this series ALTHOUGH tragedy struck at the final hour – somehow, I had these written down wrong, and after reading FIFTY-THREE BOOKS in order, I somehow read #55 BEFORE reading #54!! I cannot possibly express to you how aggravated at myself I was! How could I do this?!  It literally made no difference except in my heart, but still!  I’m still mad!

ANYWAY the weirdest part about these last five books was the involvement/attempt at character redemption of Fat Ollie.  He’s one of those background characters who has popped in and out of several books.  He works for another precinct and everyone dislikes him because he’s a racist, sexist jerk.  However, he’s also weirdly good at being a detective.  Suddenly, in these books, McBain tries to somewhat redeem Ollie’s character by having him fall in love with a girl, which makes him start to reassess some of his prejudices.  I had mixed feelings about this.  I actually did feel like Ollie was growing as a person, but I’m also not sure how realistic it was, or even why McBain felt it was necessary to wander away from the detectives in the 87th to focus on Ollie instead.  When I looked at other reviews, there were a lot of complaints about this that basically said Ollie’s character was irredeemable, but I’m not sure I agree with that, either.  I do think people can change – and if we aren’t willing to believe that, to hope for that, to accept it when it happens – then the world really is a rather hopeless place.  So I decided to embrace the efforts to make Ollie a better person and hope that he continues on that path going forward.

All five of these had really good pacing and a bit more humor than a lot of the other books.  They also avoided the gratuitous and weird sex scenes from some of the earlier books, which was great.  McBain still enjoys killing people off more than I’d like him to (especially in The Frumious Bandersnatch – I was SO upset about a character he killed off there!), but they ARE murder mysteries soooo

McBain died the same year that the final book was published (2005) so I’m not sure if he actually intended that to be the final book in the series.  He did leave several of the regular characters in good places – I especially loved watching Carella wrestle with and come to grips with the changes in his family.  There’s a beautiful scene where he finally accepts his stepfather that honestly choked me up a bit.

All in all, I don’t regret reading this series, but I don’t see myself rereading them ALL.  I’ve held on to a few/marked a few that I would reread, but there are also several that I would NEVER read again even if they were the only book around lol  I do think it was worthwhile to see the way that various characters developed and evolved throughout the series.  I loved the way that McBain didn’t age his characters as rapidly as he aged the tech (the series spans 50 years of tech, but only about 15 years of detective-life haha).  The books definitely went through a rough patch in the 80s – my least favorite books were all from that decade – but the final five left me wishing that there were more left to read.

I’m not sure I can exactly recommend this series, but I did enjoy it and am a bit sorry to part ways with the fellows from the 87th.  I may have to revisit them from time to time… just not all 55 books!!

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.