August Minireviews // Part 3

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens – 4*…ish

//published 1870//

Can you give 4* to a book that isn’t even finished?  I actually didn’t realize that this one was never completed until after I had started it.  (Thankfully I found out before I got the abrupt stopping point!)  I would have LOVED to see where this story ended up.  There are some great characters here and some very sinister set-ups.  It seems obvious what is going on – except towards the end of this partial story, Dickens is already starting to muddy the waters.  A really engaging piece of writing, even if it is rather disappointing that it just ends!

Jade Fire Gold by June C.L. Tan – 4*

//published 2021//

I wasn’t expecting to so thoroughly enjoy this OwlCrate book, but I actually was completely engaged with the world-building and characters.  It’s a debut novel, so there were times that the pacing was a little off, but on the whole I definitely wanted to keep reading this Asian-based fantasy.  It’s listed as a standalone and I can find nothing about a potential sequel, but the ending/epilogue of this one definitely gave off “in the next book” vibes, so that was a little confusing.  While looking for information about the nonexistent sequel, I did find an official map on the author’s website – why it wasn’t in the book, I’ll never know, as it was VERY HELPFUL.  I printed it off and stuck it in the book so it will be ready next time I read it!

The Lies We Told by Camilla Way – 4*

//published 2018//

This was a perfectly fine but ultimately forgettable thriller.  I’m never a big fan of the “inherently evil child” trope, but once the other storyline started, I was able to work with them both and wanted to see how they were going to come together.  As with many thrillers, this one works best if you just suspend some disbelief and roll with it. I didn’t want to put it down once I got hooked, which bumped it up to 4* for me.

The Hidden Hand by E.D.E.N. Southworth – 4*

//published 1859//

Originally published in 1859, this book was reissued by Lamplighter Press back in the 1990s.  Keeping in mind the publication date, you would be correct in assuming that there are language and actions that don’t fit our modern sensibilities, but I found it to honestly be a completely engaging look at life in the “wilds“ of the Virginia mountains. “Old Hurricane“ is an Revolutionary War veteran who, through a series of events, ends up adopting an orphan girl named Capitola, mainly for his own selfish reasons – Cap is actually the long-lost heiress of a neighboring estate, currently owned by Hurricane’s arch-enemy. However, Hurricane is not remotely nefarious (although very temperamental) and soon is completely won over by Cap’s bold, saucy ways. Cap is no missish heroine, waiting to be rescued. She makes things happen, charging about the countryside on her pony, rescuing people herself, and causing all sorts of trouble. This story is completely ridiculous, with melodramatic villains, sweeping coincidences at every turn, and plenty of absurdities, but I honestly enjoyed every page.

I Found You by Lisa Jewel – 4*

//published 2016//

Pacey, engaging, and intriguing, this was a solid thriller that kept me going.  Even though I figured out parts of it ahead of time, I didn’t solve all of it.  I’ve really enjoyed all of the Lisa Jewel books I’ve read so far, and have several more on the shelf that I want to get to soon.

August Minireviews // Part 1

August was an insanely busy month for me at the orchard – we had a huge peach crop and were quite short-staffed.  My reading definitely suffered as a result – I only read 18 books, which is about 10 fewer than my average.  And as usual, they were quite the mixed bag!!

Nudges by Loren Anderson – 3.5*

//published 2021//

Loaned to me by a friend, this book was written by a man who was a missionary to Guatemala.  Having been to Guatemala myself, I was interested to read this one.  However, the execution was a little flat – in some ways, this book almost felt like a thank you letter to the many people who have helped and inspired Anderson and his wife through the years, and there were times that I wanted to hear more about what they were doing rather than who was doing it, if that makes sense.  Much of this story takes place in 1950s and 60s, and Anderson and his family DROVE from Ohio to Guatemala more than once!!  Those are the types of things I would have liked to have read about in more detail, but are just sort of glossed over.  All in all, a perfectly nice book, but I just didn’t find it as engaging as I wanted to.

Rosalind by Clarice Peters – 3.5*

//published 1985//

This book was just so close to being fun.  There are some engaging characters and witty dialogue, but it also felt like the author had ideas for about a dozen different stories and decided to cram them all into this 203 page book.  There was just way too much going on, so the story felt cluttered and choppy.  A lot of potential here, but it just didn’t work.

The Hidden One by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2022//

I’m always excited to read the next installment in the Kate Burkholder series.  I absolutely love Kate and have so enjoyed watching her character grown and develop throughout the series.  This is the 14th book, and while you don’t HAVE to read them in order, it definitely gives the characters more depth and interest if you do.  I’m always a bit sad when the story takes place away from Painters Creek, but on the other hand, how many murderous Amish people can you plausibly have in one community??  The pacing here was good, and while I guessed some of what was coming, I didn’t guess all of it.  Another solid installment.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This is one of those books that I feel like I saw everywhere for a while.  As usual, I’m late to the party.  My main issue with this book was that January herself felt a little slow on the uptake.  There were several things that I figured out way, way, WAY before she did, to the point that it was making her seem kind of slow and stupid that she didn’t see these things and how they connected and who was really the bad guy, etc.  The world-building was interesting and I did LIKE January, but the pacing in this one was off.

The Secret Road by Bruce Lancaster – 3.5*

//published 1952//

Another one that I’ve owned FOREVER, finally off the list.  Historical fiction set during the Revolutionary War – the most unbelievable part of this one was the love story, which felt like it was getting in the way of the story instead of furthering it.  There is some fun spy action here and fairly likable characters, but the ending was quite abrupt and left me wanting some more resolution.

The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa – 2.5*

//published 2020//

This one just didn’t hit the right notes for me.  Lina was super annoying and spent most of her time whining about how she has to work 50x harder than everyone else because she’s a WOMAN trying to make it in a MAN’S WORLD (…of wedding planning…) blah blah blah.  Don’t care, Lina.  Max felt like a manic-pixie-dream-feminist-man-who-says-all-the-right-things-as-though-it’s-a-script.  Literally, has Sosa even MET a man?  Max was incredibly boring, trite, and unrealistic.  He felt like a doll where you pull the string and a little feminist by-line comes out.  To top it all off, we included one of my absolutely least-favorite tropes, the “we’re just having sex; it doesn’t mean anything” bit – UGH.  Gross, stupid, and annoying.  There are loads of positive reviews for this one, and plenty of people found it fun and funny, but although it had it’s moments here and there, on the whole it just wasn’t for me.

July Minireviews // Part 3

I’ve long decided that the idea of me ever being caught up on reviews is kind of hopeless.  But now I find myself wondering the opposite – is it possible that I will eventually become so far behind on reviews that readers won’t even know which July I am referring to without further explanation??  Only time will tell.

At any rate, Happy New Year!! And here are some books I read back when it was a million degrees out and super muggy.

Nightwork by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2022//

Continuing my July Roberts binge, I also picked up her latest novel.  I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews for this one, and even though I, personally, enjoyed it, I can understand why a lot of people didn’t.  It’s really more of a story about the main character, Harry Booth, than it is about romance or suspense – which is a bit of a departure from most of the Roberts books I’ve read.  The story starts with Harry as a small boy.  His single mother has cancer and can only work irregularly so they struggle to make ends meet.  Harry starts stealing, and, as he grows into adulthood, becomes a con artist and a professional thief.  Despite Harry’s job, this story was slow, and the heists never felt particularly pulse-pounding.  Personally, I liked Harry as a character, and I enjoyed the descriptions of the various places he lived and worked (especially New Orleans), so I enjoyed the book.  But both the romance and the suspense are on the slow side, so this one probably isn’t for everyone.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym – 4*

//published 1952//

I read this one as a buddy read with a group on Litsy.  It definitely wasn’t a book that I would have picked up on my own, but I ended up enjoying it, especially at the chapter-a-day pace.  It’s not a particularly fast-paced read, a story of an older spinster just after WWII.  It’s an interesting look at a specific layer of British society, one of a generation of women whose potential husbands were slaughtered on the battlefields.  I ended up liking Mildred and sympathizing with her quiet, industrious life, where most of her work was taken for granted.  I was a little let down by the ending, which felt rather sitcom-like, where everyone just ends up exactly where they started, but overall while this wasn’t a new favorite that I see myself reading time and again, I found to be an engaging, quiet novel.

A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery – 4*

//published 1931//

It had been probably 15-20 years since my last reread of this one.  It was never one of my favorite Mongomery’s growing up, but I appreciated it a lot more now than I did when I was in my early 20s, finding several of the storylines a bit more sympathetic.  There are a lot of characters here and a lot of threads (hence the title), so there are definitely stories within this one that I prefer to others.  The Sams were never my favorites before or now, and it does make me sad that their weird racism bit is the what comprises the final pages of this book, considering that the rest of the novel is old-fashioned but pleasantly so.  This isn’t where I would start with Montgomery’s books, and it’s definitely more adult than many of her other novels, but there are plenty of enjoyable characters and interesting motivations here.  This was an especially fun one to read with the Kindred Spirits group on Litsy as there is a lot to discuss!!

Lost Lake by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 2005//

I really enjoy Margolin’s legal thrillers.  This one wasn’t my favorite, but it still kept me turning the pages.  Ami is a single mother and struggling attorney.  She rents out the apartment above her garage for extra income, and her latest tenant seems like a regular, kind man a little older than herself.  But when he goes berserk at her son’s baseball game and almost kills someone with his bare hands, Ami sees an entirely different side of him.  Now in prison, he shares an almost unbelievable story with her, about a secret group of trained killers, hired by the government entirely off the books and headed up by a famous general who is now running for president.  His story is corroborated by the General’s own daughter, Vanessa – who had a mental breakdown in her past and spent time in a mental hospital, meaning that now no one takes her accusations very seriously.  Margolin does a great job of presenting information against the General that makes you think Carl and Vanessa are right, followed by the General explaining away everything in a perfectly reasonable manner, leaving you convinced that Carl (a Vietnam vet) and Vanessa are actually just paranoid and delusional, pitiable individuals who need help.  However, this did mean that book was slightly repetitive at times, especially when we would hear about something from Carl’s view, than Vanessa’s, then the General’s.  And towards the end of the book there is a big courtroom scene where everything is summed up in far too much detail – like, I literally just read the book?? I don’t need an entire chapter-long synopsis!  However, I genuinely didn’t know who to believe up until the ending, so, a good one-time read, but not my new favorite by this author.

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan – 4*

The final book in the Percy Jackson series wrapped everything up nicely.  On the whole, while I enjoyed the series just fine, it didn’t really reach out and grab me.  There are various spinoff and other related series, but I don’t see myself picking up any of the others.

July Minireviews // Part 1

Okay, July!! Woohoo!!

Also!  I happened to be on my phone the other day and looked at something on my blog and realized that the mobile version has decided to completely ignore my paragraph breaks!  I don’t really know how to fix that – maybe I should go back to the old-school method of inserting the paragraph symbol whenever a new one is started?? ¶  So apologies to anyone who may attempt to read these posts on mobile as apparently WordPress is determined to make me look a bit ridiculous, probably because I insist on using the Classic Editor instead of the horrific Block Editor that I genuinely hate.  Lack of paragraph breaks is a small price to pay to avoid that atrocity!

Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier – 3.5*

//published 1956//

Apparently this one was also published as The Silver Sword.  Set in Warsaw during WWII, the story follows a family whose parents are arrested by the Nazis, leaving the children alone and homeless.  Their father manages to escape the prison camp, but doesn’t know how to find the children.  Meanwhile, the children decide to try and make it to Switzerland to their mother’s family and begin a cross-country journey.  Along the way they pick up another orphan who has been living on the streets even longer than they have, mostly by stealing stuff.  He’s quite obnoxious and drove me crazy for the entire book.  This wasn’t a bad story, but was a bit disjointed.  An author’s note explained that although he made up this story, he based their adventures on various true stories, which could account for the way this book felt like it was kind of pulling together bits and bobbles that didn’t always go together.  I think this also greatly increased the “we need a coincidence to move this along” factor.  It wasn’t at all a bad book, and I can see the middle grade audience for which it’s intended getting very caught up in the drama and excitement, but this one did go into the giveaway box when I was done reading it.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson – 4*

//published 2015//

I’ve been working my way through Swanson’s backlog of books, and I feel like this is the one that always comes the most highly recommended.  While it was a good, pacey thriller, I didn’t absolutely love it.  Swanson has an amazing knack for being able to keep me 100% engaged in a book to the point that I really don’t notice all the niggling coincidences and inconsistencies and completely lack of character development until I’m done!  So he gets great kudos for keeping me in the moment, but maybe not so much for actual writing lol  I also get a little exasperated that he seems to think that sex is the ONLY motivation for 100% of men and 98% of women.  Like no one does anything unless the angle involves sex in some way, and that gets old to me.  But still – his pacing is impeccable.  It’s rare for me to start one of his books and not finish it within 24 hours!

Harbor Lights by Sherryl Woods – 3*

//published 2009//

Another mediocre installment to the Chesapeake Shores series.  Woods has a great habit of writing a book that I’m totally fine with it until she gets to the final drama and then I just want to bonk everyone’s heads together.  Just.  Why.  In this one, Kevin is a widower with a young son (I think… maybe it was a daughter, I can’t remember, this was back in July haha) and he meets the new girl in town, Shanna, who is opening a bookstore.  Kevin spends literally the entire book (because he has ZERO character growth) saying things like, “I really like Shanna but I want to take it slow” which honestly makes sense given his relationship history.  Consequently, while I generally enjoy books with large, boisterous, slightly-obnoxious families, the O’Brians really got on my nerves here as they just were constantly trying to force Kevin to up his relationship with Shanna, to the point that I was starting to cringe every time they all got together.  There was one particularly dreadful scene where Kevin’s in-laws (parents of his deceased wife) are there to visit their grandson, and while at supper with the whole family, Kevin’s sisters start teasing him about Shanna, despite the fact that it’s obviously making the in-laws, who are still, you know, mourning the death of their daughter, seriously uncomfortable.  It was terrible!  This isn’t that much of a spoiler, because these books are designed to have the HEA, but even the proposal at the end made NO sense.  Kevin literally says something like, “I still really think we need to take this relationship slowly because I’m not sure of myself” and Shanna is like, “Look, I need some actual commitment from you if you want to keep going” (which I honestly also thought was fair) and Kevin IN THE SAME CONVERSATION where he has JUST SAID that he IS NOT READY to progress this relationship PULLS AN ENGAGEMENT RING OUT OF HIS POCKET and says, “oh wow you’re right, we should go ahead and get married, I am 100% on board with this”  WHAT??!?!?!!  I couldn’t deal.

Summer Days and Summer Nights by various authors – 3*

//published 2016//

I got this collection of short stories from Book Outlet for a dollar or two, but didn’t pay very close attention and thus didn’t realize that they were actually all YA stories.  Whew boy, there were some doozies in here.  And maybe it was just me, I actually didn’t realize it but I was getting sick the two days I was reading this book (maybe this book got me sick?  Could be), but none of these stories hit right for me.  They were pretty much just girl meets boy, they argue, they fall in love, now they’re together forever!  I read these kinds of collections in hopes that a new author will tickle my fancy, but while most of these were okay, none of them really wowed me.

A Chesapeake Shores Christmas by Sherryl Woods – 3.5*

//published 2010//

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I went ahead and picked up the next Chesapeake Shores book even though Kevin had driven me batty in the previous book.  The background story of this entire series is that the parents, Mick and Megan, got divorced back in the day, but now that all the kids are grown, Mick wants to try their relationship again.  It’s actually handled pretty well, with all of the now-adult children coming to grips with their parents having their own reasons for why the relationship didn’t work, and neither Mick nor Megan completely blaming the other for the failure of their marriage, and both of them admitting that they screwed up with how they handled it.  But for the last couple of books they have slowly been trying to rebuild something between them, and this book focuses on the two of them.

Here’s my problem with all of the books by this author that I’ve read so far.  She introduces a legitimate concern between the two potential lovers.  The characters discuss it and try to work through things throughout the story.  Then, in the end, they’re just like, “yay, we’re in love, everything is good!” WITHOUT ACTUALLY FIXING THE PROBLEM.   Like I get that I’m supposed to get a HEA here, that’s the whole point of reading this, but why introduce a problem that you aren’t going to solve??  It leaves me feeling like these characters aren’t actually going to have a successful relationship long-term.  And that was the case here – I actually really like Mick and Megan together and feel like they have made some great progress over the course of the first three books, but there is this whole thing with Megan’s art gallery that is a huge part of what they are trying to work out, and in the end it’s just kind of glossed over like of course everything is going to fall into place, despite the fact that it has NOT fallen into place during ANY conversation so far!  It’s what keeps making these books a soft pick for me.  Why do I keep reading the next one???  I can’t even explain it LOL

June Minireviews – Part 3!!

Lies by T.M. Logan – 4*

//published 2017//

A few mixed feelings about this one, but overall an engaging thriller.  I really liked Joe, but also got annoyed with him sometimes because he always seemed to make the choice that would make him look like the bad guy, sometimes unnecessarily.  Also… while I kind of agreed that the final twist made sense, what didn’t make sense was why they had to blame Joe.  So this was a fun one to read, but not one that I absolutely loved.

The Copenhagen Connection by Elizabeth Peters – 3.5*

//published 1982// Also thank you library for literally covering up the title, great idea //

Did this book actually make sense?  No.  Was it held together by improbable coincidences and a good dose of instalove?  Yes.  Did I have a fabulous time reading it?  Also yes.  This was classic Peters, full of wry humor, historical facts, and a good dose of ridiculousness.  I wrote down that this was a “romp of a book” which really sums it up quite well.  There’s a lot of dashing about hither and thither and a lot of tongue-in-cheek mockery of tropes, and I still completely enjoyed it.

Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman – 4*

//published 1993//

Although my journey through the Leaphorn and Chee mysteries is slow, I am really enjoying them.  I think these two men make such a great contrast in both their personal beliefs (Chee is strongly traditional and believes in the importance of following the Navajo religion while Leaphorn is definitely a skeptic) and their detecting methods (Leaphorn is methodical and good at spotting patterns and inconsistencies while Chee tends to follow his gut), which helps keep the different strands of the mystery engaging.  I feel like Hillerman handles the religions and cultural aspects of the Navajo in a sensitive manner.  I especially loved this quote from Chee when he is explaining to someone what the Navajo belief of hozho means to him – “This business of hozho … I’ll use an example.  Terrible drought, crops dead, sheep dying.  Spring dried out.  No water.  The Hopi, or the Christian, or maybe the Moslem, they pray for rain.  The Navajo has the proper ceremony done to restore himself to harmony with the drought.”  I actually love Chee’s view on harmony and being at peace with where you are in life (a perspective that I do not think conflicts with my personal belief in Christianity) and enjoy the way that this is woven into the stories.  However, I did get a bit over Chee’s constant mooning over what to do with Janet.  SHE ISN’T RIGHT FOR YOU, BUDDY.  MOVE ON.

My only concern with these books is that Leaphorn is already getting old and this is only book 11/25??

The Fall of the Ottomans by Eugene Rogan – 4*

//published 2015//

This was overall an informative and thorough look at the Middle Eastern theater during WWI.  I didn’t really know anything about this topic going into the book, and while I didn’t walk away with a bunch of dates and names memorized, I did feel like I got a good overview of what happened there, and it was definitely interesting to see the stage being set for conflicts that are still occurring a hundred years later.  This book was D R Y as dust and somewhat difficult to read, so I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but if it’s a topic that interests you then this one is worth picking up.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – 3.5*

//published 1999//

Even though I had read this one ten or so years ago, I really couldn’t remember anything about it.  When someone gifted me a copy, I decided to reread it.  It’s an engaging enough story, but somehow just doesn’t resonate with me.  It’s very fairy-tale-esq in style, and while I liked the concept, I couldn’t connect with the characters.  An enjoyable one-off but one that moved on to the giveaway box once I was finished reading it.

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

//published 2021//

I read this book last fall and just thoroughly enjoyed it, so when the sequel came out I decided to reread this one to remind myself of who all the characters are.  I enjoyed it just as much, or maybe even more, this time around, since I was somewhat more prepared for flying houses!  I still think the phrase “delightfully bonkers” sums this one up perfectly.  It’s madcap and ridiculous and just so much fun.

The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton – 3.5*

//published 2022//

Which brings us to the slight-disappointing sequel.  This one fell into the “trying a little too hard” category.  It reminded me of that scene in Groundhog Day where Phil and Rita build the snowman and it’s so magical, but then when he tries to recapture that in the future iterations of the day, it just feels awkward. A lot of the jokes and innuendo in this one felt forced and clunky.  There is a LOT more sex in this one, which made me uncomfortable just because of the way it fit into the story/made zero sense for the time period it is supposedly set.  And while the difference between the pirates and witches made sense (back in the day, two groups interpreted the whole “flying house” magic thing differently), it made ZERO sense to me that the witches are being hunted and are illegal… like why is this police officer obsessed with witch hunting when there are literally pirates FLYING HOUSES over his head???  I honestly had a lot of trouble getting past this break in internal logic as it’s never explained why everyone is exasperated with but ultimately cool with pirates, but the witches, who do the exact same thing, are evil and must be hunted to extinction!!  This also made all the coy little “IF witches existed!” jokes feel a little weird.  Like I think all the flying houses may prove that witches exist????

Still!  It was a fun read and parts of it were funny.  It took me a lot longer to warm up to this female MC than it did the one in the first book, but I absolutely loved the male MC, who was a carry-over character from book one. There is a third book to the series coming out next year and I will for sure read it, but am hoping that it finds the rhythm of the first book.

By Your Side by Kasie West – 3*

//published 2017//

I usually really enjoy West’s books, and I generally do enjoy YA, but this was definitely YA that made me feel my age.  First off, Autumn, who I actually liked just fine on the whole, gets trapped in a library.  And what is her first concern??  Her first concern is that she’s going to be BORED.  IN A LIBRARY.  SURROUNDED BY BOOKS.  In fact, she goes on to spend most of the time she is trapped in the library WATCHING TV IN THE BREAK ROOM.  What.  Even.  What a waste!  So I was annoyed by this one from the get-go haha  I was also a little perplexed because I really do think public buildings are set so that you can always exit them, so it doesn’t seem like it should have been possible for her to be actually trapped – perhaps unable to exit without setting off an alarm, but not genuinely trapped.

There was a lot of bonus drama that just didn’t feel necessary in this one.  I actually liked Dax and felt like he and Autumn were a good pair, but there was all this stuff with the other guy Autumn had a crush on and his best friend being a complete jerk for literally no reason and it got kind of old for me.  Autumn suffers from anxiety and doesn’t always feel comfortable going to parties and other activities.  While I appreciated the message of you do what is right for you instead of what you feel pressured to do, I didn’t care for the concept that Autumn HAD to explain her anxiety in order to get a pass.  Everyone talks about normalizing stuff, well let’s normalize just saying “no thank you” and then not showing up at something and not having people demand an explanation.

In the end, this was an okay read.  I didn’t hate it, but I did find myself annoyed by it pretty frequently.  And I’m still not over how much Autumn whined about being bored when she was locked in the library.

April Minireviews – Part 1

I didn’t read as many books in April so I’m sure that means I’m going to get caught up, right?  LOL

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.

A Dance With the Fae Prince by Elise Kova – 4*

//published 2021//

I read the first book in the Married to Magic series, A Deal With the Elf Kingfor the traveling book club and found it surprisingly enjoyable.  The books are set in the same world but don’t really overlap very much, so they can be read independently.  I liked this one even better, actually, because I found the main characters more likable.  While not my new all-time favorites, these books were really enjoyable romantic fantasy.

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers – 3*

//published 1903//

This is one of those classics that is considered so because of the way that it created a new subgenre.  A sort of spy-thriller, when it was published this book was a bit controversial because of the way it pointed out weaknesses in Britain’s naval defense.  However, I really struggled with this book because I was reading it as an ebook, which did NOT include the original story’s charts and maps!  These were referred to regularly throughout the text, and half the story is the main characters exploring these complicated channels, bays, inlets, rivers, etc. so not being able to visually reference the charts made the story confusing and also someone boring.  This wasn’t a book that was big on the action anyway, but I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if, when the text told me to refer to a chart, I could have actually done so.

Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery – 4*

//published 1910//

This was a buddy read with the Kindred Spirits group on Litsy, and a reread for me, as most Montgomery books are.  This has never been a particular favorite of mine.  It’s perfectly pleasant but not magical, and I’ve never been completely comfortable with the romance, because Kilmeny has been so incredibly isolated her entire life and then just falls in love with the first decent guy she meets and it feels a little weird.  One of the other members of the group said this story seemed like something Anne and her friends would have written for their Story Club, and that cracked me up because it’s SO true.  This one is just a little too melodramatic.

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow – 3.5*

//published 2020//

There are some books that I read a chapter-a-day and that keeps me plugging away at them when I honestly may have not finished them if I had just been reading them straight through, and this was one of them.  This story focuses on the “forgotten” sister in P&P, Mary.  There was a LOT of time spent on Mary being miserable and sad and people being mean to her and her feeling rejected – it just went on and on and on.  While Mary’s character growth seemed natural and good, some of the other characters were uneven, especially Charlotte.  The concluding drama also dragged out way longer than it needed to.  So, basically, a pretty good read that needed about a hundred pages edited out haha

I’ll Take Forever by Barbara McMahon – 2*

//published 1988//

This one was pretty bad, although I’ll admit I somewhat softened my attitude when I realized it was published in 1988.  This was a free Kindle book from back in the day, and the entire story is about an undercover federal agent trying to find out where illegal marijuana is being grown and he has to stay with a civilian – literally NONE of it felt remotely realistic haha  There are several instances where Kyle just assumes Jenny is going to be doing this cooking/cleaning/laundry that felt really awkward because he’s literally just mooching off of her.  Jenny herself was honestly kind of stupid and always did stupid things that miraculously would turn out to be the right thing.  For some reason, McMahon decided Jenny should be a widow at the age of 25 (her husband died in a car wreck a year earlier) – I have no idea why she needed to be a widow, I guess so the agent could be “her husband’s cousin” but it just felt awkward, especially since we are told a lot that they had a really lovely marriage but Jenny is totally over it!  After a year!  Woohoo!  Like I realize everyone has a different grieving process, but I’m still not over my grandma dying in 2009 so I didn’t find it particularly convincing that Jenny is basically like, “Oh yeah, I was married, I remember that guy!  He was cool!”  The attitude towards marijuana in this story is definitely very 80s.  I’m not here to advocate marijuana usage, but I also truly don’t think smoking a joint will immediately lead you down the path of hard drugs for life.  This was a super short book so I skimmed a lot of it just so I could be amazed at how it made no sense.  Sometimes it’s fun to get a little hate-reading in!

March Minireviews – Part 2

It’s gardening season again!!! So even less time for blogging than ever!! However, there is also less reading time, so maybe that will balance out as far as my attempt to catch up on reviews goes??

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.

Coffin Road by Peter May – 4*

//published 2016//

I really need to read more by Peter May.  I read the Lewis Trilogy back in 2015, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but somehow this is the first May book I’ve picked up since then.  The story opens with a man staggering onto the beach from the sea, wounded and borderline-hypothermic. He has no idea who he is or where he comes from, and as he begins to piece together this own story, he starts to realize that he may have been living a lie… The story is pacey and engaging, and while I couldn’t say that I was shocked by any of the twists, I still felt compelled to keep turning the pages.  Watching the main character struggle to piece together his life while not letting anyone know that he has lost his memory was completely engaging, especially as you (and he) begin to realize that things aren’t really as they seem.  This wasn’t the best thriller I’ve ever read, but I really enjoyed it and definitely will read some more by May in the future.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott – 3.5*

//published 1819//

This one was actually my February classic read, but at a chapter-a-day pace I didn’t finish it until mid-March.  While it was okay, it didn’t become an instant favorite that I see myself rereading.  When I was growing up, one of my favorite books was The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.  (I haven’t read that one in years and don’t know why – I NEED to read it again!!)  In that book, the main character and her friend are reading Ivanhoe, and I’ve always meant to read it ever since.  Almost 30 years later, here we are LOL  I’m not 100% sure it was worth the wait, but it was a perfectly fine story and can see why it was so popular when it was published.  I went into it completely blind and thus did not realize that this is actually a Robin Hood tale!  Many of the characters traditionally found in the band of Sherwood outlaws make an appearance, so it was also interesting to see how those myths have changed over time.  The story was quite long-winded – it’s rare that I read a book and think “I really should have gone with an abridged edition,” but I thought it a few times while reading this one.  It can be a bit repetitive and sometimes the conclusion of a scene feels obvious far too early.  There is also an astounding amount of anti-Semitism in this story, but I can’t really be mad about it being in the story as it’s an accurate portrayal of how the Jews were treated/viewed at the time.  It’s honestly so fascinating to trace back the roots of the Nazis and Jewish stereotypes literally a couple of centuries.  I also found myself doing research to learn more about why Jews became moneylenders and how many of the negative stereotypes came to be.  Ivanhoe is a worthwhile read and I think deserves its place on the classics list, but I doubt I’ll come back to this one again.

Into the Forest by Rebecca Frankel – 4*

//published 2021//

It was ironic that while I was reading the anti-Semitism in Ivanhoe, I was also reading a nonfiction book about Jews who escaped and survived in the woods of eastern Poland. Frankel weaves together the stories of several people from the region, discussing the hardships and horrors they suffered under both the Russians and the Germans. Despite the darkness, this book was inspiring and hopeful, as so many Holocaust stories somehow are. The determination, faith, and grit shown by people living under unlivable circumstances was beautiful to read. I do wish that Frankel’s afterword, explaining how she came to write the book and how she was connected to some of the people in it, had been a foreword, as it added a lot to the story for me. Many of the people in this story were related and I also found myself wishing that I had a family tree to reference. But all in all, I highly recommend this book. I was also intrigued when Frankel said that one of the people she wrote about had written his own book about his experiences, published in the 1950s – Faith and Destiny by Philip Lazowski. It appears to be out of print, but I am going to see if I can find a copy somewhere as I’m sure that is an amazing read as well.  That one seems like it would be especially engaging as Lazowski went on to become a rabbi, so it is obvious that his experiences strengthened his faith rather than weakened it, and I would love to read his story.  All in all, this was an excellent book that I definitely recommend.

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah – 3*

//published 2010//

I struggled to get through this one as I found all three of the main characters to be incredibly unlikable/frustrating, and in the end was just left feeling depressed by the way the mother had treated her daughters their entire lives.  The story is about Anya and her two adult daughters, Meredith and Nina.  Anya has always been distant and borderline emotionally abusive to the girls all their lives, and their dad was always the glue that kept the family together.  When he passes away unexpectedly towards the beginning of the book, he extracts a deathbed promise from the women that Anya will tell her story and the girls will listen.  The rest of the book is that story of Anya’s history escaping Russia and the daughters coming to grips with everything.  The main problems was that I didn’t like anyone.  Meredith is one of those people who huffs around like a martyr doing everything because “no one else will do it [right]” and ignoring everyone (like her amazing husband) who offers to help her in any way.  Nina has a job where she travels and acts like anyone who chose to be part of a committed relationship or (horror) raise a family needs to have their head examined because she’s soooo free and sooooo happy!  As for Anya – like, I get it, her backstory is tragic.  So why the heck did she ever have children if she was just going to ignore and belittle them their entire lives?!  Nothing in her story excused the way she treated her daughters like garbage.  Nothing.  It’s great that they were able to forgive her and start to move forward, but I was just mad the whole time at the way she had literally wasted her ENTIRE life and also emotionally crippled her daughters while she was at it, plus making her husband’s life a constant difficulty.  Just.  Like.  Whatever.  And if Anya really was “incapable” of being able to share this stuff – why didn’t their dad?!??!  When the girls were old enough to understand, why didn’t he tell them some of her story so that they could understand what was going on in her head??  He was supposedly this amazing kind, loving, sweet, compassionate person, but he let his daughters suffer needlessly, constantly thinking that the reason their mother didn’t love them was their fault, when he had all the information he needed to at least give them some closure about it.  The book still gets 3* for being a decent story and an interesting piece of historical fiction during those sections, but I couldn’t connect with any of these characters and spent most of the book feeling annoyed.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi – 2*

//published 2018//

This Pride & Prejudice variation is a modern retelling set in a mostly-black neighborhood in Brooklyn.  I found the Elizabeth-character, Zuri, to be completely obnoxious and bratty.  She was super judgy about everyone and everything, and then also offended if anyone dared judged her.  She literally never once considers even the POSSIBILITY that Darius might be, I don’t know, SHY?!  She also just immediately was against her (Jane) sister dating the Bingley character for literally no reason other than cause drama in the story.  The guy is funny, friendly, good-looking, and treating her sister great – and Zuri is just like “THIS GUY IS EVIL WHY ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT DATING HIM ARE YOU CRAZY?!!?!”  It made no sense and gave me a lot of negative feelings towards Zuri right off the bat.  There were some aspects of this that were fun and interesting, but for the most part Zuri kept this book at a big fat no for me, and I didn’t remotely buy her sudden and completely 180* turnaround at the end.

March Minireviews – Part 1

March was kind of a slow reading month for me.  I read a few chunksters that took up some time, and also started a few buddy reads that didn’t finish until April, but hogged up March reading time haha  Anyway, here’s the first few books I read in March!!

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 White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham – 3.5*

//published 1927//

This is the first book I’ve read by Allingham, and while it didn’t become a new favorite, I did enjoy it.  This one was originally published as a serial story, and it felt really obvious as the chapters were very episodic and ended on dramatic cliffhangers.  The story also jumped around a bit with some odd dialogue.  The mystery itself was quite good, though, and I can see myself enjoying some of Allingham’s other works that were meant to be novels from the get-go.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – 5*

//published 1937//

Wow.  Steinbeck just… I can’t even describe his writing.  I kind of hate it.  It’s depressing.  Zero happy endings ever.  And yet – I just don’t know.  He captures emotions so well, can make you feel things you don’t want to feel.  This book is so short, yet I’ve thought about it more than most books I read that are four times as long.  Steinbeck writes absolutely brilliantly about everyday tragedies in a way that gets under your skin and keeps you chewing on it for a long time.

Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2005//

I really struggled with rating this one because I overall liked it a lot, but there was one scene that was unusually dark for a Roberts book, that disturbed me enough that I’ll never reread this one… so 4* for most of the book, but negative stars for including a bizarrely brutal rape scene, I guess???

The rest of the book was typical Roberts romantic thriller fare.  Reena’s family owns a restaurant and they are close-knit and happy.  When she was a little girl, someone set fire to their restaurant and the aftermath of that inspired Reena to become an arson inspector, which is a job that I think sounds so fascinating.  (The guy I work for was also an arson inspector for several years and the way he understands how fire originates and moves is just amazingly interesting.)  Roberts chose to let the reader know who was behind the destructive fires that haunt Reena’s life, which I honestly didn’t think worked very well for this story.  The fires are spread apart throughout Reena’s life and are purposefully set differently each time to make sure that she doesn’t realize they’re connected.  But because, as the reader, we KNOW they’re connected, it kind of makes Reena look dumb – even though from her perspective there really isn’t any way that she would realize they had anything to do with one another.  The parts of the story that were from the villain’s perspective were also the parts that I didn’t like at all – I’m not a huge fan of thrillers where we get to see how the bad guy is reveling in the pain and destruction he’s causing.  It’s not normally a part of Roberts’s repertoire, so I wasn’t exactly expecting it, and it also led to the really dark rape scene late in the book that was just… unnecessarily nasty.  In the end, while I did enjoy so much of this – especially Reena’s just delightful family (Roberts does siblings SO well), it’s definitely not one I’ll reread.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – 2.5*

//published 2019//

There are some books that I really should review when I first read them because they give me SO MANY FEELINGS at the time but then fade after, you know, two months have gone by.  Priory was a case of me judging a book by the cover but not actually looking at anything about it, and this totally backfired on me.  I mean, look at this cover!  It’s even more gorgeous in real life.  The dragon is sooo blue and glossy.  And honestly, I was drawn to the compete HEFT of this one  – sitting at 806 pages, plus glossaries and the like, I just really was physically drawn to how beautiful this book was.  But.  In the end, it just did not work for me, and even though I struggled through all 806 of those pages to reach the end, I’m not sure it was worth it.  (Please note: There are LOADS of 5* reviews for this one and it has over a 4* average on GR so I am DEFINITELY in the minority on this one… but that happens sometimes!)

The biggest problem was that I didn’t like a SINGLE character.  All of them were completely self-absorbed.  There are multiple strands in this book with several main characters (literally all of whom are gay, as an aside, which felt… unlikely) and all of them are completely motivated by what will be best for them, personally.  Even the characters who LOOK like they’re doing something for “the greater good” are actually doing it because that will make their personal life significantly better – i.e., Ead is supposedly concerned about the fact that the whole world is going to end up going to war and consequently runs away… but I’m not remotely convinced that she would have cared if she wasn’t trying to get back to her lover.  Another main character, Niclays, was just plain dreadful, completely motivated by greed and fear.  His lover is dead, so we only hear about him in the past tense, but their so-called love story was 100% unbelievable to me on every level, and my eyes almost rolled out of my head when Niclays’s lover’s wife tells him how “glad” she was that her husband had someone he could “truly cherish”… riiiiiiiiight.  Even the dragons were completely self-absorbed!  (Speaking of which – there were not NEARLY enough dragons!)

Despite this book being almost three inches thick, parts of the world-building still felt incredibly underdeveloped, like literally the entire thing with the queens having a daughter made almost no sense – out of centuries, NONE of them have had more than one child…????  And I couldn’t stand Sabran, supposedly this amazingly strong woman/heir to the queendom, who literally spends the entire book walking around wringing her hands and whining about the fact that she’ll have to have a baby someday.

At its heart, this book didn’t feel pro-woman as much as it felt anti-mother.  All the mothers are bad ones, none of them want to be mothers, and everyone who could be a mother in future views that possibility with literal revulsion.  Shannon claims that this saga is a great feminist work, but all I saw were the same tired lines that women are too weak to be both a mother and a fulfilled individual – you have to pick.  That’s not empowering, it’s insulting.  Telling me that motherhood ruins the lives of women just doesn’t seem like a positive message, but it was one of the big takeaways from this story.  She creates this world where women are rulers and even strong warriors, yet tries to convince the readers that women are still only viewed by the culture as “breeding stock” – which literally makes no sense.  Sabran is literally obsessed with the idea that she will have to bear a child, to the point that I wanted to smack her in the head with this brick of a book and tell her to suck it up and move on with her life.  Maybe do something worthwhile between now and having a baby instead of doing nothing except whining about how you hypothetically need to have a baby someday???  I was just SO over every character in this book acting like having a baby is the quickest way to destroy your life – ugh.

There were many things I did enjoy while reading this one – Shannon does weave a very complicated story, pulling together myths and legends from multiple in-world cultures and turns them into a (mostly) cohesive story. Much of it was incredibly well-written and I can see why so many people love this book. But I found basically every character to be unrelatable and, or the most part, unlikable, which meant that in the end I was somewhat relieved to finally finish this one.

February Minireviews – Part 2

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

Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron – 3*

//published 2009//

As part of my goal to get some old unread Kindle books cleaned off my ereader, I breezed through this one in February.  It had a solid start, with a pregnant woman disappearing at a yard sale, placing the couple who hosted said yard sale as the prime suspects in her disappearance/possible murder.  The set up was good, but I 100% knew everything about this book by about 25% and there was not a single twist/event that surprised me after that.  I’m not sure if I’ve read too many thrillers, or if this one really was that uninventive.

An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott – 5*

//published 1870//

This is one of my all-time favorite books, one that I grew up with and have read over and over.  Polly has always been one of my role models for her kindness, industry, modesty, and gratitude.  Rereading this is like being wrapped up in a big soft blanket.  I love the way that Alcott delivers her life lessons so gently throughout this story.

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor by Shaenon Garrity & Christopher Baldwin – 4*

//published 2021//

When the Litsy group was reading Wuthering Heights, someone recommended this graphic novel so I checked it out of the library.  A girl loves gothic romances, so when she finds herself swept into one, she isn’t as upset as one might fear.  This book was a lot silly but a great deal of fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as long a I didn’t think about it too hard.  The artwork was also great fun.

From Blood & Ash by Jennifer Armentrout – 2.5*

//published 2020//

This series has been on my peripheral for quite some time – Armentrout in general always crops up when I’m perusing fantasy book recommendations.  This was on my list of books to tackle this year since I’m reading some longer books, but in the end I felt really meh towards it.  At the time, I couldn’t get the second book from the library.  That one just came in last week and I realized that I don’t actually care enough to keep reading the series so.  From Blood & Ash is just soooo slow, plus it’s way into the whole “mysterious fantasy world” bit where the reader isn’t allowed to know critical things about the world/magic, which drives me CRAZY.  I feel like, within the first few chapters, I should know as much about what is going on in this world as the main character does.  I don’t mind discovering things AS the main character learns them, but this whole thing where I’m the only person who doesn’t know what’s happening is just aggravating as all get out.

This book went on and on with a main character I only felt lukewarm about anyway.  She was so whiny and ungrateful and annoying about everything, and it felt like Armentrout couldn’t decide whether or not Poppy should actually believe in the country’s religion or not.  If Poppy DOES believe in it, then it makes all of her choices even more self-absorbed and stupid.  If she doesn’t – then why is she doing any of this??  There was a lot more sex than I was expecting in this one as well, and at times where it made literally no sense for it to happen, so that just felt weird and awkward.  Then, the way the book ends, it basically turns this entire 613 pages into one long introduction.  In the end – way too long, in need of a hard edit, and maybe make Poppy’s motivations be something besides “is me getting to have sex more important than literally saving the entire world.”

I will say that this book is very popular (over 4* average rating on GR) so I’m in the minority here… but this book did nothing for me, and every time I think about it, I just get annoyed that I spent that much time wading through it.

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley – 4*

//published 1997//

McKinley is one of those weird authors who has some books that I genuinely LOVE (like Spindle’s End, which I’ve read sooo many times) and other books that just do nothing for me.  I remembered reading Rose Daughter, a Beauty & the Beast retelling, sometime in the past, but couldn’t remember any details.  It was a fine version that I enjoyed, but I didn’t feel like I needed to buy it, and it will probably be another ten or fifteen years before I read it again.

January Minireviews – Part 2

Happy March, everyone!!! This week things are starting to smell like spring and I’m so excited!!!  In the meantime, here are some books I read back in January.

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.

Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi – 3*

//published 1883//

Do you ever read a book that just leaves you feeling !??!?!  That book was Pinocchio.  I never thought I’d say this, but Disney actually made this story more cohesive and actually somewhat make sense compared to the original!  Part of my problem with this one is that the sense of time was all wrong.  It seems like Pinocchio is only with his carpenter-father for like, a day, yet constantly references things his father taught him.  There were a lot of situations where I was confused about how long something had been going on.  It wasn’t a bad book, exactly, just choppy and confusing.  I did appreciate that Pinocchio’s attempts to be a “good boy” did cycle a lot – he would learn a lesson, be good for a while, and then slip-slide back into something he knew he shouldn’t be doing.  Been there, Pinocchio.  This was an interesting read, but did also make me wonder, once again, about why certain stories become classics while others fade away.

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1937//

This one was a reread for me (as most Christies are these days) and I really enjoyed it.  Poirot receives a letter from an elderly woman who, in a roundabout way, seems to be fearing for her life.  However, the letter is dated nearly two months earlier – and Poirot finds out that the woman is dead.  Seized with a sudden feeling that because this woman wrote to him, she’s technically his client and he owes it to her to investigate her (supposedly completely unsuspicious) death, Poirot and Hastings head off to the countryside to chat up the family.  As always, there are tons of red herrings and potential murderers, plus the usual everyday people holding back irrelevant information that makes them look bad.  Not my all-time favorite, but a very solid entry.

The Fire by Katherine Neville – 3.5*

//published 2008//

This follow-up to The Eight, published twenty years later, was not as strong as the original story.  Following the daughter of The Eight’s main character, there is a lot of running around but it just felt like this book’s main character, Xie, wasn’t really the main character.  Things happened TO her the entire time, but it never felt like she was in charge of what was going on.  Her best friend, Key, felt way more like the MC and I think the whole book would have been more interesting (and made more sense) if either Key was the MC, or Xie had some of the circumstances in her life that Key did, if that makes sense.  There was also this thing where I literally lost count of how many times characters realize that the room/conversation is bugged, to the point that I was confused about why they even attempted to have a conversation inside of any building or within 20 yards of any electrical device ever.  It was kind of ridiculous.  In The Eight the second story-strand set during the French Revolution enhanced and explained a great deal of what was going on in the modern-day story.  But in The Fire the historical part never really made sense to me and just felt like filler.  All in all, while there were some good elements here – and I really liked the ending – The Fire just didn’t jive like The Eight did.

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour – 3.5*

//published 2011//

In this nonfiction book published by favorite homesteading publishers, Storey Publishing, Jabbour explores ways to extend the gardening season beyond the frost dates.  A resident of Nova Scotia, Jabbour has added cold frames and a non-heated greenhouse to her personal garden, and also examines methods like cloches, row covers, etc. as ways to protect crops from the cold and lengthen the growing season.  There’s a lot of good information here, but no matter how you cut it, the main plants that are going to grow in the cold, even in cold frames, are plants like lettuce, spinach, carrots, etc., so in the end it seemed like a lot of work for not a lot of payback.  However, Jabbour also has a really great vegetable index in the back with notes on different varieties, varieties of various veggies that are more cold-tolerant, and planting/harvesting notes.  This comprises probably half the book and has some really great information.  All in all, not my favorite gardening book, but it is one that I’ve referenced a few times, and I’m still thinking about putting in a cold frame for some early season plants.