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.

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.

Jane Austen at Home // by Lucy Worsley

//published 2017//

The PemberLittens group on Litsy is still working its way through various nonfiction books about Austen, all of Austen’s written works, variations on Austen tales, and other classic novels by women from her era(ish), and in May and June we read this biography by Worsley.  I did on the whole enjoy it and learned a lot of things about Austen and her life.  I loved the way that Worsley focused on the concept of home and what that meant at the time, especially for women, and broke up Austen’s life into segments based on her home at the time, and how moving from various places to others would have impacted her and her family.

I did find a lot of Worsley’s personal opinions/interpretations to be rather sweeping.  Worsley from the outset has already decided that Jane (a) found the idea of being married to be repugnant, (b) hated anything to do with housekeeping/domestic life, (c) hated the fact that women were “forced” into said housekeeping/domestic life, and (d) was always sarcastic, which means Worsley can interpret any of Jane’s letters as meaning the opposite of what they say, because “she’s obviously being sarcastic.”

For example, at a time when Jane has been left in charge of the household, Worsley quotes a letter Jane wrote to her sister (this quote starts with Worsley’s commentary and goes into Jane’s letter):

Of course [Jane] hides her efforts behind teasing: ‘Our dinner was very good yesterday, & the Chicken boiled perfectly tender, therefore I shall not be obliged to dismiss Nanny on that account.’ The message is that this was trivial, that it wasn’t her role; that she shouldn’t have to be doing it. She would rather be writing.

I’m sorry, what??  How in the world do you take this sentence and turn it into “overseeing dinner is so trivial that I shouldn’t have to do it and would rather be writing”?!?!  Perhaps there is more to this letter that Worsley hasn’t bothered to share with us, but based on that one sentence alone, it seems to me to be a huge amount of extrapolating.

Worsley is also quite convinced that Jane hated the idea of marriage and thought it was horrid that her friends were “wasting” their lives by getting married.  To support that theory, Worsley gave examples like this one, about the occasion of Jane’s friend Catherine being married:

A fear of friendship diminished, and freedom curtailed, meant that when Jane’s friends ceased to be single, her response was often open regret.  Catherine Bigg would soon marry herself, an occasion that Jane would mark with a gift of home-hemmed handkerchiefs, and a poem about weeping.  Jane wished that the handkerchiefs ‘may last for years, Slight be her Colds & few her Tears’, before realising that these funereal lines were not quiet appropriate for what was meant to be a happy occasion.  ‘Have no Tears to wipe, but Tears of joy!’ was her tactful redrafting of her verse.

Once again… I’m actually not sure a poem wishing you good health and few tears during your marriage would be something I classified as “inappropriately funereal” and thus an example of how “obviously” Jane thought getting married was such a tragedy.

Despite these types of annoyances, I still gave this book a 4* rating overall.  There is a lot of good and interesting information, especially when Worsley sticks with actual facts and out of the realm of interpretation.  I did overall enjoy this one and recommend it to anyone looking for an overview of Austen’s life as there is a lot of good information and also plenty of sources listed for learning more.

June Minireviews // Part 2

On to the next batch of June!!!

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.

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl – 4*

//published 1950//

This nonfiction account was a bit of a mixed bag for me.  On the one hand – fascinating!  On the other hand… Heyerdahl just isn’t the most compelling writer, so even some of their more exciting adventures felt a little flat.

In the 40s, the author, who was living on a Polynesian island at the time, theorized that instead of those islands being originally populated from Asia, the could have come from South America. He based his theory on many oral traditions and stories of the native people he had met, who had a lot of stories of gods and ancestors coming from the east. Determined to prove that it was at least a possibility, he and five others built a raft out of balsa logs, using only materials that would have been available at the time, and actually did sail from Peru to a Polynesian island just east of Tahiti – 4300 nautical miles in 101 days. They were mostly carried by trade winds and the Humboldt Current.  Since this book was published, this theory has fallen out of favor, because genetic testing has shown that “most“ of the native people of Polynesia did have ancestors from Asia. However, even the article I read that was incredibly dismissive of Heyerdahl, both as a person and of his theory, admitted that genetic testing had also shown that that some people were descended from South Americans as well. I’m a little confused as to why it can’t be both, but I’m just a layman haha  Heyerdahl definitely proved that it COULD have been done, and I was honestly just so intrigued by things like water storage, food provisions, surviving storms, etc.  It was so interesting!

This book was published in 1950 so there are a few things that jar with modern sensibilities, but for the most part Heyerdahl has a great respect for the native peoples both in Peru and the Polynesian islands. As a story, this is great fun, even if the author does tend to somehow make even very exciting moments a little dry.  It’s also obvious that Heyerdahl has already decided that his theory is the correct one, so his material is presented in a somewhat prejudiced manner, but on the other hand… he did it!

Something Wilder by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2022//

Do you ever read a book expecting one thing and then it just goes completely off the track, and even though it’s not a bad story, it’s just kind of like… the heck just happened??  That’s how I felt with this one.  I read it expecting a little second-chance romcom, and I … kind of got it??  About 100 pages in this book was just like, “Now for something completely different!” and I wasn’t exactly here for it.  I think if this plot twist had been hinted at a bit in the synopsis I may have been more on board.  It was supposed to be a little silly and fun, but it honestly just felt kind of ridiculous and unbelievable to me instead.  Not the worst book I’ve read this year, but definitely one of the odd ones.

National Velvet by Enid Bagnold – 3*

//published 1935//

Speaking of odd…  it’s honestly surprising to me that I never read National Velvet growing up, as I was a total horse-book girl, but somehow I never did.  I finally got around to it in June and it was… strange??  Mostly because it wasn’t actually a horse book!  It’s more of a slice-of-life kind of story in which horses are peripherally involved.   Basically all of The Pie’s training, and even most of the big race, happened off-page. We rarely see Velvet’s thoughts and I honestly never understood why she was so passionate about racing The Pie because we only saw incredibly rare glimpses of her interacting with him on-page. This was a fun story as a not-horse book – I fell in love with the entire Brown family, and some of Bagnold’s wry observations made me smile. I loved the complete and utter lack of romance between Velvet and Mi, and the utter randomness of Donald’s wild stories. But for all that, it’s still just a soft pick for me – not one I see myself rereading. The actual story was odd and disjointed and frequently felt like it was going nowhere. We spent significantly more time on the aftermath of the race than the race itself. I felt completely ripped off that the race wasn’t from Velvet’s perspective! There’s an entire side story involving an entire pile of other horses that felt odd and unnecessary and also didn’t really go anywhere. So, on the whole, a perfectly fine story, but one that I wouldn’t particularly label as a genuine Horse Story, despite the presence of multiple horses, and not one that I see myself rereading time and again.

The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

I feel like I should just summarize this entire series with “it was fine” because that’s pretty much how I felt when I finished each of these books.  I didn’t dislike them but also found them really unmemorable.  I never finished one feeling compelled to grab the next.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte – 4*

//published 1848//

After suffering through Wuthering Heights, I was a bit sad when the PemberLittens decided to read another Bronte.  I had never even really heard of this one before, but decided to give it a go nonetheless, and I actually enjoyed it WAY more than WH, although that’s not honestly saying much!  Another review I read said, “I respected this novel more than I enjoyed it” and I have to echo that sentiment. This was really a bold story for its time and I found Helen to be a remarkable heroine, absolutely hardcore devoted to her religion and her morals, refusing to ever take the easy way out if it meant compromising her beliefs. The entire story is such a call-out for so many things that were (and in many cases, still are) socially acceptable but objectively wrong, and Anne, through Helen’s voice, isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade and rake everyone over the coals.

That said, I didn’t really have a great time reading this book. It’s kind of a downer, Helen can definitely get preachy, and Gilbert made me roll my eyes CONSTANTLY. The ending especially went on too long.  I especially couldn’t get over Gil whining about how Helen “left him” when he thought she was getting married – like dude, you haven’t reached out to her in over a year?? Seems a little ridiculous to blame her if she DID find someone else who, you know, actually talked to her?! 

Part of the reason I didn’t really love this one may have been because there wasn’t a single likable guy in the entire story. Gilbert is spoiled, sensitive, prideful, and whiny. Helen’s brother is smug and self-satisfied. They’re supposedly the best out of the bunch, and, in fairness, the male characters do all go downhill from there. Anne keeps this story from going into a full-on screed against the entire male half of the population, but barely. And in fairness, considering women were virtually property and unable to make any independent decisions about their own lives, an anti-man screed may have been warranted at some level lol

All in all, this is definitely a worthwhile read, and I found the story and characters significantly more engaging and relatable than those in Wuthering Heights. But despite my 4-star rating, this isn’t a book I see myself reading again.

May Minireviews – Part 1

I actually spent a lot of May reading the Lunar Chronicles, but managed to squeeze in some other reads as well!!

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.

Kids of Appetite by David Arnold – 4.5*

//published 2016//

This was a reread for me – I first read this one back in 2018 and really enjoyed it.  My review from that time pretty much stands – I really found this book to be just so readable and engaging, with great pacing, likable characters, and a coming-of-age arc that is done so well.  I’m still not a fan of all the f bombs and the murder scene is a bit much (although fairly brief), but on the whole this is really a great story, thoughtful without being saccharine.

Athena’s Airs by Zabrina Faire – 3*

//published 1980//

This was another Regency paperback from that random eBay box.  This one honestly didn’t start too badly. Athena’s parents have died recently, so she and her brother, Ares, are off to Greece to scatter the parents’ ashes someplace or other that was meaningful to them. They end up hiring this other guy to be their guide as Greece is currently ruled by the Turks/Ottoman Empire and this guy is familiar with the culture and language. Of course there’s a disaster and the Dude (who Strongly Disapproves of Women, Especially Sassy Ones Who Travel) and Athena have to travel together incognito. While completely eye-rolly it honestly wasn’t too terrible of a set up for them to be stuck together and to fall in love. But then, in the last 30 pages, the entire book went off the rails. Ever since the disaster chapter, the Dude and Athena aren’t even sure if Ares is alive. When they get to Athens, he’s there and instead of it being like “Oh wow, this is crazy, we’re all alive and safe, let’s catch up on our stories!“ Ares immediately starts accusing the Dude of kidnapping Athena yadda yadda. Then Ares proceeds to lie to both of them about the other’s indifference to keep them apart… for no reason that made any sense, especially since in the beginning of the book, Ares and Athena are presented as really close, loving siblings, and the Dude is actually a perfectly appropriate person for her to marry!  When Athena finds out her brother has been lying she literally THREATENS TO SHOOT HIM IN THE SHOULDER if he doesn’t approve of their marriage. ?!?!?!?! It just… the ending of the book literally all three main characters acted like completely different people just to make Drama, and it was very annoying. So yeah, this one honestly didn’t start too badly, but that ending. Why.  Another one for the giveaway box!

As You Wish by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden – 4.5*

//published 2014//

Like many others, I grew up on The Princess Bride and can quote pretty much the entire movie from memory.  Following the movie’s 25th anniversary reunion, Elwes, of Westley fame, wrote this book recounting his memories of filming the movie.  If you’re looking for dirty secrets and a bunch of drama, you will not find it here.  Instead, this book was an absolute delight.  Elwes is humble and friendly, constantly promoting and crediting his fellow actors.  An entire chapter is devoted to Andre the Giant and how much everyone loved him.  Elwes, even all these years later, is still mind-boggled that he was chosen for the part, and his genuine delight that he got to do so comes through on every page.  There are random snippets and stories from other actors and the director, that I at first found a little distracting as they are in text boxes throughout the main text, but grew to really enjoy as they added more insight and depth to the stories Elwes was sharing.

Personal favorite story?  The scene where the Prince and the Count confront Westley and Buttercup just outside of the Fire Swamp and the Count is supposed to knock Westley out – they were having trouble making it look like he was really hitting him hard enough, so Elwes told him not to worry and to give him a decent knock… the take that you see in the movie is literally Elwes going unconscious from getting smacked in the head so hard!

My biggest niggle was that there wasn’t a cast list anywhere in the book.  I wrote my own so that I knew which character was either telling a story who being told about in a story.  I also would have loved just more to it – a lot of it is a bit on the fluffy side.  Still, this was overall a really enjoyable read.  If you’ve low-key avoided reading this one because you’re afraid that it will ruin your favorite movie, have no worries – the cast and crew apparently really were enjoying creating that movie as much as the rest of us have enjoyed watching it.

Lady Susan by Jane Austen – 4*

//written circa 1794//

This short story (my edition was around 70 pages) was written by Austen, probably as a possibility to become a full-length novel.  Written entirely in letters, the titular character is actually quite ornery, a widow with an almost-grown daughter, quite flirtatious and stirring up a bit of trouble wherever she goes.  I definitely wish this one had become a full story – it would be so interesting to see where Austen went with all this potential, and whether Lady Susan would have stayed the main character, or if the focus would have shifted to her daughter, who seems more in line with Austen’s other heroines.  I really loved all the snarkiness in this story and wished it was much longer!

Summer at the Cape by RaeAnne Thayne – 4*

//published 2022//

I really enjoy Thayne’s contemporary romances, which always have likable characters and the right amount of drama.  This story focuses on three women – Rosemary and her adult daughters, Cami and Violet. Violet’s twin sister, Lily, has recently died in a tragic accident. At the time of her death, she was working on creating a “Glampground” on a neighbor’s property. Rosemary is determined to make this dream a reality, and the Glampground is now up and running. The problem is that Lily, who wasn’t always all about the details, neglected to get the very important signature from the neighbor on an official lease agreement. With the (elderly) neighbor beginning to show signs of dementia, his son, who has been out of the country, assumes that Lily was taking advantage and is determined to shut the entire business down. The sisters come together to help their mom, and there really aren’t any big surprises along the way. However, I enjoyed the way that there had never been a huge rupture between the women – they had just grown apart after Rosemary divorced her husband and moved several hours away, taking the twins with her and leaving Cami with their dad. This was a gentle story about grief, guilt, and second chances. Nothing groundbreaking but still an enjoyable story with likable and relatable characters and a splash of romance.

April Minireviews – Part 2

Well, peach season starts next week, so I never did get caught up… amazing how far behind I can stay!!

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.

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson – 4*

//published 2022//

I always read a new book by Swanson.  I frequently get done with his books and think “Well, that was nonsense,” but I rarely think while I’m actually reading his books, which is what counts haha

Nine seemingly unconnected individuals each receive a letter in the mail with a list of (the same) nine names. It seems like a prank – until each of those people start getting murdered. While this wasn’t exactly a slow book, it was slow compared to Swanson’s usual frenetic pace. There isn’t really an investigation – instead, each section (which counts down from nine as people are killed) hops between the different people and what is happening with them as different ones of them either completely ignore the circumstances or try to fit together the pieces. This definitely wasn’t my favorite Swanson book because of the pace and because part of the story just didn’t jive with me (spoiler below) but it was still an engaging read with a generous nod to Agatha Christie.  While it wasn’t my new favorite, it was still a solid thriller with some fun little twists.  But in the end, I just didn’t really find the motivation of the killer to be sufficient for what had happened.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER:  Concerning the motivations… Basically, this book was a homage to Christie’s And Then There Were None, possibly one of the greatest mysteries ever written. However, in ATTWN the victims (theoretically) deserve to be killed because they have gotten away with with murder in the past, which is why the killer lures them all to a remote location and picks them off, one by one.  And so, even though people are dying, you’re also finding out that they literally killed someone else in the past so you don’t exactly feel bad for them.  Here, the killer decides to murder the (adult) children of those he blames for his sister’s death (which was definitely a tragedy, but also – they were ALL children when she died??).  Consequently this one really felt like a downer since (mostly) innocent people were killed for revenge instead of vigilante justice being handed out.  I think the story would have read better – and made more sense – if the actual people involved in the sister’s death had been the ones to die.  Killing off their kids just felt… off… and I never quite bought it.

London Under by Peter Ackroyd – 3*

//published 2011//

This nonfiction book looks at the “secret” underground world of London, which, like many large cities, has a complete city-under-the-city, where an astounding amount of infrastructure resides. Unfortunately, I found this book ultimately disappointing, mainly because Ackroyd didn’t particularly take the time to organize his information or go in depth about many of the things he mentioned. Instead, this book felt very fragmentary, almost like an outline for a book instead of the actual book. It’s only 205 very small pages and contains no maps! He would toss out intriguing factoids, but never follow up on them. In the end, I just found myself wanting more. This book didn’t really teach me anything, and Ackroyd seemed more interested in emphasizing (constantly) how “mysterious“ the underground is and how it’s associated with things like death and darkness, yet also safety and security… but then just kind of wandering away without really getting into it.  There is a lot of potential here, and this wasn’t a BAD book per se, as I did find bits of it interesting, I just wish that this book was about twice as long and full of maps!

Flowers on Main by Sherryl Woods – 3*

//published 2009//

Book 2 in the Chesapeake Shores series, and another middle-of-the-road read.  Honestly, if I was reading this series all in one go instead of at a rate of one per month (ish), I probably would have already given up on them as they really aren’t that great!  In this story, focusing on a different O’Brien sibling, Bree has returned to her hometown after a big kerfuffle in her play-writing job in Chicago. She decides to use her savings to open a flower shop downtown, and it turns out (you won’t believe this) that the only place to wholesale flowers within a reasonable distance is a greenhouse owned by her old boyfriend, the one she abandoned to chase her big-city dreams!!!

This wasn’t a bad story, per se, the drama just never felt balanced.  I was so over Jake whining about his feelings and how much Bree had hurt them and how scared he was about letting her potentially hurt him again, and how he could never believe that she was really here to stay, blah blah blah blah blah  Just, oh my gosh, get OVER yourself, Jake!  I would never have been as persistent as Bree, and honestly never felt like Jake was worth all the effort she put into their relationship.  I’ve also noticed throughout this series (I’ve read two more since this one in April) that Woods has an extremely annoying habit of creating genuinely reasonable issues between her main couple, and then instead of actually RESOLVING the issue, just completely blows it off!  We spend a few hundred pages of Jake refusing to believe anything Bree says – then all of a sudden, he just magically wakes up one day and feels the complete opposite way!  Nice!  It’s uneven and annoying, and leaves me feeling more frustrated with the story on the whole than I otherwise would be.

The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2020//

The concept here is that Carey has worked for Melly and Rusty Tripp for years, back before they were famous.  Now, the Tripps are huge home-remodeling gurus with their own show, books, etc. etc. The problem is that even though they seem wonderful and lovable in public, their marriage is actually falling apart, and Carey is the one trying to hold things together.  James, in the meantime, was hired as an engineer, yet seems to be working more as Rusty’s personal assistant than anything else.  He and Carey end up heading off with the Tripps on their book tour, trying to keep everything together so they can all keep their jobs.

While I found a lot of this to be fun and funny, this book also low-key stressed me out.  Watching the Tripps marriage fall apart was kind of depressing, and the whole book ended up feeling a lot more about Melly and Rusty than it was about Carey and James – which would have been fine, if we had more resolution with the Tripps in the end, instead of a HEA for James and Carey and yay! The end!  I needed an epilogue reassuring me that the Tripps went through counseling and are doing better!  Also, supposedly Melly was this amazing mother-figure to Carey yadda yadda, but now she’s treating Carey horribly, so I also wanted more resolution with their relationship as well, because I wanted to see them rebuild the friendship they had had in the past.

I guess in a way I found some of this to be more serious than I want my romcoms to be, which meant I wanted some more serious resolutions.  Instead, the book felt a little choppy because parts of it were just silly pranks gone wrong, followed by “oh this person is actually emotionally abusive and totally using you,” kind of giving me some reading whiplash.  I did overall enjoy this one, but it’s not one I see myself rereading.

Great Northern?  by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1947//

My final Swallows & Amazons book, and I loved it just as much as the rest!!  I have no idea of Ransome intended this to be the final book, or if it just happened to be so, but it was an absolutely delight to see the entire gang all together for this final story involving birds, boats, misunderstandings, and adventures.  I loved every page of all 11 of the books in this series, and wish there were 11 more.  I laughed out loud reading this one, and was honestly on pins and needles as to what would happen with the birds.  It’s rare for me to read a children’s book and wish that there was a book about the same characters as adults, but I would totally read about this gang in adulthood – I love to picture them still messing about with boats and teaching their own children to do the same.  I can’t recommend this series highly enough, and am thinking about rereading them right through again!

North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell – 2*

//published 1854//

This was April’s buddy-read with the PemberLittens, and another classic I hadn’t read before.  I pretty much disliked this entire book and struggled to understand why people consider it romantic in any way.  I found to be pretty relentlessly depressing, and Gaskell’s only “plot twist” she seemed to know was to just kill off someone else every time things seemed like they were getting a little slow.  Poor Margaret!  Of course, I didn’t really feel that bad for her as she’s self-absorbed, mealy-mouthed, and unutterably dull, but still!  Thornton was also just painfully boring, so I guess they probably are set for long-term felicity, but I absolutely never felt remotely interested in seeing these two get together.  In fact, I felt like they were actually a pretty bad match.  And talk about insta-love!  Thornton just sees Margaret and falls in love, and then that’s it!  The entire rest of the book is him being dumb about it, or his mom being dumb about it, or Margaret being dumb about it.  Everyone wanders around and whines about things and worries about whether or not they’re doing the right thing, and then every fifty pages or so Gaskell would kill off some other perfectly nice character who didn’t deserve to die.

The whole story was just Margaret mooning around, taking care of everyone because she’s literally surrounded by child-adults who don’t know how to do anything beyond hand-wringing (apparently killing off everyone was Gaskell’s way of giving Margaret something else to do – i.e., mourn and also think about how she could have been a better person and so we could read about how her eyes are constantly full of unshed tears). I absolutely never liked Margaret – and I say this as a religious person with a strong moral black/white life-framework – because she spends the time that she’s not devotedly caring for those close to her worrying about her conscience and whether she’s said or done something that shouldn’t have been said or done, or not said or done something that she should have said or done. So tedious! So self-absorbed, clothed as unselfishness! We get it. You told a lie. ONE LIE in a moment of panic. Yes, you’ve determined that was wrong. BUT YOU CAN’T CHANGE THE PAST SO PLEASE FREAKING MOVE ON WITH YOUR LIFE. If I had to hear about that lie ONE MORE TIME I was going to PERSONALLY turn her brother in myself just to give Margaret something else to worry about oh my GOSH.

There were moments that I thought it was going to be okay – I loved Mr. Bell, for instance (spoiler: don’t get too attached -_-). I did appreciate the character growth that Thornton eventually showed – how interesting this book could have been if we spent more than about five pages on that aspect of the story! I did admire Margaret’s strong convictions and unwavering commitment to them. But for the most part, I was bored out of my mind and sighed every time I picked up the day’s chapter, wondering what sort of emotional torture Margaret was going to be put through today. I can see why many people admire Margaret and find her story romantic, but this one was not for me.

March Minireviews – Part 3

Hmm.  In June.  Checks out.

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.

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White – 3.5*

//published 2014//

One of those books that I really wanted to like more than I did.  It’s an intriguing concept/world and that cover is GORGEOUS, but it was just really light on some plot points.  It was only 275pgs long and should have been longer as some parts of the story felt more like an outline than the actual story.  The main character was also a little too “independent and sassy” at times – like girl, I get it, you’re independent, but that doesn’t mean you just do the opposite of what everyone thinks you should do??  This was a fun one as a one-off, but I just wanted more!

The Inn at Eagle Point by Sherryl Woods – 3.5*

//published 2009//

Woods is one of those romance authors whose books I see everywhere but somehow haven’t gotten around to reading yet.  I had a few of the books from her Chesapeake Shores series so thought I would start there.  This was a perfectly nice and regular romance and a good set up for the series, which follows the romances and adventures of a sibling group, one of my favorite ways to do a series.  I didn’t fall in love with this one, but it was good enough to get me to pick up the second book.

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

//published 2006//

The second book in the Percy Jackson series was perfectly enjoyable, even if it did follow the same basic outline as the first story.  There were a lot of fun capers here and it’s an engaging way to meet some of ye olde gods in a new context.  Percy himself is likable, especially as a middle grade hero, and the book does a decent job of being its own thing while still building towards a series finale.

Sensible Kate by Doris Gates – 3*

//published 1943//

I have another of Gates’s books on my shelves that I’ve read several times and weirdly enjoyed, The Cat and Mrs. Cary, so when I came across this one I thought I would give it a try.  However, this one just didn’t quite strike the right tone with me.  It was an odd little book about an orphan named Kate who has decided that since she can’t be beautiful, she can at least be sensible, a word that was used about 500 times too many in 189pgs.  This book had a lot of potential with some interesting side characters, especially the grumpy old lady next door who doesn’t like children, but Gates never really went anywhere with it.  She also ruthlessly killed off another side character for literally no reason – I kept expecting him to come back, not dead, but he never did!  I was genuinely upset by it.  Everything came together okay in the end, but this definitely wasn’t a book I’ll be rereading.

Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century by Dick and James Strawbridge – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I’m always on the lookout for new books to add to my nonfiction collection of practical literature, but while this was a decent one to check out of the library, it didn’t have enough new information for me to want to keep it forever.  This is the 2020 update to the original 2010 book by the same title. This father/son duo own and operate their own homestead in the UK, and this book is full of concepts and ideas for becoming (as the title implies) more self-sufficient. While there were a lot of things about this book that I really liked, the organization and direction felt muddled to me. For instance, the entire first section of the book just jumps directly into getting off the grid – generating your own electricity, dealing with your own waste water, running plumbing that works from collecting rain water, building a water wheel, building a windmill, etc. It felt strange to start the book with these huge, expensive, complicated, advanced projects. There also isn’t really any kind of progression – nothing like “the top five goals you should set“ or anything along those lines. It’s just page after page of somewhat haphazardly organized projects and ideas.

It’s definitely not a book I would recommend to a beginner, but if you have already been gardening and that sort of thing for a few years and are looking to “level up“, this book may be good for inspiration and ideas. It’s not detailed enough to be an actual handbook, but for instance, while if you wanted to build a windmill you’d need to do some more research, there is enough info here to help you decide if a windmill would even work for you at all.

I did feel like this book’s emphasis on self-sufficiency sometimes meant that they skipped middle steps. Instead of going from “buying all your food at the big-box grocery store“ to “using a small electric food dryer to try preserving some of your own“ they dismiss a small dryer like the one I have (~$40) as “too expensive“ and give you a two-page spread on building a solar dryer, the materials for which had to be at least $40 in and of themselves. There were a lot of things like that, where middle steps that can help you decide if this is even something you want to do (for instance, do you even LIKE smoked meat? That would be good to know before investing in building an entire smokehouse) were basically dismissed as not self-sufficient ENOUGH – straight to the big guns.  I liked some of the ideas, but honestly in some ways this book felt overwhelming and discouraging because of its lack of progression, and the tone sometimes came across as a little condescending if you weren’t willing to go ALL IN.  For most people, it’s not practical or possible to go straight off-the-grid completely, based on how much time it takes up in your day alone, but the Strawbridges didn’t really seem to see it that way.

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.

February Minireviews – Part 1

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.

Veg in One Bed by Huw Richards – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was a solid vegetable gardening book but with one big weakness – it wasn’t clear which zone Richards is planting in.  Basically, the entire book is set up with specific instructions on what to do each week of the year in order to have a raised 10×4 vegetable bed in constant production.  Richards says all you need is that one bed and also a sunny windowsill for starting seeds.  His instructions are clear and he also does a nice job of providing you with substitutes in case one of the veggies he’s planting aren’t to your taste.  He glosses over what I call the “hungry” veggies – tomatoes and peppers – by saying they do best in their own, separate containers (like a 5-gallon bucket) and focuses on lettuces, peas, beans, and that sort of thing.  It’s very well organized and tells you what to do on what specific day… except it’s completely unclear as to what region this plan is for.  Where I live in Ohio is completely different weather/frost dates than South Carolina or Minnesota, but there isn’t any guidance as to where Richards assumes you live in order to implement his date-specific plan.  The book was originally published in the UK, so maybe just everyone in the UK has the same frost dates??  Some suggestions for altering some of the dates to accommodate different growing regions would have been extremely helpful, as the rest of the information is quite useful.

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten – 3.5*

//published 2021//

This was another traveling book club book, and while I overall did enjoy it, the world-building was extremely uneven, which made it hard for me to really get into the story.  The story centers on two sisters, Neve and Red, princesses in a small kingdom backed up against an (evil) enchanted forest.  Throughout the centuries, any time a second daughter has been born to the royal family, said second daughter is destined to be sacrificed to the Wolf who lives in the forest.  This appeasement keeps the Wolf from unleashing evil monsters out of the forest… or so everyone has always been taught.  It will come as no surprise to the reader to discover that the Wolf is actually a handsome man, bound to the forest against his will and doing his best to keep things under control.

I actually really liked the characters in this one and thought the concept was interesting – a sort of Red Riding Hood/Beauty and the Beast mashup – but the world building was SO uneven and mysterious – Whitten dribbles out tiny bits of information and I spent way too long being confused about how the magical system worked, what the woods were all about, why the Wolf was even there, etc. Because the Wolf actually needs Red to work with him, it seems like it would be pretty freaking natural for him to actually EXPLAIN some things when she arrives… but no one does.  Instead, we just spend more time wandering around with everyone being mysterious and no one actually telling anyone about anything that’s going on and it was SO annoying, because it felt more like a device than the way things would actually have happened.  Still, I’ll probably check out the second book when it’s released this year because now that I know more about what’s going on, I think I’ll enjoy the writing more.

First Date by Krista McGee – 3*

//published 2011//

This one was a mixed bag.  Part of it was that I didn’t really realize it was supposed to be a riff on the (Biblical) story of Esther until about halfway through the book – in that context, it actually made more sense, because some of the random little things flowed better when I thought about them within the Esther framework.  Basically, Addy, along with a pile of other teenage girls, is chosen to be on a reality show which, over several episodes, will allow the president’s handsome teenage son to pick out his date for prom (or maybe homecoming, whatever).  Addy is an orphan whose parents were killed when they were serving as missionaries.  Now she attends a small Christian school and lives with her uncle.  Her principal and her uncle both encourage her to participate in the show, even though she thinks it sounds dumb, because it could be a good opportunity for her to share her faith.  Throughout the story, the other girls are bratty, the president’s son is super nice, and Addy was… well, Addy was really my problem with this book.  She’s supposed to be the good Christian example, but she was really just kind of selfish and self-centered.  She’s constantly worried about what other people think, so instead of sharing her faith, she’s always hiding it.  That entire aspect of the story was really uneven and made it difficult for me to root for her.  She’s just such a cardboard Good Girl (TM) who doesn’t care about boring, worldly things like makeup or clothes or dating – she cares about getting good grades and going to college!  I found the dichotomy between Good Girl Addy and Bad Girl Everyone Else to be borderline offensive in its shallowness – girls who like to do their hair are automatically little bitches, apparently, and I didn’t think that was a good message.  It wasn’t a terrible book, but my inability to like Addy made it a pretty blah read.

Made in Manhattan by Lauren Layne – 3.5*

//published 2022//

I’m always excited to pick up a new Lauren Layne book, and while I enjoyed this one, it wasn’t my favorite of her books.  The antagonistic attitude between the two main characters went on a little too long, and this book could have REALLY benefitted from hearing something from the male MC’s perspective.  Having just Violet’s thoughts/opinions made it hard to get behind the sudden (?) change of heart when the two eventually got together.  There was some fun banter and entertaining side characters, but this wasn’t one I particularly see myself revisiting.

Hadley Beckett’s Next Dish by Bethany Turner – 3.5*

//published 2020//

It’s funny, as I’m writing these reviews I realized that I read three books in a row where someone was a jerk for a little too long to make the story work.  Same thing happened in this one – Max is a complete dick and stays that way for far too long into the story.  By the time he finally becomes a “better” person, I legit didn’t trust him because he kept acting like he was going to change and then not.  Hadley was a little too goody-goody and I never felt like she really acknowledged the fact that she wasn’t actually perfect.  While there were some fun moments and I liked the concept, once again I just couldn’t get behind these characters enough to really enjoy the story.

 

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.