November Minireviews – Part 1

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

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

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

//published 1925//

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

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix – 3*

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

Homeport by Nora Roberts – 4*

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

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo – 3.5*

//published 2013//

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

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

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

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

//published 2020//

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

October Minireviews – Part 2

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

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

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

The Third Victim by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 2018//

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

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw – 3.5*

//published 2016//

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

Real-Life Organizing by Cassandra Aarssen – 3.5*

//published 2017//

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

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

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

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

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

Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys – 2.5*

//published 2017//

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

Well-Matched by Jen DeLuca – 3*

//published 2021//

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

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

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

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

Snow White & Rose Red by Patricia Wrede – 3.5*

//published 1989//

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

August Minireviews – Part 2

I’m getting sooo lazy about the reviews!!  I dream that someday I’ll be caught up and do really nice reviews with actual pictures and real thoughts! LOL  But in other news – this wraps up August reviews!!!

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

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4*

I had somehow never read this classic, even though of course I knew the basic premise.  Stevenson does a great job setting everything up and giving his readers a very eerie background of foggy London.  I found myself thinking about how I would feel about this story if I had never heard anything about it before – this would have been absolutely a brilliant read when this story was first published, and was still a fun one even though I knew what was going to happen.

The Bottle Imp by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4*

My copy of Dr. Jekyll included a short story by Stevenson that I had never even heard of.  While still a little creepy, this was also a story that had bit of a moral to it – what exactly are you willing to sacrifice for success and riches?

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows – 3.5*

This one has been on my TBR since it was first published, as it seemed to race through the blogging community at the time, garnering loads of positive reviews.  All in all, I really did enjoy this one a lot.  Such a fun concept, and I appreciated the authors telling the readers that they were planning to butcher history haha  It’s definitely a completely ridiculous story, so if you’re looking for some serious historical fiction, give this one a pass.  I enjoyed the humor and the likable characters, and appreciated the way everything came together.  I did find it a bit over-long.  Even though this isn’t one I see myself rereading, it was pretty fun as a one-off.

The Cross & the Switchblade by David Wilkerson – 4*

This nonfiction story, originally published in 1963, is about a pastor in a small Pennsylvanian town who felt called to minister to gang members in New York City.  Wilkerson tells his story simply and owns up to the mistakes he made along the way, while crediting God with any successes.  I really appreciated his honesty about times he felt weak and confused, but chose to carry on.  This edition was published in 2001 and included and afterword telling what happened to many of the main players in Wilkerson’s original story, and it was a beautiful thing to read about how the majority of the gang members who had decided to become Christians in the 60s had stuck with it through the decades, embracing and growing in their faith.  Wilkerson’s story wasn’t especially polished, but it’s heartfelt and sincere, and I found it to be an encouraging read, touching on the importance of prayer, faith, and community.

Leave No Stone Unturned by Jeanne Glidewell – 1*

I owned this one on Kindle for a while and decided to finally give it a go.  It’s been a long time since I actually finished a book this bad instead of just bailing on it, but it was only 189 pages and I really wanted to read a book set in Kansas for my #SeparatedByaPondTour that I’m still working on haha  But this one was REALLY REALLY TERRIBLE.  The story made no sense, the characters made no sense, the mystery made no sense, every decision someone made made no sense.  It was BAD.  SO BAD.  But at least I can write off this entire series!

The Home Edit by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin – 2.5*

This home organization book had lovely photographs but almost zero practical advice.  A lot of it was the authors talking about spaces they had organized for almost-famous people, yet even those – no before/after photos or anything like that.  For a book I checked out of the library, it was pleasant enough to page through, but as far as using it as any kind of reference book or actually gleaning useful information from it – total fail.

An Irish Hostage by Charles Todd – 4*

The latest installment in the Bess Crawford series did not disappoint.  I really like this series a lot.  Bess is very likable and the setting of World War I (and now post-war) is done SO well.  This one did drag here and there, and I’d really like to see more progress in Bess’s personal relationship with a certain fellow, but it was overall still another solid entry for the series.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up // by Marie Kondo

//published 2014//

As usual, I’m running a bit behind on reading these trendy books, but I finally got around to seeing what Kondo’s book is all about.  While I was familiar with her overall vibe/message, it was interesting to read more of the details of her method.  However, I found myself disagreeing with her fairly frequently, as her method is quite extreme and, I think, in many ways and for many people, completely impractical.

So, in essence, the KonMarie Method involves purging a LOT of stuff – she recommends around 75% – and only keeping things that are absolute necessities and/or things that “spark joy” to you.  There were parts of this that I liked, and parts of it that I didn’t like.  In the pro column, I actually think going through everything you own and literally handling it and thinking about whether or not you need it is a GREAT idea.  Tom and I spent our first five Christmases in five different houses, so basically once a year we had to go through all our belongings and decide whether or not it was worth packing.  Now that we’ve lived in the same house since 2014, I’m amazed at how easily things pile up!!!  There are definitely areas of this house that I NEED to go through!  I also really liked the way that Kondo suggested starting with things less likely to be emotional and then working your way up – so starting with things like clothes and tackling things like mementoes and knickknacks after you have become more “in tune” with what genuinely sparks joy to you.  She also had some great thoughts on letting go of things that we’re only keeping because we feeling “guilty” about them – usually things that were gifts – by reminding her readers that those items have already served a purpose for you: they were given to you so that the person who gifted them could show you that they love you, and that gift has already done that, so you can pass it out of your life without feeling bad.  And while I’m not sure I’m ready to start actually thanking physical items for being there for me (I’d rather thank God for giving them to me) her overall thoughts on gratitude being foundational to contentment really resonated.

But in the cons column – I think Kondo is a little too cavalier with how much needs to be purged from the average person’s life.  To start with, there is somewhat a presumption of wealth – not that all of her clients/readers are wealthy, per se, but that they don’t need to be watching their pennies, because she seems to think it’s perfectly reasonable to get rid of, say, all your writing utensils and then just buy a new one whenever the need arises.  Okay, that kind of makes sense because I’m sure I have more pens than I need – but also why would I get rid of all of them and then keep buying new ones one at a time for the rest of the my life??  The same thing with clothes.  She thinks you should get rid of all the clothes that don’t spark joy for you, but then acts like all of her readers would be able to perfectly afford to replace the non-joy clothes with joy clothes.  So I’ve gotten rid of all my serviceable, if boring, tshirts and now I’m supposed to go shopping for just those few perfect joy ones??  The same with small kitchen appliances – just get rid of that blender, and then later if you decide you need one after all, you can go buy a new one!  In a budgetary sense, I’m not sure I can completely get behind her reasoning.

Next, I think Kondo gets a little carried away with deciding things have served their purpose so we don’t need them any more.  For instance, she thinks you can get rid of all your photographs because we “never look at them anyway” and they’ve served their purpose already, because the purpose, according to her, is to capture that moment at the moment – taking the photograph is just a way of recognizing that moment’s importance at the time.  What?!  First off, I actually do look at our photos a lot, especially the ones I’ve taken the time to put into photo books.  I also love looking at photos at my parents’ house and remembering bits of childhood and the past that otherwise would have been completely forgotten.  Yes, those photo albums take up a lot of space, but I’m not convinced that it’s wasted space??

It was the same with things like books.  Obviously I’m a bit obsessive about books, but I found myself wondering if Kondo actually reads???  She doesn’t see any sense in keeping books around because if you’ve read it, the book is now inside of you so you don’t need it any more.  She went on to tell a story about how she realized that she was keeping some books because they had certain passages that resonated with her, but she realized she didn’t need the whole book just to keep those underlined parts so she cut the books apart and pasted those lines into a notebook.  Of course, in the end she was decided she never looked through that notebook after all, so she could get rid of that, too.  But the wanton destruction of perfectly good books just really got to me – cutting them up meant that she had turned them into literal garbage that no one else could ever read, either.  Her whole section on books horrified me on so many levels.  I actually put down her book and went to find my husband just so I could rant to him about it!

I guess to me, a lot of Kondo’s advice felt wasteful.  Just like cutting up the books – while she does talk about giving stuff away, a lot of times she seems perfectly fine with rendering something useless for anyone else (by keeping the part you “need”) and just trashing it.  And while there is a balance of getting rid of stuff you are extremely unlikely to use again, I don’t feel like just purging your house of literally everything and then rebuying the stuff you decide you actually need is going to be particularly practical for a lot of us.

A final area that has stuck with me all this time as being just utter nonsense was the way she approached, for lack of a better word, prepping.  In Kondo’s world, you don’t need a back-up tube of toothpaste, because you can just got get a new one when that one runs out!  You don’t need an extra pack of toilet paper, because the store is just around the corner!  Why would you have more than one box of cereal when you can pick out one when this one is empty?  First off, she is obviously writing as a city person – it takes me 20 minutes to get to the grocery store from here, so yes, I do buy more than what I need at a time because I can’t just stop off at the story every freaking day of my life.  I also think that in light of the supply chain issues that are still ongoing, her advice is completely wrong.  I’d rather have a cluttered pantry with six months’ of food on hand than one that’s empty at the same time the grocery shelves are.  The truth is, you can’t always just run out to the store and buy something new exactly when you need it.  Sometimes it’s impractical to get to the store, and sometimes the store doesn’t have what you need.  I didn’t like Kondo’s attitude that stores just always are magically there and well-stocked every time you need them, and that if you have more than one back-up, you’re a secret hoarder who needs to recognize that it’s somehow unhealthy to have more than one pack of paper towels in your closet.

In the end, I think that home organization, like life, is about balance, and I didn’t find the KonMarie Method to be balanced for me.  I can see why her concepts resonate with a lot of people, but I felt like she focused way too much on just getting rid of everything as the solution to all of life’s problems.  But here’s the thing – while maybe not every single individual book on my shelves specifically sparks joy, the essence of that many books in my home does.  And yes, I do need to get rid of some of them, and I am as I read (or reread) through them, but I’m not going to trash every unread book in my home because it’s been here more than a year, like Kondo suggests.  I don’t see myself dumping my photo albums because they’re taking up precious space, getting rid of all the fun odds and ends we’ve collected on vacations, or getting rid of all my backstock of pantry items.  I also think that if you have problems with staying organized and keeping your house tidy, those problems won’t go away just because you’ve gotten rid of everything.  The mess may not be as big, but truthfully you can still make a mess even with just the necessities.  I never felt like Kondo really gave me a solution beyond getting rid of stuff.

This book was still a completely worthwhile read.  Tom and I talked about it a lot and really enjoyed debating the merits of different aspects of her method.  There were definitely some aspects of what she had to say that I found useful and have applied to my life.  But as far as this being an end-all to my organization/clutter troubles – this one wasn’t the solution for me.

The Horologicon // by Mark Forsyth

//published 2012//

Woohoo!! I’m officially reviewing books I read in August!  This feels like progress!!

This nonfiction book was an absolute delight.  Forsyth begins by explaining how everyone loves learning weird words, and it’s always fun to learn about words that were common in the past but have fallen out of style.  However, most dictionaries are organized alphabetically, which is great if you already know the word, but not great if you are trying to find out if a word exists to express your particular feeling or experience.  And so, Forsyth’s book is organized by the hours of the day, starting with 6a.m. – Dawn (“Alarm clocks – trying to get back to sleep – feigning illness”) meandering through the middle of the workday (“Noon – Looking as Though You’re Working: Effortlessness – sales and marketing – emails – approaching bankruptcy – asking for a raise”), and ending with Midnight – Nostos (“Making too much noise upon returning – attempting to work – undressing – arguing with spouse – falling asleep”), stopping at all the other hours in between.

Forsyth is British, which feels like it shouldn’t exactly matter, yet this is somehow delightfully British in tone, with a dry sense of humor and a wry way of twisting words and situations.  I flagged so many different words when I was reading this one and laughed out loud multiple times.

Some of the words felt like they could actually be useful –

For the moment, you can lie there [in bed] in a zwodder cursing the arrival of a new day.  … [an old dictionary] defines zwodder as: “A drowsy and stupid state of body or mind.”

Well, that sounds familiar!

Or how about “swale,” which means “windy, cold, bleak” – that could definitely be a useful word during a Midwestern winter!  And most of us know what consulting is, but how about constulting, which actually means “being stupid together”?? I see gongoozlers almost every time I drive down the highway and there is a wreck, as they are “idle and inquisitive persons who stand staring for prolonged periods at anything out of the common.”

I discovered that my dogs are experts at groking, which is “to stare wistfully at somebody while they are eating in the hope that they will give you some of their food,” and also that my husband is actually an aristologist, which is someone who “devotes their lives to the pursuit of the perfect morning meal.”

There are plenty of options for insults.  “Hydropot” was one of my favorites – it actually just means someone who is a teetotaller, but as Forsyth points out, it does have a lovely, insulting ring to it when shouted at someone.

Some of the words exist in partial form today – it’s always intriguing to me to see why we keep some words while others disappear.  For instance, while we’ve kept the word befuddled, we’ve lost the root word – which truly did exist – fuddling – which means drinking alcoholic beverages: at it’s root, befuddled actually means drunk!  Another fun one was nullibiquitous, which is the opposite of ubiquitous – so while ubiquitous means to exist everywhere, nullibiquitous means to exist nowhere, which Forsyth points out is a common problem with things like car keys when you are in a hurry.

All in all, this was just such a fun read.  I read a chapter every morning with breakfast, which was a perfect dosage of this type of book.  Forsyth was humorous and fun, but also managed to keep everything linked together and flowing by organizing the book the way he did.  If you enjoy words and wordplay, this one is definitely worth a read.

July Minireviews – Part 1

Progress!!!

Also, I’m getting so lazy with these minireviews that since I didn’t review them on Litsy (thus taking pictures of them), I’m not even bothering to look up cover images for them. This blog really is going downhill 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.

Caroline & the Colonel by Shannon Archer – 3* (published 2021)

I was in the mood for fluffy romance/P&P variations at the beginning of July and this one sounded fun.  However, it’s hard to rate, because I thought it was going to be an easy 4* read, maybe even 4.5*, for the first 70% of the book… and then it went totally off the rails.  All of the sudden there was all this extra drama, this weird scene with Caroline making a public apology that made zero sense, and just… it got weird.  Which is a real shame, because I really loved the concept and characters for over half the book, but it was basically like Archer decided she wanted to write a sequel, but in order for that to happen she was going to need to have some loose ends, so instead of tidying things up, she decided to fray the edges.  Disappointing.

Ship to Shore by Elizabeth Adams – 3* (published 2019)

Another one that’s hard to rate.  I have read a few of Adams’s other books and really enjoyed them, so I thought I would try this random contemporary romance by her.  I was just absolutely loving this book with a fun premise and likable characters, but then at 80% (this was a Kindle book), the story literally STOPS – I can’t even explain how abruptly it stops – and says, “To Be Continued…” and then the remaining 20% is some other random story!!!!  This annoyed me so much that it colored my feelings about the entire rest of the book.  There was definitely no reason not to FINISH THE BOOK AS ONE BOOK, especially considering there still doesn’t appear to be any kind of sequel despite the fact that this was published in 2019…!!!!

Tips for the Lazy Gardener by Linda Tilgner – 3* (published 1985)

This one should really have been called something like “Tips for Gardeners Who Want to Be More Organized” or something like that.  So yes, being organized means less work further down the line, but in the meantime… well, basically gardening is just a lot of work no matter how you cut it.  It was a so-so read, but the other problem was that it really was just a collection of tips, so just a few sentences per paragraph, then the next paragraph some other random tip, making it kind of difficult to use as a reference book.  It wasn’t terrible, but it went in the giveaway box when I was done reading it.

A Timely Elopement by Joanna Starnes – 3* (published 2020)

This was another P&P variation, where Darcy’s proposal at Hunsford is interrupted with news that ANNE has eloped with WICKHAM!  I had read other books by this author before and found them to be decent, but this one needed another strong round of editing.  The concept was fun and I liked the way that she portrayed the characters, but the whole story was poorly executed with weird scene changes that made the reading choppy.  The ending was a bit out of left field as well.  Not a terrible read, but definitely could have been improved with some proofreading.

The Rogue’s Widow by Nicole Clarkston – 3.5* (published 2020)

I was TRYING to play it safe by reading books by authors who had written other P&P variations I liked, but this was kind of a batch of duds.  This one wasn’t terrible but was a bit of a yawn-fest without a lot happening.  Here, Wickham has an older brother (who is just as terrible as the original Wickham).  Through a mildly complicated series of events (orchestrated by Darcy), Elizabeth ends up marrying this guy on his deathbed, which means that she, as the widow, inherits his Pemberley-adjacent estate instead of George Wickham.  My notes just say, “Boring but inoffensive” which pretty much sums it up.

Sorrow & Second Chances by E. Bradshaw – 3.5* (published 2019)

In this variation, after Elizabeth rejects him at Hunsford, Darcy is mooning about London when he learns of Mrs. Bennet’s untimely demise.  He and Bingley head back to Meryton for the funeral, and from there reinstate themselves with the family.  This wasn’t exactly a bad variation but we pretty much only hear Darcy’s perspective and trust me, he spends WAY too much time worrying about literally everything.  This was a story that needed some tightening up as it felt repetitive (Darcy thinks and thinks about having a conversation, then we have to listen to the actual conversation, then we listen to Darcy analyze the conversation…) and thus a little too long.

The Perfect Horse // by Elizabeth Letts

//published 2016//

Those of you who have been with me for a while have probably noticed that I read significantly more fiction than nonfiction.  But I do also have a nonfiction TBR and have been trying to read more from that as well.  In June I started The Perfect Horse because I had read another book by Letts a couple of years ago, The Eighty-Dollar Champion, and really enjoyed it.  In The Perfect Horse I was so pleased to see that Letts’s attention to detail and ability to tell an engrossing story had definitely carried over.

During the 1930s, while Hitler was amassing territory and power, he also was working on a project to create the ideal war horse.  In World War I, horses were hugely instrumental to the war effort, so the concept of making a perfect “race” of horses fit in well with Hitler’s overall scheme of a perfect “race” of humans.  As various countries fell under German control, many assets of those countries were centralized, including famous stables and horses.  Letts follows the journey of several different horses, including two famous Arabian stallions from Poland, and several Lipizzaner stallions from the Spanish Riding School in Austria.  She also introduces us to the people connected to these horses.  There are a lot of people and places in play, but Letts’s writing is compulsively readable, and I honestly had trouble putting this one down.

The first two sections of the book focus on introducing the horses, people, and places involved.  Letts gives the readers the background of why Hitler found horses to be such an important part of his military program, and also discusses what the US Calvary was doing at the time (they were still on horseback!), yet we also begin to see the writing on the wall – horses are not actually going to be critical military assets for much longer.  It was really interesting to see the way that the horses were shifted around and centralized, and how the focus of Hitler’s horse breeding program was on creating virtually identical stallions for war, a horse factory if you will, with horses being trained and used as young as possible, and mares producing foals as rapidly as they could.  This was especially in contrast with the incredibly slow-moving and precise breeding/training program of the Lipizzaner horses, who aren’t ridden until they are several years old.

In the third part of the book, the war is moving along and Germany is falling.  It’s at this point that an American officer finds out, through a captured German, that a small herd of incredibly valuable horses are just across enemy lines.  With the Russians closing in from the east, and willing to literally eat anything and everything in their path, a decision is made to cross lines and basically steal the horses.  An interesting part here was the discussion about whether or not it was worth it to risk human lives to rescue equine ones, and I appreciated the way that Letts explained this –

This mission mattered to him – he wanted to save the horses.  All over Europe, there were men whose express job was to protect cultural artifacts and recover stolen art.  At the highest level, the American military was aware that even in the darkest times, care must be taken to protect irreplaceable cultural treasures.  But the horses, equally beloved, equally treasured, infinitely precious because they were living things, did not have the same official protection afforded to museum pieces.

For me, the book fell off a bit in the final section, which looks at the aftermath of the rescue.  Because the focus is more on this group of specific horses than it is on the Lipizzaner breed as a whole, it’s honestly a little bit of a downer.  The American Calvary stopped using horses after World War II, which meant that the horses were sold rather than used.  The American Jockey Club refused to acknowledge the meticulously-kept records of the heritage of rescued horses, which meant that they were almost valueless in America.  Consequently, the end-destination of many of the horses is unknown, although the fates of the four stallions that Letts focused on the most were happy.

All in all, I definitely recommend this one.  It was completely engrossing and an intriguing look at yet another aspect of both the war and Hitler’s regime.  Letts kept me completely engaged in the fates of these beautiful horses and the men who cared about them.  I felt like this quote really summarizes the story well –

World War II is still the most destructive event ever to have occurred in human history, with estimates of the total death toll as high as sixty million, or 2.5 percent of the world’s total population.  The irreparable loss to civilization that resulted from people being slaughtered and entire cultures being obliterated is impossible to measure.

Against the backdrop of all this wreckage, the saving of the horses was a small thing; and yet as Hank Reed’s men instinctively knew, it was only through individual acts of compassion that the world was able to climb out of the trough it had dug for itself and attempt to find its way into a more peaceful future.

Later, when people asked why he had decided to save the horses, Colonel Reed’s answer was simple:  “We were so tired of death and destruction.  We wanted to do something beautiful.”

June MiniReviews – Part 1

Have I mentioned that my life is pretty much just peaches right now???  You all really just can’t understand LOL  In the meantime, here are a few books that I read all the way back in 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.

The Horse & His Boy by C.S. Lewis – 5*

//published 1954//

Growing up, this was one of my least favorite books in the series (along with The Silver Chair), but every time I reread it, I enjoy it more.  There’s a lot to soak in here about providence and why bad things happen to people and how that all works together for good, plus it’s just a fun story.  Narnia is always a joy to me.

Kitty’s Class Day & Other Stories by Louisa May Alcott – 3*

//published 1882//

I’m a huge fan of Alcott, and some of my all-time favorite books were penned by her.  However, I’ve had this collection of short stories on my shelf for literal years and somehow never read it… and when I did, I honestly wasn’t that impressed.  The subtitle for this one is “Proverb Stories” and each tale has a little saying/proverb at the beginning and then the story goes on to illustrate it.  Consequently, these came across as a little on the preachy side.  Alcott is always a fan of making her writing somewhat moralistic, but I feel like that works better with her longer-form writing, as we are able to see characters grow and mature organically.  Here, with only a few pages per story, the lessons felt a bit too in-your-face for my tastes.  Perfectly fine but honestly not particularly engaging.

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling – 4*

My reread of the Potter books also continued in June with a chapter a day of the fourth book.  I think this is where the series really starts to take off, with a lot of connections being made.  It’s a chunkster of a book and sometimes does feel a little ponderous, but overall I still find this series plenty entertaining.

Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibañez – 3.5*

//published 2021//

In May I read Woven in Moonlight and found it to be a decent enough read that I wanted to pick up the sequel, Written in Starlight.  It’s hard to tell about this one without giving away some spoilers for the first book, but basically there is a character from the first story who ends up being sent away into the jungle as a punishment at the end of the book.  It honestly felt a little jarring, so reading the second book felt like reading the other side of the coin.  Although the main character is different, it really ties in with the first story and, I felt, tied up a lot of loose ends.  Overall, I think I actually liked this one better, even if the main character was super dense from time to time.

Led Zeppelin: Heaven & Hell by Charles Cross & Erik Flannigan – 3.5*

//published 1991//

My husband is a huge Zeppelin fan, so we have several nonfiction books about the band.  In my quest to read all of the books I own (LOL) this one was the next stop.  Published in 1991, it was written at a time when there was still a lot of chatter about whether the band would get back together, with John Bonhome’s son, Jason, as the drummer.  This book read more like an extended fanzine, with a lot of information about band paraphernalia, concerts, albums, concert memorabilia, etc.  If you already love Zeppelin and are just looking for some random tidbits, it’s worth picking up for the photographs if nothing else, but if you don’t know much about the band, this isn’t really a great place to start, because the authors definitely assume that you already have foundational knowledge about the band members and the trajectory of the band itself.  I definitely preferred Flannigan’s sections to Cross’s – I find Cross’s writing to be somewhat condescending, something I also noted when I read his biography of Kurt Cobain, Heavier Than HeavenUltimately, Cross felt like it was super important to spend a great deal of time hating on Hammer of the Gods by Stephen Davis (which I haven’t gotten around to reading yet), which, whether or not his claims were justified, just came through as rather petty.  A moderately enjoyable read, but not one I’d particularly pick up again.

May Minireviews – Part 3

Oh look, more minireviews from the backlog!!!

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.

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez – 3*

//published 2020//

This one has been on my radar for a while because of that gorgeous cover, and also because I’m always interested in books with a Central/South American flavor to them.  This book was, I think, what you might call magical realism rather than fantasy.  It was a solid story about a group of people holed up in hiding because they people that they conquered several generations ago have now risen up and conquered them.  There’s a lot of discussion about imperialism and what it means to have a group conquer another group, and which culture is the “real” culture, etc etc.  Some of it was handled well while other bits felt a little too polemic.  While I liked the characters, I also somehow couldn’t connect to them.  There were really random scenes that felt over-the-top violent for the rest of the story, and Ibañez decided to arbitrarily kill off a character I really liked, which always annoys me.  The author also chose to put a LOT of Spanish words in her text, which did add to the flavor of the story, but there was no glossary in the back, and the context did not always make the meaning of the words obvious, which meant I frequently had to stop to look up words, which always takes me out of the story – for some reason way more than it does when all I need to do is flip to a glossary.  (I think because looking it up means I have to actually set down the book and pick up a completely different item – my phone or a computer – to find the answer, which frequently leads to other distractions.)

In the end, I did like this book, and I think some people might like it even more than me, but it just wasn’t a perfect match.

The Marriage Game by Sara Desai – 4*

//published 2020//

I had actually been meaning to read this book for a while, and then a member of the traveling book club chose the sequel, The Dating Game, for her pick.  Even though the second book could be read as a stand alone, I figured this was a good chance to go ahead and read this one, and I ended up really enjoying them both.  This is just the kind of fun and fluffy romance I like (although a little on the sexy side).  Layla was quirky without being obnoxious; Sam was angsty but reasonably so; and Layla’s family was absolutely hilarious while still filling realistic.  This one definitely hit the spot and I can totally see myself rereading it at some point.

The Dating Plan by Sara Desai – 4*

//published 2021//

I didn’t like this one quite as well, but still really enjoyed it.  My main issue with this one is that Daisy and Liam are in a fake relationship, but are CONSTANTLY talking about how it’s fake when the people they are supposed to be fooling are just in the next room, or around the corner, or what have you.  It was driving me crazy how they would basically get into a shouting match about how the whole thing is fake, and yet Daisy’s nosy family never noticed???  It just didn’t jive.  Liam also spent a little too much time hating on himself – we get it, you were a jerk.  Still, all in all it was still great fun.  A third book is scheduled to be published in November, and I’ll definitely be reading it!

Living in Norway by Solvi Dos Santos & Elisabeth Holte – 3.5*

//published 1999//

This was another book that I read for the Food & Lit Club, where we “visit” one country per month with books and recipes.  May’s country was Norway, and I read this one in addition to a travel guide that I didn’t review (it was very travel guide-y).  Reading Living in Norway was like reading a PBS special. I could practically hear the soothing voiceover of a narrator the entire time.  Going season by season the authors visit different homes in Norway, discussing architecture, history, hobbies, and ways of life. I’m not sure how much this book reflects the majority of Norwegians’ lives as it seemed to focus a lot on the artsy types, but the photography was gorgeous and it was all and all an enjoyable read.  I’m fascinated by life so close to the Arctic Circle in terms of daylight and weather and loved reading how the people who live here embrace winter and the long hours of darkness.  So many of the architectural details there are because of the long winters, so it was very interesting to learn more about them.  Maybe not a book for everyone, but if you’re looking for some gentle nonfiction with a lot of photographs, this was pretty fun.

Love at First by Kate Clayborn – 3*

//published 2021//

I read Love Lettering last year and had a lot of mixed feelings about it, but decided to give Clayborn’s new book a try.  Once again, I was left with a book that had a fun concept but, for me, no follow-through.  I really liked Will and Nora, but this whole thing with Will needing to sublet the apartment felt weird and forced.  The synopsis makes it sound like Will’s going to, I don’t know, tear down the entire apartment building or something, but instead he literally just wants to make it into an Air B&B? Like I get you not wanting that to be your next-door neighbor, but it didn’t seem worth the amount of angst that was going on.  What redeemed the story were all the secondary characters – all the other apartment building folks were delightful and fun and I really enjoyed them.  This one weirdly reminded me a lot of Second First Impressions which I had read earlier in the month, and, like that one, this one just didn’t quite hit the mark for me, because all the conflicts felt strangely manufactured instead of natural.

May Minireviews – Part 1

Well, I’m finally delving into May’s reviews, and since May does seem like more recent past than April, I at least feel like I’m making progress!!  May is traditionally a super busy month for me since I work at a greenhouse, which means there aren’t as many books to review as there are in most months…

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.

Happiness Hill by Grace Livingston Hill – 4*

//published 1932//

I read a lot of fluff in May, because that’s what I trend towards when I’m busy (or stressed or depressed or in a reading slump or just feel like it haha).  I actually own this one, so I know I’ve read it before, but I couldn’t remember the details – not that the details of a GLH book varies much from one book to the other, but still.  If you don’t like your romances to be clean, somewhat religious, a little saccharine, and quite predictable, don’t pick up GLH.  But I find that that’s frequently exactly what I want, and I quite enjoyed this one, with the traditional strong-moraled heroine, the goofy brother, the gentle-but-in-poor-health parents, and the lonely young hero who yearns for some family.  Basically, if you like GLH, you’ll like this one.

PS No, I’m not the heathen who used this book as a coaster at some point!

100 Years of Color by Katie Greenwood – 3*

//published 2015//

This nonfiction book had such an intriguing premise, but for me it just didn’t quite follow through.  Greenwood looks at each decade from 1900 through 2000, pulling advertising posters, artwork, and textiles, and discusses the colors that were popular during that decade and why… except she doesn’t really get to the “why” all that much.  Instead, each decade has a (very) short discussion page, then several images with no explanation as to why she particularly chose those or thought they were good examples of the decade.  There was so much potential here to really delve into popular colors and patterns but instead she barely skims the surface, making the book more or less unmemorable.  It was definitely a case of me wanting to like a book more than I did.

Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse – 5*

//published 1925//

I’m still working my way through all of Wodehouse’s works in published order.  The 1920s were a great decade for Wodehouse’s writing, as he invents the immortal duo of Jeeves and Bertie, and this book did not disappoint.  I’ve read all of the Bertie and Jeeves books in the past, but am never adverse to revisiting them.  This collection of loosely connected short stories included a couple of favorites, like a chapter from Jeeves’s point of view.  And who can resist a story titled, “The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy”??  Certainly not me!

Unicorn Famous by Dana Simpson – 4*

//published 2021//

This is the latest installment of the Phoebe & Her Unicorn comics, and just as much fun as the rest of the series.  While these can obviously be read in any order, they’ve been so much fun to read in publication order, as characters (and unicorn lore) do develop throughout the series.

Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne – 3*

//published 2021//

In my attempt to read newly published books by authors that I like as they get published, I reserved Second First Impressions at the library and was intrigued to read it after thoroughly enjoying The Hating Game.  However, this one just didn’t really hit the right notes for me.  While I did like the main character, Ruthie, she also frustrated me a lot.  The snarky best friend/coworker also really got on my nerves and I felt like she crossed the line and became condescending towards Ruthie, acting like Ruthie was just too sheltered and backwards to really know what she wanted from a relationship.  Like Ruthie would make a statement about what she wanted from life/a relationship and the snarky best friend was like, “Oh, no, that’s what losers would want!  THIS is what you REALLY want!”  I honestly found it a kind of offensive that Ruthie’s desire for a quiet, not-drama-filled life was dismissed as boring and pathetic.

I’m also personally a bit over having a character’s Tragic Back Story be because of a horrible “religious“ father. Can we please stop having background characters be “Christians“ just so you can talk about how hypocritical they are? Thanks.  I definitely felt like Ruthie could have had a terrible dad and a lot of the same issues without all the extra effort of emphasizing how “religious” her dad was.

Finally, while the two old ladies who lived at the retirement home were funny and sweet, their whole schtick of only hiring good looking young men so they could make them do embarrassing things until they cracked just felt, for lack of a better word, cringe.  I can’t even imagine how this aspect of the story would have gone over if it was two old men who hired young women so they could comment on how good they looked in various outfits and then send them off to do demeaning and difficult tasks just to see how long it would take them to quit.  I mean seriously.

So while this one was an okay read for me, I definitely didn’t love it.  It really lacked the chemistry, snark, and snap of The Hating Game, and read closer to women’s fiction than romcom for me.  The “humor” felt a little forced, like Thorne was writing a serious story but kept trying to make it into a romcom instead.

Three-Act Tragedy AKA Murder in Three Acts by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1934//

While this isn’t my favorite Poirot story, it was still quite good and, as usual, I had no idea what the solution was.  Hopefully no one ever needs me to solve their murder, because I can 100% promise that I won’t be able to do it!  One of my favorite parts of this book was the fun way Christie listed the cast of characters in the front.  The chapter/section headings also aligned with the parts of a play, carrying the theme throughout.