August Minireviews // Part 3

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

//published 1870//

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

Jade Fire Gold by June C.L. Tan – 4*

//published 2021//

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

The Lies We Told by Camilla Way – 4*

//published 2018//

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

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

//published 1859//

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

I Found You by Lisa Jewel – 4*

//published 2016//

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

August Minireviews // Part 2

Another random collection of August reads!!

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit – 4*

//published 1906//

I absolutely love Nesbit’s books, and this one did not disappoint.  I think I had read it a long time ago, but couldn’t really remember how any of it went.  The story and characters are just delightful.  The adventures could be a bit of a stretch – just how many lives can one family of children save?? – but all in good fun.

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield – 3.5*

//published 1930//

This one was a Traveling Book Club book, and it was pretty fun on the whole, but there was just this edge of bitterness (?) to the whole thing that made it feel not quite as lighthearted as it appears at first.  I enjoy ‘slice of life’ types of stories, so even though really nothing happens in this book other than a family living their life with the usual trials, I still found this enjoyable. The PL is a delightfully self-depreciating narrator, her sense of humor is strong, and I loved all of her side queries of introspection throughout her diary. There are some fun little adventures, and it’s an interesting glimpse of the everyday life of this place and time.

I found both the beginning and the ending to be quite abrupt, as though this book really was a random section of someone’s diary. I was also endlessly aggravated by the nearly constant quotes from the French governess, never translated yet placed in the text in a way to make it unclear as to what is being said. (It would be something like, “Couldn’t believe it was time for him to leave already. [French quote] Not sure that I can agree with these sentiments, but can’t deny that they were warmly expressed.”) I spent way too much time translating French to English just so I could confirm that she had said something like, “They grow up so fast” or something equally not-really-contributing-to-the-conversation.

Final (minor) gripe for this one is that it honestly did feel a little sad, in the sense that I’m not completely convinced that the PL is really happy. She seems to spend so much time worrying about what other people think or are saying, and spends money she doesn’t want to spend on things she thinks other people think she needs, if that makes sense. I realize that’s supposed to be part of the humor, but I just found myself wanting to reassure her that it really doesn’t matter what all those people think!

However, on the whole I really did enjoy this one. Not my new all-time favorite, and I’m not sure that I will follow the PL on her other adventures, but still a pleasant little read.

The Small Bachelor by P.G. Wodehouse – 5*

//published 1927//

I reviewed this one detail when I read it back in 2016, but suffice to say that it was just as delightful this time around.  The characters, the dialogue, the descriptions, the plot – all fabulous.  My only real beef with this one is that it’s set in New York City instead of in England where all of Wodehouse’s characters belong.  Nonetheless, if you combine these plot elements, how can you go wrong?  – A young man falls in love with a young woman he sees out on the street; another fellow writes informative and educational pamphlets and scorns the concept of love at first sight; an ex-con valet tries to go straight and encourages his pickpocket fiancee to do the same; a man is bullied by this 2nd wife who holds the purse strings; a policemen is trying to become a poet; a young English lord is hungry a lot; and there’s about to be a raid on The Purple Chicken, where you can always get IT if you know the right people. I don’t know how Wodehouse hits it out of the park basically every time, but this one is another winner for me.

The It Girl by Ruth Ware – 3.5*

//published 2022//

Sometimes I’m willing to suspend disbelief a bit if a thriller keeps me turning the pages, and this one definitely fell into that category.  There were parts I found a bit ridiculous, and it was a one-off read for me (not one I’ll come back to again and again) BUT it kept me up way past my bedtime because I wanted to find out what happened, so it deserves some kudos for that.  I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the ending – just because you find out someone didn’t do one specific bad thing doesn’t mean that that person is completely blameless of everything else – but all in all a solid thriller.

July Minireviews // Part 3

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

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

Nightwork by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2022//

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

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym – 4*

//published 1952//

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

A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery – 4*

//published 1931//

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

Lost Lake by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 2005//

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

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan – 4*

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

July Minireviews // Part 2

It’s -3* right now, so this seems like a good time to travel back to July in my mind…

(I wrote most of this post just before Christmas but didn’t finish it – a bit warmer now, a whopping 42*!!)

Her Mother’s Keeper by Nora Roberts – 3*

//This one included Her Mother’s Keeper (published 1983) and Island of Flowers (published 1982)//

I was actually sick in July, so I went on a bit of a Nora Roberts binge, reading four of her books in pretty short order.  What can I say?  She’s a comfort author for me haha

Unfortunately, this was definitely one of her weaker stories – even 3* may be generous.  Gwen is worried that her mother, who lives by herself in a large, rambling house in the bayou, is being taken in by her latest boarder.  Gwen heads home to make sure her mother isn’t in trouble, believing that her mother and Luke are romantically involved, despite Luke being almost 20 years younger than Gwen’s mother, and despite Gwen having zero proof that this is happening.  This misunderstanding drags through the entire book, when normal people would just have a five-minute conversation along the lines of, “Oh, you must be my mom’s boyfriend” “What? No, I’m not”.  Like I get that we need conflict to make a story, but this conflict was so unbelievable that it made the whole story annoying.  Plus, this is the somewhat-typical 80s romance where there is a lot of grabbing and kissing in lieu of actual conversation.  All in all, this wasn’t terrible for a one-off read, especially if you’re running a fever and drifting in and out of sleep, but it’s not one I would particularly recommend.

Island of Flowers by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

Following the theme of “a simple conversation would solve a lot of problems,” in this one Laine is traveling to Hawaii to reconnect with her dad after years of not hearing from him.  However, her dad’s business partner, Dillon, is convinced that Laine is just trying to get her dad’s money, so he pretty much treats her like garbage the entire time.  Of course, it turns out that Laine’s dad actually had been sending Laine letters and money through the years, but Laine’s selfish mother (now deceased) never told Laine about any of it, which is where the “we could have a simple conversation” bit comes in.  Dillon was definitely not the hero for me, as frankly he was an ass the entire time, one minute being all romancy and then the next minute accusing Laine of being a con-artist and treating her like trash.  He’s the reason that this book wasn’t a win for me.  However, Roberts’s descriptions of Hawaii were amazing and totally made me want to go there, despite the fact that I’m not really into beaches or warm weather (or flying), so there’s that.

Black Hills by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2009//

This is a newer Roberts novel, and it really is interesting to me how much her work has matured over the years.  This one is somewhat of a romantic suspense and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Lil has always loved her childhood home in South Dakota, and has fulfilled her dream of opening a large-cat wildlife sanctuary there.  (Random, I know, but Roberts makes it work.)  Growing up, her neighbors’ grandson, Cooper, used to come and stay with them, and the two of them were best friends, who fell in love in high school.  But then Cooper OF COURSE broke her heart and headed off to The Big City to become a Hotshot Lawyer.  Now he’s back because his grandparents are in poor health.  Sparks fly between them, while at the same time someone seems intent on shutting down Lil’s sanctuary, as several instances of sabotage occur.

Overall, I did enjoy this one a lot.  The whole sabotage storyline kept the pace up, and I did like Lil a lot.  However, it’s been something like 12 years since Cooper broke her when she was 19, and it felt like she was really hanging onto the bitterness/suspicion way too long.  I can understand not just like leaping into his arms, but at some point you need to move on.  Cooper was also an uneven character – he starts off treating Lil like trash, then all of the sudden is like, “actually it’s because I’ve been in love with you forever!!!!!!”  There’s also a secondary love story going on that I either wanted more of or less of, because while I totally shipped it, sometimes it just felt like filler wedged in here and there, and it felt clunky.

While this wasn’t my new favorite Roberts, it’s one I can see myself rereading, especially when I need to check South Dakota off my read-the-USA list!

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – 4*

//published 1891//

This is one of those classics that it feels like I should have read but never had.  While I didn’t love it, I did find it engaging.  My edition had notes about the differences between Wilde’s original book and the additions he made for a later edition, which was interesting.  This one gave me the creeps in a good way.

The Girl on the Boat by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1922//

A reread for me, this isn’t my favorite Wodehouse, but it’s still a great deal of fun, as always.  Billie is a bit of a flake, but there are plenty of ridiculous shenanigans and fabulous one-liners.  Basically, if you enjoy Wodehouse, you’ll probably like this one as it is pretty typical fare.

July Minireviews // Part 1

Okay, July!! Woohoo!!

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

Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier – 3.5*

//published 1956//

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

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson – 4*

//published 2015//

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

Harbor Lights by Sherryl Woods – 3*

//published 2009//

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

Summer Days and Summer Nights by various authors – 3*

//published 2016//

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

A Chesapeake Shores Christmas by Sherryl Woods – 3.5*

//published 2010//

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

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

June Minireviews // Part 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.

June Minireviews // Part 1

Woohoo!! June reviews!!

NB: All links in this post go to my personal reviews of the books mentioned.

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.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This one was a traveling book club book that I was intrigued to read because Kristoff is the coauthor of the Aurora Cycle, which I loved.  While I found this one to be really interesting with some creative world-building, it was ultimately a bit too dark for my personal tastes, so even though it’s the first book in a series, I didn’t particularly feel engaged enough to read the next book.  Part 1 was really slow – if I hadn’t been reading this with the group, I would have DNFd.  Kristoff uses copious footnotes to explain various things, so loads of small print and a lot of infodumping.  The pace definitely picked up as the book progressed, though, and I could barely put it down during the final section.  There were some interesting characters and some terrifying creatures (sand krakens! Brilliant!) but while I did enjoy this one, the series just wasn’t for me.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry – 4*

//published 2022//

I really enjoyed Henry’s book Beach Read, but felt quite meh about People We Meet on Vacation (still not over how annoying the main character of that one was), so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Book Lovers.  However, even though it wasn’t my new most favoritest read ever, I did really enjoy this one and snorted with laughter on multiple occasions.  I feel like I have to add the caveat that literally I don’t understand city people, or people who think cities are amazing, or people who want to hang out in cities for more than like, an hour, much less live in them.  These people literally make zero sense to me – just… why???  So I did have trouble getting over the way Nora just literally LOVES the city and LOVES living in the city and can’t imagine anything else.  What a weirdo haha But I could appreciate her genuine love for her home nonetheless.

What I absolutely loved were the upside-down tropes – they were just written so perfectly, Nora’s self-awareness of them made everything work, and it was fantastic.  The snark between Nora and Charlie is perfect.  Out of all the romances I’ve read this year, they may be the couple I shipped the hardest.  I just really did genuinely feel that they brought out the best in each other, and that they could see each other’s real selves and appreciated each other for who they truly were.  (Wow, my tenses got really tangled up there, but you all know what I mean haha)  I could have done without the steamy scenes because that isn’t my thing, but I definitely didn’t feel like that was the only thing these two had going.

My biggest complaint about this book is the tension between Nora and her sister.  The whole reason Nora is spending her vacation in a small town is because her sister wants them to hang out together.  It’s obvious that Libby has something big on her mind, but we spend the entire book not knowing what it is.  Is Libby’s husband cheating on her?  Is Libby unhappy with the way her life is going?  Is she mad at Nora about something?  Does she have cancer?  Not knowing what was going on with her actually drove me somewhat crazy and detracted from my overall enjoyment because it low-key stressed me out for the entire book.  This is a book I would enjoy more the second time around, already knowing what’s going on with Libby.

Magic for Marigold by L.M. Montgomery – 4*

//published 1929//

This was June’s book for Kindred Spirits group on Litsy, and was another Montgomery that I hadn’t read in absolute years.  My reread reminded me why – this is a perfectly pleasant book, but for some reason it just doesn’t stand out to me.  Part of it is because it’s very episodic in nature – it reminds me a lot of my least favorite Anne book, Rainbow Valley, where each chapter is just sort of its own little stand-alone adventure.  They aren’t bad, it just never really felt like there was an overarching story driving the book.  The only real common theme is Marigold wishing she had a friend, and several of the stories center on adventures wherein she meets someone and either they turn out to be not at all what she expected/an actual person who could be a friend, or something else prevents them becoming very close, usually distance.  Considering that this seems to sort of be the main point of the book, the ending felt especially odd, with Marigold becoming friends with a new neighbor, who is a boy.  She puts up with a lot of adventures she doesn’t want to participate in, like chasing frogs, to keep him happy.  Another new kid moves into the neighborhood, also a boy.  Boy A immediately drops Marigold and becomes best buddies with Boy B.  Eventually, Boy A comes back to Marigold and they restart their friendship, with Marigold realizing that it’s better to be friends in a situation where she can be herself instead of having to pretend like she likes all that “boy stuff” (not that Boy B is around to take care of that part of Boy A’s friendship needs) and the final line is something basically about her always being willing to wait for whenever Boy A needs her, or something kind of weird and dumb like that.  There are a couple of Montgomery books that I think always end up rated lower in mind because of the way they end, and this is one of them. (A Tangled Web, which was July’s book, is another.)  Anyway, all in all a perfectly pleasant read, but if I was rating all the books Montgomery has written, this one wouldn’t be particularly near the top.

The Randolphs by Isabella Alden – 3*

Alden was an aunt to Grace Livingston Hill, and an influence on Hill’s writing.  She mostly wrote under the pen name of Pansy, books similar to what Hill would write during the next generation – gentle romances and stories with Christian faith at the center.  I own a few collections of GLH that have three of her books plus one of Alden’s included.  What I didn’t realize is that The Randolphs is actually a sequel – the first book centered on the oldest (adult) son of the family, Tom, who apparently became saved during the first book.  Here, Tom is trying to live out his faith, but the main character is his sister Maria, who is skeptical of faith and how it can actually be useful for her life.  This was a perfectly pleasant story for the most part, but I did feel like Alden 100% copped out by having Maria’s actual transformation take place off-page!  It’s the old “she gets sick/injured and is bedridden and it makes her reassess her life” trick, and then Alden skips a couple of YEARS and suddenly Maria is a paragon and inspiration to everyone.  What a cheat!  Still, this was a nice little story, and honestly just a fun look at its time – this one was originally published in 1876 – I especially loved how one character they went on and on about how he came from “the west”… which turns out to be Michigan!

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4*

//published 1883//

This was my classic that I started in May, but what with being out of town for a week in May and such, I didn’t finish it until June.  Although I’ve seen the amazing Muppets version of this story more than once, I had never read the original.  While this was a fun story – and I can definitely see how it appealed to young lads when it was published in 1883 – honestly, I liked the Muppets better!!  It’s still a fun and creative yarn, although things did get a little muddled when they got to the island, I thought, and the book was sadly devoid of angry natives and musical numbers.  A week or two ago my whole family sat down for the Muppet version, and I just can’t believe how they managed to capture the spirit and essence of the story and its characters so very well.  The original book is definitely worth a read – I’m quite enjoying working through Stevenson’s works.

May Minireviews – Part 2

Part 2 and final for May!!  Also, after I published Part 1 I realized that I had literally labeled it April Minireviews.  Losing my mind 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.

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1937//

This is one of my favorite Montgomery books, and I couldn’t believe it had been so long since I had reread it!  Victoria Jane lives with her mother, grandmother, and aunt in a large and gloomy house.  Grandmother is incredibly overbearing and jealous of Jane’s mother’s attention.  Jane assumes that her father is dead, but when she is 11 learns that actually her parents are just separated, and her father lives on Prince Edward Island – and he wants Jane to come visit him so that he can have a chance to get to know her as well.  Jane doesn’t want to go, convinced that her father must be a terrible person since her mother is so sweet – but she falls in love with her dad, the Island, and her life of freedom and industry there.

This is a typical Montgomery story of a sturdy young heroine finding her independence.  My only complaint is that Jane definitely seems older than 11 a lot of the time.  I love all the many side characters and adventures, although I would like the ending to be a little less rushed.  Still, this is overall just a delightful story that always reminds me of a younger version of The Blue Castle.

The Heart’s Victory by Nora Roberts – 3*

//Heart’s Victory – published 1982// Rules of the Game – published 1984//

This story and the next one I read because they were republished together – a lot of Roberts’s 80s romances seem to be republished this way as they are shorter stories (~200pgs).  These were both pretty dreadful if I’m honest haha  In this one, the heroine was raised by her older brother, a racecar driver, so she grew up on “the circuit“ and always had a crush on her brother’s friend. Now she’s back on the circuit on assignment as a photographer and sparks fly. This one had a little too much of the “grabbing and kissing until she gives in“ routine that was so popular in the early 80s and made a really weird jump in the middle of the story where they suddenly decide to get married and now all their issues are about her settling in with his rich family?? It felt like two stories in one and was a bit confusing.  There was basically no character development and I never really believed in the success of these two as a couple.

Rules of the Game by Nora Roberts – 3*

Here, the protagonist directs commercials and her new client is an up and coming baseball star. This one wasn’t too bad, it just didn’t really go anywhere. There wasn’t really any reason that the two of them couldn’t be together, other than the female MC being all “I don’t do commitments,” which felt underdeveloped and kind of pointless because she didn’t really have a reason not to other than just… not wanting to?  Which is totally a fine choice to make, obviously, but here just felt like filler/trying to cause drama.  Once again – no confidence in the long-term success of this relationship!
Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson – 3.5*

//published 2022//

This one was a decent read but not a book I loved or want to reread.  Savannah works for a small publishing house that focuses on serious, nonfiction topics.  The owner despises “fluff” books, especially romcoms.  However, Savannah loves them and has secretly been writing one of her own.  Through a series of events, someone else finds her manuscript and leaves her editorial notes that turn out to be helpful, and soon they are passing the manuscript back and forth – except Savannah doesn’t know who her secret editor is.  Of course, it’s a romcom, so the reader knows who it is, but still.  This book was just kind of boring, and I found pretty much nothing about Savannah’s job to be realistic, especially the ending.  (No one’s getting laid off??  For real??)  I was hoping for more notes between the two of them, but we get almost none of those.  It was a perfectly fine story, but not one that I really loved.
Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter – 3.5*

//published 2021//

Liz is starting her senior year of high school, and her childhood crush, Michael, has just moved back to town.  She really wants to reconnect with him but isn’t sure how, and ends up enlisting the help of her neighbor (who was also good friends with Michael back in the day), Wes.  Liz has always considered Wes to be her nemesis as he has teased and played tricks on her through the years, so she is surprised by how well they get along as they start to hang out.  Liz’s mom died when Liz was little, and the way that she stays connected is through the movies and music that her mom loved.  All of the movie and music references made sense within the story, but they made this story kind of feel like it was actually for adults, despite being a YA story, since I’m not sure that current YA readers watch a lot of 90s romcoms or listen to Radiohead and Beastie Boys (although maybe they do, I don’t know a lot of teens right now lol).  This was another pretty forgettable story for me.  All the drama with Wes just felt like it went on way too long.  There is also a scene where Liz is at a party and someone throws up on her, and there were literal PAGES of clean up that involved describing texture, color, scent, etc. of this vomit – just why.  It felt so unnecessary and gross.
All in all, another perfectly fine read, but one I was glad I had checked out of the library instead of buying.

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 3

Last batch for April!!

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.

Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This was one of those books I wanted to like more than I actually did.  It had been a while since I had really immersed myself in a historical fiction, especially one set during not-a-war.  Overall, I felt like this Oregon Trail based story was well-told, but I personally found the two first-person voices to be incredibly similar, especially considering that they shouldn’t have been similar at all.  Yet I found myself not infrequently flipping back a couple pages to double-check who was talking.  In the beginning of the story, Harmon sets the scene by killing off a huge pile of people – then goes back to the beginning of their journey to give me 200+ pages of getting attached to all the people I know are going to die.  I had a lot of mixed feelings on that – it made it really difficult to emotionally connect to the characters, but I can’t imagine how mad I would have been if they had all died without me being mentally prepared!

But overall, that was really my issue with the story – despite a lot of emotional, high-stakes occurrences, I just never really connected with the characters and often felt like dramatic, horrific things were relayed rather clinically, especially for a first-person narrative.  The story itself was well-told and I felt like was well-balanced as far as bad guys/good guys/complicated scenarios, but I never really felt like the characters were real people.

Divots by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1923//

Only Wodehouse could make me enjoy reading a collection of short stories centered around golf! Tales told by the “Oldest Member” of the golf club to generally unwilling audiences, these stories are typical Wodehouse fluff. If you aren’t into golf and have never read Wodehouse, I probably wouldn’t start here, but if Wodehouse is your jam, these were pretty fun, even if a bit ridiculous!!  I was honestly surprised at how entertaining I found these.

This book was also published as The Heart of a Goof.

Big Jump for Robin by Suzanne Wilding – 3*

//published 1965//

Sometimes I buy a book just for the cover, and this was definitely the case when I purchased this one at an antique store back in 2005.  I can’t resist Sam Savitt’s illustrations!  Overall, this was rather typical 1960s horse-girl-story fare.  The story opens with Robin selling her pony to the neighborhood Obnoxious Rich Guy because she has overheard her parents worrying about money and wants to do her part.  Throughout the story, Robin works hard to help her family and become a better horsewoman, and I was definitely rooting for her.  The story was rather underdeveloped in places and didn’t turn into a new favorite, but Savitt’s illustrations mean that I’ll keep it on my shelf despite the fact that I don’t particularly yearn to reread it.

Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson – 3.5*

//published 2021//

This was a traveling book club book, and probably not one I would have read on my own.  I really enjoyed the world-building here and the way that religion was a legitimate part of life, where prayers and such actually did make a difference.  However, the whole bad guy/good guy aspect felt consistently muddled and I was frequently uncertain who I was actually supposed to be rooting for, and demon possession, even in fantasy-land, doesn’t seem like something fun and fluffy to be embraced.  It wasn’t a bad story, just not exactly my jam.

The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

The third book in the Percy Jackson series confirmed my opinion of them as solid but not mind-blowing books.  I’m enjoying the series but don’t really see myself rereading them again and again.  The characters are likable and the adventures engaging, and I do love some of the modern interpretation of the gods, but they somehow just lack that special magic that really connects me to a series on a deeper level.