The Companion’s Secret // by Linda Thompson

//published 2015//

This Pride & Prejudice variation started with a lot of excitement, but ended up being just really bland.

Thompson ruthlessly kills off Elizabeth’s entire family (except for Jane, who visiting the Gardiners) in a terrible carriage accident in the first chapter.  Immediately, the heir to Longbourn shows up, except in this variation it isn’t the Mr. Collins we know, but that Mr. Collins’s father, who is a pretty terrible person.  The reader is not surprised to learn that he probably had a hand in creating the carriage accident.  He’s super creepy and everyone hates him, including his own son who doesn’t really like any of his dad’s plans but since his dad has always beaten him up when he disagrees, he pretty just goes along with everything.

Anyway, Mr. C Sr. wants Mr. C Jr. to marry Elizabeth.  Since she isn’t really into that idea, Sr. decides that Jr. will have to compromise her.  Elizabeth overhears them talking and discovers that she is supposed to receive an inheritance from her great aunt when she reaches her majority the following spring, which is what this is all about.  She also hears about the whole planned compromise thing, and then listens as Sr. laughs evilly whilst plotting her ultimate demise after he gets his hands on the inheritance.  Fearing for her life, she flees Longbourn in disguise, aided by the servants who all love her.  She coincidentally meets up with the Darcys at an inn, and what with one thing and another is hired as Georgiana’s companion.

While I didn’t dislike this variation, there was just no character development.  Elizabeth is absolutely perfect – kind, loving, thoughtful, generous, etc.  Darcy is also perfect – kind, loving, thoughtful, generous, etc.  Georgiana is quietly perfect – kind, loving, thoughtful, generous, etc.  Guess who else is perfect?  Jane, Mr. Bingley, the Gardiners, all of the servants at Longbourn, Darcy’s entire family except for Lady Catherine, a random dressmaker in Lambton, and even Elizabeth’s horse.  Since all the good guys were already perfect, there wasn’t really any room for them to learn or grow.  The bad guys were all super bad (in this version, Collins Sr., Wickham, Miss Bingley, and Lady Catherine), so they didn’t really learn or grow either – they just got punished.

Thompson did a decent job making things seem plausible, even hiring Elizabeth at a random inn.  She stretches credulity but I still could get behind it.  I mean, who wouldn’t hire an angel if they stumbled across them?  And that’s basically Elizabeth’s character in this book.

The last 20% of the book was completely superfluous.  All of the main storylines are resolved, and Darcy and Elizabeth get married.  Except then all of the sudden we have this weird last bit where Lady Catherine shows up and causes trouble, but it felt really awkward, like this part was literally there just to make the story longer.  There were also some minor editing issues; the main one that aggravated me was that the author couldn’t seem to decide whether Bingley’s aunt in Yorkshire was named Agnes or Agatha.

All in all, a 3/5 for a story that wasn’t terrible, just very, very bland.

July Minireviews – Part 1

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

//published 1956//

Actually, I felt more than “meh” about this book – it was a delight, and an easy 4/5.  However, what can one say about Heyer’s work that hasn’t already been said?  The characters were lively and clever, the adventure took many hilarious twists, and there happy endings handed out all around.  Heyer is always so relaxing and pleasant – never any niggling doubts as to whether or not everything will end with sunshine and rainbows.  I really loved everyone in this book, and it had me snorting with laughter on more than one occasion.  It felt like the ending was a bit rushed/it would have been nice to see a little bit more of a love story between Gareth and Hester, but all in all this story was just super adorable and happy.

Also, it was #10 for #20BooksofSummer!

Sunlight & Shadow by Cameron Dokey

//published 2004//

I really liked Dokey’s fairy tale retellings (this is the third I’ve read).  This story moved right along.  It was a little weird because Dokey used five first-person perspectives, and never told us who we were jumping to next, you just kind of had to read a few sentences and figure it out.  This felt weird at first, but once I got into the groove, it worked completely.  The voices were actually really, really similar, though, so it was mostly the actual circumstances that indicated who was doing the talking.

In her afterword, Dokey said that this book was actually inspired by the story from one of Mozart’s operas, which I found entertaining.  It has a very mythological flavor, since the main character (Mina) is the daughter of the Queen of Night and the Mage of Day.  The story is not just about Mina finding true love (which of course she does), but about the balance between light and darkness.  As always, Dokey has a slim thread of thoughtfulness running throughout a story that appears to be all fluff and lightheartedness, leaving me thinking about it a bit after I’ve finished.

An easy 3.5/5 and a very pleasant read, as well as being #12 for #20BooksofSummer!

Unwilling by Elizabeth Adams

In this Pride & Prejudice variation, shortly after the Netherfield Ball, Mr. Bennett finds out that he doesn’t have much longer to live.  He regrets wasting time and money, and decides to do the best that he can to make up for it.  He makes a bunch of rules for the girls, including sending Lydia back to the schoolroom, and gives them actual lessons to do, which feels a little bit weird since Jane and Elizabeth are in their 20’s.  Mr. Bennett is also determined that if any eligible suitors come asking, he will marry the girls off, as long as it doesn’t seem like the guy is a total jerk.  So at Hunsford, Mr. Darcy asks Mr. Bennett for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, and Mr. Bennett says yes.

All in all, this was actually a really pleasant P&P variation.  It was definitely PG13 – a lot of innuendo and discussions, but nothing explicit.  It was also quite refreshing that there were no ridiculous villains.  However, it did feel like only Elizabeth was doing the changing.  In the original, both Darcy and Elizabeth realize their shortcomings, but in this version, Darcy didn’t really seem to have any.  Towards the end, he is really insulting towards the Gardiners when he meets them for the first time.  Elizabeth takes him to task and Darcy apologizes, but he never interacts with them again in the story, so it didn’t necessarily come through that he really felt remorseful about the situation.

Still, a pleasant story and an easy way to spend an afternoon.  3.5/5.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

//published 1901//

Burnett is another one of those authors whose two most famous books – The Secret Garden and A Little Princess – were childhood favorites (that I still love today), but somehow I’ve never really checked to see if she wrote anything else.  So I added The Making of a Marchioness, along with its sequel, The Methods of Lady Walderhurst to my 20 Books of Summer list.

This was a pleasant read, but was almost like an outline of a book rather than a full-length story.  It’s only around 180 pages with large print, so more of a novella.  Still, the main character, Emily, was rather adorable, even though she was almost absurdly nice.  Through a series of events she gets invited to a country house party (mainly so she can do a bunch of errands for the hostess) and ends up marrying the most eligible bachelor there.

However, there really isn’t much of a love story.  Walderhurst admires her from afar, but during his proposal, he says that he “must marry, and I like you better than any woman I have ever known.  … I am a selfish man, and I want an unselfish woman.”  It doesn’t seem particularly romantic that he’s marrying her because she won’t make very many demands on his time or purse, but overall he seems like a fine fellow, so I actually did end the book believing that they would deal well together.  A 3/5 and I am intrigued to read the sequel.  Also, #15 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Tottering TBR // Episode XVII

A weekly post wherein I pretend to lament the fact that I have so many books on my TBR… but in fact am secretly rubbing my hands together with delight that there are so many amazing books left to be discovered…

So this was a pretty good week on the blog overall.  I’ve been really focused on getting reviews done in a timely manner.  This week was also incredibly rainy weather, so I had more time for reading than I sometimes do in the summer.  Next week looks fabulous – sunny and dry – so I probably won’t get as much reading in…  fence-painting calls!

Added to the General TBR:

One book that I had on the Nonfiction TBR turned out to actually be a novel, so it got flipped to this list.  Three views also tempted me this week:

  • Rose said that she’s a happier person from reading The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.  I’m pretty positive that I started to read another of Jonasson’s books with a ridiculously long title (The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden) but didn’t finish it for some reason… but I can’t remember what I didn’t like, so I think this book deserves a chance.
  • While Waste of Space by Gina Damico doesn’t necessarily sound like “my” kind of book, I was still attracted to Stephanie’s review – she said that it’s a humorous story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which sounds like a nice change of pace from a lot of YA.
  • Finally, Lynne’s review of The Birdwatcher by William Shaw hooked me from her quote of the book’s first paragraph:  “There were two reasons why William South did not want to be on the murder team.  The first was that it was October.  The migrating birds had begun arriving on the coast.  The second was that, though nobody knew, he was a murderer himself.”  Carol also reviewed this book last month before I was back on the Tottering TBR schedule, and I honestly thought I had added it then… but apparently I overlooked it!

Off the General TBR:

Actually, I didn’t do too badly this week!  I reviewed three books – Woman With a Gun by Phillip Margolin (fantastic), Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier (depressing), and The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain (engaging but ultimately underwhelming).  I also wrote two minireviews that will be published sometime this month, but came off the TBR when the reviews were written (Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer and Sunlight and Shadow by Cameron Dokey).  So – a grand total of five off!

Total for the General TBR:  785 – DOWN one!!!

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Added to the Personal TBR:

Two free Kindle books this week.  I have got to get that under control.  Although since I just bought a Kindle Paperwhite on Prime Day, it probably won’t happen any time soon, if I’m honest.

Off the Personal TBR:

Two reviews this week – Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman (alright, but nothing I’m holding onto, so it’s actually off the list and off the shelves!) and a biography – Patrick Henry: Firebrand of the Revolution by Nardi Reeder Campion.  I also wrote one minireview that will be published later this month – a Kindle Pride & Prejudice variation (no, I do not have a problem, thank you) – Unwilling by Elizabeth Adams.  So – three off!

Total for the Personal TBR:  593 – DOWN one!!!

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Total for the Series TBR:  No change this week – nothing added, and I’m not currently reading a series.  So holding steady at 222.

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Total for the Mystery Series TBR:  No change here either – steady at 102.

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Added to the Nonfiction TBR:  

Nothing!

Off the Nonfiction TBR:

Like I said, one book I had on here turned out to be a novel – Gettysburg, 1913 by Alan Simon, so it was moved off this list.  I also removed a book about healthy eating that didn’t actually sound like it would be useful after all.  So – two off.

Total for the Nonfiction TBR:  79 – DOWN two!

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Grand Total for the Week:  Six added but TEN off – I am down a net of four books!  DEFINITE progress!  At this rate, I may only be 107 when I get through all these books.  ;-)

The Secret Keepers // by Trenton Lee Stewart

//published 2016// The illustrations are FANTASTIC //

After binge-reading Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society books this spring, I realized that it had been a while since I had checked to see if Stewart had written anything new.  Growing up, it seemed like all  my favorite authors were already dead (and thus not writing new books), plus the lack of internet made it a lot more difficult to find out what any still-living authors were up to.  I’m still occasionally blown away by how easy it is now to find an author’s entire bibliography.

ANYWAY the point is, Stewart has indeed written another book since the Benedict series – The Secret Keepers is a standalone novel that follows the adventures of Reuben, a 12-year-old boy who lives with his mom in the city of New Umbra.  Reuben’s mom works hard to provide for them, but things have been difficult since Reuben’s dad died eleven years ago, and Reuben and his mom are now living in one of the poorer sections of town, the Lower Downs.

Reuben spends his days wandering around (which his mother doesn’t know), teaching himself to be unobtrusive, looking for quiet adventures.  On the day our story begins, he makes a discovery: he finds a very strange watch.

While I don’t think that The Secret Keepers was quite as magical as The Mysterious Benedict Society, it was still a very enjoyable read.  Reuben, and later Penny and Jack, are great characters – innovative, intelligent, and independent.  I loved the way that Reuben and his mom were such close friends – Steward did a really fantastic job with their relationship, which came across as totally believable and very touching.

I felt like there were a few times when the story stumbled a little – a few scenes were rather longer than they needed to be.  It also seemed like the immediate friendship between Reuben and the watchmaker was a little odd, just because the watchmaker immediately trusts Reuben and everything he says, and then she becomes the person Reuben keeps turning to for help.

Nonetheless, I was completely engaged in this book and was eager to find out what was going to happen with Reuben and the other Secret Keepers.  I really loved the way that this book ended – completely satisfying.  All in all, a 4/5 – recommended, especially if, like me, you enjoy reading books from the children’s section from time to time.

#8 for #20BooksofSummer

Rearview Mirror // May 2017

Only one month behind, so I’m catch up, right??  :-D

May was kind of a crazy month, and I worked a LOT of overtime – not a lot of time left for reading (or cleaning, or resting, or thinking…), so I mostly read a couple of children’s series that I already owned, and then started working my way through some of Dee Henderson’s books.

Favorite May Read:

The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith – it’s kind of rare for a nonfiction book to be my favorite read, but Smith’s  book was just such a delight and encouragement from beginning to end that I feel like it definitely earns this spot.  I actually read this book throughout April and May as I had time, and ended up buying my own copy so I could highlight parts that were important to me, and pull it out again whenever I want.  This was just a wonderful book about contentment, making your house your home, and having the courage to let your house reflect yourself and your family.

Most Disappointing May Read:

The Wings of a Falcon by Cynthia Voigt – this book was just really weird.  I couldn’t stand the protagonist, who was a total jerk and continued to be a total jerk throughout the entire story.  I wasn’t sure what the point of this book was, as it was very long, disjointed, and rambly.

Other May Reads:

  • Before I Wake by Dee Henderson – 3/5 – alright, but kind of a weird love triangle.  The mystery was good until the ending, which was weak.
  • The Extraordinary Education of Nicolas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart – 5/5 – a really delightful prequel to the other books.
  • Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt – 3/5 – an alright story with some interesting thinking points, but nothing amazing.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart – 5/5 – this was a (multiple times) reread for me, and I love it more every time.  The story is clever and engaging, thought-provoking but not polemic.  A genuinely fantastic children’s book.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart – 4/5 – fun and engaging, but not quite as exciting as the first.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart – 4/5 – lively and interesting, and a solid conclusion to the series.
  • On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt – 3/5 – an alright story with some interesting thinking points, but nothing amazing… kind of exactly like Jackaroo.
  • The Witness by Dee Henderson – 3/5 – Kind of a meh read that started alright but was definitely more romance than thriller, so it got rather boring in the middle.

In Mays Past…

Now that I’ve been doing my Rearview Mirrors for two years, I thought it would be fun to see what my favorite and least-favorite reads were from those years.

Back in May 2015, my favorite book was one I almost didn’t confess to reading – Forever by Maggie Stiefvater.  Because sometimes the teenage werewolf thing is actually done right.

I had a lot of meh reads that month but nothing I really hated.  I ended up choosing Girl Missing by Tess Gerritsen, which was completely unmemorable for me – I can’t even remember what I didn’t like.

Last year, I was still blazing through every Agatha Christie book ever printed, and it’s still amazing to me how many of them made it as my favorite book of the month.  In May 2016 I read the genuinely brilliant And Then There Were Noneone of Christie’s most clever, twisty stories that, despite the fact I had read it multiple times, I read it in one go, staying up until midnight to get to the grand conclusion.

My least favorite book ended up being Todd McCaffrey’s Dragon Harperwhich I ranted about at length.  After spending a year+ reading through Pern, it was really disappointing to end with his genuinely terrible, boring books.

TBR Update:

So I went through and cleaned this spreadsheet up a bit, mostly sorting books to the tabs where they actually belong (a lot of books on the general TBR were actually series) and getting rid of doubles and whatnot.  I also FINALLY caught up on my emails/blog entries.  This means that the general TBR took a stunning plummet…  but the other tabs took a huge jump…

For those of you who don’t know, I’m weirdly obsessive with organizing the TBR, and have it on a spreadsheet divided into five different tabs:

  • Standalones:  780 (down 118!  Go me!)
  • Nonfiction:  75 (up five)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  623 (up two)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  220 (up 61 because most of the books that I edited out of the standalones actually moved to either this column or mystery series)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  102 (up 26)

Still, my editing did give me an overall net loss of 24, which is pretty good for me.

Awaiting Review:

Basically, Dee Henderson:

  • Full Disclosure
  • Unspoken
  • Undetected
  • Taken
  • Traces of Guilt
  • Threads of Suspicion

Plus Reclaiming Christianity by A.W. Tozer, and the Spring (#53) issue of Slightly Foxed.

20 Books of Summer Update:

I’ve read five of my books, and eliminated Sins of the Past (which was actually a collection of novellas instead of an entire Henderson novel), so I’ll be adding a title someday (if I get that far haha).

Approaching the Top of the Pile:

The probable next five reads…

  • Watching You by Michael Robotham, which I just started today.
  • Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham, which should wrap up the Joseph O’Laughlin series that I started so long ago Robotham may have actually written another book by now…
  • The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman
  • Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

Rearview Mirror // April 2017

Yes, folks, you read that right – I’m rounding up April!  I really do like to write these Rearviews for my own benefit (to be honest, this whole blog is for my own benefit, I just let you all tag along for the ride :-D), so even though we are well into June, I’m going to go ahead and see if I can get this written…

Favorite April Read:

By far and away, The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge.  I still find myself thinking about this deceptively simple book.  It is one of those rare books where every word is perfectly placed.

Most Disappointing April Read:

Paper Towns by John Green, although that may not be entirely true, since my expectations were super low to start.  So in a way, this book actually was the least disappointing, because it was just as pretentious, boring, pointless, and overrated as I expected it to be.

  • A Gentleman of Leisure (AKA The Intrusion of Jimmy) by P.G. Wodehouse – 3/5 – fun and frolicksome, but not particularly memorable.
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – 5/5 – in a month that didn’t include The Scent of Water, this book would have been an easy first place.  Fun and frothy, I enjoyed every page and can’t believe I had never read it before!
  • The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse – 3/5 – I would have liked this book a lot better if he hadn’t inserted the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist in the middle of it…!?
  • Say You’re Sorry by Michael Robotham – 4/5 – completely gripping, even if I wasn’t entirely convinced that the villain could be so villainous without anyone noticing…
  • Wild Palomino: Stallion of the Prairies by Stephen Holt – 2/5 – This was a pretty meh Famous Horse Story that just sort of muddled about and had a lot of big jumps in logic.  It may be entertaining to its target age group of around 10-12, but not particularly interesting to a more critical reader.

In Aprils Past…

Now that I’ve been doing my Rearview Mirrors for two years, I thought it would be fun to see what my favorite and least-favorite reads were from those years.

In 2015 I was going through a bit of a reading slump, so I hadn’t read very many books.  However, my favorite was definitely The Lewis Man by Peter May.  After being blown away by the Lewis trilogy, I’m still determined to get around to reading some more of May’s books… someday…

My most disappointing read that month was Pollyanna in Hollywood by Elizabeth Borton.  The Pollyanna books were written by different authors, and when Borton took over I just couldn’t continue on, as she turned the books into these weird travelogues and turned Pollyanna herself to a strange caricature of her character – in the earlier books Pollyanna was so genuine and kind, and Borton just never captured that in her writing.

Last year, I was enamored with Nancy Bond’s classic, A String in the Harp.  While it isn’t a tale of high action, it’s a beautifully crafted story with memorable and warm characters.  This is a children’s book that deals with grief so, so perfectly.

On the flip side, my most disappointing read was yet another part of a series that I really enjoyed on the whole – Dragonsblood by Todd McCaffrey.  While Todd’s mother’s Pern books had their ups and downs, they were on the whole quite engaging.  But when Todd took over, it was like he just kept writing the same story over and over again.  His writing is much lazier, with lots of logic gaps and parts where characters just conveniently guess the thing they really need to know in order to save the world (again).

TBR Update:

I’ve actually been slowly working my way through the TBR, trying to weed out doubles and books that should belong on one of the series tabs.  I mostly did this because the TBR had topped 900 and I really needed to bring it back below that mark to make me feel like I wasn’t completely crazy.  ;-)  I still have a ways to go on that project, so I’m hoping to see some more deductions.  Even though I’ve added a few in the meantime, I have managed to eliminate 21 titles in the process…

For those of you who don’t know, I’m weirdly obsessive with organizing the TBR, and have it on a spreadsheet divided into five different tabs:

  • Stand-Alones:  898 (which is weirdly exactly where it was when I posted the March Rearview?!  What are the odds of that happening???)
  • Nonfiction:  70 (up five, and I am once again determined to spend some more time reading nonfiction this summer, despite the fact that I didn’t put a single nonfiction title on my 20 Books of Summer list!)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own, but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  621 (up four – even though I’ve been reading several of my own books lately, it’s been a couple of series, so they only count as one book down on the TBR)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  159 (up ten… several of the books that got dropped from the Regular TBR actually just got shifted to this area because they are part of a series rather than a stand-alone)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  76 (up four)

Awaiting Review:

I’ve been on a bit of  Dee Henderson kick lately, reading most of her “stand-alone” novels before reading an ARC of her latest book, Threads of Suspicion.  In her independent books she still has a lot of interconnecting characters, so I decided to read a bunch of her other books to get some background on characters, mainly  because I get weirdly OCD about reading series in their entirety and in order…

Point is, the books awaiting review are Dee Henderson novels, and will probably come out in a series of minireviews.

  • The Witness by Dee Henderson  – bit heavy on the romance; everyone was a couple??  So the thriller part felt just kind of wedged into the background, a pattern that seems to be establishing itself in her books.
  • Before I Wake by Dee Henderson – bit more of an actual story, but had a really weird love triangle sort of thing.
  • Full Disclosure by Dee Henderson – definitely my least-favorite of any of her books I’ve read – super boring, and Ann is the worst character ever because she is so freaking perfect and basically the entire book is just talking about how perfect she is.  Be prepared for a rant on this one.
  • Unspoken by Dee Henderson – I couldn’t tell if this book was actually a decent story, if it just seemed that way in comparison to Full Disclosure.

20 Books of Summer Update:

So far, Unspoken is the only book I’ve read from my list, although I am almost finished with Undetected.  I’m not completely confident in my ability to make up my 20 this summer, although I did accomplish it last year.  There is a lot going on these days, and I just don’t seem to be reading as much right now as I usually am!  I’m also ten books behind on my Goodreads goal of 160 books this year… whoops!

Approaching the Top of the Pile:

The probably next five reads…

Hopefully books 2-6 on the 20 Books of Summer list:

  • Undetected; Taken; Traces of Guilt; Sins of the Past; and Threads of Suspicion by Dee Henderson
  • Watching You by Michael Robotham – this book and Close Your Eyes are the only two books I have left in the Joseph O’Laughlin series.  I’ve really enjoyed these books, and am moderately frustrated that I haven’t gotten around to reading these last two yet!

I have two more reviews to write and then I’ll be caught up on May’s books and hopefully get a May Rearview out as well.  I’ve only read two books in June, which is really low for me.  I think part of the problem is that I’ve been reading Henderson’s book as ebooks from the library, and I just don’t tend to grab my Kindle as readily as a hard copy of a book.  I also really struggled to get through Full Disclosure, which really slowed me down on my overall reading.

The husband is off this week, so we are both trying to get caught up on stuff around the house after a crazy spring!  We are also busy housetraining our puppy.  And as an aside, if you’re interested in adorable border collie puppies, please feel free to check on my Instagram account @popcornandbooks15.  She is pretty dang cute!

Happy reading, everyone!

The Nesting Place // by Myquillyn Smith

//published 2014//

I have this crazy idea in the back of mind that I will finish writing reviews for books read in May and THEN do an April/May Rearview…  except it’s already June 12…  ah well.  Yesterday was my last day of my seasonal job, so I’m anticipating a better pattern of reading and reviewing (haha) in between playing with the puppy, keeping up the garden, doing laundry, running my Etsy shop, etc….

Somewhere along the line I stumbled into this book.  I’m rather drawn to home organizational books and magazines; I love looking for ideas that I can use (or tweak a little and then use), especially since we somehow seem to always be remodeling something around here.  This book had delightfully smooth and glossy pages and perfect binding; lots of photographs and beautiful font, so I was immediately attracted.  And once I started reading, Smith’s friendly and encouraging writing kept me turning the pages.

This book felt like a letter from a friend, possibly because Smith is actually a blogger.  But despite the warm tone, the book stayed focused and orderly, making it not just enjoyable for a one-time read,  but a book that can be referenced again and again.

I was expecting a typical book about organizing your home – step-by-step instructions and suggestions.  I was also hoping for some tips on home decorating, as I sometimes struggle with making things look ‘right’, especially in our small home where it is very easy to cross the line to ‘cluttered’.  What I wasn’t anticipating was an actual message that would both encourage and challenge, as Smith believes that the first step to decorating your home is getting your heart and attitude in the right place.

She starts by outlining her own house history, which involves 13 houses in 18 years of marriage – I believe this qualifies as a lot of moves by any standard.  As Smith talks about the different houses, she also talks about how, at the time, each one wasn’t ‘the one’, and so she didn’t make much of an effort to nest in.  But what she began to realize was that everyone house is ‘the one’ for the current season, and while it may not be worthwhile to throw down thousands of dollars on projects in every house, it is always worthwhile to make every house your own home.

A lot of what Smith discusses has to do with the importance of contentment.  So often we cheat ourselves out of enjoying the present because we are wishing we had something different.  I love the quote that she attributed to Epicurus – “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you have now was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Smith’s message is not a complicated one; in fact, I was rather blown away by its simplicity.  Appreciate where you are now.  Work within your current means.  Be willing to try something new.  Stop worrying about what other people think and instead create something you love.  Remember that your home is a haven, and go from there.

According to Smith, perfection is overrated.  Because we set “perfection” (a somewhat vague term when it comes to home decor) as our goal, we become frozen with fear and do nothing.  “Done is better than perfect,” Smith says.  “Welcoming and comfortable do not have to equal perfection.”  She quotes Sandy Coughlin –

Excellence is working toward an attainable goal that benefits everyone, while perfection comes from a place of great need – usually the need to avoid criticism and gain praise and approval.

One of the big things that really hit me was Smith’s discussion about apologizing for things in the home.  “Sorry, it’s such a mess today,” or “I’m so embarrassed by what a disaster this kitchen is!”  These types of comments do not make people feel comfortable and welcomed.  Instead, apologizing not only broadcasts your discontentment with your current state of affairs, it sets up whomever is receiving your apology to wonder how harshly you would judge their messes if you were in their home!

After quite a bit of time on attitude and contentment (time that was not at all wasted, in my opinion), Smith gets down to some of the nitty-gritty of nesting.  She says that a big part of making decorating decisions is first of all determining the purpose of your home and of the different spaces within it.  She points out that most of us want things that are somewhat intangible for our homes.  Smith suggests taking a moment to “think about words you would use to describe the feel of the home you’ve always wanted,” and later she lists several words that she gathered from some of her blog readers.  The words were things like “restful,” “welcoming,” “comfortable,” “safe,” “fun,” and “joyful.”  Start with your words, she says, and go from there to create intentional spaces.

I’ve rambled on quite a bit about this book, but it really impacted me, and I highly recommend it.  While I’ve talked a lot about Smith’s thoughts on attitude and contentment, she also has a lot of practical advice.  A huge take-away for me was the importance of making the spaces in my home purposeful – to look at each room/area and decide what it is I want that space to do, and then only place things in that space that further the purpose.

Funny story, I thought I would start with the little dining nook off our kitchen, and I started to write down the different things we use that space for, and realized that the one thing we don’t use it for is eating… and now we’re in the process of turning the entire area into a pantry, and there are boxes of food stacked all over the place and construction dust everywhere, so be careful whilst reading this book!

I also have to say that Smith has been a renter throughout the majority of her married life, and her book reaches out to renters as well as home-owners.  So  many of her suggestions and thoughts are inexpensive and easily changed (hanging pictures, moving furniture, painting things, etc).  I found myself wishing that I had read this book back when we were renters and I so often found myself staring at those dreadful flat-beige rental walls!

All in all, The Nesting Place was an unexpected encouragement.  Warm and thoughtful, challenging and practical, I highly recommend this book if you are feeling a smidge overwhelmed about creating a “look” for your home.