The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn – 3*
Add this to the large pile of books that I wanted to like more than I did. In this one, set in the near future, time travel exists, but is used very sparingly and for very specific purposes. Recently, a previously unheard-of letter from Jane Austen has been discovered, and it references a hitherto unheard of, unpublished novel. Rachel and Liam are chosen to go back to 1815, befriend Jane, and then steal this novel by using fancy technology to copy it onto a flash drive-like thing. Their cover story is to pose as a brother and sister moving to London from Jamaica to hopefully cover the fact that they don’t know anyone and maybe sometimes get a little bit of the “politeness rules” wrong. Rachel is a doctor, and the secondary aspect of the mission is to try and find out what killed Jane at such a relatively young age.
I actually really liked the concept of this book and overall even though it was executed fairly well. However, I found Rachel and Liam both to be extremely unlikable. The entire story is narrated by Rachel, and they haven’t been in 1815 for very long before we start hearing about how she finds Liam strangely attractive and really wishes she could sleep with him, yadda yadda yadda. She also acts like it’s SO horrid that she has to go SO LONG without having any sex (months!), what a burden . She has a lot of opinions about how strong and independent she is, which means she sleeps with lots of different guys with no strings attached. (Side note: really tired of that being the definition of “strong and independent woman”.) Eventually, despite the fact that it wildly endangers their entire mission, she and Liam DO sleep together, and then I have to hear about THAT. On top of all of this, Liam is actually engaged to someone back home! But both of them think this is relatively unimportant, and in fact have an entire conversation about how it’s fine to cheat on someone because that person doesn’t “own” you. I’m sorry, what?!?! Rachel especially uses words like “own,” “possession,” and “control” to describe monogamous relationships, which was both creepy and insulting. I get that Rachel and Liam aren’t actually from 1815, but it was still very jarring to have so much of the story revolve around Rachel’s sex life, all mixed up with the two of them getting to know the Austen family. Of course, in a weird way I needed to have Rachel keep telling me how attractive she found Liam, because there was absolutely ZERO chemistry between these two, so their entire relationship felt completely forced anyway. In the end (spoiler) Rachel and Liam do end up together, which left me pretty underwhelmed. They both are terrible people who think cheating is fine, so I didn’t hold out a great deal of optimism for the long-term success of their relationship, and was genuinely disgusted by their completely callous attitude towards Liam’s fiancee.
Other than completely disliking the main characters, I weirdly liked the story. The concept really was a lot of fun. The ending was a little rushed and thus not particularly believable, but it did mostly tie things up. The 3* is a bit of a generous rating because I did keep reading even with some unlikable characters, and I feel like the book deserves some credit for that!
Skeleton Man by Tony Hillerman – 4*
Another fantastic installment for the Leaphorn & Chee series. Excellent pacing and an engaging mystery. The characters in this series are just so dang likable, and per usual, Hillerman weaves a great deal of culture and tradition into the reading in a natural way.
Indian Island Mystery by Mary C. Jane – 3.5*
Did you know that there is an Indian Reservation in Maine?? I had no idea! The story is about two siblings who haven’t been living in the area very long and who have befriended some of the Native American children living on the reservation. The story touches lightly on being friends even if someone doesn’t look or live like you, and the main character concludes by realizing that everyone is different from everyone, and that’s part of what makes life so interesting. The mystery itself is simple but fun, and I was a bit mind-blown that their parents just let these two kids take the bus to Bangor and back on their own to see if they could find a man that none of them actually know very well…!!! This one isn’t going to be some kind of forever classic, but it’s a typical fun little MG mystery from the era and I quite enjoyed it.
The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman – 3.5*
This was one of the weaker installments in this series, and sadly is also the last of these books that Hillerman wrote before he passed away and his daughter took over the series. (I haven’t read any of her books yet, so I’m interested to see if there is a noticeable change in the writing style.) My biggest confusion was continuity – Leaphorn has been retired for several books, yet suddenly here it’s only been a month or so. Other changes in the characters’ lives indicate that we haven’t gone back in time, so I was genuinely perplexed. The mystery was rather weak, and where in most books the conversations about culture and religion feel natural and engaging, here it just felt like filler, especially an overly-long section where Leaphorn and another character are driving and talk for probably a full chapter about different religions and beliefs they have in common. It wasn’t a bad book, and I still overall enjoyed it, but definitely was not one of the stronger books in this overall fantastic series.
Frederica by Georgette Heyer – 5*
It’s hard to go wrong with Heyer, and Frederica is one of my favorites. I was happy to revisit it for the traveling book club. The typical Heyer hero, the Marquis of Alverstoke is handsome, rich, and a bit bored. He’s also determined not to marry, despite the pressure from all his female relatives. Enter some distant country cousins in need of his help, which he fully intends to NOT give… only to find himself embroiled in their lives against his will. I absolutely love this book because Alverstoke doesn’t just find love, he finds an entire warm, happy family, which is exactly what he needs. Frederica’s siblings are just the right amount of adventurous without being too obnoxious, and Frederica herself is the typical Heyer heroine – independent, intelligent, and has a strong sense of humor. This is one of my all-time favorite Heyer books, and always worth a reread.
Murder at the Piccadilly Playhouse by C.J. Archer – 4*
The second Cleopatra Fox mystery felt like the series is beginning to find its stride. Archer finds a (mostly) natural way for Cleo to get embroiled in another mystery, and it was fun to see some developments with the secondary characters as well. While this series hasn’t blown me away, they are enjoyable historical mysteries.
Running Total: Books that I’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet: 66!!! High/Low: 97/66 – Making progress!!!