March Minireviews – Part 2

More reviews from the depths of time!!

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.

Penne Dreadful by Catherine Bruns – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was a pretty average cozy mystery.  The MC, Tessa, just wasn’t super bright and tended to get on my nerves.  Her husband has died recently in a car wreck, but now there is suspicion of foul play.  Despite the fact that Tessa goes on and on about how happy their marriage was and how much she loved her husband, she immediately believes literally every bad thing anyone says about him.  Like if my husband died in a car wreck, it would take more than someone telling me they saw him in a coffee shop to convince me that he was up to something nefarious, but Tessa just rolls right over with “ohno he was obviously hiding so much from me!”  Sounds like a great marriage! *eye roll* Anyway, this was a perfectly fine cozy, but nothing about it inspired me to read the next book in the series.

The Breakthrough by Daphne du Maurier – 3.5*

//published 1966//

This is a short story that someone gave me as a gift a while back.  While it was a perfectly interesting tale, it’s billed as “creepy” and it definitely fell short of the mark.  There was no point in the story where I felt anything particularly eerie or creepy was going on.  Ah well.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – 5*

//published 1950//

I’m always wanting to reread old favorites and never seem to have time, so when various groups on Litsy decide to do chapter-a-day buddy reads, it really suits me quite well.  In March, a group started reading through the Chronicles of Narnia in published order and I’ve been really enjoying revisiting these classics.  LWW was just as fantastic as I remember it.  Yes, it can be a little heavy-handed on the metaphor aspect, but it’s still an excellent story, with Edmund’s story arc being one of the best examples of a character redemption that I can think of.  Plus, these stories are very much mixed with nostalgia for me, so I’m not remotely objective about them!

Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling – 4*

//published 1998//

Speaking of revisiting old favorites, I’ve still been participating in the Litsy buddy read of Harry Potter as well.  The slower pace has definitely allowed me to notice more details than I have before.  These aren’t perfect books, and the fandom definitely has some crazies, but I still really enjoy this series.

Blue Smoke by Dorothy Lyons – 3.5*

//published 1953//

We all know I have a weakness for horse stories, and this is pretty typical 1950s fare with a spunky heroine and a perfect horse.  The drama in this one got a little out of control at the end, but it was still a perfectly enjoyable way to while away a few hours – even if the binding didn’t hold up super well!!

Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier 

This is a collection of short stories that included a few, like “The Birds” that I’ve been meaning to read.  Unfortunately, on the whole I wasn’t really a fan of these.  While I love Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel by this author, literally none of these short stories particularly engaged me.  Almost all of them had strange, abrupt endings without any real conclusion, leaving the stories feeling a bit pointless.  Even The Birds, which is objectively a fantastic story with a great concept, super atmospheric, completely engrossing – and then it literally just stops.  No resolution, no explanation, no nothing.  It felt like I was missing a few pages, it was that abrupt.  Several of the stories, like Don’t Look Now and Indiscretion just felt bizarre instead of creepy.  As I’m looking at my notes, I did mark Blue Lenses as “creepy and ominous” but now I don’t really remember what it was about.

All in all, I’ll still keep picking up du Maurier’s work from time to time, but I’m not convinced that short stories are really her forte.

December Minireviews – Part 1

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

So I had a pretty stressful fall for multiple reasons and was kind of over life by the time December rolled around haha I usually try to read a mix of books from my various TBRs, but I decided that for the entire month of December (or until I burned out on them) I was just going to read nothing but Christmas fluff! I found some at the library, some from a box of books on eBay (love typing in what I’m looking for and adding the word “lot” at the end – I got books for less $2/ea!), and a few from Kindle. I honestly thought I would get tired of them after a few because they are all quite samey, but it turned out that it was exactly the brain vacation I needed! I read around 4000 pages MORE in December than I did in November! Only a few of these are books I would ever revisit, but the flip side of that is that there were only a few I wished I hadn’t read at all!! And only one DNF for the month, which is pretty solid on the whole.

And so – here’s the first batch!!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – 4*

//published 2011//

Okay, so after all that big introduction, I kind of forgot that my first two books of the month weren’t actually fluff!! Cline’s sequel to this one, Ready Player Two, came in at the library right at the end of November, and was going to need to be returned pretty quickly since it’s a new book. So I reread RP1 first. I’d only read it once (and seen the movie once) so some parts of it I didn’t remember, but on the whole it was still just such a fun, readable story. The pacing is good and although the 80s references can get a little repetitive, Cline usually does a pretty good job of making his explanations about them feel organic to the tale. This one held up to the reread and I’ll probably visit it again in the future – and I’d also like the see the movie again sometime!

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline – 3*

//published 2020//

While this sequel – published 9 years after the original – wasn’t terrible, it also wasn’t great. Where various 80s/video game references felt organic in the original, they felt gimmicky here. The main character has to complete a series of quests, much like in the first story, but for some reason it felt more tedious in this story. The action bogged down a lot – for instance, there’s a torturous number of pages spent on the Prince planet, and another huge section on a planet inspired by the guy who directed (wrote?? I can’t remember) movies like Ferris Buehler’s Day Off and Breakfast Club – except I haven’t seen all those movies, so a lot of that didn’t make sense. I also haven’t really listened to Prince or paid any attention to any of the lore that surrounds him, so that was pretty boring, too. Somehow, the first book managed to keep things moving so even though I hadn’t played many of the video games referenced, I still enjoyed the story. But in the sequel, I found myself frequently bored as the characters spent time with media that I haven’t really listened to/watched/played. It felt like Cline had done a bunch of research on a few really specific things and then just regurgitated it all onto the page.

I don’t want to give away anything big, but there is also a huge opportunity in this book to explore what it really means to be human, what it is that makes us human, but Cline glosses over the whole thing. The story had a chance to be really meaningful or at least thoughtful, but instead just comes through as yet another gimmick. At the end of the day, I think a big part of it comes down to a huge gap in life philosophy between Cline and myself. Sometimes this doesn’t matter when I’m reading a book, but it mattered here. Cline obviously thinks that there is nothing after we die, that all of religion is a crutch to help people who can’t handle the real world (he makes several snide remarks to this effect, which is pretty bold for characters that literally spend their entire lives in a made-up world because the real world is too icky for them…), and that trying to make our world a better place is basically useless because everything already sucks too much. I disagree with all of those things, so a lot of this book’s commentary just really got on my nerves.

In the end, it was still a readable book and I wanted to see how things came out. Parts of it were still funny and engaging. But it wasn’t a good fit for me, and although I’ll probably reread RP1 again in the future, I think I’ll give this one a miss.

My Kind of Christmas by Janet Dailey – 3* (Christmas Tree Ranch)

//published 2018//

Okay NOW it’s time for Christmas fluff!! I kicked it off with a trilogy of books set at a ranch in Texas. Here in the first book, it’s the typical story of a rough-around-the-edges man forced to return to his hometown. Travis was born here but his mother left his alcoholic father while Travis was still pretty young. Most recently, Travis was working as a law enforcement officer and was involved in a shooting that led to him being imprisoned for a few years. Unable to return to his job because of his prison record, he’s come to stay at the old ranch that belonged to his mother’s family. Grumpy and disinterested in becoming a part of the community, he’s rather aggravated to find himself inheriting not just a pair of elderly draft horses and a hand-made sleigh, but the role of Santa Claus from his neighbor who is moving to Colorado to be with his kids. With the town’s sassy mayor unwilling to leave Travis alone, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a part of the community.

Biggest issue with this story? The part involve Travis and his dad, Hank, who has cleaned up his act and now owns a small store in town. As we learn more about the backstory between these two, Hank really was a total jerk to Travis back in the day, but literally everyone acts like Travis is being ridiculous for not immediately forgiving his dad and wanting to be all buddy-buddy with him. Hank never does apologize! Everyone else is just like, “Aw, Hank is such a great guy! Travis is such a jerk for not forgiving him!” It really got on my nerves. Just because Hank is a good guy now doesn’t erase him being a horrible person in the past, and Travis’s unwillingness to forgive/trust Hank didn’t feel unreasonable to me at all. Yes, I wanted Travis to eventually forgive Hank so that everyone could be one big happy family, but I wanted that to come from an honest conversation about the past wherein Hank admits that what he did and said was completely wrong, and that never happened.

HOWEVER overall it was fluffy and fun and since I already had the other two books from the library, I decided to give them a shot. My only other issue? This book clearly describes the dog as being a border collie mix that looks like a border collies and the dog on the cover does not remotely look like a border collie! What even!

It’s a Christmas Thing by Janet Dailey (Christmas Tree Ranch) – 3.5*

//published 2019//

So throughout the course of the first book, we end up with two other eligible bachelors living at Travis’s ranch, Rush (a veterinarian) and Conner (used to be a rodeo rider). This one focuses on Rush, who falls in love with a lovely lady who has recently ended up with a stray cat – who had kittens. There wasn’t anything crazy in this one, just some regular fluff with no surprises.

Cover complaint: The author specifically talks about how none of these guys can ride a horse and that the only two horses they have are the old draft horses that pull the sleigh. There’s also only one dog. Who designs these covers?!

Holding Out for Christmas by Janet Daily – 3.5* (Christmas Tree Ranch)

//published 2020//

Side note, I don’t know exactly where in Texas this place is, but they get a LOT of snow. It really seemed like this ranch should have been in like Nebraska or South Dakota or something. Anyway. Book three is of course about bachelor #3, Connor, who used to ride the rodeo circuit until a bad injury made him unable to ever ride a horse again. Connor’s the flirty one out of the three, so that’s his big drama. There weren’t any surprises here, but it was still a fun read.

Conclusion: I won’t ever reread this trilogy, but they were fun for a one-off read.

Cover complain: What’s on this cover? A pile of puppies?? Do you know how many puppies are in this book? ZERO! NO PUPPIES! ABSOLUTELY ZERO PUPPIES APPEAR IN THIS STORY!? WHAT KIND OF HORRIBLE PERSON PUTS PUPPIES ON THE COVER OF A STORY IN WHICH THERE ARE NO PUPPIES?!?!?!?!

November Minireviews // Part 2

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

The Cats of the Louvre by Taiyo Matsumoto – 2*

//published 2017// Also originally published in Japan so it reads “backwards” for me… which the library apparently didn’t realize as they stuck the barcode directly over the title!! //

Lately, if I see a review of a graphic novel that I think looks interesting, I just check it out of the library right then. This was one of those cases, but here it was a complete fail as Cats ended up being way more bizarre than I had bargained for, although maybe I should have been forewarned since it was a book originally written in Japanese about a French museum and translated into English…

The story is supposedly about these cats that secretly live in the Louvre, which is what drew me in – doesn’t that sound fun?? But it turns out that these are like cat/human hybrid things?? Or maybe not and the artist just drew them that way to give them more personability?? Either way they completely weirded me out and made the whole story feel strange and creepy. Part of the story is also about a little girl who got sucked into a painting decades ago, and then one of the kitten children also gets sucked in… I can’t even describe it, the whole thing was just so weird. I did finish it because it’s a graphic novel so it goes really fast, but was left feeling like I’d had a incredibly bizarre dream. This one just wasn’t for me.

A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Perry – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was another case of cover love for me. Based on the true story of a wolf who (we know through tracking devices) left his home range in northeast Oregon to end up in southwest Oregon in an area that had not previously had wolves (at least not in recent history). This was a decent middle grade read, although not one that I fell in love with, mainly because Perry somewhat romanticizes wolves. For example, at one point Wander is very judgy about another pair of wolves who have killed a cow – or maybe it was a sheep, can’t remember – because obviously their pack leader hadn’t taught them any sense of “honor”… I’m just not convinced that “honor” really comes into it, although wolves do tend to prefer to hunt whatever their parents taught them to hunt.

My only other bit of confusion is that the title of the story is A Wolf Called Wander, but she actually names the wolf Swift, which is his name for most of the story until he chooses to change it, and in real life the wolf’s nickname was actually Journey. It just felt like a lot of names for one wolf. And yes, it makes sense that a wolf wouldn’t have chosen the same name for himself as the humans did, but why wouldn’t you just name the wolf Journey anyway???

But overall minor complaints. On the whole I did enjoy this book and if you have a younger reader who is intrigued by wolves/wildlife, they would probably like this one as well.

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater – 2.5*

//published 2020//

Another graphic novel to add to the “didn’t work for me” pile – while I haven’t read all of Stiefvater’s books, I’ve read enough to know that she’s an author I generally enjoy, so I checked out her graphic novel (illustrated by Morgan Beem) and it just ended up being another story that didn’t jive with me.

Twin brothers – one introverted and obsessed with plants/biology, the other extroverted and easygoing – head out to the swamplands to stay with their honestly bizarre cousins in a “we’re in redneck country” way that made me a little uncomfortable and felt out of character for Stiefvater’s writing. Sciencey brother’s experiments start getting weird when they turn things into plants that are still able to think and move like the people/animals they were before they were changed, and it’s a little vague as to whether they’re just going to be plants forever or… The story was just odd and choppy and hard to follow. I’ll also admit that the artwork style wasn’t for me, either, and if you don’t like the artwork of a graphic novel, it makes the whole experience somewhat negative as well.

Definitely my least-favorite Stiefvater book I’ve read to date. I’m not sure if there is supposed to be a sequel at some point, but this one ended quite abruptly. I think it was also supposed to be somewhat based on the comic book creature Swamp Thing, but I know literally nothing about comic book stories/heroes/villains/etc so I can’t say whether or not it even vaguely resembled the original or not. This one wasn’t for me, but people who enjoy the horror vibe and also think everyone who lives in the south is a stupid redneck may enjoy this one more.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1932//

It had been quite a long time since I read this one, so I couldn’t remember exactly how it came out. The plotting was brilliant as always, and I have a soft spot for Hastings so I was glad to see him here in this one. Christie is pretty much always a win for me, and I’ve been enjoying revisiting some of her earlier books.

Two of a Kind by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

This book contained two stories, Impulse (published 1989) and The Best Mistake (published 1994) and were pretty typical Roberts fare for that era.

In Impulse, the heroine spontaneously sells everything she owns, quits her job, and goes to Europe to travel until her money runs out. It will come to no surprise that she finds an insanely rich Greek to marry. Predictable and a bit ridiculous, but all in good fun.

I really enjoy stories about women who “should” have gotten an abortion, but instead decided to keep their child, a reminder that women are strong enough to be successful and accomplish whatever they want to without having to sacrifice their offspring to get there. The heroine in The Best Mistake was a model on the fast-track to big money when she got pregnant. Now, several years later, she’s living a quieter but still successful life raising her child with no regrets for the career she left behind. She decides to take in a renter in her over-the-garage apartment, and readers will be shocked to discover that he’s both good-looking AND single!!! No one knows what will happen next!!

These weren’t stories I want to read again and again but they were fun as one-off reads.

August Minireviews – Part 2

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.

Still reviewing August books in August… making progress!!  :-D

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – 4*

//published 2016//

Quite a long while ago Maggie Stiefvater – pretty much the only “famous” person I follow on social media – mentioned that she was reading this book.  It looked magical, and I’ve always thought winged horses would be the most amazing magical creatures, so I added it to the TBR.  And now, years later, I actually got around to reading it!  While somewhat bittersweet, this was a lovely read about a young girl who can see winged horses in the “mirror world” – i.e. she can only see them in mirrors.  She’s the only one who sees them (or is she??) and has learned to not talk about it much.  She’s staying in an old manor house in the English countryside.  The house has been turned into a tuberculosis hospital for children during World War II, so there is definitely a dark tone to the story, especially since it is set in winter – somehow, the entire book feels grey, which is actually a big part of the story.

There were a lot of things I liked about this story.  It was so imaginative and imagery was beautiful.  I really wish that it had been paired with better illustrations – there is so much in this story just begging for gorgeous pictures.  This is technically a middle grade book, but I wouldn’t just hand it over to a youngster without making sure that they’re ready for some of the serious themes presented here, like terminal illness, war, death, etc.  These things are handled sensitively and well, but to me this is more a book you would read with your child rather than one they would read on their own.

One small niggle for me was that the main character does steal several items throughout the story for a “good cause” – and this is never really addressed.  It’s just sort of implied that she was justified in her actions because she “needed” the items, which I’m not sure is actually that great of a life-lesson.  Still, on the whole I really enjoyed this atmospheric tale that gave me a lot of feelings.

Side note – once again, several of these pictures include my BookSpin Bingo board for my challenge on Litsy, because that’s where I originally posted the pictures!!

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull – 3.5*

//published 1938//

I see a lot of these mysteries that are being reprinted by the British Library Crime Classics, but this is the first one I’ve gotten around to picking up.  The main thing about this story that has kept it in the “classics” category is the way the mystery is presented.  The reader is placed in the middle of a murder trial from the get-go – except we don’t know who is on trial until much later in the book.  Hull weaves the murder, the courtroom scenes, and the background for the murder throughout the story in a way that seems like it should be muddled but which, for the most part, works.

While I did enjoy this one overall, it was definitely slow in spots, with a great deal of time being spent making sure that the reader doesn’t like the victim at all.  This is all part of the point (is one justified murdering someone who deserves to be murdered?  Murder, as it were, with “excellent intentions” in mind?) but did get old sometimes.  The story also runs out of steam at the end, with a long chapter devoted to the jury’s arguing back and forth about whether or not they should convict the accused.  But overall it was an enjoyable one-time read with a crafty mystery wherein the reader can slowly decide who is on trial as the story progresses.

Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1924//

As I continue to work my way through Wodehouse’s books in published order, Ukridge was next on the list.  Featuring a character who appeared in Love Among the Chickens, Ukridge is one of those people who is constantly broke, constantly coming up with a ridiculous scheme for making money (that doesn’t really involve work), and generally coming out alright (although usually still broke).  I think we’ve all met someone like this – I know I’ve definitely found myself in situations, wondering how I got there, pushed in by my family’s Ukridge.  (My second anniversary, spent huddled with my husband in a sopping wet one-man tent on the top of a 40* mountain in the rain, comes to mind.)  At any rate, this isn’t Wodehouse’s strongest work, but it was still enjoyable.  While Ukridge may be ridiculous, he’s never mean-spirited, and he genuinely believes that each of his schemes is going to pay off.  This probably isn’t where I would start if I were going to introduce someone to Wodehouse, but if you already love his writing, there’s a lot to enjoy here as well.

Blackbird by Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Lately I’ve been reading more graphic novels, and while I think this one is technically a comic (I’m still a little hazy on the differences), when I saw this gorgeous cover on a Litsy review, I knew I wanted to at least give it a try.  Overall, I really liked it, and the artwork is great fun.  The main character’s life changed when she was a child and an earthquake hit her city.  During that catastrophe, she was rescued by a huge magical creature that everyone else saw but no one else remembers.  Since then, she’s been the “weird kid,” obsessed with trying to find real magic that she’s convinced is out there.

While I really liked the concept and the magic in this story, it was told in a very choppy manner, making it a little difficult to put together the linear storyline.  There’s also this crazy twist that I did like but also didn’t really seem to fit with the other character’s character.  All in all, this volume felt more like a big set-up than it did its own story.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is going to be a sequel, and I haven’t been able to find much information.  (This volume included the first six issues as one.)  I would definitely read a sequel, but I’m not sure I would especially recommend this one just because the ending is so open-ended.

Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers – 4*

//published 2020//

If you’ve ever wished you had a scifi, gender-swapped Cinderella retelling centered around a royal matriarchy set on a distant planet, then this is the book for you.  It’s rare that I buy a book just for the cover, but that’s totally what happened here.  I just love it, and can’t even explain why!  I got this one for only $2 on BookOutlet, and ended up enjoying it way more than I was anticipating.

Princess Delia, heir to the throne, knows that she needs to marry a prince from a neighboring planet that will help save her own, and while she isn’t excited about it, she’s at least resigned to it… mostly.  But when a series of events leads to her meeting Aidan, a kitchen worker with his own reasons for needing to escape the planet (and who isn’t afraid to steal from those who can afford it to help him towards his goal), she’s introduced to parts of her kingdom she didn’t realize existed.  While this is someone Cinderella-y, it also has an Aladdin vibe as well, and I was totally here for it.  I really liked the characters, and while there were some jolts in the plot that felt chunky (and I had to make a cheat-sheet to keep all the prospective-groom princes straight), overall I quite enjoyed this one.  The setting was completely unique and the world-building was intriguing.  Overall recommended, especially if you’re looking for a unique fairy tale variation.

PS I will say that there are a lot of negative/meh reviews for this one, so there’s a strong possibility that I was just in the right mood for it??  I love the way different books are for different people, and sometimes for different versions of myself at different moments in time!

June Minireviews – Part 2

So, like I said, I read a lot of children’s books in June.  I was in the mood for some comforting rereads!!

The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink – 4*

//published 1959//

In this adorable book a family inherits a motel in Florida.  They go down over winter break to get things in order to sell it.  Of course, the children love it and want to stay, especially when they arrive and find that the motel is painted a bright, vibrant pink – which, in turn, seems to attract unusual residents, some of whom have been coming to stay there for years.  All the characters in this book are great fun, and there is just enough mystery to keep things moving.  This is an old favorite that I highly recommend.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – 4*

//published 1960//

I hadn’t read this book since high school, but it’s held up pretty well over the years.  I was always a sucker for books about people living on their own in the wilderness, and that’s the premise of Blue Dolphins as well.  This book covers a weirdly long amount of time (I realize it was based on a true story and the author was working within those parameters but still) so it somewhat lacks urgency, but was still an interesting and engaging story.

The Snarkout Boys & the Avocado of Death by Daniel Pinkwater – 4.5*

//published 1982//

Wow, I love this book so much.  Pinkwater is absolutely insane and his books are not for everyone, since they frequently read like a weird dream, but I honestly love every page of this book.  It had been a long time since I’d actually read it all the way through and it’s even more ridiculous than I remembered, but in a way that made me super happy.  If you’re looking for something that is complete and utter nonsense, look no further than Pinkwater. This book may also appeal to you if you: love avocados, have ever known a mad scientist, think high school is biggest waste of time ever, ever used to sneak out of the house, or wish you had a 24hr movie theater in your neighborhood.

The Snarkout Boys & the Baconburg Horror by Daniel Pinkwater – 4*

//published 1984//

If you enjoy Avocado of Death, you’ll enjoy Baconburg Horror as well.  This one is a little more scifi trope-y (it involves a werewolf), but the main reason I don’t enjoy it quite as much is because Avocado is a first-person narration and the narrator is a huge part of what makes that book entertaining.  The same kid is narrating in Baconburg, but he only narrates part of the book – other parts jump around to third person randomly, which makes the whole story feel a lot more choppy and not quite as fun.  Still, Baconburg is well worth the read if you enjoyed the first book, and this photo of Pinkwater’s “biography” in the back of the book may give you a small clue as to whether or not you will find him entertaining!

O the Red Rose Tree by Patricia Beatty – 3.5*

//published 1972//

Believe it or not, I’m still slowly working my way through all the books that I own, many of which I haven’t read since high school!  This is one of those books that I purchased back in the mid-90’s and hadn’t read since then.  This is a perfectly nice historical fiction about a group of friends who help an elderly neighbor complete a quilt she’s always dreamed of making. Set in Washington state in the 1890’s, the challenge to the girls is to find several different types of red cotton (that doesn’t bleed) at a time when that type of cloth was rare and expensive.  This leads to several entertaining adventures and a few life-lessons.  While I enjoyed this one just fine, I don’t really see myself rereading it – so it has headed off to a new home, giving me one more spot for a new book on my shelves!!

Jurassic Park & The Lost World // by Michael Crichton

//published 1990//

I have a lot of books under the heading of “classics I somehow haven’t gotten around to reading yet,” and until recently this pair was on that list.  It’s been literal decades since I watched the Jurassic Park movie, so I thought this would be a good time to pick these up, since I could only remember the basic gist of the story.

The basic gist, of course, is DINOSAURS!  I found myself wondering, through the first few chapters where there are tales of people coming across mysterious lizard-like creatures, what the advertising was like for this book when it was first published back in 1990.  Did readers  know that this was going to be a book about honest-to-goodness dinosaurs, or was there a real shock value when they found out what was happening?  Despite knowing that the mysterious lizard-like creatures were, in fact, dinosaurs, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jurassic Park.  It completely ruined my productivity for a day (three days, really, if you count The Lost World) because I really wanted to know what was happening.

These were the type of books that, while I was reading them, I could barely put them down, but when I finished and reflected back on what I had just read, I realized that I actually had a lot of issues.  The biggest one was the never-ending philosophizing by Ian Malcolm.  At one point, he’s been horrifically injured and is probably going to die (sadly, he doesn’t).  Outside, the velociraptors are literally nomming their way into his room.  And Malcom just lays there, explaining how science replaced religion and how life changes and adapts, etc. etc.  Um.  HELLO?  VELOCIRAPTORS?!  And everyone in the room is just sitting there nodding and listening, like Oh my how wise you are, Dr. Malcom!  Please tell us more, I guess this is distracting us from the fact that velociraptors are LITERALLY ABOVE OUR HEADS CHEWING THROUGH THE BARS AND WILL BE IN THIS ROOM RIPPING US TO SHREDS WITHIN MOMENTS.  I mean seriously.

//published 1995//

It was even worse in The Lost World.  Here they are on this beautiful island with this literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to SEE LIVE DINOSAURS and they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting around in their trailer listening to Malcom natter on about evolution and natural selection and scientific discoveries and the scientific method yadda yadda YADDA.  Oh my GOSH we could have easily lost 50 pages of Malcom lectures and the story would have been even better for it.

A few things that felt weird to me, especially reading the two books together.  At the end of Jurassic Park, after we’ve spent pretty much the entire book escaping from dinosaurs, and after we’ve spent a big chunk of the story explaining how velociraptors are incredibly dangerous and intelligent – for some reason they decide to go find the raptor hatching place?????????  Why?????  It’s never really explained.  The entire ending the book felt very tacked on and abrupt to me.  Guess we’ll sneak into a cave FULL of the dinosaurs we’ve been running away from for the last however many chapters?!  I was left feeling very confused.  There was also the fact that the beginning of the book is about people finding dinosaurs (albeit small ones) on the mainland – but it’s never really addressed in the end.

I think I liked the story/concept of The Lost World even better than Jurassic Park, but there was SO much lecturing by Malcom that it really brought down my overall enjoyment of the story.  I was especially confused by the fact that, as part of Malcom’s lectures, he explains that the raptors, and other dinosaurs, haven’t been able to form their real, natural society because they haven’t been taught – because the dinosaurs were created in a lab, they have been able to live from some instincts, but aren’t able to create the same kind of society as they would have back when dinosaurs were actually alive.  And that’s all well and good except… at the end of Jurassic Park, that entire weird tacked-on ending was about finding how the velociraptors were forming their own intricate society, with adults caring for and raising young ones, etc. etc. – all the things that suddenly they aren’t capable of doing in The Lost World – in fact, they find a raptor nesting site, and it’s a disaster, with broken eggs and dead younglings, and no effort from the adult dinosaurs to raise their broods.  It seemed weird.  Here are Malcom’s thoughts in The Lost World – 

But animals raised in isolation, without parents, without guidance, were not fully functional.  Zoo animals frequently could not care for their offspring, because they had never seen it done.  They would ignore their infants, or roll over and crush them, or simply become annoyed with them and kill them.

The velociraptors were among the most intelligent dinosaurs, and the most ferocious.  Both traits demanded behavioral control.  Millions of years ago, in the now-vanished Jurassic world, their behavior would have been socially determined, passed on from older to younger animals.  Genes controlled the capacity to make such patterns, but not the patterns themselves.  Adaptive behavior was a kind of morality; it was behavior that had evolved over many generations because it was found to succeed – behavior that allowed members of the species to cooperate, to live together, to hunt, to raise young.

But on this island, the velociraptors had been re-created in a genetics laboratory.  Although their physical bodies were genetically determined, their behavior was not.  These newly created raptors came into the world with no older animals to guide them, to show them proper raptor behavior.  They were on their own, and that was just how they behaved – in a society without structure, without rules, without cooperation.  They lived in an uncontrolled, every-creature-for-himself world where the meanest and the nastiest survived, and all the others died.

Now this does somewhat make sense, unless you happen to contrast it with the end of  Jurassic Park.  At this point, the characters have discovered the cave where the raptors are nesting, and are observing the behavior of the dinosaurs:

There were three nests, attended by three sets of parents.  The division of territory was centered roughly around the nests, although the offspring seemed to overlap, and run into different territories.  The adults were benign with the young ones, and tougher with the juveniles, occasionally snapping at the older animals when their play got too rough.

There was a female with a distinctive stripe along her head, and she was in the very center of the group as it ranged along the beach.  That same female had stayed in the center of the nesting area, too.  He guessed that, like certain monkey troops, the raptors were organized around a matriarchal pecking order, and that this striped animal was the alpha female of the colony.  The males, he saw, were arranged defensively a the perimeter of the group.

?!?!?!?!  Literally nothing like the nesting site in The Lost World, despite the fact that BOTH sets of dinosaurs were created in a lab…???  Sorry to ramble on about this, it just left me feeling mighty confused.  If any of you are Jurassic Park fans and have researched this seeming discrepancy more, do let me know.

One last thing that left me scratching my head:  at the beginning of  The Lost World, large animal bodies are being found dead on the beach.  Later, this is explained.  However, there are also reports of dinosaurs migrating/living in colonies in the jungles of Costa Rica… never addressed.  All in all, it almost felt like Crichton was planning to write another book and then just didn’t get around to it, because there are definitely some weird loose ends left.

I can see why these books were made into movies.  There is something about the enormity of the dinosaurs that is hard to imagine when reading.  It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen the films that I really can’t remember if they followed the books in any more than a basic sense or not, but I’m looking forward to rewatching them ASAP.

In the end, I really did thoroughly enjoy these stories.  When Malcom wasn’t lecturing, they were fast-paced and completely engaging.  The premise is genuinely brilliant.  I’m not sure I enjoyed them enough to find more of Crichton’s works, but these classics are definitely worth the read.

Off Balance // by Aileen Erin

//published 2020//

Off Balance is the sequel to Off Planet, which I read and reviewed last year, and if you really want to make sense of this review, you may want to read that one first.  This review will have some minor spoilers for  Off Planet.

I’m reverting to the old pros/cons list for the this review to help me sort out my thoughts, since there were a lot of things I really liked, and several things that annoyed me:

Cons:

  • Amihanna is just so, so self-absorbed for most of this story.  It’s all about her and  her feelings and how everyone is going to respond to  her if she decides to marry Lorne.  She spends a lot of time avoiding doing anything remotely ruler-like, yet also complains that she isn’t treated with respect/like a ruler.  I guess part of this is that I’m not someone who tends to agonize over decisions, even big ones.  Assess your choices and their probable trajectories, make the best decision you can, then don’t look back.  Consequently, I don’t have a great deal of patience for someone who spends a LOT of time havering.
  • Way too much time is spent in a gym/doing physical training of some kind.  We get it.  She’s incredibly physically fit.
  • Explicit sex scene that I was not expecting since no such thing has appeared in any of Erin’s other books that I’ve read (including the entire Alpha Girl series).  Also a few scenes that were more graphically violent than really seemed necessary.  Like a lot more.
  • Overall a bit of second-book syndrome.  A lot of this book is waiting for things to happen more than it is things actually happening.  It felt like we could have cut out some of the scenes of Amihanna doing the same thing over and over and OVER again in the first book, cut out some of the incessant training scenes in this book, and combined them into one book with more action.
  • While I’m griping about Ami in this review, I do actually like her as a person. I just feel like she spends a lot of time talking like she’s super badass, but hiding from her actual responsibilities/decisions.

Pros:

  • World-building is great.  There is a real sense of place and other-worldliness without being too crazy.  Loved the glimpses of the Aunare culture and would love to see more of it.
  • NO LOVE TRIANGLE!  Can’t tell you how excited I was about this!  The end of Off Planet seemed to feel like it was setting up for one, but that’s completely avoided in this book, and I am definitely here for that, as I think having a love triangle is the dumbest trope of all time.
  • Which ties into another pro – LORNE.  As a character, Lorne is definitely my favorite.  Why Amihanna would hesitate for even half a second is mind-boggling to me.  While not perfect, Lorne is incredibly patient, kind, thoughtful, and intelligent.  He is eager to help Ami learn more about the Aunare but never comes across as condescending.  I’m totally in love with this guy, and only wish we had gotten way more of his perspective, which was significantly more interesting than Ami’s whining about her (actually very comfortable) life.
  • While I didn’t like having an explicit sex scene in the story, I did appreciate that it didn’t feel like something the characters just rushed into.  It felt like a thoughtful, serious decision, and I liked that aspect.
  • The actual story is solid.  There are a lot of great characters, several directions the plot could reasonably take, and a lot of interesting things going on.

Conclusion:

3.5*, which is where I ended up with Off Planet, too.  A good sequel, a series I recommend if you like sci-fi on the lighter side of sci, and a series I definitely am interested to follow going forward.

NB: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  Receiving this book didn’t impact my review at all.  Special thanks to the publisher!!

March Minireviews

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.

A Duchess in Name by Amanda Weaver – 3*

//published 2016/

I picked this Kindle book up for free somewhere along the line because I’ll pretty much always pick up marriage of convenience tropes.  This one was pretty average.  I actually liked the story and the characters a great deal, but there was a lot of pretty explicit sex in this one, which always brings down my overall enjoyment of a story.  It also meant that even though this was the first in a series of four, I didn’t really feel like paying to read the rest.

Virtually Sleeping Beauty by K.M. Robinson – 2.5*

//published 2018//

Another Kindle freebie, and another book that I really wanted to like.  The premise is fun with a very Ready Player One vibe, with one character stuck inside a popular virtual reality game.  The narrator and his best friend go into the game to try and rescue her.  However, the execution of the story was incredibly flat.  It honestly felt more like an outline or rough draft than it did an actual book.  The plotting was choppy and cliché.  The characters were one-dimensional and rather insipid.  The ending was incredibly abrupt.  I didn’t remotely believe that the characters had become even basic friends, much less that they had fallen in love, especially considering the whole story takes place over a few hours.  It turns out that this was more of a short story than an actual book, so that’s why I ended up finishing it.  If the writing had been this poor for the full length of a novel, I wouldn’t have continued.  I do have a few other of Robinson’s books as free Kindle books, but reading this one hasn’t made me exactly eager to try the rest.

The Fox Busters by Dick King-Smith – 4*

//published 1978//

Although I’ve only reviewed a couple of King-Smith’s books here, his books were an absolute delight to me growing up, and The Fox Busters was the story that introduced me to the magical absurdity of his writing.  This isn’t really a book I would recommend to very small children, as there is, frankly, a decent amount of death, but I remember loving the military-like execution of events.  Basically, the chickens of Foxearth Farm have, through generations of natural selection (due to generations of farmers not really being bothered to take much care of said chickens), become almost like wild birds.  This means that generations of foxes around the farm have very rarely ever been able to experience the delights of a chicken dinner.  The events in The Fox Busters occur when a trio of especially intelligent pullets are hatched right around the time that a quartet of particularly clever foxes are growing up nearby.  This is the story of their battle.

So yes, it’s honestly a rather violent book.  A lot of chickens – and several foxes – die during the course of it.  But the sheer creativity is fantastically engaging.  King-Smith’s writing is brisk and to the point – he doesn’t tend to linger over descriptions or unneeded details.  Yet somehow that suits the overall military feel of the book.  There is a sly tongue-in-cheek humor throughout that I think I rather missed as a child, but found quite amusing as an adult.

While this isn’t a perfect book, it’s well worth a read if you’ve ever raised chickens, or if you’re just looking for a quick bit of British humor.

Show Lamb by Hildreth Wriston – 4*

//published 1953//

This is another book from my personal collection, one that I picked up at a book sale eons ago but never got around to reading.  It’s a shame, because this is a book I would have quite enjoyed as a child – a bit of historical fiction set in 1850 Vermont, focusing on 10-year-old Chad.  Chad, along with his parents, sister, and aunt, live together on a sheep farm, and Chad wants nothing more than to also be a sheep farmer like his father.  He feels that the best way to start on that path is to get to choose his own lamb to take to the fair that fall, but Chad’s father doesn’t think he’s old enough yet.  This story follows Chad from lambing season through the fair (he of course does choose his own lamb, secretly, which is part of the story) and is a delight the entire way.  One of the things I liked best about this book was that there were multiple times that Chad was strongly tempted to do the wrong thing, but for the most part he choose not to – and even if that behavior wasn’t rewarded immediately, it always paid off in the end.  This is a lesson sadly lacking in virtually all children’s literature these days, as modern authors seem to think it’s much better to tell children that their parents are the enemy and also rather stupid and inept.  In Show Lamb, Chad’s father is not at all perfect, but he is good and genuinely loves Chad, and this really comes through in the story.  We’re also shown a contrast in the lazy, no-good neighbor, which was also done well.

All in all, it seems a shame that literally no one else on Goodreads has ever come across this one (I added it myself), as I found it a delightful little piece of historical fiction with a lot to offer.

The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer – 3.5*

//published 1959//

I’m not sure if it’s because I had the large print version or what, but this was one of the few times where a Heyer book felt like it went on forever.  While the last third of the book picked up the pace and become much more engaging and humorous, the beginning and middle really dragged.  Without any insight into what Hugo was thinking, it was hard to recognize that he was pulling the collective leg of his relatives, because it’s hard to recognize, in writing, that he’s speaking in “broad Yorkshire,” beyond his saying “happen” instead of “perhaps.”  There were also moments where supposedly he accidentally forgot to use his Yorkshire accent, but again this was hard to pick up in writing, so a lot of the subtlety of humor was lost on me. It was a fun story with some likable characters and a lot of potential, but this one felt too directionless for too long, as though Heyer couldn’t quite decide where she was headed with this story.  It was (sadly) still better than a very large chunk of modern romances, but it wasn’t a Heyer I particularly felt I needed to add to my permanent collection.