March Minireviews – Part 1

March was kind of a slow reading month for me.  I read a few chunksters that took up some time, and also started a few buddy reads that didn’t finish until April, but hogged up March reading time haha  Anyway, here’s the first few books I read in March!!

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 White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham – 3.5*

//published 1927//

This is the first book I’ve read by Allingham, and while it didn’t become a new favorite, I did enjoy it.  This one was originally published as a serial story, and it felt really obvious as the chapters were very episodic and ended on dramatic cliffhangers.  The story also jumped around a bit with some odd dialogue.  The mystery itself was quite good, though, and I can see myself enjoying some of Allingham’s other works that were meant to be novels from the get-go.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – 5*

//published 1937//

Wow.  Steinbeck just… I can’t even describe his writing.  I kind of hate it.  It’s depressing.  Zero happy endings ever.  And yet – I just don’t know.  He captures emotions so well, can make you feel things you don’t want to feel.  This book is so short, yet I’ve thought about it more than most books I read that are four times as long.  Steinbeck writes absolutely brilliantly about everyday tragedies in a way that gets under your skin and keeps you chewing on it for a long time.

Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2005//

I really struggled with rating this one because I overall liked it a lot, but there was one scene that was unusually dark for a Roberts book, that disturbed me enough that I’ll never reread this one… so 4* for most of the book, but negative stars for including a bizarrely brutal rape scene, I guess???

The rest of the book was typical Roberts romantic thriller fare.  Reena’s family owns a restaurant and they are close-knit and happy.  When she was a little girl, someone set fire to their restaurant and the aftermath of that inspired Reena to become an arson inspector, which is a job that I think sounds so fascinating.  (The guy I work for was also an arson inspector for several years and the way he understands how fire originates and moves is just amazingly interesting.)  Roberts chose to let the reader know who was behind the destructive fires that haunt Reena’s life, which I honestly didn’t think worked very well for this story.  The fires are spread apart throughout Reena’s life and are purposefully set differently each time to make sure that she doesn’t realize they’re connected.  But because, as the reader, we KNOW they’re connected, it kind of makes Reena look dumb – even though from her perspective there really isn’t any way that she would realize they had anything to do with one another.  The parts of the story that were from the villain’s perspective were also the parts that I didn’t like at all – I’m not a huge fan of thrillers where we get to see how the bad guy is reveling in the pain and destruction he’s causing.  It’s not normally a part of Roberts’s repertoire, so I wasn’t exactly expecting it, and it also led to the really dark rape scene late in the book that was just… unnecessarily nasty.  In the end, while I did enjoy so much of this – especially Reena’s just delightful family (Roberts does siblings SO well), it’s definitely not one I’ll reread.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – 2.5*

//published 2019//

There are some books that I really should review when I first read them because they give me SO MANY FEELINGS at the time but then fade after, you know, two months have gone by.  Priory was a case of me judging a book by the cover but not actually looking at anything about it, and this totally backfired on me.  I mean, look at this cover!  It’s even more gorgeous in real life.  The dragon is sooo blue and glossy.  And honestly, I was drawn to the compete HEFT of this one  – sitting at 806 pages, plus glossaries and the like, I just really was physically drawn to how beautiful this book was.  But.  In the end, it just did not work for me, and even though I struggled through all 806 of those pages to reach the end, I’m not sure it was worth it.  (Please note: There are LOADS of 5* reviews for this one and it has over a 4* average on GR so I am DEFINITELY in the minority on this one… but that happens sometimes!)

The biggest problem was that I didn’t like a SINGLE character.  All of them were completely self-absorbed.  There are multiple strands in this book with several main characters (literally all of whom are gay, as an aside, which felt… unlikely) and all of them are completely motivated by what will be best for them, personally.  Even the characters who LOOK like they’re doing something for “the greater good” are actually doing it because that will make their personal life significantly better – i.e., Ead is supposedly concerned about the fact that the whole world is going to end up going to war and consequently runs away… but I’m not remotely convinced that she would have cared if she wasn’t trying to get back to her lover.  Another main character, Niclays, was just plain dreadful, completely motivated by greed and fear.  His lover is dead, so we only hear about him in the past tense, but their so-called love story was 100% unbelievable to me on every level, and my eyes almost rolled out of my head when Niclays’s lover’s wife tells him how “glad” she was that her husband had someone he could “truly cherish”… riiiiiiiiight.  Even the dragons were completely self-absorbed!  (Speaking of which – there were not NEARLY enough dragons!)

Despite this book being almost three inches thick, parts of the world-building still felt incredibly underdeveloped, like literally the entire thing with the queens having a daughter made almost no sense – out of centuries, NONE of them have had more than one child…????  And I couldn’t stand Sabran, supposedly this amazingly strong woman/heir to the queendom, who literally spends the entire book walking around wringing her hands and whining about the fact that she’ll have to have a baby someday.

At its heart, this book didn’t feel pro-woman as much as it felt anti-mother.  All the mothers are bad ones, none of them want to be mothers, and everyone who could be a mother in future views that possibility with literal revulsion.  Shannon claims that this saga is a great feminist work, but all I saw were the same tired lines that women are too weak to be both a mother and a fulfilled individual – you have to pick.  That’s not empowering, it’s insulting.  Telling me that motherhood ruins the lives of women just doesn’t seem like a positive message, but it was one of the big takeaways from this story.  She creates this world where women are rulers and even strong warriors, yet tries to convince the readers that women are still only viewed by the culture as “breeding stock” – which literally makes no sense.  Sabran is literally obsessed with the idea that she will have to bear a child, to the point that I wanted to smack her in the head with this brick of a book and tell her to suck it up and move on with her life.  Maybe do something worthwhile between now and having a baby instead of doing nothing except whining about how you hypothetically need to have a baby someday???  I was just SO over every character in this book acting like having a baby is the quickest way to destroy your life – ugh.

There were many things I did enjoy while reading this one – Shannon does weave a very complicated story, pulling together myths and legends from multiple in-world cultures and turns them into a (mostly) cohesive story. Much of it was incredibly well-written and I can see why so many people love this book. But I found basically every character to be unrelatable and, or the most part, unlikable, which meant that in the end I was somewhat relieved to finally finish this one.

February 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.

Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron – 3*

//published 2009//

As part of my goal to get some old unread Kindle books cleaned off my ereader, I breezed through this one in February.  It had a solid start, with a pregnant woman disappearing at a yard sale, placing the couple who hosted said yard sale as the prime suspects in her disappearance/possible murder.  The set up was good, but I 100% knew everything about this book by about 25% and there was not a single twist/event that surprised me after that.  I’m not sure if I’ve read too many thrillers, or if this one really was that uninventive.

An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott – 5*

//published 1870//

This is one of my all-time favorite books, one that I grew up with and have read over and over.  Polly has always been one of my role models for her kindness, industry, modesty, and gratitude.  Rereading this is like being wrapped up in a big soft blanket.  I love the way that Alcott delivers her life lessons so gently throughout this story.

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor by Shaenon Garrity & Christopher Baldwin – 4*

//published 2021//

When the Litsy group was reading Wuthering Heights, someone recommended this graphic novel so I checked it out of the library.  A girl loves gothic romances, so when she finds herself swept into one, she isn’t as upset as one might fear.  This book was a lot silly but a great deal of fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as long a I didn’t think about it too hard.  The artwork was also great fun.

From Blood & Ash by Jennifer Armentrout – 2.5*

//published 2020//

This series has been on my peripheral for quite some time – Armentrout in general always crops up when I’m perusing fantasy book recommendations.  This was on my list of books to tackle this year since I’m reading some longer books, but in the end I felt really meh towards it.  At the time, I couldn’t get the second book from the library.  That one just came in last week and I realized that I don’t actually care enough to keep reading the series so.  From Blood & Ash is just soooo slow, plus it’s way into the whole “mysterious fantasy world” bit where the reader isn’t allowed to know critical things about the world/magic, which drives me CRAZY.  I feel like, within the first few chapters, I should know as much about what is going on in this world as the main character does.  I don’t mind discovering things AS the main character learns them, but this whole thing where I’m the only person who doesn’t know what’s happening is just aggravating as all get out.

This book went on and on with a main character I only felt lukewarm about anyway.  She was so whiny and ungrateful and annoying about everything, and it felt like Armentrout couldn’t decide whether or not Poppy should actually believe in the country’s religion or not.  If Poppy DOES believe in it, then it makes all of her choices even more self-absorbed and stupid.  If she doesn’t – then why is she doing any of this??  There was a lot more sex than I was expecting in this one as well, and at times where it made literally no sense for it to happen, so that just felt weird and awkward.  Then, the way the book ends, it basically turns this entire 613 pages into one long introduction.  In the end – way too long, in need of a hard edit, and maybe make Poppy’s motivations be something besides “is me getting to have sex more important than literally saving the entire world.”

I will say that this book is very popular (over 4* average rating on GR) so I’m in the minority here… but this book did nothing for me, and every time I think about it, I just get annoyed that I spent that much time wading through it.

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley – 4*

//published 1997//

McKinley is one of those weird authors who has some books that I genuinely LOVE (like Spindle’s End, which I’ve read sooo many times) and other books that just do nothing for me.  I remembered reading Rose Daughter, a Beauty & the Beast retelling, sometime in the past, but couldn’t remember any details.  It was a fine version that I enjoyed, but I didn’t feel like I needed to buy it, and it will probably be another ten or fifteen years before I read it again.

January Minireviews – Part 3

Here is the last batch of January reads!!

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 Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – 4*

//published 1952//

One of my 2022 goals is to clear at least 12 books off my classics backlist, and this one was very satisfying because it was so short!  I didn’t exactly like this book, but Hemingway writes in such a way that I had trouble putting it down, despite the fact that it’s literally an old man going fishing.  There is a tautness to his writing that makes it work, and so many layers to what is, at surface-level, a simple story.  I personally wasn’t a huge fan of the way it ended, but you can’t make everyone happy.

The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery – 4*

//published 1911//

The Kindred Spirits Buddy Read group on Litsy is continuing their foray into Montgomery’s works through 2022, and this was our January pick.  It had been a very long time since I read this one, so it was fun to revisit.  It’s a rather episodic book, but I did overall enjoy it although it will never be one of my favorites.  While the characters here are fun, they somehow lack depth – each of the children seems to fit a role and not go much beyond it.  And despite the fact that the story is being told in first person, the narrator is probably the one we get to know the least, which is odd.  Perfectly pleasant, but it will probably be another decade or so before I bother to reread this one again.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – 2*? 4*? No stars?

//published 1847//

The Litsy group that read through all of Austen’s works last year (the PemberLittens) is continuing into 2022 by reading books about Austen and also other works from women from the Austen-ish era.  Wuthering Heights was January’s book, and since I had never read this one all the way through – I remember abandoning it halfway in high school with the general feeling that the only “happy” ending would be for everyone to die of the plague – I thought I would give it a try as an adult and see if it was more palatable.  In a word – yes, it was, but… it’s really hard for me to rate this one.  First off, it was just absolutely ridiculous.  I actually found myself snorting with (inappropriate) laughter in multiple spots because it was just so over-the-top.  On purpose?  Who knows.  I was also absolutely befuddled by the fact that some people consider this a romance, or consider Heathcliff and Catherine to be a romantic couple.  What?!  These two are both mentally ill, unstable, obsessive, selfish, and creepy.  At one point, Heathcliff digs up Catherine’s dead body.  This isn’t romantic!  What is happening?! But I weirdly did like the way the story ended, although some of my fellow-readers thought it was too tidy.  I felt like Cathy, unlike her mother, actually outgrew her selfish whims and gain some balance to her personality, and I liked that.  I can’t say I exactly enjoyed reading this, but it did keep me engaged.  I was so confused by multiple people having the same name/being related that I printed off a little cheat-sheet towards the beginning of reading it and thoroughly enjoyed X-ing out everyone as they died… which was pretty much everyone, so my high school desire to have everyone die off for a happy ending was very nearly fulfilled lol  All in all, it was a worthwhile read, I think, but not one I see myself revisiting.  I did use this buddy read as an excuse to buy this pretty copy, though, which I’m perfectly happy to keep on my shelf.

Nation of Enemies by H.A. Raynes – 3*

//published 2015//

This was another one that is a little hard to rate.  It was also kind of creepy because it was published in 2015 (i.e. pre-Covid and pre-“vaccine passport” insanity) but was all about a future where the entire world is using a chip-based medical system where every person has a MedID rating based on how healthy they are and various genetic features that extrapolate how likely they are to be sick in the future (i.e. cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc).  People with good Med numbers are able to get good jobs, housing, move from place to place, etc. while people with bad numbers are relegated to the outskirts of society.  Many people tout this as a positive as eliminating the low numbers means that we are on track to eliminate said diseases, but others are beginning to grow uneasy with how swiftly the system has been used to alienate huge sectors of the population into second-class citizens.  The MedID chips have now become a way to not only track medical history, but everything else, making it easy to decide “criminals” (both real and determined by people who don’t like people) are unable to purchase groceries, travel from state to state, or get a job.  The story opens on the cusp of a huge presidential election, with one candidate determined to build on the MedID system and other poised to begin removing it, restoring the freedoms everyone once knew.  In the decade since the MedID was instated, the country has descended into a state of constant terrorist attacks, many by frustrated low-MedID citizens, others by various anarchist groups, some by other political powers playing on the emotions of vulnerable individuals.

Rayes does a great job setting all of this up, introducing the reader to several people within the government and within society who are both benefitting and losing from the MedID system, and showing how various things are working behind the scenes of the big election.  It was really terrifying and amazing to see how this concept, basically where the vaccine passports are headed, had changed the society, and it was all very believable.  But about halfway through the story, things began to lose steam as Raynes slowly turned his story into a more typical political thriller instead of exploring a lot of the nuances presented by a society dominated by this system.  In the end, basically everyone was a bad guy, which was kind of weird, and a lot of ends were left loose.  This was also a really long book, clocking in at 528 pages, so it definitely felt like it could have used some editing to tighten things up.  In the end, a story with some strong potential that just frittered away.

The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel – 2.5*

//published 2001//

Apparently this book is also a Hallmark movie, but I haven’t seen it.  It was chosen by a member of the traveling book club book, which is really the only reason I finished it as I found the main character, Livvy, to be insufferably selfish and bratty.  Set during WWII in Colorado, Livvy is from an upper-class family and has always lived a rather spoiled life. The author tries to make her a sympathetic character by giving her a dead mother and a distant father, but she never felt like a real person to me.  She gets pregnant from a one-night stand with a soldier with whom she’s gone on a few dates, and her father solves the “problem” by finding a farmer in eastern Colorado for her to marry, sight unseen.  Ray is stereotypically strong and silent, but the main things we have to know about him is that he’s uneducated by Livvy’s standards and thus rather dumb, he immediately begins to worship the ground Livvy walks on for literally no apparent reason, and Livvy’s so concerned about Ray’s “heart” because of his “innocence” around women – she goes on and on and on about this, about how she’s sooooo “experienced” and Ray isn’t, despite the fact that she went on like 3 dates and got pregnant, not sure how that makes her some kind of relationship/sex expert and it REALLY got on my nerves.  But Livvy’s that way about everything.  She’s from the city and she’s gone to college, so she’s soooo smart and clever and worldly and wise and all these other people are just sort of dumb hicks.  I kept think that she was going to recognize the fact that she’s just a blatant snob, but she never really does.  She and Ray have like two conversations and then from there forward Livvy’s always saying things like, “I could tell from the love in his eyes how much he yearned for us to be together” blah blah blah, which was both boring and unbelievable.  There’s this whole story about these Japanese women who are in a prison camp nearby and how the Japanese prisoners are working on the region’s farms, including Ray’s, but it’s really a sort of surface-level look at this because we never talk with Ray, we just get Livvy’s assumptions about how Ray feels about it.  What Livvy assumes is that he completely approves of interning the Japanese and thinks the Japanese are stupid and guilty, despite the fact that he treats them incredibly well and absolutely nothing in his actions support her theory.  Livvy also spends a bunch of time driving all over the countryside despite Ray specifically telling her that his gas rations are supposed to be being used for farm work, not pleasure.  Livvy justifies it by basically saying she’s bored.  I was also amazed at how a farm wife during World War II could be bored and have nothing to do, but here we are.  Everyone else in my traveling book club seemed to really like this one (I was the last to read it) so maybe I’m just being overly harsh, but I found Livvy to be painfully unlikable, which made the whole story drag for me a lot, since it’s literally all from Livvy’s perspective and literally all about her in every way, because to Livvy, Livvy is the most important person in the world.  I had absolutely zero confidence in her long-term happiness with Ray, because Livvy never actually changed as a person.

January Minireviews – Part 2

Happy March, everyone!!! This week things are starting to smell like spring and I’m so excited!!!  In the meantime, here are some books I read back in January.

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.

Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi – 3*

//published 1883//

Do you ever read a book that just leaves you feeling !??!?!  That book was Pinocchio.  I never thought I’d say this, but Disney actually made this story more cohesive and actually somewhat make sense compared to the original!  Part of my problem with this one is that the sense of time was all wrong.  It seems like Pinocchio is only with his carpenter-father for like, a day, yet constantly references things his father taught him.  There were a lot of situations where I was confused about how long something had been going on.  It wasn’t a bad book, exactly, just choppy and confusing.  I did appreciate that Pinocchio’s attempts to be a “good boy” did cycle a lot – he would learn a lesson, be good for a while, and then slip-slide back into something he knew he shouldn’t be doing.  Been there, Pinocchio.  This was an interesting read, but did also make me wonder, once again, about why certain stories become classics while others fade away.

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1937//

This one was a reread for me (as most Christies are these days) and I really enjoyed it.  Poirot receives a letter from an elderly woman who, in a roundabout way, seems to be fearing for her life.  However, the letter is dated nearly two months earlier – and Poirot finds out that the woman is dead.  Seized with a sudden feeling that because this woman wrote to him, she’s technically his client and he owes it to her to investigate her (supposedly completely unsuspicious) death, Poirot and Hastings head off to the countryside to chat up the family.  As always, there are tons of red herrings and potential murderers, plus the usual everyday people holding back irrelevant information that makes them look bad.  Not my all-time favorite, but a very solid entry.

The Fire by Katherine Neville – 3.5*

//published 2008//

This follow-up to The Eight, published twenty years later, was not as strong as the original story.  Following the daughter of The Eight’s main character, there is a lot of running around but it just felt like this book’s main character, Xie, wasn’t really the main character.  Things happened TO her the entire time, but it never felt like she was in charge of what was going on.  Her best friend, Key, felt way more like the MC and I think the whole book would have been more interesting (and made more sense) if either Key was the MC, or Xie had some of the circumstances in her life that Key did, if that makes sense.  There was also this thing where I literally lost count of how many times characters realize that the room/conversation is bugged, to the point that I was confused about why they even attempted to have a conversation inside of any building or within 20 yards of any electrical device ever.  It was kind of ridiculous.  In The Eight the second story-strand set during the French Revolution enhanced and explained a great deal of what was going on in the modern-day story.  But in The Fire the historical part never really made sense to me and just felt like filler.  All in all, while there were some good elements here – and I really liked the ending – The Fire just didn’t jive like The Eight did.

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour – 3.5*

//published 2011//

In this nonfiction book published by favorite homesteading publishers, Storey Publishing, Jabbour explores ways to extend the gardening season beyond the frost dates.  A resident of Nova Scotia, Jabbour has added cold frames and a non-heated greenhouse to her personal garden, and also examines methods like cloches, row covers, etc. as ways to protect crops from the cold and lengthen the growing season.  There’s a lot of good information here, but no matter how you cut it, the main plants that are going to grow in the cold, even in cold frames, are plants like lettuce, spinach, carrots, etc., so in the end it seemed like a lot of work for not a lot of payback.  However, Jabbour also has a really great vegetable index in the back with notes on different varieties, varieties of various veggies that are more cold-tolerant, and planting/harvesting notes.  This comprises probably half the book and has some really great information.  All in all, not my favorite gardening book, but it is one that I’ve referenced a few times, and I’m still thinking about putting in a cold frame for some early season plants.

January Minireviews – Part 1

Oh, I’m back with more minireviews since I apparently have no idea how to blog in a timely manner any more.

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.

Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2013//

This one was a borderline between straight romance and romantic suspense.  When in the midst of a bitter divorce, Eli’s soon-to-be-ex-wife is murdered, Eli becomes the prime suspect. A year later, the case against him has been dropped, but the actual murderer’s identity is unknown, meaning a cloud of guilt still follows Eli everywhere. He comes to stay in the old family home on Whiskey Beach, where he meets Abra, a jill-of-all-trades who should have really annoyed me but actually didn’t. Her free-spirit “be yourself“ attitude somehow actually came off as genuine so I ended up really liking her. Various other things happen at the old homeplace, including another murder, leaving Eli and Abra wondering how it’s all connected. This wasn’t on-the-edge-of-your-seat-are-they-all-going-to-die tension, but it did keep the story up-pace. This wasn’t my favorite Roberts ever, but it’s one I can see myself rereading at some point.  I actually really liked Eli’s character development, and somehow Abra was actually likable and sincere instead of being obnoxious.

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George – 3.5*

//published 2007//

Every year this one Litsy user sets up a “book list swap” where you sign up and include your top 10-20 books of the year, and she actually takes time to really match you with someone else with similar tastes.  Then you and your match swap best-of lists and try to read some of the other person’s books.  Theoretically you’re supposed to read them all in January, but I prefer to spread mine out, one per month, until I run out lol  Dragon Slippers was on my match’s list, so even though I actually had read this one before, I decided to give it a reread.  Overall, I enjoyed it, but not enough to bother rereading the whole series.  I don’t know why this book doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot for me, despite having a lot of the components I usually enjoy.  You can read my original review of the entire trilogy here.

20 Hrs., 40 Min by Amelia Earhart – 4*

//published 1928//

This book is Earhart’s personal account of her journey across the Atlantic by plane – she was the first woman to fly across the ocean, although she was a passenger and not one of the pilots.  Still, even being a passenger took some guts at this time, as only a few people had made the journey at all.  A lot of the book consists of excerpts from the journal she kept on the way.  At less than 200 pages, Earhart’s account was much more lighthearted and less technical than Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of St. Louis (which I read several years ago and never reviewed!  Why didn’t I review it??  I still don’t know!)

Towards the end of the book, Earhart mentions that it has only been 7 weeks since the flight itself, so this was written and published with a couple months of the historic flight. Earhart is modest and depreciating, even in the chapters where she is talking about her personal pilot experience. She’s very open about the fact that she, personally, did nothing to facilitate the journey of The Friendship other than go along for the ride, but it was still so interesting to read about. Because she was writing with the presumption that her readers already knew a lot of the background for the flight (since it had literally just happened), there were times that I felt a little lost, but it was still an enjoyable read. I also loved hearing her thoughts on what direction the aviation industry should/would take, and different ways she believed people (and women) should be involved. Almost a century after this flight, it’s amazing to see how much of what she suggested did come to pass.

This isn’t exactly a book I finished and felt like everyone should rush out and read, but it was an easy read with a likable and intelligent narrator, and a worthwhile piece of history to explore, if nothing else than for a glimpse of the aviation industry in its infancy.

The Eight by Katherine Neville – 4*

/published 1988//

Another book that’s been on my TBR for quite some time, but I’ve put it off for quite a while because it’s about 600pgs long.  While I did enjoy it overall, this was one of those books that made me feel a little stupid while I was reading.  It’s full of chess, math, music, and history, and sometimes I felt like my base knowledge on those topics wasn’t enough to get the full impact of what was going on.  This book also has dual timelines, something that doesn’t always work for me, but I was fully invested in both the French Revolution timeline and the present-day one.  One funny thing was that this book is a lot older than I thought it was – published in 1988, so its setting of the 1970s was a bit of a different vibe that I get from a lot of books (and I actually had to look up info about the gas crisis).  This was a long one and quite dense, so it took me a while to read, but it was overall a worthwhile endeavor.

The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel – 3*

//published 2020//

This romance, which I read for the traveling book club, was a bit of a struggle for me, mainly because I found the main character, Liya, to be just incredibly unlikable.  I get that she had suffered a lot and had some trauma/abusive situations she was overcoming, but she was still 100% bitch 100% of the time and it really got old for me.  I don’t feel like having bad things happen to you means you get to treat everyone around you like garbage, especially since those people literally have nothing to do with the bad things.  It also felt like every character in the story hated the concept of marriage and spent a LOT of time explaining why marriage and being married is such a horrible idea.  This was emphasized by the ending, where the main characters agree to move in together, rather than actually make a legitimate commitment to each other (the moving in wasn’t like “we’re doing this for life” but like “we’re doing this because it will be much easier to get untangled if it doesn’t work out” vibe), which I hate.  As usual, I’m doing a lot of whining – but there were some really fun moments in this one as well, and several of the background characters were great fun.  It was an okay read for me, but I’m not particularly interested in finding more books by this author.

December Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, so I honestly thought about not reviewing the books I read in December, because, if I’m honest, these reviews are going to start to sound a little same-y.  I read a LOT of Christmas fluff last month!!!  But just for the sake of having a record of what I read, I think I’m going to go ahead and plunge in and hope there were enough random ones to be interesting!

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 Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan – 4*

//published 2021//

I started strong with a Sarah Morgan book – I’ve really enjoyed all of her books that I’ve read so far, mainly because her married couples stay married and actually work through their problems like adults instead of storming off and having an affair with the attitude of a petulant child.  This book, like her others that I have read, also has a strong focus on the importance of friendship, family, and forgiveness – basically, even though these are kind of romance, they really just are about relationships in general and how we need to work to keep them strong.  With a journey to Lapland and an actual reindeer-sleigh ride, this one also checked off a lot of prompts for my million Christmas bingo cards!!

Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie – 4*

This was a perfectly pleasant collection of Christie shorts, although the “midwinter” aspect was definitely a stretch for some of them.  And even though I absolutely love these special editions, I really do wish they would just focus on reprinting her full-length novels instead of randomly cobbling together shorts.  Still, reading these was like eating potato chips – they were so quick and fun that I just kept reading one more.

The Little Christmas Shop on Nutcracker Lane by Jaimie Admans – 4*

//published 2020//

If you enjoy absolutely saccharine Christmas stories with extremely long titles, you should definitely check out Admans.  I read Snowflakes at the Little Christmas Tree Farm last year and actually really enjoyed it, so I tried Nutcracker Lane this time around.  If you’re looking for in-depth character development, surprising plot twists, or a new take on the holiday season, this is NOT the book for you. But if you’re looking for some relaxing fluff and complete predictability, you’ll love this one.  My only real complaint was that it was so incredibly, painfully obvious who James actually was that it felt ridiculous that the MC couldn’t realize it.  Still, a perfectly enjoyable read with likable characters.

Christmas Angels by Nancy Naigle – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This one was excellent for the first 2/3 of the story, but then it went a bit off the rails.  The MC purchases a run-down inn that used to belong to her grandparents up in the mountains of North Carolina.  She moves there and begins renovations with the help of a hunky contractor who happens to be in town.  She has nothing but happy memories of spending time there as a child and is so excited about the entire project even though it’s going to be a lot of time and money.  All of this was great, but then she falls and injures her ankle and all of a sudden decides this is a “sign” that she’s supposed to give up on the entire project???  It felt completely out of left field that Liz would suddenly do a complete 180 and literally be ready to just sell the inn and move back to the coast.  This would have been a super fun story if it had just focused on the inn renovations and rediscovering all her grandparents’ Christmas traditions and decorations + romance with the hunky contractor, but the extra drama felt really shoehorned in, like the author was just trying to fill some pages.  I did enjoy it, but could have done without the weird section of Liz suddenly being a completely different character.

Forest of Souls by Lori Lee – 4*

//published 2020//

This was a completely not-Christmas book, as it was my December book for the traveling book club.  It really reminded me a lot of Poison Study when I was reading it, except a bit more violent and 100% devoid of any romance.  There was some great world-building, but seriously who includes an EIGHT-PAGE glossary but NO MAP?!?!?!  I REALLY needed a map!  The characters and plot were interesting, though, and I was really engaged in this one.  It’s the first of a trilogy that is set to wrap up this summer, so I may read all three of them later this year.

A Princess for Christmas by Jenny Holiday – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I had a hard time rating this one.  The story itself was perfectly fine with likable characters, but when I pick up a book that looks like a cherry little Christmas tale, I’m not mentally prepared to be bombarded with f-bombs on every page.  It felt like Holiday was trying wayyyyy to hard to make Leo the tough guy from the Bronx.  I get it, he’s tough.  So tough that he swears every-other word.  My gosh.  I do enjoy a good royalty read, so this one was fun that way, but the overall crudity meant I didn’t bother reading the sequel.

October Minireviews – Part 2

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

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

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

The Third Victim by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 2018//

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

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw – 3.5*

//published 2016//

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

Real-Life Organizing by Cassandra Aarssen – 3.5*

//published 2017//

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

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

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

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

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

Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys – 2.5*

//published 2017//

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

Well-Matched by Jen DeLuca – 3*

//published 2021//

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

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

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

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

Snow White & Rose Red by Patricia Wrede – 3.5*

//published 1989//

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

October Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, believe it or not, I AM making progress on these reviews!!! My goal is to be caught up by the end of the year!!!!

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.

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – 4.5*

//published 2020//

I read the first book in this series at the end of September and rolled directly into this one, and it did NOT suffer from second-book syndrome.  SO.  GOOD.  This is what YA is supposed to be!  Fun and snarky, loads of adventure, engaging world-building, likable characters, personal growth, strong friendship, a splash of romance.  The bajillion POVs is slightly distracting and there are times where it feels like things are getting a little out of hand, but overall I just enjoyed this one so much.  The worst part – it ended on a cliffhanger and the third book didn’t come out until November!

The Ex Hex by Erin Stirling – 3.5*

//published 2021//

I’m a sometimes-BOTM member (I skip a LOT) but this one sounded fun so I went for it.  It was a nice one-time read, but I mailed it on to someone else when I was done with because I don’t see myself reading it again, although I probably could be persuaded to read a sequel.  It’s one of those books where you don’t worry about character development or think too hard about the world-building… just roll with what’s happening.  Overall it was a fun palette-cleanser after reading five 87th Precinct books, but it was just a little bit too far on the smutty/vulgar scale for me to really rate it any higher.  When I’m reading fluff, I don’t really want to be bombarded by f-bombs the entire time.  (As a side note, it’s not the actual sex scenes that bother me so much, because they’re easily bypassed, it’s when characters THINK about sex and TALK about sex and the whole thing just turns into SEX that it starts to really get aggravating.  This one wasn’t the worst I’ve come across in that way, but it still sometimes got old.)

The Jackal’s Head by Elizabeth Peters – 3.5*

//published 1968//

Peters isn’t a 100% win for me as she has definitely written some books that didn’t click with me, but in this one she returns to Egypt, where she should always set her books.  I only wish the Emersons could have made an appearance!  This story was virtually unbelievable, but it was still a great deal of fun.

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1936//

I actually remembered how this one came about, but I still enjoyed reading it because it’s fun to watch Christie lay the red herrings when you know which ones they are.  Plus, I got to read my beautiful special edition (HEART EYES).  I took a picture of the back cover as well because I quite liked the quote on it.

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde – 3.5*

//published 2010//

The most entertaining part of this collection of Red Riding Hood retellings was Velde’s introduction where she explains how ridiculous the original story is.  Her actual retellings were mildly interesting but overall forgettable.

The Safest Lies by Megan Miranda – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This was one of those books that kept me reading while I was reading, but then I got done and I was like, “But what about…?????”  I also just never really connected with the characters, so a lot of the urgency was lost on me because I didn’t really care all that much about what happened to them.  This was a fun one-off read, especially if you like YA thrillers, but not one I’ll revisit.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight – 2.5*

//published 2015//

This is one that had been hanging around on my shelves for quite some time and I finally got around to it in October.  The premise sounds great.  A woman starts reading a book that’s on her bedside table – but then realizes that SHE is the main character.  Where did the book come from?  How did the author know about her life?  The only other person who knew about this situation is dead – RIGHT?  This sounds like it’s going to be a great thriller, and it was definitely compulsively readable (hence the 2.5* rating instead of like 1), but I didn’t feel like a single character in this story responded in a realistic way, meaning that no one felt like a real person.  The end of the book also just turned super preachy and also felt out of place.

I wrote a whole big long rant about this one but I’m just not feeling like publishing it.  There was a lot that annoyed me about this book, but I can see why so many people enjoyed it.  I personally find it difficult to root for a character who has lied to everyone in her life, including her husband, about really serious stuff, and then gets all offended that people don’t automatically assume that her behavior was impeccable during the situation she lied about.  But maybe that’s just me.

Leaphorn & Chee – Books 6-10 // by Tony Hillerman

  • The Ghostway (1984)
  • Skinwalkers (1986)
  • A Thief of Time (1988)
  • Talking God (1989)
  • Coyote Waits (1990)

While the first five books of this series were an average of 3.5*, the next set moved firmly into the 4* range.  In Skinwalkers, Leaphorn reappears on the scene, and throughout the next four books, both men are involved in the mystery solving, although not always as a team – it’s interesting to have them sometimes almost opposing because of their different styles of detecting, and their different beliefs about the old ways.  The personableness of both characters vastly improved during this group of books, with more about their family lives and backgrounds, leaving me a lot more interested in them as people as well as interested in the mysteries themselves.

The actually mysteries were solid and did a decent job of wrapping things up.  Hillerman does a good job of talking about nuanced topics without it feeling preachy.  For instance, the entirety of Talking God is about ancient Native American artifacts and bones and managed to present varying viewpoints on whether old bones belong in museums or should be returned to modern Native Americans (even though in many instances there is not a direct oral history between them), and how archeological sites should be handled.  It was all very interesting and thoughtfully done, but never came across as polemic or divisive.

All in all, I’m thoroughly enjoying these.  The next five are in the pile waiting to be read, but that probably won’t happen until January as I am intending to fully embrace Christmasy reads all throughout December!!

Shetland Island Mysteries – Books 1-4 // by Ann Cleeves

  • Raven Black
  • White Nights
  • Red Bones
  • Blue Lightning 

This series has been on my radar for a while (haven’t they all??) and I finally read the first half of them in October.  Litsy has a month-long readathon focusing on mysteries/thriller/horror/etc. and while I don’t enjoy anything in the horror/graphic violence area, I decided it would be a great opportunity to make some forward progress on several mystery series I’ve been working through, including finishing the 87th Precinct, the first half of this series, the next five books in the Leaphorn & Chee series, plus knocking out a few standalone thrillers that have been on my shelf for way too long.

Set in the Shetland Islands, the main character/detective of this series is Jimmy Perez, a detective on the police force.  However, Cleeves takes her time with these stories, giving back stories and insight into multiple people involved in each murder.  Even though these are a little longer than the average thriller (350-400 pgs), they felt a LOT longer as the pace is rarely urgent.  Instead, there is plenty of time to examine and contemplate the interactions of the main players.  Somehow, instead of being boring, Cleeves makes this work.  It fit the setting of an isolated and insulated community, where the seasons take their time, and the methodical rhythm of the natural world is reflected in the human residents.

I have mixed feelings about these books.  I enjoyed them while I was reading them, but never felt an urgency about picking up the next book.  Cleeves made a decision to kill off a character at the end of Blue Lightning that I didn’t really like as well, and I’m not completely sure that I’ll get around to finishing this series (there are four more books).  Yet on the whole, I think I do recommend them if you enjoy your mysteries thoughtful instead of frantic.  They could definitely do with a bit of editing, yet at some level I rather enjoyed the contemplative pacing, feeling that I was really getting to know the motives and relationships of the characters involved.

These weren’t my new favorites, and they didn’t make me want to rush out and read everything Cleeves has written, but I probably will read those last four books one of these days, just to see how everyone adjusts to the sudden death at the end of Blue Lightning.