February Minireviews – Part 1

February was a really low reading month for me.  I read a few books that were kind of downers and took me a while to get through.  But hopefully that means I can catch up on reviews a little faster!!!

Edit: I wrote most of this post literal weeks ago but… life has just been crazy!! This is my busiest time of year, plus we are working on our crazy bathroom/closet/laundry room remodel still lol But since I know you all are quite interested to hear what I was reading back in February – and considering I already wrote the post but just never got around to putting the pictures in – here you go!!

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.

1984 by George Orwell – 4.5*

//published 1949//

What.  Even.  This is one of those classics that I had never read because it just sounds so dang depressing.  But, current life in this country being what it is, I thought maybe it was time to set aside my prejudices and and read it – and I have no regrets because it was SO GOOD.  Yes, it’s incredibly depressing – but that’s also kind of the point.

This is definitely a book that you read and while you’re reading it, you assume that your political opposition = the government from 1984 – like I can see both conservatives and liberals thinking that the opposite are the ones who best represent everything that is creepy about the politics in this book.  That said… we all know I’m conservative, so it’s probably no surprise that I could see a lot of parallels between the Party and certain groups here at home who find it necessary to rewrite books, “cancel” everything that doesn’t fit their strict narrative, tear down all statues of historical figures they don’t like, and try to get us to ignore basic biological facts because, you know, 2+2=5.

But even beyond this, in many ways this book transcends political differences as well, reminding us of what happens when we, as a people, allow the government to have complete and total control over our lives.  To me, the warnings in 1984 are beyond “don’t let such-and-such party be in charge of your government” – it’s “don’t let ANY government take away your basic human rights.”  And no matter what side of the fence you’re on, if you don’t have a big problem with our freedoms and privacies being swiftly eroded, well, maybe it’s time for you to read 1984 as well.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams – 3*

//published 2019//

This was a book I’d had on my list for quite a while, so I was really looking forward to a lighthearted romcom when I picked it up.  (I needed a little 1984 contrast!)  Unfortunately, this one just didn’t live up to the hype for me.  The idea is that the main character is having marital issues with his wife, who feels neglected and uncherished.  Yearning to recapture the romantic magic they had when they were first together, Gavin turns to his buddies for advice – and finds out that they have a secret book club wherein they, all men, read romance novels and then try to apply the lessons on love they find there to their relationships.  It’s a super fun concept, but it just fell really flat for me.

My main issue – it’s obvious that both Gavin AND his wife (Thea) have problems, but the entire book is all about how EVERY problem in their marriage is 100% Gavin’s fault – Thea has been PERFECT the entire time.  Gavin spends the entire book groveling, begging, pleading, and kissing Thea’s feet, only for her to repeatedly shrug him off and basically say it isn’t good enough.  And you know, it’s one thing to say that if it’s just you and another person involved, but Gavin and Thea have daughters, and it just made me SO angry when Thea kept blowing Gavin off because “it’s better for the girls to have no father than one who isn’t really committed” and a bunch of other BS.  Thea also has a sister who I genuinely wanted to thrown down a flight of steps.  She’s a complete bitch and half the reason Thea was so reluctant to take Gavin back was because Thea’s sister basically kept telling Thea she wasn’t “allowed” to forgive Gavin because what he did was “unforgiveable.”  (Please keep in mind that Gavin DID NOT EVEN KIND OF CHEAT ON HIS WIFE – his “unforgiveable” offense was… being busy with his job… earning a lot of money… for Thea and his girls… and the freaking sister who LIVES WITH THEM)  There were times that Thea would soften towards Gavin and then her sister would just go off on Thea about how she “doesn’t need a man” and she just needs to be “strong” for the “sake” of the girls, yadda yadda.  The sister was a HORRIBLE person and I despised her – she honestly made it hard for me to even get through this book.  There’s also the part where the men’s book club chapters are basically the guys just sitting around reeling off feminist platitudes about “toxic masculinity” etc.  So boring, and completely unrealistic.  Honestly, this entire book felt like the author had never had a conversation with an actual man in her entire life. Finally, it’s a sexy-times book, which I’m sometimes okay with, but this was one of those stories where that aspect just permeated the entire narrative, like Gavin finds out that Thea’s been “faking it” their entire marriage and it’s this whole involved thing (and I’m sorry, but is it really Gavin’s fault that he hasn’t been “satisfying” his wife if his wife freaking has been lying THE WHOLE TIME?!?!) that just kept going on and on and I frankly did not care and did not want details.

So… a weak 3* because there were some funny moments and I like the concept.  I also liked poor Gavin although I felt like he deserved better and also I feel sorry for anyone with a sister-in-law as obnoxious as Thea’s sister.  But this one definitely wasn’t a win for me, and although at the time I had the next books in the series out from the library, I flipped through them and decided to send them back without bothering to read them – especially since the second book was about the horrible sister!

The Big Six by Arthur Ransome – 4*

//published 1940//

I’m still working my way through the Swallows & Amazons books.  This wasn’t my favorite in the series – possibly the first time I’ve given one of these books less than 5* – but it was still a lot of fun.  My main problem with this one is that someone is casting off boats on the river and three of the local boys (members of the Coot Club from an earlier book) are getting blamed for it.  It just seemed painfully obvious who had the motive to do this (hint: not the boys who were getting blamed for it) so I was really frustrated/stressed by the adults in this story who were being so mean to the boys throughout the story.  I don’t like it when people are getting in trouble for something they didn’t do, so since that was a big part of this story, it bothered me.  I will say that the boys’ parents actually did believe the boys were innocent, though, so I appreciated that part of it.

While I didn’t love this one, it was still an overall really enjoyable story with adorable characters – I genuinely am loving these books!!

A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell – 3.5*

//published 2019//

While this wasn’t the best thriller I’ve ever read, it was the first thriller I had read in a while and I’d kind of forgotten the way a decent one can just suck you in and refuse to let you do anything else with your life besides find out what happens.  In this one, Caroline (who is super rich) finds out her husband is having an affair.  She goes to a local dive bar and ends up having a one-night stand with the bartender.  For Caroline, it’s just a one-off.  For Aidan, it’s much more, as he becomes obsessed with her and begins stalking her… or does he?  The first half/two-thirds of the book is told from Caroline’s first-person perspective and Aidan’s third-person perspective, but while what they have to say about different events is mostly the same, they differ at critical moments, leaving the reader unsure which of them is lying.  When a Big Event occurs, the narrative switches to straight third person. I did figure out what was going on, but it was pretty close to the end when I did, and there were still had some details that I hadn’t worked out.  If you read a lot of thrillers, this one may not bring anything fresh to the table, but if you’re like me and you only pick them up from time to time, this one was pretty entertaining.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – 3.5*

//published 2018//

This was a reread for me – I read this one back in 2018, and you can read my more detailed review from that time here.  I did like it a little better this time around, but I still just don’t love this one.  Most of my criticisms from my original reading still stand – this book is unrelentingly depressing; the romance between two of the main characters is really underdeveloped, leaving me confused about why I’m supposed to hope they end up together; there are way too many different voices; having the story center around a Jewish family means that the story is somehow too rooted in our real world instead of a fictional one, which makes the rhythm of the story feel weird to me; and the women in this story all end up betraying someone throughout the course of the tale, adding to the overall downer tone of the story.  It’s not a bad book, and so many people really love it.  There is loads of gorgeous writing, and the concept is fantastic.  But in the end, this book just isn’t magical to me.

Unknown Threat // by Lynn Blackburn

//published 2021//

For a moment, I’m going to take a break from my January reviews (lol) and talk about a book I read more recently, mainly because the publishers were kind enough to gift me a copy in exchange for my insightful opinions.  :-D

It appears that someone may have a vendetta against the Secret Service office in Raleigh – one agent was killed a few months prior to the opening of the book, and in the first chapter more agents are attacked.  Although there is always some inter-office friction between the FBI and the Secret Service, the FBI is called in to help work through the case, with Faith in charge of the investigation.  Working in close contact with Secret Service Agent Luke, there is some romance in the story, but the main focus is the mystery of who could be staging these horrific attacks and why.

There was a lot to enjoy in this story.  I really liked the characters and felt like Blackburn gave them a believable amount of backstory/issues without it getting ridiculous.  Both Luke and Faith have aspects of their past that they need to overcome, both to help them through the case and to help them come together as a couple.  This is published by Revell so there is a Christian message to the story, but the conversations about Christianity, prayer, doubt, and faith felt organic to the story rather than shoehorned in as is so often the case.  However, on that note, it did feel a little too tidy at the end – I would have liked some more specific resolution concerning Faith’s issues with her faith.  The ending of the story also felt a little too… complicated?  It did make sense, but in a somewhat convoluted manner.

Still, on the whole I really enjoyed this one.  It was an easy 4* read for me, and I’m looking forward to checking out the next book in the series when it appears.

Active Defense // by Lynette Eason

YAY!! Reviews for January IN January!! A momentous occasion! While Active Defense wasn’t the first book I read in January, it was a book that I received from the publisher so I wanted to get this review written before I delved into the rest of this month’s books.

Third in Eason’s Danger Never Sleeps series, this story focuses on Heather and was probably my favorite of the series so far. All of these books are centered on a group of friends who met/served together in the military in Afghanistan, but I appreciate the fact that Eason doesn’t try to politicize her stories. Most of the action takes place stateside, but Eason uses the military and Afghanistan as a backdrop that is effective and engaging.

//published 2021//

Heather worked as a field surgeon when she was in Afghanistan, and is now back home in South Carolina as a civilian, working in a hospital there. However, she’s recently become convinced that someone is following her – and she can’t figure out why. She confesses her concern to her friends one night when they’ve gathered for a cookout. Present are several characters from the last two books, including Travis, who owns a security agency and employs a couple of the other characters. That night, when Heather gets home, she notices several things out of place at her house and even though her alarm hasn’t been triggered, believes someone is hiding in her house. When she sees a picture of her and her closest friends on the refrigerator, each of them now sporting a red dot on their foreheads that weren’t there earlier, she grabs her emergency cash and emergency gun and bails, only letting her friends know that she’s going into hiding and that they may be in danger, not telling them where she’s headed.

The action in this one felt well-paced and (for the situation) believable. Now that more relationships have been established within the group of friends, the story was more cohesive than the earlier books – originally the readers were just told that these people all trusted one another, but now we’ve seen them working together and have watched that trust develop.

Sometimes the “side story” feels extraneous and distracting, but here I liked the addition of Ryker’s story. His background with an abusive father tied in well to Heather’s background, giving her more depth and helping us to better understand some of her actions, while also showing how situations where someone is being abused are frequently nuanced – not because the abuse is ever justified, but because it can be so difficult for victims to extract themselves from these horrible situations.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read – what I would call “lite” thriller – definitely a thriller, but not necessarily with the dark intensity that that term generally conjures up. While this reads best within the context of the earlier two books, it still stands independently and can be read that way, although you’ll miss some of the background connections between other characters. I’ve liked Heather from the beginning of the series and was glad to see her get her own story. Also, while I originally thought this was going to be a trilogy (mainly because Eason seems to favor them) but it appears that a fourth book is scheduled to be published this year.

Conclusion – 4* for an engaging and enjoyable read. Special thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy, which didn’t impact my opinions at all.

December 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.

Onward with more December fluff reads!!

The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan – 4*

//published 2018//

While this one was a little more “novel-y” that I usually like, it ended up being one of my favorite reads of the month. At first, I was afraid that it was just going to be super angsty with a bunch of discontented, whiny women who have perfectly nice lives except they spend all of their time complaining about them. But I was pleasantly surprised by this story about three sisters who love one another but have grown apart. As we come to learn more about their childhood and the circumstances that have shaped them, I was completely drawn to the entire family. While yes, this is a feel-good Christmas story, it’s also a really lovely story about forgiveness, family, and realizing that even the people that we love the most have parts of themselves that we don’t know – everyone has something in their life that’s hard, no matter how perfect that life may look from the outside. I really enjoyed this one and will definitely be on the lookout for more books by this author.

Silent Night by Mary Higgins Clark – 3.5*

//published 1995//

Just to keep things lively, I picked up this short thriller. Clark does a great job giving motivation to multiple characters, which is what keeps this story from feeling completely ridiculous. It’s a fast read – nothing incredibly ground-breaking, but intense and hard to put down.

Christmas Gifts Collection by Elena Aitken – 3.5*

//published 2018//

In my mind, a “stand-alone” book is one that is not part of a series. However, some people use that term to label a book that theoretically can be read independently of the series of which it is a part. So while this collection was billed as a group of stand-alone stories, they were actually all part of a series that centers around a hotel called Castle Lodge. I hate reading books out of order but didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late, so for once I just went along with it. These were perfectly enjoyable stories, although I will say that the last story in the trio was the weakest – supposedly she, as the maid of honor, is helping her best friend plan her best friend’s wedding, but then in end – surprise! It’s her wedding! Except… literally the original bride was the one who was going to get married?? I just ended up feeling annoyed that the original bridesmaid was stealing the beautiful day away from the woman who was supposed to be the bride.

But anyway, they were fine stories, but didn’t make me feel like I wanted to jump in and read the whole series.

Husband Under Construction by Karen Templeton – 2.5*

//published 2011//I didn’t even read the other book in this anthology… I don’t do the ‘surprise baby’ trope lol//

I should have been warned from the title that this wasn’t going to be my kind of book. The problem was that Templeton creates two perfectly likable characters that I totally shipped, and puts them in a no-win situation. Either the female MC is going to have sacrifice her dream job, or the male MC is going to have to leave behind his wonderful, warm-hearted family AND family business to move hours away. I’m sorry, but that just isn’t my idea of a happy ending. Yeah, they end up together, but they do the one where the leave behind Noah’s entire family so they can live where the woman’s new job is – which okay, except literally the female MC goes on and on and on and on about how what she wants to do is have a huge family with lots of kids and spend her time hanging out with them etc etc so – in the epilogue now they have several kids and she’s only working part time here and there. So Noah sacrificed his spot in his family business AND left behind his completely awesome family (and the female MC – sorry, can’t remember her name haha – only has one living relative who also lives in the same town as Noah’s family) so that they could be close to the job that she isn’t even really doing?!?! It felt like a completely stupid way to end the book.

How the Dukes Stole Christmas 3*

//published 2018//

This one had four stories written by different authors – Meet Me in Mayfair by Tessa Dare, The Duke of Christmas Present by Sarah MacLean, Heiress Alone by Sophie Jordan, and Christmas in Central Park by Joanna Shupe. All of them were pretty lame, although Dare’s was probably the best of the bunch. They weren’t horrible as one-off reads, but I already passed this book on because it’s not one I see myself rereading for next year’s Christmas binge.

The Christmas Wish by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1994, 1984//

Two stories here – All I Want for Christmas and First Impressions – both of which were pretty standard Roberts fare. I had read the first story before, about twin brothers writing a letter to Santa for a new mother since theirs died several years earlier. It’s pretty adorable and I really liked the two main characters. First Impressions was published in 1984 so it has that 80s edge to it, but was still fun and frolicky even if the male MC is a little over-the-top grumpy.

Point of Danger // by Irene Hannon

Eve Reilly is a conservative talk-show host on a radio station in St. Louis. She’s used to getting threatening letters and angry on-air phone calls from listeners who disagree with her, but when a ticking package is left on her doorstep, it appears that someone has decided to up the ante on the threats.

//published 2020//

While I overall enjoyed this romantic suspense (it comes to no surprise that the detective assigned to Eve’s case is broody, handsome, and a perfect match for Eve), it wasn’t really a stand-out read for me. The pacing was somewhat uneven, and I found the conclusion/big reveal to be a little unbelievable. However, I really liked both Eve and Brent, and also enjoyed Eve’s close relationship with her sisters. (This book is supposedly the first in a trilogy, so I’m assuming the sisters will star in the other two books.) The concept was also done well, and the faith/Christian aspects of the story felt natural instead of forced. The book was written in third person (always my preference), which enabled us to see some different threads coming together, of which Eve and Brent are unaware.

For me, the biggest weakness was in the conclusion. I just couldn’t quite buy that the person who turns out to be the villain was the villain. I had some suspicions but honestly thought, “No, that would be completely ridiculous”… except then that’s who it actually was. It wasn’t 100% unbelievable, but it did feel a little weak/”Bet you didn’t except the least likely person to be the bad guy!!!! GOTCHA!”

Still, this was a book that I enjoyed reading. Like I said, Eve is overall a likable person (although I did get tired of hearing about her “spinning” classes… like okay, I get it, her favorite method of exercise is going to a spinning class) and I thought that she and Brent made a good match. While this wasn’t a new classic for me, I’m definitely planning to read the next book in the series when it arrives.

NB: This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Trouble Trilogy // by Stephanie Tromly

  • Trouble is a Friend of Mine (2015)
  • Trouble Makes a Comeback (2016)
  • Trouble Never Sleeps (2018)

I can’t remember where I first saw this trilogy, but they sounded like a good combination of funny and ridiculous, and that’s exactly what they were.  While these didn’t become my new favorite books, I really did enjoy reading them, and they made me laugh multiple times.  Some of the time they were a little too YA (especially the overdone love triangle in the second book), but for the most part the snark carried them through.

The story opens because Zoe and her recently-divorced mother have moved to upstate New York, and Zoe hates it.  The only way for her to get back NYC is by getting into a prestigious private school for her senior year (she’s currently a junior), so she’s ready to work hard at her schoolwork and just try to get the heck out of Dodge.  But when Digby shows up with a whole set of theories about what happened to the high school girl who disappeared last spring, Zoe finds herself getting dragged into a lot more than she bargained for.

Here’s the thing: Yes, Digby is obnoxious.  No, the plot makes no sense.  Yes, the combination of very serious scenarios (i.e. kidnapping) with over-the-top heist-adventures is absolutely ridiculous.  No, I do not believe a few high schoolers could pull this kind of thing off.  Yes, if Digby was someone I knew in real life I probably wouldn’t like him, and yes, if this was real life I would definitely caution Zoe to stay away from him because he’s kind of weird.  But you know what?  This is fiction, it doesn’t ever pretend like it’s not fiction, and sometimes I enjoy a book like this the same way that I enjoy fantasy – sometimes you just roll with the fact that magic is a thing.  Or, in this case, that there’s a brilliantly intelligent, probably mentally ill high school kid who can pull off all kinds of ridiculous antics.

A lot of reviews for these books make all the complaints that I listed above, and I think they’re all valid complaints.  You just have to decide whether or not you can go along with the absurdity.  If you can, these books are funny and fun.  If you’re looking for characters who are more snark and entertainment than they are real people, then you’ll probably enjoy these.

While each story has its own small story, the over-arcing plot is about Digby’s sister, who was kidnapped several years earlier.  I wasn’t sure how that was all going to play out.  How it played out was just as ridiculous as everything else in these books, but still weirdly satisfying.

I do wish these books had taken some more time to develop characters instead of just having people to do what needed to happen to make the story work, if that makes sense.  Zoe, despite narrating three books, isn’t particularly interesting or individual, she’s just there.  There’s extra drama with her parents and what she wants to do with her future, and all of that could have been better explored.  The books are really about Digby, but he’s also weirdly unknowable, and while we do get some answers, he could have benefited from some more development as well.  But in the end, these aren’t books that “have” to have well-rounded characters – these books are about the heist, not the people who perform it.  But that lack of characterization is what makes these books just fun fluff instead of something really great.

If you’re willing to suspend disbelief and just jump on for the ride, these books are pretty entertaining.  Overall recommended for what they are instead of what they could be.

This Present Darkness // Piercing the Darkness // by Frank Peretti

//published 1986//

I first read these books back in high school, and read them a few times in my 20’s, but it had been at least a decade since I had revisited them.  I was a little afraid that I wouldn’t love them as much now as I did then, but there was nothing to fear – these were both 5* reads for me, and I was honestly impressed by how well they’ve aged.

The first book centers on a small college town that seems normal enough, but there is insidious evil brewing under the surface.  A young minister has just accepted the pastorship of a small church, but isn’t sure why God has called him there, since it seems that half the congregation wants him out.  A newspaper reporter from New York has just bought the local paper, hoping that a move to a small town will help him to slow down his life and reconnect with his wife and daughter, but he seems to getting pressure from various officials in the town to ignore certain activities.  One of his reporters has lived in Ashton for a few years – she moved here after the suicide of her sister, and is still trying to figure out what would cause her happy, loving sister to kill herself.  Slowly the threads of the story are drawn together as each of the characters begins to discover a piece of the puzzle.

This is an excellent thriller with absolutely spot-on pacing.  The chapters are short and snappy.  The action jumps around often enough to keep you engaged, but not so much that it feels choppy.  Throughout the story, the reader is privy not just to the actions of the human players, but those in the spiritual realm as well, as this is a spiritual battle between angels and demons, light and darkness.

Peretti doesn’t pretend to be saying that “this is the way angels and demons work” – but I feel that he does a really amazing job of presenting readers with a way that they could work.  Strengthened by prayer, the angelic forces work to protect and battle for the saints, while the demons attack, unseen, the humans in the story in a very real way.  This book is fabulously creepy, but, as a Christian, it balances that with the concept that there is much that we can do to battle the darkness that sometimes feels overwhelming.

Piercing the Darkness is a similar story, but doesn’t feel repetitive.  Although the focus is on a different town with a different core group of players, several characters from the first book reappear in this one.  I think if I had to pick a favorite, I would go with Piercing the Darkness – the pacing, again, is just astoundingly good.  I remembered some of the twists but not all of them, and I couldn’t stop racing my way through the pages.

There are several goosebump-y sections of this story, places where you suddenly recognize how God is working all of these pieces together for good – but that that doesn’t mean that our prayers and actions are useless or unneeded.  In these current times, where we are in a very serious spiritual battle, where you can actually see the evil all around us, these books were an incredibly timely read.

I’m not completely positive how well these books will read if you aren’t a Christian.  I mean, one of the foundations of the Christian belief – of most religious beliefs – is that our particular religion is correct, and others are wrong, and that’s a part of this story.  So if that kind of attitude would bother you, then probably give these a miss.  But the writing is excellent, the plot amazingly engaging, the pacing is perfect, the characters are likable – for me, these books are close to perfection, and definitely worth a read.

July 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.

For a brief moment in time I was reviewing books in the same month I read them!  Ah well, here are some more July reads (in August)….

Green Card by Elizabeth Adams – 4*

//published 2014//

This was a reread for me.  It’s vaguely a P&P modern adaptation, but honestly not really.  What it really is a marriage of convenience story, and we all know how I feel about those.  Even though this one has a few too many sexy times, it’s overall just a fun, happy tale with a likable pair of people at its core.  I really enjoyed the slow build to the romance, although at times it felt like the main characters were a little too slow at recognizing what was happening.  There is also an almost ridiculously long epilogue – this author has a habit of writing epilogues so long that I don’t understand why she doesn’t just write a sequel, which I would really enjoy.

Anyway, this was a fun one that I’ll probably reread again sometime.

Wedding Bands by Ev Bishop – 3*

//published 2015//

I got the first two books in this series as a free Kindle series a while ago and finally decided to give them a try.  I really enjoy stories about people who own/operate hospitality businesses (I’ve always dreamed of having my own little string of cabins in the woods somewhere), but this one wasn’t really about that.  Jo is trying to hang on to her (now deceased) uncle’s house so she can turn it into a B&B.  Her sister just wants to sell the place and get the money because she doesn’t think the B&B is going to be successful.  The sister hires a lawyer, Callum, who turns out is the guy who ruined Jo’s life back when they were seniors in high school.  This book was entirely based on the inability of Jo and Callum to communicate at all (literally ONE CONVERSATION fixes all their problems in the end).  There’s also this weird thing where this other guy – who happens to be Callum’s best friend – is interested in Jo and keeps basically convincing Jo and Callum that the other one is trash-talking the other, but his motivation is never really made clear, and I kept also thinking – “You & Callum have been ‘best friends’ your whole lives… and you’re trying to screw up his second chance at the love of his life…?????”  It also seems like he’s communicating/working with Callum’s ex-wife, but that’s also never made clear.  Basically, this wasn’t the worst story I’ve ever read, but it wasn’t particularly well written.  I only read the second one because I already owned it and thought I might as well see what happens to Jo’s sister, mostly because I was curious how the author could make the sister so freaking horrible in the first book and then turn her into the heroine in the second!

Hooked by Ev Bishop – 3*

//published 2015//

The second book was slightly better than the first, but honestly not by much.  The story was just SO slow… basically nothing happened the entire time except for people wandering around and not really having any conversations with one another.  There’s also a character who is getting ready to have a baby, but the dad isn’t in the picture.  I was extremely aggravated by how no one actually knew what had happened between the mom and the dad (multiple characters say things like “I don’t know what happened, but that’s their business” so it’s not even like they had conversations with her off page about the situation), yet everyone assumes that the dad is a jerk who doesn’t deserve to have any say about his own child.  Towards the end there’s this throw away comment about how the dad is thinking about suing for partial custody and everyone is basically like “wow the nerve of that guy” …  ummmm IT’S HIS CHILD?!?!?!  I am OVER the anti-dad attitudes so hard.  Even if this guy was upset with his girlfriend when he found out she was pregnant (which he may have been since they are both SEVENTEEN?!?!), that still doesn’t mean that he doesn’t deserve the right to ever see his own child???  Whatever.  Anyway.  It wasn’t even that big of a part of the story, it was just the part that annoyed me the most.

Overall, I found zero of these characters to be likable or interesting, which was a relief in some ways as it meant I didn’t have to bother finishing the series.

Daddy’s Little Girl by Mary Higgins Clark – 4*

//published 2002//

I’m a little late the MHC party, as this is only the second or third book of hers that I’ve read, but they have been consistently engaging and twisty, and I like it.  In this one, the story opens when 7-year-old Ellie’s sister (around 16 years old, can’t remember exactly) disappears one night and the next morning is discovered murdered.  Ellie feels guilty because she knew about the “secret hangout” where her sister and her sister’s friends would sometimes go to smoke or make out, but didn’t tell her parents until the morning.  Would they have discovered her sister before she died if Ellie had told them the night before?

The book then jumps forward in time.  Ellie is in her late-20’s now and is an investigative reporter.  The man who was convicted of murdering her sister – who was partially convicted because of child-Ellie’s testimony – is being released on parole.  He has always claimed he was innocent, and now says he has testimony to prove it, and is going to have the case reopened.  Ellie is still convinced of his guilt, and returns to her hometown to do her own research on her sister’s murder.  The pacing is excellent here, with many of Ellie’s discoveries muddying the water concerning the accused man’s guilt rather than clearing it.  As the reader, I was mostly convinced that he really was the murderer… and then something else would turn up.

While this isn’t particularly a stand-out thriller, it’s still a good one.  Ellie is a likable character, and I also enjoyed the fact that this book was virtually devoid of romance.  The ending is a little too tidy, but still good.  My only real beef is how hard Ellie is on her dad… like yes, he made some mistakes, but you’re an adult now and maybe you should do some investigative reporting into your own biases against him, geezy.  Still, I found it hard to put this one down and am excited to continue delving into the large backlog of Clark’s work.

Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Because I’m still reading romcoms when I can find them…

Par for the course, this was an enjoyable one-off but not an instant classic.  Evie is incredibly likable, and she definitely carried the book.  The concept here is entertaining, and Evie’s staged “meet cutes” in an attempt to prove that meet cutes are a thing were loads of fun (although sometimes slightly ridiculous).  Evie’s group of friends were also entertaining, although the one who was getting married was honestly so self-obsessed that it was hard for me to understand why everyone else liked her.  There were a few places where the pacing of this story was just off – like when they went to have the hen-do and it was a disaster, and when the rich guy is insisting that he’s in love with Evie.  Evie’s boss is also such a jerk that it literally makes no sense that she’s working for him.  And when, in the end, I found out why she was still working for him – it honestly made even less sense and kind of made me mad at the whole book.

So, in the end, not a bad read, and if you like romcoms this is a fun one to pick up, but the pacing was just too uneven for me to really love it.

June Minireviews – Part 3

So after spending a couple of weeks basically reading books for younger readers, I suddenly was filled with the yearning to read something for grown ups!  I happened to have an unread duology by Nora Roberts sitting on the shelf, so I started with those and then went on a bit of a book-buying binge, something I very, very rarely do because I mostly use the library to check out books I haven’t read yet, and spend my money buying books I already know that I love and want to reread.  But there was something kind of magical about getting a box of books I’ve never read, especially since I got most of them either on the super cheap via Book Outlet (which I just discovered) or thanks to an Amazon gift card I had been hoarding for just such an emergency as this.  Anyway, the next batch of minireviews is more focused on romcom and fun.

Sacred Sins by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1987//

This is another 1980’s romantic suspense from Nora Roberts, and really that’s about all the description you need.  I really liked the main characters and enjoyed the story at the time, but it was overall pretty forgettable.  The big reveal was a little bit confusing since it was someone who had been in the story earlier but I couldn’t remember very well, so it seemed like he either needed to be more in the story or just be a stranger, if that makes sense.  The pacing was good, and it was just nice to read a book about adults haha

Brazen Virtue by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 1988//

A loose sequel to Sacred Sins, I ended up liking this one better.  In the first book, one of the main characters is a cop, and this book is about that cop’s partner, who I actually really liked in the first book as well.  This is one of those books where the reader knows who the murderer is from the very beginning, but that didn’t make it any less suspenseful.  A big part of this book is that the original person who gets murdered works for a company that provides phone sex, so that aspect was rather eye-roll-y for me, since it’s presented as a sort of “harmless” way to cheat on your wife, but overall the pacing and story really came together well for this one.

Side note – since I now publish little reviews on Litsy much closer to when I read the book, I’m back to mostly posting pictures of books that I take myself – which means you get a lil pic of Paisley with this one, and some background of my house/garden for some of the others!

My One Square Inch of Alaska by Sharon Short – 2*

//published 2013//

This was another traveling book club book, and another bust for me.  Part of it is the incredibly misleading synopsis, which acts as though the road trip that Donna and her brother take to Alaska is the driving plot of the book.  However, that was pretty far off base.  The book is actually about Donna, a teen in a small 1950’s Ohio town.  Donna spends most of the book whining about her life, and the author spends most of the book reinforcing any stereotype you can think of about small town residents, emphasizing how literally EVERYONE who lives in a small town is narrow-minded, prejudiced, uneducated, boorish, stupid, etc. etc.  As someone who lives in a small Ohio town, it was honestly genuinely offensive.  FINALLY Donna and her brother actually go to Alaska, and that entire part of the book felt completely unrealistic.  This was a book that annoyed me so much when I was reading it that I don’t even feel like reliving it via a cathartic rant.

Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams – 3.5*

//published 2019/

So the way I picked which books I was going to buy was mostly finding anything on my TBR that looked romcom-y, because that was really, really what I wanted to read.  Sadly, it’s been a pretty mixed bag.  So far none of them have been terrible, but I’ve struggled to find any that have that actual fun, fluffy magic.  Our Stop was kind of typical.  The premise is great fun – Nadia loves to read the “Missed Connections” section of the paper (online of course) and one day reads an ad that may actually be addressed to her.  Daniel finds himself attracted to a woman he does know – he overheard a conversation she was having when she was in the park that made him admire her brains and empathy, and he has seen her a few times on his commuter train in the mornings. But how do you meet a stranger without coming across as creepy?  And so he writes the Missed Connection.  Throughout the story, Daniel and Nadia keep almost meeting through a series of circumstances that feels believable.

Whenever this book was being a romcom, it was funny and enjoyable.  However, it felt a bit like Williams wrote this happy, lighthearted story and someone read and told her that she really needed to remember that this is the 21st century, and people aren’t allowed to have fun books unless they also get some social commentary.  So there are all these random conversations where characters talk about loads of buzzwords.  Literally none of those conversations felt realistic or natural in their context, instead coming through as incredibly polemic – Remember, while we might be having fun here, we’re still feminists!  Never forget!  There’s an especially awkward scene involving Daniel’s roommate bringing home a very drunk girl from the bar and Daniel preventing the roommate from having sex with her because “If she can’t say yes, it means no!”  Which yes, is true, but doesn’t really fit the whole romcom flavor??  It was things like that that I didn’t necessarily disagree with what was being said, it just didn’t need to be said because it had literally nothing to do with the story.  That whole scene is a complete one-off that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of the plot, so apparently it was only inserted there to give readers a little mini-lesson on consent, I guess.

ANYWAY as seems to be the pattern with most of the books I got, this was fun for a one-time read, but not one I’m going to come back to again and again.  Enjoyable but not magical.

Roomies by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2017//

I literally cannot resist a marriage of convenience story.  It’s my all-time favorite trope, and even if a book sounds terrible, or has bad reviews, if it’s marriage of convenience, I’ll probably still read it!  Roomies ended up being a sort of meh read, mainly because it felt like the authors did literally zero research on green cards and how they work.  They were doing things like photoshopping pictures of themselves on a beach so they would have “photos” of their honeymoon… as though the government wouldn’t bother to check and see if they actually left NYC at any point?!  They were sending sexy text messages so they would be “on record”… as though they weren’t going to also be time-stamped??  It was just weird stuff like that that made the story feel really unrealistic and thus less enjoyable to me.  The actual romance was perfectly fine, although a smidge too angsty, but it was a struggle for me to get past their plans for “tricking” the government.

May Minireviews – Part 1

Oh look, every time I think I’m gong to get caught up – I stop posting for days!!!  Things are legit quieting down at work now, so I’m super excited about my little summer break between greenhouse work and orchard work.  Loads of things to catch up on!!  In the meantime, some random thoughts on some random books!

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan – 3*

//published 2014//

After mostly enjoying A Natural History of Dragons, I decided to give the second book in the series a try.  Like the first book, Tropic is written as though it is a memoir of Lady Trent, who lives in a Victorian-like era in a different world.  My biggest complaint about A Natural History was that setting this story in a different world felt very laborious for the reader, who now has to try and learn loads of new cultures and countries and languages, when all of that would have been mostly unnecessarily if Brennan had simply set her story in AU England, since that’s the vibe the book had anyway.  Well, I had that same complain about Tropic except even more so.  Literal CHAPTERS of Tropic are spent on history and politics, all of which was utterly boring because it was completely made up.  I just couldn’t bring myself to care at all, and that part of the story went on and on and on and ON.  Where are the dragons????  I asked myself repeatedly while dragging my way through this tale.

The other extremely annoying part about this book was Isabella’s attitude towards motherhood.  At the end of the first book (spoiler here), her husband dies (which was a whole other level of aggravating), but Isabella is pregnant.  When Tropic opens, her son is now a toddler, and Isabella basically finds him to be a huge cramp in her style.  She hires someone else to nanny him, noting, “Is the rearing of a child best performed by a woman who has done it before, who has honed her skills over the years and enjoys her work, or by a woman with no skill and scant enjoyment, whose sole qualification is a direct biological connection?”  Well, thank goodness not everyone’s mother feels this way, my gosh.  She further excuses herself by stating that no one would hold a man to the same standards – one of THE most annoying arguments people craft, as though the fact that Group A doesn’t do X means that rather than changing culture’s expectations to demand more of Group A, instead Group B should be allowed to lower themselves to the same expectations!  Throughout the entire story Isabella refuses to acknowledge any true responsibility as a parent, and frequently sighs over the fact that she has a child at all, and between that and the long, drawn out political aspect of the story, I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to bother finishing.

However, the pace did eventually pick up, bringing my rating up to a rather reluctant 3*.  I already own the third book in the series (I got it as as a set on eBay with Tropic), so I probably will read it someday, but my experience with Tropic didn’t really make me feel like reading it right away.

The Big Four by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1927//

In this Hercule Poirot book, Poirot becomes a bit obsessed with the concept that there is an organization, comprised of four powerful people, slowly undermining the governments/economies of the world.  Poirot is determined to discover the identities of these individuals and bring them to justice, especially the one who does the dirty work, known as the Destroyer, a master of disguise and duplicity.  This book is comprised of several short stories that are all connected by the theme of the Big Four.  Hastings narrates, at times convinced that Poirot is right and other times convinced that he’s seeing shadows.  All in all, while this is one of Christie’s novels that goes a bit over-the-top on the “secret society is taking over the world” theme, it’s still good fun with several twists.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – 5*

//published 1868//

It’s kind of hard to write any kind of review for a beloved classic that has been in print since 1868.  This is one of my all-time favorite books, and I couldn’t believe how long it had been since I had read it!  This is an old-fashioned story for sure, but still has plenty of thoughts and lessons that are both timeless and timely.  I love the themes of sisterhood and family.  While most people seem to view Jo as the protagonist of the story, there is so much time spent with the other sisters and their life lessons as well – Meg is always my favorite.  All in all, this was one trip down memory lane that did not disappoint.

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson – 4*

//published 2020// Bonus – picture of the buffet & shelf Tom built me this spring!! AND Roger Miller’s picture! :-D //

Swanson has become an author whose books I try to read when they come out.  Each one has its own style, and I really like that.  This one is about a guy who owns a bookshop.  At one point, back in the day, he published a blog post about eight perfect murders in fiction – they weren’t necessarily perfect books, but the murders themselves are clever and nearly undetectable.  Now, in the present day, it appears that someone is using his list to kill people.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable mystery with excellent pacing.  The bookshop owner, who is also the narrator, is quite likable, and the way the dominoes fell into place felt realistic.  This book definitely has loads of spoilers for several classic mysteries.  Besides the ones on the list of eight murders, there are a few others, including a few of Christie’s classics.  I definitely recommend looking up the books that are spoiled and making sure none of them are ones that you want to read before reading this book.  However, if you don’t want to read those books, and haven’t read them before, it shouldn’t really reduce your entertainment from this story.  Swanson does a great job of organically explaining the plot of each one in a way that didn’t feel boring or out of place, but meant that I could grasp the way that the classic mystery tied into this one.  I had read a few of the books mentioned, but definitely not all of them, and I never felt lost.  I really appreciated the way that Swanson credited and basically bragged on the classic mysteries he used – the way that he incorporated them felt like it came from a place of genuine admiration and love for those stories, and I liked that a lot.

While I really have enjoyed all the Swanson books I’ve read, this is the first one that I see myself maybe revisiting again someday.  Recommended.

Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1947//

I really don’t know how every book in the Swallows & Amazons series can be just as delightful as the one before it, but here we are!  As always, literally every page is a delight.  This is the sixth book in the series, and I’m not even sure I could pick out a favorite because I have enjoyed each of them so much.  They are simple, funny, and delightful, and I highly recommend them to anyone who has a soft spot for simple stories about children having adventures.