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.  

September Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, reviewing September books in November actually feels not completely unreasonable haha At least we’re in the same season!! September was actually a really slow reading month for me, so it shouldn’t take me too long to get through these!!

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 Duke’s Disappearance by Margaret Summerville – 3.5*

Another paperback from my box of eBay Regency romances, this one was actually one of the better ones I’ve read from that pile.  While it didn’t become a new favorite that I wanted to read again and again, the set-up actually felt plausible and the story was a lot of fun.

Fallen by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2021//

Ever since I read the Kate Burkholder series in 2019, I’ve tried to stay on top of reading the new installments as they appear.  Fallen was an overall solid thriller, although there was one point where the bad guys had an opportunity to kill Kate outright and not doing so felt a little unrealistic for the situation lol  I really enjoy this series a lot as Castillo does such a great job with the Amish community in her writing.  I highly recommend reading these in order – I think they would work individually, but reading them as a whole gives us a real picture of Kate as a person.  I have loved seeing her grow and work through various issues in her life.  Also, I’m still in love with Tomasetti haha

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton – 4*

//published 2021//

I literally don’t even know how to review this book.  It’s set in Regency-ish times and there are pirates and flying houses and a homeless pirate and romance and betrayal and tea and rogues and genteel ladies and just absolute insane amount of shenanigans.  There’s a blurb on the front cover that says, “Delightfully bonkers” and I honestly can’t think of a better way to sum this one up.  If you’re looking for something sensible and orderly, give this one a miss.  But if you’re willing to just set aside any hope for logic and plausibility and go along for the ride, this was a pretty fun read.  And the cover!!!

Flint Spears by Will James – 4*

//published 1938//

A while back I read James’s most famous book, Smoky the Cow-Horse, and was surprised at how engaging and readable it was.  The following fall, we were on vacation and stopped at a bookstore in Wall Drug, South Dakota, where I saw a reprint of another of James’s books and decided to add it to my collection.  This one didn’t have much of a plot, but I found myself drawn into the story nonetheless.  James follows the career of a cowboy named Flint Spears who is around when rodeos were first becoming a commercial enterprise.  And… that’s pretty much the whole story.  If you think about someone’s life, it doesn’t exactly have a plot, it’s just you going around doing your everyday thing and hoping for the best, and that’s pretty much what happens here.  I really liked Flint a lot and learning about the origins of the rodeo and seeing how different aspects of it developed was really interesting, but there wasn’t a big finale or anything like that.  James also decided to kill off a character I really liked and it honestly broke me up a lot.  I loved James’s illustrations (he drew them himself), and despite this story just being kind of meandery and not really going anywhere, I would definitely read another of his books.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling – 5*

September saw the conclusion of my reread of the Harry Potter series.  I still really love how everything comes together in the end, and still think Snape was a terrible person despite some redeeming qualities.  Sorry, a teacher who verbally and emotionally abuses students every chance he gets isn’t a good person, period.  I was struck this time, probably because I was reading it a chapter-a-day instead of as fast as I could, how much of the book not much is actually happening, the trio are just wandering around trying to figure out what they should do.  It was an interesting way to write the book, and I feel like an honest way, if that makes sense.  Sometimes you don’t know what to do, and you just go along and hope for a breakthrough.  On the whole, this series definitely has its weaknesses, but I still enjoy it nonetheless.

June Minireviews – Part 3

Should I just give up on this project???  I’m weirdly stubborn about someday actually being CAUGHT UP on these reviews without skipping any. I may have a problem haha  And yes, things are still chaotic at the orchard!! However, the gardening season is winding down so hopefully the actual amount of work that needs to be done around the house will calm down a smidge.

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.

10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston – 4*

//published 2019// And that picture is from last year, not this June haha //

I read this one last year and really enjoyed it, so when a loose sequel appeared, I decided to reread this one first.  I enjoyed it just as much the second time – maybe even more.  The family is just so warm and loving in this story, which make all the dating scenarios fun and funny instead of weird and creepy.

10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley Elston – 3.5*

//published 2021//

I did enjoy the follow-up but not quite as much as the original book, mainly because there isn’t as much big family time as their was in 10 Blind Dates.  Still, there is a lot to find entertaining here and the characters are all so likable that the overall book was fun.  My biggest issue – the core group of friends/cousins have had a life-long feud with two other cousins, and I would have really liked to have seen some better resolution with their relationship.  A few times it felt like they were on the cusp of a breakthrough of realizing how the “Evil Joes” could have felt left out so maybe the “evil” wasn’t all on one side… but it just never quite happened.  Still, this one was a lot of fun and I can definitely see myself rereading these again.

Emma by Jane Austen – 3.5*

//published 1815//

I reread this one as a chapter-a-day read with the PemberLittens group on Litsy.  Emma is by far my least favorite Austen, although I will say that I found it more readable in small doses – this is the highest I’ve ever rated this book haha  Emma is just soooo annoying and bratty.  I spend all my time wanting to smack her.  I also still am not a big fan of the romance here, mainly because, besides Frank Churchill, Emma has never had a chance to even MEET anyone else, having spent all her days in Highbury.  So while I do have a fondness for Knightley in general, there is also an inevitability to their relationship because really… who else does she have??  Every time I read Emma I think it’s the last time I’m going to read Emma.  Maybe I’m serious this time??

The Other Typist by Suzenne Rindell – 2.5*

//published 2013//

This book has been on my TBR since it was published in 2013. At the time, it got a lot of positive buzz from several bloggers that I follow. Since then, I’ve read one of Rindell’s later books (this one was her debut), Eagle & Crane, and loved it. All that to say, I was anticipating something a little creepy and intriguing, but ended up honestly being bored most of the time. Hardly anything happens for long swaths of book, other than the narrator constantly telling us that she’s unreliable and giving us a LOT of incredibly heavy-handed foreshadowing about where she ends up, meaning that there honestly weren’t a lot of surprises. The ending answered zero questions, which in this case just kind of felt like lazy writing instead of intriguing. It wasn’t a horrible read, but if this had been the first Rindell I read, I would never have bothered to pick up another. In Eagle & Crane she doesn’t try nearly as hard to be mysterious and it works so much better.  I can still see myself trying another of her books based on the strength of Eagle & Crane, but this one didn’t impress me.

The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis – 5*

//published 1955//

I really enjoyed my chapter-a-day reread of this classic as well – it’s one of my favorites of the series and I still do NOT think it should EVER be read as the first book, despite being chronologically the first.  It’s so much richer and more meaningful when read after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I absolutely love reading about the creation of Narnia, the establishment of the kingdom, and the challenges that the children face.  It may be my favorite of the series overall.

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer – 4*

//published 1934//

This isn’t my favorite of Heyer’s books, but it was June’s traveling book club book, and I actually enjoyed it more as a reread than I did when I first read it back in 2018.  Some of the scenes are honestly hilarious, and it does make use of the marriage of convenience trope, which is definitely my favorite.  As before, I found myself growing steadily more annoyed with the female main character’s stammer – something that doesn’t bother me at all in real life, but was q-q-q-quite annoying t-t-t-t-to r-r-r-r-read after a while.  Still, if you’re looking for just some relaxing fluff, it’s hard to go wrong with Heyer.

The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman – 3*

//published 1970//

This is the first book in the next mystery series I am hoping to read – Leaphorn & Chee.  Set on the Navajo Reservation in southwest US, the main character of the first book is Joe Leaphorn.  There were a lot of things I really enjoyed about this one.  The setting was great and Hillerman does a fantastic job helping the reader understand the complicated jurisdiction lines when something as serious as murder occurs with the boundaries of the Indian reservation.  The mystery itself was engaging and the pacing was good.  However, Leaphorn himself was not a particularly knowable character?  We read the entire book and I never even found anything about where he lives or what is home life is like.  There is a casual reference to a message being left for him by his wife – but we never meet her.  Does he even like her?  Does he have children?  I don’t have to know ever nitty-gritty detail about a MC’s life, but Leaphorn ended up feeling a bit more like an outline of a person than someone I knew.  The mystery itself went a bit off the rails at the end as well, leaving me with a lot of questions, and this book undeniably NEEDED a map in the worst way – Hillerman was constantly and casually talking about driving from here to there without any real indication as to what that distance meant in real time (1 mile? 10 miles? 100 miles?).  Still, it was a good enough story that I felt like I wanted to give the second book a try – even if it didn’t come in at the library until the next month haha

Hostile Intent // by Lynette Eason

//published 2021//

I’ve really been enjoying Eason’s Danger Never Sleeps series, so I was excited when I received a copy of the final book from the publisher in exchange for this review.  Links to my thoughts on the rest of the series can be found here.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this book.  The pacing is solid and I was interested to find the conclusion.  Some of the twists I guessed, but not so many that it ruined my reading experience.  The characters are overall likable, although Ana does flirt with the “perfect character” line – I’m kind of over characters who literally speak six languages, are masters of self-defense and firearms, know how to scuba-dive and rock climb, can fly a helicopter, and somehow manage to go four days in a row with no sleep yet keep going – but, haha, they don’t cook so it’s not like they’re PERFECT! *eye roll* Sometimes it’s just a little too much.

Setting aside her perfection, I was still rooting for Ana to not only stay safe from the guy who is after her, but for her to be able to find out the truth about her father and reach a place of peace with her past.  Eason does a really good job of making her characters be Christians, but in a quiet way – it’s just a part of their essence, and they live by those values without making a big deal about it.  I also appreciate that Eason doesn’t have everyone participate in “missionary dating” where one person is a Christian and the other isn’t.

While Hostile Intent wasn’t the best thriller I’ve ever read, it was still an enjoyable and engaging read.  I really feel like this series could have been better connected – while there are overlapping characters because they are all friends with each other, there wasn’t any kind of overarching plot that linked the books with one another.  These could definitely be read as standalones, so I guess there are pluses and minuses to the minimal connections.

Thanks again to Revell for providing me with a copy of this one, and I look forward to seeing what Eason writes next!!

March Minireviews – Part 4

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.

Heartstone by Phillip Margolin – 4*

//published 1978//

I’m still working my way through Margolin’s back catalogue after the Amanda Jaffe series got me hooked on his writing.  This one was a little darker than I like, but was still just thoroughly engaging writing.  As always, my biggest complain with Margolin’s writing in general is his habit of dumping about 50 names on you in the first 50 pages without really indicating which of those names are going to be important later on.  My bookmark for a Margolin book is always an index card with names/notes on it, which is just a little ridiculous.  It  evens out as I get into the story and the main players emerge, but still.  While this isn’t one I would read again, it was definitely worth the one-time read.

On Equal Ground by Elizabeth Adams – 4*

//published 2017//

We all know that I go through kicks where all I want to read is P&P variations, and I hit a mini-kick at the end of March.  I’ve really enjoyed a couple of Adams’s other variations so I read two more lol  This was one of those ones that’s actually just a different story with the same characters.  While staying with her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth catches the eye of a wealthy widower some 20 years her senior.  Adams has them marry and love each other without it feeling creepy or weird.  Of course, the reader knows that the poor man is just a plot device, and probably the biggest drawback of this book was that I actually really liked earl and thought he and Elizabeth were a great match, and I spent the entire first half of the book dreading his untimely death.  Still, it was handled really well, and Elizabeth falling in love with Darcy felt natural and was done well.  Because Elizabeth has married an earl, she actually outranks Darcy in both class and wealth, so the big twist here is a difference in their prejudices from the original.  This wasn’t my new favorite, and it’s definitely a little more thoughtful than a lot of P&P variations tend to be, but I overall really enjoyed this one.  NB, this one didn’t have any explicit sex scenes, either, which was super nice.

The 26th of November by Elizabeth Adams – 4.5*

//published 2018//

A mashup of P&P and Groundhog Day??  Sign me up!  The best part of the Netherfield Ball from Elizabeth’s perspective – when it’s OVER!  So it’s rather unfortunately that, for some reason, she has to keep living that same day, including the dreadful ball, over and over again.  This is a very lighthearted variation, so don’t expect a lot of life philosophy, but I really enjoyed watching Elizabeth try to figure out why she is having this experience, and wondering if she’s supposed to “fix” something so that she can move on.  This was an entertaining way for her to come to grips with some her prejudices and blind spots.  Darcy isn’t living the same day over and over, but because his interaction with Elizabeth is different each time, he also has some changes of character as well.  The ending is the whole final rendition of November 26 from Darcy’s perspective, so it was a little repetitive, but still interesting to see what, from his view, was just one day.  If you’re looking for a low-angst P&P variation with some definite funny moments, this one is totally worth a read.

Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon by Maria Grace – DNF

//published 2016//

Usually I review DNFs at the end of the month, but I feel like I’m on a P&P roll here.  I gave this one up about halfway through the story, despite loving the concept of an England full of dragons, with each estate having a dragon guardian.  However, the story itself was sooooo slow.  Everyone was spending all their time bickering and arguing (including the dragons) and Mr. Bennet was an absolutely GRUMP.  There were random chunks of the original P&P just plunked in here and there, which really disrupted the flow of the story.  I was already getting over the way no one in this version was likable, and threw in the towel when Mr. Bennet very condescendingly told Elizabeth that a man would be able to do her job better.  It was just so completely out of character for Mr. Bennet to say something so derogatory to Elizabeth, and the way he said it was just beyond insulting and rude.  Even my high tolerance for bad P&P variations was over this one.

Darcy Comes to Rosings by Andrea David – 3*

//published 2018//

Technically, this was the first book I finished in April, but like I said, I feel like I’m on a P&P roll haha  This one was a classic tale of two halves.  The first half of the story takes place at Rosings during Elizabeth’s visit to Charlotte.  However, Darcy and Elizabeth end up with a few more opportunities to converse, and Charlotte takes a much more proactive role in encouraging romance between the two.  This part of the story was really engaging and I felt like it actually totally fit Charlotte’s character as well.  But then I hit the second half, after Darcy and Elizabeth get engaged.  All of a sudden, it was page after page of Elizabeth panicking and stressing out that she’s not good/rich enough for Darcy, going on and on and on and on and on despite reassurances from everyone.  It was sooo repetitive and boring and I honestly didn’t feel like it was resolved all that well.  I just found it hard to believe that saucy, self-confident Elizabeth, who was willing to write off Darcy for being a jerk in the original, would spend so much time agonizing about her self-worth.  Lame.

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.