Oh my gosh not only did WordPress change it’s editing layout AGAIN now the entire dashboard is completely wonk and I HATE IT.  Seriously, please let me know if you are working on a blog layout that actually makes sense instead of this god-forsaken hellscape that WordPress’s dashboard has become.

Rearview Mirror // December 2020

Well, I am at least getting to this before the end of January – and maybe I’ll actually get 2020’s wrap-up done before we finish the first month of 2021?? We shall see…

I’m very sad because it’s been so long since I’ve read anyone else’s blog. I subscribe to everyone’s blogs via email and when new posts arrive, I chuck them into a folder to be read later… except now I’m months (and almost 2000) emails behind. The truth is, I probably won’t actually get to read them all, which means I’ve missed out on some fabulous posts. But I really want to get back into the groove of this community, so we’ll see what happens next. I appreciate you all sticking with me even when I haven’t been good at reciprocating interactions!!

Favorite December Read

I think I’m going to go with The Christmas Sisters, although pretty much any of the 4* reads below could have taken this slot. My higher-ranked reads this month were rereads and I like to choose a new book for this spot when I can.

Most Disappointing December Read

Probably Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, just because I expected something more out of P&P retelling.

Other December Reads

December Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  29 (3 Kindle, 26 physical)
  • Total Pages Read:  9122
  • Average Star Rating for September:  3.6
  • Longest Book: Ready Player One (579 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  Foxes in Love (103 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  These Old Shades (published 1926)
  • Newest Book:  Ready Player Two, Holding Out for Christmas, The Twelve Dates of Christmas, Christmas Comes to Dickens, and Foxes in Love (all published 2020)
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  12, plus several more in the compilations

December DNFs

The only one I had this month was Christmas in Paris by Anita Hughes. I really wanted to get on with this book and I just couldn’t. Isabel has called off her wedding at the last minute and gone on her honeymoon trip to Paris on her own. In the suite next to hers, Alec’s fiancee eloped with someone else just before their wedding so he’s also honeymooning on his own. This could have been a fun and gentle story of second chances, but instead it was mostly about Isabel’s just mind-boggling levels of self-centeredness. First off, we find out that the reason that she called off the wedding was because her fiance decided that he wanted to leave his job in the city and take over his family’s horse farm. The implication is that this is one of those gigantic, multi-million-dollar horse farms, not some little shack in the boonies, but it’s not good enough for Isabel, despite the fact that we find out that her fiance has always said that taking over the horse farm is his ultimate goal in life. But Isabel LOVES her job and LOVES living in the city so she doesn’t even bother to try to work things out with her man because why bother? It’s not like they’ve been in a relationship for several years or anything. The author does this bizarre thing where she has Isabel bring along her “engagement journal” that she started when she first got engaged. Throughout the story, Isabel reads random sections of it, recalling how excited she was at the beginning, and WOW did that make this book significantly more depressing because we’re basically reading about how happy and full of love she is for a relationship that we know is going to fail a year later. Talk about a downer, plus it honestly just emphasized how completely self-absorbed she is. Throughout all the preparations for the wedding that didn’t happen, it’s all about her and if her fiance doesn’t agree with her, it’s because he just doesn’t “get” her like he used to. I got about halfway through this one before giving up because Isabel got more unlikable, not less. She’s a total snob, obsessed with wealth, position, and jobs. She kind of dates another guy but when she finds out that he’s “just” rich and titled and doesn’t actually do much in his day-to-day job, she blows him off. Heaven forbid someone who’s a millionaire just kick back and enjoy life instead of working in finance all day. What even. Plus the whole “he doesn’t work hard enough for me” thing just didn’t ring all that true considering she broke up with the other guy because he was “just” going to be a farmer. Oh my gosh. I just couldn’t deal with her whiny, entitled attitude for a second longer.

TBR Update

This I keep updated as I go, so it’s current as of today, rather than as of the end of December. Still a million years behind on reading blog posts, though! :-/

For those of you who don’t know, I’m weirdly obsessive with organizing the TBR, and have it on a spreadsheet divided into six different tabs:

  • Standalones:  515 (up 2)
  • Nonfiction:  124 (holding steady)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  647 (up one)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  255 (down one)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 118 (holding steady)
  • New Arrivals – if you actually pay attention to this section, you’ll know this is a new slot. I have a lot of books that I have been gifted or that I pick up somewhere and they get put on my “oh I’m so excited about this shiny new book” shelf… and then of course don’t actually get read. I didn’t have this as its own list for quite a while because there’s a lot of overlap (sometimes I buy a book because it’s on my TBR, so now it’s both on the TBR and on the New Arrivals) but that just means reading a book from this shelf will make multiple lists drop!!: 115

Reading Challenges Updates

  • #ReadingEurope2020 – visited no where – this challenge is NOT going to get completed this year but I’m still tracking it for fun (total 9/46 complete)
  • #ReadtheUSA2020 – visited New Hampshire & Oklahoma (total 35/50 complete – this one isn’t getting done this year, but I’m going to try again in 2021!!)
  • #SeparatedbyaPondTour – visited the states above plus Alberta (Canada), Aberdeen (Scotland), & the City of London. (Total 63/159 complete – this is still on the 3-year track. If anyone has books they love set in Canada, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, let me know!!)
  • #LitsyAtoZ – 2 books – got both Y & Z at the last minute!! (24/26 complete – only weird letters left. Specifically Q & X)
  • #BackwardsAtoZ – 22 books (No V on my fifth list through No Q on my sixth list – I’m trying to do this one in order and to see how many times I can get through the alphabet!)

Current Reads

Working my way through The Pioneers by David McCullough, which is pretty interesting nonfiction so far. It’s focused on the settlement of Marietta, Ohio, which is only a couple hours from here. It’s fun and interesting to read about places I’ve seen in real life.

To balance that out, I’m reading The Mislaid Magician by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. It’s a reread, but so much fun!

Up Next

The probable next five (ish) reads…

  • The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack – not one I would have necessarily picked up on my own, but it’s my next read for the traveling book club. I’m actually in two groups right now, but my other book for this group hasn’t arrived (wow the postal service has been crazy, that’s a whole other topic, but my books for the traveling book clubs were heading to Massachusetts and Connecticut respectively (from here in Ohio) yet went to DES MOINES and sat there for almost two weeks…!!!!) and I can’t even remember which one it is, so that’s a surprise title that will get read whenever it arrives!
  • Miss Eleanor Tilney by Sherwood Smith – After reading Northanger Abbey I realized that what I really wanted was a book about Henry’s sister!! This is the only one I’ve found and since it’s free on Kindle Unlimited I’ll probably give it a whirl even though the reviews aren’t that great.
  • Bill the Conqueror by P.G. Wodehouse – I haven’t forgotten my goal to read through all of Wodehouse’s works in published order, but other reads keep getting in the way!
  • The Boden Birthright by Mary Connealy – frankly, I don’t even remember what this book is about, but something possessed me to download it for free to my Kindle at some point! This is the next book in my attempt to wade through my neverending Kindle backlog.
  • Time and Time Again by Ben Elton – a random book from my TBR – it’s been there forever – I’m not a huge fan of time travel-y books, but I’m willing to give this one a try.

Well, my friends, that’s finally all the reviews for 2020!!! Hopefully I’ll post a wrap up for the year sometime soon and then – on to 2021!! Happy new year!!

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter // by Jennifer Reese

//published 2011//

This was another nonfiction read that had been on my radar for a while, and after thoroughly enjoying Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, I decided to try another not-exactly-cookbook. Make the Bread, Buy the Butter was entertaining and informative, and I ended up purchasing my own copy to add to my collection so that I can try out some of Reese’s recipes.

Reese introduces her book by saying that a while back, she lost her job. And even though her husband was still making good money and they weren’t going to be destitute or anything, her immediate thought was wondering how she could save money. Her thoughts went towards her grocery budget. So much money spent on food every month! Couldn’t she save a lot of money if she started making things from scratch instead of purchasing them ready-made? After all, now she had plenty of time on her hands!

But as she began her experiments, she realized that sometimes store-bought really is better – and cheaper – than homemade. And so this book was born, as she writes about her various attempts at home-making just about everything, telling her readers which things are worth the effort and which things aren’t.

Reese analyzes her results on quality, expense, and hassle. She summarizes her experiments with the recipe, and then says whether she thinks it’s worth making it, or if you should buy it. She also tells you how much hassle it’s going to be if you decide to try and make it yourself. For instance, when talking about bread she says that it’s fairly easy, but it’s also easy to get carried away –

For a while I felt I should bake all our bread – that it was spendthrift and lazy not to. I didn’t want my husband to buy bread, even when we ran out, and I got snippy when he did. But I also got snippy when he’d remind me that we were running out of bread – I felt like I was being nagged to put on my apron. I think everyone in my family is glad I’ve stopped wearing that particular hair shirt. Homemade bread is better but still: it’s just bread.

She goes on to say that bread is worth making it and lists the hassle level as “Can you stir? You can make this bread.”

Another great example was the comparison between hot dog and hamburger buns. She says she spontaneously tried a recipe for hot dog buns one day and even though they were “lopsided and lumpish” when they came out of the oven, they tasted delicious. Reese said that as she was eating them –

I found myself reflecting on how bad most hot dog buns are. How we take for granted their badness, how inured we are to their badness. How I always throw away what’s left after the last bite of hot dog because the bread has the texture of foam rubber.

And so, hot dog buns fell into the “make” category. But then –

Because hot dog buns were such a revelation, I assumed the same would be true of hamburger buns. This didn’t turn out to be so. In my experience, homemade hamburger buns are always too stiff and substantial, not fluffy enough. Here’s the issue: Unlike hot dogs, hamburgers are sloppy and effusive and you need a bun to work as both a sponge to soak up juices and a mitt to hold the hamburger itself. While I can bake a really outstanding mitt, it never quite doubles as a sponge. I have to hand it to Big Food: it has mastered the spongy bread.

I think that that’s one of the big reasons that I enjoyed this book – in many cases, Reese concluded that making something yourself actually wasn’t worth it, and instead of beating yourself up trying to find the perfect hamburger bun recipe, you should just embrace the fact that they aren’t that expensive to buy at the grocery.

In addition to experimenting with cooking, Reese looked at sourcing her food closer to home as well – her chapters about raising chickens, goats, turkeys, ducks, and a garden were all entertaining, honest, and useful. Her conclusion that raising your own chickens genuinely is not a money-saving proposition was completely genuine, especially when she said that she now keeps the chickens because she likes them, and the eggs are a bonus.

Throughout, Reese writes as though she’s sitting across the kitchen table from you, chatting about her life experiences. Her husband and children frequently flit through the stories as individuals who have to endure her experiments and are sometimes rather snarky about it.

I ended up with a long list of possibilities I wanted to try from this book, including making my own cream cheese and vanilla extract, hot dog buns and tortillas, whipped cream and graham crackers – and several more. This fall has been (as I may have mentioned) a bit insane, so I haven’t had time to try any of these yet, but I’m hopefully that I’ll get to some of them this winter. I’ve been making bread for us every week already (even before I read this book) and would love to find a few more homemade recipes that, once I knew what I was doing with them, wouldn’t be too much hassle to keep in the regular rotation.

All in all, I definitely recommend this one. It was easy to read and felt very accessible. Reese made me feel better about the fact that I don’t make everything from scratch even while she encouraged me to try making things from scratch that I’d never considered before. An unexpectedly fun and engaging read.

Rearview Mirror // September 2020

Yes, my title is correct: this post is a wrap-up for September… on the last day of October third of November (!). What can I say, life has been a little crazy haha Things are humming right along and we are keeping as busy as ever. October is always a really slammed month for me now that I work at an orchard, so I’ve had a little trouble keeping up the blog. Hopefully November will be a little quieter and I will catch up on important things, like reading and blogging about reading!!!

Favorite September Read

It’s rare that a nonfiction book snags this slot (and, if I’m honest, Secret Water was probably the book I enjoyed reading the most this month, but I just can’t let Arthur Ransome win EVERY month!), but Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat was so unique and intriguing that I feel like it deserves this spot. I really learned so much from this one – as far as practical application goes, I’ve been surprised at how many of the concepts I’ve been able to apply.

Most Disappointing September Read

Probably Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff. I’ll admit that I didn’t have super high expectations for this one, but even my low standard wasn’t met. This one dragged on too long and had a bizarre love triangle. Ugh.

Other September Reads

September Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  16 (one ebook)
  • Total Pages Read:  6186
  • Average Star Rating for September:  4.05
  • Longest Book: S. (456 pages)
  • Shortest Book:  Fangs (100 pages and most of them were pictures!)
  • Oldest Book:  Anne’s House of Dreams (published 1917)
  • Newest Book:  Fangs, Thorn, Nine, Beach Read, and Virtual Unicorn Experience (all published 2020)
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  11

September DNFs

The Castle in the Attic – by Elizabeth Winthrop – This is one of those books that’s been on my shelf for eons, but I’ve never gotten around to reading. While it had many elements that I generally enjoy in a book for younger readers, the overall story was just SO boring. Plus the main character was kind of a brat and I found him hard to like. So this one is now in the giveaway box!

Silken Scales – by Alex Hayes – This is a Kindle book I got for free forever ago. It started super slow and wasn’t really going anywhere. It was also the first book in a trilogy, and I’ve noticed a trend (especially in free Kindle books…) where literally nothing happens in a first book because the author is “setting the stage”… and I just wasn’t that invested.

The Crimson Thread – by Suzanne Weyn – I’ve read other books by this author and found them to be fine, but I couldn’t get into this one. It was a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin except without magic, set around 1900. I’ve read other fairy tales done this way in this series (series is a loose term – the books aren’t actually connected, they’re all just fairy tale retellings of some kind) and it ends up feeling more like the outline of a book instead of an actual story. The format is just too short or something.

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre – by Gail Carson Levine – I really enjoyed The Two Princesses of Bamarre, so I was looking forward to this book set earlier in the kingdom’s history. However it was just DEAD BORING. I struggled along and finally gave up about 75% through the book because I still did NOT CARE about what was happening.

TBR Update

This I keep updated as I go, so it’s current as of today, rather than as of the end of September.  I’m sure it’s off-kilter, though, because I get most of my TBR additions from reading book reviews on all of your lovely blogs, and despite my efforts to try and get caught up on reading them, I still have over ONE THOUSAND unread emails that are all blog entries!!!!

For those of you who don’t know, I’m weirdly obsessive with organizing the TBR, and have it on a spreadsheet divided into five different tabs:

  • Standalones:  497 (up 31 as I finally transferred all of my Litsy wishlist books to the “official” TBR!)
  • Nonfiction:  124 (up 8 for the same reason!)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  647 (up one)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  254 (up nine!!!!)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 118 (up six!!)

Reading Challenges Updates

  • #ReadingEurope2020 – visited no where!! – this challenge is NOT going to get completed this year but I’m still tracking it for fun (total 7/46 complete)
  • #ReadtheUSA2020 – visited two states: Arkansas and Colorado (total 33/50 complete – unless I get myself really organized, I probably won’t get this one done this year)
  • #SeparatedbyaPondTour – visited the states above, plus Cornwall, Cumbria, and Wiltshire in England. (Total 57/159 complete – this is still on the 3-year track. If anyone has books they love set in Canada, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, let me know!!)
  • #LitsyAtoZ – 0 books (22/26 complete – only weird letters left. Specifically Q, X, Y, and Z, so let me know if you have suggestions for titles or author last names that start with those letters!)
  • #BackwardsAtoZ – 10 books (No M through no V on my fourth list – I’m trying to do this one in order and to see how many times I can get through the alphabet!)

Current Reads

In November I’m participating in two buddy reads on Litsy – Moby Dick and Northanger Abbey. Unfortunately, Moby hasn’t arrived yet, so I’m already behind on that one (lol). However, I’ve read the first few chapters of Northanger Abbey and love it. It’s a reread for me, but I’ve only read it once, and I had forgotten how funny it is.

I’m also reading Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley. Two things I generally dislike in fiction – dual timelines and a hint of paranormal – but somehow when Kearsley writes them it all just works out. I’m almost done with this one and have really enjoyed it.

Finally, I’m reading The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie. It’s been a while since I’ve read this one, so, as usual, I can’t remember exactly how it goes!

Up Next

The probable next five(ish) reads –

  • The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu – Every now and then I have subscribed to OwlCrate, and this is a book from them so it’s quite a lovely edition. November starts a new round of the traveling book club and this is my pick for the fantasy group that I’m in. (Actually, Bellewether is my pick for the romance group).
  • Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery – I’ve been rereading all the Anne books, and this is the final in the series. This one is actually my favorite in the series in many ways and it always just guts me emotionally (in a good way).
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – As you all know, I’m pretty active in the Litsy community, including being a part of their penpal club. One of the other members randomly sent me this book with a notation that she thought it would be fun to have a few books just floating around the group to be annotated and then passed on to someone else, a sort of unofficial traveling book with no particular destination in mind haha I haven’t really looked to see if this is a book I’m going to like, but I’ll at least give it a try before passing it on.
  • Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West – I’ve read a few of West’s books and found them to be pretty harmless fluff. This one has been on the TBR for a while so it’s about time to pick it up.
  • Forced Alliance by Lenora Worth – Some of you may remember quite a while ago when I inherited a laundry basket full of Love Inspired paperbacks. While I’ve donated most of them (after attempting to read them all, I realized that it just wasn’t going to work since most of them, frankly, were 2-3* reads for me), I kept a few that genuinely looked interesting. This one is romantic suspense, so we’ll see how it goes.

Well, that’s a wrap for September (ha!) Hopefully everyone’s fall is going well. While I’m not exactly excited about winter, I’m looking forward to the more relaxed pace it generally brings… although the guy I work for at the greenhouse in the spring already called to see what my schedule looks like since he will probably start planting in December!

Happy November everyone!!

Nine // by Rachelle Dekker

//published 2020//

This book was kindly gifted to me by the publisher in exchange for a review.  Unfortunately, I misread the email… I thought this review was due by the end of the month, but apparently it was due by September 25!  So apologies for that.

Nine is a fast-paced book about a girl who has escaped from a secret government facility. Helped along by Zoe, a young woman with secrets of her own, they are doing their best to unravel the mystery of Lucy’s past.

There were a lot of things that I enjoyed about this book.  I really liked Zoe a lot.  I also found myself unwillingly drawn to Tom Seeley, the FBI agent in charge of chasing down Lucy.  He’s a classic anti-hero, full of conflict, determined to do his job, but starting to wonder if the job is the wrong thing to do.  There were a lot of layers to this story, and a lot of philosophical questions, mostly centered around the concept of humanity – what makes us human?

However, I ultimately felt like the philosophical questions sometimes took up more page time than the actual story, and there were a lot of extra complications that seemed to have been added only for the sake of bringing up more thoughtful questions, meaning that things got a bit muddled in the middle.  I was also very confused by a scenario towards the end of the book – there were just moments throughout where something kind of odd would happen that would take me out of the story.

While I did enjoy this book and gave it 4*, there was just something lacking.  I was especially surprised at this book’s take on religion, considering the publisher – it really comes across as almost anti-religion, which definitely isn’t what I would expect from Revell.  There definitely wasn’t any moment in time where the characters considered the concept of God, or thought that maybe what makes us human is the fact that we’ve been created in His image.  Instead, the conclusions to the philosophical questions came through as somewhat clinical.

Despite my reservations, I enjoyed this book while I was reading it, and I would be interested to see what else Dekker has written.

Side note: Since Goodreads makes it so much easier to insert spoilers, my review there does have some more details about the things that bothered me a bit – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3560913813

Sourdough // by Robin Sloan

//published 2017//

A few years ago I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstorewhich I throughout enjoyed, and which totally held up to a reread as well.  Its cast of – for lack of a better work – quirky characters, the almost unbalanced feeling of not being completely positive if the story is set in current times or somewhat in the future (is the tech really good enough for this already??  … Maybe??), and the gently thought-provoking way of probing into that tech (is this actually a good thing or…???) were all reasons that I enjoyed the journey of that story, and I’m pleased to report that all of those reasons exist in Sourdough as well.

The main character/narrator of Sourdough is Lois, who is a software engineer for a robotics company in San Francisco.  She likes her work (she assumes) but it is somewhat all-consuming, mainly because she doesn’t have a lot else to do with her time.  She’s a transplant from Michigan and hasn’t made a lot of friends, beyond her colleagues, in her new city.  One day, when she gets home from work, there is a flyer on her door for a soup & sandwich shop that delivers.  She orders a meal from them and loves it.  Soon, she’s a regular there.  The restaurant isn’t really a restaurant since its actually just a pair of brothers cooking in their own kitchen – one brother cooks, the other delivers.  In a weird way, they become Lois’s friends as she calls them on the phone and chats with them when the deliver her dinner.  And so, she’s devastated when they leave San Francisco.  On their way out, they leave Lois with their special sourdough starter, special instructions for feeding and caring for it, and one of the brother’s email addresses so she can write to him if she has any questions.

Soon, Lois becomes absorbed in caring for the starter (it is alive, after all) and then trying to bake her own bread with it.  And that’s when things start to get a little… odd.

This book is a little hard to explain, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It flirts with the idea of scifi… maybe it IS scifi… or maybe there really is a secret farmers’ market in an underground bunker off the coast of California where people are making food using weird science??  Sloan never really lets you know and it honestly works.  I really liked Lois a lot, and even if the whole situation got a little crazy, it was still a lot of fun.  I think part of the reason this one works is because the chapters are short and snappy, Lois is likable, and the whole thing feels mostly plausible – I never found myself going, “Well that would never happen” at any particular junction, but at one point we’re having a conversation about cannibalistic sourdough starters I’m thinking, “How in the WORLD did I get here?!”  It’s fantastic.

If you enjoyed Penumbra, or if you like lite scifi, you’ll probably enjoy this one.  It was an easy 4* read for me, and I’m keeping an eye out for what Sloan does next.

In the meantime, I may need to learn how to make sourdough bread…

June Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, so far in June I’ve read 33 books and I’m almost finished with a few more, so I probably won’t get caught up on June reviews before the end of June – but maybe I can be all caught up by the end of July??  June has mostly been a LOT of rereads of childhood favorites, so I’m afraid most of the reviews are going to be “oh this one was so fun!” without a lot of depth!  I’ve made a concerted effort to spend more of my spare time reading instead of just mindlessly messing about on my computer or phone, and it’s definitely been reflected in how many books I’ve checked off.  Last year was the first year I began really tracking my stats (i.e. pages read) but June is going to be by far the highest page count I’ve had since January 2019.  All that to say – be ready for lots of reviews, mostly rather fluffy in nature!!

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – 4.5*

//published 2011//

First up on the reread wagon – I had only read this book once, but that inspired me to buy my own copy because I really enjoyed it.  Stiefvater has a way of writing in a rather melancholy way that I normally wouldn’t like, but somehow DO like when I’m reading her writing.  This book has an amazing sense of place – you can feel the weather throughout.  The smells and tastes of this story are almost as important as the views, and overall the story just has such rich writing.  The entire concept is just so creative and engaging.  I couldn’t remember how it ended, either, so I was on the edge of my seat.  I still haven’t read Stiefvater’s most famous books (The Raven Boys series), but everything of hers that I have read I’ve loved, even ridiculous werewolf stories that are full of YA angst.  I definitely recommend this one, but not if you’re scared of horses, because if you already find horses intimidating, you’ll be terrified of them by the time you’re done with this one.

If you want more details about this story, here’s my original review from when I first read it back in 2016.

Caroline & Her Kettle Named Maud by Miriam Mason – 3.5*

//published 1951//

In a complete change of pace, Caroline is a historical fiction set in the wilds of Michigan and written for younger readers.  Mason wrote several of these types of stories, set in different historical places.  While a perfectly pleasant story, it’s obviously for readers who are just ready for chapter books, as there wasn’t a great deal of depth.  Still, Caroline is a very likable heroine.  She’s the only young girl in a large clan, and she really wishes she could have her own gun like all of her male relatives.  Instead, when her family leaves Virginia to head to Michigan, her grandparents gift her with her very own shiny copper kettle.  Many men named their guns at the time, and Caroline was so certain that she would be getting a gun that she had already picked out the name of Maud – so she gives the kettle the name instead.  I actually really like the way the story explores how Caroline isn’t super happy with all the girl chores she’s expected to do, but in the end realizes that she doesn’t have to be a boy or even act like a boy in order to accomplish things that are brave and exciting.

Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer – 4*

//published 1966//

I can remember reading this book so many times when I was young (as you can probably tell from its condition – although I did NOT color in the letters!), and the reread didn’t really disappoint.  Through a series of events Sally has to stay with her gloomy and hitherto unknown elderly Aunt Sarah in a forbidding old house.  At first, Sally is rather terrified, but she soon learns that there used to be another Sally who lived in this house – current Sally reads the diary of past Sally, and yearns to find past Sally’s doll, Elizabeth, who was mysteriously lost one Christmas.  This is a fun little book, and plays with that “is it magic or not” line quite well.  Once again a fun book for younger readers – I can remember being completely enamored with the mystery of this one.

Bambi by Felix Salten – 4*

//published 1928//

This classic was originally published in Austria and is – no surprise – quite different from the Disney version.  Regular visitors here know that I like books that are animal-centric, especially ones that, although they give the animals a voice, still have those animals act naturally (think: Watership Down, The Jungle Book, etc.).  In Bambi, we see life in the forest through the view of a fawn as he learns and grows.  Because the deer are one of the larger animals in the forest, they don’t have much to fear from natural predators, but they are hunted by man, always referred to in the story as capital-H Him.  Bambi makes friends and learns many a life lesson throughout the story.  The deer struggle to survive during the winter, and live off the fat of the land in the summer.  It’s honestly a rather strange, stark tale, but life in the wild is also strange and stark, with tragedy and joy often intertwined.  I will say that I’ve never heard of people hunting here in the States the way they do in this book – with the men gathering with drums and sticks to herd everything in the forest on a path towards more men with guns – that chapter felt odd even as a child.

Overall, Bambi is an engaging and interesting story.  It’s a rather odd writing style, but honestly fits the type of story that Salten was writing.  If you like animal stories, I definitely recommend this classic.

Bambi’s Children by Felix Salten – 3*

//published 1939//

Although I read Bambi several times growing up, I had only read the sequel once since acquiring it, and my reread reminded me of why that was.  Where the scenes about nature felt natural in Bambi, they feel forced in Bambi’s Children.  There are several odd scenes where one of the deer can “hear” the trees talking when the deer is dozing – these scenes are honestly rather bizarre and don’t fit with the rest of the story at all.  The timeline for Bambi to Bambi’s Children is also rather strange – in the original story it’s implied that Bambi becomes a loner who never really visits Faline any more, because in order to survive, one must be willing to be alone.  But in the sequel, Bambi hangs out with his family regularly.  If these are Bambi’s first children, how can he also be super old and wise?  The whole thing felt rather stilted.  The story isn’t bad, but it weirdly would work better as a standalone than as a sequel, because the two books don’t jive together very well.

Rearview Mirror // May 2020

Hmm.  Well, at least I’m getting this done before July, right??

Favorite May Read

Although I actually had a lovely reading month overall – so many 4*, 4.5*, & 5* reads – I have to go with Little Women for this slot.  I definitely need to be rereading this one with more regularity, because every page was just so perfect.

Most Disappointing May Read

Even though I read a couple of other books that I enjoyed less (see the 2.5* list below), I think I found The Tropic of Serpents to be the most disappointing.  I really was looking forward to an interesting adventure with dragons, and instead I got a load of political history for a world that doesn’t exist.  So. Boring.

Other May Reads

May Stats

  • Total Number of Books Read:  23 (22 physical; 1 Kindle)
  • Total Pages Read:  7921 (Over 2000 more than April!)
  • Average Star Rating for May:  3.93
  • Longest Book:  Spy Glass (535 pages, about 100 too many!)
  • Shortest Book:  Borgel (170 pages)
  • Oldest Book:  Little Women (published 1868)
  • Newest Book:  Eight Perfect Murders (published 2020)
  • Number of New-to-Me Authors:  3

May DNFs

Actually, I didn’t have a single DNF this month!

TBR Update

This I keep updated as I go, so it’s current as of today, rather than as of the end of May.  I’m sure it’s off-kilter, though, because I get most of my TBR additions from reading book reviews on all of your lovely blogs, and am now up to almost 900 unread book blogging emails!!!!

For those of you who don’t know, I’m weirdly obsessive with organizing the TBR, and have it on a spreadsheet divided into five different tabs:

  • Standalones:  477 (down three)
  • Nonfiction:  117 (holding steady – I have NOT felt like nonfiction lately!)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  653 (down thirteen!!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  242 (down one)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 114 (holding steady)

Reading Challenge Updates

  • #ReadingEurope2020 – visited two countries – Switzerland and the United Kingdom (total 6/46 complete)
  • #ReadtheUSA2020 – visited one state (most of my travels were to fantasy locations this month lol): Connecticut (total 20/50 complete)
  • #SeparatedbyaPondTour – visited Connecticut and also two English counties – Kent and Suffolk (Total 36/159 complete.)
  • #LitsyAtoZ – 1 books (21/26 complete)
  • #BackwardsAtoZ – 10 books (No N through no Z on my second list – I’m trying to do this one in order and to see how many times I can get through the alphabet!)

Current Reads

Lately I’ve been reading multiple books at a time.  I go through cycles of doing that or of reading strictly one book at a time.  Just depends on my mood!  Anyway, currently I’m reading –

  • Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene – Not sure how I feel about this one yet.  It’s taking some getting used to it, as the world-building is a little choppy.
  • Seaside Reunion by Irene Hannon – Because everyone needs some sappy romance in their life. Plus, this one has been sitting on my shelf forever and I need to either read it or jettison it!
  • Razzle Dazzle Unicorn by Dana Simpson – Litsy introduced me to the delight of the Phoebe & Her Unicorn comics. This is the fourth book – I’ve already the first three – and they are pretty darn adorable.
  • The Phoenix & the Carpet by E. Nesbit – My June reading has involved a LOT of children’s books (spoiler alert: I’m already over 30 books for the month because of this trend).  Nesbit’s stories are always a delight.
  • Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren – Perhaps in response to the huge stack of children’s books I’ve been reading, I suddenly had an urge to read ALL THE ROMCOMS.  Since the library still isn’t doing interlibrary loan (hopefully starting back next week!!) I actually bought a bunch of new books, which almost never happens, including this one.  My other foray into Christina Lauren’s work wasn’t super awesome (Roomies) but this one has been better so far.  Side note – I got a BUNCH of books from BookOutlet.com for only around $3/ea!  Brilliant!

Up Next

The probable next five(ish) reads:

  • Seaside Reunion is the first in a trilogy, so if it’s okay, I’ll probably read the next two books.
  • I already have the next Unicorn book from the library, so that one is also on deck.
  • This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti – I’ve been meaning to reread this one for literal years.  It fits for a challenge I’m doing on Litsy, so I’m really hoping to get to it this week!
  • Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
  • The Cliff House by RaeAnne Thayne – another one of my BookOutlet purchases!

So that’s the wrap for May – let’s see how many June reviews I can get written before the end of July!!  :-D

Free to Fall // by Lauren Miller

//published 2014//

Several years ago, I read Parallel by Lauren Miller.  While I overall didn’t love it because of some logic-lacking scenarios, I still really enjoyed the concept, the characters, and even some of the philosophizing – basically everything except for the fact that some of her plot lines just didn’t make sense.  Still, I thought I’d see if she had written anything else, and all the way back in 2016 when I read Parallel, I added Free to Fall to my TBR.  And, four years later, I actually read it!

Set in the not-so-distant future, Rory’s world doesn’t look super different from ours.  It’s no big surprise to learn that people have become even more addicted to their cell phones than ever (now mostly called “handhelds”).  In particular, over the last several years a specific app has grown in popularity – Lux analyzes everything to give the optimal results to every decision.  Instead of wondering what to wear, just ask Lux.  No more agonizing over what to have for lunch, what time to leave for your dentist appointment, or trying to decide which classes you should take next semester – Lux’s algorithm means it’s conclusion is never wrong.  While not every depends on Lux (Rory’s best friend routinely does the opposite of whatever Lux suggests, just for kicks), it’s a big part of everyday lives.

The story begins when Rory is accepted to a prestigious high school.  A boarding school for juniors and seniors in high school, it has a reputation for sending its students on to colleges and careers that most people only dream of having.  Getting into the school means that Rory has to move from her home in the Pacific Northwest to the campus in western Massachusetts.  Just before she leaves, her dad takes her out for a farewell supper – and tells her that Rory’s mother, who died when Rory was born, also attended Theden.  He gives Rory a mysterious letter, leaving Rory with more questions than answers.

When she arrives on campus, Rory does her best to settle in, but in between meeting up with a townie boy and being initiated into a secret society, things are a lot busier than she anticipated – especially when things begin to take a more sinister turn.

There were a lot of things that I enjoyed about this book.  At 469 pages it did have its slow spots, but overall the pacing was good.  Rory herself was a likable protagonist, although a bit slow on the uptake from time to time.  I enjoyed the concept of stopping the dystopian society before it began.

Negatives – a weirdly high body count, some logical flaws, and one of those Snape-scenarios where the adult who has been hating on you actually turns out to be your behind-the-scenes ally!  Um.  No thank you.

However, once again I appreciated Miller’s philosophy.  This book felt weirdly religious, but not preachy, if that makes sense.  Part of the introduction of Lux to society at large is tied in with discouraging people from listening to that small voice inside – now called the Doubt, people who hear/listen to that voice are considered mentally ill.  After all, who would listen to a voice that tells you to do crazy, selfless things?  But listening to that voice is a huge part of what makes us human.  And, as one of the characters points out – “Selfless people are impossible to control.”  When people start doing illogical things that benefit others instead of themselves, the entire algorithm for controlling that population begins to fall apart.

Not a perfect book, but one I felt was well worth reading.  It got a little ridiculous and rushed at the end, but overall an enjoyable 4* read.

2020: The Year of the Reading Challenges!

So I’ve never been much for reading challenges, but they are a big part of the Litsy community (are you guys on Litsy yet?  You NEED to be on Litsy!), and I’m finding myself drawn to all of them.  While I doubt that I’ll be able to complete them all, I am looking forward to seeing if I can find books from my TBR to fit some of the categories.  I’m not looking for new books to read as much as I am looking for creative ways to choose what books I knock off my already-huge TBR next!

I’ll probably be posting updates for these challenges on each month’s Rearview Mirror for my own records.

#ReadingUSA2020

Can I read a book set in every state in the US?  Bigger question:  Is there a book set in every state in the US in my personal collection here in this very house??  I’m still working on pulling together the list, but I think that I am going to be at least at 75% just from books I own.  We’ll see.

#ReadingEurope2020

So technically the original ReadingUSA challenge was last year, so the people on Litsy who completed that one are starting a new challenge of reading a book set in every European country this year.  While I’m going to focus on USA (so much easier), I’m also seeing if I can check off books for Europe as well.  This all ties into my overall goal of entering/tagging all of my books in LibraryThing (an ongoing project that may last years).  So far I’m through the “H” authors on my shelves and have found books for Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland.  It should be pretty easy to check off the major countries, but I don’t anticipate just stumbling across a book set in, say, Slovenia. I’ll keep my eye out, but since I’m mostly focusing on books that are already on my TBR, I’m not sure how far I’ll actually get with this challenge.

#Booked2020

This is a random challenge with six categories for each season.  The categories for winter are:

  • Millennial Author
  • Hat/Head Covering on the Cover
  • #LiveandLearn – Subject Mostly New to You
  • Set in Hollywood
  • #CoverCrush
  • Finish in a Day

Again, I think I can find books either on my shelves or on my TBR list to fit all of these categories.

#AuthoraMonth

The host for this challenge gave everyone the opportunity to vote on what authors they would like for this challenge, and the top twelve were chosen.  January’s author is Fredrick Backman, so I may finally get around to picking up Beartown.  The idea is to read at least one book by the month’s author as a way of discovering some new authors.

#ReadWithMrBook

MrBook is a major member of Litsy and an active promoter of the community there.  He chooses one category a month and encourages everyone to read a book from it and let him know what has been read.  January’s category is “One-Word Title” – should be a pretty easy one to find on my shelves!

#YearoftheChunksters

The hosts for this challenge are encouraging everyone to check off some of those 500+ page books from their TBRs.  I don’t get myself embroiled in ridiculously long books very often, but I am going to see what’s on my shelves.  One chunkster a month may be a good goal.

Book Log

At the beginning of this year I started using an Excel spreadsheet to track my reading, and it’s been fantastic.  It lets me geek out on my personal stats, which I love, and has helped me keep track of what books have been reviewed.  However, I really have been wanting a physical book to use as well.  When I’m traveling and such, it’s nice to have something with me where I can jot down a few notes while I am still having all the book feels.  Plus, what happens if my computer crashes and I lose all my spreadsheets??  However, I’ve had trouble finding a book journal that reflects what I want.  Most of them have a lot of stuff for future planning, or try to be a combo book log and daily planner.  I finally found one on Amazon that is less than $6, has space for 100 books, and asks the exact questions I want to track.  I’ve been using this one for the month of December and it’s fantastic.  The first few pages are an index, and then each number links to a full page for that book.  It’s simple and does just what I need it to and no more:

I’m mostly passing this on in case any of you are looking for a book log also.  The price is so reasonable that it seemed worthwhile to mention it.  Here’s the link on Amazon (I get literally nothing out of you purchasing this; this is just me personally liking something, not me getting rewarded to plug an item) – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1695289064

The cover choices are kind of meh, but you can’t have everything!

So, do any of you participate in any kind of reading challenges?  Have any of you joined Litsy yet?  Let me know if you do!