August Minireviews // Part 3

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens – 4*…ish

//published 1870//

Can you give 4* to a book that isn’t even finished?  I actually didn’t realize that this one was never completed until after I had started it.  (Thankfully I found out before I got the abrupt stopping point!)  I would have LOVED to see where this story ended up.  There are some great characters here and some very sinister set-ups.  It seems obvious what is going on – except towards the end of this partial story, Dickens is already starting to muddy the waters.  A really engaging piece of writing, even if it is rather disappointing that it just ends!

Jade Fire Gold by June C.L. Tan – 4*

//published 2021//

I wasn’t expecting to so thoroughly enjoy this OwlCrate book, but I actually was completely engaged with the world-building and characters.  It’s a debut novel, so there were times that the pacing was a little off, but on the whole I definitely wanted to keep reading this Asian-based fantasy.  It’s listed as a standalone and I can find nothing about a potential sequel, but the ending/epilogue of this one definitely gave off “in the next book” vibes, so that was a little confusing.  While looking for information about the nonexistent sequel, I did find an official map on the author’s website – why it wasn’t in the book, I’ll never know, as it was VERY HELPFUL.  I printed it off and stuck it in the book so it will be ready next time I read it!

The Lies We Told by Camilla Way – 4*

//published 2018//

This was a perfectly fine but ultimately forgettable thriller.  I’m never a big fan of the “inherently evil child” trope, but once the other storyline started, I was able to work with them both and wanted to see how they were going to come together.  As with many thrillers, this one works best if you just suspend some disbelief and roll with it. I didn’t want to put it down once I got hooked, which bumped it up to 4* for me.

The Hidden Hand by E.D.E.N. Southworth – 4*

//published 1859//

Originally published in 1859, this book was reissued by Lamplighter Press back in the 1990s.  Keeping in mind the publication date, you would be correct in assuming that there are language and actions that don’t fit our modern sensibilities, but I found it to honestly be a completely engaging look at life in the “wilds“ of the Virginia mountains. “Old Hurricane“ is an Revolutionary War veteran who, through a series of events, ends up adopting an orphan girl named Capitola, mainly for his own selfish reasons – Cap is actually the long-lost heiress of a neighboring estate, currently owned by Hurricane’s arch-enemy. However, Hurricane is not remotely nefarious (although very temperamental) and soon is completely won over by Cap’s bold, saucy ways. Cap is no missish heroine, waiting to be rescued. She makes things happen, charging about the countryside on her pony, rescuing people herself, and causing all sorts of trouble. This story is completely ridiculous, with melodramatic villains, sweeping coincidences at every turn, and plenty of absurdities, but I honestly enjoyed every page.

I Found You by Lisa Jewel – 4*

//published 2016//

Pacey, engaging, and intriguing, this was a solid thriller that kept me going.  Even though I figured out parts of it ahead of time, I didn’t solve all of it.  I’ve really enjoyed all of the Lisa Jewel books I’ve read so far, and have several more on the shelf that I want to get to soon.

August Minireviews // Part 1

August was an insanely busy month for me at the orchard – we had a huge peach crop and were quite short-staffed.  My reading definitely suffered as a result – I only read 18 books, which is about 10 fewer than my average.  And as usual, they were quite the mixed bag!!

Nudges by Loren Anderson – 3.5*

//published 2021//

Loaned to me by a friend, this book was written by a man who was a missionary to Guatemala.  Having been to Guatemala myself, I was interested to read this one.  However, the execution was a little flat – in some ways, this book almost felt like a thank you letter to the many people who have helped and inspired Anderson and his wife through the years, and there were times that I wanted to hear more about what they were doing rather than who was doing it, if that makes sense.  Much of this story takes place in 1950s and 60s, and Anderson and his family DROVE from Ohio to Guatemala more than once!!  Those are the types of things I would have liked to have read about in more detail, but are just sort of glossed over.  All in all, a perfectly nice book, but I just didn’t find it as engaging as I wanted to.

Rosalind by Clarice Peters – 3.5*

//published 1985//

This book was just so close to being fun.  There are some engaging characters and witty dialogue, but it also felt like the author had ideas for about a dozen different stories and decided to cram them all into this 203 page book.  There was just way too much going on, so the story felt cluttered and choppy.  A lot of potential here, but it just didn’t work.

The Hidden One by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2022//

I’m always excited to read the next installment in the Kate Burkholder series.  I absolutely love Kate and have so enjoyed watching her character grown and develop throughout the series.  This is the 14th book, and while you don’t HAVE to read them in order, it definitely gives the characters more depth and interest if you do.  I’m always a bit sad when the story takes place away from Painters Creek, but on the other hand, how many murderous Amish people can you plausibly have in one community??  The pacing here was good, and while I guessed some of what was coming, I didn’t guess all of it.  Another solid installment.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This is one of those books that I feel like I saw everywhere for a while.  As usual, I’m late to the party.  My main issue with this book was that January herself felt a little slow on the uptake.  There were several things that I figured out way, way, WAY before she did, to the point that it was making her seem kind of slow and stupid that she didn’t see these things and how they connected and who was really the bad guy, etc.  The world-building was interesting and I did LIKE January, but the pacing in this one was off.

The Secret Road by Bruce Lancaster – 3.5*

//published 1952//

Another one that I’ve owned FOREVER, finally off the list.  Historical fiction set during the Revolutionary War – the most unbelievable part of this one was the love story, which felt like it was getting in the way of the story instead of furthering it.  There is some fun spy action here and fairly likable characters, but the ending was quite abrupt and left me wanting some more resolution.

The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa – 2.5*

//published 2020//

This one just didn’t hit the right notes for me.  Lina was super annoying and spent most of her time whining about how she has to work 50x harder than everyone else because she’s a WOMAN trying to make it in a MAN’S WORLD (…of wedding planning…) blah blah blah.  Don’t care, Lina.  Max felt like a manic-pixie-dream-feminist-man-who-says-all-the-right-things-as-though-it’s-a-script.  Literally, has Sosa even MET a man?  Max was incredibly boring, trite, and unrealistic.  He felt like a doll where you pull the string and a little feminist by-line comes out.  To top it all off, we included one of my absolutely least-favorite tropes, the “we’re just having sex; it doesn’t mean anything” bit – UGH.  Gross, stupid, and annoying.  There are loads of positive reviews for this one, and plenty of people found it fun and funny, but although it had it’s moments here and there, on the whole it just wasn’t for me.

July Minireviews // Part 1

Okay, July!! Woohoo!!

Also!  I happened to be on my phone the other day and looked at something on my blog and realized that the mobile version has decided to completely ignore my paragraph breaks!  I don’t really know how to fix that – maybe I should go back to the old-school method of inserting the paragraph symbol whenever a new one is started?? ¶  So apologies to anyone who may attempt to read these posts on mobile as apparently WordPress is determined to make me look a bit ridiculous, probably because I insist on using the Classic Editor instead of the horrific Block Editor that I genuinely hate.  Lack of paragraph breaks is a small price to pay to avoid that atrocity!

Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier – 3.5*

//published 1956//

Apparently this one was also published as The Silver Sword.  Set in Warsaw during WWII, the story follows a family whose parents are arrested by the Nazis, leaving the children alone and homeless.  Their father manages to escape the prison camp, but doesn’t know how to find the children.  Meanwhile, the children decide to try and make it to Switzerland to their mother’s family and begin a cross-country journey.  Along the way they pick up another orphan who has been living on the streets even longer than they have, mostly by stealing stuff.  He’s quite obnoxious and drove me crazy for the entire book.  This wasn’t a bad story, but was a bit disjointed.  An author’s note explained that although he made up this story, he based their adventures on various true stories, which could account for the way this book felt like it was kind of pulling together bits and bobbles that didn’t always go together.  I think this also greatly increased the “we need a coincidence to move this along” factor.  It wasn’t at all a bad book, and I can see the middle grade audience for which it’s intended getting very caught up in the drama and excitement, but this one did go into the giveaway box when I was done reading it.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson – 4*

//published 2015//

I’ve been working my way through Swanson’s backlog of books, and I feel like this is the one that always comes the most highly recommended.  While it was a good, pacey thriller, I didn’t absolutely love it.  Swanson has an amazing knack for being able to keep me 100% engaged in a book to the point that I really don’t notice all the niggling coincidences and inconsistencies and completely lack of character development until I’m done!  So he gets great kudos for keeping me in the moment, but maybe not so much for actual writing lol  I also get a little exasperated that he seems to think that sex is the ONLY motivation for 100% of men and 98% of women.  Like no one does anything unless the angle involves sex in some way, and that gets old to me.  But still – his pacing is impeccable.  It’s rare for me to start one of his books and not finish it within 24 hours!

Harbor Lights by Sherryl Woods – 3*

//published 2009//

Another mediocre installment to the Chesapeake Shores series.  Woods has a great habit of writing a book that I’m totally fine with it until she gets to the final drama and then I just want to bonk everyone’s heads together.  Just.  Why.  In this one, Kevin is a widower with a young son (I think… maybe it was a daughter, I can’t remember, this was back in July haha) and he meets the new girl in town, Shanna, who is opening a bookstore.  Kevin spends literally the entire book (because he has ZERO character growth) saying things like, “I really like Shanna but I want to take it slow” which honestly makes sense given his relationship history.  Consequently, while I generally enjoy books with large, boisterous, slightly-obnoxious families, the O’Brians really got on my nerves here as they just were constantly trying to force Kevin to up his relationship with Shanna, to the point that I was starting to cringe every time they all got together.  There was one particularly dreadful scene where Kevin’s in-laws (parents of his deceased wife) are there to visit their grandson, and while at supper with the whole family, Kevin’s sisters start teasing him about Shanna, despite the fact that it’s obviously making the in-laws, who are still, you know, mourning the death of their daughter, seriously uncomfortable.  It was terrible!  This isn’t that much of a spoiler, because these books are designed to have the HEA, but even the proposal at the end made NO sense.  Kevin literally says something like, “I still really think we need to take this relationship slowly because I’m not sure of myself” and Shanna is like, “Look, I need some actual commitment from you if you want to keep going” (which I honestly also thought was fair) and Kevin IN THE SAME CONVERSATION where he has JUST SAID that he IS NOT READY to progress this relationship PULLS AN ENGAGEMENT RING OUT OF HIS POCKET and says, “oh wow you’re right, we should go ahead and get married, I am 100% on board with this”  WHAT??!?!?!!  I couldn’t deal.

Summer Days and Summer Nights by various authors – 3*

//published 2016//

I got this collection of short stories from Book Outlet for a dollar or two, but didn’t pay very close attention and thus didn’t realize that they were actually all YA stories.  Whew boy, there were some doozies in here.  And maybe it was just me, I actually didn’t realize it but I was getting sick the two days I was reading this book (maybe this book got me sick?  Could be), but none of these stories hit right for me.  They were pretty much just girl meets boy, they argue, they fall in love, now they’re together forever!  I read these kinds of collections in hopes that a new author will tickle my fancy, but while most of these were okay, none of them really wowed me.

A Chesapeake Shores Christmas by Sherryl Woods – 3.5*

//published 2010//

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I went ahead and picked up the next Chesapeake Shores book even though Kevin had driven me batty in the previous book.  The background story of this entire series is that the parents, Mick and Megan, got divorced back in the day, but now that all the kids are grown, Mick wants to try their relationship again.  It’s actually handled pretty well, with all of the now-adult children coming to grips with their parents having their own reasons for why the relationship didn’t work, and neither Mick nor Megan completely blaming the other for the failure of their marriage, and both of them admitting that they screwed up with how they handled it.  But for the last couple of books they have slowly been trying to rebuild something between them, and this book focuses on the two of them.

Here’s my problem with all of the books by this author that I’ve read so far.  She introduces a legitimate concern between the two potential lovers.  The characters discuss it and try to work through things throughout the story.  Then, in the end, they’re just like, “yay, we’re in love, everything is good!” WITHOUT ACTUALLY FIXING THE PROBLEM.   Like I get that I’m supposed to get a HEA here, that’s the whole point of reading this, but why introduce a problem that you aren’t going to solve??  It leaves me feeling like these characters aren’t actually going to have a successful relationship long-term.  And that was the case here – I actually really like Mick and Megan together and feel like they have made some great progress over the course of the first three books, but there is this whole thing with Megan’s art gallery that is a huge part of what they are trying to work out, and in the end it’s just kind of glossed over like of course everything is going to fall into place, despite the fact that it has NOT fallen into place during ANY conversation so far!  It’s what keeps making these books a soft pick for me.  Why do I keep reading the next one???  I can’t even explain it LOL

June Minireviews – Part 3!!

Lies by T.M. Logan – 4*

//published 2017//

A few mixed feelings about this one, but overall an engaging thriller.  I really liked Joe, but also got annoyed with him sometimes because he always seemed to make the choice that would make him look like the bad guy, sometimes unnecessarily.  Also… while I kind of agreed that the final twist made sense, what didn’t make sense was why they had to blame Joe.  So this was a fun one to read, but not one that I absolutely loved.

The Copenhagen Connection by Elizabeth Peters – 3.5*

//published 1982// Also thank you library for literally covering up the title, great idea //

Did this book actually make sense?  No.  Was it held together by improbable coincidences and a good dose of instalove?  Yes.  Did I have a fabulous time reading it?  Also yes.  This was classic Peters, full of wry humor, historical facts, and a good dose of ridiculousness.  I wrote down that this was a “romp of a book” which really sums it up quite well.  There’s a lot of dashing about hither and thither and a lot of tongue-in-cheek mockery of tropes, and I still completely enjoyed it.

Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman – 4*

//published 1993//

Although my journey through the Leaphorn and Chee mysteries is slow, I am really enjoying them.  I think these two men make such a great contrast in both their personal beliefs (Chee is strongly traditional and believes in the importance of following the Navajo religion while Leaphorn is definitely a skeptic) and their detecting methods (Leaphorn is methodical and good at spotting patterns and inconsistencies while Chee tends to follow his gut), which helps keep the different strands of the mystery engaging.  I feel like Hillerman handles the religions and cultural aspects of the Navajo in a sensitive manner.  I especially loved this quote from Chee when he is explaining to someone what the Navajo belief of hozho means to him – “This business of hozho … I’ll use an example.  Terrible drought, crops dead, sheep dying.  Spring dried out.  No water.  The Hopi, or the Christian, or maybe the Moslem, they pray for rain.  The Navajo has the proper ceremony done to restore himself to harmony with the drought.”  I actually love Chee’s view on harmony and being at peace with where you are in life (a perspective that I do not think conflicts with my personal belief in Christianity) and enjoy the way that this is woven into the stories.  However, I did get a bit over Chee’s constant mooning over what to do with Janet.  SHE ISN’T RIGHT FOR YOU, BUDDY.  MOVE ON.

My only concern with these books is that Leaphorn is already getting old and this is only book 11/25??

The Fall of the Ottomans by Eugene Rogan – 4*

//published 2015//

This was overall an informative and thorough look at the Middle Eastern theater during WWI.  I didn’t really know anything about this topic going into the book, and while I didn’t walk away with a bunch of dates and names memorized, I did feel like I got a good overview of what happened there, and it was definitely interesting to see the stage being set for conflicts that are still occurring a hundred years later.  This book was D R Y as dust and somewhat difficult to read, so I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but if it’s a topic that interests you then this one is worth picking up.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – 3.5*

//published 1999//

Even though I had read this one ten or so years ago, I really couldn’t remember anything about it.  When someone gifted me a copy, I decided to reread it.  It’s an engaging enough story, but somehow just doesn’t resonate with me.  It’s very fairy-tale-esq in style, and while I liked the concept, I couldn’t connect with the characters.  An enjoyable one-off but one that moved on to the giveaway box once I was finished reading it.

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

//published 2021//

I read this book last fall and just thoroughly enjoyed it, so when the sequel came out I decided to reread this one to remind myself of who all the characters are.  I enjoyed it just as much, or maybe even more, this time around, since I was somewhat more prepared for flying houses!  I still think the phrase “delightfully bonkers” sums this one up perfectly.  It’s madcap and ridiculous and just so much fun.

The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton – 3.5*

//published 2022//

Which brings us to the slight-disappointing sequel.  This one fell into the “trying a little too hard” category.  It reminded me of that scene in Groundhog Day where Phil and Rita build the snowman and it’s so magical, but then when he tries to recapture that in the future iterations of the day, it just feels awkward. A lot of the jokes and innuendo in this one felt forced and clunky.  There is a LOT more sex in this one, which made me uncomfortable just because of the way it fit into the story/made zero sense for the time period it is supposedly set.  And while the difference between the pirates and witches made sense (back in the day, two groups interpreted the whole “flying house” magic thing differently), it made ZERO sense to me that the witches are being hunted and are illegal… like why is this police officer obsessed with witch hunting when there are literally pirates FLYING HOUSES over his head???  I honestly had a lot of trouble getting past this break in internal logic as it’s never explained why everyone is exasperated with but ultimately cool with pirates, but the witches, who do the exact same thing, are evil and must be hunted to extinction!!  This also made all the coy little “IF witches existed!” jokes feel a little weird.  Like I think all the flying houses may prove that witches exist????

Still!  It was a fun read and parts of it were funny.  It took me a lot longer to warm up to this female MC than it did the one in the first book, but I absolutely loved the male MC, who was a carry-over character from book one. There is a third book to the series coming out next year and I will for sure read it, but am hoping that it finds the rhythm of the first book.

By Your Side by Kasie West – 3*

//published 2017//

I usually really enjoy West’s books, and I generally do enjoy YA, but this was definitely YA that made me feel my age.  First off, Autumn, who I actually liked just fine on the whole, gets trapped in a library.  And what is her first concern??  Her first concern is that she’s going to be BORED.  IN A LIBRARY.  SURROUNDED BY BOOKS.  In fact, she goes on to spend most of the time she is trapped in the library WATCHING TV IN THE BREAK ROOM.  What.  Even.  What a waste!  So I was annoyed by this one from the get-go haha  I was also a little perplexed because I really do think public buildings are set so that you can always exit them, so it doesn’t seem like it should have been possible for her to be actually trapped – perhaps unable to exit without setting off an alarm, but not genuinely trapped.

There was a lot of bonus drama that just didn’t feel necessary in this one.  I actually liked Dax and felt like he and Autumn were a good pair, but there was all this stuff with the other guy Autumn had a crush on and his best friend being a complete jerk for literally no reason and it got kind of old for me.  Autumn suffers from anxiety and doesn’t always feel comfortable going to parties and other activities.  While I appreciated the message of you do what is right for you instead of what you feel pressured to do, I didn’t care for the concept that Autumn HAD to explain her anxiety in order to get a pass.  Everyone talks about normalizing stuff, well let’s normalize just saying “no thank you” and then not showing up at something and not having people demand an explanation.

In the end, this was an okay read.  I didn’t hate it, but I did find myself annoyed by it pretty frequently.  And I’m still not over how much Autumn whined about being bored when she was locked in the library.

May Minireviews – Part 2

Part 2 and final for May!!  Also, after I published Part 1 I realized that I had literally labeled it April Minireviews.  Losing my mind LOL

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.

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1937//

This is one of my favorite Montgomery books, and I couldn’t believe it had been so long since I had reread it!  Victoria Jane lives with her mother, grandmother, and aunt in a large and gloomy house.  Grandmother is incredibly overbearing and jealous of Jane’s mother’s attention.  Jane assumes that her father is dead, but when she is 11 learns that actually her parents are just separated, and her father lives on Prince Edward Island – and he wants Jane to come visit him so that he can have a chance to get to know her as well.  Jane doesn’t want to go, convinced that her father must be a terrible person since her mother is so sweet – but she falls in love with her dad, the Island, and her life of freedom and industry there.

This is a typical Montgomery story of a sturdy young heroine finding her independence.  My only complaint is that Jane definitely seems older than 11 a lot of the time.  I love all the many side characters and adventures, although I would like the ending to be a little less rushed.  Still, this is overall just a delightful story that always reminds me of a younger version of The Blue Castle.

The Heart’s Victory by Nora Roberts – 3*

//Heart’s Victory – published 1982// Rules of the Game – published 1984//

This story and the next one I read because they were republished together – a lot of Roberts’s 80s romances seem to be republished this way as they are shorter stories (~200pgs).  These were both pretty dreadful if I’m honest haha  In this one, the heroine was raised by her older brother, a racecar driver, so she grew up on “the circuit“ and always had a crush on her brother’s friend. Now she’s back on the circuit on assignment as a photographer and sparks fly. This one had a little too much of the “grabbing and kissing until she gives in“ routine that was so popular in the early 80s and made a really weird jump in the middle of the story where they suddenly decide to get married and now all their issues are about her settling in with his rich family?? It felt like two stories in one and was a bit confusing.  There was basically no character development and I never really believed in the success of these two as a couple.

Rules of the Game by Nora Roberts – 3*

Here, the protagonist directs commercials and her new client is an up and coming baseball star. This one wasn’t too bad, it just didn’t really go anywhere. There wasn’t really any reason that the two of them couldn’t be together, other than the female MC being all “I don’t do commitments,” which felt underdeveloped and kind of pointless because she didn’t really have a reason not to other than just… not wanting to?  Which is totally a fine choice to make, obviously, but here just felt like filler/trying to cause drama.  Once again – no confidence in the long-term success of this relationship!
Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson – 3.5*

//published 2022//

This one was a decent read but not a book I loved or want to reread.  Savannah works for a small publishing house that focuses on serious, nonfiction topics.  The owner despises “fluff” books, especially romcoms.  However, Savannah loves them and has secretly been writing one of her own.  Through a series of events, someone else finds her manuscript and leaves her editorial notes that turn out to be helpful, and soon they are passing the manuscript back and forth – except Savannah doesn’t know who her secret editor is.  Of course, it’s a romcom, so the reader knows who it is, but still.  This book was just kind of boring, and I found pretty much nothing about Savannah’s job to be realistic, especially the ending.  (No one’s getting laid off??  For real??)  I was hoping for more notes between the two of them, but we get almost none of those.  It was a perfectly fine story, but not one that I really loved.
Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter – 3.5*

//published 2021//

Liz is starting her senior year of high school, and her childhood crush, Michael, has just moved back to town.  She really wants to reconnect with him but isn’t sure how, and ends up enlisting the help of her neighbor (who was also good friends with Michael back in the day), Wes.  Liz has always considered Wes to be her nemesis as he has teased and played tricks on her through the years, so she is surprised by how well they get along as they start to hang out.  Liz’s mom died when Liz was little, and the way that she stays connected is through the movies and music that her mom loved.  All of the movie and music references made sense within the story, but they made this story kind of feel like it was actually for adults, despite being a YA story, since I’m not sure that current YA readers watch a lot of 90s romcoms or listen to Radiohead and Beastie Boys (although maybe they do, I don’t know a lot of teens right now lol).  This was another pretty forgettable story for me.  All the drama with Wes just felt like it went on way too long.  There is also a scene where Liz is at a party and someone throws up on her, and there were literal PAGES of clean up that involved describing texture, color, scent, etc. of this vomit – just why.  It felt so unnecessary and gross.
All in all, another perfectly fine read, but one I was glad I had checked out of the library instead of buying.

May Minireviews – Part 1

I actually spent a lot of May reading the Lunar Chronicles, but managed to squeeze in some other reads as well!!

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.

Kids of Appetite by David Arnold – 4.5*

//published 2016//

This was a reread for me – I first read this one back in 2018 and really enjoyed it.  My review from that time pretty much stands – I really found this book to be just so readable and engaging, with great pacing, likable characters, and a coming-of-age arc that is done so well.  I’m still not a fan of all the f bombs and the murder scene is a bit much (although fairly brief), but on the whole this is really a great story, thoughtful without being saccharine.

Athena’s Airs by Zabrina Faire – 3*

//published 1980//

This was another Regency paperback from that random eBay box.  This one honestly didn’t start too badly. Athena’s parents have died recently, so she and her brother, Ares, are off to Greece to scatter the parents’ ashes someplace or other that was meaningful to them. They end up hiring this other guy to be their guide as Greece is currently ruled by the Turks/Ottoman Empire and this guy is familiar with the culture and language. Of course there’s a disaster and the Dude (who Strongly Disapproves of Women, Especially Sassy Ones Who Travel) and Athena have to travel together incognito. While completely eye-rolly it honestly wasn’t too terrible of a set up for them to be stuck together and to fall in love. But then, in the last 30 pages, the entire book went off the rails. Ever since the disaster chapter, the Dude and Athena aren’t even sure if Ares is alive. When they get to Athens, he’s there and instead of it being like “Oh wow, this is crazy, we’re all alive and safe, let’s catch up on our stories!“ Ares immediately starts accusing the Dude of kidnapping Athena yadda yadda. Then Ares proceeds to lie to both of them about the other’s indifference to keep them apart… for no reason that made any sense, especially since in the beginning of the book, Ares and Athena are presented as really close, loving siblings, and the Dude is actually a perfectly appropriate person for her to marry!  When Athena finds out her brother has been lying she literally THREATENS TO SHOOT HIM IN THE SHOULDER if he doesn’t approve of their marriage. ?!?!?!?! It just… the ending of the book literally all three main characters acted like completely different people just to make Drama, and it was very annoying. So yeah, this one honestly didn’t start too badly, but that ending. Why.  Another one for the giveaway box!

As You Wish by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden – 4.5*

//published 2014//

Like many others, I grew up on The Princess Bride and can quote pretty much the entire movie from memory.  Following the movie’s 25th anniversary reunion, Elwes, of Westley fame, wrote this book recounting his memories of filming the movie.  If you’re looking for dirty secrets and a bunch of drama, you will not find it here.  Instead, this book was an absolute delight.  Elwes is humble and friendly, constantly promoting and crediting his fellow actors.  An entire chapter is devoted to Andre the Giant and how much everyone loved him.  Elwes, even all these years later, is still mind-boggled that he was chosen for the part, and his genuine delight that he got to do so comes through on every page.  There are random snippets and stories from other actors and the director, that I at first found a little distracting as they are in text boxes throughout the main text, but grew to really enjoy as they added more insight and depth to the stories Elwes was sharing.

Personal favorite story?  The scene where the Prince and the Count confront Westley and Buttercup just outside of the Fire Swamp and the Count is supposed to knock Westley out – they were having trouble making it look like he was really hitting him hard enough, so Elwes told him not to worry and to give him a decent knock… the take that you see in the movie is literally Elwes going unconscious from getting smacked in the head so hard!

My biggest niggle was that there wasn’t a cast list anywhere in the book.  I wrote my own so that I knew which character was either telling a story who being told about in a story.  I also would have loved just more to it – a lot of it is a bit on the fluffy side.  Still, this was overall a really enjoyable read.  If you’ve low-key avoided reading this one because you’re afraid that it will ruin your favorite movie, have no worries – the cast and crew apparently really were enjoying creating that movie as much as the rest of us have enjoyed watching it.

Lady Susan by Jane Austen – 4*

//written circa 1794//

This short story (my edition was around 70 pages) was written by Austen, probably as a possibility to become a full-length novel.  Written entirely in letters, the titular character is actually quite ornery, a widow with an almost-grown daughter, quite flirtatious and stirring up a bit of trouble wherever she goes.  I definitely wish this one had become a full story – it would be so interesting to see where Austen went with all this potential, and whether Lady Susan would have stayed the main character, or if the focus would have shifted to her daughter, who seems more in line with Austen’s other heroines.  I really loved all the snarkiness in this story and wished it was much longer!

Summer at the Cape by RaeAnne Thayne – 4*

//published 2022//

I really enjoy Thayne’s contemporary romances, which always have likable characters and the right amount of drama.  This story focuses on three women – Rosemary and her adult daughters, Cami and Violet. Violet’s twin sister, Lily, has recently died in a tragic accident. At the time of her death, she was working on creating a “Glampground” on a neighbor’s property. Rosemary is determined to make this dream a reality, and the Glampground is now up and running. The problem is that Lily, who wasn’t always all about the details, neglected to get the very important signature from the neighbor on an official lease agreement. With the (elderly) neighbor beginning to show signs of dementia, his son, who has been out of the country, assumes that Lily was taking advantage and is determined to shut the entire business down. The sisters come together to help their mom, and there really aren’t any big surprises along the way. However, I enjoyed the way that there had never been a huge rupture between the women – they had just grown apart after Rosemary divorced her husband and moved several hours away, taking the twins with her and leaving Cami with their dad. This was a gentle story about grief, guilt, and second chances. Nothing groundbreaking but still an enjoyable story with likable and relatable characters and a splash of romance.

The Lunar Chronicles // by Marissa Meyer

  • Cinder
  • Scarlet
  • Cress
  • Fairest
  • Winter
  • Wire & Nerve
  • Wire & Nerve: Gone Rogue
  • Stars Above

Well, the majority of my May reading was spent in the Lunar Chronicles universe.  These books had been on my radar for quite some time, but I still went into them with low expectations because I’ve become cynical as a person haha  However, I ended up absolutely loving this series, with all of these books rating 4 or 4.5* from me.

I was gifted Cinder a while back, and actually read it in April.  I enjoyed it so completely that I decided to go ahead and purchase the rest of the series (used – have you guys checked out Pango Books yet??  I am IN LOVE with that app and have sold several books there so far – my favorite part is that it’s like eBay used to be, where you actually see photos of the book you’re purchasing, so I was able to make sure I was buying the new-cover editions, which I love), and when they finally arrived in May I absolutely devoured them!!  Conveniently, we went on vacation in May as well, which gave me some extra reading time.

So basically these books are set in the future, and Cinder is about a cyborg girl – someone who has had human parts replaced with machinery/computer parts.  Following the basic outline of Cinderella, Cinder is an orphan whose adoptive father has died, leaving her with a stepmother who despises her (cyborgs are considered barely human and can be bought and sold as slaves) and two stepsisters.  Cinder spends her day working as an android mechanic, and it is there that the prince visits her with a special android that he needs repaired.

In this world, the moon was settled at one point, but Lunars have developed a special ability that enables them to manipulate other’s feelings and even what they see.  Lunars are distrusted and hated, and Earth is on the brink of war with them.  Meanwhile, a horrible plague is breaking out all around the world.  Scientists are racing to try and find a cure or a vaccine, to no avail.  I wasn’t surprised to find out that Cinder is more important than anyone knows (including herself), but the way the story unwinds through the series is fantastic.

I loved the way new characters were introduced throughout the series.  It can be difficult to balance a lot of different characters going a lot of different directions, but for the most part, Meyer pulled it off.  I was genuinely invested in everyone, even the evil Lunar queen.  Each of the main books is a different fairytale retelling (Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Snow White) and honestly, that aspect was also done incredibly well.  Meyer rings true to the original story while adding her own twists.  These were some of the best revisited fairytales I’ve ever read.  I especially loved her interpretation of Rapunzel in Cress.

Other things I loved – the love stories!  I shipped each of these couples and there were NO LOVE TRIANGLES!  There was also no sex!  It was fantastic!  Each couple had there own issues and difficulties to overcome, but I was rooting for all of them to succeed.  Cress really was my favorite of the series, partially because I absolutely love her love interest – he’s totally my fave.

I read these books in the author’s recommended order, including inserting various short stories from Stars Above at various points between the main novels.  My biggest complaint is that she has a recommended reading order for the short stories but DIDN’T PUBLISH THEM IN THAT ORDER IN THE BOOK!  What’s the point of creating a certain order and then publishing them all together in the same book, if you aren’t going to use the order in the book!?!?  It made zero sense and aggravated me way more than it should have.

I wasn’t sure about reading Fairest.  After finishing Cress I really wanted to see how everything came together, not read the evil queen’s backstory.  However, while that wasn’t anywhere close to my favorite book or anything, I actually enjoyed it way more than I anticipated.  Meyer did a great job giving Levana a believable background that explained many of her actions and motives, but still emphasizing that her choices were her own – she had many opportunities to do the right thing, but instead found ways to convince herself to do what she knew, deep down, was wrong.  It meant Levana was somewhat explained as a character, but still didn’t become too sympathetic.

The grand finale in Winter was done pretty well.  It did somewhat feel like there was a lot more build-up than there was action, but overall Meyer pulled together the many threads and gave me an ending that I found satisfying.  While it’s the technical conclusion of the series, the two Wires and Nerve graphic novels, plus a short story occur chronologically after this book.  Those were all super fun to see how things went on with the entire gang.  I wasn’t sure if I would like the graphic novels since the main character is an android who has basically morphed into human understanding, but it ended up working for me after all.

Overall, I really loved this series.  With a total of 3363 pages, I’m not sure if I’ll read this series again anytime SOON, but I can definitely see myself rereading it at some point, as I really liked these characters a lot and would love to revisit them.  If you like fairytale retellings and some scifi, these are definitely worth picking up!!

April Minireviews – Part 3

Last batch for April!!

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.

Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This was one of those books I wanted to like more than I actually did.  It had been a while since I had really immersed myself in a historical fiction, especially one set during not-a-war.  Overall, I felt like this Oregon Trail based story was well-told, but I personally found the two first-person voices to be incredibly similar, especially considering that they shouldn’t have been similar at all.  Yet I found myself not infrequently flipping back a couple pages to double-check who was talking.  In the beginning of the story, Harmon sets the scene by killing off a huge pile of people – then goes back to the beginning of their journey to give me 200+ pages of getting attached to all the people I know are going to die.  I had a lot of mixed feelings on that – it made it really difficult to emotionally connect to the characters, but I can’t imagine how mad I would have been if they had all died without me being mentally prepared!

But overall, that was really my issue with the story – despite a lot of emotional, high-stakes occurrences, I just never really connected with the characters and often felt like dramatic, horrific things were relayed rather clinically, especially for a first-person narrative.  The story itself was well-told and I felt like was well-balanced as far as bad guys/good guys/complicated scenarios, but I never really felt like the characters were real people.

Divots by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1923//

Only Wodehouse could make me enjoy reading a collection of short stories centered around golf! Tales told by the “Oldest Member” of the golf club to generally unwilling audiences, these stories are typical Wodehouse fluff. If you aren’t into golf and have never read Wodehouse, I probably wouldn’t start here, but if Wodehouse is your jam, these were pretty fun, even if a bit ridiculous!!  I was honestly surprised at how entertaining I found these.

This book was also published as The Heart of a Goof.

Big Jump for Robin by Suzanne Wilding – 3*

//published 1965//

Sometimes I buy a book just for the cover, and this was definitely the case when I purchased this one at an antique store back in 2005.  I can’t resist Sam Savitt’s illustrations!  Overall, this was rather typical 1960s horse-girl-story fare.  The story opens with Robin selling her pony to the neighborhood Obnoxious Rich Guy because she has overheard her parents worrying about money and wants to do her part.  Throughout the story, Robin works hard to help her family and become a better horsewoman, and I was definitely rooting for her.  The story was rather underdeveloped in places and didn’t turn into a new favorite, but Savitt’s illustrations mean that I’ll keep it on my shelf despite the fact that I don’t particularly yearn to reread it.

Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson – 3.5*

//published 2021//

This was a traveling book club book, and probably not one I would have read on my own.  I really enjoyed the world-building here and the way that religion was a legitimate part of life, where prayers and such actually did make a difference.  However, the whole bad guy/good guy aspect felt consistently muddled and I was frequently uncertain who I was actually supposed to be rooting for, and demon possession, even in fantasy-land, doesn’t seem like something fun and fluffy to be embraced.  It wasn’t a bad story, just not exactly my jam.

The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

The third book in the Percy Jackson series confirmed my opinion of them as solid but not mind-blowing books.  I’m enjoying the series but don’t really see myself rereading them again and again.  The characters are likable and the adventures engaging, and I do love some of the modern interpretation of the gods, but they somehow just lack that special magic that really connects me to a series on a deeper level.

Arc of a Scythe Trilogy // by Neal Shusterman

  • Scythe
  • Thunderhead
  • The Toll

These books were April’s unexpected win.  They had been on my TBR for quite a while (as usual), but I didn’t have high expectations for them.  They just sounded kind of… weird, I guess, and I wasn’t sure if they would be my kind of weird.  Well, they absolutely were.  I was completely sucked into this trilogy, and even if it didn’t end the way that I personally would have chosen, I still appreciated the way everything came together.

In the future, an AI named Thunderhead has indeed become sentient and now rules the world – but whereas people from the past feared this would lead to all sorts of evil situations, in reality it has solved all of humanity’s problems.  Hunger, homelessness, poverty, disease, crime, war – all things of the past.  Since the Thunderhead took charge of humanity, it is able to perfectly predict and control everything.  Even death is no longer something that happens naturally, because humans have been enhanced with speedy healing nanites in their systems to take care of things even if something wildly unexpected happens – which rarely does, because of the Thunderhead’s ability to predict and prevent accidents and tragedies.  When people get old they can “turn the corner” and basically reset themselves back down into their 20s and start life over, feeling just as young and fit as ever.

But this has led to the potential of overpopulation on Earth.  To solve this, a organization was created to deal out death.  These people are called Scythes.  Different Scythes are in charge of different regions of the world, and are given certain quotas of death to meet (and no exceed) each year within their region.  If a Scythe taps you for death, there is nothing you can do about it.  And the only area of Earth that the Thunderhead doesn’t interfere with is Scythe business – Scythes operate outside of the rest of the world.

This system has worked for many years.  Death rates are still a tiny fraction of what they were during the Age of Mortality, and most people live to “turn the corner” many times.  But there is a new rumble in the ranks of the Scythes, a group that doesn’t view death as a serious, somber responsibility, but instead believe that killing should be embraced and even enjoyed, that Scythes, rather than living quietly and unobtrusively on the outskirts of society, should instead be front and center, rulers of humanity.  And it is at this time that Scythe Faraday takes on two apprentices, Citra and Rowan – two apprentices who end up changing the course of history.

Were these books perfect?  Absolutely not.  There were definitely gaps in the world-building and certain aspects that didn’t make a whole lot of sense if you really dug into them.  But on the whole, I found the concept to be intriguing and engaging, the pacing excellent, the characters likable (or hate-able as necessary) and completely blasted through all 1500+ pages in just a few days.  I didn’t completely love the way the series ended… it’s not exactly what I would have done… but it was still a solid ending that pulled together most of the loose ends.

Maybe part of it was that I had pretty low expectations for this series, but I really enjoyed it a great deal, and definitely see myself rereading these sometime in the future.  I’m not always a fan of dystopian fiction, but I really found these engaging, and look forward to seeing what else Shusterman has written.

March Minireviews – Part 3

Hmm.  In June.  Checks out.

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.

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White – 3.5*

//published 2014//

One of those books that I really wanted to like more than I did.  It’s an intriguing concept/world and that cover is GORGEOUS, but it was just really light on some plot points.  It was only 275pgs long and should have been longer as some parts of the story felt more like an outline than the actual story.  The main character was also a little too “independent and sassy” at times – like girl, I get it, you’re independent, but that doesn’t mean you just do the opposite of what everyone thinks you should do??  This was a fun one as a one-off, but I just wanted more!

The Inn at Eagle Point by Sherryl Woods – 3.5*

//published 2009//

Woods is one of those romance authors whose books I see everywhere but somehow haven’t gotten around to reading yet.  I had a few of the books from her Chesapeake Shores series so thought I would start there.  This was a perfectly nice and regular romance and a good set up for the series, which follows the romances and adventures of a sibling group, one of my favorite ways to do a series.  I didn’t fall in love with this one, but it was good enough to get me to pick up the second book.

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

//published 2006//

The second book in the Percy Jackson series was perfectly enjoyable, even if it did follow the same basic outline as the first story.  There were a lot of fun capers here and it’s an engaging way to meet some of ye olde gods in a new context.  Percy himself is likable, especially as a middle grade hero, and the book does a decent job of being its own thing while still building towards a series finale.

Sensible Kate by Doris Gates – 3*

//published 1943//

I have another of Gates’s books on my shelves that I’ve read several times and weirdly enjoyed, The Cat and Mrs. Cary, so when I came across this one I thought I would give it a try.  However, this one just didn’t quite strike the right tone with me.  It was an odd little book about an orphan named Kate who has decided that since she can’t be beautiful, she can at least be sensible, a word that was used about 500 times too many in 189pgs.  This book had a lot of potential with some interesting side characters, especially the grumpy old lady next door who doesn’t like children, but Gates never really went anywhere with it.  She also ruthlessly killed off another side character for literally no reason – I kept expecting him to come back, not dead, but he never did!  I was genuinely upset by it.  Everything came together okay in the end, but this definitely wasn’t a book I’ll be rereading.

Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century by Dick and James Strawbridge – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I’m always on the lookout for new books to add to my nonfiction collection of practical literature, but while this was a decent one to check out of the library, it didn’t have enough new information for me to want to keep it forever.  This is the 2020 update to the original 2010 book by the same title. This father/son duo own and operate their own homestead in the UK, and this book is full of concepts and ideas for becoming (as the title implies) more self-sufficient. While there were a lot of things about this book that I really liked, the organization and direction felt muddled to me. For instance, the entire first section of the book just jumps directly into getting off the grid – generating your own electricity, dealing with your own waste water, running plumbing that works from collecting rain water, building a water wheel, building a windmill, etc. It felt strange to start the book with these huge, expensive, complicated, advanced projects. There also isn’t really any kind of progression – nothing like “the top five goals you should set“ or anything along those lines. It’s just page after page of somewhat haphazardly organized projects and ideas.

It’s definitely not a book I would recommend to a beginner, but if you have already been gardening and that sort of thing for a few years and are looking to “level up“, this book may be good for inspiration and ideas. It’s not detailed enough to be an actual handbook, but for instance, while if you wanted to build a windmill you’d need to do some more research, there is enough info here to help you decide if a windmill would even work for you at all.

I did feel like this book’s emphasis on self-sufficiency sometimes meant that they skipped middle steps. Instead of going from “buying all your food at the big-box grocery store“ to “using a small electric food dryer to try preserving some of your own“ they dismiss a small dryer like the one I have (~$40) as “too expensive“ and give you a two-page spread on building a solar dryer, the materials for which had to be at least $40 in and of themselves. There were a lot of things like that, where middle steps that can help you decide if this is even something you want to do (for instance, do you even LIKE smoked meat? That would be good to know before investing in building an entire smokehouse) were basically dismissed as not self-sufficient ENOUGH – straight to the big guns.  I liked some of the ideas, but honestly in some ways this book felt overwhelming and discouraging because of its lack of progression, and the tone sometimes came across as a little condescending if you weren’t willing to go ALL IN.  For most people, it’s not practical or possible to go straight off-the-grid completely, based on how much time it takes up in your day alone, but the Strawbridges didn’t really seem to see it that way.