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.

March Minireviews – Part 2

It’s gardening season again!!! So even less time for blogging than ever!! However, there is also less reading time, so maybe that will balance out as far as my attempt to catch up on reviews goes??

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.

Coffin Road by Peter May – 4*

//published 2016//

I really need to read more by Peter May.  I read the Lewis Trilogy back in 2015, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but somehow this is the first May book I’ve picked up since then.  The story opens with a man staggering onto the beach from the sea, wounded and borderline-hypothermic. He has no idea who he is or where he comes from, and as he begins to piece together this own story, he starts to realize that he may have been living a lie… The story is pacey and engaging, and while I couldn’t say that I was shocked by any of the twists, I still felt compelled to keep turning the pages.  Watching the main character struggle to piece together his life while not letting anyone know that he has lost his memory was completely engaging, especially as you (and he) begin to realize that things aren’t really as they seem.  This wasn’t the best thriller I’ve ever read, but I really enjoyed it and definitely will read some more by May in the future.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott – 3.5*

//published 1819//

This one was actually my February classic read, but at a chapter-a-day pace I didn’t finish it until mid-March.  While it was okay, it didn’t become an instant favorite that I see myself rereading.  When I was growing up, one of my favorite books was The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.  (I haven’t read that one in years and don’t know why – I NEED to read it again!!)  In that book, the main character and her friend are reading Ivanhoe, and I’ve always meant to read it ever since.  Almost 30 years later, here we are LOL  I’m not 100% sure it was worth the wait, but it was a perfectly fine story and can see why it was so popular when it was published.  I went into it completely blind and thus did not realize that this is actually a Robin Hood tale!  Many of the characters traditionally found in the band of Sherwood outlaws make an appearance, so it was also interesting to see how those myths have changed over time.  The story was quite long-winded – it’s rare that I read a book and think “I really should have gone with an abridged edition,” but I thought it a few times while reading this one.  It can be a bit repetitive and sometimes the conclusion of a scene feels obvious far too early.  There is also an astounding amount of anti-Semitism in this story, but I can’t really be mad about it being in the story as it’s an accurate portrayal of how the Jews were treated/viewed at the time.  It’s honestly so fascinating to trace back the roots of the Nazis and Jewish stereotypes literally a couple of centuries.  I also found myself doing research to learn more about why Jews became moneylenders and how many of the negative stereotypes came to be.  Ivanhoe is a worthwhile read and I think deserves its place on the classics list, but I doubt I’ll come back to this one again.

Into the Forest by Rebecca Frankel – 4*

//published 2021//

It was ironic that while I was reading the anti-Semitism in Ivanhoe, I was also reading a nonfiction book about Jews who escaped and survived in the woods of eastern Poland. Frankel weaves together the stories of several people from the region, discussing the hardships and horrors they suffered under both the Russians and the Germans. Despite the darkness, this book was inspiring and hopeful, as so many Holocaust stories somehow are. The determination, faith, and grit shown by people living under unlivable circumstances was beautiful to read. I do wish that Frankel’s afterword, explaining how she came to write the book and how she was connected to some of the people in it, had been a foreword, as it added a lot to the story for me. Many of the people in this story were related and I also found myself wishing that I had a family tree to reference. But all in all, I highly recommend this book. I was also intrigued when Frankel said that one of the people she wrote about had written his own book about his experiences, published in the 1950s – Faith and Destiny by Philip Lazowski. It appears to be out of print, but I am going to see if I can find a copy somewhere as I’m sure that is an amazing read as well.  That one seems like it would be especially engaging as Lazowski went on to become a rabbi, so it is obvious that his experiences strengthened his faith rather than weakened it, and I would love to read his story.  All in all, this was an excellent book that I definitely recommend.

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah – 3*

//published 2010//

I struggled to get through this one as I found all three of the main characters to be incredibly unlikable/frustrating, and in the end was just left feeling depressed by the way the mother had treated her daughters their entire lives.  The story is about Anya and her two adult daughters, Meredith and Nina.  Anya has always been distant and borderline emotionally abusive to the girls all their lives, and their dad was always the glue that kept the family together.  When he passes away unexpectedly towards the beginning of the book, he extracts a deathbed promise from the women that Anya will tell her story and the girls will listen.  The rest of the book is that story of Anya’s history escaping Russia and the daughters coming to grips with everything.  The main problems was that I didn’t like anyone.  Meredith is one of those people who huffs around like a martyr doing everything because “no one else will do it [right]” and ignoring everyone (like her amazing husband) who offers to help her in any way.  Nina has a job where she travels and acts like anyone who chose to be part of a committed relationship or (horror) raise a family needs to have their head examined because she’s soooo free and sooooo happy!  As for Anya – like, I get it, her backstory is tragic.  So why the heck did she ever have children if she was just going to ignore and belittle them their entire lives?!  Nothing in her story excused the way she treated her daughters like garbage.  Nothing.  It’s great that they were able to forgive her and start to move forward, but I was just mad the whole time at the way she had literally wasted her ENTIRE life and also emotionally crippled her daughters while she was at it, plus making her husband’s life a constant difficulty.  Just.  Like.  Whatever.  And if Anya really was “incapable” of being able to share this stuff – why didn’t their dad?!??!  When the girls were old enough to understand, why didn’t he tell them some of her story so that they could understand what was going on in her head??  He was supposedly this amazing kind, loving, sweet, compassionate person, but he let his daughters suffer needlessly, constantly thinking that the reason their mother didn’t love them was their fault, when he had all the information he needed to at least give them some closure about it.  The book still gets 3* for being a decent story and an interesting piece of historical fiction during those sections, but I couldn’t connect with any of these characters and spent most of the book feeling annoyed.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi – 2*

//published 2018//

This Pride & Prejudice variation is a modern retelling set in a mostly-black neighborhood in Brooklyn.  I found the Elizabeth-character, Zuri, to be completely obnoxious and bratty.  She was super judgy about everyone and everything, and then also offended if anyone dared judged her.  She literally never once considers even the POSSIBILITY that Darius might be, I don’t know, SHY?!  She also just immediately was against her (Jane) sister dating the Bingley character for literally no reason other than cause drama in the story.  The guy is funny, friendly, good-looking, and treating her sister great – and Zuri is just like “THIS GUY IS EVIL WHY ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT DATING HIM ARE YOU CRAZY?!!?!”  It made no sense and gave me a lot of negative feelings towards Zuri right off the bat.  There were some aspects of this that were fun and interesting, but for the most part Zuri kept this book at a big fat no for me, and I didn’t remotely buy her sudden and completely 180* turnaround at the end.

February Minireviews – Part 4

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

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan – 4*

//published 2005//

I’ve had the Percy Jackson series on my radar for literal years and finally picked up the first book in the series in February.  While this one didn’t become an instant classic for me, I could definitely see why it has appealed to so many people.  I found it it to be entertaining and enjoyable, even if it didn’t blow me away.  I loved the concept of moving the ancient Greek/Roman gods to modern-day America and found Percy to be a likable hero.  This book was definitely more about action than it was world-building, but it’s a middle grade read so I wasn’t really anticipating a lot of lengthy explanations, and it’s a book that is more enjoyable if you don’t scrutinize it too closely.  I saw a lot of reviews just absolutely slamming this book for being a Harry Potter knockoff, but that’s apparently because a lot of people think that Rowling invented things like the Chosen One trope, or the concept of having two boys and a girl have adventures together.  There are a few similarities between the two, but definitely not to a level where I felt like Riordan was trying to copy Rowling at all.  This book was published at the height of Harry Potter madness (this came out the same year as Half-Blood Prince) and I think HP fans were just weirdly obsessed with Rowling being the only person who could write a fantasy story.  ANYWAY all that to say that I found this book good entertainment and am continuing the series.  There wasn’t a lot of depth, and there was a lot more running around fighting monsters and getting through due to good luck than there was character-building, but sometimes that’s the kind of story that just hits the spot, and I can definitely see the high-action sequences appealing to its intended MG audience, especially for reluctant readers, where that faster pace can pull them along.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – 5*

//published 1850//

As part of my 2022 reading goal to tackle longer/more difficult books, I started David Copperfield on January 1 and read a chapter a day until it was finished. However, on the first of every month I add another book, so there is some overlap, depending on how long the books are. I finished this one at the end of February, and it was such a worthwhile journey.  I had read this one back in high school but couldn’t remember any of the details – just that Uriah Heep was SO creepy (spoiler: he’s SO creepy!!!)  Overall, I couldn’t believe how this book, published in 1850, contained so many people and situations that resonated with me completely. While a chapter a day doesn’t always work for me, it was kind of ideal for a book like this.  I think I may have been less patient with DIckens’s rambles if I had been trying to read this one straight through. As it was, 10-20 pages of Dickens a day was just about right. I fell in absolute love with so many of the characters here and found myself completely choked up on more than one occasion.  Is it a perfect book?  No, of course not.  But is it well worth the read?  Absolutely.

I thought I’d also include these photos of my edition – first off, so many of the chapter titles in this book absolutely cracked me up (did I mention that this book is funny?? Because it had me snorting with laughter on multiple occasions) and secondly, there isn’t a copyright date for my specific edition, but there is this notation on the flyleaf that it was owned by Ethel Chamberlin in 1900, which I just thought was absolutely the coolest thing.

Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon – 3.5*

//published 2020//

Modern/loose B&B retelling set a a private school for rich, almost-in-trouble kids in Colorado (the school, that is – the kids can be from all over the world lol).  This was a fun concept and I actually really liked the characters, but it was just glaringly obvious from almost the first chapter who the “bad guy” actually was, which meant that there wasn’t really any suspense and it was almost painful to watch Jaya be mad at the wrong person (even though it was not as obvious to Jaya so like she wasn’t stupid, really – the reader just has a lot more information than she does).  Usually I like have the perspective of both main characters, but hearing from Gray in this scenario just meant we know for 100% sure that he’s a good guy, which doesn’t leave us with a lot of bad guy options.  There were some fun moments and some interesting characters, but while I mostly enjoyed this one, I didn’t absolutely love it.

Of Princes and Promises by Sandhya Menon – 3*

//published 2021//

So for the first 75% of this book I actually enjoyed it more than the first book.  It’s a Frog Prince riff and was done so well.  I love how Menon gives us these situations where you can’t say with absolute certainty whether or not magic is real.  I really liked the characters here and there was a lot of good story about learning to embrace your true self and not be worried about what other people think about you, etc etc etc.  But THEN for literally no reason Menon decided to throw in a VILLAIN and just – the whole story went right off the rails, leaving me completely confused.  Suddenly, the entire book was about this other person and her backstory and what had happened to her – and like… I didn’t care??  She was a stranger??  She had nothing to do with the rest of the book?!  Why is she here??  What is the point of her??  It was very disorienting and made the entire ending of the book feel weird and awkward instead of satisfying.  It was a really bizarre decision on where to go with the conclusion of the book and quite aggravated me.  So overall it was a fun read, but the weird ending really brought down my overall rating.

February Minireviews – Part 2

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

Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron – 3*

//published 2009//

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

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

//published 1870//

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

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

//published 2021//

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

From Blood & Ash by Jennifer Armentrout – 2.5*

//published 2020//

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

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

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

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley – 4*

//published 1997//

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

February Minireviews – Part 1

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.

Veg in One Bed by Huw Richards – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was a solid vegetable gardening book but with one big weakness – it wasn’t clear which zone Richards is planting in.  Basically, the entire book is set up with specific instructions on what to do each week of the year in order to have a raised 10×4 vegetable bed in constant production.  Richards says all you need is that one bed and also a sunny windowsill for starting seeds.  His instructions are clear and he also does a nice job of providing you with substitutes in case one of the veggies he’s planting aren’t to your taste.  He glosses over what I call the “hungry” veggies – tomatoes and peppers – by saying they do best in their own, separate containers (like a 5-gallon bucket) and focuses on lettuces, peas, beans, and that sort of thing.  It’s very well organized and tells you what to do on what specific day… except it’s completely unclear as to what region this plan is for.  Where I live in Ohio is completely different weather/frost dates than South Carolina or Minnesota, but there isn’t any guidance as to where Richards assumes you live in order to implement his date-specific plan.  The book was originally published in the UK, so maybe just everyone in the UK has the same frost dates??  Some suggestions for altering some of the dates to accommodate different growing regions would have been extremely helpful, as the rest of the information is quite useful.

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten – 3.5*

//published 2021//

This was another traveling book club book, and while I overall did enjoy it, the world-building was extremely uneven, which made it hard for me to really get into the story.  The story centers on two sisters, Neve and Red, princesses in a small kingdom backed up against an (evil) enchanted forest.  Throughout the centuries, any time a second daughter has been born to the royal family, said second daughter is destined to be sacrificed to the Wolf who lives in the forest.  This appeasement keeps the Wolf from unleashing evil monsters out of the forest… or so everyone has always been taught.  It will come as no surprise to the reader to discover that the Wolf is actually a handsome man, bound to the forest against his will and doing his best to keep things under control.

I actually really liked the characters in this one and thought the concept was interesting – a sort of Red Riding Hood/Beauty and the Beast mashup – but the world building was SO uneven and mysterious – Whitten dribbles out tiny bits of information and I spent way too long being confused about how the magical system worked, what the woods were all about, why the Wolf was even there, etc. Because the Wolf actually needs Red to work with him, it seems like it would be pretty freaking natural for him to actually EXPLAIN some things when she arrives… but no one does.  Instead, we just spend more time wandering around with everyone being mysterious and no one actually telling anyone about anything that’s going on and it was SO annoying, because it felt more like a device than the way things would actually have happened.  Still, I’ll probably check out the second book when it’s released this year because now that I know more about what’s going on, I think I’ll enjoy the writing more.

First Date by Krista McGee – 3*

//published 2011//

This one was a mixed bag.  Part of it was that I didn’t really realize it was supposed to be a riff on the (Biblical) story of Esther until about halfway through the book – in that context, it actually made more sense, because some of the random little things flowed better when I thought about them within the Esther framework.  Basically, Addy, along with a pile of other teenage girls, is chosen to be on a reality show which, over several episodes, will allow the president’s handsome teenage son to pick out his date for prom (or maybe homecoming, whatever).  Addy is an orphan whose parents were killed when they were serving as missionaries.  Now she attends a small Christian school and lives with her uncle.  Her principal and her uncle both encourage her to participate in the show, even though she thinks it sounds dumb, because it could be a good opportunity for her to share her faith.  Throughout the story, the other girls are bratty, the president’s son is super nice, and Addy was… well, Addy was really my problem with this book.  She’s supposed to be the good Christian example, but she was really just kind of selfish and self-centered.  She’s constantly worried about what other people think, so instead of sharing her faith, she’s always hiding it.  That entire aspect of the story was really uneven and made it difficult for me to root for her.  She’s just such a cardboard Good Girl (TM) who doesn’t care about boring, worldly things like makeup or clothes or dating – she cares about getting good grades and going to college!  I found the dichotomy between Good Girl Addy and Bad Girl Everyone Else to be borderline offensive in its shallowness – girls who like to do their hair are automatically little bitches, apparently, and I didn’t think that was a good message.  It wasn’t a terrible book, but my inability to like Addy made it a pretty blah read.

Made in Manhattan by Lauren Layne – 3.5*

//published 2022//

I’m always excited to pick up a new Lauren Layne book, and while I enjoyed this one, it wasn’t my favorite of her books.  The antagonistic attitude between the two main characters went on a little too long, and this book could have REALLY benefitted from hearing something from the male MC’s perspective.  Having just Violet’s thoughts/opinions made it hard to get behind the sudden (?) change of heart when the two eventually got together.  There was some fun banter and entertaining side characters, but this wasn’t one I particularly see myself revisiting.

Hadley Beckett’s Next Dish by Bethany Turner – 3.5*

//published 2020//

It’s funny, as I’m writing these reviews I realized that I read three books in a row where someone was a jerk for a little too long to make the story work.  Same thing happened in this one – Max is a complete dick and stays that way for far too long into the story.  By the time he finally becomes a “better” person, I legit didn’t trust him because he kept acting like he was going to change and then not.  Hadley was a little too goody-goody and I never felt like she really acknowledged the fact that she wasn’t actually perfect.  While there were some fun moments and I liked the concept, once again I just couldn’t get behind these characters enough to really enjoy the story.

 

January Minireviews – Part 1

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

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

Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2013//

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

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George – 3.5*

//published 2007//

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

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

//published 1928//

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

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

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

The Eight by Katherine Neville – 4*

/published 1988//

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

The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel – 3*

//published 2020//

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

The Waterfire Saga // by Jennifer Donnelly

I was doing so well about posting there for a hot minute!  I guess it’s time to delve into some reads from January…

  • Deep Blue (2014)
  • Rogue Wave (2015)
  • Dark Tide (2015)
  • Sea Spell (2016)

I’m not sure when or how this series got added to my TBR, especially since mermaids aren’t usually my thing.  However, I really got drawn into Donnelly’s world and adventures centered around the heiress to a mermaid throne, Serafina.  I thought that Donnelly did a great job of keeping me aware that we were underwater without emphasizing it too much, although there were times that I was confused about how things really worked in a world where everyone is floating all the time (like how does one sit on a chair??), and also where things are constantly underwater – but I’ll also admit that the magic part of the world felt pretty seamless to the point that if something didn’t make 100% sense to me, I was willing to think, “Well, it’s probably magic!” and move on without getting too distracted.

Although Serafina is the main character, a prophecy draws together several other mermaids from different kingdoms.  This was a point where things could have gotten very confusing, but Donnelly did a great job of pacing her introduction of new characters.  While I wished some of them could have been fleshed out more, I got enough to make me actually care about each of them and what was going on with them.

The grand finale came together fairly well.  There were a couple of different things going on and I wasn’t sure if they were all going to tie together, but I felt pretty satisfied on the whole.

At the end of the day, a solid 4* series.  I don’t feel like I need to buy these and read them time and again, but they were really well done and perfect for me at the beginning of January when I was feeling a little overloaded on Christmas romances!!  I can also see myself checking out some of Donnelly’s other books, although I’m not sure where to start – let me know if you have a favorite.

December Minireviews – Part 1

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

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

The Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan – 4*

//published 2021//

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

Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie – 4*

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

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

//published 2020//

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

Christmas Angels by Nancy Naigle – 3.5*

//published 2019//

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

Forest of Souls by Lori Lee – 4*

//published 2020//

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

A Princess for Christmas by Jenny Holiday – 3.5*

//published 2020//

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

November Minireviews – Part 2

Orchard life is wrapping up fast.  I always think that that means I’m going to have more spare time… but we’ll see if that’s actually true!!!

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.

Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey – 4*

//published 2019//

This one has been on my TBR for so long that the sequel has already been published as well haha  I really enjoyed this one overall, although I have to admit that a large part of that was because it is set so close to home and Winfrey hit so many fantastic Columbus/German Village/Ohio references.  The Columbus skyline is even on the cover!!  Our own amazing bookstore, The Book Loft, is featured, which was super fun.  The story itself was fine.  I really liked the male MC, Drew, but the female protagonist, Annie, did get on my nerves just because she kept purposefully misunderstanding/taking offense at literally everything Drew said.  Basically he says one teasing thing to her when they first meet, she immediately decides to take it offensively, and then does nothing but complain about him and assume the worst about him (while complaining that HE assumes the worst about everyone else!) despite the fact that he’s actually being perfectly lovely to her and everyone else around him??  It got old fast.  But overall, the humor, the fun side characters, the PG13 rating, and (of course) the fun setting meant that I really enjoyed this one.

Not Like the Movies by Kerry Winfrey – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I didn’t like the sequel quite as well, mainly because while I really enjoyed Chloe as the side character, she got on my nerves when she moved to the MC position.  She spends about 50% of her time talking about how marriage is not for her and it’s a terrible idea and ew gross why would anyone do that and marriage is for losers and she would rather DIE than get married on and on and on and ON to the point that it started to feel offensive.  Another huge chunk of internal dialogue is devoted to the fact that she’s bisexual which apparently means you spend all of your time sexually evaluating literally every person you see; she was constantly thinking things like “I couldn’t decide if I would rather hang out with her or kiss her” or “he’s okay as a friend but I didn’t find him as attractive as his sister”, like she was always objectifying pretty much everyone she met and it really got on my nerves.  It got to the point where it felt like Winfrey wanted to write a romance that would appeal to her straight readers, but still score points for being “diverse” but that meant she had to constantly remind everyone that even though Chloe’s main crush is a dude, she would still be into that guy even if he was a girl!  She likes girls!  Like sexually likes girls!  Enough that she’s always looking at them and thinking about whether or not she would like to sleep with them!  As long as she doesn’t have to marry them, because getting married is for losers!!  So parts of this were still fun and engaging, and the actual plot line was good, but Chloe herself was SO annoying that it really brought down my overall enjoyment of the book.

Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – 4*

//published 2021//

So it’s funny because I’ve had the first book in this series, Aurora Rising, on my TBR for so long that it wasn’t even part of a series when I added it, yet I managed to actually read it only two months before the final book appeared!  Quite fortuitous.  I really enjoyed this grand finale, and there was a fabulous little summary that was just enough to get me back in the groove at the beginning of the book, but easy to skip/skim if you already remembered what was going on.  This one definitely flirted with the overly-complicated line, but I think it managed to not quite cross, despite the time loops making some of the story feel repetitive.  I definitely plan to reread this series in the future, and I’m interested to see if I like this one better when I read it closer to its predecessors.

You Lucky Dog by Julia London – 3*

//published 2020//

I was attracted to this one because of its cute cover and fun premise – Carly and Max both own basset hounds, but come home to find that their dog walker has mixed up the dogs!!  Returning accidentally-swapped dogs seemed like a fun meet-cute, and it was… kind of.  The problem with this book was that it was just Too Much.  Literally every person in Carly’s life is a Drama Queen set at 11, full of bizarre quirks and weird backstories.  Her parents were having all this just over-the-top drama and the entire love story basically got drowned out by the honestly somewhat-depressing complications and people in Carly’s life.  I never really shipped her and Max that much, mostly because they both got on my nerves in their own way, and because they never seemed to have an actual conversation that made sense or wasn’t interrupted by Carly just running off to solve some other crisis.  They were horrible communicators, and once again the whole thing where the woman has a great job opportunity and doesn’t even discuss it with the guy she likes because obviously he will demand that she relinquish the job and stay with him because OBVIOUSLY NO ONE UNDERSTANDS THE CONCEPT OF COMMUNICATION AND COMPROMISE.  Nothing makes me mad about a story faster than someone “already knowing” what the other person is going to say and so they DON’T EVEN TALK ABOUT IT.  UGH.  So anyway, this story was okay and some of the plot had some promise, but overall it was a little flat because of all the extra drama and a complete inability for the main characters to have a normal conversation.

Sleigh Bells Ring by RaeAnne Thayne – 4*

//published 2021//

Thayne has become one of my go-to authors for relaxing, low-angst, clean romance.  I really enjoyed her newest book, which happened to be Christmasy and just right for a little seasonal preview, as I read it right before Thanksgiving, mostly because it was due back at the library haha  Nothing crazy here, 100% predictable story with likable characters, realistic drama, and a fun family.  My only complaint was that I would have liked this to have turned into a series, as some of the secondary romances could easily have been their own books.

Sentinels of the Galaxy Trilogy // by Maria V. Snyder

  • Navigating the Stars
  • Chasing the Shadows
  • Defending the Galaxy

I’ve read Snyder’s Chronicles of Ixia twice now and absolutely loved them, so I’ve been meaning to pick up this trilogy for quite a while.  I didn’t love this series as much as the Ixia books, but they were still really well done.

Lyra is the daughter of two renowned archeologists, living on a planet whose entire human population is based around the archeological dig there.  The dig focuses on a set of strange artifacts that have been found on multiple planets (including Earth) around the galaxy – terracotta warrior statues.  Content with her life and friends, Lyra is devastated when she finds out that she will be moving with her parents to a new planet, one that just discovered another set of warriors.

Snyder sets the stage for her space travel by explaining that everyone uses “time dilation,” similar to basically every other space book I seem to read, starting with A Wrinkle in Time, wherein travelers pass through folds/wrinkles/etc. of space.  However, while it only takes a few hours for the travelers to pass through a time dilation, it can take decades of real time.  Thus, say you were born (I’m going to use just random numbers here because I don’t have the book in front of me) in 2000, then at the age of 10 travel to a far-flung planet.  When you arrive, you are still 10 Actual years old, but it’s now year 2052, so all of your friends from the original planet are now 52, while you’re still a child.  It’s a little confusing at first, and the repeated use of Actual Years Old began to get on my nerves, but it all in all makes decent sense.

So when Lyra’s spaceship exits from time dilation, she of course receives all kinds of messages and news from the past couple of decades (even though it was only a couple of hours for her) – including some very disturbing news about the planet (and people) they left behind.

All three of these books held together really well, without that dreaded second-book dip.  I was thoroughly engaged in what was going on with Lyra and her friends.  The pacing was good and the characters mostly likable – I especially appreciated that Lyra had a great relationship with her parents, instead of them being constantly at odds.

My only real problem with these books was that I read them so close to the Aurora Cycle.  They aren’t really that similar in terms of plot, but they do both involve a lot of space travel, time jumping, and people from the past.  I didn’t get the confused at the time, but now that some time has passed from reading both of them, I find myself having to actively remember which things happened in which books haha

This wasn’t my new favorite series, but it’s one that I can see myself rereading.  Overall, Snyder has become a favorite author of mine, and I’m still working my way through the rest of her works.  If you like YA and scifi, this trilogy is definitely worth checking out.