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.

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.