Young Pioneers // by Rose Wilder Lane (and kind of #20BooksofSummer !)

//published 1933//

This slim book packs a very emotional and inspiring story into its short length.  It had been many years since I last read this book, and even though it didn’t take me long to read, I’ve still been thinking about it since I finished it.

I loved the book from its opening line – While they were children playing together, they said they would be married as soon as they were old enough, and when they were old enough they married.  Although, as the story progresses, we do find out that what they considered “old enough” was a bit on the young side for our modern lives – David is only 18 and Molly 16 when they not only marry, but head west in a wagon, leaving behind everything and everyone they’ve ever known, at a time when that leaving meant that you would, more than likely, never see these loved ones again.

Molly is the quiet, thoughtful one of the pair, while David is confident and exuberant.  His favorite hymn includes the lines –

Let the hurricane roar!
It will the sooner be o’er!
We’ll weather the blast, and land at last,
On Canaan’s happy shore!

The original title of this story was Let the Hurricane Roar, and despite the complete lack of actual hurricanes (although we get a healthy dose of blizzards), the theme of standing firm and confident in the face of extreme adversity is really the foundation to the entire story.

The young couple find a homestead, which, according to law, they must live on and improve for five years, and then the land will be deeded to them.  At first, all is going well in their snug dugout, as the wheat crop is beautiful.  But tragedy strikes so completely that David has to go back east to find work.  Molly is determined to stay behind on their claim so that they don’t lose their year’s work.

I’d forgotten how much of this story that Molly actually spends alone, with an infant, in the wilderness.  Despite her quiet nature and inherent timidity, she is amazingly steadfast and inspiring, determined to do what has to be done to claim their homestead and build their life.  The writing is somewhat sparse, but it honestly reflects the overall feeling of the vastness of the prairie and the miles and miles of emptiness.

Because this book was initially published as a serial story in Saturday Evening Post, it is told in four long chapters.  Usually I much prefer short chapters, but because the book itself is so short, the long chapters made me feel like I was galloping through the story!

Rose Wilder Lane is, of course, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the beloved Little House books.  When Lane published Young Pioneers in 1933, only Little House in the Big Woods had been printed.  So the tragedy with the grasshoppers, later recounted by Wilder in On the Banks of Plum Creek, does sound familiar to those who have read the Little House books, as Lane is obviously drawing a great deal from family history for her writing.  Lane’s characters were also originally named Charles and Caroline, which are the actual names of Lane’s grandparents (Wilder’s parents).  When the book was republished and renamed in the 1970’s, the character names were changed as well, probably because by that time Wilder’s entire series had been published and was very popular.

Although this is a book of hardship, it is also a book of hope and strength.  It’s a wonderful reminder of the struggles and obstacles that people were facing a mere century or so ago.  Molly herself is a true heroine, perhaps especially because she doesn’t do anything particularly heroic.  She doesn’t save anyone’s life or change the tides of a political upheaval.  Instead, she just lives – steadily, bravely, doing the best she can under incredibly difficult circumstances.  Molly is the kind of heroine who truly inspires me, a reminder that we don’t need a grand stage to do our part to make the world a better place.

NB: This book was originally chosen for my #20BooksofSummer challenge.  Even though I failed to read all 20 books this summer, I am still planning to read them!!

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Spinning Silver // by Naomi Novik

//published 2018//

Although published in 2015, I didn’t get around to reading Novik’s first book, Uprooteduntil last year.  It was incredibly magical, and was one of my favorite reads of the year.  This also meant that I didn’t have to wait very long for Novik’s sophomore novel, Spinning Silver, which came out this summer.  While this book didn’t quite live up my expectations (which were very high, thanks to Uprooted), it was a stirring and  beautiful story in its own right – just not exactly what I had been expecting.

I think the biggest difference between the two books, and the reason that I just can’t rate Spinning Silver as highly as Uprooted, is that Spinning Silver just isn’t a very happy book.  Every single one of the narrators (and there are three main ones, plus several chapters from a handful of others) has had a terrible, difficult life, and they’re basically convinced that they have nothing else to look forward to.  While the narrator of Uprooted was essentially an upbeat lady, always trying to make the best of her situation and always convinced that there was a way to save everyone, the narrators in Spinning Silver come from desperately difficult situations and are resigned to the fact that sacrifices, even of lives, will have to be made for the greater good.  The three main characters each betray someone in the course of the story, and while it can definitely be argued that they owed nothing to the people they betrayed and thus were justified, it doesn’t change the tone of the story, which is that betrayal and sacrifice are sometimes just what has to happen.

It wasn’t exactly that every page was drudgery, but there was just a lot of heavy stuff to deal with. Horrific poverty, prejudice, cruelty, abuse, demon-possession, kidnapping, murder, forced marriage, etc.  Adding tot he mix that the main narrator, Miryem, is Jewish, it kind of read like historical fiction with a bit of magic thrown in, and the historical fiction part wasn’t very happy.

My understanding is that Novik is Jewish, and I’m sure she is very well qualified to write Miryem’s character, but somehow the Jewishness of Miryem didn’t exactly fit with the tone of the story in my mind.  Miryem herself was an excellent heroine, and her Jewishness was a part of that and it was fine, but it was also the only thing really anchoring this story into my world versus setting it someplace completely fictional, and I think maybe that was why it felt strange??  I’m just not sure.  It may have also been because Miryem’s character felt like Novik was not-completely-subtly trying to constantly make a point about the persecution of Jews through the ages.  Again, not a bad point to make, and it’s a point that is completely true and justified, but it didn’t always fit with the flow of the story.

The multiple-narrators aspect of the story mostly worked.  Honestly, the voices between the characters weren’t super different – where they were and what was happening was what set them apart from one another, not necessarily the way they talked/thought.  One of the characters is supposedly very uneducated and poor and comes from a horrifically abusive background, yet her voice sounds basically the same as Miryem’s, who comes from a loving family and is much more widely-traveled and well-read.  The third main narrator is the daughter of a lord and has grown up in a much more refined setting, yet again she sounds basically the same as the other two girls.  I guess most of the time, if there need to be more than two narrators to keep the story flowing, it just seems like the story ought to be written in third person instead.

I’ve spent a lot of time whining about this book, yet it was still an easy 4* read for me.  The story itself is good, and the writing is excellent.  I genuinely felt cold while I was reading this book about the ever-lengthening winter.  And while I would have preferred to hear from the main characters in the third person, I still found them likable.  Despite their horrible backgrounds and current situations, all three of the main heroines are strong and determined to do what is right, no matter the cost.  They have a strong loyalty to family and community and are willing to do whatever it takes to protect the ones they love.

I would have liked to have had an epilogue of some kind.  While it’s implied that everyone’s lives are going to be a bit better going forward, it would have been nice to have seen that, at least briefly, considering how long I had to spend wallowing in their misery.  The love story aspects of the tale were definitely a bit rushed.  Towards the end of the book, Novik skips a multiple-month period, glossing over it in just a few paragraphs.  Yet that’s the exact time frame that two of the characters are genuinely coming to know and love each other.  Consequently, the lovey conclusion between the two feels a bit thin.

All in all, I do recommend this book.  And I think that I’ll actually like it better on a reread, now that I know where things are going.  Part of my discontent with this story was definitely because of the overall tone being so much darker than Uprooted, and I wasn’t ready for that.  Now that I know what to expect, I think that I can appreciate the other aspects of the story more fully.  While Spinning Silver wasn’t an instant classic for me like Uprooted was, it is still a solid, well-written tale with sympathetic characters and an engaging story that I fully intend to reread in the future.

Judy Bolton Mysteries // Books 11-15 // by Margaret Sutton

11.  The Unfinished House  (1938)
12.  The Midnight Visitor  (1939)
13.  The Name on the Bracelet  (1940)
14.  The Clue in the Patchwork Quilt  (1941)
15.  The Mark on the Mirror  (1942)

I’m continuing to read my way through the Judy Bolton series in five-book chunks, because if I’m honest, the books get a little same-y after a while, and they go down better in batches instead of all in one go.  At the end of The Riddle of the Double Ring, Judy became almost-engaged to Peter Dobbs, who is probably my favorite character in this series.  Steady and intelligent, Peter is a great balance for Judy’s tendency to be impulsive and sometimes too trusting.  Now that Peter is a lawyer, Judy is working as his secretary, and it was quite delightful to have an adorable little couple working together without any hanky-panky going on.  Instead, here’s a concept, Peter works all day, and so does Judy!

Way back in the beginning of the series, the small town in eastern Pennsylvania where Judy (and Peter) lived was destroyed in a flood when a dam burst.  Since then, they have all been living in a town about 30 miles away, Farrington.  Now Roulsville is being rebuilt, and The Unfinished House begins there, with some crazy shysters giving away completely useless lots in an effort to sucker people in.  This is the first book where Peter’s lawyering has a significant impact on the story – Judy works to find and expose the crooks, and Peter works to make sure they get their just desserts!  That aspect was kind of fun even if, as always, the story is a bit melodramatic.  This was also the last book in the series that I remember reading, so since then none of these stories seem remotely familiar to me.

These books definitely build on each other, so while they can be picked up and read in any order, reading them in order makes the whole process a great deal more cohesive.  Judy makes friends and helps them solve problems, so by this point in the series there is quite the little gang, all with backstories and shared histories.  While Sutton doesn’t make a great deal of effort to develop her characters, they still do have some personality and it is interesting to see where they go.

Judy seems like a pretty forward-thinking heroine for her time.  She isn’t big into all the “girly” stuffy of housekeeping and babies, but is totally supportive of her friends who are – The Name on the Bracelet is all about Judy going to visit a friend who is married and just had her first baby, and Judy is completely happy for her.  While marriage is viewed as a stable and good thing, Sutton is honest about how it doesn’t always work out.  The Mark on the Mirror talks a lot about why people get married, and why those marriages can break apart.  At this point, Judy and Peter are officially engaged and planning their wedding, and it was interesting to see how Sutton doesn’t act like that that will be the grand finale of Judy’s life, or her “career” of solving problems.  Instead, she emphasizes how the happiest marriages are the ones where the participants both support the other as they grow as individuals and grow together as a team.  Judy loves Peter, but also has some doubts about whether or not marriage is right for her.  Peter isn’t dismissive of these doubts, but instead works to show her how sincere he is in loving her for who she is.

I also thought that it was interesting that Judy’s parents had hoped that she would go to college instead of “just” getting married!  It isn’t a big part of the story, but it’s mentioned in The Clue in the Patchwork Quilt that they were somewhat disappointed that Judy decided to become Peter’s secretary and later his wife instead of pursuing her studies further.  Out of Judy’s gang of friends, one is married and one is engaged at this point – the other girls are all pursuing their own careers and education in a manner that isn’t made a big fuss of – pretty solid for those “backwards” times in the 1930’s!

Probably the most thought-provoking book out of this batch is The Name on the Bracelet.  Judy goes to visit her friend Irene, and Irene’s husband Dale.  They’ve just had their first baby, and Judy arrives on the day that Irene and the baby are coming home from the hospital.  In hospital, Irene has made friends with another first-time mother, Jane.  Now, this book was nothing if not predictable – we spent a literal couple of chapters leading up to the fact that Irene and Jane have dressed their babies JUST ALIKE, so it’s not big surprise to the reader when the babies get mixed up as the ladies leave the hospital.  Interestingly enough, this is another case where Sutton isn’t afraid to create an unhappy marriage situation – Jane has a “terrible” husband and in-laws that she is trying to escape from, at a time when women – especially young mothers – didn’t have a lot of options for earning money.  ANYWAY the point is, Dale and Judy realize that the baby is the wrong baby.  At this point, Dale decides, emphatically, that Irene will not be told!  Judy is very unhappy with this decision, as she is an honest soul, but Dale insists that this is what is best for Irene.  As Dale and Judy are unable to locate Jane – who has done a runner in an attempt to escape from the husband/inlaws – for a while it is uncertain as to whether or not Dale will ever get his real baby back.  Watching the way this lie impacts his relationship with Irene, and the way that Judy contemplates whether or not it’s best to have true honesty in a marriage, is quite interesting.  In the end, of course everything is made right, and Dale even receives confirmation from the doctor that lying to Irene was what was best for her health.  Judy, however, remains convinced that truly good marriages are built on absolute honesty and transparency, and even asks Peter to promise that no matter what happens in their future, he will always tell her uncomfortable truths instead of comfortable lies.  While the story itself, in all honesty, wasn’t that great, I did find the whole truth/lie/protection question to be intriguing.

All in all, while these books haven’t been amazing – pretty solid 3.5* reads all around – they have been interesting.  I hear a lot of people being very dismissive of the early part of the 1900’s, as though “the patriarchy” was forcing all women to be enslaved housewives, but actually reading books from that era reveal a much more layered and nuanced society (surprise, surprise) wherein yes, being a housewife was the “regular” pursuit of women at the time, but not the only one, and not the end-all of a woman’s life.  It’s also no true surprise to reasonable people to recognize that many men, like basically all the men in Sutton’s stories, were supportive and encouraging to the women in their lives, wanting them to grow and learn.  While Peter and other menfolk in these stories can be protective of the women, it’s always with an acknowledgement of the inherent autonomy of the women they love.

September 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.

I realize that it’s now October, but September really flew by!  I had most of this post already written up, and they are books that I read last month – so here are a few quick paragraphs just to try and get somewhat caught up!!

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola – 3.5*

//published 2016//

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from this book.  I had read a couple of good reviews of it (by Books for the Trees and also Cleopatra Loves Books), so I knew that it was a historical crime book – and that was about it!  The setting was fantastic and the characters were well-drawn.  However, while I found this book compulsively readable, it never really captured me.  There was a twist at the end that I had guessed almost from the very beginning, and it made me feel rather out of sorts with a few of the characters along the way!  So while I did overall enjoy this read, it didn’t really make  me want to rush out and see what else Mazzola has been up to.  I think part of it was that I was expecting to experience some terror while reading this, and that just never really happened.

The Accident by Chris Pavone – 3.5*

//published 2014//

A while back I read The Travelers by this author.  I liked the book enough to want to try another of his works, and while I enjoyed this one as well, it didn’t really blow me away in any sense.  It was a good plot and good pacing, but it just felt like loads of people got knocked off unnecessarily.  The ‘villain’ of the piece was a big vague – like we know who he is, but he’s really just sort of a shadow man; there is never anything from his point of view or anything.  I think the book definitely would have benefited from having him be a little more concrete.  The other problem was that I didn’t like anyone in this book, so while I wanted to root for the ‘good’ guys, they weren’t super likable either, so in a way I kind of didn’t care. However, there was a really good twist towards the end of the book that suddenly made everything come together, which bumped this up half a star.  Pavone isn’t a super prolific writer, so I’ll probably still check out his other couple of books.  They’ve  been fun for one-time reads, even if they aren’t instant classics.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik – 4.5*

//published 2015//

After reading SO MANY 3-3.5* books, I really wanted to read something that I knew I would love.  Ever since I finished Uprooted last year, I’ve wanted to reread it, so I picked it up the other day and enjoyed it even more the second time around.  This was one of my top three books from 2017, and my reread only cemented that opinion.  This book is incredibly magical, with fantastic world-building and engaging characters.  I absolutely love the terror inspired by the Wood, and the ending is just so, so perfect.  I’m still not a fan of the sex scene, because it makes me feel uncomfortable recommending this book to younger teen readers, but other than that this book is really just a complete delight.  I’ve ordered Novik’s second novel, Spinning Silver, and am really looking forward to it!

The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer – 4*

//published 1940//

We were camping this weekend, so I grabbed this one for a quick read.  Heyer never disappoints, and this book was full of all sorts of lively adventures and genuinely funny moments.  Heyer’s writing frequently involves a somewhat-older male lead with a somewhat-younger female lead.  I have mixed feelings about this, and I realized when reading this book that it really depends on the female’s situation.  In a lot of her books, the girl has been out and about in the world (Frederica and Deb from Faro’s Daughter come to mind), and then I don’t mind an age difference so much.  But other books, like this one (and actually the last Heyer I read, The Convenient Marriage), the girl isn’t even ‘out’ yet, so having an older (and by older I mean late 20’s/early 30’s, not like her dad’s age or something) fellow sweep her off her feet feels a little weirder.  I realize that it’s a product of the time, where (upper class) men frequently waited until later in life to marry than women, but it still sometimes feels a little strange to have a 29-year-old man who has been out and about in the world marry a 17-year-old girl who hasn’t even had a Season.

HOWEVER all that to say that despite that, this book was still great fun with some very likable characters and some hilarious hijinks.  Heyer is so reliable as an entertaining and fun writer.  I can’t believe that I am still working my way through her bibliography, but I’m grateful that she was so prolific!!

September 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.

September is buzzing by at a frightening clip.  We’ve been quite busy at the orchard, so I haven’t had as much time for reading or for writing reviews.  Plus, once again, I haven’t been reading anything that’s really excited me, although I’ve had several reads that get described with words like “solid” and “decent.”  So here are a few of those decent reads…

Update:  It’s now 28 September, and I haven’t posted a single thing this month…!!!  As mentioned before, the orchard has sort of taken over my life, plus there have been a lot of random family things going on.  Still, I’m hoping to at least complete THIS post before the end of the month!

Blind Spot by Dani Pettrey – 3.5*

//published 2017//

I read the first three books in this series a while ago, when I got Blind Spot as an ARC.  This summer, the fourth (and final) book was released.  I got it from the library and started to read it, but realized that I really couldn’t remember what all was happening with the terrorist plot line, so I decided to give this one a quick reread.  While I did like this book, I was nagged by the same things that mildly aggravated me the first time around.  The main one is something that annoyed me about this entire series – that Pettrey would have two completely separate plots in the book, and they never tied together.  Consequently, one of those always ended up feeling like filler to me, like she was writing to parallel series at the same time or something.  In this case, there’s the terrorist plot (main) and then a random murder (secondary).  Not only does the murder feel shoehorned into the story, it seemed completely ridiculous to me that the characters in this book were allowed to process/be in charge of the crime scene since they actually knew the victim/possible criminal, and there were questions as to whether or not the dead guy had killed other people and then committed suicide, or been murdered and set up.  I just still can’t believe that friends of his would be allowed to process the crime scene.

But despite this, I still overall enjoyed the book and I really do like the characters.  I was intrigued to see how everything was going to get wrapped up in Dead Drift.

And Both Were Young by Madeline L’Engle – 3.5*

//published 1949//

I’ve gotten a bit off track from my L’Engle reading, dashing off on tangents with random books of hers as I keep drifting further and further backwards in time through her bibliography.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this one, but I’m always drawn to stories that take place in boarding schools, so I thought I would go ahead and give this one a whirl.  While I wasn’t blown away by it, it was a really enjoyable story.  I loved the way that Flip’s discontent with her situation was due to both her actual circumstances, which are kind of lame, but also her own attitude.  As she grows the realize this through the story, she is able to start changing the parts of her life that she actually can change – so while some of the lame parts are still there, she’s overall happier and more contented because she has started to learn how to be proactive in her own life.  This story also had an interesting setting, being in Europe just after WWII in a boarding school with girls of all different nationalities.  While most of them were small children during the war, they have all been touched by it, and L’Engle did a really excellent job of weaving that background in very naturally.  Although this story was sometimes a bit melodramatic, it was overall a really pleasant read.  I don’t see myself going back to it again and again, but I still think I would recommend it, especially if you enjoy thoughtful, character-driven stories.

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – 3.5*

//published 2014//

This is actually the first book in a series, and I’ve heard some good things about it – and who wouldn’t be drawn to that gorgeous cover art??  However, while I found this to be an alright read, I didn’t really find it compelling.  The world-setting was interesting, but didn’t really make practical sense to me – I mean, seriously, four kingdoms, and each one is always the same season?  How does that even work?  What does it mean to always be Autumn – a perpetual state of harvest?  The whole idea just confused me a bit when I started trying to think of what it meant to actually live there.  While this was an okay read for me, I didn’t like it well enough to bother with the other books.  Not a bad read, just kind of boring.

Dead Drift by Dani Pettrey – 3.5*

//published 2018//

This is the final book in the Chesapeake Bay series, and I definitely enjoyed seeing everything get tied up, especially Jenna’s murder.  I still think that this entire series would have benefited from having just one story line, as they consistently felt rather choppy and disconnected, but I still did like them and would read something else by Pettrey if it came my way.  I really liked the characters in these books, and it was fun to see them all get some closure with all the stuff that had been happening throughout the stories.

Gold of Kings by Davis Bunn – 3.5*

//published 2009//

I’ve read a couple of Bunn’s books before and found them to be decently interesting, so when I saw this one for a quarter on the library discard shelf, I went ahead and picked it up.  It kind of made me realize that while Bunn’s writing is alright, it doesn’t really grab me all that much.  This book did definitely have me turning the pages by the halfway point, but it didn’t really make me want to pick up the sequel.  Not bad for one-time reads, but not interesting enough to keep returning to time and again.

August Minireviews – Part 3 – #20BooksofSummer

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.

Final wrap-up of August reads!

The Royal Treatment and The Royal Wedding by Melanie Summers – 3*

//published 2017//

The first book was close to a 3.5* read for me, so I was willing to give the second a try, especially since it was on Kindle Unlimited.  However, I just genuinely was bored by The Royal Wedding and didn’t bother with the third book.  These books had a fun concept and fairly likable characters, but I was somewhat turned off by their – for lack of a better word – crudity.  Told in dual POVs from both the male and female lead, I felt like I heard way more about Arthur’s libido (albeit in weirdly euphemistic terms) that I ever wanted to know, and the method Summers used to make Tessa a “regular” person was by having her swear – a lot.  Tessa also has several brothers, all of whom basically treat her like trash, to the point that I really didn’t understand why Tessa was still willing to spend time with them.  If my family treated me like that, I would NOT hang around!  In the second book, there was this really strong message that if men ever, in any way, attempt to care for/protect/help the women in their life, they are just sexist, horrible people, and that really grated on me.

However – these books were also very funny, and the scenario was great fun.  I actually liked Arthur and Tessa a lot, as individuals and as a couple, which is what kept me reading as long as I did.  Not a total waste of time, but not really books I would recommend either.

Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery – 3.5*

//published 1910//

It had been a long time since I had read this slim book, and while I enjoyed it, I was reminded of how some of Montgomery’s books just feel a little flat to me – this is definitely in that category.  First off, Kilmeny is mute, and it’s always hard to really portray that in writing, since I’m reading what she says whether she says it out loud or writes it down.  Secondly, the amount of prejudice Kilmeny faced/put on herself for being mute was really an interesting testament of the times, as she literally felt like her “defect” made her “unworthy” of being a wife.  This book also reflects its time in its discussion of Neil, the hired hand/son of Italian immigrants.  It’s definitely something that wouldn’t be written that way a hundred years later!

Still, all in all, this book only reflects the thoughts/culture of its time.  And while this story doesn’t have the magic that some of Montgomery’s other works do, it’s still a nice little story.  Incidentally, this is #11 for my #20BooksofSummer challenge.

Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins – 4*

//published 2011//

This was my first foray into Higgins’s writing, but it won’t be my last.  There were a lot of things that I really liked about this book.  The characters were well-written, and I loved the way that while yes, the main story is a romance, there are a lot of secondary stories going on that add a great deal of depth to what was going on.  There was a strong theme about parent/child relationships that I thought was done quite well, and I really loved the way there were so many adopted kids!  I also appreciated the lack of explicit sex scenes and the minimal swearing.  While this book didn’t become an instant classic for me, I definitely see myself exploring some of Higgins’s other books soon, as she had a great balance of romance, humor, and serious issues.

This is #12 for my #20BooksofSummer challenge, and probably as far as I am going to get this year!

Unwilling Bride by Marnie Ellingson – 4*

//published 1980//

Several years ago I purchased The Wicked Marquis by this author (secondhand, in a thrift store).  It has become one of my favorites, so I was excited to pick up Unwilling Bride when I had a few hours of enforced downtime last weekend.  While I didn’t love it was much as Marquis, it was still great fun.  The story was lively, the characters engaging, and everything was just a good time and thoroughly enjoyable.  I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more of Ellingson’s works, all of which appear to be out of print.

The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts – 4.5*

//published 2011//

This nonfiction story of the champion horse jumper, Snowman, was really an excellent read.  I knew the bare bones of this story thanks to C.W. Anderson’s Twenty Gallant Horses, but it was so much fun to get more details about a horse of unknown (but very poor – probably plow horse) lineage, purchased off the dog-food wagon by a poor Dutch immigrant, who went on to become a champion show jumper competing – and winning – at Madison Square Gardens.  Letts does a great job of giving the right amount of background information without bogging down the actual story, and I love it when nonfiction books work photographs into the text instead of putting them all in a big block of pages in the middle of the book.

I wish I had more space to review this book, as it really was quite fascinating.  The horse on the cover is Snowman himself, who enjoyed jumping so much that he would do it without a rider if the jump was in the ring.  If you like horses, or just a really fun rags-to-riches kind of story, I definitely recommend this one.

Chasing Ravens by Jessica Paige – 3.5*

//published 2014//

This was a decent fantasy story with Russian vibes.  While I liked it just fine, it didn’t really have the magic a story needs to become one I return to again and again.  It felt like the entire beginning of the story should have been eliminated, as it didn’t really do much to the main thrust of the story, and then more time could have been spent on the actual adventure.  It also felt like the story could have used either no romance, or more romance.  As it was, there was just enough to be distracting but not enough to actually fell like a part of the story.  Still, a perfectly nice read, and definite kudos for nice cover art.

 

August Minireviews – Part 1 – #20BooksofSummer

Well, friends, I just got back from an AMAZING vacation to Wyoming, where the husband and I spent a week with minimal cell phone signal just hanging out in my aunt and uncle’s cabin.  We spent literal hours sitting on the porch reading, in between taking hikes in the mountains and going for drives up dirt forest service roads.  It was truly fantastic.

When I was deciding what books to read, I originally thought that I should take the rest of my #20BooksofSummer list, because otherwise I’m probably not going to achieve the goal.  But then I decided that was dumb, and I was going to take whatever I wanted, so instead of being productive, I spent the whole week reading ridiculous chick lit and lots of fluffy romance and it was delightful.  But now I’m wayyyyy behind on reviews, so there will probably be a couple of minireview batches!!

The first couple of minireviews in this post were written before I left.  I currently have 16 books to review…!!!!!  So here we go!

Mystery Over the Brick Wall by Helen Fuller Orton – 3*

//published 1951//

This is a random children’s book that I’ve had around for a while.  It was an alright read, but nothing particularly memorable.  While I enjoy many of the simpler children’s stories from the 1950’s, whose basic messages are about being kind and helpful, this one just didn’t stir the imagination.  However, it is #9 for my #20BooksofSummer, so at least I am making some minimal progress there!!

Chosen Child by Linda Huber – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This one was first brought to my attention by Cleopatra when she reviewed it back in February 2016.  While I enjoyed this domestic thriller, and found it to be very readable, it wasn’t a book that blew me away.  It was definitely in the category where you kind of more or less know how things are going to turn out, but you still can’t stop watching the train wreck.  Huber did a great job making everyone tangled up in the situation be likable and aggravating by turns – it didn’t exactly feel like there were good characters vs. bad ones.  However, I also found myself being overall annoyed – and somewhat horrified – at how all of the tragedy could have been avoided if two adults had actually honored their marriage vows instead of justifying themselves and seeking attention elsewhere.  So if nothing else, a book to read if you are thinking about embarking on an affair – this one SHOULD warn you off that dire path!

The Arm of the Starfish by Madeline L’Engle – 4*

//published 1965//

I’m still not completely convinced that I am going to try and read all of the entangled L’Engle books (see what I did there??), but this one was quite readable with a very thriller/spy novel tone to it.  I felt like some of the science was kind of weird (starfish can grow new limbs, so obviously horses can, too!  …????) but it was such a fun story that I just went with it.  (And it’s also possible that I’m the dumb one, because I don’t really know much about starfish or limb regeneration so.)  I have a huge pile of L’Engle’s books sitting next to my shelf and am trying to decide if I want to continue reading them or not.  I’ll probably at least give the next one a go just to see what happens.

When It’s Real by Erin Watt – 4*

//published 2017//

This book was added to the TBR over a year ago, thanks to a review by Stephanie.  Recently, the Kindle version was on sale for 99¢, so it seemed like a good time to give it a go!  And while Kindle books frequently languish for long periods of time before I get around to them, I was in just the right mood for this one when I bought it.

I really enjoy the fake relationship trope, and this one was done quite well.  The characters were really likable, and I especially enjoyed Vaughn’s family.  I thought that the way that the two main characters had to overcome their initial prejudices against each other was really realistic (well, as realistic as something this crazy can be haha), and the dialogue was good.  There was a little more swearing/sex than I like (which, just to be clear, Stephanie didn’t like either lol), but overall this one was definitely a great read if you are looking for something a bit more fluffy than thoughtful.  I’ll definitely be checking to see what else Watt has written.

Holiday Wishes by Nora Roberts – 3*

//published 1994//

Honestly, I can barely even remember the two short stories in this volume.  They were pretty bland romance tales, wherein the tension was created because the two main characters spent more time misjudging each other’s motives than they did actually conversing.  While I’ve enjoyed a lot of Roberts’s writing in the past, these stories were too short to really get into the characters, so everything felt a little flat.  While not bad, they definitely weren’t memorable.