The Wicked Marquis // by Marnie Ellingson

Thrift stores are rather awesome, and not just because you can get gently used clothes and furniture on the cheap.  They also tend to have a corner devoted to various types of media, with books, VHS tapes, battered DVDs, and scratched CDs all piled together.  I love rummaging through thrift store books, because sometimes, under the Readers’ Digest condensed versions and scads of romance paperbacks with scantily clad heroes and heroines in fond embrace – I find a little treasure.  And one of those, purchased for a quarter a few years ago, is The Wicked Marquis.

//published 1982//

This isn’t a book of high adventure or intensity, but it’s a fabulous go-to for a happy, relaxing, funny little story.  This definitely has echoes of Georgette Heyer, with a strong-minded but lovable heroine who is determined to rescue her cousin from a marriage of convenience (but no love), and in doing so, embroils herself with the Wicked Marquis himself.  It’s one of those wonderful little stories where there isn’t really a villain, where misunderstandings are minimal, and where you know that everything will come together in the end for a happy ending.

Esme is a wonderful protagonist.  She is intelligent, interesting, and contented with her lot in life.  She isn’t afraid to stand up for the people she loves, but never comes across as obnoxious or ridiculous.  And despite the fact that she is adventurous and not particularly fussed about all of the societal regulations, she’s still feminine and even girly at times, enjoying a good chat about clothes and handsome young men.

All in all, I definitely recommend The Wicked Marquis, with a strong 4/5 rating.  And despite the fact that I’ve owned this book for several years and have read it several times, this was the first time that I bothered to find out if Ellingson wrote anything else.  I did find one of her books on eBay secondhand, and hope to read Unwilling Bride soon, although not in public, as the cover is absolutely ridiculous.

I mean seriously?!

Briar Queen // by Katherine Harbour

//published 2015//

Life continues to be quite busy, although I am feeling a bit more like reading these days, so we will see how that translates into blogging!  I’ve missed being active here, but sometimes real life interferes with my internet life!!

Quite a while back I reviewed the first book in the Night & Nothing Trilogy, Thorn Jack.  In that book, we met Finn, who had moved (with her dad) to her dad’s hometown in upstate New York.  However, the seemingly idyllic little college town of Fair Hollow is actually the home to a group of fairy-like creatures known as the Fata.  Finn falls in love with one of the Fata, Jack, who used to be human.  By the end of Thorn Jack, the love that Finn and Jack have for each other has made Jack human again.

Part of the reason that Finn and her father left San Francisco and moved to Fair Hollow was because they were recovering from the suicide of Finn’s sister, Lily Rose.  In Briar Queen, Finn learns that her sister isn’t actually dead – she has been taken by the Fata and is being held in the shadow-world that parallels the human one.  Soon, Finn, Jack, and Finn’s friends are all embroiled in an rescue attempt that leads to many terrifying and exciting adventures.

It’s been a while since I actually finished this book – almost a month, actually – so I don’t remember all the specific details.  However, I liked this book better than Thorn Jack, I think mostly because a lot of the first book was spent setting up the world and characters.  In the second book, we were able to jump right into some action after a brief recap.  Despite the fact that my notes for this book say, “Plot like a pinball machine,” overall this book seemed more cohesive than the first.  In the first book, I complained about the story feeling choppy and jerky, but Briar Queen flowed much better.  It was full of action and adventure, but still stayed focused and had a fairly cohesive plot.

All in all, this book was a 4/5 for me, and I’m rather excited to (someday) read the conclusion, Nettle King.

Still Life // by Dani Pettrey

//published 2017//

Still Life is the sequel to Cold Shotand as the books focus on a group of friends, my guess is that there will be a few more books in the series.  While there were several things that I enjoyed about this story, it also fell into some ruts in places, so overall I’m going with the same rating as I gave the first book in the series – 3.5/5.

The initial mystery in this book is great.  It starts with Avery visiting the opening of an art show.  Avery used to be a photographer, but was blacklisted (before the events in the first book) because of a controversial political shot.  After that, she worked for a while as a crime-scene photographer, which is where we met her in Still Life.  However, she felt like her feelings were growing too strong for her employer, Parker (a crime-scene analyst), so since the ending of the last book, she has gone back to doing some free lancing.

At any rate, this art show is one of the first times that she’s reentered the professional photography sphere and she is a bit nervous.  But she promised her friend that she would come.  Skylar and Avery grew up together, and even though they aren’t as close as they once were, Avery still feels a lot of responsibility for Skylar.  While Skylar isn’t an artist, she is the focus of the art show that is getting ready to open, as the photographer used her as his model.  Weirdly enough, the artist chose to use a theme wherein he posed his subject as though she had died.  Kind of creepy, but artists can be a strange lot.

When Avery gets there, she is surprised that she can’t find Skylar anywhere.  But Avery doesn’t really begin to worry until the photographs are revealed – and the artist becomes enraged because not only has someone stolen one of his photographs, it has actually been replaced by another picture of Skylar posing as though she has died… except Avery isn’t convinced that it is actually a pose…

Soon Avery and our friends from Cold Shot (which you definitely need to read before reading this book to really understand the interactions between the main characters) are scampering all over the place trying to put together the clues.  And while some of them have jurisdiction over what they are doing, I was sometimes confused about how they would just knock on doors and ask questions and people would just chat it up with them without requesting any kind of proof that these people should be asking these questions.

Then there was this weird secondary plot with a terrorist who snuck into the country illegally on a boat, and that thread just didn’t seem to fit with the Skylar story at all.  Instead, it felt like a heavy-handed contrivance so Pettrey could keep setting up another couple for the next book.  I found myself mildly aggravated, because with a little more attention, I think that the Skylar mystery could have been much stronger.  Like I understand that you want to make characters flow from one story to the next, but I don’t have to be repeatedly told about the confused/conflicted feelings that these other two have for each other just so I’ll understand the next book.  Instead, it felt like the other couple was stealing the show from Avery and Parker.

As with Cold Shot, there was more romance/relationship than thriller, which would have been fine if the focus had stayed on Avery and Parker.  I think that Still Life would have greatly benefited from focusing on the Skylar mystery and the Avery/Parker relationship, and relegating the build up for the next book to the background.  Still, this was a solid read with engaging characters, and I do see myself continuing through the series.  The ongoing mystery of what happened to Luke several years ago is being woven into these stories, so I’m hoping for a grand finale tale at some point that will answer all of those questions as well.

My only other issue with this book is the cover art.  This one isn’t quite as bad as Cold Shot, but I’m just really not a fan of carrying around a book with a brooding hero on the cover, especially when I felt like the book was actually a lot more about Avery than it was about Parker.

Many thanks to Bethany House, who provided me with a free copy of the book.  My sincere apologies for taking so long to get to this review, but life has taken one of those turns for the crazy!

Rearview Mirror // February 2017

Hey friends!  Well, I am still alive, but quite busy now that I have started back up at my seasonal job at the garden center.  I really do love working there a lot, mainly because I spend all day digging about in the dirt and helping things grow.  (As an aside, I’m a total Hufflepuff anyway, and I realized that I even possess the badger-like quality of enjoying a good dig!)  However, working full time means less time for reading and less time for blogging.  I’ve been super lazy with my reading since I started working two weeks ago, although now that my body is readjusting to the manual labor aspect, hopefully I won’t just come home and go straight to bed.  Plus, it’s almost time for the time change, which I actually hate, but it does mean that it will be lighter later into the evenings!

As far as reading for February goes, as I was compiling the list of reviews and trying to decide what my favorite/least favorite reads were this month, I realized I had a LOT of 3/5 reads.  Kind of a meh month on a lot of levels!

Favorite February Read:

Weirdly, I think that I’m going to go with The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.  This isn’t really my usual type of book, but Tan’s writing was so excellent that I was drawn right into this story that is really more a series of vignettes from the lives of four Chinese women (all of whom immigrated to America as adults) and their (now adult) daughters.  This book managed to capture a lot of emotion and insight, and while a little sadder than I usually like my fiction to be, still came through as hopeful and oddly uplifting.

Most Disappointing February Read:

Definitely The Heroic Edge of the Mysterious World by E.L. Konigsburg, and not just because I had some higher expectations, having loved some of Konigsburg’s other works.  This book just made no sense.  The characters were weird, the story was incredibly disjointed, and I never did really get what the author was driving at.  It was a book I really wanted to like – and, from the premise, I should have liked – but ended up not even kind of liking it.

Other February Reads:

  • The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar – 3/5 – an alright YA with a fun premise, but somehow just came through as a bit bland for  me.
  • Bleed for Me by Michael Robotham – 3/5 – the fourth installment of the Joseph O’Laughlin series and a decent read but not quite as smooth as some of the other books.
  • Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey – 3/5 – decent story with some fun characters, but a little too much romance and not quite enough story for me personally.
  • Container Gardening by Suzanne Frutig Bales – 4/5 – informative with lots of pictures.
  • The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer – 3/5 – a dystopian book that really wrestles with a lot of deep questions in a thoughtful manner, but wraps things up a bit too neatly to be completely believable.
  • The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer – 3/5 – a great sequel to The House of the Scorpion, but despite the depth of issues explored, it felt a bit simplistic in its conclusion.
  • Mike and Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse – 3/5 – a genuinely funny story that also sets up the unlikely friendship between the two title characters, who will go on to appear in future Wodehouse entertainment.
  • Mike at Wrykyn by P.G. Wodehouse – 3/5 – a lively school story with more character development than some of the others.
  • The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux – 3/5 – a decent mystery, but the “hero” was a bit on the obnoxious side for me.
  • The Princess by Lori Wick – 5/5 – reread of an old favorite.
  • Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour – 3/5 – a good start to the Night & Nothing Trilogy, but rather choppy in parts.
  • The Swoop! Or How Clarence Saved England: A Tale of the Great Invasion by P.G. Wodehouse – 4/5 for a witty and entertaining little tale told with tongue firmly in cheek.

In Februarys Past…

Now that I’ve been doing my Rearview Mirrors for two years, I thought it would be fun to see what my favorite and least-favorite reads were from those years.

In 2015, I had a favorite read and a so-close-it’s-basically-a-tie read:  A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness was my official favorite, and still is highly recommended.  It is a book that will emotionally destroy you, but I also found it incredibly healing.  I’ve never read a book that deals with grief so beautifully, and the illustrations by Jim Kay are amazing.  And actually, I think that this book went on to become my unofficial favorite book of 2015.

That runner-up slot was filled by the third Pollyanna book, Pollyanna of the Orange Blossoms.  This book is all about Pollyanna and Jimmy when they are first married, and it’s my favorite book out of the series.

I was most disappointed by Dan Brown’s Deception Pointmostly because it was EXACTLY like the first book of his that I read, Digital Fortress.

Last February, my favorite book was a classic Agatha Christie – The Seven Dials MysteryIt’s one of her spy thrillers and is full of fun characters and lively dialogue.

My least favorite book was a novella by William Ritter, The Map.  However, this really doesn’t seem fair because the only thing I really seemed to dislike was that it felt short and choppy.

TBR Update:

I haven’t been blogging much, so I haven’t posted a Tottering TBR episode in a few weeks.  But I’m sure that you will all be unsurprised to learn that the TBR is continuing to grow nonetheless…

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

  • Stand-Alones:  891 (up ten, which for me is doing really great… we won’t mention the fact that I have 153 unread emails, almost all of which are book reviews from your lovely blogs…)
  • Nonfiction:  64 (up three… again)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own, but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  616 (up eleven… curse you, free Kindle books!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 149 (up two)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 72 (up one)

The real problem is that since I started working my brain has been fried, so instead of reading productive books off the literal hundreds on my list, I’ve been reading terrible Pride & Prejudice variations.  Whoops.

Awaiting Review:

  • Still Life by Dani Pettrey.  I’ve had this review almost-written for about two weeks, and since it’s actually from the publisher, I really do feel like I ought to get this one out here soon!
  • Briar Queen by Katherine Harbour – I actually enjoyed the second book in the Night & Nothing series better than the first!
  • The Wicked Marquis by Marnie Ellingson – this is a book I bought for a quarter at the Salvation Army years ago, and is one of my favorite go-to books when I just want something happy and fun – very Georgette Heyer-esq.
  • 1932 by Karen M. Cox – this is one of those P&P variations, with they story set during the Great Depression.  This was one of the more enjoyable variations I’ve read lately.
  • The Houseguest by Elizabeth Adams – another P&P variation, pleasant but a bit bland.

Current Reads:

  • The Wreckage by Michael Robotham – despite the fact that this book is quite good, I’ve been trying (and failing) to read it for over two weeks!)
  • All Fall Down by Christine Pope – I’m trying to actually read books that are on my Kindle, especially since I spend my lunch half-hour at work sitting in my car (it’s awkward to eat and read a bulky book…  like The Wreckage, for instance…)
  • Fate & Consequences by Linda Wells – obviously not another P&P variation, because that would be just plain ridiculous.

Approaching the Top of the Pile:

The probably next five reads…

Well, since I haven’t been reading from my list at all, who knows??  We’ll just let this section by mysterious for this month…

February Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsburg

620998

//published 2007//

So growing up, Konigsburg’s The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of my favorite books.  As an adult, I discovered her book The View from Saturday and loved that one, too – a lot (I even read and reviewed it again!).  But for me, The Mysterious Edge just didn’t work the way her other two books did.  The plot is disjointed and strange, the characters inconsistent and unrealistic, and the entire premise centers around a lot of coincidences.

I really wanted to like this book – two kids becoming friends while helping an elderly lady clean out her house that’s full of interesting stuff – doesn’t that sound like fun??  But the old lady, Mrs. Zender, is really weird, and so are both of the boys – and not in the realistic, quirky way of some of Konigsburg’s characters in Saturday – just weird, weird: the kind of weird that leaves you scratching your head in puzzlement.

A lot of the story centers around a picture that one of the boys finds, a drawing of a naked woman.  Now we’re informed that this is art, so this is a “nude” which is different from just someone being naked.  But…  it still felt really inappropriate for the age of the characters and the intended readers, and, once again, was just kind of weird.  Like why does the picture have to be of a naked person??

There are almost some good discussions about how people perceive us and how we perceive ourselves, about people who are rich and people who aren’t, about whether or not a government should be able to decide what is or isn’t art.  But none of those conversations really go anywhere, so the whole book feels awkward and stunted.

All in all, 1/5 for a book that I wanted to like but just couldn’t.  I’m still planning to read some more of Konigsburg’s books because I have enjoyed a couple of them so very much, but I don’t see myself ever revisiting this one.

American Gardening Series: Container Gardening by Suzanne Frutig Bales

s-l225

//published 1993//

This is one of those random books that I picked up for a quarter at a library book sale at some point.  It’s not a terribly thick book, but it does have a lot of photographs and plenty of good information about choosing plants for container gardens and then keeping them alive after you’ve planted them!  Bales has a lot of enthusiasm for container gardening as it is very flexible and can be done in almost any amount of space.

I’ve been working through several gardening books this month, and I always glean some new tips and ideas.  This one is well worth the shelf space as a great reference book.  I especially enjoyed the chapters that focused on planning container gardens – I think that a lot of times people go into container gardening assuming that you just sort of jam some plants in and it will look great, but this book spends some time talking about not just the color of the plants you are planting, but texture, size, and growing requirements.  Definitely recommended if this is a topic you’re interested in learning more about.

The Princess by Lori Wick

001

//published 1999//

This is a (multiple time) reread for me, and I have a more detailed review here.  Sometimes I just need some happy fluff, and this book always fits the bill.  It involves my favorite trope (marriage than love), and just is a happy, gentle little tale that I have read many times and yet always find enjoyable.  I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump here at the end of February, what with starting my new job and being super tired all the time, so The Princess helped get me through!

The Tottering TBR // Episode XIV

Fairly quiet week here on the blog.  For some reason, I’ve been reading a lot of books that go in pairs, so that takes extra time, and only counts as one book when I finish them.  Also, I just found out today that I’m starting my job back up at the garden center on this coming Monday, so I’ll be back to 40hrs/wk plus commuting time, so be forewarned – both reading and blogging will probably be reduced!  However, I’m pretty excited about starting there again as I get paid to be outside playing with plants, so it’s hard to complain about that.

Added to the General TBR:

As usual, I’m rather behind on reading reviews, but I still managed to add four books, including Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner.  Carol’s review over on Reading, Writing & Riesling made this book sound quite exciting!

Off the General TBR:

thehouseofthescorpionThis week, I reviewed The House of the Scorpion and its sequel, The Lord of Opium, both by Nancy Farmer.  They were pretty engaging, although they seemed a bit intense for children’s books!  Because they are a duology, they only count as one title off the TBR.

I also read Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey, a thiller-ish that I enjoyed but somehow lacked that zing. Turns out that it was actually on my TBR, so I got to knock it off!

I also removed a cheesy-looking title from the list that I’m not even sure how it ended up there.  Finally, while I did review The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar, it won’t officially be off the list until I finish the sequel, The Fourth Wish, which I haven’t even started yet.  :-D

Total for the General TBR:  888 – only up one!

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Added to the Personal TBR:

Only two free Kindle books this week!  Such self-restraint!

Off the Personal TBR:

Still working on the Pride and Prejudice variation – it’s my bedtime book.  Things are spiraling out of control there.  So much angst.  Why.  But I can’t stop.

Total for the Personal TBR:  614 – up two!

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Total for the Series TBR:  Nothing added to taken off this week, although I am about halfway through the second book in the Night and Nothing trilogy.  So we’re holding steady at 148.

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Total for the Mystery Series TBR:  No changes here, either – still at 72.

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Total for the Nonfiction TBR:  No changes here, although I have been reading several of my own nonfiction books, mostly studying up on gardening stuff yet again!

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Grand Total for the Week:  Six added and three off, so only a net gain of three – I’m going to call that a win!

The Art of Wishing // by Lindsay Ribar

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//published 2013//

This book has been on the TBR long enough that it doesn’t have a date attached, and the blog whose review inspired me to add it appears to no longer be a blog!  So I don’t really remember what it was that originally caught my fancy.

While in some ways a typical YA, this book does have a fun little premise and, on the whole, is executed well.  Margo McKenna is our narrator and heroine.  She’s a typical high school senior – good grades, loves math, and is really excited about landing the lead role in this year’s musical.  She totally nails her tryout, but the role goes to a sophomore instead, leaving Margo feeling confused – especially when it turns out that Vicky is kind of terrible at singing and acting.  But when a series of coincidences mean that Margo ends up with a ring that was once in Vicky’s possession – Margo finds out that Vicky had a little help…  magical help.

I think that the main reason that I enjoyed this book is because I liked Margo herself.  Throughout, Margo is trying to make decisions that are not just good for her (or for her love interest), but for a variety of people in her life.  I also really appreciated the way that she works hard at becoming a better person.  There are several times that, instead of caving into the temptation to be bitter and angry about the fact that Vicky has the lead role, Margo makes a conscious decision to not let that bitterness rule her.  Instead, she is unfailingly polite to Vicky (and not in a sarcastic way), and completely throws herself into the (secondary) role that she is supposed to play.  I love that Margo wasn’t “naturally” nice about the situation, but worked hard at approaching the situation maturely.

While there is a bit of insta-love between Margo and Oliver (who turns out to be a genie), it ends up making sense within the context of what is happening, and I actually liked a lot of the way that their relationship panned out, and I felt like they had some good discussions.

The bad guy was a little over the top, and I didn’t really like the violence that went with his character.  I also felt like it was really weird that Oliver acted like it was pretty normal for his “masters” to request/expect sexual favors while they were in control of their wishes.  Like… why would one of only three wishes involve having sex with a total stranger…???  It wasn’t this huge part of the story, but it was all part of Oliver explaining how the whole thing worked.  I think he was trying to emphasize the fact that he has to do whatever his master wishes, but it still felt kind of weird.  His stories about having to kill people/arrange for their deaths seemed to make that point more poignantly to me.

While there were the expected unintended consequences of wishes, I felt like some of those areas were explored thoughtfully, in a way that made me wonder what I really would wish for if I had three wishes – because who knows what the long-term consequences are when you start meddling with fate?  I really liked the bit where Margo was trying to decide whether or not she should make her wish change the mind of someone in her life – her thought process through whether or not it was fair/right to force someone to do something they wouldn’t have actually done – even if it’s the best decision from Margo’s perspective – was really interesting.

The ending was good, with a bit of kick and only slightly rushed.  While it felt like this book worked well as a stand-alone, there is a sequel, so we will see where that leads.

All in all, this was a pretty solid 3/5 read.  It was entertaining and fun, had a decent story, and involved characters who were around 18 instead of 15, so their actions and decisions made a lot more sense.