Rearview Mirror // August 2019

Well, another busy month has come and gone!  I can’t believe that summer is over and fall is here already.  August was a very busy and somewhat weird month.  It’s always a busy month at the orchard for me, because we aren’t quite at full staff yet, so I actually work more days in August than I do throughout the regular season in the fall.  However, I do it because I actually love working there and love my employers, so even though it’s been hard work it’s been good fun.

I’ve still been doing plenty of reading, but not as much reviewing!!  I’ll get caught up one of these days, as I always do eventually.

Favorite August Read:

I think I’m tagging  Swallowdale for this slot, even though I haven’t reviewed it yet.  It was such a warm, fun read – an excellent sequel to Swallows and Amazons, which I also loved.  I am so excited about continuing this series.

Most Disappointing August Read:

The Wedding Chapel ended up being a real downer of a read, that left me feeling so sad that I didn’t even bother reading the final book in the series.

By the Numbers…

In August –

  • I read 6231 pages – over a thousand less than July, but I’m not surprised, considering how crazy busy things have been.
  • My average star rating is 3.6 again, although closer to 3.7.  While I did have a few books I really enjoyed this month, it was overall a lot of just pretty average reads.
  • This month the majority of the books I read were from the library – out of 23 total books, 16 of them came from the library, and only one book this month was a Kindle read – the rest were all hard copies.
  • This month’s oldest book was The Story of a Whim by Grace Livingston Hill, published in 1903.
  • As well as being my favorite read this month, Swallowdale was also my longest at 453 pages – and I enjoyed every single one of them.
  • The shortest book this month was a graphic novel that I also haven’t reviewed yet, called The Tea Dragon Society.  It was only 71 pages long, but every single page was full of the most adorable illustrations you could imagine.

August DNFs:

  • I started to read Rachel Hauck’s The Wedding Shop, but just couldn’t get into it, especially with the bad taste of The Wedding Chapel lingering around.
  • I was planning to read another Redwall book, Lord Brocktree, but I just wasn’t feeling it.  I’ve put it back on the list for a later date.
  • My book blogging buddy Stephanie sent me a copy of The Killing Tide by Dani Pettrey.  She and I have both enjoyed Pettrey’s books in the past, but she warned me that this wasn’t one she particularly enjoyed.  I didn’t even bother finishing it – the main character was incredibly annoying, way too many characters and plot lines were introduced in the first 25 pages, and there were some serious issues with civilians and criminal investigations going on!  This one just wasn’t for me.

#20BooksofSummer Update:

I don’t think I’m going to quite make the list this summer!!  I’ve completed 16 books (although I’ve only reviewed 14), and I’ll probably finish #17 today.  Although I won’t have the full twenty read by the official deadline, I’ll get to them eventually and it’s all good fun.  You can see my list here.

TBR Update:

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:

  • Standalones:  436 (up six)
  • Nonfiction:  100 (up ten)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  659 (up one)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  235 (up one)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 116 (up two)

I definitely blame the uptick of ALL the TBR tabs on Litsy!  I’m still really, really enjoying the book loving community over there, even if it is wrecking my resolutions to get TBR numbers DOWN!  :-D

Awaiting Review:

  • The Flatshare  by Beth O’Leary – loved this one
  • Those People  by Louise Candlish – great pacing, weird ending.
  • The Tea Dragon Society  by Katie O’Neill – as mentioned, an absolutely adorable graphic novel.
  • Swallowdale  by Arthur Ransome – so much love for these books.  I can’t wait to read  Peter Duck.
  • The next five 87th Precinct books – I really have been enjoying these a lot.
  • My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George – a childhood favorite that was a great reread.

Currently Reading:

I’m in the midst of another delightful Wodehouse read, The Girl on the Boat.  I just don’t understand how Wodehouse can be so perfect all the time.

I’m also finally making progress on my Vietnam book ( Vietnam: A History ), also thanks to Litsy – I’m part of the Book Fitness Challenge right now, and my reading goal is 100 pages a week from  Vietnam!  Goodreads tells me I’m 35% of the way through!

The Probable Next Five(ish) Reads…

  • There are actually two sequels to  My Side of the Mountain, so I am going to read those as well as soon as they come in at the library.
  • The Lady Vanished  by Gretta Mulrooney is supposed to be the first in my next mystery series – if it’s any good, I’ll read the next six books in the series as well.
  • My next Judy Bolton book is  The Clue of the Broken Wing.
  • I’m still working through that random pile of Nora Roberts books, and the next one in the stack is  Three Fates.
  • My next crazy Regency book is The Fugitive Heiress by Amanda Scott.  The title alone is perfect.

That’s all for this month – hope everyone has a fantastic September!!!


August 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.

This has been a really busy month with a lot of family drama and a lot of working!!  We also have another big remodeling project underway, which takes up a lot of my spare time.  All that to say, I always manage to fit reading into the nooks and crannies of life, but sometimes the reviews get rather behind!!  I’m trying to get caught up by the end of the month, but we’ll see what happens…

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck – 3.5*

//published 2012//

This trilogy of books has been on my radar for a long time.  Who doesn’t enjoy a good wedding story?  In this one, Charlotte owns her own wedding dress shop.  She’s struggling with whether or not she should go forward with her own wedding, afraid that Tim isn’t really the right person for her (or that she’s the right person for him).  She accidentally buys a trunk at an estate auction (if you’ve ever been to an auction, you know it’s not that hard to do haha), and when she opens it, she finds a beautiful wedding dress.  The book jumps back in time to other timelines so the readers learn the dress’s history, even as Charlotte is trying to find out more about it.

Overall, Hauck did a good job balancing the multiple timelines, and created some likable characters.  This is theoretically Christian fiction, but it’s really more supernatural than Christian, in my mind.  References to God/Jesus are oblique, but there is a timeless character (angel?) who is found in all the timelines.  This was actually handled really well and felt like it fit in with the story.

The reason this didn’t end up being a 4* read for me was mostly because of the way that Charlotte and Tim’s relationship was handled.  Basically, in the end Tim takes all the blame for why their relationship wasn’t working, when it was obvious that a lot of the issues were with Charlotte, who was having trouble truly committing herself to being with Tim and being a part of his family.  I felt like Charlotte never really acknowledged that she was at least as much to blame as Tim, so that made me wonder if their long-term relationship was really going to work out.  Still, it was overall a pleasant story, even if it was a little slow in spots.

The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck – 2*

//published 2015//

Sooo reading The Wedding Dress made me interested to pick up the second book – except it isn’t really a second book.  There are ZERO connections between this book and the first book.  They don’t even take place in the same state!  What’s the point of calling this a trilogy if the books don’t interconnect?!  This annoyed me throughout the entire story.

This book basically depressed me the entire time I was reading it.  Because of the dual timelines, the reader already knows early on that Jimmy and Collette are going to spend at least SIXTY YEARS not together, and it’s pretty easy to see that it’s going to be because of some stupid lie that Collette’s jerk sister tells.  So their whole story was just incredibly depressing.  I couldn’t enjoy any of the backstory bits of them meeting and falling in love, because it all felt completely pointless.  Yeah, it’s awesome that the finally get to get married when they freaking almost eighty years old, but it still felt like a big fat waste of life.

I was more invested in the story of the younger couple, Jack and Taylor, but literally all of their drama was because they didn’t know how to sit down and have a conversation like adults.  Instead, they both just kept worrying that the other person didn’t really love them and going in circles and it was incredibly aggravating.  The whole book was a serious downer for me.

In the end, I started to read the third book, The Wedding Shop, except I didn’t care any more since these books aren’t actually connected to each other, and I had been so put off by The Wedding Chapel that I really didn’t want to start a whole other book following the same pattern.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin – 3.5*

//published 1978//

This is a middle grade mystery that I remember reading back when I was in middle grades, and thought I would revisit.  It’s an intriguing story with a fun premise, but was a little slow in spots.  The epilogue also felt ridiculously long, as Raskin fills us in on everyone’s lives after the end of the Game.  As an adult, I fount myself skeptical of some of the things that Westing was able to pull off, and some of the connections felt rather tenuous, but it’s overall a fun story, that I can see someone around the ages of 12-14 really enjoying.

This was read #12 for #20BooksofSummer!

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson – 3*

//published 1981//

This is the third of Ibbotson’s books that I’ve read, and I’m concluding that she just isn’t an author for me, despite the fact that every time I read the premise of one of her books I think it sounds delightful.  This one was the best of the three, but that isn’t saying a whole lot, as the other two made me want to bang my head against the wall regularly.  The main problem with this one was that the dude has two choices for whom he should marry, and Ibbotson makes Anna SO perfect and Muriel SO dreadful that it seems absurd to think that that the dude, whose name I can’t remember and that I failed to write down, would consider Muriel for even a second, even if he feels “honor bound” to her.  There are a LOT of coincidences in this book as well, and in the end the wedding must be prevented, and the way that occurs just was completely over the top.  I was also frustrated with the dude the entire time – he was SUCH a passive character.  I honestly didn’t feel like he deserved Anna, because he did basically nothing to fight for her and to change his life so that he could marry her – he just lucked out that Muriel changed her mind after all.  Lame.

Read #13 for #20BooksofSummer!

A Promise of Home by Wendy Vella – 3.5*

//published 2015//

This was a Kindle book I’ve had for a long time and finally got around to reading.  It wasn’t a bad story, but it was what I was reading at night before bed, so it took me a while to get through it.  I’m not sure if the writing was genuinely choppy, or if it just felt that way because of the way I was reading it.  It was also weird because I felt like there were some continuity issues as well – like in the beginning Branna is so terrified of doctors and hospitals that she can’t even stay one night at the clinic with her best friend there as the nurse, but at the end there is no mention made of her fear even though she has to stay in the hospital for a few days.  There were little things like that throughout the story that low-key bugged me.

The ending was a smidge rushed and easily tidied, but overall this was a relaxing read (although a bit too sexy at times for me).  I wouldn’t mind reading some of the other books in the series because I did like the background characters and this is one of those series that just meanders around the town pairing people off, but they aren’t at the library and they’re $5 each on Kindle, and I’m not THAT interested haha

Fairfield Orchard series // by Emma Cane

  • At Fairfield Orchard
  • A Spiced Apple Winter
  • The Apple Blossom Cafe

These were the sort of happy, relaxing romances that are super low-stress to read, but aren’t quite at that brain-melting level of predictability.  I’m always partial to stories about siblings working together, and that’s the foundation of this series.  The Fairfield parents have been running the orchard for years, but have decided that they would like to take some time to travel and relax, after a recent cancer scare for Mom Fairfield.  The six Fairfield siblings agree to take turns coming back to run the orchard while the parents head out to enjoy life in their RV.  Each book focuses on a different sibling – the third book was just published at the end of last year, so I’m assuming that there will eventually be at least three more books to round out the family.

//published 2016//

Amy and her twin, Tyler, are the first siblings to return home.  (A third sibling has been working the orchard her entire adult life and has also decided to take a break.)  Amy is recovering from a bad long-term relationship and trying to decide what she really wants to do with her life.  Only a few weeks after her arrival at the orchard, she’s approached by a professor from a nearby college who is writing a paper about Thomas Jefferson, who sold the land to Amy’s multi-great grandparents.  The professor, Jonathon, wants to spend some time learning more about the history of the orchard to tie into the theory for his paper.  I’m sure you can all guess what happens from there…

So yes, overall a relaxing and happy story.  There was a little too much angst at times – Amy tended to blow her own mistakes significantly out of proportion, which got on my nerves, but I really did like her and Jonathon together, and also liked seeing Amy’s relationship with her brother mature and change as well.  Amy has spent a lot of time more or less hiding from her family because she’s been ashamed of sticking with her ex-boyfriend, so while the focus of the book was romance, a lot of the story was also Amy reconnecting with people from her childhood, and I thought that was done really well.

The second book focuses on Tyler.  He’s a minor celebrity from a role he played on a soap opera, but he isn’t sure what is going to happen next since the show was cancelled.  He’s re-learning about orchard work, but doesn’t think he wants to stay there forever.  In the meantime, since he’s been back it also means he’s spending more time with Amy’s best friend, Brianna.  Tyler and Brianna had a little fling several months earlier, and he’s starting to wonder if it should be more than that.

//published 2017//

Part of the backstory for these books is that throughout much of the Fairfield siblings’ childhood, their dad was a working alcoholic.  While he wasn’t abusive, he was distant and more interested in drinking than any of them.  Over a decade before these books open, he had a scare and almost killed several people in an accident because he was too hungover to operate the equipment correctly.  Since being scared straight, he’s been on the wagon and working hard to make amends for his past mistakes.  All that to say, a lot of what happens in these books is the various siblings dealing with that part of their past in their own ways.  Throughout all three books, I felt like this was handled extremely well, with forgiveness coming more easily to some than others, and with each of them having their own particular reasons for feeling hurt by the past.  I really enjoyed the aspect of the family making peace with one another, based on the sincere regret and sorrow that their dad has for his past.

For Tyler, growing up he felt like his real dad was Brianna’s dad, who was always there for them.  Now that Brianna’s dad has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, Tyler and Brianna are both struggling with that, as well as their confusion over where their relationship should go from here.  I really loved the genuine kindness and love that Tyler showed towards Brianna’s dad, and it made Tyler’s relationship with Brianna seem more realistic – you don’t just marry your person, you kind of marry their entire family, and I liked that part of the story.

At first I thought there were only two books in this series, because that’s all that’s listed on Goodreads, but I happened to see the title for the third book and realized it was also part of this series – no idea why it isn’t on the series list!  The third sibling is Noah, who is a chef, and has taken his sabbatical to come and start a café at the orchard.  Part of the drama of the second book was one of Tyler’s old soap opera co-stars, Gabby, coming to stay for a while, and she becomes Noah’s love interest in this book.

//published 2018//

This story was a little grittier than the other two.  Part of Gabby’s backstory is that she gave up her baby for adoption when Gabby was a young, unmarried mother.  Years later, she’s still wrestling with her feelings from that decision, and whether or not it was the right choice.  This was all done extremely well – I had a lot of empathy for Gabby and her situation both in the past and the present.  Meanwhile, Noah is still very embittered towards his dad, and watching him come to grips with that and realize that his refusal to forgive and move forward was hurting himself as much as it was hurting his dad, was a really good story.

These books definitely had more sexy times than I personally prefer, but as it wasn’t the main point of the story, I was able to skim through those bits pretty easily.  While these weren’t as humorous as I like my romances to be, they were still good stories with likable characters who felt sturdier than the cardboard stereotypes these kinds of books so often contain.  I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out to see if Cane continues the story of the Fairfield siblings and their orchard.

Also, side note, aren’t these covers lovely??  I don’t understand why they can’t give romance novels pleasant covers like this.

NB: At Fairfield Orchard is my ninth read for #20BooksofSummer!

July Minireviews

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 Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1922//

This is a collection of short stories, all of which are about golf.  In my question to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, this one was next, and I’ve kind of procrastinated on it a bit since I don’t really know much (anything) about golf, but I shouldn’t have doubted – although I certainly missed plenty of golfing references, the ability of Wodehouse to tell a hilarious story still shines through.  Most of the short stories are told by an old man whom we know only as the Oldest Member of the golf club.  He has many a tale to while a way an evening.  As with all story collections, they had their ups and downs, but overall the quality was excellent, and the stories were quite funny.

Winner Takes All by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1984, 1988//

This was actually two stories in one book, and they were originally published separately, about four years apart.  I think they would have read better if they hadn’t been together, because they were actually rather similar stories – both female leads were television producers, both had relationship issues, both meet a really similar dude through work.  Overall they were perfectly nice stories (although a bit too sexy), but also pretty forgettable.

The Haunted Fountain by Margaret Sutton – 3.5*

//published 1957//

Now that I’ve gotten into the Judy Bolton books that I don’t own, I’m reading them at a much slower pace as I have to purchase them as I go.  This one was a decent story, but it had almost no Peter in it, and Peter is my favorite character!  Still, Judy is always a great lead, and it was fun to catch up with a few other characters as well.

The Mysterious Heir by Edith Layton – 3.5*

//published 1983//

Some of you may remember that I purchased a book of random Regency romances on eBay a while back because it had some Georgette Heyer titles that I wanted.  I’m still reading the other books in the box, and The Mysterious Heir is my most recent one.  I really enjoyed this one a lot because Elizabeth and Morgan were super likable, and they actually communicated with each other, which is almost miraculous in Regency romances.  Morgan of course has a deep dark past, where his wife (now dead) betrayed him, and this is where the story went off the rails a bit, because instead of just having Morgan’s wife like have an affair or something, the author literally made her this nymphomaniac (although she didn’t use that term) who was always having sex with literally anyone who would (although none of this was graphic at all) and it just came through as weird.  I think the same impact on Morgan’s life/trust issues could have occurred with a slightly more believable situation with his now-dead wife.  However, other than the chapter of Morgan’s back story, the book was overall a fun romp that I enjoyed.

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski – 4*

//published 1945//

Lenski wrote several children’s historical fiction books back in the day.  Each one focuses on a child in a different region of the country, and they are all illustrated with Lenski’s absolutely delightful drawings.  Strawberry Girl is set in Florida around the year 1900, and it honestly blew my mind how frontier-like Florida was at that time – this is barely over a hundred years ago (and was less than fifty years earlier than when Lenski wrote the story – she says in her foreword that many of the adventures are based on first-person accounts from people she interviewed), yet the people are living a very rough and ready life without indoor plumbing, at a time when things like a cookstove were still considered rather fancy.

This was a really enjoyable story, and I highly recommend Lenski’s books if you are studying a certain region or time period.  It’s a children’s book, so things wrapped a little too conveniently at the end, but I let it go since the intended age range is around 10 years old.  All in all, this was a very fun slice of life story.

This one is also my #8 book for #20BooksofSummer!

Lincoln & Douglas: The Years of Decision by Regina Kelly (Landmark book) – 4*

//published 1954//

I’ve mentioned before that I have a big soft spot for Landmark history books.  Aimed at middle school readers, they’re perfect for an overview or review of a topic.  This one looks at the run-up to the America Civil War, focusing on Douglas and Lincoln and their debates at the time.  The author did a really excellent job of explaining the various points of view on slavery at the time.  She never excuses or justifies slavery, but she does explain that the culture of the time meant that many people didn’t question slavery’s existence, and that didn’t automatically make them evil people.  Douglas is presented as a counterview rather than a villain – someone who was trying to find some middle ground to make everyone happy – and who ended up as most people who take the road do: with everyone mad at him.  Kelly points out how Lincoln’s views on slavery also changed through time, and that there were degrees of being “for” slavery – many people felt that it should basically fade out naturally by not allowing new slaves or slave states; other believed slaves should be educated and allowed more opportunity to purchase their freedom; some believed the government should purchase slaves and then free them, thus compensating owners, etc.  Kelly manages to get a lot of complicated thoughts across in a manner that was easy to read and understand.  I’m basically always a fan of Landmark books, and this one is no exception.

Samantha Kincaid Mysteries // by Alafair Burke // #20BooksofSummer

  • Judgment Calls (2003)
  • Missing Justice (2004)
  • Close Case (2005)

A while back I read Burke’s The Exwhich was one of those books that, while I didn’t completely love it, still definitely inspired me to check out more of the author’s works.  Next, I read the Under Suspicion series, which Burke co-wrote with Mary Higgins Clark.  I thoroughly enjoyed that series, so I had some decently high hopes for this one.

What I didn’t realize until after I started these, is that they are Burke’s first three books that she had published.  There were all solid 3.5* reads for me, and it was interesting to see Burke’s writing starting to develop.  Samantha is overall a likable character, which always helps.

The main character, Samantha Kincaid, works as an assistant DA in Portland.  It was cracking me up because another author I’ve been reading regularly, Phillip Margolin, also sets most of his books in Portland.  However, Margolin’s characters are almost always defense attorneys, so it was fun to read the other side of the coin – and I also kept halfway expecting some of Margolin’s characters to appear as well!

At any rate, these were pretty typical crime/law procedurals.  They didn’t do anything that blew my mind, but each story was engaging and well-written.  It was nice to have a main character who isn’t “haunted by the past” or busy drinking themselves to death.  Instead, Samantha is a pretty regular career woman in her 30’s.  She does go a bit rouge from time to time, but nothing so crazy that I had to suspend belief.  I also liked the way that other characters in and around the department were regular players throughout the three books.

I had two issues with these books.  The first issue is that Samantha starts dating one of the detectives.  By the second book, everyone knows about it so it wasn’t quite as weird, but in the first book they’re basically keeping it a secret, and since he’s also involved in the crime she’s prosecuting, it felt super shady to me, and I never was comfortable with the fact that they were in a relationship on their private time, and also had a complicated working relationship, especially in one of the books where a cop has been accused of killing a civilian – it really seemed like Samantha’s objectivity was severely compromised.

Speaking of which, Samantha’s boyfriend seemed completely unreasonable during that book.  He was literally mad at Samantha all the time because she was trying to be objective and do her job.  I liked the guy for the most part, but he was basically a jerk during that entire book.

My second issue with the series was Samantha’s regular snide comments about men, and how it’s a man’s world, and how hard it is to be a woman, yadda yadda yadda.  I find this SO boring and also a big cop-out.  It especially annoyed me when she was complaining about extremely stupid stuff – like if you want me to take you seriously that men have the upper hand, maybe choose something real to complain about instead of – literally – the way that he has positioned his hands while talking –

“That one’s trickier,” Duncan said, pressing the pads of his fingertips together to make something resembling a fileted crab, an annoying male gesture that seemed popular in the power corridor.

Say what?!  You’re offended because he has his fingers pressed together?!  It’s not like Duncan makes this gesture only when talking with Samantha, or that the gesture is combined with speaking to her condescendingly or dismissing her ideas.  It’s literally just Samantha being completely weird about the way Duncan is holding his hands during a meeting, and she complained about random crap like this regularly throughout the books.  This kind of sensitivity to something that’s literally completely and totally inoffensive makes it impossible for me to take a character seriously when she complains about something legitimate.  Like yes, I would like to believe you that this guy is degrading you just because you’re female, except you complained about the way that Duncan was sitting in a chair like five minutes ago so.  It’s kind of the boy crying wolf.

But still, all in all I really enjoyed these books and am looking forward to more of Burke’s works in the future.  I was a little sad that she apparently didn’t continue the Samantha Kincaid books, especially since some of Samantha’s personal life threads are left rather open at the end of Close Case.  

And, as a side note, Judgment Calls was my seventh read for #20BooksofSummer!

NB: All links in this review go to other reviews on my blog.

Rearview Mirror // June 2019

Halfway through the year?!  I am so not ready for life to be going this fast!  July 1 is always kind of a mini New Year’s for me, a chance to assess how the year has been going and see what I would like to change for the second half.  This will probably come as a surprise to everyone, but I’m still not doing so great on the exercising front.  :-D

This was a weird reading month because I have just been super busy with household and garden projects.  I haven’t really felt like reading anything particularly serious, so a bunch of my reading involved what were honestly kind of trash Kindle Unlimited reads that I didn’t even bother reviewing haha  It’s basically been like eating a bunch of Skittles, so now that I’m a little nauseous, I think I’m ready to get back to a more regular reading schedule!

However, I do have to say that the gardening work is paying off, thanks to an incredibly rainy month.  June was rather cool and damp, but this past week we switched over to summer in a big way, and it looks like the hot, humid weather is sticking around for a while!

The garden is looking SUPER magical!

Favorite June Read:

I am going with Swallows and Amazons for this one.  This book was just an absolutely delight in every way, and I can hardly wait to get to the sequel.

Most Disappointing June Read:

Probably Dreamology by Lucy Keating.  It was a book that felt like it had a lot of potential, but didn’t know where it wanted to go.  And it’s never good when you hardcore prefer the “wrong” guy to the “right” one!

By the Numbers…

In June:

  • I finished 27 books for a total of 8554 pages, which is my highest page count yet this year.  However, I ended up reading several large print books, thanks to my library’s unwillingness to stock non-LP versions of the 87th Precinct books. Plus, although I always use the page count from Goodreads for Kindle books, I’m never super confident about how accurate they are.
  • This month’s average star rating was 3.7, the first month that it’s gone down instead of up.  That’s what I get for reading goofy KU romances instead of books I think I’ll genuinely like!
  • This is also the first month that I read more Kindle books than physical books – only 11 physical books, which is super weird for me.
  • Swallows and Amazons won the oldest book slot by quite a lot, once again thanks to the huge pile of KU reads.  It was published in 1930.  The next closest were the 87th Precinct books from 1960.
  • Being Alpha was the longest book at 412 pages, while the shortest was Alpha Unleashed at 221.  Both are by Aileen Erin and are part of the Alpha Girl series.

June DNFs:

I had three books I didn’t finish this month, two of which were originally on my #20BooksofSummer list, so they’ve been replaced by different titles (more on that later).

  • Made to Kill by Adam Christopher was a book I got in a book box a while back.  It’s supposed to kind of be a riff on the classic Raymond Chandler novels, which I read and enjoyed last year, so I thought I would give this one a go.  However, it wasn’t particularly interesting, and really lacked the gently snarky humor that kept me reading Chandler’s works.
  • A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay was on the 20 Books of Summer list, but I definitely had some reservations about it as I’ve had rather meh experiences with Reay’s writing in the past, despite the fact that all of her books sound like stories I should love.  I just wasn’t connected with the main character in this book at all, and the first few chapters felt really choppy.  I’ll probably still give Lizzy and Jane a go eventually, as I got it as a free Kindle book a while back, but unless that one is amazing, I don’t really see myself seeking out any more of Reay’s books.
  • The other 20 Books of Summer read that I gave a pass to was Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike, which I mostly picked up because it claimed to be a sort of retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel.  However, I was honestly just bored out of my mind, plus found the one main character, who is a literal ghost, to be suuuuper annoying.  It was definitely one of those YA books that just made me feel like I’m too old to read YA.


Speaking of 20 Books of Summer, I’ve only knocked five books off the list so far.  After eliminating the two DNFs above, I added The Lady Vanished by Gretta Mulrooney and Three Fates by Nora Roberts.  We’ll see what happens!

TBR Update:

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:

  • Standalones:  428 (up four)
  • Nonfiction:  90 (up one)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  664 (holding steady)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  234 (holding steady – the purge still hasn’t happened here!)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 114 (down one)

Awaiting Review:

The main review I have left to write is for the next five books in the 87th Precinct series.  I actually really enjoyed this set of five – it feels like McBain is seriously getting into his groove.  More on that to come soon!

Currently Reading:

Just staring Patricia Wrede’s Shadow Magic, which is the first in her Lyra series.  I’ve been meaning to read these for quite some time, so I’m excited to see what they are all about.  I’ve heard that they aren’t as strong as Wrede’s later books, many of which I’ve enjoyed, so I’m trying to keep my expectations reasonable.  I’d also really like to continue reading my Vietnam book, which has been on hold for like three months.

The Probable Next Five(ish) Reads:

Hopefully I’ll get back on track now that I’m feeling all funned out on KU reads!!

  • Shadow Magic and it’s four sequels, as long as they aren’t terrible.
  • The Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Judgment Calls by Alafair Burke, and it’s two sequels
  • The Haunted Fountain by Margaret Sutton
  • The Reluctant Witness by Kathleen Tailer

Swallows and Amazons // by Arthur Ransome – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1930//

Do you ever have a book that you barely remember reading as a child, and then you revisit it as an adult and it’s really nothing at all like you remember?  That happens to me from time to time, since I grew up in a reading household.  I started reading at a ridiculously young age, and I was blessed with parents who loved to read to us out loud as well.  Some books, like Wind in the Willows, I only ever hear in my dad’s voice when I’m reading them!

At some point, Dad also read Swallows and Amazons to us, but it didn’t really stick in my memory.  I could only remember a few hazy things – it had something to do with boats, something to do with camping, and when they wanted to say “goodnight” they all said “Drool!  Drool!” which meant “goodnight” in their made up language haha  Otherwise, I didn’t remember much about this 1930 classic.

As an adult, it has been on my lists of reads to revisit for quite some time, and I was surprised to learn that it is actually the first in a series of twelve books!  These stories were originally published in Britain and appear to have been much more popular there.  Sadly, my library only has Swallows and Amazons, but none of the sequels, so if I want to read the rest, I’ll have to invest some cash!  There’s a pretty high probability of that happening, though, because Swallows and Amazons was a delight from end to end.

The story does indeed have something to do with boats and camping.  Four children – John, Susan, Titty, and Roger – are staying with their mother and their baby sister alongside a lake for the holidays.  Their father is in the Navy and his ship is all the way in Hong Kong.  The story begins when the children receive a telegram from their father giving them permission to spend the summer camping on a small, uninhabited island in the lake, which they will be able to access via a lovely little sailboat called the Swallow.  The rest of the book chronicles their adventures as they set up camp and explore the island and the lake, and then run into two sisters, Nancy and Peggy, who man their own little sailboat called the Amazon.  The two sets of siblings are both rivals and compatriots, especially when it comes to the “retired pirate” who lives on a houseboat in a nearby cove.

While this definitely isn’t a story of high drama and intensity, I was completely engaged in all of the adventures.  The children are delightfully independent, and their mother swiftly became one of my favorite characters as well.  She grew up in Australia on the coast, and has plenty of sailing and camping knowledge of her own.  Everyone felt realistic, and I honestly fell in love with literally every character in this story.  Even the “slower” parts, like the children visiting the charcoal burners, were still interesting both in what they added to the story, and what they had to say about the time period and area.  I loved how both the boy and girl characters in this story were equally involved in the adventures.  Yes, Susan was in charge of cooking and other “mothering” aspects of the camp, but all of the girls were just as capable of handling the boats and other more traditionally masculine aspects of the adventure.

All in all, I enjoyed every page of this story, and so ordered a copy of the second book, Swallowdale, on eBay.  I’m quite looking forward to delving into more adventures of this intrepid group of explorers.

Read #5 for #20BooksofSummer!

#20BooksofSummer – The 2019 List!

Cathy at 746Books hosts the #20BooksofSummer challenge annually, and it’s basically the only challenge I participate in, mainly because it’s pretty much whatever you want it to be!  You don’t have to read 20 books – you can read 15 or 10 or 5!  You don’t have to read the 20 books you picked at the beginning of the summer – you can read whatever you want!  You can pick whatever 20 books you want for your original list, and you can end the summer having read 20 completely different books that than list.  It’s a super chill challenge that is always fun both to participate in and to follow along.  If you’re interested, you should definitely check out Cathy’s introductory post here.

I tend to be a ridiculous reader, so I try to find ways to add an extra challenge to my 20, mostly by creating a list and then trying to stick to it, even though I’m reading lots of other books in between.  As usual, for me the only reason for replacing a book on the list will be if I end up DNFing a book less than halfway through.

So, without further ado – the list!

1 – Cliff’s Edge by Meg Tilly

I read the first book in this series, Solace Island, back in April.  The second one has just been published and has come in on reserve at the library, so I am hoping to kick off the Twenty with this title.

2 –  Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

I’ve read two of Mills’s books so far and thoroughly enjoyed both, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

3 – Dreamology by Lucy Keating

This one has a pretty high chance of being a DNF, as I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about it, but I’m still going to give it a chance.

4 – A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

Do you ever have an author that you should like her books, but you just don’t quite?  I feel like Reay is one of those people for me.  I’ve read two of her books so far, and both were solid, meh, 3* reads, yet I still find myself keeping her books on my TBR because they sound like books I should like!  But seriously, if Emily Price is just as meh as the first two I read, I may just have to give it up.

5 – A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay

Barclay is one of those authors that I’m always seeing around but still haven’t gotten around to trying, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this one works for me.

6 – Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike

This is another total wildcard off the way-back TBR.  Literally no idea what to expect from this one, and no idea how it ended up on the TBR I the first place!!

7 – Swallows & Amazons by Arthur Ransome 

I vaguely remember Dad reading this book to us out loud when I was really small, and it’s a classic I’ve meant to revisit for a long time, especially since I remember nothing except there is something about boats and also they had their own language that they had made up and “Drool” was what they said for “Goodnight” and for a long time all of us kids would yell, “Drool!  Drool!” on our way to bed every night haha  I didn’t realize until just recently that it’s actually the first book in a series, but since the library only has this one, if I enjoy it I’ll be on my own to locate the other eleven books…

8 – Shadow Magic by Patricia C. Wrede

I really love Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series (which I keep meaning to rereading), and also the Cecelia and Kate series, which she co-wrote with Caroline Stevermer.  Shadow Magic is the first in her Lyra series, which are the first books she ever published.  I got all five of them as a Kindle book for a dollar a long while back, and I think it’s about time to give them a read.

9 – Judgment Calls by Alafair Burke

After reading Burke’s Under Suspicion series (which she co-wrote with Mary Higgins Clark), as well as her standalone The Ex, I added several more of her books to my TBR.  Judgment Calls is the first in a series, so if I enjoy it I get a couple more bonus books as well.

10 – Lord Brocktree by Brian Jacques

The next Redwall book awaits – and it’s about the badgers!!

11 – The Siren Wars by K.M. Robinson

Robinson is one of those prolific Kindle writers who is always giving away books and I’m always sucker enough to take them even though I haven’t yet found her quality to be very strong.  Still, I’m giving this one a shot since it’s the first in a trilogy.  Maybe her writing will be better if she has more space to find her way?

12 – Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski

Lenski’s books about children around America are genuinely delightful, although it’s been years since I’ve read them.  I’m excited to revisit Strawberry Girl for the first time in probably twenty years.

13 – Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge

I’m working my way through all of Goudge’s works.  This one sounds a little different from her other books that I’ve read, but I’m still going to give it a shot.

14 – Falling for Mr. Darcy by Karalynne Mackrory

I really enjoyed another variation by this author, Bluebells in Mourningwhen I read it last year, so I’ve been meaning to check out more of her writing.

15 – At Fairfield Orchard by Emma Cane

This is another one that has been on the TBR for so long its origins are lost in the mists of time.  Still, I’m sure I added it because I love stories about people who own their own businesses, and since I work on an orchard – well!  There’s a sequel to this one, so if it’s any good I’ll get a bonus book!

16 – The Story of a Whim by Grace Livingston Hill

I’m the first to admit that Hill’s stories are frequently ridiculous, but I still enjoy picking one up from time to time.

17 – The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I’m 98% positive that I read this book back in high school (mainly because that cover looks suuuuper familiar), but remember nothing about it.

18 – A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

Despite the fact that I’ve had rather poor luck with the two Ibbotson books I’ve read to date, someone left a comment on one of my reviews urging me to give this one a go, and I have to admit that the synopsis does sound like my style – so we will see what happens!

19 – I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

This is one of my most recent additions to the TBR, thanks to several reviews.  Somehow, I’ve never gotten around to reading any of Kinsella’s books, so hopefully this is a good place to start.

20 – My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

This was one of my very favorite books growing up, as I have always loved books about people surviving in the wilderness.  Sam was one of my heroes, as I also love birds and he tames his own falcon!  I think one of the things I loved about this book was that Sam didn’t have to survive off the land – he chose to try and do it, which really made him a role model for me!  I’m super stoked about rereading this one as it has been way too long.

So there’s the list!  There are a lot of other books to read in between these, so we’ll see what happens!  The challenge runs from June 3 through September 3 this year, so next week we’ll be off!!

Let me know if you’re participating in #20BooksofSummer!  I’ve been enjoying reading everyone’s lists.

Smoky the Cow Horse // by Will James

It seemed like Mother Nature was sure agreeable that day when the little black colt came to the range world and tried to get a footing with his long wobblety legs on the brown prairie sod.  Short stems of new green grass was trying to make their way up thru the last year’s faded growth and reaching for the sun’s warm rays.  Taking in all that could be seen, felt, and inhaled, there was no day, time, nor place that could beat that spring morning on the sunny side of the low prairie butte where Smoky the cold was foaled.

//published 1926//

So begins the tale of Smoky, born on the Rocking R range in the early 1900’s.  In a lot of ways, this book is kind of like a western version of Black Beauty, although Smoky doesn’t narrate his own story (and the horses don’t talk to one another).  Instead, James tells us about Smoky’s life, from his birth out on the range onwards.  At first, James’s method of writing like he talks, with a sort of western drawl, including things like saying “tho” instead of “though” and writing out words like he pronounces them (“cayote” instead of “coyote” etc) really got on my nerves, but once I kind of got into his groove I really enjoyed the story.  As a kid, I LOVED stories about animals, and I’m not sure how I never got around to reading this one – possibly because it’s a Newbery Award book – I have an inherent distrust for books with awards as they tend to be depressing deeply meaningful.

Like Black Beauty, James draws attention to methods of horse handling, both good and bad.  He explains the reasoning behind the cowboy way of “breaking” a horse, and talks about misconceptions of that method.  But he also presents men who did want to break a horse’s spirit, and paints their methods as despicable. Smoky himself lives life on the range for the first several years of his life, although he isn’t technically a wild horse – at the time (and still, actually), many ranches simply let their horses do their own thing until they were needed.  Every year a roundup was held wherein that year’s colts were branded and gelded, and the horses now old enough to be broken were cut out and kept.  The brood mares, younger horses, and retired horses were all let back out on the range until the next year.  This story follows Smoky through his early years on the range, where he runs into all kinds of wild critters, to his training to become a true cow horse.  Later, Smoky is stolen and sold.  He works in a rodeo and as a rental horse in a tourist town, and, like Black Beauty, drops lower and lower in the ranks of horses through age and mistreatment, before ultimately being reunited with friends from better days.

It’s been almost a hundred years since this book was published, so there are some instances of language that a current-day reader may find insensitive or offensive, most notably when Smoky is rustled by a thief who is “a half-breed of Mexican and other blood that’s darker, and [mistreatment of his horse] showed that he was a halfbreed from the bad side, not caring, and with no pride.”  While James has other non-white characters who are not “bad guys”, his method of referring to this character as a “darky” or “half-breed” throughout this portion of the story is a little uncomfortable, even as it is a reminder of how different our sensibilities are now than they were in 1926.

James himself is an interesting character – born in a covered wagon in 1892, self-educated, cowboy/illustrator/author.  (He did his own drawings for the story.)  I think that one of the reasons that James’s voice in this book stopped annoying me was because it was so sincere.  James wasn’t trying to sound this way: it’s just the way he sounds.  It didn’t take long for me to hear this entire story being told in a nice, deep, western drawl – a campfire story about a gutsy little horse.

While Smoky didn’t become my new favorite book, it was still an easy 4* read.  It’s an interesting look at a slice of life written by someone who was there, and if you have a horse-crazy kid in your life, this would be a great read for a slightly advanced reader, or as a discussion book as there are a lot of adventures to unpack.

NB: This was originally a title I picked to read for #20BooksofSummer.  Better late than never, right??

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!!