July Minireviews + #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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine – 2*

//published 2006//

I recently reread Ella Enchantedwhich was a childhood favorite and is still a book that I love.  Full of delightful characters, fun world-building, and a really excellent story, I’ve read it many times and still enjoy it.  Somehow, I hadn’t realized that Levine had written another book set in the same world as Ella, although not a direct sequel.  Part of me wishes that I still didn’t know that, because Fairest was pretty terrible.  The main problem was the heroine, Ava, who was incredibly boring, and spent the entire book whining about how ugly she was.  I mean CONSTANTLY.  Every.  Page.  And it never really felt like a lesson came out of that, or if it did it was very muddled.  If the prince thought she was beautiful the first time he saw her… was she really not as ugly as she thought?  Because here’s the thing, ugly/plain people often DO become more beautiful in our eyes as we get to know and love them, but if you’re just sitting there and someone walks into a room – you don’t know anything about them, and literally just judge them on how they appear at that moment.  So the prince is either lying, has horrible taste, or Ava isn’t actually that ugly.  All of those answers annoyed me.

Anyway, the rest of the story was also very weak – I’m never a fan of a plot where the villain is actually NOT the villain but is being controlled by another, in-the-background villain.  This seems convoluted and confusing.  All in all, I skimmed large portions of Fairest, and had trouble focusing on the pages because I was so busy rolling my eyes at Ava’s endless whining about her appearances.

Frederica by Georgette Heyer – 4.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1965//

This was my third read for #20BooksofSummer (you can find my original post here), and a thoroughly enjoyable one it was.  While I had read Frederica quite a while ago (2012), it had been several years.  At the time of my initial reading, it was actually one of the first Heyer books I had read (somehow, I didn’t discover her until adulthood!), but even after reading several of Heyer’s other books since then, I still found this one to be adorable and fun.  I think that part of the reason I love this one so much is that Alverstoke, the unwilling hero, falls in love not just with Frederica, but with her whole family.  I just loved the way that he went from being a selfish, lonely Mr. Grumpy-pants to being part of a happy, loving family.  While Alverstoke was a smidge *too* selfish to really be my favorite Heyer hero, he was still quite nice.  Frederica is a typical, but nonetheless enjoyable, Heyer heroine, being independent and intelligent without being too sassy and obnoxious.  She doesn’t take any nonsense from Alverstoke (or anyone else) and is such a wonderful sister.  My only complaint about her was how she could possibly be blind to her sister’s preferred beau??

All in all, Frederica is a delightful read for anyone looking for a bit of relaxation.  I wasn’t feeling super great over the weekend, and this ended up being the perfect book to devour.

Scotty by Frances Pitt – 3.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1932//

I purchased this book years ago at a book sale somewhere, but somehow had never gotten around to reading it before.  This ended up  being a perfectly enjoyable, although not outstanding read about a Highland fox cub who is raised in captivity buy then escapes and adjusts to life in the wild.  It had a very Jim Kjelgaard-y vibe for me, and it was fun to read an outdoors book about an area of the world that is unfamiliar to me.  It was written between the Wars, so it was also an interesting, if somewhat limited, glance into life when things were starting to really undergo a big cultural change.  While I’m not convinced this will be a classic that I read time and again, it was still engaging – and also Book #4 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit – 4.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1907//

This book is so precious that I just wanted to eat it up.  Every time I thought the story couldn’t get more adorable, it did.  These are the kind of children’s books that I grew up with, and I can’t believe that I didn’t discover Nesbit until adulthood!  This wasn’t a story full of angst or the need for anyone to “discover” herself – just a roly-poly happy story about four children and some magical adventures.  I can’t wait to read more Nesbit!!!  #6 for #20BooksofSummer.

NB: #5 for the list is actually A Wrinkle in Time which I have already read but won’t be reviewing until I have finished some more books in the series.

Rearview Mirrow // June 2018 – #20BooksofSummer Update!

cannot believe that June is over already!  The summer is slipping through my fingers!

Things are super busy as always here at the homestead.  Summer months are the time for outdoor happenings.  The garden is thriving – we’ve had tons of rain this month – things are blooming, painting is getting accomplished (seriously, we’ve been painting things for the four years we’ve lived here – is it EVER going to end?!), and we’ve had a few Zeppelin adventures.

Reading-wise things have been a little weird.  I’ve just seemed to read a lot of books that I feel so-so about.  Not terrible, not awesome, just books – which meant I wrote a lot of minireviews.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve read something that was super magical.  Maybe in July…

Favorite June Read:

I blew through a LOT of P&P variations in late May and early June, but the pick of the bunch was also my favorite read this month – Unequal Affections by Lara Ormiston is not just a good P&P variation, but a very good story in its own right.

Most Disappointing June Read:

This is a tough one – I read soooo many meh reads!  I think I’m going with Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff.  It really annoys me when a book has a great concept, but then decides to try and jam a bunch of buzzword-issues into it just to make it “relevant.”  Falkoff had a great opportunity to write a thoughtful book about suicide and the people that action leaves behind, but instead went off the rails by letting gay-rights issues take over.  It wasn’t that I disagreed with what she had to say, but just that it didn’t fit with the story she had started to tell, which was quite aggravating – especially when her initial story was solid.

Other June Reads:

Last June…

Weirdly, I was painting a bunch of stuff then, too!  I was also reading Michael Robotham’s Joseph O’Laughlin series and a LOT of Dee Henderson.  While both had their ups and downs, my favorite for the month was Robotham’s Watching You – delightfully creepy.  Meanwhile, Henderson’s Full Disclosure was one of my least favorite books of the YEAR.

And, as a side note, I’m SUPER excited because Robotham is publishing another O’Laughlin book in July!!!!

Other June Posts:

I managed to post my next Shelfie! At this rate, I should have gotten through all my shelves sometime in 2025.

#20BooksofSummer Update!!!

I was a little late picking out my list of 20 books, but I finally got around to it here!  My challenge is to read twenty of my own, personally-owned books – while still sticking to my (very loose) reading method which involves reading books from all of my TBR tabs.  So far, I’ve only read two books on the list, but I have several coming up soon!  Originally, Elizabeth Bennet’s Deception was also one of the twenty, but I DNF’d that one and have substituted Infinity Lost instead.  Here’s the updated list:

  1. The Vanishing Shadow by Margaret Sutton
  2. Ring of Truth by Jaclyn Weist
  3. Frederica by Georgette Heyer
  4. Scotty by Frances Pitt
  5. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
  6. The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit
  7. Everblue by Brenda Pandos
  8. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  9. Mystery Over the Brick Wall by Helen Fuller Orton
  10. When Patty Went to College by Jean Webster
  11. Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery
  12. Until There Was You by Kristin Higgins
  13. Young Pioneers by Rose Wilder Lane
  14. Utah Lion by James Ralph Johnson
  15. Saving Mars by Cidney Swanson
  16. Collie to the Rescue by Albert Payson Terhune
  17. Early Candlelight by Maud Hart Lovelace
  18. Smoky by Will James
  19. Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley by Marguerite Henry
  20. Infinity Lost by S. Harrison

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:  836 (up ten!?  Legit don’t know how that happened…)
  • Nonfiction:  77 (down two)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  678 (down eight!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  230 (holding steady)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 106 (holding steady)

Awaiting Review:

I’ve actually gotten pretty caught up on reviews – it’s somewhat easy when I don’t have a lot to say about the books!  I finished the Paper Magician trilogy today, mostly be skimming the last book because it was boring me out of my mind.  I also have the first book from Mary Freeman’s gardening series (I had to actually buy the second book from ebay and am still waiting for it to arrive – the library had books 1 and 3 but not book 2?!), and will review it whenever I get to finish the series.  I also somehow started reading this werewolf book that I got for free, Becoming Alpha by Aileen Erin.  It actually was pretty good, so now I’m on book four… what is my life.

Current Reads:

  • The Yellow Phantom by Margaret Sutton – Judy Bolton mystery #6
  • How to Cheat at Everything by Simon Lovell – this book is super interesting, but a lot of information to take in.
  • Bruja by Aileen Erin – I can’t explain why I’m totally enjoying these books right now.
  • Fairest by Gail Carson Levine – even though this isn’t a direct sequel to Ella Enchanted, it’s apparently set in the same world, and I don’t remember reading it before!

Approaching the Top of the Pile:

The probably next five reads…

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – this is the next book I’ve received from The Traveling Book Club (Playlist for the Dead was the first).  I’ve always meant to read a Gaiman book, and even have a few on the TBR.  I’m not sure this is the one that I would have chosen, but I’m still intrigued to read it.
  • Alpha Unleashed by Aileen Erin – let’s be real, I’m going to finish this series.
  • The Mystic Ball by Margaret Sutton – I still have plenty of Judy Bolton mysteries to roll through!
  • Frederica by Georgette Heyer – a reread I’m really looking forward to, plus it’s #3 for #20BooksofSummer!
  • Scotty by Frances Pitt – I’ve owned this book for Y E A R S and have never read it.  Time to knock this one out PLUS check another book off the #20BooksofSummer list!

Happy July!!!

#20BooksofSummer – The 2018 List

Cathy746 hosts #20BooksofSummer annually, and I have participated for the last two years. This is the most chill challenge ever, which is one of the reasons that I love it.  You choose how many books you want to read (10 or 15 or 20 or whatever), you choose your books, you decide if you hate half your books and want to switch them other books…  it’s honestly kind of a free-for-all in which participants try to read whatever books they’ve put on their summer reading list!  The challenge already started (beginning of June), and the goal is to have all the books on the list completed  by September 3.  Be sure to check out Cathy’s blog for more details!!

I’ve been watching other blogs I follow choose their books, and have been trying to decide if/how I want to join this year.  Here’s the thing – and I’m not trying to brag here because it’s just the way it is – but unless something catastrophic happens in my life, I know I’ll read more than 20 books this summer.  I’ve read over 130 books just this year alone already.  The truth is, I have a serious reading problem.  It’s basically a compulsion with me, and I read at pretty much every moment that can be spent reading (and a great many that shouldn’t be).  And since my mom taught me to read at almost the same time I learned how to talk, I’m weirdly fast at it.  Actually, part of the reason I started this blog back in the day was to help me work on reading retention/analysis, because otherwise I sometimes tend to just go into overdrive and let the words blur past.  And, of course, there’s the fact that I don’t work full-time.  While I keep plenty busy with house, garden, Etsy shop, chauffeuring family, etc., it’s obviously a lot easier to sneak in a chapter here or there when I’m at home all day than it is when I’m at work!!

ANYWAY.  Point being, I think the way that I’m going to challenge myself is by listing 20 books that I own that I would like to read by the end of summer – but I’m going to continue reading all the other books like I usually do as well.  Basically, I’m always working on books on the TBR that I don’t own (aka library books), a series of books, a mystery series of books, a nonfiction book, and a book that I own.  So I’m going to keep reading all the others like usual… and also try to achieve the 20 that I own!  To help make it slightly more doable, I’m sticking with fiction only.  So, without further ado, the list (chosen via random number generator!):

1. The Vanishing Shadow by Margaret Sutton – this is actually the first book in the Judy Bolton series.  I own a bunch of these books, but haven’t read them in years.  Actually, there are several I’ve never read, because I’ve purchased them since I originally read what I owned at the time.  I’m looking forward to revisiting these and seeing if I enjoy them as much as I remember from 15 or so years ago.

2. Ring of Truth by Jaclyn Weist – this is a free Kindle book I’ve had for a while.  Looks like a happy lil chick lit, but it’s also the first in a series, so if I like it, I’ve actually set myself up for six more books!

3.  Frederica by Georgette Heyer – I read this one back in 2012 (when I was blogging on Tumblr) and enjoyed it so much that I purchased my own hard copy.  I’m excited to revisit it.

4. Scotty by Frances Pitt – I picked up this book, subtitled “The Adventures of a Highland Fox” all the way back in 2001 – and have never read it!  You now basically know everything I know about this book!  Aside:  This is the ONLY picture of this book I can find, and it isn’t listed on Goodreads.  This may actually be a picture of the copy I own…

5. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – I know I read this book back in the mists of my childhood, but I remember basically nothing about it except the bit with a thread and the ant.  I don’t even remember whether or not I liked it!  But it’s sort of a classic, and I feel like I need to reread it, even if it’s to discover that I actually think it’s lame.  I’ve had my paperback copy since 1999, when I did a 4-H presentation at the library with my rabbit and was rewarded with a book!

6. The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit – I love Nesbit so much and can’t believe that I haven’t read every single one of her books!

7. Everblue by Brenda Pandos – another free Kindle book from goodness-knows-how-long-ago.  Also another first in a series… I never know whether or not I should hope to like those… anyway, this one is about mermaids or something, so we’ll see what happens.

8. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – I realize I just read this one in 2016, but I enjoyed it SO much that I’ve been wanting to reread it.

9. Mystery Over the Brick Wall by Helen Fuller Orton – this is a children’s mystery published by Scholastic.  I’ve collected a lot of these over the years and have been trying to actually read all of them and make a hard decision as to whether or not they are worth the shelf space.

10. When Patty Went to College by Jean Webster – this is by the author of two my favorite books:  Daddy-Long-Legs and, even more beloved, Dear Enemy.  Somehow, although I’ve owned this book since 2004, I’ve never actually read it!

11. Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery – I love so many of Montgomery’s books, and yet it’s been years since I’ve read any of them!  This one probably hasn’t been visited since high school, so although I remember the basic premise, I’m a bit foggy on the details.

12. Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins – although I enjoy some chick lit now and then, I’ve somehow never gotten around to reading something by the prolific Higgins.  This book showed up in a box with all those crazy Love Inspired books via Aunt Darby, so I’ll give it a shot.

13. Elizabeth Bennet’s Deception by Regina Jeffers – since I obviously haven’t read enough P&P variations lately, let’s add one to the summer list, too!  Thanks, free Kindle books!

14. Young Pioneers by Rose Wilder Lane – another one I haven’t read in YEARS.  All I really remember from this one is the story where it was so cold that when she threw the water out, it froze before it hit the ground!

15. Utah Lion by James Ralph Johnson – another crazy animal story from my crazy animal obsession childhood!  I think this one was inherited from my great-grandma, but if I have ever read it, it was back in middle school.

16. Saving Mars by Cidney Swanson – another free Kindle book that is also a start of a series.  (This is how they trick you into actually BUYING Kindle books, by getting you hooked on a series opener!)  Sometimes I literally have no idea what I was thinking when I got a book, even if it was free…

17. Collie to the Rescue by Albert Payson Terhune – it’s been a while since I picked up a Terhune!  I’m always up for some outrageously heroic collies.

18. Early Candlelight by Maud Hart Lovelace – I loved the Betsy-Tacy books soooo much when I read them a few years ago.  I found this book by the same author but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

19. Smoky by Will James – because who doesn’t love a good story about a cowboy horse?

20. Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley by Marguerite Henry – I loved a lot of Henry’s books as a child (and have revisited several of them in recent years), but don’t remember this one clearly, other than that it was one of her later books, written after Wesley Dennis died and so illustrated by someone else.

So there you have it!  I’m determined that there will be no substitutions unless I decide to DNF a book, in which case the book will only count if I”ve read at least half of it.  (Don’t you like the way I make up my own rules??)  Who knows how far I’ll get on this list, and you’ll definitely see plenty of reviews for non-20 Books of Summer books, but I’m curious to see if my challenge works for me.  Stay tuned!

July Minireviews – Part 2

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.

I had a lot of minireviews for July, so Part 1 can be found here.

Water Song by Suzanne Weyn

//published 2006//

This book was a retelling of The Frog Prince, but set in World War I Belgium without (much) magic.  I really, really liked the concept and setting for this story, but honestly the book was just too short for what was going on.  This ended up feeling more like an outline/draft for a story instead of a full story, which meant the characters were very flat and I couldn’t get behind the main love story because it felt so abrupt.  The ending felt rushed and a little strange, and after a big build up around the locket, the actual reveal was quite anticlimactic.

This was a book where I found myself wishing that Weyn had taken the time to turn it into a real, full-length novel.  There was so much potential in the story and characters, but this book barely skimmed across the surface.  3/5 for a decent read and a fantastic concept, but not a book that I would bother reading again.

#16 for #20BooksofSummer!

Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

//published 1940//

This is the second book starring hard-bitten private detective Phillip Marlowe.  As with the first book, The Big SleepMarlowe’s narrative is what makes this book worth reading.  While the story is fine, with a decent mystery and fair pacing, it’s Marlowe’s slang-ridden, dryly humorous observations that keep me turning the pages.

After a little while, I felt a little better, but very little.  I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country.  What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.  I put them on and went out of the room.

This book is, as with the first, very reflective of the ingrained prejudices of its time, and the easily offended will probably not make it past the first page, where ‘negro’ appears three times, but I found the story to be all the more engaging because of its unvarnished view of its time – so much more interesting to read the books written then, where these words and concepts flow naturally because it was just the way it was, rather than books set during that time but written now, that frequently try too hard to belabor the point that there were prejudices.  It was genuinely disturbing to see how no one really cared about the first murder in the story because the victim was ‘only a negro,’ and that the case was given to a man on the police force generally considered to not be important or skilled enough to deal with something ‘more worthwhile.’  In the end, when Marlowe mentions to the murderer that he may have been able to get away with killing ‘just a shade,’ he really won’t be able to get out of also killing a white woman.

So yes, a fun story with a lot of twists and a fairly satisfying (if somewhat hurried) ending; Marlowe’s voice is absolutely hilarious; and, to me, an absolutely fascinating look and reminder of how in the not-so-distant past, having separate ‘joints’ for blacks and whites was not only normal, but considered completely unlikely to ever change.  3.5/5, and I plan to continue reading more of Chandler’s works.

The Methods of Lady Walderhurst by Frances Hodgson Burnett

//published 1901//

This is the sequel to The Making of a Marchionesswhich I read earlier this month.  I found myself a bit ambivalent towards that read, and I actually enjoyed this one even less.  The story begins with the marriage of Emily and Walderhurst, but the majority of the book focuses on Emily’s relationship with Walderhurst’s current heir, Osborn, and his wife.  Osborne has spent his whole life anticipating becoming the next Lord Walderhurst, and is quite upset when Walderhurst marries a reasonably young and healthy wife.  The entire book is a bunch of melodramatic nonsense that would have been a good story if Emily’s devotion to Walderhurst (who is mostly absent in India for the book) actually made a bit more sense.

I would have been willing to go along with the whole thing if the ending hadn’t been so odd and abrupt.  Just – quite, quite strange.  All in all, I think that I’ll stick with The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, and leave Emily Fox-Seton on the shelf.  2/5.

#19 for #20BooksofSummer!

Martin’s Mice by Dick King-Smith

//published 1988//

I’m not sure whether or not I’ve rambled on about King-Smith on this blog before, so even if I have it’s been a while.  While he’s best known for his classic Babe: The Gallant PigKing-Smith was an incredibly prolific writer of children’s books.  While I don’t love all of them – some are really just too fast and shallow to be considered good reading, even for a children’s book – others have become lifelong favorites, like The Fox Busters and The Queen’s Nose.  

In this tale, we have the story of a farm kitten, Martin, who doesn’t like eating mice.  He thinks they are so beautiful and precious.  When he discovers that the farmer’s daughter keeps rabbits as pets, he is intrigued by the concept – and when he catches a mouse one day, he decides to keep her as a pet.  The rest of the story follows the adventure (especially when his long-lost dad finds out), and involves all sorts of funny critters, like an extremely intelligent hog, a crafty fox, and some quick-thinking mice.

While this isn’t a book that’s likely to win a lot of awards or to cause you to ponder your life, it’s still a very fun and witty story that would be a great read aloud or early reader book.  4/5.

What Lies Within // by James Morris

//published 2015//

Well, despite a slow start, several very short reads have enabled me to reach this, #20 for my #20BooksofSummer list!  I’ll post a full update in my July Rearview.

Unfortunately, What Lies Within within was a rather weak way to end the list, and actually only garners a 1/5 for me.

Mostly, I really hated the protagonist, Shelley.  From the beginning, the 17-year-old set herself up to be obnoxious, selfish, whiny, entitled, and basically unlikable.  I thought that maybe she would grow and change as a person throughout the story, but instead she ended up merely adding prideful and hypocritical to her list of attributes.

The basic premise/opening of the story had some promise.  Shelley is sitting in school one day when she receives a text message from an unfamiliar number.  The text message tells her that she is in danger.  When Shelley tries to find out who is at the other end of the line, he tells her that he is her brother – even though she’s an only child.  At first, Shelley totally blows this weirdo off – except then it turns out that he’s right.

Be forewarned:  The rest of this rant may or may not involve spoilers, and will definitely involve ‘sorta kinda’ spoilers, so if you have intentions of reading this book (please don’t), you probably won’t want to read any further…

This really felt like it could have been an exciting, engaging story.  Instead, Morris’s habit of killing off virtually everyone  while providing weak, poorly-explained explanations and forcing me to follow around whiny, boring, self-entitled Shelley meant that I ended up reading this book with the same sort of fascinated horror one gets from watching the proverbial train wreck.

I was especially offended by Shelley’s stance on adoption.  Early in the story she finds out that she was adopted and that her dad never told her.  (Shelley’s mom died in a train wreck several years ago.  We don’t actually know how many years ago because Morris only tells us that it happened on 9/11, but doesn’t bother to inform us how many years ago 9/11 was…)  Despite the fact that Shelley’s dad is a fantastic, supportive, kind, indulgent man, Shelley treats him like trash consistently and blames him for all of her self-imposed problems.  I really liked the way that she immediately accused him of ‘lying’ and demanded to know what else he had been ‘lying’ to her about.  While yes, not telling someone that she is adopted is a pretty big deal, she never even vaguely kinda sorta attempted to see things from his point of view – that he and his wife had always planned to tell her; that the wife had died; that he never could decide when was the ‘right’ time to have this conversation; etc.

And then there was this:

Yet through the maelstrom of her mind, she latched onto a silver lining.  For as long as she could remember, she felt as though she didn’t belong, as if she was a foreign exchange student, learning customs that never made sense.  …  But the adoption explained everything.

I am literally living in the wrong home.

No wonder she felt like an alien.  The subtleties that bound families, the sense of humor, the shared behaviors, those came from sharing blood.  She had only shared space and time.

Excuse my French, but the hell.  Her parents adopted her at birth.  They have loved and cherished every moment of her life.  But she’s ‘living in the wrong home’?!  She ‘only shared space and time’!?  I’ve mentioned before that I have a sister who is adopted; I know multiple families who have adopted; and I find it pretty damn offensive that apparently that’s all completely pointless because the only way to become a member of a family is by sharing blood.

And here’s the kicker – that’s really basically the point of this entire story.  Turns out that Shelley is one of thirteen infants who were all created as a social experiment by some whack-job of a genetics professor who was trying to prove that nature always triumphs over nurture.  He used genetic material from twelve of the worst criminals he could find and created children out of them; he donated his own sperm to create Shelley.  Besides the extremely dubious legality of such action, there around a billion holes in his theory, the way it all played out, and his conclusions.  One of the biggest was that he ‘proved’ nature was stronger than nurture because ten of the children grew up to do terrible crimes – mass murders, school shootings, etc.  Except… two of the kids aren’t violent at all…???  And basically they weren’t violent because we meet those two in the story, and of course Morris is going to kill them off (horrifically), so it’s important that we like them, I guess.  Even though it makes his own story make no sense.

In the end, Shelley more or less goes more and more crazy.  There’s this guy who has been hired by the government to swoop around on his motorcycle and murder all of these kids before they cause more trouble (because apparently being imprisoned for life isn’t good enough?  Or something?  Were all there kids not imprisoned?  So vague), but Shelley ends up killing him – by locking him in the paint booth in her dad’s body shop and turning on the bake cycle.  My husband actually paints cars for a living, and while he agreed that it is possible to kill someone this way, it’s not terribly efficient as it would take a bit of time.  Plus, the booths usually have at least two exits, both equipped with emergency exit equipment, and literally all Shelley does is close the door.  (And then walks away, and apparently has no problem leaving a dead body for her dad to discover – and try to explain to the police – the next day…)

Then, she dashes across town in her dad’s tow truck (which she’s never driven but seems to have no issues with even though it takes a special license to drive because it’s really big) and kills her birth dad, too – like literally guts him with a knife on his front porch.  Then, leaving him to bleed out, she strolls back across town, wearing her borrowed, bloody clothes, tells her erstwhile BFF farewell, and then rides off into the sunset to become some sort of vigilante…?!?!!?!?

This was after chapters of her doing other, equally crazy (although not quite as violent) things, none of which really made sense.  Also, throughout the whole thing she is plagued with these nightmares of killing people – and it’s literally never explained in the end.  So I guess those were all just to build up a sense of dread?  To emphasize that Shelley is ‘an alien’?

Oh, and I didn’t even mention the great scene where she visits her crush and then they go for a walk and just randomly have sex out in the woods and then I have to listen to Shelley agonize over whether or not losing her virginity was a good thing (it wasn’t), blah blah blah.  Like the stupidity of the plot wasn’t enough, I also had to listen to all this whiny, angsty YA crap on top of everything else.

In the end, this book made me really angry.  I hated Shelley, the plot was stupid and completely lacking in logic or cohesiveness, and the overall message – family is blood only; adoption is a waste of time; kids who are adopted will never really fit into their adopted families – was flat offensive.  Negative stars for this one, and if I meet James Morris, I may kick him in the shins.

PS I will say that I am in the complete minority on this, as the book has almost a 3.9 average on Goodreads, and most people seemed to find it an enjoyable, fast-paced, engaging read.  So maybe I’m just judging it a bit too harshly…

The Big Sleep // by Raymond Chandler

//published 1939//

I’ve recently subscribed to two book boxes, one of which sends very new books (like the one I reviewed here), but the other, Bookishly, sends an older, used, somewhat classic book every month, along with some tea and other small goodies, like a notecard or notebook.  This one comes from England, and I have quite enjoyed getting some of the very classic Penguin editions that are different from what we have here stateside.

Anyway, one of the books I got was Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler.  When I realized that it was the second book in a mystery series staring a private detective named Phillip Marlowe, one of the founders of the ‘hard-boiled detective’ genre, I decided to start with book one, The Big Sleep.  

I genuinely had no idea what to expect, but was immediately captivated by Marlowe, who is not only the main character but also the narrator.

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.  I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them.  I was neat, clean, shaven and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.  I was everything well-dressed private detective ought to be.  I was calling on four million dollars.

This book was originally published in 1939, and I can see it offending some, as it contains much of the casual prejudices and racism of the day.  (And honestly, some of the negative reviews on Goodreads had my eyes rolling practically out of my head… why do people read books published almost 80 years ago and then get offended that the people in them have a completely different worldview?!  How ignorant do you have to be to not expect that…???)  But at the same time, its very casualness of those prejudices is incredibly revealing of its time, and an intriguing reminder of how times have changed.  For instance, I don’t think anyone could get away with writing anything like this –

“Don’t kid me, son.  The fag gave you one.  You’ve got a nice clean manly little room in there.  He shooed you out and locked it up when he had lady visitors.  He was like Caesar, a husband to women and a wife to men.  Think I can’t figure people like you out?”  …  he swung on me … it caught me flush on the chin.  I backstepped enough to keep from falling, but I took plenty of punch.  It was meant to be a heard one, but a pansy has no iron in his bones, whatever he looks like.

But it’s not really an overwhelming bit of the story, and the majority of Marlowe’s narration is genuinely hilarious and Chandler’s knack for writing conversation is brilliant; I found myself snorting with laughter on more than one occasion over bits like this –

Her hot black eyes looked mad.  “I don’t see what there is to be cagey about,” she snapped.  “And I don’t like your manners.”

“I’m not crazy about yours,” I said.  “I didn’t ask to see you.  You sent for me.  I don’t mind your ritzing me or drinking your lunch out of a Scotch bottle.  I don’t mind your showing me your legs.  They’re very swell legs and it’s a pleasure to make their acquaintance.  I don’t mind that you don’t like my manners.  They’re pretty bad.  I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.  But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me.”

This wasn’t a story full of action.  Marlowe meanders about making his own observations and doing his own thing, but we’re privy to pretty much everything he knows and does.  Chandler isn’t afraid to kill people off, and there are multiple corpses throughout, but nothing gory and no one dies that you’re particularly sad to see go.

While the old-fashioned prejudices may have been rather offensive, the old-fashioned morals aren’t, and I loved how the language in this book never went stronger than a ‘damn,’ and how a few criminals were running a pornography business, which seemed to genuinely disgust the majority of the characters.  I also really liked the Marlowe didn’t fall into bed with any of the women about – he’s way too crafty to fall for their lures, and it says a lot about his overall character, which is actually rather philosophical and introspective, despite his rough-and-ready exterior.

At one point, Marlowe has apprehended a possible bad guy.  When he confronts the kid, the kid responds with “Go _____ yourself” – blank included in the original text.  And that seems to be this kid’s default response to everything, although Chandler manages to mix it up quite a bit with things like, “He spoke three words to me and kept on driving,” or “the kid shrugged and said his three favorite words.”

Despite Marlowe’s hard image, I appreciated that he was genuinely disturbed by the easy murder of one of the characters, even if that character was a bit of a skunk.  There is so much drinking and smoking in this book that I was cracking up – for instance, I’m not sure if even the leaders of criminal rings these days have their own monogrammed cigarettes.

While I wasn’t racing to the ending in desperate fear of Marlowe’s life, I still really wanted to see how things were going to unwind, and with sentences like, “She’d make a jazzy weekend, but she’d be wearing for a steady diet,” luring me along, I found myself thoroughly immersed every time I picked up the book.

I’m looking forward to continuing Marlowe’s acquaintance.  There are only eight books total, plus a ninth that Chandler had partially written at the time of his death and was later finished by another author.  The Big Sleep was an easy 3.5/5, and a really fun start to a series.

#18 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Girl from Summer Hill // by Jude Deveraux

//published 2016//

I initially added this book to the list as a contemporary Pride & Prejudice retelling, albeit a loose one.  Basic concept – Casey ends up playing Elizabeth in a local theater production of P&P, except her relationship with the guy playing Darcy is a lot like the one the original characters had.  I really liked the way that the chapter titles were listed as though they were part of a play (Act One, Scene Two), and reflected the fictional/P&P names of the characters (“Elizabeth Doesn’t Tempt Darcy”), even though their actual names weren’t anything like Elizabeth or Darcy.  I also appreciated that the characters were no unaware of how ridiculous it was that their lives were somewhat paralleling the original P&P story.

Actually, there were a lot of things to like about this book to start.  The characters were funny and friendly, the conversations pleasant, and there was a decent concept underneath of it all.  But in the end, I was just so frustrated with the incredibly choppiness of the story and the way the author kind of acted like we should already know a lot about these people.  For instance, Casey is staying in a house that was loaned to her by Kit, who is also directing the play – but we’re given no information about Kit or his relationship with Casey, which meant I was really confused when Kit immediately was interested in an older lady; at first I assumed that Kit must be close to Casey’s age, but it turns out that he’s a lot older than her – more of an uncle/father figure.

There was also this extremely weird thing where a bunch of the characters were half-siblings because their biological father was actually a sperm donor … but there is no explanation as to how all of these siblings actually found/met each other, and Casey’s relationship with her father is really ambiguous – like, are they friends?  It just made no sense and was never really explained.

I wondered for a while if some of these characters were in other of Deveraux’s books, because she has written a lot, but I couldn’t find any information supporting that; supposedly this book is the first in a new series.

There were a lot of random things that nagged at me.  It felt like who parts of this book had just been chopped out with no attempt to smooth the rough edges.  Consequently, everyone falling in love with everyone felt very sudden and kind of strange – especially when we jumped straight into snogging/sex.

And hello??  They get caught in the rain on the back of the estate and have to take shelter in this old shed where Darcy’s mum used to hang out when she was little and the blankets and pillows are still there from when it was her secret hideout literally 20 years or more ago – and that’s where they shag!?  All I could think was GROSS.  There is no way that those cushions weren’t full of all sorts of unsavory insects and rodents.  ICK.  This book was full of completely impractical stuff like that; there was absolutely no attempt to make any of this remotely realistic or believable.

Still, I was still fairly confident that this book was going to get a 3/5 for a decent effort (albeit with a lot of eye rolling) until it completely went off the rails at the end.  This is a BIG SPOILER (I mean, sort of… it’s not like we don’t know who the villain is from the very beginning, and since we all know the basic concept of P&P it’s not really a big surprise when “Wickham” absconds with “Lydia”…) but yeah so the Wickham character convinces Lydia to run away with him.  Lydia has told everyone she is 18, but it turns out that she’s actually only 15, just like Book Lydia, so it’s a big deal that he has run away with a minor, but instead of chasing after him, they come up with this convoluted plot to lure him back by presenting the upcoming play as a contest of acting ability between Wickham and Darcy.  (???!!!??!?!)  Despite the fact that Wickham has been portrayed as complete cad who will do whatever he can to satisfy his own selfish whims and has been known to accost/sexually harass/rape women in the past, no one seems overly concerned that he’s disappeared with a fifteen-year-old girl.  I mean, they’re upset, but I don’t think that “luring him back” is really the kind of option that law enforcement would agree to (or at least I hope not!  Good grief!).

So yes, the most ridiculous part is – it worked!  He just comes back with Lydia in tow!  And goes right to the theater to start acting in the play!  AND THEN instead of arresting him immediately, they convince the police that they should let the play go on because it’s for charity!?  Not only that – Lydia still plays her part!  No one bothers to, I don’t know, find out if she’s been raped?!  What!?

And then we get this write-up of the play, praising how “realistic” everyone was, etc., and it’s supposed to be this big thing where everyone acted so passionately… except then it concludes with the way the play will be running multiple times and people should go see it… and to myself I’m thinking… Except Wickham is gone and the play isn’t going to be that great because it will completely lack the emotional charge of that opening night…???

So yes, a 2/5 in the end.  The whole thing with Wickham taking off with a young girl really bothered me (she didn’t actually get raped, by the way; she convinced Wickham that she was on her period, which apparently was enough to keep him away….  surrre it would be), especially when nobody acted like it was a big deal and that obviously Lydia was fine and would be able to do the play just like regular.  Combined with the overall choppiness, the lack of character background/connections, and the complete disconnect from any kind of reality, this book didn’t leave me with any desire to seek out more of Deveraux’s works.

#17 for #20BooksofSummer!

July Minireviews – Part 1

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.

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

//published 1956//

Actually, I felt more than “meh” about this book – it was a delight, and an easy 4/5.  However, what can one say about Heyer’s work that hasn’t already been said?  The characters were lively and clever, the adventure took many hilarious twists, and there happy endings handed out all around.  Heyer is always so relaxing and pleasant – never any niggling doubts as to whether or not everything will end with sunshine and rainbows.  I really loved everyone in this book, and it had me snorting with laughter on more than one occasion.  It felt like the ending was a bit rushed/it would have been nice to see a little bit more of a love story between Gareth and Hester, but all in all this story was just super adorable and happy.

Also, it was #10 for #20BooksofSummer!

Sunlight & Shadow by Cameron Dokey

//published 2004//

I really liked Dokey’s fairy tale retellings (this is the third I’ve read).  This story moved right along.  It was a little weird because Dokey used five first-person perspectives, and never told us who we were jumping to next, you just kind of had to read a few sentences and figure it out.  This felt weird at first, but once I got into the groove, it worked completely.  The voices were actually really, really similar, though, so it was mostly the actual circumstances that indicated who was doing the talking.

In her afterword, Dokey said that this book was actually inspired by the story from one of Mozart’s operas, which I found entertaining.  It has a very mythological flavor, since the main character (Mina) is the daughter of the Queen of Night and the Mage of Day.  The story is not just about Mina finding true love (which of course she does), but about the balance between light and darkness.  As always, Dokey has a slim thread of thoughtfulness running throughout a story that appears to be all fluff and lightheartedness, leaving me thinking about it a bit after I’ve finished.

An easy 3.5/5 and a very pleasant read, as well as being #12 for #20BooksofSummer!

Unwilling by Elizabeth Adams

In this Pride & Prejudice variation, shortly after the Netherfield Ball, Mr. Bennett finds out that he doesn’t have much longer to live.  He regrets wasting time and money, and decides to do the best that he can to make up for it.  He makes a bunch of rules for the girls, including sending Lydia back to the schoolroom, and gives them actual lessons to do, which feels a little bit weird since Jane and Elizabeth are in their 20’s.  Mr. Bennett is also determined that if any eligible suitors come asking, he will marry the girls off, as long as it doesn’t seem like the guy is a total jerk.  So at Hunsford, Mr. Darcy asks Mr. Bennett for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, and Mr. Bennett says yes.

All in all, this was actually a really pleasant P&P variation.  It was definitely PG13 – a lot of innuendo and discussions, but nothing explicit.  It was also quite refreshing that there were no ridiculous villains.  However, it did feel like only Elizabeth was doing the changing.  In the original, both Darcy and Elizabeth realize their shortcomings, but in this version, Darcy didn’t really seem to have any.  Towards the end, he is really insulting towards the Gardiners when he meets them for the first time.  Elizabeth takes him to task and Darcy apologizes, but he never interacts with them again in the story, so it didn’t necessarily come through that he really felt remorseful about the situation.

Still, a pleasant story and an easy way to spend an afternoon.  3.5/5.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

//published 1901//

Burnett is another one of those authors whose two most famous books – The Secret Garden and A Little Princess – were childhood favorites (that I still love today), but somehow I’ve never really checked to see if she wrote anything else.  So I added The Making of a Marchioness, along with its sequel, The Methods of Lady Walderhurst to my 20 Books of Summer list.

This was a pleasant read, but was almost like an outline of a book rather than a full-length story.  It’s only around 180 pages with large print, so more of a novella.  Still, the main character, Emily, was rather adorable, even though she was almost absurdly nice.  Through a series of events she gets invited to a country house party (mainly so she can do a bunch of errands for the hostess) and ends up marrying the most eligible bachelor there.

However, there really isn’t much of a love story.  Walderhurst admires her from afar, but during his proposal, he says that he “must marry, and I like you better than any woman I have ever known.  … I am a selfish man, and I want an unselfish woman.”  It doesn’t seem particularly romantic that he’s marrying her because she won’t make very many demands on his time or purse, but overall he seems like a fine fellow, so I actually did end the book believing that they would deal well together.  A 3/5 and I am intrigued to read the sequel.  Also, #15 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Silent Sister // by Diane Chamberlain

//published 2014//

I had some mixed feelings about this book.  It kept me thoroughly engaged while I was reading it, but a few different things made me uncomfortable during the story, and I found the ending to be unsatisfactory.  In the end, I think it has to go as a 3/5.  I don’t particularly recommend it, and it’s the sort of book that made me feel that while I wouldn’t avoid Chamberlain’s books in the future, I’m not anxious to seek them out, either.

The story mostly centers around Riley, aged 25, whose father has just passed away.  Riley has returned home to go through his house (her mother passed away just after her senior year of high school) and get it ready to sell.  Riley loved her father and had a good relationship with him, so she’s quite devastated by his sudden death, and that’s amplified by the way that she feels that she is all alone in the world – her older sister committed suicide when Riley was only two, and Riley’s older brother, Danny, suffers from severe PSTD that leaves him unreliable and unpredictable.  He also harbors deep resentment towards their parents (which Riley doesn’t understand) and is completely disinterested in cleaning out the house or reliving memories of any kind.

As the tale unwinds, Riley begins to discover that her dad was actually keeping quite a few secrets, including a major one about her sister.  At this point, the story also begins to give us Lisa’s story from twenty years earlier.

This is a well-written and engaging narrative.  Riley uses the first person for her sections, past tense.  She is likable and kind and very lonely.  Lisa’s section are in third person, but that doesn’t prevent her from being a very relatable character.  I was really hooked into this story from the very beginning.

However, there were several things that gave me unease.  One of the biggest is when Lisa meets Celia.  After spending the evening together, Celia stays the night (romantically) – despite the fact that they had only met that day AND until she met Celia, Lisa didn’t realize she was gay.  It seemed kind of ridiculous and unhealthy for Lisa to immediately get in bed with someone on such short acquaintance, especially when she hasn’t actually sorted through her sexual orientation??  Of course it all works out and they stay together forever because that’s what always happens when you hop in bed with someone you’ve only known about eight hours.  This situation became even more disturbing when more details about Lisa’s childhood were revealed.

I was also a smidge offended by the fact that, of course, the traditional, conservative church was the home of a bunch of hypocritical self-centered people who “push away” people going through a crisis; while the church that is “open and affirming” to gay people are the ones who are so supportive and loving to everyone, no matter what!  I’m sorry, but believing that homosexuality isn’t Scriptural doesn’t automatically mean that I hate gay people or that I’m unwilling to help out people who are going through a dark time in their life.  This wasn’t a huge part of this book by any means, but it was a completely unnecessary dig.

It also seemed really weird to me that part of Riley’s back story was that she had just broken up with her boyfriend of two years – because he had never divorced his wife?!?!?  That seemed unnecessarily wrong, and it honestly changed my perspective of who Riley was as a person.  Like wow, she’s just been an adulterer for two years??  That seems… disturbing?

The rest of my angst I’ll put below the cut as they involve spoilers.  This wasn’t a terrible book by any means.  I really was very engaged with the story and anxious to find out how it ended.  But I felt like justice was not served by the conclusion and it left me feeling rather angry, this concept that this person “deserves” a good life, rather than deserving what they earned through their actions.  So yes, a 3/5.  And for a more positive review, be sure to check out Carol’s thoughts, which first led me to this book!

Also – #14 for #20BooksofSummer!

Continue reading

Jamaica Inn // by Daphne du Maurier

//published 1935//

Overall, I wanted to like Jamaica Inn, but just found it too, too depressing.

Mary’s mother has died and Mary is going to live with her only remaining relative, her mother’s sister Patience.  Aunt Patience is married to an innkeeper named Joss.  But when Mary (who is a young woman of 23, not a child, by the way) arrives at Jamaica Inn, she finds it to be a frightening and lonely place that discourages visitors.  Joss is a strong, terrible man, and Aunt Patience is a shadow of her former self.  As the story progresses, Mary discovers various evil and terrible things going on around the inn, but feels unable to speak out against them because of how the destruction of Joss would devastate Patience.

Many of the descriptions are rather melodramatic, but excellent nonetheless.  Du Maurier has a knack of describing people in a way that makes them quite easy to picture – perhaps aided by the fact that nearly everyone in this book is practically a caricature.

In both Rebecca and My Cousin Rachelwe are given a first person perspective from a possibly unreliable narrator.  Much of tension from both of those books is not knowing how much of what we hear is actual truth, and how much of it is simply in the mind of the narrator.  But in Jamaica Inn, the story is much more straightforward, a more traditional Gothic novel, with smugglers and dark, sweeping moors, and an innocent young woman caught up in circumstances beyond her control.  It wasn’t exactly boring, but it almost was.  While in Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel I was constantly guessing as the guilt and innocence to the very end, I really had Jamaica Inn figured out about a third of the way through; the book felt almost formulaic.

Throughout, I couldn’t tell if du Maurier was trying to make a point about the situation of women in society or what, but she constantly, and I do mean constantly, harps on how hopeless and almost pointless the existence of women is, because they are so dependent on men.  Of Aunt Patience she says –

“You mustn’t mind your uncle Joss,” [Aunt Patience] said, her manner changing suddenly, fawning almost, like a whimpering dog that has been trained by constant cruelty to implicit obedience, and who, in spite of kicks and curses, will fight like a tiger for its master.

And really, that sums up the way both sexes are portrayed throughout.  The women – downtrodden, hopelessly bound by love and loyalty; the men – vacillating between cruelty and indifference.

Even Mary herself, who claims that she will always be independent and strong, and will never fall in love or put herself into a place where a man has control over her, falls in love “against her will” –

And there, in spite of herself, came [his] face again, with growth of beard like a tramp, and his dirty shirt, and his  bold offensive stare.  He lacked tenderness; he was rude; and he had more than a streak of cruelty in him; he was a thief and a liar.  He stood for everything she feared and hated and despised; but she knew she could love him.  Nature cared nothing for prejudice.  Men and women were like the animals on the farm at Helford, she supposed; there was a common law of attraction for all living things, some similarity of skin or touch, and they would go to one another.  This was no choice of the mind.

Later in the same chapter she is thinking about how back at home she would see people in love, but after they married –

…when the lad came home at evening tired from his work in the fields, and calling sharply that his supper was burnt, not fit for a dog, while the girl snapped back at him from the  bedroom overhead, her figure sagging and her curls gone, pacing backward and forward with a bundle in her arms that mewed like a cat and would not sleep.  There was no talk then of the moonlight on the water.  No, Mary had no illusions about romance.  Falling in love was a pretty name for it, that was all.

Just…  ugh.  So hopeless, not just about love, but about life – that all we are is unthinking animals who know nothing better than to find someone to whom we have a spark of attraction that we may breed – no hope of any kind of long-lasting affection or companionship – just drudgery and darkness.

And that’s what this book was, consistently, throughout every page.  Drudgery and darkness.  Complete hopelessness.  In the end, Mary goes off with with this man who stands “for everything she feared and hated and despised” – and there is no sign whatsoever that he is not all of the things she lists off in that paragraph.  And so Mary, despite knowing that her life will probably be miserable, purposefully chooses to go with him!  I had already lost all my respect for Mary about halfway through the book; for all her claims to be strong and saucy, she really isn’t terribly smart and is already completely resigned to a life just as miserable as Aunt Patience’s (even though Mary spends a great deal of time despising her Aunt Patience for her loyalty to Joss).

In the end, du Maurier leaves us with nothing.  Christianity is “built upon a fairy tale.  Christ himself is a figurehead, a puppet thing created by man himself.”  Humans are nothing more than animals who can never expect to be anything better.  Women will forever be subservient to men because they will always choose to be loyal to a man, even if he is cruel – which he will be, because all men are so instinctively, desiring nothing more than to crush all who are weaker than they are.

The picturesque descriptions of the moors and the attempt at a mystery were not enough to overcome the darkness and hopelessness of this story for me.  2/5 and not recommended.

However, I will say that both Rose Reads Novels and That’s What She Read are more generous than I am, so you may want to check out their reviews for some balance.  ;-)

#13 for #20BooksofSummer!

(#12 will be reviewed at the end of the month in July’s minireviews.)