Rilla of Ingleside // by L.M. Montgomery

It’s possible that Rilla is my favorite from the series, despite the fact that it isn’t centered on Anne at all (as the title implies). In many ways, you could probably read it as a stand-alone, although it’s much more meaningful when you know all the characters and their backstories. The story begins just as Rilla is turning 15. On the cusp of womanhood, she looks forward to the next few years being full of fun and frivolity. She freely admits that she doesn’t really have any “dreams” like her older siblings (she’s the youngest of Gilbert and Anne’s children), no particular talents or inclinations. She doesn’t even like babies! But Rilla is a wee bit spoiled and is confident that life will continue to fall into place as it always has. But then – World War I begins and everything changes.

//published 1921//

This book works on so many levels. It’s just a plain good story, and a wonderful glimpse at life “at home” during the war. In many ways, it’s a book about women and how, so often, their job through the ages has been to wait and keep the home fires burning. I think what I love about this story is that Rilla doesn’t disguise herself and sneak into war as a boy. She doesn’t even join up with the Red Cross and become a heroic nurse on the front lines. Instead, she just does her best to work hard and be a better person at home. For me, there’s a paragraph towards the end of the book that summarizes the spirit of the story. Victory has just been announced, and Susan, the older woman who works for the Blythes, runs up the flag –

As [the flag] caught the breeze and swelled gallantly above her, Susan lifted her hand and saluted it … “We’ve all given something to keep you flying,” she said. “Four hundred thousand of our boys gone overseas – fifty thousand of them killed. But – you are worth it!” The wind whipped her gray hair about her face and gingham apron that shrouded her from head to food was cut in lines of economy, not of grace; yet, somehow, just then Susan made an imposing figure. She was one of the women – courageous, unquailing, patient, heroic – who had made victory possible.

Montgomery lived through this war – Rilla was published in 1921 – and I think that in many ways this was her ode to the women who stayed behind.

I highly recommend this series on the whole, and Rilla in particular. Montgomery has a wonderful knack for writing about people who feel real, and for writing about everyday circumstances in a way that emphasizes the beauty, heartache, joy, and sorrow that encompasses everyone’s lives, even those of us who are “regular.” Some books that are classics just don’t seem to deserve that classification to me, but the Anne series does – wonderful books that capture a time, place, and people in a way that is still relatable to read about a century later.

October Minireviews – Part 2

Yes, I realize it’s December. Someday I’ll catch up!!! I usually try to not review more than five books in one of these minireview posts just because I don’t want to bore the bejeebers out of all of you, but I’m determined to finish October’s reviews today so you get seven reviews for the price of one!!

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.

East by Edith Pattou – 3*

//published 2003//

I feel like I read this one a really long time ago, but I couldn’t remember whether or not I liked it. I saw that a sequel had come out for it, so I thought I would give this one another read and go from there. In the end, though, I didn’t bother reading the sequel because this one was just super boring to me. The narrative voices (and there are SEVERAL) all sounded absolutely identical. For me, if you need more than three narrators to tell a story, you need to tell your story in third person because all the jumping around is just plain annoying, especially when some of the chapters are only a couple of paragraphs long. (And this as someone who is generally fond of short chapters…) There were long swaths of pages where basically nothing was happening except for people wandering around looking for other people. It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t one that I really wanted to pick up again. And at almost 500 pages, it was just way too long.

I thought about reading the sequel anyway, but then I read the synopsis – and it’s basically the same story as East all over again! So thank you, but no thank you.

Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This was borderline 4* for me. There was a lot I enjoyed about – the main characters were likable and the setting in Key West was super fun and fluffy. I really liked Luis’s warmhearted family, and appreciated the part of the story where Sara’s family was trying to come together as well. But somehow, even though this book had a lot of ingredients that I really liked (love me a fake relationship trope), the story just sort of dragged in places. Luis is mad at one of his brothers, but when I found out why I honestly mostly felt eye-roll-y about it. Like yes, that was a jerk move but… it’s been literal years so maybe it’s time to get over yourself and move on?? Sara was kind of the same way. She has an eating disorder that is currently under control, but it seemed liked it was all that she thought about. I understand that it’s a big part of her life, etc., but she was so sensitive about it. If anyone in her family said anything about her not eating enough, she would get incredibly wound up about and like – yes, I understand that it bothers you and why, and they definitely need to back off – but at the same time, they’re coming from a genuine place of love and concern?? And it felt like Sara literally never acknowledged that. The whole point of her family getting together in Key West is because her mom is recovering from cancer and wants to change the way that they’ve treated their (now adult) children and to bring their family together, and Sara is basically a little spoiled whiny-pants about it instead of even trying to meet her parents halfway.

It all comes together in the end, of course, and it wasn’t like I hated this book. But at some level it felt like both Luis and Sara were kind of immature in the way that they were handling their family issues, so it low-key annoyed me during the whole book. However, this is supposedly the first in a new series, and I would totally read the next book, presumably about one of Luis’s siblings. This wasn’t an instant classic for me, and I know I just whined about it a lot, but it was still overall good romcom fun that I did mostly enjoy reading.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik – 4*

//published 2020//

So I really loved Uprooted by wasn’t a huge fan of Spinning Silver. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this first book in a new series, but I really loved it. I’ve seen reviews that are all over the places for this one, and I think it just comes down to whether or not you enjoy a narrative style that does some info-dumping. I actually do, as long as I find the information interesting. I love complicated world-building, and don’t mind having it explained to me by a character. But a lot of people find that super annoying, so that’s definitely one of the big complaints I’ve seen about this one – and honestly, they’re justified. The narrator of this book does a lot of rambling. It just happened that I found the rambling intriguing.

This book is a bit slow on action and long on talking, but for some reason it really worked for me. The writing style reminded me a lot of Robin McKinley’s Dragonhaven for some reason, another book that I see a lot of mixed reviews for. All in all, if you like rambly narrators whose internal monologue is super sarcastic, you may end up liking this one. However, I’ll freely admit that I can see why this isn’t a book for everyone.

The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller – 3.5*

/published 2019//

This was a traveling book club book, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Set in 1875, the story focuses on a young widow named Alva Webster, whose recent marriage and separation, followed by the unexpected death of her husband, has left her trailing scandal everywhere she goes. She’s moved back to New York and purchased an old house in the country that she remembers from her childhood. Meanwhile, Sam Moore, an eccentric scientist from a family of eccentric scientists, is interested in ghosts and paranormal phenomenon. When he hears that Alva’s house may be haunted, he convinces her to let him run a series of experiments there, even though Alva doesn’t believe in ghosts. What unfolds in a not-entirely-surprising love story with a bit of ghost story mystery thrown in.

It was exactly “my style” of book, but I still did overall enjoy this one, mostly because Sam is perfection. Some of the situations felt a little overwrought, and there were a few times where it definitely felt like modern sensibilities were being imposed on the past, but it was still good fun. I don’t know if the author is planning to create a series from these characters, but I would totally read a book about another of Sam’s siblings, even if his whole family felt a little over-the-top. If you like historical romance and don’t mind some paranormal in your story, you’ll probably like this one as well.

Well Played by Jen DeLuca – 4*

//published 2020//

Earlier this year I read DeLuca’s debut novel, Well Met, which I really enjoyed but did find a little rough in places. I definitely felt like the sequel was better as far as pacing and dialogue goes, and there wasn’t nearly as much time spent listening to the main character lust after the hero as there was in the first book.

Stacey, a friend of the first book’s character, has had a bit of a crush on one of the members of The Dueling Kilts, a band that plays at the Renaissance Faire every year where Stacey volunteers. (Readers of the first book may remember that this Faire was the setting of that story.) But she’s always assumed that it’s just hormones, so when she gets an email from him after the Faire has left, she’s surprised at the connection she feels with him. Soon they’re emailing and texting every day, and Stacey can hardly wait until the Faire comes back to town.

The real problem with this book is that the actual synopsis tells you the twist, because it isn’t exactly meant to be a twist for anyone other than Stacey. But because the reader already knows what she’s going to find out, it means I spent a lot of the book rolling my eyes at how dense Stacey was for not realizing what was going on. But if I hadn’t already been privy to that information, I may have been just as surprised as she was – I definitely think this book would have read better if the synopsis hadn’t told the reader how it all plays out.

Still, this was overall an entertaining bit of chick lit. I really liked Stacey a lot. I did think the ending dragged out a little too long, and I’m also way over romance books ending with people saying things like, “I know he’s the one for me, but we’re just gonna shack up for a few years instead of actually making a real commitment to each other.” Sorry, moving in together is NOT a romantic way to end a book!

The Wrong Side of Magic by Janette Rallison – 3*

//published 2016//

This was another traveling book club book, and while it was a perfectly enjoyable middle grade read, it just never felt magical to me. There were fun moments and some clever ideas, but I never really connected with the characters.

Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery – 4*

//published 1919//

It’s actually been even longer since I read this book than it has the rest of the series, as this is the only one that I’ll sometimes skip when I’m reading the Anne books. While this story is full of Montgomery’s humor and relatable characters, the focus shifts from the Blythe family to the Merediths, the children of the Presbyterian minister. A widower, Mr. Meredith is incredibly absent-minded, and although he (theoretically) loves his children, he does almost nothing to actually care for their physical well-being. Meanwhile, the four Meredith children run more or less wild. They aren’t mean-spirited, but they don’t have a lot of direction, so most of this book is comprised of stories of their “scrapes” and the ways they try to make up for them.

My issues with this book – (1) I want more about Anne and her family, not these random kids, (2) Mr. Meredith is repeatedly said to be a “kind and love father” yadda yadda yadda, but even though on more than one occasion he “wakes up” to realize that he needs to do more for them – he always just goes right back to being obsessed with his studies instead of snapping out of it and taking care of his family. This drives me absolutely crazy. Mr. Meredith, despite the fact that he’s actually quite kind, is high on my list of least-favorite fictional fathers. (3) Mary Vance is probably one of my least-favorite characters Montgomery ever invented, and a large part of this book is also about her. I find Mary to be SO OBNOXIOUS.

So yes, the combination of Mr. Meredith and Mary Vance in one book means that I tend to skip this one even though there are parts of it that I actually really do love. And you do need to read this one at least once before reading the final book in the series, Rilla of Ingleside, as this one does set up a lot of the characters and backstories for that one, and Rilla is possibly my favorite out of the whole series.

While I definitely don’t love Rainbow Valley as much as I love the rest of the series, it’s still better than half the books I read these days, so I’m sticking with my 4* rating.

October Minireviews – Part 1

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Oh look, it’s November and I’m just starting to review the books I read in October!!! :-D

Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1939//

Some people complain about this book not “fitting” with the rest of the series since this one (along with Anne of Windy Poplars) was written out of order, but I never knew that until a few years ago and I’ve always loved this one. While the focus shifts off of Anne and onto her children for the most part, it’s still a lighthearted and happy book. I really appreciate that Montgomery didn’t find it necessary to give Anne a horrible life, or make her and Gilbert unhappy together later – instead, they continue to grow together, and now have a whole houseful of little ones as well. A thoroughly enjoyable addition to the series.

My Kind of Wonderful by Jill Shalvis – 3.5*

//published 2015//

When I started reading Second Chance Summer, I didn’t realize it was the first book in a series, so it took a minute for the second and third books to come in at the library. While I really enjoyed returning to Cedar Ridge, Colorado, I didn’t find this one quite as engaging as the first book, mainly because I was seriously distracted by the fact that the whole reason that Bailey is at the lodge is so she can paint a mural… outside… in the middle of winter… in the Colorado mountains… ????? I don’t feel like any kind of paint would work under these conditions??? There’s even one point where she finishes the mural in the dark???

Aside from sketchy connections to reality, it was still a perfectly enjoyable piece of fluff romance. There are a few too many sexy times for me, but otherwise a fun little read.

Nobody But You by Jill Shalvis – 3*

//published 2016//

Sadly, the third book in the series was my least favorite, mainly because it was just… boring. Nothing really happens. Sophie’s divorced and she ended up with her husband’s boat, mainly to tick him off (despite the fact that she didn’t get anything else…) and since she’s broke, she has to live on it. So she’s wandering around in the boat working random temp jobs around the lake while intermittently running into another one of the siblings from Cedar Ridge Lodge, who is suitably hot and awesome. It wasn’t a bad book exactly, just really unexciting. I was never interested to pick it up after I had set it down, but wanted to finish the series itself. I was also annoyed when the big conflict between the main characters is Sophie accusing Jacob of lying to her… when he literally didn’t. When they first met, Sophie thinks he’s a Lake Patrol Officer, but she never actually says that to Jacob, so he doesn’t even know that that’s what she thinks. Later, she gets mad at him for “lying” to her about being an officer??? And his response is to be all apologetic?! My response would have been, Wow this chick is crazy, no thank you.

Not a bad story, but an overall rather apathetic ending to the trilogy.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – 5*

//published 1813// And yes, I totally got the Chiltern edition – SO worth it!!!! //

Since I love reading P&P variations of all kinds, it seemed like I was overdue on a reread of the original story. There isn’t much I can say here that hasn’t already been said – it’s a really fabulous novel with fun characters, an entertaining story, and plenty of romance. I always forget how delightfully snarky Austen is. This classic is definitely worthy of that title, and definitely worth a read.

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1930//

This is the first appearance of Miss Marple, an elderly spinster who lives in the small village of St. Mary Mead. The book itself is narrated by the vicar (who is extremely likable), but Miss Marple drifts in and out of the story a great deal with her habit of observing everything that is going on and drawing out similarities between situations that most people overlook. One of my biggest take-aways from the this read-through was just the reminder of how, at our core, people are basically alike, which is kind of the point of all the Miss Marple-isms. There is one big coincidence in this mystery that always is hard for me to get over, but for the most part this is a great story and an excellent place to start if you’ve never read a Miss Marple tale.

April Minireviews – Part 2

Oh look, the last of March’s reviews!!!

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell – 4* – finished March 15

//published 2019//

I’ve seen a lot of love for this book, and since I like Rainbow Rowell and also needed to read a graphic novel to check off some challenges, I decided to give this one a whirl.  The artwork is pretty adorable and I loved the background story with the escaped goat!!  I always enjoy stories that are set in the country, and this one definitely had that going for it.  While the story was a bit simplistic, it was still perfectly fun and happy.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – 5* – finished March 18

//published 1908//

What can I possibly say about this book that hasn’t already been said?  I first read this book probably when I was 9 or 10 and have read it countless times since then.  I love absolutely every page – the warmth, the honesty, the humor – Montgomery writes people so well – even small characters are still perfectly sketched in just a few sentences of description.  Despite the fact that I’ve read this book so often, it still got me all choked up on multiple occasions.  This book is a classic for a reason, and it’s crazy to think that this was Montgomery’s first published novel!

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin – 4* – finished March 19

//published 2015//

A lot of mixed feelings on this one that I can’t completely get into without spoilers.  Overall this was a very engaging read that really pulled me in and made me want to keep reading.  However, I did feel like in some spots the tension was lacking.  I also wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending, but since it did technically make everything work I’m okay with it.  Overall while I enjoyed reading this one, it didn’t particularly make me feel like rushing out to see if Heaberlin has written other books.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie – 5* – finished March 26

//published 1926//

(Did I really go almost a week without finishing a book??  No, of course not.  I read a truly dreadful “Regency” romance and also struggled through half of another book before bailing on it.  My reading stats are partially low in March and April because of so many DNFs!)

If there is some way that you’ve never read this book, you DEFINITELY should.  And I highly recommend knowing as little about it as possible, because if you know nothing, the ending will blow your mind.  It’s a twist that has been used since, but Christie was one of the earliest pioneers of this concept – sooo good!  Christie’s writing is strong enough that even though I’ve read this one several times, and obviously know the twist, I still greatly enjoy seeing how she carefully sets it all up, giving us clues and hints as we go along.  This is one of her finest books, and a hallmark of the genre.

Hot Ice by Nora Roberts – 3.5* – finished March 30

//published 1987//

I’m haphazardly working my way through Roberts’s backlog because it’s so easy to find her books everywhere!  This one was a romantic suspense, a genre she usually writes really well (and that I greatly prefer to her paranormal stories).  This one felt VERY 80’s but was still fun for a one-time read, despite the somewhat high body count, and the fact that just because the baddy went to jail in the end, I was NOT convinced that he would stop trying to avenge himself!  Still, when I’m looking for a fun romp of a read, Roberts rarely disappoints.

White Stallion of Lipizza by Marguerite Henry – 4.5* – finished March 30

//published 1964//

Regular visitors here know that I have a huge soft spot for Henry’s work, which I read over and over again as a child.  Over the last few years I’ve been revisiting her books, and have been pleasantly surprised to find that most of them hold up well as an adult.  Part of it is immense charm of Wesley Dennis’s illustrations, and White Stallion is no exception.  Dennis has a brilliant knack of sketching emotions, and also understands that just as no two human faces look alike, animals all of different looks to them as well – thus his horses and dogs especially become distinct characters on the page, even in a book like this one where theoretically a bunch of large, white horses should all look basically the same.

The story itself is delightful as usual – a young boy, growing up Vienna, loves the stallions and yearns to become a rider.  Based on a true story, as most of Henry’s tales are, eventually this young hero overcomes the odds and learns the discipline of riding these magnificent horses.

When I was in high school, the Stallions toured through my city and we went to see them – it was genuinely indescribable.  It’s amazing how long this breed of horse has been around, performing their almost-magical feats of agility.

Ana of California // by Andie Teran

//published 2015//

I still randomly subscribe to book boxes when I have a little spare cash (it’s an addiction).  They pretty consistently send books I wouldn’t necessarily pick up on my own, and sometimes they even end up being books that I enjoy.  I wasn’t too sure about Ana since the synopsis said that it was a book in “the tradition of Anne of Green Gables.”  Sometimes there are books in your life that you are so emotionally bound to that you know it’s kind of unreasonable, but there you are.  AGG is of those books for me, and I have seen other interpretations of it that do that wonderful story and its perfect characters a huge disservice.  So I was nervous about Ana.

And in the end though – I was pleasantly surprised, as this story ended up being a 4* read for me.

Ana is set in modern-day California.  Ana is an orphan being shuttled around the foster care system who is just about out of options.  At 15, Ana is one of those people who wants to get things right, but never can quite seem to.  Horrified at the prospect of returning to a group home, Ana accepts an opportunity to live an work on a farm.

Abbie and Emmett, brother and sister, have run their family farm together for years.  Abbie is convinced that having a younger person around the farm will help with the work and with the overall spirit of the place, which is a little down since Emmett’s wife left him the year before.  However, she neglects to tell Emmett that the orphan heading their way is actually a girl.  Prejudiced against Ana when she arrives, Emmett says that she is on a month trial.

There were a lot of things to like about this book.  First off, if you’ve never read Anne of Green Gables (I hope that isn’t true), it would have no impact on the reading of this story, which is completely its own thing (in a good way).  But if you HAVE read the classic, it was fun to see where Teran had borrowed concepts and given them her own twist without getting out of hand.  For instance, having Abbie be the one who immediately loves Ana and wants her to stay while Emmett is the grumpy one, felt natural and fun.  The whole thing where Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk had its own updated version here that still felt believable and moved the story forward.

Ana herself was a very sympathetic character.  Struggling to do the right thing but so often accidentally making the wrong choice, there were also a lot of moments where she did do the right thing, but the prejudices against her painted the incidents in a bad light.  It was a good reminder that the people around us frequently are struggling with things of which we are unaware, and being slow to judge is a good thing.

Overall, I felt like Teran did a decent job modernizing this story.  Some aspects of Ana’s past are much darker than Anne’s, but for the most part it was handled pretty deftly.  I appreciated a YA story that didn’t revolve around sex, too.

Places where this book really falls down as an AGG parallel are with some of the other characters.  Diana’s replacement, Rye, was incredibly annoying – she spent all of her time whining about how she hated her small-town life, being jealous of the fact that Ana lived in LA (hello??  She’s a penniless orphan??  While you have two incredibly loving and supportive parents?!), refusing to forgive her ex-best friend despite repeated apologies for what he did, and lying about Ana not once, but TWICE to get herself out of trouble!  Rye’s character really brought down the overall tone of the book for me, even setting aside the fact that she is nothing like the sweet, kind, innocent Diana from the original – on her own, Rye is still obnoxious.  

There were other places where the story stuttered.  Sometimes, the third person narration would give me some background on characters and situations that Ana still didn’t know about, or would jump to what another person (usually Abbie) was thinking/feeling.  This was a little confusing and distracted from the flow of the story.  Also connected, although a bit of a personal preference, but having two main characters whose names start with the same letter is always a little confusing to me, I think because I’m a very fast reader.  Sometimes I would have to go back to the beginning of the paragraph to remind myself if these feelings belonged to Abbie or Ana.

It also felt like some things were just kind of skimmed over, so I still had a lot of questions about some of the different characters.  I really thought this book could have been longer and more fleshed out.

With my midwestern farming mindset, I couldn’t quite get my head around the farm where Ana was living.  Is this really what farms look like in northern California?  Just like… tons of random crops all going at the same time, all of which have to be hand-picked (we tend towards acres and acres of one crop around here)?  I also wasn’t convinced that Abbie, on her own, was somehow doing all of this cooking/food preservation, especially in her home kitchen.  But, you know, maybe they do things differently in California…

I wanted this book to last a little longer, because the ending felt somewhat rushed.  It’s no shock to the reader that Ana is going to stay with Abbie and Emmett as her forever home, so it would have been nice to spend a little more time with that part of the story.  I would totally read a sequel to this story.

One of the things about AGG that I love is the sense of hope throughout the story.  While Anne has some dark times, she is always optimistic and working to become a better person.  Throughout the story, Anne never really gives into despair, although she may have reason to, and although there are some characters that are easier to dislike, there isn’t anyone truly mean-spirited or evil.  Some adaptations of AGG that I have seen/read fail to capture that spirit, turning the story into something much darker and more depressing in tone (I’m looking at you, Anne With an E).  All that to say, I think that the real reason that I enjoyed Ana of California was that Teran stuck with the vibe of the original, allowing Ana to come through the dark times of her life a stronger, better person, still looking for the good in other people, still willing to trust, still trying to be open and accepting, despite the betrayals of her past.

Ana stands on its own as an enjoyable story, but even more rare, I felt that it did give homage to the spirit of Anne of Green Gables as well.