August Minireviews – Part 2

I’m getting sooo lazy about the reviews!!  I dream that someday I’ll be caught up and do really nice reviews with actual pictures and real thoughts! LOL  But in other news – this wraps up August reviews!!!

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.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4*

I had somehow never read this classic, even though of course I knew the basic premise.  Stevenson does a great job setting everything up and giving his readers a very eerie background of foggy London.  I found myself thinking about how I would feel about this story if I had never heard anything about it before – this would have been absolutely a brilliant read when this story was first published, and was still a fun one even though I knew what was going to happen.

The Bottle Imp by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4*

My copy of Dr. Jekyll included a short story by Stevenson that I had never even heard of.  While still a little creepy, this was also a story that had bit of a moral to it – what exactly are you willing to sacrifice for success and riches?

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows – 3.5*

This one has been on my TBR since it was first published, as it seemed to race through the blogging community at the time, garnering loads of positive reviews.  All in all, I really did enjoy this one a lot.  Such a fun concept, and I appreciated the authors telling the readers that they were planning to butcher history haha  It’s definitely a completely ridiculous story, so if you’re looking for some serious historical fiction, give this one a pass.  I enjoyed the humor and the likable characters, and appreciated the way everything came together.  I did find it a bit over-long.  Even though this isn’t one I see myself rereading, it was pretty fun as a one-off.

The Cross & the Switchblade by David Wilkerson – 4*

This nonfiction story, originally published in 1963, is about a pastor in a small Pennsylvanian town who felt called to minister to gang members in New York City.  Wilkerson tells his story simply and owns up to the mistakes he made along the way, while crediting God with any successes.  I really appreciated his honesty about times he felt weak and confused, but chose to carry on.  This edition was published in 2001 and included and afterword telling what happened to many of the main players in Wilkerson’s original story, and it was a beautiful thing to read about how the majority of the gang members who had decided to become Christians in the 60s had stuck with it through the decades, embracing and growing in their faith.  Wilkerson’s story wasn’t especially polished, but it’s heartfelt and sincere, and I found it to be an encouraging read, touching on the importance of prayer, faith, and community.

Leave No Stone Unturned by Jeanne Glidewell – 1*

I owned this one on Kindle for a while and decided to finally give it a go.  It’s been a long time since I actually finished a book this bad instead of just bailing on it, but it was only 189 pages and I really wanted to read a book set in Kansas for my #SeparatedByaPondTour that I’m still working on haha  But this one was REALLY REALLY TERRIBLE.  The story made no sense, the characters made no sense, the mystery made no sense, every decision someone made made no sense.  It was BAD.  SO BAD.  But at least I can write off this entire series!

The Home Edit by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin – 2.5*

This home organization book had lovely photographs but almost zero practical advice.  A lot of it was the authors talking about spaces they had organized for almost-famous people, yet even those – no before/after photos or anything like that.  For a book I checked out of the library, it was pleasant enough to page through, but as far as using it as any kind of reference book or actually gleaning useful information from it – total fail.

An Irish Hostage by Charles Todd – 4*

The latest installment in the Bess Crawford series did not disappoint.  I really like this series a lot.  Bess is very likable and the setting of World War I (and now post-war) is done SO well.  This one did drag here and there, and I’d really like to see more progress in Bess’s personal relationship with a certain fellow, but it was overall still another solid entry for the series.

Bess Crawford Mysteries // Books 6-11 // by Charles Todd

6. An Unwilling Accomplice (2014)
7. A Pattern of Lies (2015)
8. The Shattered Tree (2016)
9. A Casualty of War (2017)
10. A Forgotten Place (2018)
11.  A Cruel Deception (2019)

Wow, first off I just have to say that I am SO excited that this series is apparently still being written, because every book I read was better than the one before it.  This series was absolutely fantastic and I enjoyed every page.  While I had a few 3.5* reads in the first half of the series, these were all 4* and 4.5* reads.

In case you missed it, here is my review of the first five books in this series, which gives the background of the main character in this series, Bess Crawford, who works as a nurse during World War I.

I honestly don’t know exactly how to review these books other than to say that if you enjoy historical mysteries at all, you should definitely read them.  I also wasn’t sure how the series was going to work once the war was over, but book 9-11 are all post-war books, and they were my favorites.  The authors do such an amazing job capturing how the end of this war wasn’t exactly a joyous victory, but rather the slow, grinding halt of a tragedy that left a generation of men dead and maimed.  The absolute heartbreak of soldiers suffering from shell shock (so misunderstood at the time as well) and who would rather kill themselves than return home to a place where they no longer felt that they could be useful, due to the loss of a limb, was handled so, so well.

Yet these books aren’t all doom and gloom.  There is still a lot of hope there as well, the cautious optimism that maybe the world has learned something from this brutal, useless war.  The slow picking up of the pieces and trying to find a way forward.  Bess herself has, to this point, continued to work as a nurse for men recovering from the war, but she isn’t completely sure if that is what she wants to do forever.  It really feels like the door has been left open for Bess to explore a variety of places and adventures in future books.

There is a love interest (ish), but that has also been handled well.  Bess hasn’t felt like the war was the time or place to be worried about emotional entanglements, but now that it is over, there are a few glimmers of potential.

All in all, this series is moving from strength to strength.  I’ll be on the lookout for a twelfth book, and in the meantime may have to check out the other World War I series by this same mother/son writing duo.  As for the Bess Crawford books – highly recommended!

Bess Crawford Mysteries // Books 1-5 // by Charles Todd

  1. A Duty to the Dead (2009)
  2. An Impartial Witness (2010)
  3. A Bitter Truth (2011)
  4. An Unmarked Grave (2012)

4.5.  The Walnut Tree (2012)
5.  A Question of Honor (2013)

WordPress doesn’t like the idea of a “4.5” in my numerical listing, so you’ll have to forgive the wonky formatting!

Charles Todd is actually a mother/son writing team best known for their Ian Rutledge series, which I have never gotten around to reading.  Bess Crawford is their newer series, which centers around a World War I nurse (Bess Crawford) and various mysteries in which she finds herself entangled.  While the mystery aspect is done well in each book, the real charm of the series is in the excellent sense of setting and place.  World War I often gets rather overlooked, so reading a series with it as a backdrop has been quite intriguing.

Bess grew up (an only child) in India, with her military father (whom she and her mother fondly refer to as the Colonel Sahib) and her mother.  I love the fact that Bess has both of her parents, they are both kind, hardworking, loving people, and that her parents love Bess and love each other.  They’re supportive without being pushy, worried without being controlling.  Being a nurse is still a slightly questionable occupation for a well-brought-up young woman, but instead of following the well-worn, boring trail of having the main character rebel against her upbringing blah blah blah, here we have a refreshing scenario where Bess’s parents are thrilled – mainly because they know it’s dangerous – but recognize the need for nurses and Bess’s skill in that area, and thus support her decision.

Bess herself is a very likable character.  She’s intelligent and independent without being obnoxious.  She works hard and loves being a nurse, but isn’t constantly raging about the restrictions society places on females.  She’s determined and can be a bit bull-headed, but isn’t constantly dashing into danger and then getting annoyed when people don’t trust her.  In short, she felt realistic to me, and it was genuinely delightful to read a series where I wasn’t constantly being preached at about the patriarchy and how hard life was as a woman in the early 1900’s.

For the most part, the mysteries fit into the context of the war, and so it doesn’t feel unnatural for someone wholly unrelated to law enforcement to be stumbling across murders and suspicious circumstances.  With the exception of  An Unmarked Grave, which depended far too much on coincidence, the mysteries were well-plotted and engaging.

One thing I also enjoyed is how free of profanity and sex the stories are.  The authors don’t pretend like these things didn’t exist at the time, but the truth is that this was an era when swearing around women was still rather taboo.  And Bess is too well-brought-up, too busy, and too practical to think about sleeping around.  It is such a relief to enjoy some mysteries without constantly being hammered with f-bombs and gratuitous sex.

The Walnut Tree  isn’t about Bess Crawford, but instead is a side story that focuses on another nurse Bess knows, and about this girl’s journey to becoming a nurse.  It was definitely the weakest of all the stories.  It isn’t a mystery, but instead more of a “romance” with an incredibly boring love triangle.  There was this strange side plot about smugglers that I thought was going to be somewhat central, but instead felt tacked on, as though the authors felt that even a side book in a mystery series ought to have some mystery.  Also, while all the other characters became known by just their first names, every time Bess appeared it was as “Bess Crawford,” as though to emphasize the reminder that this book is connected to the Bess Crawford series.  So it would be something like, “I was so happy to see Bess Crawford and Diane sit down at the table with me.  Diane said she had been busy catching up on correspondence that afternoon, while Bess Crawford had gone out to do some shopping.”  I was so tired of seeing BESS CRAWFORD!

Anyway, while I’ve spent some time grumbling here, the truth of the matter is that these have been thoroughly enjoyable books, with the series getting 4* so far.  I have the second half of the series checked out of the library and ready to read, and I’m quite looking forward to picking up Bess’s journey.