April Minireviews (in May)

So once again I’m super behind on reviews.  Here we are in May, and I have written basically zero April reviews!  So even though my memory is a little hazy on some of the ones I read earlier in the month, here we go!

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs (finished April 7) – 4*

//published 2018//

This is one of the hazy ones.  I picked up this book because the subtitle was “A Novel in Clues,” which intrigued me.  However, the clues were sadly lacking, and even the mystery wasn’t as engaging as I wanted it to be.  It’s definitely more novel-y than thriller-y, and there is a LOT of math in this book.  It is really more of a straight novel, looking at a family after the sudden death of the patriarch. There is a bit of suspense, but it is not the driving force of the story. Still, I did overall enjoy the story and the characters, even if this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.  There were also a lot of dark themes throughout, which I wasn’t completely prepared for – child abuse, vigilante justice, drug abuse, suicide, etc.  In a way, this story was a lot more about the main character coming to grips with her family, both adopted and not, and her place with them, than it was about Isaac’s mysterious equation.  While I did give this book 4* for being a read that kept my attention, it wasn’t a book that I wanted to go back and read again.  And I still feel a little ripped off about the misleading “novel in clues” bit!

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery (finished April 8) – 5*

//published 1909//

Frankly, I’m always going to give every book in this series 5* because I have no objectivity.  I’ve read these books since I was a little girl, over and over, and I love every page of them.  A while ago some other blog that I follow was reading these books for the first time (I honestly can’t remember which blog this was or I would link to it) and she seemed to feel that there was a real up and down to the series.  If I remember correctly, she liked about every other book and felt like the rest were filler content.  However, in my own prejudiced way I absolutely love this entry to the series.  Here, Anne has set aside her personal ambitions to do the right thing for the people she loves – and comes to find that it was the right thing for her as well.  While not preachy, there is an overall reminder throughout the story that sometimes life doesn’t go the way we had planned out, and that’s not always a negative thing.

If I have a criticism of this story, it’s that I would love to have more stories involving Anne’s group of friends.  They are such a fun crowd, and it would have been nice to Diana’s romance mature instead of just sort of appearing.  Still, this is still a book that I love and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting.

Leave It To Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse (finished April 10) – 5*

//published 1924//

No one can make me feel better about life than Wodehouse.  From the opening chapter of “Dark Plottings at Blandings Castle” through the delights of “Sensational Occurrence at a Poetry Reading” and “Almost Entirely About Flower-Pots” (followed by “More on the Flower-Pot Theme”), this book made me laugh out loud on more than on occasion.  Yes, Psmith himself can be a bit much, but the overall story is so fun and full of such fun characters and completely absurd situations that I could barely put this one down while I was reading it.  It’s another reread that just gets better every time I revisit it.

Moonlight Becomes You by Mary Higgins Clark (finished April 12) – 4*

//published 1996//

Despite the fact that I quite enjoy mystery/thrillers, I’ve read almost nothing by MHC.  Recently, I got an entire box of mysteries, including several of her stand-alone titles, and this was the first that I picked up.  The first chapter opens with the main character, Maggie, trapped inside of a coffin (SO CREEPY).  From there, we go back in time a few weeks to find out how she ended up there.  The hook of that opening, knowing that that doom is yet to come, is absolutely fantastic, and the pacing from there is perfect.  While I really enjoyed this story a lot, there’s a supposed romantic relationship between Maggie and one of the other characters that felt like the big weak point of the story and was what kept me from giving this more than 4*.  A lot of the climax hinges on his desperation to find her, but I couldn’t quite find that believable since we hadn’t really had much interaction between the two of them during the rest of the book.  Still, this was a great one-off read that made me quite intrigued to read some more of Clark’s writing.  Plus, it randomly took me to Rhode Island for my #ReadtheUSA2020 challenge, which was a great bonus!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (finished April 13) – 4.5*

//published 2013//

If you’re noticing a reread theme in April, you would be correct.  When I’m feeling stressed or not really feeling like reading, I go back to revisit old friends.  I find books that I’ve loved in the past to be comforting and safe to read.  I’ve been wanting to reread Fangirl for quite some time.  I had only read it once before and I really liked it, and I was curious as to whether or not I would still enjoy it the second time around.  The answer – yes!  I may have even enjoyed it more.  I’ve read several of Rowell’s books, and genuinely feel like this age of character is her sweet spot.  She captures Cath’s insecurities and uncertainties so well, while making Cath be more than just those things.  I really love how romance isn’t the driving story here – instead, we also see a lot of family relationships that Cath is trying to learn how to balance as she heads into adulthood.  I would absolutely love to have a story during this exact period of time focused on Cath’s twin, Wren, who was also going through a lot of growth and change during this time, although in a completely different way.

One thing that kind of made me roll my eyes a few times was the fact that Cath and her sister have lived in Omaha all their lives and are now going to school in Lincoln, but they act like the other students there are basically a bunch of hicks instead of cool city people like Cath and Wren are.  And like… Omaha is NOT that big of a city (I’ve been there), and Omaha and Lincoln are not that far apart, so that felt a little random to me.  However, overall this is book is so funny and well-written that I was able to forgive it a few small issues and just roll with what was happening.

February Minireviews – Part 1

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  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.

Last Christmas in Paris by Elizabeth Gaynor and Heather Webb

//published 2017//

This book is a collection of letters written between several different individuals during World War I.  The majority of the correspondence is between Tom and Evie – Evie is the younger sister of Tom’s best friend, Will.  It’s pretty obvious that Tom and Evie are going to end up together, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story.

I really loved this book for about the first 3/4 of the way.  The letters were delightful, the characters engaging, and the voices different enough to make it really feel like I was reading letters from and to different people.  Epistolary tales can be rather narrow, but because we have letters between people besides the two main characters, the story felt fairly well-rounded.  It definitely had a Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society vibe about it.  I really liked the upbeat sense to this book.  It was serious, yes, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom and there were no plot twists were someone turned out to be gay.

But then Evie goes to France also, and the story just kind of fell apart.  The correspondence became disjointed, and the characters no longer felt like they were being true to themselves.  There were also a few instances where I was uncertain of the continuity because of weirdly long gaps between letters.  It was very strange to me that for the first three years, they write letters all the time, then suddenly in 1917 and 1918, there are only a handful of letters, which I think added to the feeling of disjointedness.

In the end, a 3/5 read for a book that started very strong and then just sort of petered out.

Something Fresh (AKA Something Newby P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1915//

In my quest to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, I have waded through over a decade’s worth of school stories and short story collections.  While all of them have been readable and even enjoyable for a one-time read, there have only been glimpses of what I consider to be genuine Wodehouse magic.

But the title of this book is definitely appropriate, as this is the first book that really begins to collect all the bits of what will later be the Wodehouse formula. Plus, it introduces one of my all-time favorite Wodehouse characters, Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle.  While this book may still not be up to the standards of some of Wodehouse’s later works, it was still a delight from beginning to end.

After reading a collection of Wodehouse’s correspondence back in late 2016, I sometimes refer to A Life in Letters to see if Wodehouse himself had anything interesting to say about my current Wodehouse read.  I was intrigued to find that even he thought that Something Fresh was a new and better direction for his writing as well.  Was it because he found and married the love of his life a few months earlier?  I like to think so.

Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry

//published 1953//

As I’ve mentioned before, Henry was one of my favorite authors growing up, and I devoured all of her books.  I collected a lot of them in cheap paperback editions published by Scholastic, and although I’ve upgraded a lot of them through the years, I still have a few of those paperbacks with my name scrawled in painful 2nd-grade cursive on the flyleaf.

I could look at his illustrations all day!

It had been a really long time since I had revisited this title, and while it was a decent story (and the illustrations by Wesley Dennis were magical as always), it really wasn’t one of my favorites.  In some ways, the story feels very choppy.  It’s about a little wild burro who lives in the Grand Canyon at the turn of the century (Theodore Roosevelt is president, and is even in the story!).  The problem is that Henry tries to tell both the story of Brighty’s everyday life + how he helped make the Grand Canyon the park that it is today AND the story of an old prospector who was murdered and how Brighty helped bring the killer to justice.  Except… the murder part feels very strange in a children’s book, and it also takes like ten years to solve the mystery, which makes no sense because why is Jake still around after all this time???  The murder mystery was definitely the weak part of the tale.  If it had been jettisoned and more focus had been made just on Brighty’s life in the Canyon, I think the book would have read better.

In fairness, Henry was basing Brighty on a real burro, who, in real life, did discover a clue that lead to the capture of a murderer – but still.  Brighty had plenty of other adventures.  Still, a very readable little book, and the illustrations really do make it a joy.  3.5/5.

Sunset at Blandings

 

by P.G. Wodehouse; editorial notes by Richard Usborne

Published: 1977

This book was Wodehouse’s final work, and was not quite completed at the time of his death.  In this story, Wodehouse brought back all of the old favorite characters to Blandings Castle, for yet another adventure of ill-fated love, impostors, and irate sisters.  Richard Usborne arranged and published the nearly-completed first 3/4 of the book, and then gives the outline of the rest of the story.  The end of the book includes the actual working notes that Wodehouse was using to write the story.  Throughout the roughly-finished first part of the book, Usborne includes useful little notes to aid the reader through areas which would have more than likely been more thoroughly fleshed out and explained in Wodehouse’s final copy.

If nothing else, the book is worth checking out of the library just so you can make a copy of the floor plan of Blandings Castle, and the lay-out of its estate.  I wish I had had these tools whilst reading all the other Blandings Castle books!

This story was enjoyable, and even in its unfinished state, Wodehouse’s genius is obvious.

A Pelican at Blandings

 

by P.G. Wodehouse

Published: 1969

Every time I start to review a Wodehouse book, I give it up as a hopeless case.  I feel as though I should write a blanket review and repost it every time I read a Wodehouse book.

But while the reviews all sound the same, the books are each different and entertaining in their own way.  While his plots often seem to follow the same basic circuit, the language, the characters, are all different and delightful.

Take this quote–

“We ought to send for a doctor!”

“I don’t want a doctor!”

“Then I shall go and heat you up a nice glass of milk,” said Ma Balsam. She belonged to the school of thought which holds that a nice glass of hot milk, while not baffling the death angel altogether, can at least postpone the inevitable.

And I tell you, there is a line like that on every page.  I can’t read his books in public; I laugh out loud and embarrass myself.

This one was a strong 4/5.  I enjoyed this book immensely.