July Minireviews // Part 1

Okay, July!! Woohoo!!

Also!  I happened to be on my phone the other day and looked at something on my blog and realized that the mobile version has decided to completely ignore my paragraph breaks!  I don’t really know how to fix that – maybe I should go back to the old-school method of inserting the paragraph symbol whenever a new one is started?? ¶  So apologies to anyone who may attempt to read these posts on mobile as apparently WordPress is determined to make me look a bit ridiculous, probably because I insist on using the Classic Editor instead of the horrific Block Editor that I genuinely hate.  Lack of paragraph breaks is a small price to pay to avoid that atrocity!

Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier – 3.5*

//published 1956//

Apparently this one was also published as The Silver Sword.  Set in Warsaw during WWII, the story follows a family whose parents are arrested by the Nazis, leaving the children alone and homeless.  Their father manages to escape the prison camp, but doesn’t know how to find the children.  Meanwhile, the children decide to try and make it to Switzerland to their mother’s family and begin a cross-country journey.  Along the way they pick up another orphan who has been living on the streets even longer than they have, mostly by stealing stuff.  He’s quite obnoxious and drove me crazy for the entire book.  This wasn’t a bad story, but was a bit disjointed.  An author’s note explained that although he made up this story, he based their adventures on various true stories, which could account for the way this book felt like it was kind of pulling together bits and bobbles that didn’t always go together.  I think this also greatly increased the “we need a coincidence to move this along” factor.  It wasn’t at all a bad book, and I can see the middle grade audience for which it’s intended getting very caught up in the drama and excitement, but this one did go into the giveaway box when I was done reading it.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson – 4*

//published 2015//

I’ve been working my way through Swanson’s backlog of books, and I feel like this is the one that always comes the most highly recommended.  While it was a good, pacey thriller, I didn’t absolutely love it.  Swanson has an amazing knack for being able to keep me 100% engaged in a book to the point that I really don’t notice all the niggling coincidences and inconsistencies and completely lack of character development until I’m done!  So he gets great kudos for keeping me in the moment, but maybe not so much for actual writing lol  I also get a little exasperated that he seems to think that sex is the ONLY motivation for 100% of men and 98% of women.  Like no one does anything unless the angle involves sex in some way, and that gets old to me.  But still – his pacing is impeccable.  It’s rare for me to start one of his books and not finish it within 24 hours!

Harbor Lights by Sherryl Woods – 3*

//published 2009//

Another mediocre installment to the Chesapeake Shores series.  Woods has a great habit of writing a book that I’m totally fine with it until she gets to the final drama and then I just want to bonk everyone’s heads together.  Just.  Why.  In this one, Kevin is a widower with a young son (I think… maybe it was a daughter, I can’t remember, this was back in July haha) and he meets the new girl in town, Shanna, who is opening a bookstore.  Kevin spends literally the entire book (because he has ZERO character growth) saying things like, “I really like Shanna but I want to take it slow” which honestly makes sense given his relationship history.  Consequently, while I generally enjoy books with large, boisterous, slightly-obnoxious families, the O’Brians really got on my nerves here as they just were constantly trying to force Kevin to up his relationship with Shanna, to the point that I was starting to cringe every time they all got together.  There was one particularly dreadful scene where Kevin’s in-laws (parents of his deceased wife) are there to visit their grandson, and while at supper with the whole family, Kevin’s sisters start teasing him about Shanna, despite the fact that it’s obviously making the in-laws, who are still, you know, mourning the death of their daughter, seriously uncomfortable.  It was terrible!  This isn’t that much of a spoiler, because these books are designed to have the HEA, but even the proposal at the end made NO sense.  Kevin literally says something like, “I still really think we need to take this relationship slowly because I’m not sure of myself” and Shanna is like, “Look, I need some actual commitment from you if you want to keep going” (which I honestly also thought was fair) and Kevin IN THE SAME CONVERSATION where he has JUST SAID that he IS NOT READY to progress this relationship PULLS AN ENGAGEMENT RING OUT OF HIS POCKET and says, “oh wow you’re right, we should go ahead and get married, I am 100% on board with this”  WHAT??!?!?!!  I couldn’t deal.

Summer Days and Summer Nights by various authors – 3*

//published 2016//

I got this collection of short stories from Book Outlet for a dollar or two, but didn’t pay very close attention and thus didn’t realize that they were actually all YA stories.  Whew boy, there were some doozies in here.  And maybe it was just me, I actually didn’t realize it but I was getting sick the two days I was reading this book (maybe this book got me sick?  Could be), but none of these stories hit right for me.  They were pretty much just girl meets boy, they argue, they fall in love, now they’re together forever!  I read these kinds of collections in hopes that a new author will tickle my fancy, but while most of these were okay, none of them really wowed me.

A Chesapeake Shores Christmas by Sherryl Woods – 3.5*

//published 2010//

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I went ahead and picked up the next Chesapeake Shores book even though Kevin had driven me batty in the previous book.  The background story of this entire series is that the parents, Mick and Megan, got divorced back in the day, but now that all the kids are grown, Mick wants to try their relationship again.  It’s actually handled pretty well, with all of the now-adult children coming to grips with their parents having their own reasons for why the relationship didn’t work, and neither Mick nor Megan completely blaming the other for the failure of their marriage, and both of them admitting that they screwed up with how they handled it.  But for the last couple of books they have slowly been trying to rebuild something between them, and this book focuses on the two of them.

Here’s my problem with all of the books by this author that I’ve read so far.  She introduces a legitimate concern between the two potential lovers.  The characters discuss it and try to work through things throughout the story.  Then, in the end, they’re just like, “yay, we’re in love, everything is good!” WITHOUT ACTUALLY FIXING THE PROBLEM.   Like I get that I’m supposed to get a HEA here, that’s the whole point of reading this, but why introduce a problem that you aren’t going to solve??  It leaves me feeling like these characters aren’t actually going to have a successful relationship long-term.  And that was the case here – I actually really like Mick and Megan together and feel like they have made some great progress over the course of the first three books, but there is this whole thing with Megan’s art gallery that is a huge part of what they are trying to work out, and in the end it’s just kind of glossed over like of course everything is going to fall into place, despite the fact that it has NOT fallen into place during ANY conversation so far!  It’s what keeps making these books a soft pick for me.  Why do I keep reading the next one???  I can’t even explain it LOL

April Minireviews – Part 2

Well, peach season starts next week, so I never did get caught up… amazing how far behind I can stay!!

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.

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson – 4*

//published 2022//

I always read a new book by Swanson.  I frequently get done with his books and think “Well, that was nonsense,” but I rarely think while I’m actually reading his books, which is what counts haha

Nine seemingly unconnected individuals each receive a letter in the mail with a list of (the same) nine names. It seems like a prank – until each of those people start getting murdered. While this wasn’t exactly a slow book, it was slow compared to Swanson’s usual frenetic pace. There isn’t really an investigation – instead, each section (which counts down from nine as people are killed) hops between the different people and what is happening with them as different ones of them either completely ignore the circumstances or try to fit together the pieces. This definitely wasn’t my favorite Swanson book because of the pace and because part of the story just didn’t jive with me (spoiler below) but it was still an engaging read with a generous nod to Agatha Christie.  While it wasn’t my new favorite, it was still a solid thriller with some fun little twists.  But in the end, I just didn’t really find the motivation of the killer to be sufficient for what had happened.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER:  Concerning the motivations… Basically, this book was a homage to Christie’s And Then There Were None, possibly one of the greatest mysteries ever written. However, in ATTWN the victims (theoretically) deserve to be killed because they have gotten away with with murder in the past, which is why the killer lures them all to a remote location and picks them off, one by one.  And so, even though people are dying, you’re also finding out that they literally killed someone else in the past so you don’t exactly feel bad for them.  Here, the killer decides to murder the (adult) children of those he blames for his sister’s death (which was definitely a tragedy, but also – they were ALL children when she died??).  Consequently this one really felt like a downer since (mostly) innocent people were killed for revenge instead of vigilante justice being handed out.  I think the story would have read better – and made more sense – if the actual people involved in the sister’s death had been the ones to die.  Killing off their kids just felt… off… and I never quite bought it.

London Under by Peter Ackroyd – 3*

//published 2011//

This nonfiction book looks at the “secret” underground world of London, which, like many large cities, has a complete city-under-the-city, where an astounding amount of infrastructure resides. Unfortunately, I found this book ultimately disappointing, mainly because Ackroyd didn’t particularly take the time to organize his information or go in depth about many of the things he mentioned. Instead, this book felt very fragmentary, almost like an outline for a book instead of the actual book. It’s only 205 very small pages and contains no maps! He would toss out intriguing factoids, but never follow up on them. In the end, I just found myself wanting more. This book didn’t really teach me anything, and Ackroyd seemed more interested in emphasizing (constantly) how “mysterious“ the underground is and how it’s associated with things like death and darkness, yet also safety and security… but then just kind of wandering away without really getting into it.  There is a lot of potential here, and this wasn’t a BAD book per se, as I did find bits of it interesting, I just wish that this book was about twice as long and full of maps!

Flowers on Main by Sherryl Woods – 3*

//published 2009//

Book 2 in the Chesapeake Shores series, and another middle-of-the-road read.  Honestly, if I was reading this series all in one go instead of at a rate of one per month (ish), I probably would have already given up on them as they really aren’t that great!  In this story, focusing on a different O’Brien sibling, Bree has returned to her hometown after a big kerfuffle in her play-writing job in Chicago. She decides to use her savings to open a flower shop downtown, and it turns out (you won’t believe this) that the only place to wholesale flowers within a reasonable distance is a greenhouse owned by her old boyfriend, the one she abandoned to chase her big-city dreams!!!

This wasn’t a bad story, per se, the drama just never felt balanced.  I was so over Jake whining about his feelings and how much Bree had hurt them and how scared he was about letting her potentially hurt him again, and how he could never believe that she was really here to stay, blah blah blah blah blah  Just, oh my gosh, get OVER yourself, Jake!  I would never have been as persistent as Bree, and honestly never felt like Jake was worth all the effort she put into their relationship.  I’ve also noticed throughout this series (I’ve read two more since this one in April) that Woods has an extremely annoying habit of creating genuinely reasonable issues between her main couple, and then instead of actually RESOLVING the issue, just completely blows it off!  We spend a few hundred pages of Jake refusing to believe anything Bree says – then all of a sudden, he just magically wakes up one day and feels the complete opposite way!  Nice!  It’s uneven and annoying, and leaves me feeling more frustrated with the story on the whole than I otherwise would be.

The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2020//

The concept here is that Carey has worked for Melly and Rusty Tripp for years, back before they were famous.  Now, the Tripps are huge home-remodeling gurus with their own show, books, etc. etc. The problem is that even though they seem wonderful and lovable in public, their marriage is actually falling apart, and Carey is the one trying to hold things together.  James, in the meantime, was hired as an engineer, yet seems to be working more as Rusty’s personal assistant than anything else.  He and Carey end up heading off with the Tripps on their book tour, trying to keep everything together so they can all keep their jobs.

While I found a lot of this to be fun and funny, this book also low-key stressed me out.  Watching the Tripps marriage fall apart was kind of depressing, and the whole book ended up feeling a lot more about Melly and Rusty than it was about Carey and James – which would have been fine, if we had more resolution with the Tripps in the end, instead of a HEA for James and Carey and yay! The end!  I needed an epilogue reassuring me that the Tripps went through counseling and are doing better!  Also, supposedly Melly was this amazing mother-figure to Carey yadda yadda, but now she’s treating Carey horribly, so I also wanted more resolution with their relationship as well, because I wanted to see them rebuild the friendship they had had in the past.

I guess in a way I found some of this to be more serious than I want my romcoms to be, which meant I wanted some more serious resolutions.  Instead, the book felt a little choppy because parts of it were just silly pranks gone wrong, followed by “oh this person is actually emotionally abusive and totally using you,” kind of giving me some reading whiplash.  I did overall enjoy this one, but it’s not one I see myself rereading.

Great Northern?  by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1947//

My final Swallows & Amazons book, and I loved it just as much as the rest!!  I have no idea of Ransome intended this to be the final book, or if it just happened to be so, but it was an absolutely delight to see the entire gang all together for this final story involving birds, boats, misunderstandings, and adventures.  I loved every page of all 11 of the books in this series, and wish there were 11 more.  I laughed out loud reading this one, and was honestly on pins and needles as to what would happen with the birds.  It’s rare for me to read a children’s book and wish that there was a book about the same characters as adults, but I would totally read about this gang in adulthood – I love to picture them still messing about with boats and teaching their own children to do the same.  I can’t recommend this series highly enough, and am thinking about rereading them right through again!

North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell – 2*

//published 1854//

This was April’s buddy-read with the PemberLittens, and another classic I hadn’t read before.  I pretty much disliked this entire book and struggled to understand why people consider it romantic in any way.  I found to be pretty relentlessly depressing, and Gaskell’s only “plot twist” she seemed to know was to just kill off someone else every time things seemed like they were getting a little slow.  Poor Margaret!  Of course, I didn’t really feel that bad for her as she’s self-absorbed, mealy-mouthed, and unutterably dull, but still!  Thornton was also just painfully boring, so I guess they probably are set for long-term felicity, but I absolutely never felt remotely interested in seeing these two get together.  In fact, I felt like they were actually a pretty bad match.  And talk about insta-love!  Thornton just sees Margaret and falls in love, and then that’s it!  The entire rest of the book is him being dumb about it, or his mom being dumb about it, or Margaret being dumb about it.  Everyone wanders around and whines about things and worries about whether or not they’re doing the right thing, and then every fifty pages or so Gaskell would kill off some other perfectly nice character who didn’t deserve to die.

The whole story was just Margaret mooning around, taking care of everyone because she’s literally surrounded by child-adults who don’t know how to do anything beyond hand-wringing (apparently killing off everyone was Gaskell’s way of giving Margaret something else to do – i.e., mourn and also think about how she could have been a better person and so we could read about how her eyes are constantly full of unshed tears). I absolutely never liked Margaret – and I say this as a religious person with a strong moral black/white life-framework – because she spends the time that she’s not devotedly caring for those close to her worrying about her conscience and whether she’s said or done something that shouldn’t have been said or done, or not said or done something that she should have said or done. So tedious! So self-absorbed, clothed as unselfishness! We get it. You told a lie. ONE LIE in a moment of panic. Yes, you’ve determined that was wrong. BUT YOU CAN’T CHANGE THE PAST SO PLEASE FREAKING MOVE ON WITH YOUR LIFE. If I had to hear about that lie ONE MORE TIME I was going to PERSONALLY turn her brother in myself just to give Margaret something else to worry about oh my GOSH.

There were moments that I thought it was going to be okay – I loved Mr. Bell, for instance (spoiler: don’t get too attached -_-). I did appreciate the character growth that Thornton eventually showed – how interesting this book could have been if we spent more than about five pages on that aspect of the story! I did admire Margaret’s strong convictions and unwavering commitment to them. But for the most part, I was bored out of my mind and sighed every time I picked up the day’s chapter, wondering what sort of emotional torture Margaret was going to be put through today. I can see why many people admire Margaret and find her story romantic, but this one was not for me.

March Minireviews – Part 3

Hmm.  In June.  Checks out.

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.

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White – 3.5*

//published 2014//

One of those books that I really wanted to like more than I did.  It’s an intriguing concept/world and that cover is GORGEOUS, but it was just really light on some plot points.  It was only 275pgs long and should have been longer as some parts of the story felt more like an outline than the actual story.  The main character was also a little too “independent and sassy” at times – like girl, I get it, you’re independent, but that doesn’t mean you just do the opposite of what everyone thinks you should do??  This was a fun one as a one-off, but I just wanted more!

The Inn at Eagle Point by Sherryl Woods – 3.5*

//published 2009//

Woods is one of those romance authors whose books I see everywhere but somehow haven’t gotten around to reading yet.  I had a few of the books from her Chesapeake Shores series so thought I would start there.  This was a perfectly nice and regular romance and a good set up for the series, which follows the romances and adventures of a sibling group, one of my favorite ways to do a series.  I didn’t fall in love with this one, but it was good enough to get me to pick up the second book.

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

//published 2006//

The second book in the Percy Jackson series was perfectly enjoyable, even if it did follow the same basic outline as the first story.  There were a lot of fun capers here and it’s an engaging way to meet some of ye olde gods in a new context.  Percy himself is likable, especially as a middle grade hero, and the book does a decent job of being its own thing while still building towards a series finale.

Sensible Kate by Doris Gates – 3*

//published 1943//

I have another of Gates’s books on my shelves that I’ve read several times and weirdly enjoyed, The Cat and Mrs. Cary, so when I came across this one I thought I would give it a try.  However, this one just didn’t quite strike the right tone with me.  It was an odd little book about an orphan named Kate who has decided that since she can’t be beautiful, she can at least be sensible, a word that was used about 500 times too many in 189pgs.  This book had a lot of potential with some interesting side characters, especially the grumpy old lady next door who doesn’t like children, but Gates never really went anywhere with it.  She also ruthlessly killed off another side character for literally no reason – I kept expecting him to come back, not dead, but he never did!  I was genuinely upset by it.  Everything came together okay in the end, but this definitely wasn’t a book I’ll be rereading.

Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century by Dick and James Strawbridge – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I’m always on the lookout for new books to add to my nonfiction collection of practical literature, but while this was a decent one to check out of the library, it didn’t have enough new information for me to want to keep it forever.  This is the 2020 update to the original 2010 book by the same title. This father/son duo own and operate their own homestead in the UK, and this book is full of concepts and ideas for becoming (as the title implies) more self-sufficient. While there were a lot of things about this book that I really liked, the organization and direction felt muddled to me. For instance, the entire first section of the book just jumps directly into getting off the grid – generating your own electricity, dealing with your own waste water, running plumbing that works from collecting rain water, building a water wheel, building a windmill, etc. It felt strange to start the book with these huge, expensive, complicated, advanced projects. There also isn’t really any kind of progression – nothing like “the top five goals you should set“ or anything along those lines. It’s just page after page of somewhat haphazardly organized projects and ideas.

It’s definitely not a book I would recommend to a beginner, but if you have already been gardening and that sort of thing for a few years and are looking to “level up“, this book may be good for inspiration and ideas. It’s not detailed enough to be an actual handbook, but for instance, while if you wanted to build a windmill you’d need to do some more research, there is enough info here to help you decide if a windmill would even work for you at all.

I did feel like this book’s emphasis on self-sufficiency sometimes meant that they skipped middle steps. Instead of going from “buying all your food at the big-box grocery store“ to “using a small electric food dryer to try preserving some of your own“ they dismiss a small dryer like the one I have (~$40) as “too expensive“ and give you a two-page spread on building a solar dryer, the materials for which had to be at least $40 in and of themselves. There were a lot of things like that, where middle steps that can help you decide if this is even something you want to do (for instance, do you even LIKE smoked meat? That would be good to know before investing in building an entire smokehouse) were basically dismissed as not self-sufficient ENOUGH – straight to the big guns.  I liked some of the ideas, but honestly in some ways this book felt overwhelming and discouraging because of its lack of progression, and the tone sometimes came across as a little condescending if you weren’t willing to go ALL IN.  For most people, it’s not practical or possible to go straight off-the-grid completely, based on how much time it takes up in your day alone, but the Strawbridges didn’t really seem to see it that way.