June Minireviews – Part 4

Believe it or not, my final batch of books for June!!

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.

Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne – 4.5*

//published 1926, 1928//

I had both of these books in one volume, The World of Pooh.  It had been years and years since I read these, and I was honestly surprised at how readable they were.  These are just delightful little children’s stories with lovable characters and adorable adventures.  And as a side note, although Disney generally butchers every book they get their hands on, I really do think they got their original Winnie-the-Pooh animation right.

Russian Magic Tales edited by Robert Chandler – 4*

//published 2012//

This was an utterly fascinating collection of stories from Russia, arranged in somewhat chronological order, allowing the reader to watch the stories morph through time.  There are some tidbits about different story tellers/collectors (basically Russian versions of Hans Christian Anderson) and just enough editorial material to provide context and interesting background.  It was really interesting to see what concepts seem to be somewhat universal from both these stories and the ones that I’m more familiar with – things like siblings in groups of three, evil stepmothers, the youngest sibling being the one that is the most clever, etc.).  However, there were also a lot of differences.  Especially in the earlier stories, rather than a character who is compassionate and wise being the victor, frequently it was a character who was aggressive and demanding – even violent.

All in all, these were dark stories (as many old/original fairy tales tend to be) but quite interesting.  I read this one spread out over a month and think I enjoyed it more in small doses than I would have if it had been my main reading fare.  I also wish that the essay about the Baba Yaga, which is included as an appendix, had actually been at the beginning of the book as it had a lot of insight and information about the Baba Yaga and how she fits into Russian stories and culture.  This one was a win, and if you enjoy the un-Disney-fied versions of fairy tales, there’s a lot to explore in this volume.

Missee Lee by Arthur Ransome – 4*

//published 1941//

While I have been absolutely loving the Swallows & Amazon series, this one was definitely one of the weaker entries – although, as you can see, even a weak entry for this series still garners a very-much-enjoyed 4* from me!  The main thing was that this one felt completely unbelievable, so it was a little difficult to really get into.  Still, there is just so much to love and enjoy in this series as a whole, and once I was able to suspend disbelief more than usual, Missee Lee was also an entertaining read.  I’m enjoying this series so much that I’m thinking about rereading them once I finish them!! I just finished reading The Picts & the Martyrs, which means I only have one book left!!

When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne – 3.5*

//published 1924, 1927//

I read these two volumes of poetry after the Winnie-the-Pooh books.  Poetry isn’t really my jam, so while these were perfectly nice, they didn’t really speak to me on any real level.  There were some cute little ditties here, along with some delightful illustrations, but they weren’t instant classics for me.

The January Girl by Joslyn Gray – 3*

//published 1920// I forgot to take a picture of this one so this is a random cover haha//

This was a random book my sister picked up somewhere, mainly because my sister was born in January and is named Mary Rose, while this book is focused on two characters whose names are January and Rosemary.  Unfortunately, while I generally enjoy books from the early 20th century, this one just didn’t do anything for me.  The entire book is just constant drama and misunderstandings, and Rosemary is pretty much the biggest brat the grace the pages I’ve read recently.  It also read like a sequel, and I found out that it WAS a sequel and that the entire first book was supposedly about Rosemary getting over herself and accepting her stepfather, except apparently she didn’t actually learn anything because she’s sooo completely self-absorbed STILL in this book and never really seemed to learn anything.  I think I wouldn’t have minded the drama as much if it actually felt like Rosemary grew as a person, but I just didn’t get that impression.  Ah well, you can’t always win the buy-a-random-old-book lottery, I suppose!

The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2021//

I’ve read a few of Lauren’s books now and still am working my way through the (mostly enjoyable) backlog, so I thought I would pick up their newest book as well.  However, while this was a fine book, I definitely didn’t love it.  There were loads of ethical questions raised that were never really addressed, which made the whole story feel somewhat gimmicky to me.  Basically, the idea is that one of the characters has created a way to genetically match people by studying different matching genes between super happy couples who have been together for a long time.  And like I get that this is chick lit so maybe they didn’t want to spend too much time on the science of this kind of thing (although honestly, you brought it up so), but, for instance, it feels like real-life relationships are about balance, so shouldn’t you also have certain genes that NEVER match with happy couples – i.e., your contrasts?  Like relationships aren’t about finding someone who is exactly like you.  And maybe that’s what they meant by “matching” was actually “complementary” but it isn’t exactly put that way and left me feeling a little confused about the entire process.  I was also confused when I saw multiple reviews of this book accusing it of supporting eugenics… which just proves that either these people didn’t read the book or they have no idea what eugenics actually is, since there was nothing in this story about forcing people (or forcefully not allowing people) to reproduce, or about eliminating certain characteristics from the gene pool, or even anything about the matches being physical (there was nothing about only matching people to other physically similar people).

Anyway.  All that to say that this was an okay book for a one-off read, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite book by this duo, and it felt like if they wanted to get all “sciencey” then maybe they should have had some explanations.  Still, I’m sure that I’ll keep reading Christina Lauren books because there was a lot of good banter and some fun scenes as usual.

June Minireviews – Part 5

Part 5?!  Oh my gosh.

Five Children & It by E. Nesbit – 4*

//published 1902//

Nesbit’s work is just classic – children having magical adventures and everything is perfect.  In this story, a group of siblings discover a magical being (the “It” of the title) who grants them one wish a day.  Of course the wishes don’t always play out the way the children anticipate, and sometimes saying “I wish—” without intending it to be your wish causes extra complications as well.  All in all just good, clean fun.

Seaside Reunion by Irene Hannon – 3.5*

//published 2012//

This is a gentle and rather uneventful romance that takes place in a small town in northern California.  A young widow has moved back to town several years ago to help her dad with their family store.  When the story opens, a guy who lived there for just a year or so when he was little comes back for a visit – it was the happiest place of his difficult childhood, and he wants to see it again.  While nothing particularly ground-breaking happens, it’s a nice story to while away some time.

Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren – 4*

//published 2017//

This is a borderline 3.5* and I keep going back and forth.  There was a lot about this book that I really enjoyed, most of which can be categorized as “snark.”  The idea is that both the main characters work for competing companies that represent actors, so despite the fact that they hit it off really well, they aren’t sure that their high-pressure jobs will let them date.  Things get even worse when their companies unexpectedly merge – and Evie’s boss – now also Carter’s boss – announces that the company can only afford one of them, so they’re going to have to basically duke it out to decide who stays.  So their flirting turns into pranking (some of which felt a little ridiculous for two adults) with an undercurrent of seriousness.  My main problem with this book was that the boss was SUCH a horrible jerk.  I literally had to flip to the end of this book to make sure that he got some kind of comeuppance because he made my teeth hurt every time he was on the page.  That plus a little too much sex is what kept this book from being a hearty 4*.  In the end, another fun and fluffy read, but not one that I truly fell in love with.

The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit – 4*

//published 1904//

The sequel to Five Children & It, this book takes place the next year when the children are back to living in town.  They get a new carpet for the playroom, and an odd rock falls out of it – which turns out to be a phoenix egg.  The rest of the book is taken up with regular Nesbit shenanigans, with many wishes not quite going the way one would hope.  Nesbit’s books are always happy and fun, and so relaxing.

June Minireviews – Part 3

So after spending a couple of weeks basically reading books for younger readers, I suddenly was filled with the yearning to read something for grown ups!  I happened to have an unread duology by Nora Roberts sitting on the shelf, so I started with those and then went on a bit of a book-buying binge, something I very, very rarely do because I mostly use the library to check out books I haven’t read yet, and spend my money buying books I already know that I love and want to reread.  But there was something kind of magical about getting a box of books I’ve never read, especially since I got most of them either on the super cheap via Book Outlet (which I just discovered) or thanks to an Amazon gift card I had been hoarding for just such an emergency as this.  Anyway, the next batch of minireviews is more focused on romcom and fun.

Sacred Sins by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1987//

This is another 1980’s romantic suspense from Nora Roberts, and really that’s about all the description you need.  I really liked the main characters and enjoyed the story at the time, but it was overall pretty forgettable.  The big reveal was a little bit confusing since it was someone who had been in the story earlier but I couldn’t remember very well, so it seemed like he either needed to be more in the story or just be a stranger, if that makes sense.  The pacing was good, and it was just nice to read a book about adults haha

Brazen Virtue by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 1988//

A loose sequel to Sacred Sins, I ended up liking this one better.  In the first book, one of the main characters is a cop, and this book is about that cop’s partner, who I actually really liked in the first book as well.  This is one of those books where the reader knows who the murderer is from the very beginning, but that didn’t make it any less suspenseful.  A big part of this book is that the original person who gets murdered works for a company that provides phone sex, so that aspect was rather eye-roll-y for me, since it’s presented as a sort of “harmless” way to cheat on your wife, but overall the pacing and story really came together well for this one.

Side note – since I now publish little reviews on Litsy much closer to when I read the book, I’m back to mostly posting pictures of books that I take myself – which means you get a lil pic of Paisley with this one, and some background of my house/garden for some of the others!

My One Square Inch of Alaska by Sharon Short – 2*

//published 2013//

This was another traveling book club book, and another bust for me.  Part of it is the incredibly misleading synopsis, which acts as though the road trip that Donna and her brother take to Alaska is the driving plot of the book.  However, that was pretty far off base.  The book is actually about Donna, a teen in a small 1950’s Ohio town.  Donna spends most of the book whining about her life, and the author spends most of the book reinforcing any stereotype you can think of about small town residents, emphasizing how literally EVERYONE who lives in a small town is narrow-minded, prejudiced, uneducated, boorish, stupid, etc. etc.  As someone who lives in a small Ohio town, it was honestly genuinely offensive.  FINALLY Donna and her brother actually go to Alaska, and that entire part of the book felt completely unrealistic.  This was a book that annoyed me so much when I was reading it that I don’t even feel like reliving it via a cathartic rant.

Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams – 3.5*

//published 2019/

So the way I picked which books I was going to buy was mostly finding anything on my TBR that looked romcom-y, because that was really, really what I wanted to read.  Sadly, it’s been a pretty mixed bag.  So far none of them have been terrible, but I’ve struggled to find any that have that actual fun, fluffy magic.  Our Stop was kind of typical.  The premise is great fun – Nadia loves to read the “Missed Connections” section of the paper (online of course) and one day reads an ad that may actually be addressed to her.  Daniel finds himself attracted to a woman he does know – he overheard a conversation she was having when she was in the park that made him admire her brains and empathy, and he has seen her a few times on his commuter train in the mornings. But how do you meet a stranger without coming across as creepy?  And so he writes the Missed Connection.  Throughout the story, Daniel and Nadia keep almost meeting through a series of circumstances that feels believable.

Whenever this book was being a romcom, it was funny and enjoyable.  However, it felt a bit like Williams wrote this happy, lighthearted story and someone read and told her that she really needed to remember that this is the 21st century, and people aren’t allowed to have fun books unless they also get some social commentary.  So there are all these random conversations where characters talk about loads of buzzwords.  Literally none of those conversations felt realistic or natural in their context, instead coming through as incredibly polemic – Remember, while we might be having fun here, we’re still feminists!  Never forget!  There’s an especially awkward scene involving Daniel’s roommate bringing home a very drunk girl from the bar and Daniel preventing the roommate from having sex with her because “If she can’t say yes, it means no!”  Which yes, is true, but doesn’t really fit the whole romcom flavor??  It was things like that that I didn’t necessarily disagree with what was being said, it just didn’t need to be said because it had literally nothing to do with the story.  That whole scene is a complete one-off that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of the plot, so apparently it was only inserted there to give readers a little mini-lesson on consent, I guess.

ANYWAY as seems to be the pattern with most of the books I got, this was fun for a one-time read, but not one I’m going to come back to again and again.  Enjoyable but not magical.

Roomies by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2017//

I literally cannot resist a marriage of convenience story.  It’s my all-time favorite trope, and even if a book sounds terrible, or has bad reviews, if it’s marriage of convenience, I’ll probably still read it!  Roomies ended up being a sort of meh read, mainly because it felt like the authors did literally zero research on green cards and how they work.  They were doing things like photoshopping pictures of themselves on a beach so they would have “photos” of their honeymoon… as though the government wouldn’t bother to check and see if they actually left NYC at any point?!  They were sending sexy text messages so they would be “on record”… as though they weren’t going to also be time-stamped??  It was just weird stuff like that that made the story feel really unrealistic and thus less enjoyable to me.  The actual romance was perfectly fine, although a smidge too angsty, but it was a struggle for me to get past their plans for “tricking” the government.