August Minireviews – Part 2

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.

This has been a really busy month with a lot of family drama and a lot of working!!  We also have another big remodeling project underway, which takes up a lot of my spare time.  All that to say, I always manage to fit reading into the nooks and crannies of life, but sometimes the reviews get rather behind!!  I’m trying to get caught up by the end of the month, but we’ll see what happens…

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck – 3.5*

//published 2012//

This trilogy of books has been on my radar for a long time.  Who doesn’t enjoy a good wedding story?  In this one, Charlotte owns her own wedding dress shop.  She’s struggling with whether or not she should go forward with her own wedding, afraid that Tim isn’t really the right person for her (or that she’s the right person for him).  She accidentally buys a trunk at an estate auction (if you’ve ever been to an auction, you know it’s not that hard to do haha), and when she opens it, she finds a beautiful wedding dress.  The book jumps back in time to other timelines so the readers learn the dress’s history, even as Charlotte is trying to find out more about it.

Overall, Hauck did a good job balancing the multiple timelines, and created some likable characters.  This is theoretically Christian fiction, but it’s really more supernatural than Christian, in my mind.  References to God/Jesus are oblique, but there is a timeless character (angel?) who is found in all the timelines.  This was actually handled really well and felt like it fit in with the story.

The reason this didn’t end up being a 4* read for me was mostly because of the way that Charlotte and Tim’s relationship was handled.  Basically, in the end Tim takes all the blame for why their relationship wasn’t working, when it was obvious that a lot of the issues were with Charlotte, who was having trouble truly committing herself to being with Tim and being a part of his family.  I felt like Charlotte never really acknowledged that she was at least as much to blame as Tim, so that made me wonder if their long-term relationship was really going to work out.  Still, it was overall a pleasant story, even if it was a little slow in spots.

The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck – 2*

//published 2015//

Sooo reading The Wedding Dress made me interested to pick up the second book – except it isn’t really a second book.  There are ZERO connections between this book and the first book.  They don’t even take place in the same state!  What’s the point of calling this a trilogy if the books don’t interconnect?!  This annoyed me throughout the entire story.

This book basically depressed me the entire time I was reading it.  Because of the dual timelines, the reader already knows early on that Jimmy and Collette are going to spend at least SIXTY YEARS not together, and it’s pretty easy to see that it’s going to be because of some stupid lie that Collette’s jerk sister tells.  So their whole story was just incredibly depressing.  I couldn’t enjoy any of the backstory bits of them meeting and falling in love, because it all felt completely pointless.  Yeah, it’s awesome that the finally get to get married when they freaking almost eighty years old, but it still felt like a big fat waste of life.

I was more invested in the story of the younger couple, Jack and Taylor, but literally all of their drama was because they didn’t know how to sit down and have a conversation like adults.  Instead, they both just kept worrying that the other person didn’t really love them and going in circles and it was incredibly aggravating.  The whole book was a serious downer for me.

In the end, I started to read the third book, The Wedding Shop, except I didn’t care any more since these books aren’t actually connected to each other, and I had been so put off by The Wedding Chapel that I really didn’t want to start a whole other book following the same pattern.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin – 3.5*

//published 1978//

This is a middle grade mystery that I remember reading back when I was in middle grades, and thought I would revisit.  It’s an intriguing story with a fun premise, but was a little slow in spots.  The epilogue also felt ridiculously long, as Raskin fills us in on everyone’s lives after the end of the Game.  As an adult, I fount myself skeptical of some of the things that Westing was able to pull off, and some of the connections felt rather tenuous, but it’s overall a fun story, that I can see someone around the ages of 12-14 really enjoying.

This was read #12 for #20BooksofSummer!

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson – 3*

//published 1981//

This is the third of Ibbotson’s books that I’ve read, and I’m concluding that she just isn’t an author for me, despite the fact that every time I read the premise of one of her books I think it sounds delightful.  This one was the best of the three, but that isn’t saying a whole lot, as the other two made me want to bang my head against the wall regularly.  The main problem with this one was that the dude has two choices for whom he should marry, and Ibbotson makes Anna SO perfect and Muriel SO dreadful that it seems absurd to think that that the dude, whose name I can’t remember and that I failed to write down, would consider Muriel for even a second, even if he feels “honor bound” to her.  There are a LOT of coincidences in this book as well, and in the end the wedding must be prevented, and the way that occurs just was completely over the top.  I was also frustrated with the dude the entire time – he was SUCH a passive character.  I honestly didn’t feel like he deserved Anna, because he did basically nothing to fight for her and to change his life so that he could marry her – he just lucked out that Muriel changed her mind after all.  Lame.

Read #13 for #20BooksofSummer!

A Promise of Home by Wendy Vella – 3.5*

//published 2015//

This was a Kindle book I’ve had for a long time and finally got around to reading.  It wasn’t a bad story, but it was what I was reading at night before bed, so it took me a while to get through it.  I’m not sure if the writing was genuinely choppy, or if it just felt that way because of the way I was reading it.  It was also weird because I felt like there were some continuity issues as well – like in the beginning Branna is so terrified of doctors and hospitals that she can’t even stay one night at the clinic with her best friend there as the nurse, but at the end there is no mention made of her fear even though she has to stay in the hospital for a few days.  There were little things like that throughout the story that low-key bugged me.

The ending was a smidge rushed and easily tidied, but overall this was a relaxing read (although a bit too sexy at times for me).  I wouldn’t mind reading some of the other books in the series because I did like the background characters and this is one of those series that just meanders around the town pairing people off, but they aren’t at the library and they’re $5 each on Kindle, and I’m not THAT interested haha

The Morning Gift // by Eva Ibbotson (+ life updates!)

So, first off, I did completely Princep’s Fury which was my Book 20 for 20 Books of Summer, so I was successful!!!  Totally stoked.

Secondly, things have been quite busy around here.  Somehow, summer is almost over and I still have a lot of things on my list to get done!!  So I have been painting shelves and fence and house trim and the porch, and also trying to learn how to make my own tomato sauce with tomatoes from my garden as well as freezing green beans and also hanging out with my family and trying to train the dog how to not drag me across town when we are taking a walk.  So, life is busy but good.

I have also, weirdly, been selling books.  I have this whole box of books that I keep meaning to donate or something, but there is this funny thing… not everyone reads the same books!  So, much to my surprise, people are buying the books I don’t want??  About half the books are ones random people have given me (another funny thing: people seem to think that if I like to read, it means I like to read… everything, apparently??  Because they literally hand me a pile of books and say, “Hey, I know you like to read so”.  I mean, I appreciate the sentiment but it makes me giggle sometimes).  The point is, this means that I have a little bit of spare cash… to buy books!  Do you think I could eventually make my whole book thing self-sustaining?? (HA!)

ANYWAY on to The Morning Gift.  I approached this book with mixed feelings.  The official synopsis says:

Ibbotson magically recreates pre-World War II Vienna and introduces Ruth Berger, passionate, clever, and wildly in love with Heini Radek, a young prodigy come to study piano at the Conservatoire.

… When Hitler’s forces move into Austria, Englishman Quinton Somerville offers Ruth matrimonium ad morganaticum – marriage based on the morning gift, a present given by a husband wishing to free himself from a new wife.  If she accepts, Quin will bring Ruth with him to England, and safety, as his betrothed.  The consequences of her decision are surprising – and undeniably romantic.


//published 1993//

Now, basically my favorite trope is one in which people are married and then fall in love.  (My favorite, I think, is The Princess by Lori Wick.)  So that’s the reason that I put The Morning Gift on my list to begin with.  HOWEVER my only other experience with Ibbotson was quite negative: A Company of Swanswhich I basically hated because the characters were completely unlikable, the situation mind-blowingly unrealistic, and the couple NEVER had a conversation in which they walked away with the same understanding as to what had just happened – how am I supposed to root for a romance with two people who are literally incapable of communicating?!

Point being – I was leery of The Morning Gift but… romance after marriage…!!!

And what I got was a 3/5 read.  There were a lot of things about this book that I liked, but a lot of negatives as well.

The main positive were the setting and background characters.  These were brilliantly done.  I enjoyed every character who crossed these pages.  They all felt quite real and interesting.  I am always intrigued to hear about various subsets of people and how they were impacted by WWII.  My understanding is that Ibbotson herself left Vienna in the 1930’s, and that a lot of this background information was semi-autobiographical, and I think that that was part of what made this so realistic.

Ruth is a likable heroine.  She is intelligent and kindhearted, studious and fun.  It was easy to see why everyone loved her and wanted the best for her, but at the same time she wasn’t a perfect angel, either.

Ironically, the main problem with this story was… the story.  :-/  Parts of it made sense, but there were long sections in which I found myself wondering what in the world was going on.  About a third of the actual story should have hit the cutting room floor, and the whole thing would have flowed much better.

The beginning is good.  We meet Ruth and her family, happy in Vienna, surrounded by extended family and friends.  Ruth is a smidge spoiled, but has one of those characters that doesn’t seem to be negatively impacted by the spoiling, and is well-loved by everyone.  A distant cousin comes to stay with them, and he is a musical genius.  Ruth, who is very attracted to music, is drawn to Heini (seriously, Heini?!) when they are children, and continues to virtually worship him as they grow older.

This leads to our first hiccup.  Heini is always presented as someone who is completely self-absorbed.  He knows he is a musical prodigy, and takes advantage of everyone in pursuit of his passion.  He takes Ruth for granted and expects her to wait on him hand and foot.  Consequently, I never liked Heini, and never understood why Ruth liked him, either.  He’s never given a single characteristic that makes him likable.  And I realize that this is so that later, when Ruth stays with Quin instead, we won’t feel bad for Heini but… then it ends up feeling like there is no point to Heini’s character at all. He was definitely the last-believable and least-interesting character in the cast, put there solely to create an impractical love triangle.

So anyway, Ruth and Heini are engaged, yadda yadda, Germany is getting really interested in taking over Austria, and many of Ruth’s friends and family start to leave for England because even though they are not orthodox, they are Jewish.  Ruth is going somewhere else in the country to college when her family leaves Austria, believing that Ruth will have no problems leaving on her student visa, but there is an issue and Ruth isn’t allowed to leave.  She returns to Vienna, but everyone is gone – and Hitler invades.

Through a series of coincidences, Quin is in Vienna.  He had met Ruth’s family several years earlier, when Ruth was still a girl.  Running into her again, he feels an obligation to see her to safety.  They try a couple of options, but nothing is successful and time is running out, and so, by page 66, they are married and on their way to England.

Before the wedding, we get this conversation, wherein Quin explains to Ruth that this will be a marriage in name only:

It had been a mistake to introduce the word morganatic into a conversation that was already going badly. …

‘Who is he, this Morgan?’ [Ruth] asked.

‘He isn’t anyone,’ said Quin, sighing.  … ‘The word morganatic comes from the Latin matrimonium ad morganaticum  – a marriage based on the morning gift.  It’s a gift given the morning after the bridal night with which the husband, by bestowing it, frees himself of any liability to the wife.’

Ruth never really seems to grasp the concept of the morning gift, probably because Quin explains it terribly: I didn’t grasp the concept, either.  I was even more confused when I looked it up.  Quin’s explanation goes on to say that the morning gift means that they are basically not married any more, but according to the Wikipedia article (which is obviously correct), the morning gift was actually used in situations where one spouse (usually the husband) marries someone quite beneath him socially.  The morning gift is given because the wife and any children they have will not inherit money, land, or titles from the husband.  But the wife who receives the gift is still quite married – the husband couldn’t go off and marry someone else.  It’s just a little bonus money because that’s all the money she’s going to get.  Consequently, I never understood why Quin was dragging the morning gift into his situation at all, because it didn’t match what was happening with them.  And after this conversation on page 47, we don’t hear about the morning gift again until page 310.  What even.

In between, the story drags on and on and on, full of misunderstandings and misapprehensions.  Quin and Ruth keep their marriage a secret, and are working on getting a divorce, which is quite difficult to do at this time in England, especially since they have to wait until all of her visa stuff is settled first.  Meantime, they spend basically no time together, yet I’m supposed to believe that they are falling in love.  There’s another girl, of course, who is super weird to me.  Like Heini, she is presented as completely unlikable and honestly rather dreadful, so why would Ruth ever perceive her as a threat?  Quin is completely oblivious to the pursuit from the other girl, and consequently sends all sorts of mixed signals.

I honestly got very frustrated with Quin.  When my niece was learning to talk, she would frequently not talk, instead whining or crying because she wasn’t getting what she wanted.  Our response to that was always, “You need to use your words!”  And that’s exactly what I kept wanting to say to Quin.  USE YOUR WORDS, QUIN.  QUIT EXPECTING EVERYONE TO FREAKING READ YOUR MIND.  It was super, super annoying.

I won’t even go into the ending.  Just when it appeared everything should be resolved, that ol’ morning gift reared its ugly head again and I had to drag through another fifty pages of completely impractical and unrealistic filler before finally getting to the actual end.  We’ll just say that if I had been Quin, I would have been genuinely ticked off.  (Although it’s sort of his own fault…USE YOUR WORDS, QUIN.)

If it weren’t for the fantastic background and wonderful secondary characters, this book would have been a low 2/5, but those things really brought the tone of this book up.  I loved Ruth’s parents and all the neighbors and the wonderful women running the tea shop and the other professors and Ruth’s college friends.  The descriptions of everyone trying to adjust to and find a new life in England were really well done, and I loved how everyone jumped right in, trying to find a way to be useful and industrious in their new lives.

On the whole, I definitely plan to give the rest of Ibbotson’s works a miss.  Two books of unlikable and unrealistic situations, wherein all the romantic tension is created solely because the two people involved don’t know how to USE THEIR WORDS is plenty for me!

#17 for #20BooksofSummer!


From the Archive: A Company of Swans

Sometimes, it’s fun to revisit books I didn’t like at all.  :-D  Originally posted 27 June 2012 on tumblr.


by Eva Ibbotson

published 1985

This story started well…  good plot, interesting characters, although the story was, from the beginning, a bit heavy on the “all conservative people are total jerks who are blind and refuse to see the world as it is” malarkey.  Still, things moved along, and the heroine, Harriet, runs away from the truly nasty people who comprise her home and joins a ballet troupe headed for the Amazon.  (The story, by the way, is set in 1912.)

And again, things go along interestingly as you get to know a few of the other girls, and see what ballet means to different people, and of course you meet The  Man with a Past and he is charming BUT at this point, the story begins to devolve into a very boring romance novel, in which the two main characters are constantly misunderstanding each other (to the point that you wonder HOW, in the long run, will this relationship work if they can’t even have a SINGLE conversation without both people walking away with completely different ideas of what just happened??), and then The Man has to kidnap Harriet to keep her from being kidnapped by someone else, and even though this book is no way graphic, suddenly the two of them are just sleeping together and that is somehow supposed to be romantic, but it’s not, because they STILL don’t understand each other, and so the idea of them sleeping together, besides the obvious, Hey, you aren’t married reflex, also makes you twitch because it’s just not romantic for two people to have sex when neither of them has the remotest idea what the other is thinking about the situation.

Then there are even MORE misunderstandings and MORE confusion and I really had to make myself finish this book because it got more and more unrealistic and ridiculous because Harriet ends up back in England where her father and aunt imprison her in an attic and keep all of her clothes so she can’t run away again and Harriet decides to just starve herself to death because she can’t go on living and when I was able to recover from stabbing myself in the eyes with pointy objects and continue reading, The Man finally rescues her and then, Oh happy ending they get married and all is well.  Or something like that.  Sheesh.

So yes.  2.  Which is a shame, because, like I said, it started well.


She stood for a long time looking at the verses in which Emily Dickinson had chronicled her heartbreak. Loneliness had taught Harriet that there was always *someone* who understood — it was just that so very often they were dead, and in a book.

A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson, 1985