January Minireviews – Part 2

Happy March, everyone!!! This week things are starting to smell like spring and I’m so excited!!!  In the meantime, here are some books I read back in January.

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.

Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi – 3*

//published 1883//

Do you ever read a book that just leaves you feeling !??!?!  That book was Pinocchio.  I never thought I’d say this, but Disney actually made this story more cohesive and actually somewhat make sense compared to the original!  Part of my problem with this one is that the sense of time was all wrong.  It seems like Pinocchio is only with his carpenter-father for like, a day, yet constantly references things his father taught him.  There were a lot of situations where I was confused about how long something had been going on.  It wasn’t a bad book, exactly, just choppy and confusing.  I did appreciate that Pinocchio’s attempts to be a “good boy” did cycle a lot – he would learn a lesson, be good for a while, and then slip-slide back into something he knew he shouldn’t be doing.  Been there, Pinocchio.  This was an interesting read, but did also make me wonder, once again, about why certain stories become classics while others fade away.

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1937//

This one was a reread for me (as most Christies are these days) and I really enjoyed it.  Poirot receives a letter from an elderly woman who, in a roundabout way, seems to be fearing for her life.  However, the letter is dated nearly two months earlier – and Poirot finds out that the woman is dead.  Seized with a sudden feeling that because this woman wrote to him, she’s technically his client and he owes it to her to investigate her (supposedly completely unsuspicious) death, Poirot and Hastings head off to the countryside to chat up the family.  As always, there are tons of red herrings and potential murderers, plus the usual everyday people holding back irrelevant information that makes them look bad.  Not my all-time favorite, but a very solid entry.

The Fire by Katherine Neville – 3.5*

//published 2008//

This follow-up to The Eight, published twenty years later, was not as strong as the original story.  Following the daughter of The Eight’s main character, there is a lot of running around but it just felt like this book’s main character, Xie, wasn’t really the main character.  Things happened TO her the entire time, but it never felt like she was in charge of what was going on.  Her best friend, Key, felt way more like the MC and I think the whole book would have been more interesting (and made more sense) if either Key was the MC, or Xie had some of the circumstances in her life that Key did, if that makes sense.  There was also this thing where I literally lost count of how many times characters realize that the room/conversation is bugged, to the point that I was confused about why they even attempted to have a conversation inside of any building or within 20 yards of any electrical device ever.  It was kind of ridiculous.  In The Eight the second story-strand set during the French Revolution enhanced and explained a great deal of what was going on in the modern-day story.  But in The Fire the historical part never really made sense to me and just felt like filler.  All in all, while there were some good elements here – and I really liked the ending – The Fire just didn’t jive like The Eight did.

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour – 3.5*

//published 2011//

In this nonfiction book published by favorite homesteading publishers, Storey Publishing, Jabbour explores ways to extend the gardening season beyond the frost dates.  A resident of Nova Scotia, Jabbour has added cold frames and a non-heated greenhouse to her personal garden, and also examines methods like cloches, row covers, etc. as ways to protect crops from the cold and lengthen the growing season.  There’s a lot of good information here, but no matter how you cut it, the main plants that are going to grow in the cold, even in cold frames, are plants like lettuce, spinach, carrots, etc., so in the end it seemed like a lot of work for not a lot of payback.  However, Jabbour also has a really great vegetable index in the back with notes on different varieties, varieties of various veggies that are more cold-tolerant, and planting/harvesting notes.  This comprises probably half the book and has some really great information.  All in all, not my favorite gardening book, but it is one that I’ve referenced a few times, and I’m still thinking about putting in a cold frame for some early season plants.

December Minireviews – Part 2

Can you tell that my life at work is slowing down??  How many days in a row is this??

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.

Christmas at Holiday House by RaeAnne Thayne – 4*

//published 2020//

Thayne has become another go-to romance author for me.  Her books are super low-angst and just have pleasant characters and reasonable situations.  In this one, Abby (a registered nurse) agrees to go stay with her friend’s grandma, who recently took a fall down the stairs.  Abby, a widow with a young son, is getting ready to move from one state to another and has several weeks off around the holidays, so it all works out.  Once she arrives at Holiday House, she finds out that the grandma was planning to have this huge Christmas tour fundraiser, and finds herself getting involved in decorating and organizing the event.  The synopsis makes it sound like the grandma’s grandson, Ethan, is kind of a jerk about the whole thing, but actually the level of concern he showed for his grandma made perfect sense – he’s just worried that she’s overdoing it to the determent of her health.  Nothing crazy in this one, but an enjoyable story with likable characters.

The Quiet Little Woman by Louisa May Alcott – 3.5*

This is actually a collection of three short stories, all of which were perfectly fine but trended towards Alcott’s moralistic side with some heavy-handed lessons.  However, they were all short, easy reads, and kind of an interesting look at the time they were published.

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1937//

This one isn’t remotely Christmasy, but it was December’s book for the Agatha Christie club.  Like most of Christie’s books, this one was a reread for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I did also have to look up the basics on playing bridge, because it’s a huge part of the plot.  In the beginning, Poirot meets a rich, self-indulgent fellow who, through the course of the evening, tells Poirot that he enjoys collecting rare things.  Some of his collections consist of information and knowledge rather than items, including, according to him, at least four people he knows who have successfully murdered someone.  This fellow gets the brainy idea that he will have a dinner party.  To it, he invites the four supposed murderers, along with four detective-types – Poirot, Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, and Mrs. Oliver (writer of detective stories).  After dinner, two tables are made up for bridge.  The four suspects play in one room while the four others play in another.  Meanwhile, the host sits by the fire and enjoys himself.  But at the end of the night, he’s dead.  There was a lot of fun in this one, the obvious fact that one of these four people murdered him, the delving into everyone’s backstories to try and find out if they really had committed a murder in the past, the complicated connections between them.  Other than the fact that I kind of needed to know how to play bridge for some of the plot points to make sense, this was an excellent read.

Starry Night by Debbie Macomber – 3.5*

//published 2013//

Macomber is one of those authors whose books always sound like I’m going to enjoy them but then when I actually read them, they just don’t quite hit the spot.  Starry Night was one of those – not a bad story, exactly, but just a little too melodramatic.  It’s painfully obvious what the Big Drama is going to be later, to the point that I was dreading it so much that it was hard for me to enjoy the story.  The whole thing is the female MC wanting to interview the male MC, who’s this crazy recluse.  After they get to know each other, despite knowing that interviewing him could literally change the entire course of her career, the dude still refuses to let her publish an interview with him, to the point that it really felt like he was just being a jerk for no reason, which meant I didn’t really like him all that well.  This wasn’t a bad one-off read, but it did kind of cement to me the fact that Macomber just isn’t an author for me.

One Charmed Christmas by Sheila Roberts – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This one was a 100% mixed bag that I struggled to rate.  Catherine, an older widow, is disappointed because her adult children and their children have decided to go other places for the Christmas holidays.  This was the first part that immediately didn’t make sense – everyone literally acted like there were zero other options for a time to get together and celebrate Christmas.  Maybe it’s just because I grew up in a family with multiple Christmas get-togethers, but there are other options besides Christmas morning??  You could get together before they go out of town, after they get back from being out town, like literally any time??  It wasn’t like they all lived far away and couldn’t make the trip – they live in the same town, but are going to travel away for Christmas.  I was so confused!  Catherine is all sad and disappointed that she won’t be there when her grandchildren open their gifts… so why not open them some time when she is there?!?!!?  Catherine also spends a lot of time blaming herself because the Christmas before this one was the first one after her husband died, and he died right before Christmas, so basically last year’s Christmas was super depressing.  And instead of being like “oh wow I was going through literally the hardest time of my entire life so maybe my jerk-face kids should have been a little more understanding” she spends all this time going on about how she ruined their holiday and no wonder they don’t want to spend this one with her.  Oh my gosh.  ANYWAY so her best friend convinces her to go with her on a cruise through the Christmas villages somewhere in Europe, like Germany or somewhere, up some famous river, I don’t remember.  Catherine goes and so we also meet all these random people on the boat and all their little stories, most of which were perfectly fine, but there were other weird things.  Like the one girl is in her 20s and is a hypochondriac so she’s decided the best thing she can do is marry a doctor.  She meets this doctor old enough to be her dad on the cruise and decides she should marry him.  Okay… except then this literally perfect man (young, hot, kind, sweet, and freaking OWNS A CHOCOLATE COMPANY) really likes her and keeps trying to date her and she keeps blowing him off so she can keep flirting with the old guy??  I’m sorry, this felt 100% unrealistic and also kind of dumb.  In the end, I liked a lot of the characters and enjoyed the overall story, but there were also so many ???? moments that I kept almost DNFing it.  Not a terrible read, but definitely not one I want to revisit!

December Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, so I honestly thought about not reviewing the books I read in December, because, if I’m honest, these reviews are going to start to sound a little same-y.  I read a LOT of Christmas fluff last month!!!  But just for the sake of having a record of what I read, I think I’m going to go ahead and plunge in and hope there were enough random ones to be interesting!

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.

The Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan – 4*

//published 2021//

I started strong with a Sarah Morgan book – I’ve really enjoyed all of her books that I’ve read so far, mainly because her married couples stay married and actually work through their problems like adults instead of storming off and having an affair with the attitude of a petulant child.  This book, like her others that I have read, also has a strong focus on the importance of friendship, family, and forgiveness – basically, even though these are kind of romance, they really just are about relationships in general and how we need to work to keep them strong.  With a journey to Lapland and an actual reindeer-sleigh ride, this one also checked off a lot of prompts for my million Christmas bingo cards!!

Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie – 4*

This was a perfectly pleasant collection of Christie shorts, although the “midwinter” aspect was definitely a stretch for some of them.  And even though I absolutely love these special editions, I really do wish they would just focus on reprinting her full-length novels instead of randomly cobbling together shorts.  Still, reading these was like eating potato chips – they were so quick and fun that I just kept reading one more.

The Little Christmas Shop on Nutcracker Lane by Jaimie Admans – 4*

//published 2020//

If you enjoy absolutely saccharine Christmas stories with extremely long titles, you should definitely check out Admans.  I read Snowflakes at the Little Christmas Tree Farm last year and actually really enjoyed it, so I tried Nutcracker Lane this time around.  If you’re looking for in-depth character development, surprising plot twists, or a new take on the holiday season, this is NOT the book for you. But if you’re looking for some relaxing fluff and complete predictability, you’ll love this one.  My only real complaint was that it was so incredibly, painfully obvious who James actually was that it felt ridiculous that the MC couldn’t realize it.  Still, a perfectly enjoyable read with likable characters.

Christmas Angels by Nancy Naigle – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This one was excellent for the first 2/3 of the story, but then it went a bit off the rails.  The MC purchases a run-down inn that used to belong to her grandparents up in the mountains of North Carolina.  She moves there and begins renovations with the help of a hunky contractor who happens to be in town.  She has nothing but happy memories of spending time there as a child and is so excited about the entire project even though it’s going to be a lot of time and money.  All of this was great, but then she falls and injures her ankle and all of a sudden decides this is a “sign” that she’s supposed to give up on the entire project???  It felt completely out of left field that Liz would suddenly do a complete 180 and literally be ready to just sell the inn and move back to the coast.  This would have been a super fun story if it had just focused on the inn renovations and rediscovering all her grandparents’ Christmas traditions and decorations + romance with the hunky contractor, but the extra drama felt really shoehorned in, like the author was just trying to fill some pages.  I did enjoy it, but could have done without the weird section of Liz suddenly being a completely different character.

Forest of Souls by Lori Lee – 4*

//published 2020//

This was a completely not-Christmas book, as it was my December book for the traveling book club.  It really reminded me a lot of Poison Study when I was reading it, except a bit more violent and 100% devoid of any romance.  There was some great world-building, but seriously who includes an EIGHT-PAGE glossary but NO MAP?!?!?!  I REALLY needed a map!  The characters and plot were interesting, though, and I was really engaged in this one.  It’s the first of a trilogy that is set to wrap up this summer, so I may read all three of them later this year.

A Princess for Christmas by Jenny Holiday – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I had a hard time rating this one.  The story itself was perfectly fine with likable characters, but when I pick up a book that looks like a cherry little Christmas tale, I’m not mentally prepared to be bombarded with f-bombs on every page.  It felt like Holiday was trying wayyyyy to hard to make Leo the tough guy from the Bronx.  I get it, he’s tough.  So tough that he swears every-other word.  My gosh.  I do enjoy a good royalty read, so this one was fun that way, but the overall crudity meant I didn’t bother reading the sequel.

November Minireviews // Part 3

Final set of reviews for November!!  Woohoo!!

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.

The Shallow Waters of Romance by Charlotte Darcy – 3*

This was a free Kindle book I finally got around to reading.  Not sure why I didn’t read it was soon as I got it, considering it’s only 65 pages long.  That was also the main problem with this one – 65 pages just wasn’t enough to actually tell a story.  The bones were there and they were good, but overall it felt pointless because there is zero real character development or opportunity for anyone to do anything.

Doctor’s Boy by Karin Anckarsvard – 3.5*

This is another one that has been on my shelves for absolutely ever.  A children’s chapter book, I was utterly charmed by it at first – a delightful story about a young boy learning about poverty and the importance of helping those around us.  However, this book literally just stopped – to the point that I wondered if my book had been published with a missing final chapter??  I’m still confused by the way this book ended without any real conclusion, and still am wondering if something was lost in the translation from its original Swedish!

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

This was November’s Christie book for the Litsy group that is reading through her entire bibliography, and while perfectly enjoyable, it’s not one of my favorites.  It’s all a little melodramatic, and I always prefer Poirot to be there the entire time instead of showing up in the middle.  Still, even though I had read it before I couldn’t remember the conclusion, and quite enjoyed watching the story unravel.

The Singles Table by Sara Desai – 3.5*

After really enjoying the first two books in this series, The Marriage Game and The Dating Plan, I was a little let down by this one.  First off, there was virtually no crossover from the earlier characters, so I’m not even sure why this is considered to be a part of the series.  Secondly, it felt like there were way more sexy times in this one than the other two books.  Thirdly, I didn’t really like Zara and found her character development to be quite uneven – as was Jay’s.  It felt like both of them were going back and forth a lot about everything, and I wasn’t sure if I should really be rooting for them as a couple or not.  A fine little romance, but it lacked the charisma of the two earlier books.

October Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, believe it or not, I AM making progress on these reviews!!! My goal is to be caught up by the end of the year!!!!

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.

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – 4.5*

//published 2020//

I read the first book in this series at the end of September and rolled directly into this one, and it did NOT suffer from second-book syndrome.  SO.  GOOD.  This is what YA is supposed to be!  Fun and snarky, loads of adventure, engaging world-building, likable characters, personal growth, strong friendship, a splash of romance.  The bajillion POVs is slightly distracting and there are times where it feels like things are getting a little out of hand, but overall I just enjoyed this one so much.  The worst part – it ended on a cliffhanger and the third book didn’t come out until November!

The Ex Hex by Erin Stirling – 3.5*

//published 2021//

I’m a sometimes-BOTM member (I skip a LOT) but this one sounded fun so I went for it.  It was a nice one-time read, but I mailed it on to someone else when I was done with because I don’t see myself reading it again, although I probably could be persuaded to read a sequel.  It’s one of those books where you don’t worry about character development or think too hard about the world-building… just roll with what’s happening.  Overall it was a fun palette-cleanser after reading five 87th Precinct books, but it was just a little bit too far on the smutty/vulgar scale for me to really rate it any higher.  When I’m reading fluff, I don’t really want to be bombarded by f-bombs the entire time.  (As a side note, it’s not the actual sex scenes that bother me so much, because they’re easily bypassed, it’s when characters THINK about sex and TALK about sex and the whole thing just turns into SEX that it starts to really get aggravating.  This one wasn’t the worst I’ve come across in that way, but it still sometimes got old.)

The Jackal’s Head by Elizabeth Peters – 3.5*

//published 1968//

Peters isn’t a 100% win for me as she has definitely written some books that didn’t click with me, but in this one she returns to Egypt, where she should always set her books.  I only wish the Emersons could have made an appearance!  This story was virtually unbelievable, but it was still a great deal of fun.

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1936//

I actually remembered how this one came about, but I still enjoyed reading it because it’s fun to watch Christie lay the red herrings when you know which ones they are.  Plus, I got to read my beautiful special edition (HEART EYES).  I took a picture of the back cover as well because I quite liked the quote on it.

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde – 3.5*

//published 2010//

The most entertaining part of this collection of Red Riding Hood retellings was Velde’s introduction where she explains how ridiculous the original story is.  Her actual retellings were mildly interesting but overall forgettable.

The Safest Lies by Megan Miranda – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This was one of those books that kept me reading while I was reading, but then I got done and I was like, “But what about…?????”  I also just never really connected with the characters, so a lot of the urgency was lost on me because I didn’t really care all that much about what happened to them.  This was a fun one-off read, especially if you like YA thrillers, but not one I’ll revisit.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight – 2.5*

//published 2015//

This is one that had been hanging around on my shelves for quite some time and I finally got around to it in October.  The premise sounds great.  A woman starts reading a book that’s on her bedside table – but then realizes that SHE is the main character.  Where did the book come from?  How did the author know about her life?  The only other person who knew about this situation is dead – RIGHT?  This sounds like it’s going to be a great thriller, and it was definitely compulsively readable (hence the 2.5* rating instead of like 1), but I didn’t feel like a single character in this story responded in a realistic way, meaning that no one felt like a real person.  The end of the book also just turned super preachy and also felt out of place.

I wrote a whole big long rant about this one but I’m just not feeling like publishing it.  There was a lot that annoyed me about this book, but I can see why so many people enjoyed it.  I personally find it difficult to root for a character who has lied to everyone in her life, including her husband, about really serious stuff, and then gets all offended that people don’t automatically assume that her behavior was impeccable during the situation she lied about.  But maybe that’s just me.

May Minireviews – Part 1

Well, I’m finally delving into May’s reviews, and since May does seem like more recent past than April, I at least feel like I’m making progress!!  May is traditionally a super busy month for me since I work at a greenhouse, which means there aren’t as many books to review as there are in most months…

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.

Happiness Hill by Grace Livingston Hill – 4*

//published 1932//

I read a lot of fluff in May, because that’s what I trend towards when I’m busy (or stressed or depressed or in a reading slump or just feel like it haha).  I actually own this one, so I know I’ve read it before, but I couldn’t remember the details – not that the details of a GLH book varies much from one book to the other, but still.  If you don’t like your romances to be clean, somewhat religious, a little saccharine, and quite predictable, don’t pick up GLH.  But I find that that’s frequently exactly what I want, and I quite enjoyed this one, with the traditional strong-moraled heroine, the goofy brother, the gentle-but-in-poor-health parents, and the lonely young hero who yearns for some family.  Basically, if you like GLH, you’ll like this one.

PS No, I’m not the heathen who used this book as a coaster at some point!

100 Years of Color by Katie Greenwood – 3*

//published 2015//

This nonfiction book had such an intriguing premise, but for me it just didn’t quite follow through.  Greenwood looks at each decade from 1900 through 2000, pulling advertising posters, artwork, and textiles, and discusses the colors that were popular during that decade and why… except she doesn’t really get to the “why” all that much.  Instead, each decade has a (very) short discussion page, then several images with no explanation as to why she particularly chose those or thought they were good examples of the decade.  There was so much potential here to really delve into popular colors and patterns but instead she barely skims the surface, making the book more or less unmemorable.  It was definitely a case of me wanting to like a book more than I did.

Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse – 5*

//published 1925//

I’m still working my way through all of Wodehouse’s works in published order.  The 1920s were a great decade for Wodehouse’s writing, as he invents the immortal duo of Jeeves and Bertie, and this book did not disappoint.  I’ve read all of the Bertie and Jeeves books in the past, but am never adverse to revisiting them.  This collection of loosely connected short stories included a couple of favorites, like a chapter from Jeeves’s point of view.  And who can resist a story titled, “The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy”??  Certainly not me!

Unicorn Famous by Dana Simpson – 4*

//published 2021//

This is the latest installment of the Phoebe & Her Unicorn comics, and just as much fun as the rest of the series.  While these can obviously be read in any order, they’ve been so much fun to read in publication order, as characters (and unicorn lore) do develop throughout the series.

Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne – 3*

//published 2021//

In my attempt to read newly published books by authors that I like as they get published, I reserved Second First Impressions at the library and was intrigued to read it after thoroughly enjoying The Hating Game.  However, this one just didn’t really hit the right notes for me.  While I did like the main character, Ruthie, she also frustrated me a lot.  The snarky best friend/coworker also really got on my nerves and I felt like she crossed the line and became condescending towards Ruthie, acting like Ruthie was just too sheltered and backwards to really know what she wanted from a relationship.  Like Ruthie would make a statement about what she wanted from life/a relationship and the snarky best friend was like, “Oh, no, that’s what losers would want!  THIS is what you REALLY want!”  I honestly found it a kind of offensive that Ruthie’s desire for a quiet, not-drama-filled life was dismissed as boring and pathetic.

I’m also personally a bit over having a character’s Tragic Back Story be because of a horrible “religious“ father. Can we please stop having background characters be “Christians“ just so you can talk about how hypocritical they are? Thanks.  I definitely felt like Ruthie could have had a terrible dad and a lot of the same issues without all the extra effort of emphasizing how “religious” her dad was.

Finally, while the two old ladies who lived at the retirement home were funny and sweet, their whole schtick of only hiring good looking young men so they could make them do embarrassing things until they cracked just felt, for lack of a better word, cringe.  I can’t even imagine how this aspect of the story would have gone over if it was two old men who hired young women so they could comment on how good they looked in various outfits and then send them off to do demeaning and difficult tasks just to see how long it would take them to quit.  I mean seriously.

So while this one was an okay read for me, I definitely didn’t love it.  It really lacked the chemistry, snark, and snap of The Hating Game, and read closer to women’s fiction than romcom for me.  The “humor” felt a little forced, like Thorne was writing a serious story but kept trying to make it into a romcom instead.

Three-Act Tragedy AKA Murder in Three Acts by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1934//

While this isn’t my favorite Poirot story, it was still quite good and, as usual, I had no idea what the solution was.  Hopefully no one ever needs me to solve their murder, because I can 100% promise that I won’t be able to do it!  One of my favorite parts of this book was the fun way Christie listed the cast of characters in the front.  The chapter/section headings also aligned with the parts of a play, carrying the theme throughout.

February 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.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – 4.5*

//published 1934//

This is a hard one to review.  Christie does a magnificent job with this one, but overall it’s not actually one of my favorites because it’s also pretty depressing.  Still, it’s brilliantly done, and one of those stories that leaves you pondering the ending.

As a side note, I started collecting these absolutely gorgeous editions from HarperCollins and am IN LOVE!  So far they have been putting out two a year, so now that I’ve caught up, hopefully I can stay with them!  I’m including a bonus picture of all of them I’ve collected so far – just LOOK at those end papers!!!

Of Beasts and Beauties by various authors – 3*

//published 2018//

One of this year’s challenges on Litsy is to read the original and variations of a different fairy tale each month.  I’ve been using it as a chance to read retellings already on my TBR.  February’s fairy tale was Beauty & the Beast, so I thought it was a good time to pick up this collection of B&B retellings that I got as a free Kindle book eons ago.  Unfortunately, it was 810 pages of mediocrity and five books that literally were NOT B&B retellings at all?!?!  I was SO confused by that part.  I struggled through these, hoping that one of them was going to make it worth my while, but they were all just boring and angsty without anything particularly engaging.

In the first, a princess marries a Dark Elf to try and build a better relationship between their cultures. It went on F O R E V E R and basically nothing happened except for her whining about how oppressed she was because her dad is a jerk (which he is but… okay, we get it, he’s a jerk). In the second, a young warrior is kidnapped by a tribe of lizard women who need him to participate in their not-sexual ceremony so the next generation of lizard women can emerge. Another yawn-fest that I skimmed a LOT.  Story 3 was a contemporary thriller that wasn’t bad exactly, it was just soooo dramatic, basically her cousin already works there and the chick needs out of the city so her cousin gets her a gig working here (for the “the beast“) as a maid but then they FALL IN LOVE and now she feels SO HORRIBLE because she has LIED TO HIM about BEING A MAID. Wait, what? Like, you took the job, you’ve been cleaning the house, so actually you ARE a maid. When she “confesses“ he struggles to forgive this “lie“, leaving me honestly super confused. The whole story was like that – tiny things blown way out of proportion.  Story 4 had this fun superhero concept, but the world-building was horrible and way too much was trying to be jammed into 150 pages – super choppy writing, almost like it was supposed to be longer and the editors were like, nah, you need to get rid of about half of this. I constantly felt like I was missing something.  Story 5 (& final, thank goodness) was the best out of the bunch, I think, although still overly complicated for its space. Still not remotely B&B although at least there was a daughter making a sacrifice to save her dad so… kind of??

I pick up these kinds of collections thinking that I may find a new author out of them, but none of these made me remotely interested in anything else these people had written.  But honestly, my review could be colored by the fact that I was really excited to read five B&B retellings and this did NOT deliver.

Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – 4*

//published 1997//

Yes, I know it’s Sorcerer’s Stone here in the US… but this time around I’m actually reading British editions!  I got these fancy Hufflepuff editions a while ago (well, I’m actually still in the process of collecting them) and have been meaning to reread the series ever since.  Another Litsy readalong this year is #PotteraDay and it’s actually been really fun to read these books at a slower pace – I usually race through them as fast as I can.  This way I’ve been soaking them up more and noticing more details.  It’s also entertaining to read the British editions, which do have a lot of different words and phrasings.  I really wish that, on the whole, books written by British authors in Britain would not be “translated” into American English as I think they lose a lot that way.  If I’m reading a book set in England, I want it to be authentic!!  These aren’t the best-written books ever, but they’re still great stories and I always find them enjoyable to revisit.

The School for Good & Evil by Soman Chainani – 2*

//published 2013//

This one was just not for me, and I think a big part of it was because it did NOT feel like a middle grade book.  Maybe I have a dirty mind, but here’s a phrase I don’t want to be used to describe a 12-year-old girl OR to have a 12-year-old girl read:  “Her extremely short dress showed off long, creamy legs.”  The entire book was like that.  It wasn’t overtly sexual, but there were extremely weird phrases used that just made me feel uncomfortable.  At one point, one of the girls gets tangled in a magical thorn patch and is being attacked by the plant – she’s stabbed by a “dark and engorged thorn” during a scene that felt like it spent way too much time talking about how the thorn was going to “enter” her.  There are multiple instances where the girls wear skimpy clothes and make up in a way designed to attract the attention of the boys with details like the “creamy legs” sentence above.  In one scene, one of the girls enters the cafeteria during lunch wearing an outfit that shows off her legs and is low-cut in the front and we’re told that the boys’ food “dribbled in their laps.”  I don’t know, maybe I’m overly sensitive, but this book really gave me the weirds, which was disappointing because it seemed like, from the description, something that should be right up my alley.  And on top of all of that, the whole message about good/evil/beautiful/ugly just felt extremely muddled and confusing – like in the end, it actually did feel like beautiful = good and evil = ugly, so I wasn’t exactly sure what the point was supposed to be?? On the plus side, it’s an entire series checked off my list by just reading one book!

January Minireviews – Part 2

Lately, I’ve considered giving up book blogging since I’ve been quite terrible at keeping up with it. Life is busy and I have a lot of other commitments. Plus, I’m not going to lie, I hate the new WordPress block editor with a seething passion. HATE. IT. It’s so counter-intuitive, overly-complicated, and absolutely nonsense when you just are trying to have a regular blog where you write stuff and stick in a few pictures – I’m not attempting to create an actual webpage here, I’m trying to write a BLOG. Every time I start to write a new post, I just remember how much I hate working on WordPress now, which makes me extra depressed because I’ve always been such a huge fan of this site and have had several different blogs here over the years. Is anyone using a different host that they like better? I’m up for exploration because WordPress now SUCKS.

But anyway, all that to say, at the end of the day I actually use this blog to track what I read and whether I liked it, so even if other people don’t read my reviews, I actually use them as a reference point all the time haha So for now, even though I’m always a couple months behind, I’m going to keep at it. I do enjoy writing the actual reviews (usually) (except for the part where I have to use WordPress’s stupid new editor) so I’m going to keep posting a few reviews whenever I get the chance.

And so – here are some books I read back in January!!!

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.

Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll – 3.5*

//published 1865, 1872//

These books (generally published together now, although originally published seven years apart) are classics that I hadn’t read in decades. There’s a group on Litsy visiting one fairy tale per month, the original and then whatever variations or retellings anyone wants to read, so it seemed like a good way to hit up some of the stories I either haven’t read or haven’t read in a long time, starting with Alice. As I had vaguely remembered, I didn’t particularly enjoy these stories. They’re okay, but they are just a little too frenetic for my personal tastes. I’m consistently intrigued by what books become classics. Why are these books, published way back in 1865 and 1872 still considered childhood classics that everyone should read? I honestly don’t know because while they’re fine stories, I really don’t find them particularly inspiring or engaging. I didn’t mind reading them, but don’t particularly see myself returning to them again.

Thirteen at Dinner AKA Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1933//

This is a crafty little Christie starring Poirot and the faithful Hastings. It’s kind of impossible to talk about this one without using spoilers, but I’m still, after all these years and rereads, consistently impressed with Christie’s story-crafting abilities. It isn’t just the mystery, which was solid, but her ability to make the reader care about what happens to various characters. She pretty much always “plays fair”, giving the reader the facts needs to solve the case… but I pretty much never do. Some of the time for my rereads, as with this one, I remember who the villain is, but still enjoy watching Christie line up the red herrings .

The Pioneers by David McCullough – 4*

//published 2019//

This is a nonfiction book that originally drew my attention because its focus is on the settling of Marietta, Ohio, and the impact that that had on the push of settlers into the Northwest Territory. I’ve read maybe one other McCullough book, but can see myself checking out some of his other titles. Overall, this was a solid read, but at less than 300 pages, not particularly a deep one. While I enjoyed the quotes and diary entries that made the text more personable, I also sometimes felt like McCullough let them dictate the direction of his book a little too much. The last section, especially, wanders away from Marietta and kind of all over the place, almost as though he still had some good quotes but didn’t know how to work them in. But there were loads of fun facts, like how there is a recorded instance of the settlers cutting down a tree that was TWENTY-ONE FEET in diameter, or how one community was so determined to establish a library that they collected animal pelts and sold them to buy their books – Amesville still bills itself as the home of the Coonskin Library. I’ve been to Marietta several times and visited the museums there, but it was interesting to hear about some of the other settlers, as much of the information in Marietta is focused on the most famous of them, Rufus Putnam.

All in all, a decent read about pioneer history, but one that I would label as a starting point rather than all-inclusive.

Bill the Conqueror by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

I’m always in the mood for Wodehouse even when I think I’m not in the mood for Wodehouse. As always, this book followed Wodehouse’s classic formula, but he does it so well and with such funny, funny one-liners that I always enjoy every page. With a whole slew of likable and unlikable characters all engaged to the wrong people, this was another fun read by my favorite author.

The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack – 3*

//published 2017//

This is where waiting two months to write a book review really does the book an injustice. At the time that I read this one, I had a LOT of opinions about it, but now most of them have fizzled away. Basically, the main character works for an auction house that sells incredibly high-quality, expensive stuff. She’s an appraiser, and the story opens with her assessing a collection of books and documents. In them, she finds a manuscript that claims to have been written by a woman from the time of Cleopatra, but what really shocks the MC is when she comes across HER NAME in the manuscript. As things unwind, we discover that the manuscript’s author was a seer and she is writing this entire thing about various future descendants of herself.

I wanted to like this book, and if I turned off the logic side of my brain I did like it, but there were just too many gaps and issues for me to really get behind it. The MC herself is super annoying and a total user of everyone around here. She’s recently found out that she was adopted and is acting like a petty, spoiled child about it and at times is downright cruel to her adopted mother. For someone supposedly in her late 20s/early 30s, she frequently sounded like a petulant, sulky teenager. Even if I accepted the fact that the author of the manuscript was a seer with the ability to look to the future, I couldn’t believe that she would have the mental capacity to understand everything that she was seeing. Could someone from Cleopatra’s time have a vision that involved airplanes and cars and understand them – and have words for them?? The stories that the seer was writing were far too complete to actually make sense as a prophetic manuscript, although the stories themselves were engaging.

The plot with the missing tarot cards was convoluted and choppy and still didn’t make sense at the end. This was one of my traveling book club books, which is why I read it – it wasn’t particularly a book I would have picked for myself, or finished reading if I had. Not a terrible book by any means, but it didn’t really inspire me to find out if Womack has written anything else.

November 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.

The Cats of the Louvre by Taiyo Matsumoto – 2*

//published 2017// Also originally published in Japan so it reads “backwards” for me… which the library apparently didn’t realize as they stuck the barcode directly over the title!! //

Lately, if I see a review of a graphic novel that I think looks interesting, I just check it out of the library right then. This was one of those cases, but here it was a complete fail as Cats ended up being way more bizarre than I had bargained for, although maybe I should have been forewarned since it was a book originally written in Japanese about a French museum and translated into English…

The story is supposedly about these cats that secretly live in the Louvre, which is what drew me in – doesn’t that sound fun?? But it turns out that these are like cat/human hybrid things?? Or maybe not and the artist just drew them that way to give them more personability?? Either way they completely weirded me out and made the whole story feel strange and creepy. Part of the story is also about a little girl who got sucked into a painting decades ago, and then one of the kitten children also gets sucked in… I can’t even describe it, the whole thing was just so weird. I did finish it because it’s a graphic novel so it goes really fast, but was left feeling like I’d had a incredibly bizarre dream. This one just wasn’t for me.

A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Perry – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was another case of cover love for me. Based on the true story of a wolf who (we know through tracking devices) left his home range in northeast Oregon to end up in southwest Oregon in an area that had not previously had wolves (at least not in recent history). This was a decent middle grade read, although not one that I fell in love with, mainly because Perry somewhat romanticizes wolves. For example, at one point Wander is very judgy about another pair of wolves who have killed a cow – or maybe it was a sheep, can’t remember – because obviously their pack leader hadn’t taught them any sense of “honor”… I’m just not convinced that “honor” really comes into it, although wolves do tend to prefer to hunt whatever their parents taught them to hunt.

My only other bit of confusion is that the title of the story is A Wolf Called Wander, but she actually names the wolf Swift, which is his name for most of the story until he chooses to change it, and in real life the wolf’s nickname was actually Journey. It just felt like a lot of names for one wolf. And yes, it makes sense that a wolf wouldn’t have chosen the same name for himself as the humans did, but why wouldn’t you just name the wolf Journey anyway???

But overall minor complaints. On the whole I did enjoy this book and if you have a younger reader who is intrigued by wolves/wildlife, they would probably like this one as well.

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater – 2.5*

//published 2020//

Another graphic novel to add to the “didn’t work for me” pile – while I haven’t read all of Stiefvater’s books, I’ve read enough to know that she’s an author I generally enjoy, so I checked out her graphic novel (illustrated by Morgan Beem) and it just ended up being another story that didn’t jive with me.

Twin brothers – one introverted and obsessed with plants/biology, the other extroverted and easygoing – head out to the swamplands to stay with their honestly bizarre cousins in a “we’re in redneck country” way that made me a little uncomfortable and felt out of character for Stiefvater’s writing. Sciencey brother’s experiments start getting weird when they turn things into plants that are still able to think and move like the people/animals they were before they were changed, and it’s a little vague as to whether they’re just going to be plants forever or… The story was just odd and choppy and hard to follow. I’ll also admit that the artwork style wasn’t for me, either, and if you don’t like the artwork of a graphic novel, it makes the whole experience somewhat negative as well.

Definitely my least-favorite Stiefvater book I’ve read to date. I’m not sure if there is supposed to be a sequel at some point, but this one ended quite abruptly. I think it was also supposed to be somewhat based on the comic book creature Swamp Thing, but I know literally nothing about comic book stories/heroes/villains/etc so I can’t say whether or not it even vaguely resembled the original or not. This one wasn’t for me, but people who enjoy the horror vibe and also think everyone who lives in the south is a stupid redneck may enjoy this one more.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1932//

It had been quite a long time since I read this one, so I couldn’t remember exactly how it came out. The plotting was brilliant as always, and I have a soft spot for Hastings so I was glad to see him here in this one. Christie is pretty much always a win for me, and I’ve been enjoying revisiting some of her earlier books.

Two of a Kind by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

This book contained two stories, Impulse (published 1989) and The Best Mistake (published 1994) and were pretty typical Roberts fare for that era.

In Impulse, the heroine spontaneously sells everything she owns, quits her job, and goes to Europe to travel until her money runs out. It will come to no surprise that she finds an insanely rich Greek to marry. Predictable and a bit ridiculous, but all in good fun.

I really enjoy stories about women who “should” have gotten an abortion, but instead decided to keep their child, a reminder that women are strong enough to be successful and accomplish whatever they want to without having to sacrifice their offspring to get there. The heroine in The Best Mistake was a model on the fast-track to big money when she got pregnant. Now, several years later, she’s living a quieter but still successful life raising her child with no regrets for the career she left behind. She decides to take in a renter in her over-the-garage apartment, and readers will be shocked to discover that he’s both good-looking AND single!!! No one knows what will happen next!!

These weren’t stories I want to read again and again but they were fun as one-off reads.

June Minireviews – Part 4

Oh yeah, rolling through these June reviews now!!

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw – 4*

//published 2019//

This one was for the traveling book club, but also happened to be a book that I own and was planning to read anyway.  This book had a few things that made it feel odd – for instance, it’s set in modern times, but because they are so isolated and the power is out the entire time, it feels like it should be set in a much older time period, which mean that every time something modern came up (“Why don’t we have cell signal?!”) it felt oddly disorienting.  It’s fantasy, but more what I would consider magical realism, where it’s a natural part of the world.  The overall tone is very melancholy, and sometimes the writing was more flowery and not enough plot, but I still liked it as a one-time read and may even pick it up again sometime.

Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen – 4.5*

//published 1811//

It had been quite a while since I had revisited this one, and it was lovely to read through it again at roughly a chapter a day with a group on Litsy.  I splurged and bought this absolutely gorgeous Chiltern edition… which I love so much that I actually bought the rest of Austen’s books in the same editions!  (I told you I’ve been out of control on book buying lately!)  Just as an aside, the Chilterns are the perfect size, they lay flat while you’re reading them, have gilt edges, and somewhat glossy pages.  They’re just SO pleasurable to read!

The book itself – what can be said that hasn’t already been said?  Austen’s humor is so subtle and wry.  I love how gentle she is – she makes fun of people, but it never feels cruel.  Her writing is more of a celebration of how we’re all a little bit ridiculous sometimes.  This time around I was really struck by how Mrs. Jennings is presented as a somewhat obnoxious character in the beginning, but the more time the sisters spend with her, the more they – and the reader – come to realize that while she is a bit over-the-top, she’s also incredibly kindhearted and generous.  There were several times in this story where Austen gives the reader an initial impression of a character, only to gently, slowly reveal different aspects of that person until you couldn’t help but feel differently about them.

Sense & Sensibility is frequently listed as the “boring” Austen, but I have a soft spot for it, as it’s the first of her books that I ever read.  I greatly enjoyed reading it again, and see myself revisiting this irresistible edition again.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord – 4.5*

//published 2019//

Finally!!  This book was EXACTLY what I had been looking for in my romcoms.  While it’s technically YA, it has that absolutely delightful humor and just-short-of-ridiculousness that makes romcoms so much fun.  This story is about two seniors in a private school in NYC, both of whom come from restaurant families.  Pepper lives with her mom, who is now the CEO (or something like that) of their restaurant chain, but Pepper misses the days when it was just one building out in the country, small enough that they all felt like they were a part of it.  Even though the company has expanded like crazy, Pepper’s mom still leans on Pepper to do all sorts of random things, especially helping their social media person run the social media – Pepper has a natural flair for coming up with clever little slogans and tweets.

Meanwhile, Jack’s family also owns a restaurant right there in NYC.  Jack loves it there, but isn’t sure if that’s what he wants to do with his life.  He feels like he’s always in the shadow of his twin brother, who gets better grades and is more popular than Jack.  When Pepper’s mom’s company steals the recipe for the special grilled cheese sandwich that Jack’s grandma invented, the two high schoolers get involved in a semi-ridiculous Twitter war.  Through a series of events, they’re also getting to know each other in real life.

The whole story is, like I said, a little ridiculous, but so much fun.  It had all the snark that I had been looking for, and is all about the friendship/romance that is building between them without pages and pages of them thinking highly-sexualized thoughts about each other, which tragically most modern romcoms (and even some YA) seem to find necessary these days.  I was absolutely in love with both of these characters and shipped them so hard.

Downsides – I wished there was more resolution with the situation between Jack and his brother, and I also thought that Pepper’s mom was just too much.  She acted pretty immature and annoying the entire time, and that never really changed.  But for the most part, this book was genuinely great fun, and if you’re looking for something lighthearted and humorous, I highly recommend this one.

Death in the Air by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1935//

This Poirot mystery wasn’t my all-time favorite, but it still had plenty of the usual Christie humor and a decent conclusion to the mystery.  This one is usually published as Death in the Clouds, but mine is Air, and I’m not sure why.  Usually those are differences between US and UK publishing, but this time it just seems to be that it was briefly called Death in the Air for no real reason.  Mysteries of publishing.

The Dating Charade by Melissa Ferguson – 3.5*

//published 2019//

I really wanted to like this book, but just couldn’t quite embrace it wholeheartedly.  The main issue that I had with this one was that it’s billed as a fluffy romcom, but actually deals with a lot of really serious themes and issues.  In many ways, I felt like I was reading two books.  There would be a section where the two main characters are joking around and having a good time, and then the next scene is dealing with the realities of our messed up foster care system.  I really felt like Ferguson would have written a better book if she had focused on the foster care/adoption theme, because she handled that really well.  It’s super complicated and difficult to find a balance between giving parents a chance to get their lives together so they can keep their children, and recognizing when it’s basically hopeless and the children need to find a more secure environment.  There is also the difficulty of keeping sibling groups together, especially when one of the children is older – the list goes on.  Ferguson addressed a lot of these realities in such a sensitive, thoughtful way – which is what made the “romcom” aspects feel especially jarring.

The other thing was that in order to make the situation work, the main characters had to have just met/not been dating long, because obviously if something as huge as “I might be adopting these kids” came up in an actual relationship, your partner is the first person you would talk with about it.  But having them be almost-strangers just added to the “what even” aspect of the romance, making it difficult for me to believe that these two would have even bothered continuing to date when they each thought the other wasn’t going to be interested in the children that were such a huge part of their lives.

The synopsis seems to imply that the children that the main characters end up with are temporary – I was expecting more of a “oh my gosh my sister just decided to take a trip to Jamaica” scenario, not “my sister is on drugs and just dumped her kids here and I think I’m going to end up keeping them forever.”  Temporary, fluffy reasons for ending up with unexpected children would have made the “I don’t want the other person to find out about this” funny and lighthearted.  Instead, because the reasons that the kids were staying with each of these people were so serious and so probably permanent, trying to keep that information from the other person felt very dishonest and unnecessary.

And so another book that was worth a one-time read, but that overall wasn’t for me.  I really appreciated the way that this book handled the themes of foster care and adoption, and also liked that sex wasn’t the only thing the two main characters wanted to get out of each other, but in the end the juxtaposition of campy romcom mixed with the incredibly serious foster care themes just didn’t jive for me.