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.

May Minireviews – Part 1

Oh look, every time I think I’m gong to get caught up – I stop posting for days!!!  Things are legit quieting down at work now, so I’m super excited about my little summer break between greenhouse work and orchard work.  Loads of things to catch up on!!  In the meantime, some random thoughts on some random books!

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan – 3*

//published 2014//

After mostly enjoying A Natural History of Dragons, I decided to give the second book in the series a try.  Like the first book, Tropic is written as though it is a memoir of Lady Trent, who lives in a Victorian-like era in a different world.  My biggest complaint about A Natural History was that setting this story in a different world felt very laborious for the reader, who now has to try and learn loads of new cultures and countries and languages, when all of that would have been mostly unnecessarily if Brennan had simply set her story in AU England, since that’s the vibe the book had anyway.  Well, I had that same complain about Tropic except even more so.  Literal CHAPTERS of Tropic are spent on history and politics, all of which was utterly boring because it was completely made up.  I just couldn’t bring myself to care at all, and that part of the story went on and on and on and ON.  Where are the dragons????  I asked myself repeatedly while dragging my way through this tale.

The other extremely annoying part about this book was Isabella’s attitude towards motherhood.  At the end of the first book (spoiler here), her husband dies (which was a whole other level of aggravating), but Isabella is pregnant.  When Tropic opens, her son is now a toddler, and Isabella basically finds him to be a huge cramp in her style.  She hires someone else to nanny him, noting, “Is the rearing of a child best performed by a woman who has done it before, who has honed her skills over the years and enjoys her work, or by a woman with no skill and scant enjoyment, whose sole qualification is a direct biological connection?”  Well, thank goodness not everyone’s mother feels this way, my gosh.  She further excuses herself by stating that no one would hold a man to the same standards – one of THE most annoying arguments people craft, as though the fact that Group A doesn’t do X means that rather than changing culture’s expectations to demand more of Group A, instead Group B should be allowed to lower themselves to the same expectations!  Throughout the entire story Isabella refuses to acknowledge any true responsibility as a parent, and frequently sighs over the fact that she has a child at all, and between that and the long, drawn out political aspect of the story, I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to bother finishing.

However, the pace did eventually pick up, bringing my rating up to a rather reluctant 3*.  I already own the third book in the series (I got it as as a set on eBay with Tropic), so I probably will read it someday, but my experience with Tropic didn’t really make me feel like reading it right away.

The Big Four by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1927//

In this Hercule Poirot book, Poirot becomes a bit obsessed with the concept that there is an organization, comprised of four powerful people, slowly undermining the governments/economies of the world.  Poirot is determined to discover the identities of these individuals and bring them to justice, especially the one who does the dirty work, known as the Destroyer, a master of disguise and duplicity.  This book is comprised of several short stories that are all connected by the theme of the Big Four.  Hastings narrates, at times convinced that Poirot is right and other times convinced that he’s seeing shadows.  All in all, while this is one of Christie’s novels that goes a bit over-the-top on the “secret society is taking over the world” theme, it’s still good fun with several twists.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – 5*

//published 1868//

It’s kind of hard to write any kind of review for a beloved classic that has been in print since 1868.  This is one of my all-time favorite books, and I couldn’t believe how long it had been since I had read it!  This is an old-fashioned story for sure, but still has plenty of thoughts and lessons that are both timeless and timely.  I love the themes of sisterhood and family.  While most people seem to view Jo as the protagonist of the story, there is so much time spent with the other sisters and their life lessons as well – Meg is always my favorite.  All in all, this was one trip down memory lane that did not disappoint.

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson – 4*

//published 2020// Bonus – picture of the buffet & shelf Tom built me this spring!! AND Roger Miller’s picture! :-D //

Swanson has become an author whose books I try to read when they come out.  Each one has its own style, and I really like that.  This one is about a guy who owns a bookshop.  At one point, back in the day, he published a blog post about eight perfect murders in fiction – they weren’t necessarily perfect books, but the murders themselves are clever and nearly undetectable.  Now, in the present day, it appears that someone is using his list to kill people.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable mystery with excellent pacing.  The bookshop owner, who is also the narrator, is quite likable, and the way the dominoes fell into place felt realistic.  This book definitely has loads of spoilers for several classic mysteries.  Besides the ones on the list of eight murders, there are a few others, including a few of Christie’s classics.  I definitely recommend looking up the books that are spoiled and making sure none of them are ones that you want to read before reading this book.  However, if you don’t want to read those books, and haven’t read them before, it shouldn’t really reduce your entertainment from this story.  Swanson does a great job of organically explaining the plot of each one in a way that didn’t feel boring or out of place, but meant that I could grasp the way that the classic mystery tied into this one.  I had read a few of the books mentioned, but definitely not all of them, and I never felt lost.  I really appreciated the way that Swanson credited and basically bragged on the classic mysteries he used – the way that he incorporated them felt like it came from a place of genuine admiration and love for those stories, and I liked that a lot.

While I really have enjoyed all the Swanson books I’ve read, this is the first one that I see myself maybe revisiting again someday.  Recommended.

Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1947//

I really don’t know how every book in the Swallows & Amazons series can be just as delightful as the one before it, but here we are!  As always, literally every page is a delight.  This is the sixth book in the series, and I’m not even sure I could pick out a favorite because I have enjoyed each of them so much.  They are simple, funny, and delightful, and I highly recommend them to anyone who has a soft spot for simple stories about children having adventures.

January Minireviews – Part 4

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.

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne – 3.5*

//published 1872//

I’m not sure I had ever read this Verne classic, and there was a bit more mystery than I was anticipating.  This is a book that, in order to enjoy, you have to keep in mind when it was published.  I was kind of mind-blown about how much of the around-the-world travel meant moving through British territory at the time!  My favorite part was when Fogg’s servant rescued the girl, but the girl views Fogg as the hero!  Part of the reason that I can’t rate this book higher is just because Fogg himself is a very dull character in the sense that we never get to see what he is thinking or feeling.  We spend way more times with the thoughts of his somewhat bumbling servant and the policeman who is determined to catch Fogg.  Still, it was a really fun story, and a way easier read than I was anticipating.  As usual, Verne tends to get a little lecture-y but not nearly as much as he does in, say, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse – 5*

//published 1923//

It’s really hard to go wrong with Wodehouse, and even harder to go wrong with a Bertie and Jeeves Wodehouse.  This is really more of a collection of short stories gently connected by tales of Bertie’s friend Bingo’s disastrous love life.  These definitely follow a pattern (Bertie reluctantly gives up several pieces of dreadful clothing for the sake of Jeeves throughout the book), but when the pattern is so delightful, it’s hard to complain.  I loved every page.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

//published 1937//

I really wanted to get a bingo on my January Bingo card, so I needed to read a book that was being made into a movie this year, and apparently Death on the Nile is hitting the big screen sometime in 2020.  I’ve read this one before and when I started to read it again, I remembered whodunit, but weirdly that almost made me enjoy this one more than I have in the past.  This time, I was able to watch how Christie really does give her readers enough clues to solve the mystery themselves if they know where to look.  It was sort of like being behind the scenes of a play, watching how all the tricks are done.  I’ve reviewed this book before, talking about some of Christie’s more philosophical moments in this story, which I still enjoyed.  It is obvious from Christie’s writing in general that she strongly believed that we choose whether to do good or to do evil, and that is a particularly strong theme in this story.

Some Kind of Wonderful by Barbara Freethy – 3.5*

//published 2011//

This was another free Kindle book I picked up many moons ago (March 2017 if you’re interested) and finally got around to reading.  Like Your Perfect Yearwhich I read back in November, this book definitely suffers from having a romcom cover/synopsis, but actually being a more serious, novel-ish read.  It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t what I was expecting, and I really wish that publishers would stop making these books look like they are lighthearted fluff when they aren’t (or maybe authors need to decide whether they are writing lighthearted fluff or something more serious).

Anyway, this was a decent story about a guy who finds a baby outside his apartment door. When he reads the note attached to the baby’s car seat, he finds out that the baby is actually his niece, the daughter of his sister for whom he’s been looking for years, ever since they were separated into different foster homes as children.  He has no real idea how to take care of a baby and ends up asking help from his across-the-hall neighbor who, conveniently, is both kindhearted and single.  However, instead of being a fluffy romp with baby shenanigans, this ended up being a more serious story about adoption, infertility, addiction, abuse, and helping those in need.  I thought the issues were handled sensitively and well, and I really appreciated that there was a Christian character – a pastor, no less! – who was actually a decent human being who was trying to help and serve the people around him.  I had a few issues with the way the story was written – there is the weird “maybe our mom is an angel guiding us” thing, the whole situation with the pastor’s church possibly getting closed down felt a little clunky, and there really wasn’t a way that everyone who loved the baby could end up being the baby’s parents, so there was always going to be some kind of bittersweet ending for some characters.  All in all, a decent read, but not one I would pick up again, and not quite the relaxing story I was hoping to find.

ALSO there was literally NO beach in this story and definitely no bride on a beach, so WHAT is with the cover?!

January Minireviews – Part 3

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.

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl – 3*

//published 2016//

This book definitely seemed like one I should like.  Middle-grade steampunk with super fun world-building and interesting characters, yet somehow the story just fell flat for me.  There were some minor continuity issues that annoyed me – things like several sentences explaining why a certain mechanical animal can’t get wet, but then later in the book he gets completed doused in a huge barrel of water, yet is completely fine.  There were little things like that throughout that really distracted me.  The drama was just a little too over-the-top and choppy.  Overall, while I enjoyed it for a one-time read, I don’t really feel interested enough to read the rest of the series.

Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

//published 1924//

This is a collection of short stories featuring (you guessed it) Hercule Poirot.  Like all short stories, this batch had its strengths and weaknesses, but overall were just sort of meh.  There wasn’t really one that jumped out at me as being particularly clever or interesting.  Much of Christie’s brilliance is in her characterizations, and this format doesn’t really allow for that to happen, so it’s mostly just random set up of a problem, Poirot is clever while Hastings is a bit slow, and then conclusion.  A fine little read but not one that blew me away.

The Decorated Garden Room by Tessa Evelegh – 3.5*

//published 1999//

This was a nonfiction read and focuses on turning outdoor areas into living spaces.  The book was an odd mixture of the super practical and then the super impractical.  Overall, Evelegh presents some useful information, like where to start (floor/ground) and gives some ideas for other aspects of creating a garden nook.  But some of her ideas were just so over-the-top that I can’t imagine anyone doing them from scratch.  Still, there are a lot of lovely photographs and some interesting concepts.  I’m not sure how happy I would be if I had paid full price, but since I picked it up as a library discard for a quarter, it was worth the investment.

Watching You by Lisa Jewel – 4*

//published 2018//

Do you ever have one of those authors that you just keep adding their books to your TBR but never seem to actually read one??  Jewel has definitely been one of those authors for me, and I finally got around to reading one of her books this month!  I really enjoyed this one, although Joey’s pattern of self-sabotage (“I’m a terrible person because I do terrible things/I may as well do terrible things because I’m a terrible person”) really began to get on my nerves.  There was also a married couple in this book that didn’t end up staying together, and I think the story would have been a lot stronger if they had.  Instead, it’s just another one of those messages about how “sometimes things just don’t work out” instead of “marriage is work so you’d best work on it.”

But all of those things are side issues. The main story/mystery was done very well.  The pacing was absolutely fantastic – I loved the way the police interviews were sprinkled throughout the story, giving little tidbits of what is going to happen in the future.  The majority of this book was written in third person, past tense – YAY.  At the end of the day, this was an easy 4* read, and I definitely want to see what else Jewel has to offer.

A Mouse Called Wolf by Dick King-Smith – 3*

//published 1997//

This is a very short children’s book (less than 100 pages) that has been on my shelf a long time.  I have a lot of love for many of King-Smith’s books (Babe the Gallant Pig, Harry’s Mad, The Fox Busters, The Queen’s Nose, etc.), but he also went through a time period where he was cranking out books at a ridiculous rate, so some of his stories do lack depth, and this was one of those.  A story about a singing mouse and an elderly lady, this was a perfectly nice little story that I can see younger readers enjoying, but it was a bit too simplistic for me.

December Minireviews

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.

Momentous day!  I am actually getting ready to review books in December that I  read in December!  (Well, except the first two. Those are still from November!)

Strange Planet by Nathan Pyle – 5*

I absolutely love Pyle’s comics and can’t recommend them highly enough.  His book is perfect – I especially loved that he had sequel comics for several of his more popular comics he had already posted online.  I follow Pyle on Instagram, where he gives me a little dose of happiness every day, so it was a no-brainer to support him by buying his book.

Aquicorn Cove by Katie O’Neill – 2.5*

//published 2018//

The 2.5* is 100% for the absolutely gorgeous artwork in this graphic novel.  The story itself is rather thin.  A girl goes to stay with her aunt on the coast to help clean up from a big storm.  The rest of the book is about how her aunt fell in love with a fish-woman-creature and also we need to save the coral reefs!  The message in this one felt incredibly heavy-handed, but if you see it at the library it’s well-worth taking a moment to enjoy the wonderful artwork.

The Stand-In Boyfriend by Emma Doherty – 3*

//published 2018//

This wasn’t a bad YA story, but it wasn’t the best I’ve read, either.  Liv has always been in love with her best friend, but he has never noticed.  Through a series of events (that actually felt not unreasonable), Liv agrees to fake-date one of the most popular boys in school, Chase, in an attempt to get Jesse to notice her.  I always enjoy the fake relationship trope, and that part was done pretty well here.  However, Liv just really got on my nerves with her complete ostrich attitude about everything, and overall the book was just a little too long – just when it should have been gaining momentum, it started to drag, which knocked it down to a 3* read for me.  Not bad for some low-stress YA angst (especially free on Kindle Unlimited), but not necessarily a book that made me want to run out and find other books by Doherty.

The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere – 3*

//published 2001//

It’s always awkward when someone else hands you a book to read.  The Christmas Shoes is a little too saccharine for my personal taste, but it was a short and easy (if very predictable) read.  Mostly it felt like it should have been longer – almost like an outline of a book instead of an actual book.  There were also weird jumps backward and forward in time, which led to awkward tense changes.  That kind of thing is always jarring for me when I’m reading.  I’m not really a great person to review this book because it’s not my style, but it was an alright Christmas read.  I guess it’s the first in an entire series, but I didn’t really feel inspired to pick the rest up.

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1923//

Over on Litsy, I’m part of the Agatha Christie Club, which is reading one Christie book per month and then discussing it at the end of the month.  We’re going through her books in published order, and November’s book was Murder on the Links.  (Yeah, I was late reading it haha)  I’ve already read all of Christie’s books, but I love them all, even the ones I don’t love as much as others, so this seems like a fun and leisurely way to make my way back through them.  This one is Poirot’s second appearance.  As always, it’s actually Captain Hastings that I love, even if he is a little dense at times.  I was slightly concerned because they apparently put the murdered man’s body in a shed (???) for a few days (?????) even though everyone was complaining about how hot it was (????!!!).  There is also a slightly ridiculous competition between Poirot’s little grey cells method vs. a famous French detective aka The Human Bloodhound, but honestly I thoroughly enjoyed all the over-the-top posturing between the two of them.  All in all, while this may not be Christie’s best work, it’s still a great deal of fun with some solid red herrings to keep readers guessing.

Curtain

007

 

by Agatha Christie

Published 1975

Although this book was not published until 1975, Christie had actually written it years earlier, in the early 1940’s.  And it is every bit as brilliant as the other novels she was writing at the time.

Curtain is the emphatic and definite end to the Poirot books, and it is possibly one of the best series-conclusion books that I have ever read.  It was eerie, disturbing, enthralling, and a perfect mystery.  It is tragic and sad, and not everyone may like Christie’s manner of concluding the long and full career of Hercule Poirot.

This book returns Poirot to the location of his first British mystery, The Mysterious Affair at Stylesand also returns to him his favorite and most faithful of companions, Captain Hastings.

I had never before read Curtain, but I definitely recommend it if you have read some of Poirot’s mysteries before.  It is a fitting climax to an excellent series.  5/5.

Elephants Can Remember

001

by Agatha Christie

Published 1972

In this Poirot case, our intrepid hero is once again called into action by his friend Mrs. Oliver.  However, this novel follows one of my least-favorite types of Christie’s mysteries–a mystery from the Past.  As Poirot and Mrs. Oliver do their research (mostly by interviewing ‘elephants’–people who were around at the time of suspected murder), the plot becomes to become entangled with loads of extraneous and contradictory information.  As with most of Christie’s novels that focus on a past history, it is difficult to relate to the individuals involved, mostly because most of them are dead, or we hear of them only through hearsay.  Also, Christie spent a lot of this novel complaining about modern society (much as she did in Hallowe’en Party) through the voices of her characters, and that gets rather dull after a while.

All in all, while it was a fine mystery, it is not up to the caliber I expect from Christie.  3/5.