January Minireviews – Part 3

Oh my gosh.  Okay.  I’m still here.  I had a mild breakdown today because freaking WordPress changing literally E V E R Y T H I N G on top of my already crappy week was just more than I could take.  I even started to set up a new blog on Blogspot.  But for now I am going TRY to continue working with this stupid website because I feel like I have so much invested here!

A bit of whining first, then book reviews.  Feel free to skip this paragraph.  I’m in a Mood haha  So besides the fact that the entire dashboard is just stupid now, my biggest issue is that the Pages are just in some kind of random order.  (Maybe what’s been edited recently?  But it doesn’t really seem to be that.  Definitely not alphabetical.  Definitely not in the order they are on my site, or anything else that I can figure that actually makes sense.)  I use these pages every time I make a post because it’s how I index everything.  Each book I review then has a link filed on at least three index pages – the ones you can see at the top of the website.  However, even though I can’t sort those pages and the whole thing looks stupid I can apparently “search” them so I think I can use the search function to find the pages I want when I want them… maybe.  Mostly.  Honestly I’m just flat pissed at how horrible the new set up is.  It’s so, so horrible.  

But onward, right?  I’m going to try to see if I can make this stupid website do what it’s always done for me, even if it now takes about 15 extra steps and makes no sense.  At least I can now “seamlessly create a podcast” from my website.  Because that’s definitely what I want to do.  Oh my GOSH.

As a side note I can “kind of” use the Classic editor by choosing it as a block in the Block editor.  Because that makes sense, right? *HUGE EYE ROLL*

EDIT EDIT EDIT EDIT

I FIGURED IT OUT!!!!!  Okay, sorry, this almost feels like it should be its own post instead of one with reviews but whatever haha  OKAY so if your dashboard has also gone completely wonky – I went to My Profile and then on the left sidebar clicked Account Settings.  Now here’s the stupid part.  Just the other day I had to UNCLICK the button that says “Show advanced dashboard pages” so that the update would NOT show up.  Today I turned it ON and now everything is back to normal.  WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!

I’m SO SORRY that I’ve been whining about WordPress so much lately!!!  I’m going to try to go back to being the upbeat person that I usually am haha  Thanks so much for listening to me rant lately and for giving me helpful possible solutions!!!  Maybe this whole thing is back under control!?!?  Time will tell…  For now – on to a few reviews!!

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.

Time & Time Again by Ben Elton – 4*

The sad part about being way behind on reviews is that books that I really found interesting and thought-provoking at the time have now faded into the distance.  When I read this book back in January, it completely sucked me in.  A fantastic concept well-executed with a great twist – it honestly doesn’t fit my usual style of reading as it wasn’t a particularly happy book, but it was done so well that I didn’t mind.  If you’re someone with a rosier view of the human race than I have (i.e., if you think people are on a generally upward trajectory and are constantly improving rather than devolving), you may not like this book as well.  But since I actually think people are on a cyclical but steady downward trend, this book rather fit with my life philosophy in many ways.  

There were a few too many unanswered questions for me to rank this more than 4*, but all in all it was a solid and engaging read a bit outside of my normal parameters.  

Sheriff Bo Tully mysteries by Patrick McManus

  • The Blight Way – 4*
  • Avalanche – 3.5*
  • The Double-Jack Murders – 3.5*
  • The Huckleberry Murders – 3.5*
  • The Tamarack Murders – 3*
  •  Circles in the Snow – 2.5*
I usually give a series its own post, but I’m so far behind on reviews that I’m not even going to do that haha  
 
I grew up on McManus’s collections of essays/articles and many of my life philosophies are based on his theories.  This series was written late in his life and was one of his few forays into fiction.  Set in a small town in Idaho, the books focus on the county sheriff, Bo Tully, and various murders/adventures/shenanigans that occur in Blight County.  While the series started well with a likable group of characters, the last couple of books fell off sharply, with the stories getting weirder and the final book not even including most of the characters who had been regulars in the earlier books.  I can see myself reading the first two or three books again, but not the whole series.
 
Susannah the Pioneer Cow by Miriam Mason – 3.5*
 
Susannah the Pioneer Cow

//published 1941//

This is a simple children’s story about a pioneer family who moves west (all the way to Indiana haha) in a covered wagon but told from the (third person) perspective of the family cow, Susannah.  It was a happy little story but since it was focused on the cow it was lacking in a lot of details about pioneer life.  I think I would have loved this book when I was an early reader, though, because Susannah does have some exciting adventures.


Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

A fun little collection of short stories based around Miss Marple.  I actually rather enjoyed these because I quite like Miss Marple’s random-yet-somehow-make-sense connections between different people/situations, and those really shine in these shorts.  Not the best Christie has to offer, but still rather fun.

Rilla of Ingleside // by L.M. Montgomery

It’s possible that Rilla is my favorite from the series, despite the fact that it isn’t centered on Anne at all (as the title implies). In many ways, you could probably read it as a stand-alone, although it’s much more meaningful when you know all the characters and their backstories. The story begins just as Rilla is turning 15. On the cusp of womanhood, she looks forward to the next few years being full of fun and frivolity. She freely admits that she doesn’t really have any “dreams” like her older siblings (she’s the youngest of Gilbert and Anne’s children), no particular talents or inclinations. She doesn’t even like babies! But Rilla is a wee bit spoiled and is confident that life will continue to fall into place as it always has. But then – World War I begins and everything changes.

//published 1921//

This book works on so many levels. It’s just a plain good story, and a wonderful glimpse at life “at home” during the war. In many ways, it’s a book about women and how, so often, their job through the ages has been to wait and keep the home fires burning. I think what I love about this story is that Rilla doesn’t disguise herself and sneak into war as a boy. She doesn’t even join up with the Red Cross and become a heroic nurse on the front lines. Instead, she just does her best to work hard and be a better person at home. For me, there’s a paragraph towards the end of the book that summarizes the spirit of the story. Victory has just been announced, and Susan, the older woman who works for the Blythes, runs up the flag –

As [the flag] caught the breeze and swelled gallantly above her, Susan lifted her hand and saluted it … “We’ve all given something to keep you flying,” she said. “Four hundred thousand of our boys gone overseas – fifty thousand of them killed. But – you are worth it!” The wind whipped her gray hair about her face and gingham apron that shrouded her from head to food was cut in lines of economy, not of grace; yet, somehow, just then Susan made an imposing figure. She was one of the women – courageous, unquailing, patient, heroic – who had made victory possible.

Montgomery lived through this war – Rilla was published in 1921 – and I think that in many ways this was her ode to the women who stayed behind.

I highly recommend this series on the whole, and Rilla in particular. Montgomery has a wonderful knack for writing about people who feel real, and for writing about everyday circumstances in a way that emphasizes the beauty, heartache, joy, and sorrow that encompasses everyone’s lives, even those of us who are “regular.” Some books that are classics just don’t seem to deserve that classification to me, but the Anne series does – wonderful books that capture a time, place, and people in a way that is still relatable to read about a century later.

Bellewether // by Susanna Kearsley

Most of the time it doesn’t really matter to me that there’s a big gap between reading the book and writing my review, but with this book I really wish I’d taken the time to sit down and dash off my thoughts when they were still fresh because I really, really enjoyed this book. As a side note, I read it for the traveling book club, so it’s already been mailed off to the next reader – this means I may get a big vague on names because my notes aren’t very good!!!

//published 2018//

Generally speaking, two things that I don’t really enjoy in books are: (1) dual timelines and (2) a touch of the paranormal. But this is my second Kearsley book (the first was Mariana), and both times Kearsley has taken plot devices that normally grate on my nerves and somehow produced a story with likable characters that kept me completely engaged.

Charley (a woman) has recently taken on the job of a curator for a historic home that the town is turning into a museum. The Wilde House belonged to a Revolutionary War hero, and the idea is that they will restore the house to it’s 1770s state. Charley has lived several years in the city, but was originally from this town. Part of the reason that she moved back was because of the recent death of her brother, who left behind his teenage-but-adult daughter. Charley has moved in with her niece to help her out during this time (since the niece’s mom has been out of the picture forever). There was a big falling out between Charley’s dad and his parents, and Charley has never known her grandparents, even though they live in the town where Charley is now living. It will come to no surprise to learn that the contractor for the historic house is a good looking, single, and practically perfect in every way. As Charley is gathering research for the museum, she is intrigued by a local ghost story/legend that says that during the French & Indian War (when the Revolutionary War hero was just a young man), two French officers were held as prisoners of war at the Wilde House and that while they were imprisoned there, one of them fell in love with Wilde’s sister – they tried to elope but one of her brothers killed her lover and she later killed herself from grief. Charley begins to dig deeper into the Wilde family’s history, trying to find more information to confirm or contradict the story.

Meanwhile, Kearsley gives us the historic story of what really happened in the Wilde’s home during the French & Indian War – a tangled tale of a family conflicted by opposing loyalties and frustration with the British government that is supposed to be protecting and helping them but isn’t. The seeds of the Revolution are shown well here, a harbinger of the complications that would divide families a few years later.

I ended up loving basically everyone in this book. Kearsley writes sympathetic characters, doing an excellent job of showing different perspectives and motivations, meaning that even unlikable characters are still understandable at some level. I love the parallel between Charley’s research and what we, as the reader, are learning about the true story of the past. Kearsley does a fantastic job of reminding us that all of history is based on interpretation because we weren’t there – the best we can do is piece together puzzles from the past and make our best guess at the motivations behind what was happening. The clearest example is when Charley finds records that prove that the Wildes were renting a slave from another relative, making an annual payment to him for her services. But as the reader, we’re privy to what was actually happening – the relative refused to sell this slave because he knew the Wildes would free her, so the best they could do for her was to pay her rent each year and keep her with their family, still paying her a wage for her services as though she were free. The present-day people pass a judgment on the Wilde family for “supporting slavery”, but the reality of what was happening was much more nuanced and complicated. It was just such a good reminder that our present-day view has decided what was right and what wrong in the past – but when you are actually trying to live through these things, it’s much more difficult to find the right path.

There is some argument to be made that the storyline for the present-day was wrapped up much to easily, but I’m honestly all about happy endings, so I was here for it, even if it was a bit too tidy. There was also a minor complication for me concerning written records from the past versus what actually happened, and why the discrepancy was there, but overall I enjoyed this story so much that I was willing to overlook it. There is a bit of a ghost story aspect in the present-day line that can only be explained by the actual presence of a ghost, something that isn’t usually my cup of tea, but that honestly worked here.

All in all, this story was much more layered and engaging than I was anticipating. I was completely drawn in to both stories, and loved the way that Kearsley wove them together in multiple ways. (My favorite – having something in the present link to a moment in the past – i.e. a thunderstorm in the present… and then the past chapter opens with a thunderstorm as well.) This was a 4.5* read for me, and one of my favorite books of the year.

October Minireviews – Part 2

Yes, I realize it’s December. Someday I’ll catch up!!! I usually try to not review more than five books in one of these minireview posts just because I don’t want to bore the bejeebers out of all of you, but I’m determined to finish October’s reviews today so you get seven reviews for the price of one!!

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.

East by Edith Pattou – 3*

//published 2003//

I feel like I read this one a really long time ago, but I couldn’t remember whether or not I liked it. I saw that a sequel had come out for it, so I thought I would give this one another read and go from there. In the end, though, I didn’t bother reading the sequel because this one was just super boring to me. The narrative voices (and there are SEVERAL) all sounded absolutely identical. For me, if you need more than three narrators to tell a story, you need to tell your story in third person because all the jumping around is just plain annoying, especially when some of the chapters are only a couple of paragraphs long. (And this as someone who is generally fond of short chapters…) There were long swaths of pages where basically nothing was happening except for people wandering around looking for other people. It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t one that I really wanted to pick up again. And at almost 500 pages, it was just way too long.

I thought about reading the sequel anyway, but then I read the synopsis – and it’s basically the same story as East all over again! So thank you, but no thank you.

Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This was borderline 4* for me. There was a lot I enjoyed about – the main characters were likable and the setting in Key West was super fun and fluffy. I really liked Luis’s warmhearted family, and appreciated the part of the story where Sara’s family was trying to come together as well. But somehow, even though this book had a lot of ingredients that I really liked (love me a fake relationship trope), the story just sort of dragged in places. Luis is mad at one of his brothers, but when I found out why I honestly mostly felt eye-roll-y about it. Like yes, that was a jerk move but… it’s been literal years so maybe it’s time to get over yourself and move on?? Sara was kind of the same way. She has an eating disorder that is currently under control, but it seemed liked it was all that she thought about. I understand that it’s a big part of her life, etc., but she was so sensitive about it. If anyone in her family said anything about her not eating enough, she would get incredibly wound up about and like – yes, I understand that it bothers you and why, and they definitely need to back off – but at the same time, they’re coming from a genuine place of love and concern?? And it felt like Sara literally never acknowledged that. The whole point of her family getting together in Key West is because her mom is recovering from cancer and wants to change the way that they’ve treated their (now adult) children and to bring their family together, and Sara is basically a little spoiled whiny-pants about it instead of even trying to meet her parents halfway.

It all comes together in the end, of course, and it wasn’t like I hated this book. But at some level it felt like both Luis and Sara were kind of immature in the way that they were handling their family issues, so it low-key annoyed me during the whole book. However, this is supposedly the first in a new series, and I would totally read the next book, presumably about one of Luis’s siblings. This wasn’t an instant classic for me, and I know I just whined about it a lot, but it was still overall good romcom fun that I did mostly enjoy reading.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik – 4*

//published 2020//

So I really loved Uprooted by wasn’t a huge fan of Spinning Silver. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this first book in a new series, but I really loved it. I’ve seen reviews that are all over the places for this one, and I think it just comes down to whether or not you enjoy a narrative style that does some info-dumping. I actually do, as long as I find the information interesting. I love complicated world-building, and don’t mind having it explained to me by a character. But a lot of people find that super annoying, so that’s definitely one of the big complaints I’ve seen about this one – and honestly, they’re justified. The narrator of this book does a lot of rambling. It just happened that I found the rambling intriguing.

This book is a bit slow on action and long on talking, but for some reason it really worked for me. The writing style reminded me a lot of Robin McKinley’s Dragonhaven for some reason, another book that I see a lot of mixed reviews for. All in all, if you like rambly narrators whose internal monologue is super sarcastic, you may end up liking this one. However, I’ll freely admit that I can see why this isn’t a book for everyone.

The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller – 3.5*

/published 2019//

This was a traveling book club book, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Set in 1875, the story focuses on a young widow named Alva Webster, whose recent marriage and separation, followed by the unexpected death of her husband, has left her trailing scandal everywhere she goes. She’s moved back to New York and purchased an old house in the country that she remembers from her childhood. Meanwhile, Sam Moore, an eccentric scientist from a family of eccentric scientists, is interested in ghosts and paranormal phenomenon. When he hears that Alva’s house may be haunted, he convinces her to let him run a series of experiments there, even though Alva doesn’t believe in ghosts. What unfolds in a not-entirely-surprising love story with a bit of ghost story mystery thrown in.

It was exactly “my style” of book, but I still did overall enjoy this one, mostly because Sam is perfection. Some of the situations felt a little overwrought, and there were a few times where it definitely felt like modern sensibilities were being imposed on the past, but it was still good fun. I don’t know if the author is planning to create a series from these characters, but I would totally read a book about another of Sam’s siblings, even if his whole family felt a little over-the-top. If you like historical romance and don’t mind some paranormal in your story, you’ll probably like this one as well.

Well Played by Jen DeLuca – 4*

//published 2020//

Earlier this year I read DeLuca’s debut novel, Well Met, which I really enjoyed but did find a little rough in places. I definitely felt like the sequel was better as far as pacing and dialogue goes, and there wasn’t nearly as much time spent listening to the main character lust after the hero as there was in the first book.

Stacey, a friend of the first book’s character, has had a bit of a crush on one of the members of The Dueling Kilts, a band that plays at the Renaissance Faire every year where Stacey volunteers. (Readers of the first book may remember that this Faire was the setting of that story.) But she’s always assumed that it’s just hormones, so when she gets an email from him after the Faire has left, she’s surprised at the connection she feels with him. Soon they’re emailing and texting every day, and Stacey can hardly wait until the Faire comes back to town.

The real problem with this book is that the actual synopsis tells you the twist, because it isn’t exactly meant to be a twist for anyone other than Stacey. But because the reader already knows what she’s going to find out, it means I spent a lot of the book rolling my eyes at how dense Stacey was for not realizing what was going on. But if I hadn’t already been privy to that information, I may have been just as surprised as she was – I definitely think this book would have read better if the synopsis hadn’t told the reader how it all plays out.

Still, this was overall an entertaining bit of chick lit. I really liked Stacey a lot. I did think the ending dragged out a little too long, and I’m also way over romance books ending with people saying things like, “I know he’s the one for me, but we’re just gonna shack up for a few years instead of actually making a real commitment to each other.” Sorry, moving in together is NOT a romantic way to end a book!

The Wrong Side of Magic by Janette Rallison – 3*

//published 2016//

This was another traveling book club book, and while it was a perfectly enjoyable middle grade read, it just never felt magical to me. There were fun moments and some clever ideas, but I never really connected with the characters.

Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery – 4*

//published 1919//

It’s actually been even longer since I read this book than it has the rest of the series, as this is the only one that I’ll sometimes skip when I’m reading the Anne books. While this story is full of Montgomery’s humor and relatable characters, the focus shifts from the Blythe family to the Merediths, the children of the Presbyterian minister. A widower, Mr. Meredith is incredibly absent-minded, and although he (theoretically) loves his children, he does almost nothing to actually care for their physical well-being. Meanwhile, the four Meredith children run more or less wild. They aren’t mean-spirited, but they don’t have a lot of direction, so most of this book is comprised of stories of their “scrapes” and the ways they try to make up for them.

My issues with this book – (1) I want more about Anne and her family, not these random kids, (2) Mr. Meredith is repeatedly said to be a “kind and love father” yadda yadda yadda, but even though on more than one occasion he “wakes up” to realize that he needs to do more for them – he always just goes right back to being obsessed with his studies instead of snapping out of it and taking care of his family. This drives me absolutely crazy. Mr. Meredith, despite the fact that he’s actually quite kind, is high on my list of least-favorite fictional fathers. (3) Mary Vance is probably one of my least-favorite characters Montgomery ever invented, and a large part of this book is also about her. I find Mary to be SO OBNOXIOUS.

So yes, the combination of Mr. Meredith and Mary Vance in one book means that I tend to skip this one even though there are parts of it that I actually really do love. And you do need to read this one at least once before reading the final book in the series, Rilla of Ingleside, as this one does set up a lot of the characters and backstories for that one, and Rilla is possibly my favorite out of the whole series.

While I definitely don’t love Rainbow Valley as much as I love the rest of the series, it’s still better than half the books I read these days, so I’m sticking with my 4* rating.

August Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Still reviewing August books in August… making progress!!  :-D

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – 4*

//published 2016//

Quite a long while ago Maggie Stiefvater – pretty much the only “famous” person I follow on social media – mentioned that she was reading this book.  It looked magical, and I’ve always thought winged horses would be the most amazing magical creatures, so I added it to the TBR.  And now, years later, I actually got around to reading it!  While somewhat bittersweet, this was a lovely read about a young girl who can see winged horses in the “mirror world” – i.e. she can only see them in mirrors.  She’s the only one who sees them (or is she??) and has learned to not talk about it much.  She’s staying in an old manor house in the English countryside.  The house has been turned into a tuberculosis hospital for children during World War II, so there is definitely a dark tone to the story, especially since it is set in winter – somehow, the entire book feels grey, which is actually a big part of the story.

There were a lot of things I liked about this story.  It was so imaginative and imagery was beautiful.  I really wish that it had been paired with better illustrations – there is so much in this story just begging for gorgeous pictures.  This is technically a middle grade book, but I wouldn’t just hand it over to a youngster without making sure that they’re ready for some of the serious themes presented here, like terminal illness, war, death, etc.  These things are handled sensitively and well, but to me this is more a book you would read with your child rather than one they would read on their own.

One small niggle for me was that the main character does steal several items throughout the story for a “good cause” – and this is never really addressed.  It’s just sort of implied that she was justified in her actions because she “needed” the items, which I’m not sure is actually that great of a life-lesson.  Still, on the whole I really enjoyed this atmospheric tale that gave me a lot of feelings.

Side note – once again, several of these pictures include my BookSpin Bingo board for my challenge on Litsy, because that’s where I originally posted the pictures!!

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull – 3.5*

//published 1938//

I see a lot of these mysteries that are being reprinted by the British Library Crime Classics, but this is the first one I’ve gotten around to picking up.  The main thing about this story that has kept it in the “classics” category is the way the mystery is presented.  The reader is placed in the middle of a murder trial from the get-go – except we don’t know who is on trial until much later in the book.  Hull weaves the murder, the courtroom scenes, and the background for the murder throughout the story in a way that seems like it should be muddled but which, for the most part, works.

While I did enjoy this one overall, it was definitely slow in spots, with a great deal of time being spent making sure that the reader doesn’t like the victim at all.  This is all part of the point (is one justified murdering someone who deserves to be murdered?  Murder, as it were, with “excellent intentions” in mind?) but did get old sometimes.  The story also runs out of steam at the end, with a long chapter devoted to the jury’s arguing back and forth about whether or not they should convict the accused.  But overall it was an enjoyable one-time read with a crafty mystery wherein the reader can slowly decide who is on trial as the story progresses.

Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1924//

As I continue to work my way through Wodehouse’s books in published order, Ukridge was next on the list.  Featuring a character who appeared in Love Among the Chickens, Ukridge is one of those people who is constantly broke, constantly coming up with a ridiculous scheme for making money (that doesn’t really involve work), and generally coming out alright (although usually still broke).  I think we’ve all met someone like this – I know I’ve definitely found myself in situations, wondering how I got there, pushed in by my family’s Ukridge.  (My second anniversary, spent huddled with my husband in a sopping wet one-man tent on the top of a 40* mountain in the rain, comes to mind.)  At any rate, this isn’t Wodehouse’s strongest work, but it was still enjoyable.  While Ukridge may be ridiculous, he’s never mean-spirited, and he genuinely believes that each of his schemes is going to pay off.  This probably isn’t where I would start if I were going to introduce someone to Wodehouse, but if you already love his writing, there’s a lot to enjoy here as well.

Blackbird by Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Lately I’ve been reading more graphic novels, and while I think this one is technically a comic (I’m still a little hazy on the differences), when I saw this gorgeous cover on a Litsy review, I knew I wanted to at least give it a try.  Overall, I really liked it, and the artwork is great fun.  The main character’s life changed when she was a child and an earthquake hit her city.  During that catastrophe, she was rescued by a huge magical creature that everyone else saw but no one else remembers.  Since then, she’s been the “weird kid,” obsessed with trying to find real magic that she’s convinced is out there.

While I really liked the concept and the magic in this story, it was told in a very choppy manner, making it a little difficult to put together the linear storyline.  There’s also this crazy twist that I did like but also didn’t really seem to fit with the other character’s character.  All in all, this volume felt more like a big set-up than it did its own story.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is going to be a sequel, and I haven’t been able to find much information.  (This volume included the first six issues as one.)  I would definitely read a sequel, but I’m not sure I would especially recommend this one just because the ending is so open-ended.

Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers – 4*

//published 2020//

If you’ve ever wished you had a scifi, gender-swapped Cinderella retelling centered around a royal matriarchy set on a distant planet, then this is the book for you.  It’s rare that I buy a book just for the cover, but that’s totally what happened here.  I just love it, and can’t even explain why!  I got this one for only $2 on BookOutlet, and ended up enjoying it way more than I was anticipating.

Princess Delia, heir to the throne, knows that she needs to marry a prince from a neighboring planet that will help save her own, and while she isn’t excited about it, she’s at least resigned to it… mostly.  But when a series of events leads to her meeting Aidan, a kitchen worker with his own reasons for needing to escape the planet (and who isn’t afraid to steal from those who can afford it to help him towards his goal), she’s introduced to parts of her kingdom she didn’t realize existed.  While this is someone Cinderella-y, it also has an Aladdin vibe as well, and I was totally here for it.  I really liked the characters, and while there were some jolts in the plot that felt chunky (and I had to make a cheat-sheet to keep all the prospective-groom princes straight), overall I quite enjoyed this one.  The setting was completely unique and the world-building was intriguing.  Overall recommended, especially if you’re looking for a unique fairy tale variation.

PS I will say that there are a lot of negative/meh reviews for this one, so there’s a strong possibility that I was just in the right mood for it??  I love the way different books are for different people, and sometimes for different versions of myself at different moments in time!

June Minireviews – Part 3

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

Sacred Sins by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1987//

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

Brazen Virtue by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 1988//

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

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

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

//published 2013//

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

Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams – 3.5*

//published 2019/

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

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

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

Roomies by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2017//

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

June Minireviews – Part 2

So, like I said, I read a lot of children’s books in June.  I was in the mood for some comforting rereads!!

The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink – 4*

//published 1959//

In this adorable book a family inherits a motel in Florida.  They go down over winter break to get things in order to sell it.  Of course, the children love it and want to stay, especially when they arrive and find that the motel is painted a bright, vibrant pink – which, in turn, seems to attract unusual residents, some of whom have been coming to stay there for years.  All the characters in this book are great fun, and there is just enough mystery to keep things moving.  This is an old favorite that I highly recommend.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – 4*

//published 1960//

I hadn’t read this book since high school, but it’s held up pretty well over the years.  I was always a sucker for books about people living on their own in the wilderness, and that’s the premise of Blue Dolphins as well.  This book covers a weirdly long amount of time (I realize it was based on a true story and the author was working within those parameters but still) so it somewhat lacks urgency, but was still an interesting and engaging story.

The Snarkout Boys & the Avocado of Death by Daniel Pinkwater – 4.5*

//published 1982//

Wow, I love this book so much.  Pinkwater is absolutely insane and his books are not for everyone, since they frequently read like a weird dream, but I honestly love every page of this book.  It had been a long time since I’d actually read it all the way through and it’s even more ridiculous than I remembered, but in a way that made me super happy.  If you’re looking for something that is complete and utter nonsense, look no further than Pinkwater. This book may also appeal to you if you: love avocados, have ever known a mad scientist, think high school is biggest waste of time ever, ever used to sneak out of the house, or wish you had a 24hr movie theater in your neighborhood.

The Snarkout Boys & the Baconburg Horror by Daniel Pinkwater – 4*

//published 1984//

If you enjoy Avocado of Death, you’ll enjoy Baconburg Horror as well.  This one is a little more scifi trope-y (it involves a werewolf), but the main reason I don’t enjoy it quite as much is because Avocado is a first-person narration and the narrator is a huge part of what makes that book entertaining.  The same kid is narrating in Baconburg, but he only narrates part of the book – other parts jump around to third person randomly, which makes the whole story feel a lot more choppy and not quite as fun.  Still, Baconburg is well worth the read if you enjoyed the first book, and this photo of Pinkwater’s “biography” in the back of the book may give you a small clue as to whether or not you will find him entertaining!

O the Red Rose Tree by Patricia Beatty – 3.5*

//published 1972//

Believe it or not, I’m still slowly working my way through all the books that I own, many of which I haven’t read since high school!  This is one of those books that I purchased back in the mid-90’s and hadn’t read since then.  This is a perfectly nice historical fiction about a group of friends who help an elderly neighbor complete a quilt she’s always dreamed of making. Set in Washington state in the 1890’s, the challenge to the girls is to find several different types of red cotton (that doesn’t bleed) at a time when that type of cloth was rare and expensive.  This leads to several entertaining adventures and a few life-lessons.  While I enjoyed this one just fine, I don’t really see myself rereading it – so it has headed off to a new home, giving me one more spot for a new book on my shelves!!

June Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, so far in June I’ve read 33 books and I’m almost finished with a few more, so I probably won’t get caught up on June reviews before the end of June – but maybe I can be all caught up by the end of July??  June has mostly been a LOT of rereads of childhood favorites, so I’m afraid most of the reviews are going to be “oh this one was so fun!” without a lot of depth!  I’ve made a concerted effort to spend more of my spare time reading instead of just mindlessly messing about on my computer or phone, and it’s definitely been reflected in how many books I’ve checked off.  Last year was the first year I began really tracking my stats (i.e. pages read) but June is going to be by far the highest page count I’ve had since January 2019.  All that to say – be ready for lots of reviews, mostly rather fluffy in nature!!

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – 4.5*

//published 2011//

First up on the reread wagon – I had only read this book once, but that inspired me to buy my own copy because I really enjoyed it.  Stiefvater has a way of writing in a rather melancholy way that I normally wouldn’t like, but somehow DO like when I’m reading her writing.  This book has an amazing sense of place – you can feel the weather throughout.  The smells and tastes of this story are almost as important as the views, and overall the story just has such rich writing.  The entire concept is just so creative and engaging.  I couldn’t remember how it ended, either, so I was on the edge of my seat.  I still haven’t read Stiefvater’s most famous books (The Raven Boys series), but everything of hers that I have read I’ve loved, even ridiculous werewolf stories that are full of YA angst.  I definitely recommend this one, but not if you’re scared of horses, because if you already find horses intimidating, you’ll be terrified of them by the time you’re done with this one.

If you want more details about this story, here’s my original review from when I first read it back in 2016.

Caroline & Her Kettle Named Maud by Miriam Mason – 3.5*

//published 1951//

In a complete change of pace, Caroline is a historical fiction set in the wilds of Michigan and written for younger readers.  Mason wrote several of these types of stories, set in different historical places.  While a perfectly pleasant story, it’s obviously for readers who are just ready for chapter books, as there wasn’t a great deal of depth.  Still, Caroline is a very likable heroine.  She’s the only young girl in a large clan, and she really wishes she could have her own gun like all of her male relatives.  Instead, when her family leaves Virginia to head to Michigan, her grandparents gift her with her very own shiny copper kettle.  Many men named their guns at the time, and Caroline was so certain that she would be getting a gun that she had already picked out the name of Maud – so she gives the kettle the name instead.  I actually really like the way the story explores how Caroline isn’t super happy with all the girl chores she’s expected to do, but in the end realizes that she doesn’t have to be a boy or even act like a boy in order to accomplish things that are brave and exciting.

Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer – 4*

//published 1966//

I can remember reading this book so many times when I was young (as you can probably tell from its condition – although I did NOT color in the letters!), and the reread didn’t really disappoint.  Through a series of events Sally has to stay with her gloomy and hitherto unknown elderly Aunt Sarah in a forbidding old house.  At first, Sally is rather terrified, but she soon learns that there used to be another Sally who lived in this house – current Sally reads the diary of past Sally, and yearns to find past Sally’s doll, Elizabeth, who was mysteriously lost one Christmas.  This is a fun little book, and plays with that “is it magic or not” line quite well.  Once again a fun book for younger readers – I can remember being completely enamored with the mystery of this one.

Bambi by Felix Salten – 4*

//published 1928//

This classic was originally published in Austria and is – no surprise – quite different from the Disney version.  Regular visitors here know that I like books that are animal-centric, especially ones that, although they give the animals a voice, still have those animals act naturally (think: Watership Down, The Jungle Book, etc.).  In Bambi, we see life in the forest through the view of a fawn as he learns and grows.  Because the deer are one of the larger animals in the forest, they don’t have much to fear from natural predators, but they are hunted by man, always referred to in the story as capital-H Him.  Bambi makes friends and learns many a life lesson throughout the story.  The deer struggle to survive during the winter, and live off the fat of the land in the summer.  It’s honestly a rather strange, stark tale, but life in the wild is also strange and stark, with tragedy and joy often intertwined.  I will say that I’ve never heard of people hunting here in the States the way they do in this book – with the men gathering with drums and sticks to herd everything in the forest on a path towards more men with guns – that chapter felt odd even as a child.

Overall, Bambi is an engaging and interesting story.  It’s a rather odd writing style, but honestly fits the type of story that Salten was writing.  If you like animal stories, I definitely recommend this classic.

Bambi’s Children by Felix Salten – 3*

//published 1939//

Although I read Bambi several times growing up, I had only read the sequel once since acquiring it, and my reread reminded me of why that was.  Where the scenes about nature felt natural in Bambi, they feel forced in Bambi’s Children.  There are several odd scenes where one of the deer can “hear” the trees talking when the deer is dozing – these scenes are honestly rather bizarre and don’t fit with the rest of the story at all.  The timeline for Bambi to Bambi’s Children is also rather strange – in the original story it’s implied that Bambi becomes a loner who never really visits Faline any more, because in order to survive, one must be willing to be alone.  But in the sequel, Bambi hangs out with his family regularly.  If these are Bambi’s first children, how can he also be super old and wise?  The whole thing felt rather stilted.  The story isn’t bad, but it weirdly would work better as a standalone than as a sequel, because the two books don’t jive together very well.

May Minireviews – Part 2

Here we are with the final books for May!!!  Hopefully this book blog will get back on track this summer!!

NOTE: I wrote most of these a week or two ago… still trying to get May’s reviews published before July starts!

King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry – 5*

//published 1948//

I read a lot of children’s books in May (and this pattern has carried over into June) as life was very busy and I was looking for quick, simple reads.  Most of them were rereads from many moons ago, and King of the Wind was no exception.  Regular readers of my blog may recall that Henry was one of my favorite childhood authors, and I read King of the Wind probably a dozen times growing up – but then hadn’t read it in, oh, probably 20 years!  I wasn’t sure if the story would hold up, but I shouldn’t have worried.  The combination of Henry’s storytelling and Wesley Dennis’s drawings worked its magic yet again!

This tale is, as are many of Henry’s stories, a mixture of fact and legend.  The story is about a horse named Sham and the boy who cared for him, Agba, and the tale begins in Morocco, where Agba works as a stable boy. The sultan decides to send several of his fastest stallions to the king of France as a gift, with a stable boy in charge of each horse, and so Agba and Sham begin their journey together.  Legend says that Sham, later known as the Goldophin Arabian, became one of the founding stallions of the Thoroughbred breed – every Thoroughbred can trace its lineage back to one of three stallions, one of which is the Goldophin Arabian.  Sham and Agba have many ups and downs in their journey, as Sham’s worth isn’t recognized at first, making an engaging and interesting story.

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1928//

This is one of those Hercule Poirot stories where Poirot doesn’t come into it until about halfway through.  Sometimes that annoys me, but it worked with this story, although it’s always difficult when the reader (theoretically) knows more about what’s going on than the detective, because we’re privy to scenes and conversations were the detective isn’t.  Still, the mystery is a good one, and Poirot is at his most pompous.  If you love Poirot because of his Poirot-isms, this one is definitely worth the read.

Little Gods by Meng Jin – 2.5*

//published 1972//

Another bust for the traveling book club, Little Gods was unbelievably depressing.  (Don’t worry, for the next round of traveling book club, I signed up for romcoms and fantasy, so hopefully I’ll get some books that don’t make me dread picking them up!)  This was a weird story told from random viewpoints (and written without quotation marks, why) about (??? sort of???) a young woman whose mother has died, and now the young woman is journeying back to China to try and find out more about her mother.  In many ways, the book is way more about the mother, who was a brilliant scientist (although not so brilliant at relationships). Throughout, there is loads of scientific theory (so boring, and basically felt like the author showing off how intelligent she is) that really bogged the story down.  Literally zero characters were remotely likable.  Every single parent hated their children, and every single child hated its parents.  No relationships actually were built on respect or love or anything like that – everyone was just in it for what they could get out of it, and, big surprise, none of them worked out.  It felt like there was no point to this story (or at least not one that I could find), and I thought it was never going to end.

That said, there was some lovely writing in between the science, and while the characters were thoroughly unlikable, they were well drawn.  For people who actually like Novels, in all their grimness, there may be something to like here.

Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater – 4.5*

//published 1990//

It had been way, way too long since I had picked up a Pinkwater book.  His books are basically impossible to describe, and definitely aren’t for everyone, as they are full of absolute nonsense.  In this one, a boy ends up traveling through space, time, and other with his uncle (who may not actually be related) and his dog (who is super grumpy).  If you’ve ever thought that maybe time was like a map of New Jersey and space was like a poppyseed bagel, this may be the book for you. It’s also a great read if you love popsicles.

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster – 4.5*

//published 1912//

I really love this epistolary novel, published way back in 1912.  Judy has grown up in an orphanage, but is now old enough to be sent out on her own.  One of the trustees, who desires to remain anonymous, decides to send Judy to college because he has read one of her English papers from high school and believes she has talent that should be cultivated.  While he pays for everything, he asks that in return Judy write him one letter a month to update him on her progress, stating that letter-writing is an excellent way to develop creative writing skills.  Thus, the entire book, except for the introductory chapter, is comprised of Judy’s letters to her benefactor, whom she has never met and only saw in shadow as he was leaving – a shadow that looked like it was made entirely of long legs and arms, leading to her nickname for him, Daddy-Long-Legs.

This book is honestly just plain delightful.  Judy is going to girls’ college (no coed at the time), but has never really spent so much time around “regular” girls, so much of her education is more than just reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.  Her enthusiasm for life and adventure, and lack of family, means that she writes to Daddy-Long-Legs far more than once a month, and her warmth (and illustrations) make for wonderful reading.  For me, the only thing that keeps this from being a full five stars is that there is one point in this story where Daddy-Long-Legs feels a smidge manipulative, which makes me a little uncomfortable, but in the end it’s just such a fun story, and Judy is such a wonderful character, that I’ve read this one time and again.

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster – 5*

//published 1915//

The sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs, I honestly love Dear Enemy even more.  The story centers on Judy’s best friend from college, Sallie McBride (who is also the writer of all the letters in this book).  Judy has purchased the orphanage where she grew up and hires Sallie to help turn it into a happy, healthy place to raise children instead of the sad institution it has always been.  Sallie is a wonderful character who really matures throughout the story.  I love how she wants be a frivolous person who doesn’t do anything useful, but her natural inclination to care for others and do a job well slowly takes over.  The romance in this story is also done so very well, and I really appreciated Webster’s exploration into the difference between a relationship built on mutual trust and respect and one built on an exchange of desires (i.e. you be my nice society wife and I will provide you with money and nice clothes).  Considering when this book was published, it was a rather bold statement to make, that a woman could and even should look for more from a marriage than mere financial security, yet Webster also doesn’t go too far – she still treats marriage as a delightful partnership when done right.

This story is full of escapades and adventures and Sallie’s temper and I love every page – highly recommended.

April Minireviews – Part 2

Oh look, the last of March’s reviews!!!

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell – 4* – finished March 15

//published 2019//

I’ve seen a lot of love for this book, and since I like Rainbow Rowell and also needed to read a graphic novel to check off some challenges, I decided to give this one a whirl.  The artwork is pretty adorable and I loved the background story with the escaped goat!!  I always enjoy stories that are set in the country, and this one definitely had that going for it.  While the story was a bit simplistic, it was still perfectly fun and happy.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – 5* – finished March 18

//published 1908//

What can I possibly say about this book that hasn’t already been said?  I first read this book probably when I was 9 or 10 and have read it countless times since then.  I love absolutely every page – the warmth, the honesty, the humor – Montgomery writes people so well – even small characters are still perfectly sketched in just a few sentences of description.  Despite the fact that I’ve read this book so often, it still got me all choked up on multiple occasions.  This book is a classic for a reason, and it’s crazy to think that this was Montgomery’s first published novel!

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin – 4* – finished March 19

//published 2015//

A lot of mixed feelings on this one that I can’t completely get into without spoilers.  Overall this was a very engaging read that really pulled me in and made me want to keep reading.  However, I did feel like in some spots the tension was lacking.  I also wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending, but since it did technically make everything work I’m okay with it.  Overall while I enjoyed reading this one, it didn’t particularly make me feel like rushing out to see if Heaberlin has written other books.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie – 5* – finished March 26

//published 1926//

(Did I really go almost a week without finishing a book??  No, of course not.  I read a truly dreadful “Regency” romance and also struggled through half of another book before bailing on it.  My reading stats are partially low in March and April because of so many DNFs!)

If there is some way that you’ve never read this book, you DEFINITELY should.  And I highly recommend knowing as little about it as possible, because if you know nothing, the ending will blow your mind.  It’s a twist that has been used since, but Christie was one of the earliest pioneers of this concept – sooo good!  Christie’s writing is strong enough that even though I’ve read this one several times, and obviously know the twist, I still greatly enjoy seeing how she carefully sets it all up, giving us clues and hints as we go along.  This is one of her finest books, and a hallmark of the genre.

Hot Ice by Nora Roberts – 3.5* – finished March 30

//published 1987//

I’m haphazardly working my way through Roberts’s backlog because it’s so easy to find her books everywhere!  This one was a romantic suspense, a genre she usually writes really well (and that I greatly prefer to her paranormal stories).  This one felt VERY 80’s but was still fun for a one-time read, despite the somewhat high body count, and the fact that just because the baddy went to jail in the end, I was NOT convinced that he would stop trying to avenge himself!  Still, when I’m looking for a fun romp of a read, Roberts rarely disappoints.

White Stallion of Lipizza by Marguerite Henry – 4.5* – finished March 30

//published 1964//

Regular visitors here know that I have a huge soft spot for Henry’s work, which I read over and over again as a child.  Over the last few years I’ve been revisiting her books, and have been pleasantly surprised to find that most of them hold up well as an adult.  Part of it is immense charm of Wesley Dennis’s illustrations, and White Stallion is no exception.  Dennis has a brilliant knack of sketching emotions, and also understands that just as no two human faces look alike, animals all of different looks to them as well – thus his horses and dogs especially become distinct characters on the page, even in a book like this one where theoretically a bunch of large, white horses should all look basically the same.

The story itself is delightful as usual – a young boy, growing up Vienna, loves the stallions and yearns to become a rider.  Based on a true story, as most of Henry’s tales are, eventually this young hero overcomes the odds and learns the discipline of riding these magnificent horses.

When I was in high school, the Stallions toured through my city and we went to see them – it was genuinely indescribable.  It’s amazing how long this breed of horse has been around, performing their almost-magical feats of agility.