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.

Bess Crawford Mysteries // Books 6-11 // by Charles Todd

6. An Unwilling Accomplice (2014)
7. A Pattern of Lies (2015)
8. The Shattered Tree (2016)
9. A Casualty of War (2017)
10. A Forgotten Place (2018)
11.  A Cruel Deception (2019)

Wow, first off I just have to say that I am SO excited that this series is apparently still being written, because every book I read was better than the one before it.  This series was absolutely fantastic and I enjoyed every page.  While I had a few 3.5* reads in the first half of the series, these were all 4* and 4.5* reads.

In case you missed it, here is my review of the first five books in this series, which gives the background of the main character in this series, Bess Crawford, who works as a nurse during World War I.

I honestly don’t know exactly how to review these books other than to say that if you enjoy historical mysteries at all, you should definitely read them.  I also wasn’t sure how the series was going to work once the war was over, but book 9-11 are all post-war books, and they were my favorites.  The authors do such an amazing job capturing how the end of this war wasn’t exactly a joyous victory, but rather the slow, grinding halt of a tragedy that left a generation of men dead and maimed.  The absolute heartbreak of soldiers suffering from shell shock (so misunderstood at the time as well) and who would rather kill themselves than return home to a place where they no longer felt that they could be useful, due to the loss of a limb, was handled so, so well.

Yet these books aren’t all doom and gloom.  There is still a lot of hope there as well, the cautious optimism that maybe the world has learned something from this brutal, useless war.  The slow picking up of the pieces and trying to find a way forward.  Bess herself has, to this point, continued to work as a nurse for men recovering from the war, but she isn’t completely sure if that is what she wants to do forever.  It really feels like the door has been left open for Bess to explore a variety of places and adventures in future books.

There is a love interest (ish), but that has also been handled well.  Bess hasn’t felt like the war was the time or place to be worried about emotional entanglements, but now that it is over, there are a few glimmers of potential.

All in all, this series is moving from strength to strength.  I’ll be on the lookout for a twelfth book, and in the meantime may have to check out the other World War I series by this same mother/son writing duo.  As for the Bess Crawford books – highly recommended!

Bess Crawford Mysteries // Books 1-5 // by Charles Todd

  1. A Duty to the Dead (2009)
  2. An Impartial Witness (2010)
  3. A Bitter Truth (2011)
  4. An Unmarked Grave (2012)

4.5.  The Walnut Tree (2012)
5.  A Question of Honor (2013)

WordPress doesn’t like the idea of a “4.5” in my numerical listing, so you’ll have to forgive the wonky formatting!

Charles Todd is actually a mother/son writing team best known for their Ian Rutledge series, which I have never gotten around to reading.  Bess Crawford is their newer series, which centers around a World War I nurse (Bess Crawford) and various mysteries in which she finds herself entangled.  While the mystery aspect is done well in each book, the real charm of the series is in the excellent sense of setting and place.  World War I often gets rather overlooked, so reading a series with it as a backdrop has been quite intriguing.

Bess grew up (an only child) in India, with her military father (whom she and her mother fondly refer to as the Colonel Sahib) and her mother.  I love the fact that Bess has both of her parents, they are both kind, hardworking, loving people, and that her parents love Bess and love each other.  They’re supportive without being pushy, worried without being controlling.  Being a nurse is still a slightly questionable occupation for a well-brought-up young woman, but instead of following the well-worn, boring trail of having the main character rebel against her upbringing blah blah blah, here we have a refreshing scenario where Bess’s parents are thrilled – mainly because they know it’s dangerous – but recognize the need for nurses and Bess’s skill in that area, and thus support her decision.

Bess herself is a very likable character.  She’s intelligent and independent without being obnoxious.  She works hard and loves being a nurse, but isn’t constantly raging about the restrictions society places on females.  She’s determined and can be a bit bull-headed, but isn’t constantly dashing into danger and then getting annoyed when people don’t trust her.  In short, she felt realistic to me, and it was genuinely delightful to read a series where I wasn’t constantly being preached at about the patriarchy and how hard life was as a woman in the early 1900’s.

For the most part, the mysteries fit into the context of the war, and so it doesn’t feel unnatural for someone wholly unrelated to law enforcement to be stumbling across murders and suspicious circumstances.  With the exception of  An Unmarked Grave, which depended far too much on coincidence, the mysteries were well-plotted and engaging.

One thing I also enjoyed is how free of profanity and sex the stories are.  The authors don’t pretend like these things didn’t exist at the time, but the truth is that this was an era when swearing around women was still rather taboo.  And Bess is too well-brought-up, too busy, and too practical to think about sleeping around.  It is such a relief to enjoy some mysteries without constantly being hammered with f-bombs and gratuitous sex.

The Walnut Tree  isn’t about Bess Crawford, but instead is a side story that focuses on another nurse Bess knows, and about this girl’s journey to becoming a nurse.  It was definitely the weakest of all the stories.  It isn’t a mystery, but instead more of a “romance” with an incredibly boring love triangle.  There was this strange side plot about smugglers that I thought was going to be somewhat central, but instead felt tacked on, as though the authors felt that even a side book in a mystery series ought to have some mystery.  Also, while all the other characters became known by just their first names, every time Bess appeared it was as “Bess Crawford,” as though to emphasize the reminder that this book is connected to the Bess Crawford series.  So it would be something like, “I was so happy to see Bess Crawford and Diane sit down at the table with me.  Diane said she had been busy catching up on correspondence that afternoon, while Bess Crawford had gone out to do some shopping.”  I was so tired of seeing BESS CRAWFORD!

Anyway, while I’ve spent some time grumbling here, the truth of the matter is that these have been thoroughly enjoyable books, with the series getting 4* so far.  I have the second half of the series checked out of the library and ready to read, and I’m quite looking forward to picking up Bess’s journey.

August 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.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss – 4.5*

//published 2003//

I first read this book when it was published, and it’s one of those rare nonfiction books that I find myself returning to every few years.  Truss is just  so funny.  She tells you in the beginning how to tell if you’ll enjoy her book (have  you ever felt an overwhelming compulsion to add a missing apostrophe to a sign??) and goes on from there.  This isn’t an in-depth study of punctuation, but it is a delightful scamper through the high points of punctuation history and usage.  I always especially love the way she compares commas to border collies (gently herding phrases and words where they need to go), and her passion for apostrophes (so simple to use, yet so frequently maligned).

If you are even a bit of a punctuation freak, this is definitely worth a read.

Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge – 4*

//published 1949//

I’m still slowly working my way through all of Goudge’s books. While Gentian Hill is probably my least favorite of her books that I’ve read so far, it was still beautifully written.  It’s historical fiction, so it’s a bit different from her other books, and it was rather fun to read a book set during the Napoleonic Wars that focused more on “regular” folk instead of the aristocracy.  The language throughout was beautiful as always, and there were many wonderful themes.  The main reason I wrestled with this book is because of how young Stella is when Zachary meets her and knows that she is going to be his wife someday.  I’ll grant that Zachary is also young(ish), but it still felt weird, even though it wasn’t completely unusual for women to get married in their mid-teens at the time.  Still, Goudge handles that all deftly – it never felt like Zachary was a creeper in any way, and I honestly did want them to end up together.  I just felt like the whole story would have read better if Stella had been a couple of years older when they met.

Overall, I still did enjoy this book a great deal, even though I didn’t find it to be an instant classic as I have with many of Goudge’s other books.

Gentian Hill was read #10 for #20BooksofSummer.

You Don’t Own Me by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke – 4*

//published 2018//

This is the latest installment of the Under Suspicion series, which I read last year.  The series centers on Laurie, who is the producer for a television show called Under Suspicion.  Each episode of the show looks at a cold case, inviting the people involved to tell their part of the story.  The concept is that the unsolved aspect of the story means that people close to the victim are still shadowed by the possibility that they could be the murderer.  I really enjoyed this series when I read it last year, mainly because Laurie is a great main character, and the authors have done an excellent job with the secondary characters as well.  In this book, I was glad to see Laurie’s romantic relationship progress happily.  The mystery was solid, although there was a weird secondary thing going on where Laurie was being stalked that felt superfluous to the main thrust of the story.

One of my biggest complaints about this story last year was how the host for Laurie’s show, Ryan, was the only stagnant character in the series.  The authors just made him into one giant stereotype and seemed to think that was good enough.  Consequently, I was delighted to see actual character growth in Ryan in this installment!  Brilliant!

Overall, these are great mysteries, and I’m hopeful that they will continue coming.

The Story of a Whim by Grace Livingston Hill – 3.5*

//published 1903//

Like most of Hill’s stories, this one was pretty predictable, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  I will say that I found it funny that I had just recently read Strawberry Girlset in early 1900’s Florida, and then it turns out that that was the same setting for this book as well!

This was my #11 read for #20BooksofSummer.

Shamed by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2019//

Earlier this year I devoured the entire Kate Burkholder series.  Set in Ohio’s Amish country, this is a great mystery series.  Kate grew up Amish and then left the community and eventually entered law enforcement.  When the series starts, Kate is the sheriff of the small town where she grew up, and also a sort of bridge between the Amish and non-Amish (“English”) communities.  I really, really like Kate a lot, which is a large part of why this series works for me.  Castillo also does a really excellent job in her portrayal of the Amish community, and I love the way that Kate is working through her heritage as well.

This particular installment was solid.  A woman is murdered and her granddaughter kidnapped – I loved the way that each chapter started with how many hours the girl had been missing; it really intensified the urgency of a missing child case.  Overall, the pacing was solid, although it felt like this book didn’t have as much of Kate’s personal life as some of the others have had, and I rather missed it.  All in all, I hope Castillo continues to write these books forever, as I really like them.

July 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.

The Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1922//

This is a collection of short stories, all of which are about golf.  In my question to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, this one was next, and I’ve kind of procrastinated on it a bit since I don’t really know much (anything) about golf, but I shouldn’t have doubted – although I certainly missed plenty of golfing references, the ability of Wodehouse to tell a hilarious story still shines through.  Most of the short stories are told by an old man whom we know only as the Oldest Member of the golf club.  He has many a tale to while a way an evening.  As with all story collections, they had their ups and downs, but overall the quality was excellent, and the stories were quite funny.

Winner Takes All by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1984, 1988//

This was actually two stories in one book, and they were originally published separately, about four years apart.  I think they would have read better if they hadn’t been together, because they were actually rather similar stories – both female leads were television producers, both had relationship issues, both meet a really similar dude through work.  Overall they were perfectly nice stories (although a bit too sexy), but also pretty forgettable.

The Haunted Fountain by Margaret Sutton – 3.5*

//published 1957//

Now that I’ve gotten into the Judy Bolton books that I don’t own, I’m reading them at a much slower pace as I have to purchase them as I go.  This one was a decent story, but it had almost no Peter in it, and Peter is my favorite character!  Still, Judy is always a great lead, and it was fun to catch up with a few other characters as well.

The Mysterious Heir by Edith Layton – 3.5*

//published 1983//

Some of you may remember that I purchased a book of random Regency romances on eBay a while back because it had some Georgette Heyer titles that I wanted.  I’m still reading the other books in the box, and The Mysterious Heir is my most recent one.  I really enjoyed this one a lot because Elizabeth and Morgan were super likable, and they actually communicated with each other, which is almost miraculous in Regency romances.  Morgan of course has a deep dark past, where his wife (now dead) betrayed him, and this is where the story went off the rails a bit, because instead of just having Morgan’s wife like have an affair or something, the author literally made her this nymphomaniac (although she didn’t use that term) who was always having sex with literally anyone who would (although none of this was graphic at all) and it just came through as weird.  I think the same impact on Morgan’s life/trust issues could have occurred with a slightly more believable situation with his now-dead wife.  However, other than the chapter of Morgan’s back story, the book was overall a fun romp that I enjoyed.

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski – 4*

//published 1945//

Lenski wrote several children’s historical fiction books back in the day.  Each one focuses on a child in a different region of the country, and they are all illustrated with Lenski’s absolutely delightful drawings.  Strawberry Girl is set in Florida around the year 1900, and it honestly blew my mind how frontier-like Florida was at that time – this is barely over a hundred years ago (and was less than fifty years earlier than when Lenski wrote the story – she says in her foreword that many of the adventures are based on first-person accounts from people she interviewed), yet the people are living a very rough and ready life without indoor plumbing, at a time when things like a cookstove were still considered rather fancy.

This was a really enjoyable story, and I highly recommend Lenski’s books if you are studying a certain region or time period.  It’s a children’s book, so things wrapped a little too conveniently at the end, but I let it go since the intended age range is around 10 years old.  All in all, this was a very fun slice of life story.

This one is also my #8 book for #20BooksofSummer!

Lincoln & Douglas: The Years of Decision by Regina Kelly (Landmark book) – 4*

//published 1954//

I’ve mentioned before that I have a big soft spot for Landmark history books.  Aimed at middle school readers, they’re perfect for an overview or review of a topic.  This one looks at the run-up to the America Civil War, focusing on Douglas and Lincoln and their debates at the time.  The author did a really excellent job of explaining the various points of view on slavery at the time.  She never excuses or justifies slavery, but she does explain that the culture of the time meant that many people didn’t question slavery’s existence, and that didn’t automatically make them evil people.  Douglas is presented as a counterview rather than a villain – someone who was trying to find some middle ground to make everyone happy – and who ended up as most people who take the road do: with everyone mad at him.  Kelly points out how Lincoln’s views on slavery also changed through time, and that there were degrees of being “for” slavery – many people felt that it should basically fade out naturally by not allowing new slaves or slave states; other believed slaves should be educated and allowed more opportunity to purchase their freedom; some believed the government should purchase slaves and then free them, thus compensating owners, etc.  Kelly manages to get a lot of complicated thoughts across in a manner that was easy to read and understand.  I’m basically always a fan of Landmark books, and this one is no exception.

March 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.

A Duchess in Name by Amanda Weaver – 3*

//published 2016/

I picked this Kindle book up for free somewhere along the line because I’ll pretty much always pick up marriage of convenience tropes.  This one was pretty average.  I actually liked the story and the characters a great deal, but there was a lot of pretty explicit sex in this one, which always brings down my overall enjoyment of a story.  It also meant that even though this was the first in a series of four, I didn’t really feel like paying to read the rest.

Virtually Sleeping Beauty by K.M. Robinson – 2.5*

//published 2018//

Another Kindle freebie, and another book that I really wanted to like.  The premise is fun with a very Ready Player One vibe, with one character stuck inside a popular virtual reality game.  The narrator and his best friend go into the game to try and rescue her.  However, the execution of the story was incredibly flat.  It honestly felt more like an outline or rough draft than it did an actual book.  The plotting was choppy and cliché.  The characters were one-dimensional and rather insipid.  The ending was incredibly abrupt.  I didn’t remotely believe that the characters had become even basic friends, much less that they had fallen in love, especially considering the whole story takes place over a few hours.  It turns out that this was more of a short story than an actual book, so that’s why I ended up finishing it.  If the writing had been this poor for the full length of a novel, I wouldn’t have continued.  I do have a few other of Robinson’s books as free Kindle books, but reading this one hasn’t made me exactly eager to try the rest.

The Fox Busters by Dick King-Smith – 4*

//published 1978//

Although I’ve only reviewed a couple of King-Smith’s books here, his books were an absolute delight to me growing up, and The Fox Busters was the story that introduced me to the magical absurdity of his writing.  This isn’t really a book I would recommend to very small children, as there is, frankly, a decent amount of death, but I remember loving the military-like execution of events.  Basically, the chickens of Foxearth Farm have, through generations of natural selection (due to generations of farmers not really being bothered to take much care of said chickens), become almost like wild birds.  This means that generations of foxes around the farm have very rarely ever been able to experience the delights of a chicken dinner.  The events in The Fox Busters occur when a trio of especially intelligent pullets are hatched right around the time that a quartet of particularly clever foxes are growing up nearby.  This is the story of their battle.

So yes, it’s honestly a rather violent book.  A lot of chickens – and several foxes – die during the course of it.  But the sheer creativity is fantastically engaging.  King-Smith’s writing is brisk and to the point – he doesn’t tend to linger over descriptions or unneeded details.  Yet somehow that suits the overall military feel of the book.  There is a sly tongue-in-cheek humor throughout that I think I rather missed as a child, but found quite amusing as an adult.

While this isn’t a perfect book, it’s well worth a read if you’ve ever raised chickens, or if you’re just looking for a quick bit of British humor.

Show Lamb by Hildreth Wriston – 4*

//published 1953//

This is another book from my personal collection, one that I picked up at a book sale eons ago but never got around to reading.  It’s a shame, because this is a book I would have quite enjoyed as a child – a bit of historical fiction set in 1850 Vermont, focusing on 10-year-old Chad.  Chad, along with his parents, sister, and aunt, live together on a sheep farm, and Chad wants nothing more than to also be a sheep farmer like his father.  He feels that the best way to start on that path is to get to choose his own lamb to take to the fair that fall, but Chad’s father doesn’t think he’s old enough yet.  This story follows Chad from lambing season through the fair (he of course does choose his own lamb, secretly, which is part of the story) and is a delight the entire way.  One of the things I liked best about this book was that there were multiple times that Chad was strongly tempted to do the wrong thing, but for the most part he choose not to – and even if that behavior wasn’t rewarded immediately, it always paid off in the end.  This is a lesson sadly lacking in virtually all children’s literature these days, as modern authors seem to think it’s much better to tell children that their parents are the enemy and also rather stupid and inept.  In Show Lamb, Chad’s father is not at all perfect, but he is good and genuinely loves Chad, and this really comes through in the story.  We’re also shown a contrast in the lazy, no-good neighbor, which was also done well.

All in all, it seems a shame that literally no one else on Goodreads has ever come across this one (I added it myself), as I found it a delightful little piece of historical fiction with a lot to offer.

The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer – 3.5*

//published 1959//

I’m not sure if it’s because I had the large print version or what, but this was one of the few times where a Heyer book felt like it went on forever.  While the last third of the book picked up the pace and become much more engaging and humorous, the beginning and middle really dragged.  Without any insight into what Hugo was thinking, it was hard to recognize that he was pulling the collective leg of his relatives, because it’s hard to recognize, in writing, that he’s speaking in “broad Yorkshire,” beyond his saying “happen” instead of “perhaps.”  There were also moments where supposedly he accidentally forgot to use his Yorkshire accent, but again this was hard to pick up in writing, so a lot of the subtlety of humor was lost on me. It was a fun story with some likable characters and a lot of potential, but this one felt too directionless for too long, as though Heyer couldn’t quite decide where she was headed with this story.  It was (sadly) still better than a very large chunk of modern romances, but it wasn’t a Heyer I particularly felt I needed to add to my permanent collection.