May 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.

Bibi the Baker’s Horse by Anna Bird Stewart – 4*

//published 1942//

This is one of those books that I have had for so long that I no longer remember where I picked it up, and for some reason neglected to write on the flyleaf – very unusual for me.  This particular copy is a first edition and has actually been signed by the author, so that’s quite fun.  Apparently Bibi isn’t a very popular book, as it isn’t even listed on Goodreads, but I found it to be absolutely charming.  Set in France before World War I, Bibi is a small Corsican horse purchased by a baker named Jules.  The story is really more about Jules and his family than it is about Bibi, and they live a happy, peaceful life.  The biggest excitement in the story is a huge flood.  In the afterword, the author says that the entire story is true as told to her by a friend about the friends mother (or maybe grandmother, I can’t remember right now).  While not a book that strikes me as an instant classic, it was still a delightful little read.

The Treasure is the Rose by Julia Cunningham – 4*

//published 1973//

At only 105 pages, this is more of a novella than a full-length story, yet Cunningham manages to pack a great deal of thoughtfulness into her slim story.  My particular copy is an incredibly battered paperback that belonged to my mom and her sister when they were girls (frankly, the ownership has been challenged for many years between the two of them, so I solved their problem by taking it for myself).  Set in England in what I’m guess are the Middle Ages (I’m never very good at remembering the distinguishing characteristics between eras – they’re living in a crumbling down castle and the main character’s husband was killed in a crusade), the story is about Ariane, a kindhearted young widow who is determined to stay in her husband’s home, despite the fact that they are running out of money.  When three robbers stop at her house and demand food and shelter, she gives to them freely – but when the robbers hear rumors that Ariane is concealing a treasure somewhere in her castle, they decide they want more than food and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it.  The story is somewhat simplistic, and the ending is perhaps a bit too easy, but it is still a beautiful story about love and kindness conquering anger and hate.

Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes – 4*

//published 2016//

I actually really liked this version, although it was a bit more angsty than I usually prefer.  In this version, Mr. Bennet is struck ill while Elizabeth is at Hunsford, before Colonel Fitzwilliam tells her that Darcy separated Jane and Bingley, and before Darcy proposes.  When they receive the news about Mr. B., Darcy basically takes control of the situation, apologizing to Elizabeth for proposing at an awkward time, but wanting her to be under his protection and care should the worst happen.  Of course, he assumes that Elizabeth is going to agree, which fills Elizabeth with rage – but with the possibility of her family being put out on the streets, she reluctantly accepts.

While this wasn’t a very lighthearted variation, it was done really well, and the majority of the drama between Elizabeth and Darcy felt realistic to their situation.  However, at the end the drama goes a bit over the top, and then is magically solved after dragging on for way too long.  I also didn’t like the way that Mr. Bennet’s death was dealt with.  Still, overall this was a solid retelling, as I found myself very attached to the characters and wanted things to work out for them.

The Undertaker’s Widow by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 1998//

I’ve read quite a few of Margolin’s books at this point, and have found him to be a pretty solid crime/law thriller writer.  This one wasn’t my favorite, but did have a lot of fun twists and turns.  My usual mild aggravation with Margolin’s work was at play here – he simply introduces too many characters, ignores them for chapters, and then reintroduces them without reminding the reader of who they are.  He’s the only author I have to consistently write down the names of characters and their connections in order to keep them straight.

This particular book also lost a half star because of another pet peeve of mine – where we are specifically told that a character has information necessary to figure out what is going on with the mystery, but not allowed to actually know that information.  So it would be something like, “Once he told the detective about his suspicions concerning the blood splatter, they both knew they had to do something” – but I don’t get to know what those suspicions are until literal chapters later during a courtroom scene when the evidence is introduced.  This happened a LOT in this book and was really annoying.

Indiscretion by Jude Morgan – 5*

//published 2005//

I hadn’t read this book in several years, and it was an absolute delight to delve back into it again.  The main character, Caroline, is just so funny and nice, and I really appreciate the way that she wants to be a better person.  I also liked that when she ended up in the country living a quite life, she didn’t get bored and irritated with her life, but instead was able to appreciate the stability and restfulness of it, even though it was very different to what she was used to.  The dialogue is hilarious, and the plot just convoluted/coincidental enough to keep things lively.  I’ve read this book a few times, so you can read earlier reviews here and here if you are interested in more of a synopsis-type review, but for here suffice to say that this book is just as happy and funny as I remember.

Pride & Prejudice Variations (again)

Greetings, friends!  Spring is busy as always, which means that blogging takes a bit of a backseat to the rest of my life.  Yesterday I bought some more plants, not because I have an addiction, but because it’s spring and I have to buy plants.  ::shifty eyes::  In case you’re interested (you know you are), I was mainly buying some little bedding annuals to go into containers – verbena, impatiens, salvia, lobelia.  I also got some floating plants for the fish pond, a critical part of keeping the pond at least somewhat clean.  This is both great and also sad because now it means I need to take a day and empty the whole pond and clean it and then refill it.  Funny story, ever since I started getting floating plants every year, I’ve never had to feed our fish.  The fish eat the roots of the floating plants, the floating plants eat all the fish waste, and our pond is just a mini circle of life!

ANYWAY did you actually want to hear about some books??  Spring always makes me feel like reading some fluffy stuff, so here are a few P&P variations I read recently.  All three of them are available on Kindle Unlimited if you’re interested – I like to get KU for a month or so at a time and soak up the P&P haha

Duty Demands by Elaine Owen – 4*

//published 2016//

So I actually really enjoyed this variation (although the cover is rather dreadful).  It starts while Elizabeth is visiting Charlotte in Kent.  Before Darcy’s proposal, Elizabeth receives word that her father has fallen very ill.  He dies before she gets back home.  A few days later, Darcy, via Uncle Gardiner, offers his hand in marriage.  Elizabeth accepts, knowing that this is probably the only way that her family can stay together.  However, she has no idea that love was the motivation behind Darcy’s offer.  Her uncle says he assumes that Darcy is pleased to find a quiet country miss who will basically do his bidding and not make too many demands on his time or purse.  So their marriage begins with Darcy in love – and assuming that Elizabeth at least likes him, since he didn’t receive a severe set-down in Kent, and Elizabeth still completely prejudiced against Darcy and assuming the worst of his motives at every turn.

What I liked here was that the angst felt realistic instead of overly-dramatic.  There weren’t a bunch of horrific villains lurking around every corner.  Instead, Darcy and Elizabeth have to find their way through their misunderstandings together.  This was also a clean retelling, so while there are mentions of the marital bed, there is nothing detailed, which was nice.  All in all a surprisingly pleasant retelling, although a bit towards the soap-opera end of the spectrum.

Miss Darcy’s Companion by Joana Starnes – 4*

//published 2016//

I’ve read a couple of Starnes’s other retellings with mixed results (quite enjoyed The Falmouth Connectionbut The Second Chance was SO boring).  This one was overall enjoyable, although it’s more of an alternate storyline than an actual variation, as nothing really happens the way it does in canon.  Instead, Mr. Bennet has already died before the story opens and through a series of events, Elizabeth ends up working for Darcy as Georgianna’s companion.  I really enjoyed watching the friendship between all three of them grow, and the love story between Elizabeth and Darcy felt natural.  This series of events meant that there wasn’t really a time where Elizabeth didn’t like Darcy, but it did also mean that there was more of a class distinction between them to make things awkward.

Eventually, Darcy goes to London to wrestle with his feelings and decide what he should do about Elizabeth.  While he’s gone, an old family friend begins dropping by and being super smarmy – our old buddy Wickham.  All of the Wickham drama actually felt completely natural for once, and I was genuinely caught up in the WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN bit.  There was a little bit of over-the-top-ness, but overall this was a fun and engaging story with likable characters.  It was also another G-rated version, which, I may have mentioned, is always nice.

Mr. Darcy Dances by Sophie Lynbrook – 3.5*

//published 2017//

A few of Lynbrook’s other variations have also come my way – Lizzy’s Novel was a great concept that felt like it needed a bit more meat to it, and An Odd Situation was also a likable story, although one that really needed more of Elizabeth’s perspective to round it out.  In Mr. Darcy Dances, the story opens with the assembly, except instead of standing around being a snob, Darcy dances every dance!  Throughout the evening, we know that Darcy is determined to annoy Miss Bingley as much as he can, but we aren’t sure exactly why…

This story was a fun play on Elizabeth’s dislike of Darcy, as here she thinks him a rather obnoxious fop.  While I did quite enjoy a lot of things about this version – it was quite fun to have a version that takes place entirely in Hertfordshire with the entire Bennet crew – I was never able to quite buy Darcy unbending to extent that he did during that first evening.  This was another clean version, so it’s good to know that more of those are taking over this genre.

June 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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Second Chance by Joana Starnes – 3*

//published 2014//

In this P&P variation, the characters from that classic also meet up with the characters from Sense and Sensibility.  This was a book that I really wanted to like, but just didn’t.  It was boring, there wasn’t really any kind of villain, Darcy spent way too much time wandering around being morose, and the whole book was just kind of choppy.  It wasn’t horrible, but it definitely wasn’t great.

For those who are interested, there is a more detailed review over on my P&P blog here.

Planting With Perennials by Richard Bird – 3*

//published 2002//

This is a really basic introduction to perennials.  If you literally aren’t even sure what a perennial is, this would be a great place to start.  However, if you’ve worked with them at all, you probably already know most of the information in this book.  There are a lot of photographs and some nice charts.  And since this book doesn’t claim to *be* anything other than an introduction to the topic, I can’t really fault it for being just that.

Ring of Truth by Jaclyn Weist – 3*

//published 2015//

I love a good fake-relationship trope, but I have to admit that this one wasn’t really very good!  While it would have made decent sense for these two people who just met to pretend they were dating, pretending that they were engaged made legit no sense and just created all sorts of unnecessary drama.  I was also confused about why they both acted like they couldn’t make their relationship real…  like… nothing to lose??  You were total strangers a week ago, so even if the other person thinks dating for real is stupid, oh well??  Finally, in the end, they go straight into being really engaged, even though they’ve only known each about three weeks!  What?!

The thing is, despite the fact that this book was thoroughly implausible, I completely enjoyed it!  It was just so innocent and happy.  No sex, no swearing, just purely relaxing and adorable.  I actually really liked the characters a lot, and would have been willing to forgive a lot of the story if they had just started dating in the end (and then an epilogue where they are happily married a year later or something), but leaping straight into being engaged felt ridiculous given the short time frame.

For now, I’m giving the rest of this series a miss, but if I find myself yearning for some quietly innocent romance, I may pick the next one up!

This is Book #2 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Child by Fiona Barton – 3.5*

//published 2017//

I recently read and enjoyed The Widow by the same author, so when I saw she had another book with some overlapping characters, I checked it out from the library.  I picked up this book coming off a bit of a slump wherein I basically was reading nothing but terrible P&P variations, so it took me a little bit to get into it, but once I did, I found it engaging but not electrifying.  While I wanted to find out how things were going to come together, there was never really any sense of urgency.  There were also some reveals that felt just painfully obvious but took forever to get to.  In many ways, it felt like it didn’t really matter if the mystery was ever solved or not.

The reporter from The Widow, Kate, is the main recurring character, and I liked her even better in this book.  And while it was fun to read this story with the background of The Widow in my mind, this could definitely be read as its own book with no trouble.  All in all, a 3.5* read.  It looks like Barton is going to publish a third book early next year, so I’ll probably pick that one up as well.  Hopefully it will have a little more zip.

The Possible by Tara Altebrando – 3*

//published 2017//

This was a book that came in a book box, so it was a totally random read for me.  I kind of like picking up the book box books, because they get me a little out of my comfort zone.  This one was engaging, but the story was a bit scattered at times, and there was some inconsistency with the characters.  (For instance, the lady doing the interviews is presented in the end as though she is a “good guy,” but at one point earlier in the story she had obviously manipulated what people had said to make things more dramatic/imply things that weren’t true… and that’s never addressed, she just goes back to being a good guy…)  The conclusion was decent, and I definitely was kept unsure throughout the story as to whether or not the ability to control things with the mind was a real possibility.  All in all, I didn’t mind reading this book, but it didn’t inspire to find out what else Atlebrando has written.