January 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.

Minireviews for books that I’ve read in the same month that I’m writing the reviews?! This is madness!!

The Secret Quest by Margaret Sutton – 3.5*

//published 1962//

This is my final Judy Bolton book for now.  I’ve really enjoyed revisiting this series, and now own almost all of them.  Maybe someday I’ll find the missing 10ish that I don’t yet own.  I really do love the way these stories build on each other and the characters get older with time.  Judy and her friends are just super likable, and even if some of their adventures are absurd, it’s all in good fun.

Sophia & Augusta by Norma Lee Clark – 4*

//published 1979//

This was a fun little Regency read – always nice to have one where the sisters actually love each other and want to help each other.  It went on just a smidge too long – there was a point where the happy endings could have been handed out, but Clark decided to add ONE MORE TWIST to keep it going for another 40 pages or so, and that was just a bit too much.  But still, overall good fun with likable characters and nothing too crazy.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig – 3*

//published 2017//

I had a tough time with this one, probably because I was reading it at the same time that I was reading Stoner, which sort of made me focus more on the negative, depressing aspects of this story rather than the positive, happy ones.  Basically, the concept is that the main character, Tom, is someone who lives for centuries, rather than decades.  He was born in the 1600’s (I think… it’s been a while since I read this one, may have been late 1500’s lol), and now, in the present day, only looks as thought he is in his mid-40’s.  Quite a long while ago, Tom was approached by a group known as the Albatross Society, comprised of other individuals who live ridiculously long lives.  The goal of the Albatross Society is to collect and protect long-lived individuals, and to make sure that the general public don’t find out that the Albatrosses exist.

So yes, there’s this whole thing of Tom just trying to live a regular life, parts of Tom’s backstory being filled in, and a sense of unease concerning the leader of the Albatross Society.  I had trouble really getting into this book, especially since Tom’s (extremely long) life was mostly depressing.  Also, yes, he’s lived a long time, but he has been a “regular” kind of guy most of the time, so it seemed a bit eye-roll-y that he managed to be friends with lots of famous historical figures.  All in all, while the concept was interesting, I just couldn’t get into it.  I’m also almost completely positive that I either started this book or one very similar to it several years ago and didn’t finish, but can’t remember for sure (it seems like the main character of the other book was Ben??  Does this sound familiar to anyone??).  As for this one – not bad, but not particularly memorable.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1926// I’ve never been to PEI, but Grandma went and brought me back this copy <3 //

Oh wow, this is one of my all-time favorites.  I’ve read and reread this book so many times, and love it more every time.  The story begins on Valancy’s 29th birthday.  She is unmarried and lives with her widowed mother and widowed cousin.  They are not destitute, but are definitely poor, and they are part of a large family “clan” – the kind that has innumerable traditions and rules and not-to-be-missed gatherings.  Valancy has always been rather meek and downtrodden, living in constant fear of offending her relatives.  But when she finds out that she only has a year to live, she realizes that she no longer has anything to fear and begins to live her life the way that she wants.  Which, in 1926 isn’t anything too terribly crazy, but since I ought to have been born in 1897 myself, this book is just at my pace.  Valancy is funny and delightful, and her journey of self-discovery and independence is wonderful.  Her love story resonates with me a great deal as well.  If you’ve never read this book, you definitely should.

And, if you’re interested in more of my gushing about it, I also reviewed it back in 2015.

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith – 4*

//published 2018//

A couple of years ago I read and absolutely loved The Nesting Place by this author.  While I had picked up that book hoping for some advice on home decorating, what I found was a book about contentment and accepting the fact that life isn’t perfect.  It’s a fantastic book that I still pick up and flip through from time to time just for a bit of encouragement.

So, I was intrigued to pick up Smith’s next book, especially since her style in The Nesting Place did not seem remotely minimal.  In this book, Smith looks at the concept of minimalism and talks about how it is possible to be more minimalist without your home becoming sterile and barren.  While I didn’t find this book as engaging as The Nesting Place, it still had a lot of useful information.  Smith is more practical in this book, actually going step by step through decorating and furnishing a room.  She doesn’t backtrack on her concepts from her first book, but does build on them and look at how sometimes decorating means leaving empty spaces so that there is room to actually live in your home.

There are a LOT of snarky reviews of this book on Goodreads, and I honestly don’t understand them, and was a bit shocked at how harsh some of them were.  Like… it’s published by Zondervan so the odds are extremely high that the author is going to mention God at some point (and it’s not like Smith spends the whole book preaching the Gospel or anything, it’s more of a side thing, that part of her inspiration for creativity is because of God’s creativity).  Yes, her style is similar to Joanna Gaines, but it’s just a popular style right now, and I don’t think that makes her a “Joanna Gaines wanna-be without the real style.”  My favorite was the person complaining about how Smith spent too much time talking about her personal experiences – um, hello?  That’s actually the point of the book!  Anyway, all that to say, this book may not be for you, and that’s okay.  But if you are looking for a simple base of where to start with how to decorate your home, this book offers some basics in a warm, friendly, approachable way.

November Minireviews – Part 2

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

Hey, guess what!   I’m actually reviewing books that I read in November!  Progress!

Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome – 3.5*

//published 1932//

I’m slowly working my way through the Swallows & Amazons series, and LOVED the first two books.   Peter Duck was still adorable and fun, but because it felt a lot less plausible, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much.  I was also confused because in the last book, Swallowdale, Peter Duck was an imaginary character that the children had created a bunch of stories about.  In this book, Peter Duck is a real person that they meet.  I could get behind them finding a real live person with the same name as their imaginary friend, but they NEVER acknowledged a single time that they had ever even heard the name Peter Duck before!  It seems as though there ought to have been at least a paragraph of something like, “Can you believe we’ve found a real live sailor with the same name as our imaginary sailor??”  Still, overall this was a fun one, and also had a great book map, which is kind of my favorite thing in the world.

Birthright by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2003//

This ended up being romantic suspense  that was a surprisingly emotional story, touching on things like adoption, nature versus nurture, what family means, divorce, and second chances.  I couldn’t get completely behind the book because the main character, Callie, was just a smidge too abrasive for my personal taste – her go-to response was just RAGE every time and it got old for me.  But I really liked the way that the love story was between her and her ex-husband, as he is quietly determined to do better the second time around.  This was definitely one of the better reads I’ve pulled out of the random Nora Roberts box, and it’s one I can see myself reading again in the future.  I will say that it’s definitely a mature rating as there is some language and some sexy times, but it was stuff I could skim over for the most part.

They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They? by Patrick McManus – 4*

//published 1977//

McManus is one of those authors that I don’t remember reading for the first time – it’s as though I have always read McManus in the past.  He wrote humorous articles for magazines like Outdoor Life in the 1960’s and 70’s (and beyond), and most of his books are collections of those articles – so short stories, or essays on a topic.  They mostly focus on hunting, fishing, and McManus’s childhood on a small, poverty-stricken farm in the backwoods of Idaho.  Like all collections, some of the stories are stronger than others, but there wasn’t a single one that didn’t make me laugh at least once.  The childhood stories are definitely my favorites, and there is a regular cast of secondary characters, including (my favorite) an old backwoodsman named Rancid Crabtree, who always knows how to accomplish important things, like skinning a skunk or cutting a hole to go ice fishing.  If you’re someone who thinks hunting is barbaric, steer away from McManus at all costs, as you will definitely be offended.  But if you’re a bit of a country person at heart (and have a sense of humor), you should definitely give him a try.  Many of McManus’s life lessons have been imbedded into my family’s philosophy permanently, as he tackles all kinds of hardships with a good-natured dose of self-depreciating humor.

The Phantom Friend by Margaret Sutton – 3* 

//published 1959//

In this installment of the Judy Bolton series, my mind was blown.  The entire premise was that an unethical advertising company was creating television commercials with faint phantom pictures that would cause the viewers to be semi-hypnotized into purchasing what the company was advertising!  Subliminal messaging taken to the next level!  What I don’t know is – was this a serious fear back in 1959??  I can see that it would be, as television was still a very new technology that many people found suspicious.  In many ways, it reminded me of The Secret Benedict Society – can subconscious messages be transmitted into our brains via other technology we are taking in?  Maybe Sutton was onto something, and it’s only our long association with television that has numbed our natural suspicions.  Or maybe the subliminal messaging over the decades has convinced us that television is harmless??  So many questions.

A Regency Rose by Miriam Lynch – 3*

//published 1980//

This one started out at a regular level of 1980’s Regency romance ridiculousness, but then took a sharp turn into the completely implausible, which was disappointing, since I actually did like the characters for the most part.


October 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.

Technically, these are actually September minireviews still, since I’m THAT far behind haha

Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern – 3.5*

//published 2019//

The internet is a weird place for artists and authors and creators of all kinds.  It can be an amazing way to let others see your work, but everyone expects everything on the internet to be free.  I’ve really been making a conscious effort the last few years to find ways to financially support internet people whose creations I regularly enjoy, and my preferred method of showing that support is by preordering books they create.  Emily McGovern’s webcomic,  My Life as a Background Slytherinhas brought me a great deal of laughter over the years, so even though her book didn’t look like my normal cup of tea, I preordered it nonetheless.

As I suspected, Bloodlust & Bonnets, a graphic novel set in Regency times that involves a great deal of vampire stabbing and a little too much gender identity questioning, wasn’t really my type of book.  But it was honestly a very fun one-time read.  The artwork is stellar, the story was actually quite hilarious, and there were several good zingers throughout.  So while it doesn’t get my wholehearted recommendation, it was still a lot of fun.  And, if you’ve ever read Harry Potter, you should definitely check out McGovern’s comics, as they are A+ hilarious.

The Clue of the Broken Wing by Margaret Sutton – 3.5*

//published 1958//

I’m still reading my way through the Judy Bolton books, although I’m almost at an end, as I only have one or two left that I own. I’m missing the last five or six of the series, but they are too expensive for me to justify purchasing them, so I think I’m just going to have to hope Judy and Peter ride happily off into the sunset.  At any rate, Broken Wing was another pretty regular addition to the set, although there was a rather odd scene where she stops by someone’s house to ask them some questions, and they basically lock her in the attic?!  I was so confused.  And what is up with Judy’s face on this cover?!

The Fugitive Heiress by Amanda Scott – 3.5*

//published 1981//

This was one of those random Regency novels I’ve acquired, and it was another fun one-time read, although the two main characters were a little too volatile for me to really get behind them as a couple.  Still, it was an overall fun book with decent pacing.  However, Georgette Heyer sets a high standard for witty Regency tales and has consequently kind of ruined me for these types of stories – this one was just felt like it was taking itself a little too seriously.

Me, You and Tiramisu by Charlotte Butterfield – 3*

//published 2017//

This is one of those books I’ve had on my Kindle forever.  It started out alright – Jayne is a quite, introverted type who has recently reconnected with a boy from her high school days.  She and Will always had a special connection then, and in the present day their dating relationship feels completely natural and happy.  When she moves in with Will, Jayne’s twin sister, Rachel, moves into the spare bedroom (and no, that isn’t the source of drama in this book THANK GOODNESS) and the three of them have a seemingly idyllic life.  Will owns a small deli/bakery and loves cooking.  Through a series of events, he becomes a YouTube sensation, and soon has his own agent, is appearing on national television, and has the potential to have his own cooking show.  He gets practically mobbed in the streets and is absurdly popular.  Meanwhile, Jayne feels a bit left behind and hates being in the spotlight.

This was a book that needed to be at least 25% shorter.  The middle dragged on for so long I thought I might not ever finish it.  Part of the problem was that I felt like all three characters were contributing to the miscommunications and issues, but in the end, it turns out that everything was Jayne’s fault, so once SHE apologizes and starts acting “right” then everything is okay.  But I actually thought Jayne had some valid points about how both Will and Rachel were acting, so it really annoyed me that they got to be all self-righteous and act like they had never done anything wrong ever.  Meanwhile, Will really was blowing off Jayne’s legitimate concerns about privacy and their personal relationship, while Rachel was hiding a huge part of her life from her sister under the extremely annoying guise of “if you really cared about me, you would notice without me saying something.”  URGH. It was especially annoying because part of what was bothering Jayne was that Will’s agent thought he “sold” better as a single guy, so he was basically not particularly publicly acknowledging his relationship with Jayne, but everyone acted like Jayne was the one being unreasonable by saying that that made her feel unloved!  I mean seriously!

Overall, the story had a lot of potential, but it just fell flat for me.  It was one of those books that I wanted to like a lot more than I actually did.

The House of a Thousand Lanterns by Victoria Holt – 2.5*

//published 1974//

Do you ever read a book that can’t quite decide what it wants to be?  This book was too not-romantic to be a romance, too slow to be a thriller, and too narrowly-focused to be historical fiction.  I picked this one up all the way back in 2011 at Salvation Army for a quarter, and now that I’ve finally read it, I think it’s headed back to Salvo’s shelves.  I read the first half, hoping that maybe this was the kind of book that was just slow to get started but then went somewhere.  But it was actually just the slow part.  Part of my problem with this book was the big romantic story just didn’t seem that romantic to me.  The guy that she loves (sorry, I’ve forgotten everyone’s names) has to be presented as somewhat untrustworthy in order for the plot of “maybe he killed his uncle” to work, but all that really did was just make me not like this guy as he’s super irresponsible and annoying.  Consequently, I really never could get behind her pining away for him for years.

So I skimmed the second half, thinking that maybe something would happen, but I didn’t really regret my decision to not thoroughly read each page, as it was still a whole lot of super slow and a kind of ridiculous ending.  This one is heading to the giveaway pile for now, and maybe my next 25¢ read will be a better one!!

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.

April 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.

Appaloosa Summer by Tudor Robins – 3*

//published 2014//

Growing up, books about girls and horses were totally my jam, and I still get nostalgic for them sometimes.  I can’t remember how I came across this series exactly but it seemed like a good one to read at bedtime, because who doesn’t like to relax at the end of the day with some YA romance + horses??  Overall, that’s basically what I got, although I honestly could have used more horses and less YA romance.  Still, I liked the main character, and I also liked that it seemed like Meg’s relationship with her mom actually improved throughout the story as she realized that her mom actually loved her and wanted what was best for her.

Wednesday Riders by Tudor Robins – 2.5*

//published 2015//

Sadly, the sequel to Appaloosa Summer was not that great.  The horse part, where Meg is helping train several young girls, wasn’t too bad, but the main thread was actually about Meg and her boyfriend and it’s this whole long super boring angsty thing.  Basically, Appaloosa Summer takes place one summer and Wednesday Riders is the next summer.  In between, Meg has been dating the guy she met in the first book.  She’s been finishing her senior year in high school while Jared is completing his sophomore year in college (because yes, there’s a bit of weird age gap between them, not quite enough to be creepy but honestly almost), and Jared confesses to Meg that he was at a party and got a bit drunk and KISSED another girl!  Meg flips out and we have to spend the entire rest of the book with her internal angst.

Like, I get it.  Kissing another girl is 100% wrong and he 100% shouldn’t have done that.  But he’s also not your husband, he’s your boyfriend.  It just felt like Meg spent way too long trying to decide whether or not she could forgive Jared over this.  She was super mean to him, refused to have any kind of conversation with him, and basically spent the entire summer pouting and having little temper tantrums, while at the same time flirting with another guy and not feeling guilty because she and Jared have broken up and anyway even if they hadn’t Jared owes her.  It was SO boring.

I started to read the third book, which is actually about one of the girls Meg is helping learn to ride in Wednesday Riders, but I was kind of just not into and gave up about 10% in.  I don’t really see myself bothering to come back to this series, and despite the fact that Jared and Meg made up in the end, unless Meg learns to stop being a spoiled, self-centered brat, I don’t have a lot of hope for their long-term relationship success.

Jill the Reckless aka The Little Warrior by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1920//

As always, Wodehouse is a delight, and his plots are also almost impossible to summarize.  This wasn’t my favorite Wodehouse I’ve ever read, as it was a bit on the long side.  Published in 1920, it’s still towards the early end of Wodehouse’s career.  It’s interesting to see how his books are getting progressively funnier through time as he is more and more willing to let go of sensible plots in favor of hilarious coincidence.  There are some very likable characters in this story (I was particularly fond of Freddy), and while this didn’t end up being a Wodehouse I want to read again and again, it was still very worth a one-time read.

Marlfox by Brian Jacques – 3.5*

//published 1998//

The next volume in the Redwall series was a perfectly engaging read, but followed the basic pattern of all the Redwall books – heroes on a journey; meanwhile, Redwall is attacked!  For some reason, the last few books Jacques has been a bit over-the-top in writing obnoxious little children Redwallers (aka dibbuns).  I think their antics are supposed to add some levity to the stories, but they really just annoy me because they are rather bratty.  Other than that, though, this was a fun addition to the series.

Judy Bolton mysteries – #21-#24 – by Margaret Sutton – 3.5*

I really enjoyed this batch of Judy Bolton mysteries, although I don’t have much to say about them.  Judy continues to be a delightful character, although I could definitely use more Peter!  They’re just so adorable together.

Judy Bolton Mysteries // Books 16-20 // by Margaret Sutton

16.  The Secret of the Barred Window (1943)
17.  The Rainbow Riddle (1946)
18.  The Living Portrait (1947)
19.  The Secret of the Musical Tree (1948)
20.  The Warning on the Window (1949)

My journey through the Judy Bolton series continues.  I can’t remember how many of these books there are altogether – 30-odd, I do believe – but I only have about a half dozen more.  I’m undecided as to whether or not I should try and purchase the ones I’m missing, as the later ones aren’t as common and tend to be a little more expensive.  However, I have been enjoying Judy’s adventures, and actually thought these five were pretty solid reads.

At first, I just assumed that these books were set more or less at the time they were written, but as you can see, this batch was published during and after the war (I find it interesting that Sutton was publishing these regularly one or more a year, but missed 1944 and 1945) yet no mention of it is made by her characters.  It’s possible that these are actually happening somewhat earlier in time – there are cars and such, so maybe the 1930’s?

Anyway, this batch was particularly fun because Judy and Peter get married in The Rainbow Riddle, so the next few books are their early days of marriage, living in Judy’s grandparents old farmhouse.

I felt that The Secret of the Barred Window was the weakest of the bunch, but it’s also critical because this is where Judy meets Roberta, a precocious child around the age of 10 or 12.  Roberta reappears at Judy’s wedding in the next book, and at the end of that story Judy and Peter end up taking Roberta in as a sort of foster child.  This all works out for Sutton’s storytelling as Peter has joined the FBI and goes off for training and then is busy traveling in and out with his new job throughout The Living Portrait, but thanks to Roberta’s presence, Judy still has someone with whom to chat and work through mysteries.

All in all there is nothing that makes these books particularly outstanding, but they are enjoyable stories with a lot of high drama and adventure.  Judy and Peter are just too adorable as newlyweds, and while I haven’t read any synopses for the later books, I’m holding out hope that a baby will soon appear!!

Judy Bolton Mysteries // Books 11-15 // by Margaret Sutton

11.  The Unfinished House  (1938)
12.  The Midnight Visitor  (1939)
13.  The Name on the Bracelet  (1940)
14.  The Clue in the Patchwork Quilt  (1941)
15.  The Mark on the Mirror  (1942)

I’m continuing to read my way through the Judy Bolton series in five-book chunks, because if I’m honest, the books get a little same-y after a while, and they go down better in batches instead of all in one go.  At the end of The Riddle of the Double Ring, Judy became almost-engaged to Peter Dobbs, who is probably my favorite character in this series.  Steady and intelligent, Peter is a great balance for Judy’s tendency to be impulsive and sometimes too trusting.  Now that Peter is a lawyer, Judy is working as his secretary, and it was quite delightful to have an adorable little couple working together without any hanky-panky going on.  Instead, here’s a concept, Peter works all day, and so does Judy!

Way back in the beginning of the series, the small town in eastern Pennsylvania where Judy (and Peter) lived was destroyed in a flood when a dam burst.  Since then, they have all been living in a town about 30 miles away, Farrington.  Now Roulsville is being rebuilt, and The Unfinished House begins there, with some crazy shysters giving away completely useless lots in an effort to sucker people in.  This is the first book where Peter’s lawyering has a significant impact on the story – Judy works to find and expose the crooks, and Peter works to make sure they get their just desserts!  That aspect was kind of fun even if, as always, the story is a bit melodramatic.  This was also the last book in the series that I remember reading, so since then none of these stories seem remotely familiar to me.

These books definitely build on each other, so while they can be picked up and read in any order, reading them in order makes the whole process a great deal more cohesive.  Judy makes friends and helps them solve problems, so by this point in the series there is quite the little gang, all with backstories and shared histories.  While Sutton doesn’t make a great deal of effort to develop her characters, they still do have some personality and it is interesting to see where they go.

Judy seems like a pretty forward-thinking heroine for her time.  She isn’t big into all the “girly” stuffy of housekeeping and babies, but is totally supportive of her friends who are – The Name on the Bracelet is all about Judy going to visit a friend who is married and just had her first baby, and Judy is completely happy for her.  While marriage is viewed as a stable and good thing, Sutton is honest about how it doesn’t always work out.  The Mark on the Mirror talks a lot about why people get married, and why those marriages can break apart.  At this point, Judy and Peter are officially engaged and planning their wedding, and it was interesting to see how Sutton doesn’t act like that that will be the grand finale of Judy’s life, or her “career” of solving problems.  Instead, she emphasizes how the happiest marriages are the ones where the participants both support the other as they grow as individuals and grow together as a team.  Judy loves Peter, but also has some doubts about whether or not marriage is right for her.  Peter isn’t dismissive of these doubts, but instead works to show her how sincere he is in loving her for who she is.

I also thought that it was interesting that Judy’s parents had hoped that she would go to college instead of “just” getting married!  It isn’t a big part of the story, but it’s mentioned in The Clue in the Patchwork Quilt that they were somewhat disappointed that Judy decided to become Peter’s secretary and later his wife instead of pursuing her studies further.  Out of Judy’s gang of friends, one is married and one is engaged at this point – the other girls are all pursuing their own careers and education in a manner that isn’t made a big fuss of – pretty solid for those “backwards” times in the 1930’s!

Probably the most thought-provoking book out of this batch is The Name on the Bracelet.  Judy goes to visit her friend Irene, and Irene’s husband Dale.  They’ve just had their first baby, and Judy arrives on the day that Irene and the baby are coming home from the hospital.  In hospital, Irene has made friends with another first-time mother, Jane.  Now, this book was nothing if not predictable – we spent a literal couple of chapters leading up to the fact that Irene and Jane have dressed their babies JUST ALIKE, so it’s not big surprise to the reader when the babies get mixed up as the ladies leave the hospital.  Interestingly enough, this is another case where Sutton isn’t afraid to create an unhappy marriage situation – Jane has a “terrible” husband and in-laws that she is trying to escape from, at a time when women – especially young mothers – didn’t have a lot of options for earning money.  ANYWAY the point is, Dale and Judy realize that the baby is the wrong baby.  At this point, Dale decides, emphatically, that Irene will not be told!  Judy is very unhappy with this decision, as she is an honest soul, but Dale insists that this is what is best for Irene.  As Dale and Judy are unable to locate Jane – who has done a runner in an attempt to escape from the husband/inlaws – for a while it is uncertain as to whether or not Dale will ever get his real baby back.  Watching the way this lie impacts his relationship with Irene, and the way that Judy contemplates whether or not it’s best to have true honesty in a marriage, is quite interesting.  In the end, of course everything is made right, and Dale even receives confirmation from the doctor that lying to Irene was what was best for her health.  Judy, however, remains convinced that truly good marriages are built on absolute honesty and transparency, and even asks Peter to promise that no matter what happens in their future, he will always tell her uncomfortable truths instead of comfortable lies.  While the story itself, in all honesty, wasn’t that great, I did find the whole truth/lie/protection question to be intriguing.

All in all, while these books haven’t been amazing – pretty solid 3.5* reads all around – they have been interesting.  I hear a lot of people being very dismissive of the early part of the 1900’s, as though “the patriarchy” was forcing all women to be enslaved housewives, but actually reading books from that era reveal a much more layered and nuanced society (surprise, surprise) wherein yes, being a housewife was the “regular” pursuit of women at the time, but not the only one, and not the end-all of a woman’s life.  It’s also no true surprise to reasonable people to recognize that many men, like basically all the men in Sutton’s stories, were supportive and encouraging to the women in their lives, wanting them to grow and learn.  While Peter and other menfolk in these stories can be protective of the women, it’s always with an acknowledgement of the inherent autonomy of the women they love.

Judy Bolton Mysteries // Books 6-10 // by Margaret Sutton

I reviewed the first five books in this series last month, so you may remember that the Judy Bolton mysteries were published in the 1930’s and focus on the titular character, around age 15 in the first book, who lives in a small country town but nonetheless finds herself entangled in many adventures.  There were about 35 books published in this series, and I own a lot of them.  I’ve collected them off and on over the years, so there are several that I haven’t read yet, and the rest I haven’t read in years.  So it’s been fun to delve back into this series.

6.  The Yellow Phantom (1933)
7.  The Mystic Ball (1934)
8.  The Voice in the Suitcase (1935)
9.  The Mysterious Half Cat (1936)
10.  The Riddle of the Double Ring (1937)

Basically, these have all been 3* reads for me.  While perfectly nice, they aren’t anything outstanding.  Some of them are definitely worse than others (The Yellow Phantom seems to have been mostly about how amazing Judy is), while others have side plots that make no sense (a character in The Mysterious Half Cat is apparently only deaf sometimes…???).  However, they do seem to be getting somewhat better as Judy gets older.  She’s practically engaged at the end of The Riddle of the Double Ring, so we are making slow but sure progress!

There are funny things that are reflections of the time.  While Judy overall is pretty modern, honestly – quite interested in a career and not a fan of housework – it’s still interesting how other things come through.  For instance, one of Judy’s friends gets married between The Mystic Ball and The Voice in the Suitcase… and she’s only 17!  Judy graduates from high school before she’s 17, and although she isn’t quite 18 yet at the end of Double Ring, she’s already received (and turned down) a marriage proposal, and is basically engaged to someone else.  She actually almost sticks with the first guy because she’s just graduated and “doesn’t know what else to do with her life”!

I don’t love these as much as I hoped that I would, but I have still been enjoying them overall.  I’m taking a break from them right now so I can get some other reading done, but will hopefully return to these in a few weeks and read the next ten.  Who knows what Judy will get up to next!

Judy Bolton Mysteries // Books 1-5 // by Margaret Sutton – #20BooksofSummer

  1. The Vanishing Shadow (1932)
  2. The Haunted Attic (1932)
  3. The Invisible Chimes (1932)
  4. Seven Strange Clues (1932)
  5. The Ghost Parade (1933)

Published in the 1930’s, the Judy Bolton mysteries focus on 15-year-old Judy, who lives in a small town somewhere in New England, presumably upstate New York.  The daughter of the town doctor, Judy is, in many ways, a typical teenager – but one with a knack for problem solving… and problems seem to come her way.

I first came across these books when I was about 15 myself.  I picked one up in an antique store, and enjoyed the lighthearted, semi-ridiculous plot.  After that, I began collecting them whenever I came across them, which is when I realized that, unlike many of the other mystery series from this era, Judy actually gets older throughout the series – by some of the later books, she’s married and setting up her own household!  Somewhere in my late teens I read all of the books that I owned at the time, but I haven’t reread them in years, and have actually collected quite a few more since then, so there are several – especially the later books – that I have never read.

There are 35 books in the series, published over a course of almost thirty years.  Since then, a few more have been added to the series – the most recent in 2012 – but I’m assuming that they weren’t written by the original author.  I don’t own all 35 of the original, but I own most of them, and have the first 24 in order.  At that point I’ll have to decide if it’s worth hunting up the rest, as the later books are rarer and more expensive.

The first five books have honestly been a hoot.  They are wildly impractical.  In The Vanishing Shadow Judy overhears a conversation between two dastardly villains, who then try to buy her silence.  When she refuses, they kidnap her… and hold her prisoner until she promises not to tell anyone – and then they let her go!  Then BEST part is… she doesn’t tell anyone!  She feels bound by the honor of her word and has to work around her vow.  Ah, for the days when people were so trustworthy!

The rest of the books are just as ridiculous.  In The Invisible Chimes, Judy and her friends try to stop some criminals by forming a human chain across the road, forcing the villains to either run them over or run off the road!  In The Ghost Parade, instead of waiting for a storm to pass, Judy and her friends race their boat through the islands in the midst of it!

But despite the fact that they’re a little absurd, these books are also great fun.  Judy isn’t a perfect character, and I really like that about her.  At times, she’s impatient, makes mistakes, and gets a little pouty.  She feels like a genuine character who grows and changes, instead of just being a paper-cutout of a teenage girl detective.  Her friends also have different back stories, although it always cracks me up when “regular” characters conveniently end up with a really rich friend, who in turn paves the way for everything to go smoothly.  Yes, Judy comes from a workingman’s background… but her friend’s brother owns an airplane??  Not quite as middle-class as everyone pretends to be.  ;-)

For the most part, these have been 3* and 3.5* reads.  Enjoyable, entertaining, engaging – but nothing magnificent.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest, though, and seeing how Judy’s life develops.

Also:  The Vanishing Shadow was book #1 for my #20BooksofSummer challenge!