Rilla of Ingleside // by L.M. Montgomery

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

//published 1921//

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

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

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

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

October Minireviews – Part 2

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

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

East by Edith Pattou – 3*

//published 2003//

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

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

Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras – 3.5*

//published 2020//

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

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

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik – 4*

//published 2020//

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

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

The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller – 3.5*

/published 2019//

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

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

Well Played by Jen DeLuca – 4*

//published 2020//

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

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

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

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

The Wrong Side of Magic by Janette Rallison – 3*

//published 2016//

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

Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery – 4*

//published 1919//

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

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

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

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

October Minireviews – Part 1

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.

Oh look, it’s November and I’m just starting to review the books I read in October!!! :-D

Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1939//

Some people complain about this book not “fitting” with the rest of the series since this one (along with Anne of Windy Poplars) was written out of order, but I never knew that until a few years ago and I’ve always loved this one. While the focus shifts off of Anne and onto her children for the most part, it’s still a lighthearted and happy book. I really appreciate that Montgomery didn’t find it necessary to give Anne a horrible life, or make her and Gilbert unhappy together later – instead, they continue to grow together, and now have a whole houseful of little ones as well. A thoroughly enjoyable addition to the series.

My Kind of Wonderful by Jill Shalvis – 3.5*

//published 2015//

When I started reading Second Chance Summer, I didn’t realize it was the first book in a series, so it took a minute for the second and third books to come in at the library. While I really enjoyed returning to Cedar Ridge, Colorado, I didn’t find this one quite as engaging as the first book, mainly because I was seriously distracted by the fact that the whole reason that Bailey is at the lodge is so she can paint a mural… outside… in the middle of winter… in the Colorado mountains… ????? I don’t feel like any kind of paint would work under these conditions??? There’s even one point where she finishes the mural in the dark???

Aside from sketchy connections to reality, it was still a perfectly enjoyable piece of fluff romance. There are a few too many sexy times for me, but otherwise a fun little read.

Nobody But You by Jill Shalvis – 3*

//published 2016//

Sadly, the third book in the series was my least favorite, mainly because it was just… boring. Nothing really happens. Sophie’s divorced and she ended up with her husband’s boat, mainly to tick him off (despite the fact that she didn’t get anything else…) and since she’s broke, she has to live on it. So she’s wandering around in the boat working random temp jobs around the lake while intermittently running into another one of the siblings from Cedar Ridge Lodge, who is suitably hot and awesome. It wasn’t a bad book exactly, just really unexciting. I was never interested to pick it up after I had set it down, but wanted to finish the series itself. I was also annoyed when the big conflict between the main characters is Sophie accusing Jacob of lying to her… when he literally didn’t. When they first met, Sophie thinks he’s a Lake Patrol Officer, but she never actually says that to Jacob, so he doesn’t even know that that’s what she thinks. Later, she gets mad at him for “lying” to her about being an officer??? And his response is to be all apologetic?! My response would have been, Wow this chick is crazy, no thank you.

Not a bad story, but an overall rather apathetic ending to the trilogy.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – 5*

//published 1813// And yes, I totally got the Chiltern edition – SO worth it!!!! //

Since I love reading P&P variations of all kinds, it seemed like I was overdue on a reread of the original story. There isn’t much I can say here that hasn’t already been said – it’s a really fabulous novel with fun characters, an entertaining story, and plenty of romance. I always forget how delightfully snarky Austen is. This classic is definitely worthy of that title, and definitely worth a read.

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1930//

This is the first appearance of Miss Marple, an elderly spinster who lives in the small village of St. Mary Mead. The book itself is narrated by the vicar (who is extremely likable), but Miss Marple drifts in and out of the story a great deal with her habit of observing everything that is going on and drawing out similarities between situations that most people overlook. One of my biggest take-aways from the this read-through was just the reminder of how, at our core, people are basically alike, which is kind of the point of all the Miss Marple-isms. There is one big coincidence in this mystery that always is hard for me to get over, but for the most part this is a great story and an excellent place to start if you’ve never read a Miss Marple tale.

September Minireviews – Part 1

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.

Chasing the Dead by Tim Weaver  – 3.5*

//published 2010//

I’m not sure how this mystery series first appeared on my radar.  The main character, David Raker, used to be an investigative reporter, but now works finding missing persons.  In this first installment, he’s hired by a mother whose adult son disappeared.  His body was found months later.  But now, a year after that, she’s convinced that she saw him walking down the street and that he’s alive.  David isn’t convinced, but agrees to at least try to find out where the son was between the time of his disappearance and the time that his body was found in a fiery car wreck.

There were a lot of things about this book that I like, especially David himself.  I also love the concept of him using his old reporter contacts to work these types of cases.  However, this one just went a little too over-the-top for me, especially the weird quasi-religious cult that just never actually seemed to be adequately explained in a way that genuinely justified everything that had happened.  While I liked this one fine, I didn’t love it, and there were a couple of torture scenes that I skimmed because that kind of thing makes me really queasy.  Still, I enjoyed it enough to pick up the second installment.

The Dead Tracks by Tim Weaver – 3.5*

//published 2011//

Oh look, here’s the second installment!!  A 17-year-old girl disappears into thin air.  With a genuinely happy home life, excellent grades, no boyfriend, and a solid future ahead of her, she seems like an unlikely candidate for a runaway.  Convinced the police aren’t giving it all, her parents hire David to find out what really happened, and soon he’s sucked into a complicated plot involving a serial killer and the Russian mafia.

Once again, I really liked David himself, and the story wasn’t bad, it was just… over-the-top.  Again.  Not every missing person disappears into the clutches of insane psychopaths, but here’s the second book in a row where that’s exactly what happened.  There were once again some a-little-too-gruesome-for-me scenes, and the killer/kidnapper was just… a little too bizarre.  All in all, while these weren’t bad books, they just aren’t for me.  They didn’t exactly feel like they could really happen, if that makes sense, and the fact that David keeps getting into these basically-should-be-dead situations and then getting out of them had me rolling my eyes a little.  It’s also possible that I just wasn’t in the mood for these.  Either way, I’ve checked the series off the TBR as I just don’t think it’s a great fit for me, despite not actually being bad reads.

Fangs by Sarah Anderson – 4*

//published 2020//

This is an absolutely adorable collection of comics about a vampire and a werewolf who are dating.  While not groundbreaking, I enjoyed every page.  The concept is done so well, and both characters come through as thoroughly likable.  I also appreciate the effort that went in to making the physical book a joy to handle – clothbound, black page edges, wonderful paper quality, and the perfect size.  Well worth a read if you enjoy the concept, and the book itself is fantastic.

Second Chance Summer by Jill Shalvis – 4*

//published 2015//

Sometimes I pick up a book and then realize it’s part of a series.  Luckily, this was book one, so I went ahead and rolled with it.  Lily has to return to her hometown in Colorado when her career in California goes bust.  Of course, in typical chick lit style this means running into her old crush, Aidan.  While this book wasn’t anything stunning, it was a really enjoyable romance, with a fairly balanced angst level.  Lily is working through some other family history that made a lot of what was happening feel reasonable.  Aidan wasn’t perfect, either, which I always like.  There were were a few too many sexy times for this to get my wholehearted approval (just not my thing) but overall total brain candy, which was exactly what I wanted.  There are two more books in the series, focused on two of Aidan’s siblings (who own a ski resort!!  I love hospitality romance haha) so I have those on reserve at the library.

Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1917//

My reread of the Anne series continues.  In this book, Anne and Gilbert start their new life together on a different part of Prince Edward Island.  They meet their new neighbors and settle into life.  There are some wonderful side stories here, and one in particular really explores the importance of doing what is right even if it looks as though the results may not be what you want.  This book is always a little bittersweet to me, as we leave behind so many friends from Avonlea, but I still love it so much.  Also, I Gilbert and Anne were my first ship growing up, and I’m still here for it!

Anne of Windy Poplars // by L.M. Montgomery // Or: I Rant About Random Editorial “Updates” Made to Old Books

//published 1936//

While Windy Poplars isn’t my favorite of the Anne series, I still find so much to love.  It’s also the only book in the series where we actually get Anne’s first-person perspective in the form of letters she’s writing (although there are also chunks of third person narrative as well).  I also like this book because it’s also the only story where Anne is really completely independent.  In all the other stories, even while she heads off to the next stage of life, she has a friend or family member with her.  But here, she’s really on her own, making completely new friends (and enemies!).  More than most of the other books, this one feels very episodic, but not choppy.  If you enjoy Anne’s shenanigans, and her habit of trying to help people’s love stories along, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here as well.

This book was published “out of order” – Montgomery’s editors wanted another Anne story, and so she filled in this gap in the Anne chronology with this book.  However, I never knew that until recently, and never particularly noticed a difference in the flow of the stories.  In this book we are introduced to an almost entirely new cast of characters, though, so it’s somewhat sad to leave behind Avonlea friends.

I’ve been purchasing fun copies of these books as I read each one, and was absolutely delighted to find this perfect clothbound copy for only $10 on Book Depository.  However, when I received the book it had a very odd caveat on the copyright page – “This book was first published in 1936.  This edition follows closely the original, unabridged text, with occasional alterations made to remove language that may be deemed offensive.”  Um… excuse me?!?!  I definitely don’t need the thought police interfering with the original text because some words may not be the words we use nowadays.  Thoroughly outraged, I did a somewhat absurd thing… I read this book twice.  First, I would read the chapter in the new book. Then, I would skim the chapter in my old edition, looking for discrepancies.  I recognize how ridiculous this is, but I really love this little copy and wanted to know the differences so that I could keep it.  This book was an absolute delight to read – it’s just the right size, the pages are wonderfully creamy in texture, I loved the font – everything!  Except, of course, for the possibility that random words had been edited to avoid offending my modern sensibilities!

Please note:  There actually was some controversy about this book at the time of publication.  Originally, Montgomery had titled the book Anne of Windy Willows, but for some reason the North American editors decided that was too close to Wind in the Willows and made her change it.  The North American editors also thought that some of the passages in the book were “too gruesome” and had them edited.  (There is one scene where Anne is in a cemetery with a local woman who gives her all the “dirt” on the people buried there, with some of the stories being pretty grim, and another chapter where Anne visits an elderly lady who spends the evening regaling Anne with tales of all the terrible things that have happened to her family members in the past, also pretty grim.  These chapters stayed in the American edition for the most part, but some of the most macabre stories were removed.)  In England and elsewhere, however, the changes to the title and the contents of the book weren’t made.  These are NOT the changes that this copyright note is referring to.  I don’t actually disagree with those changes simply because they were made when Montgomery was alive, and she’s the one who made and agreed to them.  That sort of editing is completely different from a random person deciding, decades later, to change the words of an author to suit a new arbitrary standard of what is and what isn’t “offensive.”

Before I read it, I tried my best to think of what could possibly be found in this story that would have had to be removed.  As I read, I found negative connotations about Indians and gypsies, the old-time usage of the word “fag” (meaning exhausted in this context), and frequent usage of the phrase “old pussy” to describe one of the grumpy older ladies in the book.  But were any of those things edited?  No, no they were not, which was obviously fine with me (this is all part of the package of reading a book published in 1936!), but left me a little confused as to what the editors would actually find offensive.  So do you want to hear the one and only difference I found between the two books?  (It’s possible that there were others that I missed, but this is the only one I could find.)

The setup here is that Anne has just persuaded a very stubborn individual to change his mind about something important.  Anne is telling this story to a friend, and here is how the friend responds –

Original text:  “I hope you’ll never try to induce me to turn Mohammedan… because you’d likely succeed.”

Updated text:  “I hope you’ll never try to induce me to change my religion… because you’d likely succeed.”

This honestly just feels so completely unnecessary to me???  It’s so random – the character isn’t really even saying something negative about Muslims, just using it as an example of how Anne could probably convince someone to literally change their foundational life beliefs if she really put her mind to it.  Considering other words, phrases, and implications found throughout the story (as mentioned above), this one feels even stranger.  If it had been one change among many, I could have at least understood what the editors were trying to accomplish.  But to literally be the ONLY thing they changed in the ENTIRE story??  I’m still not over it.

At any rate, I overall did enjoy my (double) reread, but despite loving the physical qualities of my new copy, I don’t see myself buying another Arcturus edition again – which is really quite sad, because it really is a lovely edition.

Any thoughts on whether editors should edit older books to make them more “palatable” for modern readers?  For me, the other distressing thing was that there was absolutely no indication anywhere in this book’s description that any abridgment had taken place.  To me, this seems like something that should be clearly marked.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, though, so let me know what you think!!

August MiniReviews – Part 1

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.

August reviews in August!!

Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1915//

My slow reread of the Anne series continues.  I’ve read other reviews of these books that are much more objective and critical than mine.  If that’s what you’re looking for, you are in the wrong place!  My childhood and young adult associations with these stories are far too strong for me to find them uninteresting or not worth reading.  In Island, Anne finally heads off to college, where many an adventure ensues.  My biggest problem with this book is the same as I have with Avonlea – I want MORE!  I love Anne’s group of friends, and only wish that there were even more stories exploring their friendships and relationships.  The romance is a big part of this one, as Anne struggles with ideals versus realities.  I’ve been in a relationship where a person fit all my “objective” boxes, ergo it must be romance, only to realize that a life partner needs something more than just to check the correct boxes.  When Anne begins to think of her actual future with this person – what it will be like to live with him day in an day out for the rest of her life, she realizes that beyond the boxes, there is some unidentifiable magic ingredient that is the true essence of romance, rather than her idealistic tall, dark, and mysterious.  Anyway, this is actually one of my favorites from the series for a variety of reasons, and highly recommended.

An Unequal Match by Rachelle Edwards – 2*

//published 1974//

Long-time visitors here may remember that quite a long while back I bought an entire book of Regency romances from eBay in an attempt to score some Georgette Heyer books I didn’t have yet (which worked!), and I’m still working my way through the pile of not-Heyer romances, most of which are pretty bad.  This one was definitely in the pretty bad pile.  The premise was decent – we all know I love a marriage of convenience – but as soon as he marries Verena, Justin bails out of the country, leaving her with his aunt.  There was potential for the fun “ugly duckling into a swan” kind of story, but instead Edwards chooses to skip two entire years, and when we next see Verena, she’s now a beautiful, competent, society lady, to the point that she feels like an entirely different character.  Justin comes back to London and even though he’s talked with Verena like three times in his whole life, gets all pissy about the fact that she wants to divorce Justin and instead marry a guy who has been escorting her all around town and basically courting her.  As the reader, we know this guy is a jerk, but Verena has no idea, and it seemed pretty ridiculous of Justin to be mad about it.  There’s some choppy kerfluffles and then, despite the fact that Verena and Justin have still only had maybe two or three more conversations, Verena suddenly realizes that if anything happens to Justin she’ll DIE and she loves him SO MUCH.

In short, completely unbelievable, no relationship between the main characters, no actual story, nothing.  2* because I did keep reading, although in retrospect that was more from the hope that the story was going to be redeemed than any actual pleasure…

NB: The background of some of these pictures includes a bingo card, part of a challenge I’m hosting over on Litsy.  Participants list 25 books, then I draw out the numbers at random, filling in the bingo card.  Anyone who is playing along reads the books that match those numbers to try and score a bingo!  It’s been great fun!

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne – 4*

//published 2016//

I’ve been meaning to read this one forever, so when I finally picked it up from Book Outlet on the cheap (I don’t have a problem) I was pretty stoked.  All in all, this was a fun and fluffy read with very likable main characters.  There was a bit too much sexy time/lusty thoughts for my personal preference, but because I really liked Lucy and Josh together, I was willing to roll with it.  I think this story would have worked a lot better if we had gotten some of Josh’s thoughts as well – I still prefer third person narratives for this reason – but Lucy is very likable so it helped.  All in all, if you like enemies-to-lovers romance, I definitely recommend this fun and snarky story.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard & Florence Atwater – 3.5*

//published 1938//

This children’s classic, published in the 1930s, is fun and ridiculous.  As an adult, I had to suspend a LOT of disbelief, but when I was imagining reading this out loud to a group of 9 or 10-year-olds, I could definitely see that age finding all these shenanigans hilarious.  This was a fun and quick read of a classic.  As a side note, I bought this rather battered, well-read copy as a library discard in 1999, where it had apparently been on the shelves since 1938!

The Story of the Amulet by E. Nesbit – 3.5*

//published 1906//

When I read Five Children & It a few months ago, I knew that it had a sequel (The Phoenix & the Carpet), which I already owned.  However, I didn’t realize that there was a third book in the series, so I hunted down a copy and finally got around to reading it.  All in all, while perfectly enjoyable, I definitely didn’t love this one as much as the first two.  The story is much choppier, and because they are traveling around through time and geography, there was a lot of the benevolent British superiority over uneducated natives attitude.  While interesting for the sake of historical context, it sometimes was a little cringey.  The ending also felt quite abrupt.  So while I see myself rereading the first two books sometime, I’m not sure I’ll bother to revisit this one again.

April Minireviews (in May)

So once again I’m super behind on reviews.  Here we are in May, and I have written basically zero April reviews!  So even though my memory is a little hazy on some of the ones I read earlier in the month, here we go!

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs (finished April 7) – 4*

//published 2018//

This is one of the hazy ones.  I picked up this book because the subtitle was “A Novel in Clues,” which intrigued me.  However, the clues were sadly lacking, and even the mystery wasn’t as engaging as I wanted it to be.  It’s definitely more novel-y than thriller-y, and there is a LOT of math in this book.  It is really more of a straight novel, looking at a family after the sudden death of the patriarch. There is a bit of suspense, but it is not the driving force of the story. Still, I did overall enjoy the story and the characters, even if this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.  There were also a lot of dark themes throughout, which I wasn’t completely prepared for – child abuse, vigilante justice, drug abuse, suicide, etc.  In a way, this story was a lot more about the main character coming to grips with her family, both adopted and not, and her place with them, than it was about Isaac’s mysterious equation.  While I did give this book 4* for being a read that kept my attention, it wasn’t a book that I wanted to go back and read again.  And I still feel a little ripped off about the misleading “novel in clues” bit!

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery (finished April 8) – 5*

//published 1909//

Frankly, I’m always going to give every book in this series 5* because I have no objectivity.  I’ve read these books since I was a little girl, over and over, and I love every page of them.  A while ago some other blog that I follow was reading these books for the first time (I honestly can’t remember which blog this was or I would link to it) and she seemed to feel that there was a real up and down to the series.  If I remember correctly, she liked about every other book and felt like the rest were filler content.  However, in my own prejudiced way I absolutely love this entry to the series.  Here, Anne has set aside her personal ambitions to do the right thing for the people she loves – and comes to find that it was the right thing for her as well.  While not preachy, there is an overall reminder throughout the story that sometimes life doesn’t go the way we had planned out, and that’s not always a negative thing.

If I have a criticism of this story, it’s that I would love to have more stories involving Anne’s group of friends.  They are such a fun crowd, and it would have been nice to Diana’s romance mature instead of just sort of appearing.  Still, this is still a book that I love and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting.

Leave It To Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse (finished April 10) – 5*

//published 1924//

No one can make me feel better about life than Wodehouse.  From the opening chapter of “Dark Plottings at Blandings Castle” through the delights of “Sensational Occurrence at a Poetry Reading” and “Almost Entirely About Flower-Pots” (followed by “More on the Flower-Pot Theme”), this book made me laugh out loud on more than on occasion.  Yes, Psmith himself can be a bit much, but the overall story is so fun and full of such fun characters and completely absurd situations that I could barely put this one down while I was reading it.  It’s another reread that just gets better every time I revisit it.

Moonlight Becomes You by Mary Higgins Clark (finished April 12) – 4*

//published 1996//

Despite the fact that I quite enjoy mystery/thrillers, I’ve read almost nothing by MHC.  Recently, I got an entire box of mysteries, including several of her stand-alone titles, and this was the first that I picked up.  The first chapter opens with the main character, Maggie, trapped inside of a coffin (SO CREEPY).  From there, we go back in time a few weeks to find out how she ended up there.  The hook of that opening, knowing that that doom is yet to come, is absolutely fantastic, and the pacing from there is perfect.  While I really enjoyed this story a lot, there’s a supposed romantic relationship between Maggie and one of the other characters that felt like the big weak point of the story and was what kept me from giving this more than 4*.  A lot of the climax hinges on his desperation to find her, but I couldn’t quite find that believable since we hadn’t really had much interaction between the two of them during the rest of the book.  Still, this was a great one-off read that made me quite intrigued to read some more of Clark’s writing.  Plus, it randomly took me to Rhode Island for my #ReadtheUSA2020 challenge, which was a great bonus!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (finished April 13) – 4.5*

//published 2013//

If you’re noticing a reread theme in April, you would be correct.  When I’m feeling stressed or not really feeling like reading, I go back to revisit old friends.  I find books that I’ve loved in the past to be comforting and safe to read.  I’ve been wanting to reread Fangirl for quite some time.  I had only read it once before and I really liked it, and I was curious as to whether or not I would still enjoy it the second time around.  The answer – yes!  I may have even enjoyed it more.  I’ve read several of Rowell’s books, and genuinely feel like this age of character is her sweet spot.  She captures Cath’s insecurities and uncertainties so well, while making Cath be more than just those things.  I really love how romance isn’t the driving story here – instead, we also see a lot of family relationships that Cath is trying to learn how to balance as she heads into adulthood.  I would absolutely love to have a story during this exact period of time focused on Cath’s twin, Wren, who was also going through a lot of growth and change during this time, although in a completely different way.

One thing that kind of made me roll my eyes a few times was the fact that Cath and her sister have lived in Omaha all their lives and are now going to school in Lincoln, but they act like the other students there are basically a bunch of hicks instead of cool city people like Cath and Wren are.  And like… Omaha is NOT that big of a city (I’ve been there), and Omaha and Lincoln are not that far apart, so that felt a little random to me.  However, overall this is book is so funny and well-written that I was able to forgive it a few small issues and just roll with what was happening.

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.

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.

August Minireviews – Part 3 – #20BooksofSummer

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.

Final wrap-up of August reads!

The Royal Treatment and The Royal Wedding by Melanie Summers – 3*

//published 2017//

The first book was close to a 3.5* read for me, so I was willing to give the second a try, especially since it was on Kindle Unlimited.  However, I just genuinely was bored by The Royal Wedding and didn’t bother with the third book.  These books had a fun concept and fairly likable characters, but I was somewhat turned off by their – for lack of a better word – crudity.  Told in dual POVs from both the male and female lead, I felt like I heard way more about Arthur’s libido (albeit in weirdly euphemistic terms) that I ever wanted to know, and the method Summers used to make Tessa a “regular” person was by having her swear – a lot.  Tessa also has several brothers, all of whom basically treat her like trash, to the point that I really didn’t understand why Tessa was still willing to spend time with them.  If my family treated me like that, I would NOT hang around!  In the second book, there was this really strong message that if men ever, in any way, attempt to care for/protect/help the women in their life, they are just sexist, horrible people, and that really grated on me.

However – these books were also very funny, and the scenario was great fun.  I actually liked Arthur and Tessa a lot, as individuals and as a couple, which is what kept me reading as long as I did.  Not a total waste of time, but not really books I would recommend either.

Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery – 3.5*

//published 1910//

It had been a long time since I had read this slim book, and while I enjoyed it, I was reminded of how some of Montgomery’s books just feel a little flat to me – this is definitely in that category.  First off, Kilmeny is mute, and it’s always hard to really portray that in writing, since I’m reading what she says whether she says it out loud or writes it down.  Secondly, the amount of prejudice Kilmeny faced/put on herself for being mute was really an interesting testament of the times, as she literally felt like her “defect” made her “unworthy” of being a wife.  This book also reflects its time in its discussion of Neil, the hired hand/son of Italian immigrants.  It’s definitely something that wouldn’t be written that way a hundred years later!

Still, all in all, this book only reflects the thoughts/culture of its time.  And while this story doesn’t have the magic that some of Montgomery’s other works do, it’s still a nice little story.  Incidentally, this is #11 for my #20BooksofSummer challenge.

Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins – 4*

//published 2011//

This was my first foray into Higgins’s writing, but it won’t be my last.  There were a lot of things that I really liked about this book.  The characters were well-written, and I loved the way that while yes, the main story is a romance, there are a lot of secondary stories going on that add a great deal of depth to what was going on.  There was a strong theme about parent/child relationships that I thought was done quite well, and I really loved the way there were so many adopted kids!  I also appreciated the lack of explicit sex scenes and the minimal swearing.  While this book didn’t become an instant classic for me, I definitely see myself exploring some of Higgins’s other books soon, as she had a great balance of romance, humor, and serious issues.

This is #12 for my #20BooksofSummer challenge, and probably as far as I am going to get this year!

Unwilling Bride by Marnie Ellingson – 4*

//published 1980//

Several years ago I purchased The Wicked Marquis by this author (secondhand, in a thrift store).  It has become one of my favorites, so I was excited to pick up Unwilling Bride when I had a few hours of enforced downtime last weekend.  While I didn’t love it was much as Marquis, it was still great fun.  The story was lively, the characters engaging, and everything was just a good time and thoroughly enjoyable.  I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more of Ellingson’s works, all of which appear to be out of print.

The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts – 4.5*

//published 2011//

This nonfiction story of the champion horse jumper, Snowman, was really an excellent read.  I knew the bare bones of this story thanks to C.W. Anderson’s Twenty Gallant Horses, but it was so much fun to get more details about a horse of unknown (but very poor – probably plow horse) lineage, purchased off the dog-food wagon by a poor Dutch immigrant, who went on to become a champion show jumper competing – and winning – at Madison Square Gardens.  Letts does a great job of giving the right amount of background information without bogging down the actual story, and I love it when nonfiction books work photographs into the text instead of putting them all in a big block of pages in the middle of the book.

I wish I had more space to review this book, as it really was quite fascinating.  The horse on the cover is Snowman himself, who enjoyed jumping so much that he would do it without a rider if the jump was in the ring.  If you like horses, or just a really fun rags-to-riches kind of story, I definitely recommend this one.

Chasing Ravens by Jessica Paige – 3.5*

//published 2014//

This was a decent fantasy story with Russian vibes.  While I liked it just fine, it didn’t really have the magic a story needs to become one I return to again and again.  It felt like the entire beginning of the story should have been eliminated, as it didn’t really do much to the main thrust of the story, and then more time could have been spent on the actual adventure.  It also felt like the story could have used either no romance, or more romance.  As it was, there was just enough to be distracting but not enough to actually fell like a part of the story.  Still, a perfectly nice read, and definite kudos for nice cover art.