February 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.

Veg in One Bed by Huw Richards – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was a solid vegetable gardening book but with one big weakness – it wasn’t clear which zone Richards is planting in.  Basically, the entire book is set up with specific instructions on what to do each week of the year in order to have a raised 10×4 vegetable bed in constant production.  Richards says all you need is that one bed and also a sunny windowsill for starting seeds.  His instructions are clear and he also does a nice job of providing you with substitutes in case one of the veggies he’s planting aren’t to your taste.  He glosses over what I call the “hungry” veggies – tomatoes and peppers – by saying they do best in their own, separate containers (like a 5-gallon bucket) and focuses on lettuces, peas, beans, and that sort of thing.  It’s very well organized and tells you what to do on what specific day… except it’s completely unclear as to what region this plan is for.  Where I live in Ohio is completely different weather/frost dates than South Carolina or Minnesota, but there isn’t any guidance as to where Richards assumes you live in order to implement his date-specific plan.  The book was originally published in the UK, so maybe just everyone in the UK has the same frost dates??  Some suggestions for altering some of the dates to accommodate different growing regions would have been extremely helpful, as the rest of the information is quite useful.

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten – 3.5*

//published 2021//

This was another traveling book club book, and while I overall did enjoy it, the world-building was extremely uneven, which made it hard for me to really get into the story.  The story centers on two sisters, Neve and Red, princesses in a small kingdom backed up against an (evil) enchanted forest.  Throughout the centuries, any time a second daughter has been born to the royal family, said second daughter is destined to be sacrificed to the Wolf who lives in the forest.  This appeasement keeps the Wolf from unleashing evil monsters out of the forest… or so everyone has always been taught.  It will come as no surprise to the reader to discover that the Wolf is actually a handsome man, bound to the forest against his will and doing his best to keep things under control.

I actually really liked the characters in this one and thought the concept was interesting – a sort of Red Riding Hood/Beauty and the Beast mashup – but the world building was SO uneven and mysterious – Whitten dribbles out tiny bits of information and I spent way too long being confused about how the magical system worked, what the woods were all about, why the Wolf was even there, etc. Because the Wolf actually needs Red to work with him, it seems like it would be pretty freaking natural for him to actually EXPLAIN some things when she arrives… but no one does.  Instead, we just spend more time wandering around with everyone being mysterious and no one actually telling anyone about anything that’s going on and it was SO annoying, because it felt more like a device than the way things would actually have happened.  Still, I’ll probably check out the second book when it’s released this year because now that I know more about what’s going on, I think I’ll enjoy the writing more.

First Date by Krista McGee – 3*

//published 2011//

This one was a mixed bag.  Part of it was that I didn’t really realize it was supposed to be a riff on the (Biblical) story of Esther until about halfway through the book – in that context, it actually made more sense, because some of the random little things flowed better when I thought about them within the Esther framework.  Basically, Addy, along with a pile of other teenage girls, is chosen to be on a reality show which, over several episodes, will allow the president’s handsome teenage son to pick out his date for prom (or maybe homecoming, whatever).  Addy is an orphan whose parents were killed when they were serving as missionaries.  Now she attends a small Christian school and lives with her uncle.  Her principal and her uncle both encourage her to participate in the show, even though she thinks it sounds dumb, because it could be a good opportunity for her to share her faith.  Throughout the story, the other girls are bratty, the president’s son is super nice, and Addy was… well, Addy was really my problem with this book.  She’s supposed to be the good Christian example, but she was really just kind of selfish and self-centered.  She’s constantly worried about what other people think, so instead of sharing her faith, she’s always hiding it.  That entire aspect of the story was really uneven and made it difficult for me to root for her.  She’s just such a cardboard Good Girl (TM) who doesn’t care about boring, worldly things like makeup or clothes or dating – she cares about getting good grades and going to college!  I found the dichotomy between Good Girl Addy and Bad Girl Everyone Else to be borderline offensive in its shallowness – girls who like to do their hair are automatically little bitches, apparently, and I didn’t think that was a good message.  It wasn’t a terrible book, but my inability to like Addy made it a pretty blah read.

Made in Manhattan by Lauren Layne – 3.5*

//published 2022//

I’m always excited to pick up a new Lauren Layne book, and while I enjoyed this one, it wasn’t my favorite of her books.  The antagonistic attitude between the two main characters went on a little too long, and this book could have REALLY benefitted from hearing something from the male MC’s perspective.  Having just Violet’s thoughts/opinions made it hard to get behind the sudden (?) change of heart when the two eventually got together.  There was some fun banter and entertaining side characters, but this wasn’t one I particularly see myself revisiting.

Hadley Beckett’s Next Dish by Bethany Turner – 3.5*

//published 2020//

It’s funny, as I’m writing these reviews I realized that I read three books in a row where someone was a jerk for a little too long to make the story work.  Same thing happened in this one – Max is a complete dick and stays that way for far too long into the story.  By the time he finally becomes a “better” person, I legit didn’t trust him because he kept acting like he was going to change and then not.  Hadley was a little too goody-goody and I never felt like she really acknowledged the fact that she wasn’t actually perfect.  While there were some fun moments and I liked the concept, once again I just couldn’t get behind these characters enough to really enjoy the story.

 

September Minireviews – Part 2

I’m starting to be cautiously optimistic that, in the very near future, I’ll be reviewing books only ONE month behind!!!

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.

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley – 5*

//published 2000//

I’ve reviewed this book a couple of times (here and here), because I have reread it so often.  In fact, for some unknown reason it’s because important to me to take this with me and read it whenever I go on vacation.  So when Tom and I went to Maine in September, Spindle’s End came along.  I can’t exactly explain why I love this one so much, or why I don’t get tired of rereading it, but the very act of holding this book and turning its pages has somehow become comforting to me.  I think the book is now imbued with the power of multiple happy vacations haha  At any rate, my earlier reviews do a much better job summarizing the story, so do check them out if you’re interested.  This one isn’t for everyone as it’s very rambly, but I love it a lot.

Yours Truly, Thomas by Rachel Fordham – 3.5*

//published 2019//

I also took several fluff books with me on vacation, ones that I’ve picked up on the cheap from Book Outlet over the last year but haven’t gotten around to reading.  I really liked the concept of this one – Penny works at a post office in the Dead Letters office.  In a final effort to find the recipient of a letter, the post office can open the letter and look for clues.  Penny finds letters written by a man named Thomas to a woman he obviously loves, telling her how sorry he is about how things turned out, and writing about how he is trying to live a new, better life.  Penny becomes emotionally invested in these letters and is determined to help reunite Thomas with his love.  Etc. etc. This wasn’t a bad book, but it honestly was rather boring for most of it, and then has this absolutely ridiculously dramatic ending that felt completely unrealistic.  It was readable but not one I’d revisit, and also not one that made me yearn to find out what else Fordham has written.

To Sir, With Love by Lauren Layne – 4*

//published 2021//

Continuing my trend of books-based-on-letters (I didn’t realize it when I packed for vacation, but I brought five books and four of them were based around letters??), this one is Shop Around the Corner vibes that was really fun to read.  Gracie did get on my nerves a bit, but I liked the chemistry between her and Seb (even if it was ridiculously obvious that he was also Sir) and liked the way things came together in end.

When You Read This by Mary Adkins – 3.5* (published 2019)

I was drawn to this one because of the format, which includes emails, blog posts, text messages, and other media.  Sometimes epistolary books can feel a little narrow in their scope, but including other conversations kept this one engaging, although it did sometimes get confusing if the same person said something twice in a row – so there’s an email heading for each email telling who it is to and from, but if the same two characters are going back and forth, I tended to skim that bit and not really register it… and then get confused because someone had emailed twice in a row instead of going back and forth.  Basically, the story starts because a woman named Iris has died of cancer.  She worked for years for a guy named Smith, and leaves him a letter telling him that she’s actually been writing a blog and wants him to get it published as a book after her death.  But in order to do so, Smith needs permission from Iris’s sister, Jade, who is NOT a fan of the concept.  This is one of those books that the synopsis makes it sound sort of romcomy, but it actually is a bit of a downer.  It deals not just with the death of Iris, but also addiction, cancer, and midlife crisis.  While I found the writing engaging and liked the characters (mostly), and even found myself laughing at some points, the overall tone was definitely a downer.  One of the characters has a serious gambling addiction, and it felt like that was wrapped up way too tidily by this person just being like “oh you’re right, I do have a problem so now that I’ve acknowledged it, my addiction will magically go away!”  I was also annoyed because the only person presented as having any kind of religious belief was Jade’s mother who, we’re told repeatedly, is VERY conservative and VERY Christian, yet also had a life-long affair with a married man and just… sorry, yes, I know a lot of hypocritical people (both in and out of the church), but I don’t know a single church that would agree that having a decades-long affair with a married man jives with being a Christian.  I mean, seriously.  So that came across as just plain annoying.

On the whole, this was another of those pleasant-to-read-once-but-I’ll-never-reread-it kind of books.  I was perfectly happy to send this off to someone else when I was finished.

The Picts & the Martyrs by Arthur Ransome – 5* (published 1943)

It’s no surprise that my favorite book for the month was the next installment of the Swallows & Amazon series.  Only one left after this, and I’m going to miss them!!  This one was full of the regular shenanigans and adventures of the other books.  I just love these stories SO much.  They’re so funny and adorable, and the characters feel so realistic to me.  I enjoyed every page and wished for more.

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – 4*

//published 2019//

My second-favorite read of the month was a total surprise.  Scifi can be really hit or miss for me, so I didn’t have very high expectations for this one – and ended up being SO fun.  Snarky, entertaining, engaging – conversations explaining the world-building that felt natural – likable characters – tons of humor -I loved it!  My only slight beef is that entire thing is first person, but from SO many different perspectives, like it bounces around between ALL the characters, so that did sometimes get a little confusing, plus they don’t really sound THAT different from each other.  But it still worked on the whole, meaning this one ended up being tons of fun.

Note: This is book one in a trilogy – I read the second book in October, and the third book wasn’t published until this month, so it’s waiting for me at the library!!

Central Park Pact trilogy // by Lauren Layne

Wow, it’s December and I’m still reviewing books from October!!! HA! Okay, new goal… to be caught up before 2021! :-D

  • Passion on Park Avenue
  • Love on Lexington Avenue
  • Marriage on Madison Avenue

These books have been on my radar for a while, so when I saw the first one on Book Outlet for only a few dollars, I snatched it up and checked the other two out of the library. They were perfect for reading in between my batch of 87th Precinct books.

This series begins with a premise that sounds like something I wouldn’t read, but somehow makes it work. Naomi is on her way to a funeral when the book opens – a funeral for her boyfriend. Except when he died she found out that he had actually been married the entire time. Full of rage, at the last minute she realizes she can’t actually go to the service, so she just keeps walking, right into Central Park. There, a woman is sitting on a park bench… a woman Naomi recognizes as her dead boyfriend’s wife. Naomi talks to her, and weirdly the two of them feel a strange bond – both of them had trusted this guy, and he had been lying to them both. When a third woman arrives – another girlfriend – the three of them spontaneously decide to form a pact to help keep each other from being so stupid about men again.

Fast forward a few months later, and somehow the three of them have become friends. The story focuses on Naomi, who grew up poor but has become a successful businesswoman who owns her own company. Through a series of circumstances, she ends up being neighbors with her childhood nemesis, Oliver, and the story rolls from there.

//published 2019//

Overall, the first book was a fun one. When Stephanie reviewed this one, though, she said she thought Naomi was a strange choice as the heroine for the first book because she’s basically the annoying friend that you don’t really like until later in the series, and that is an absolutely perfect description. Naomi feels really self-centered and annoying for a lot of the book. Her entire “plan” for getting “revenge” on Oliver not only doesn’t make sense, it isn’t even really a plan. However, I really liked Oliver, so he basically sold the book for me.

//published 2019//

Book number two focuses on the wife, Claire. She’s obviously having a difficult times coming to grips with the fact that not only is she a widow, she’s kind of glad her husband’s dead because he was a lying jerk. She’s beginning to realize that she’s spent her entire life doing what she was “supposed” to and isn’t even sure who she is as a person. While I did enjoy her journey to self-discovery, or whatever you want to call it, I also was (VERY) mildly offended by the concept that “vanilla” people are just people who haven’t really discovered who they “really” are. I’m here to tell you that I’m pretty vanilla and pretty happy. At any rate, I overall liked Claire and 100% shipped her with Scott. My other annoyance was how at the end she and Scott elope, and everyone’s like, “ha ha you did that so backwards, you got married first and then moved in together!!” Because only weirdos do that, apparently. ::GIANT EYE ROLL::

//published 2020//

Book three is about the other girlfriend, Audrey. I’m always here for a fake relationship trope, and Layne does it really well here as Audrey and her best friend, Clarke, pretend to be engaged for a variety of reasons. This was probably my favorite out of the three because I really liked Audrey and Clarke a lot, and loved watching them come to realize they wanted to be more than just best friends. The whole story was just so daggone adorable.

One thing I liked about this series as a whole – sometimes Layne writes books with explicit sex scenes, but that wasn’t the case here. While I wouldn’t exactly say these were “clean” because there is a lot of innuendo/chats about sex, there weren’t any bedroom scenes, and I appreciated that.

Overall, this trio of books was great fun and just the fluff I was looking for at the time. 3.5* for Passion on Park Avenue, and 4* for the others. Recommended if you enjoy relaxing romance.

November Minireviews – Part 3

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.

Whittling down the pile of reviews!!!

Jessica’s First Prayer by Hesba Stretton – 3.5*

//published 1867//

I’ve mentioned Lamplighter before – a small publishing company that reprints very old books with strong moral stories.  This one is a very slim volume about a homeless girl and a church-going man who learns the value of living his faith in a real way.  While a bit saccharine, there really is an excellent and thoughtful lesson here.

Golden Sovereign by Dorothy Lyons – 4*

//published 1946//

Regular readers know that I have a life-long addiction to horse stories of all kinds.  I’ve collected a few of Lyons’s books over the years, and sincerely wish that I could find more as I really like them, so if you have any sitting about your house that you want to unload, let me know.  :-D  Anyway, this one is apparently the third book in a series, but I didn’t have any trouble following along.  Connie is finishing her high school career and looking to the future – college and starting her own stable raising palominos, with her beautiful young stallion, Golden Sovereign, as the foundation.  Towards the beginning of the book, she also purchases a run-down mare at a horse sale, convinced that the mare’s lineage is better than her condition.  There’s a bit of a mystery about the mare, and also about Sovereign’s behavior (although I’ve apparently read far too many horse books, as I immediately knew the source of Sovereign’s bad temper!), and a lot about training Sovereign and going around to horse shows.  If you enjoy horse stories, you’ll probably like this one, as it’s a fairly classic formula.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Adventures of Sally by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1922//

The usual Wodehouse froth, although this one was a bit more of a romance than his stories normally are.  Sally is quite likable, and the ups and downs of her life make for entertaining reading, with a bit dollop of Wodehouse humor.

Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss – 4*

//published 1812//

So I’m still really enjoying my life over on Litsy, and have recently joined a book club there called the #LMPBC – the Litsy Postal Mark-up Book Club.  Four people join each group, and each person choose a book to read and make notations in, and then once a month you mail the book to the next person until you get your own book back, full of notations from the other three people in the group.  Each group is a different theme/genre of book, and I joined the Classics and Romance groups.  I’m really looking forward to reading the books coming my way!  At any rate, Swiss Family Robinson was my choice for my Classic, and it was interesting to read it for the first time since my childhood.  Overall, it was a fun and interesting read, but the family did have just an inordinately ridiculous amount of good luck, and even the synopsis on the back cover informed me that it would be impossible to find an island with all of the animals described in the story!  In fairness, the book was written with education for young minds as the primary purpose, so if you think of it as an entertaining way to learn some lessons, it fits the bill.

The Prenup by Lauren Layne – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was my pick for #LMPBC’s Romance group.  I’ve been meaning to read a Lauren Layne book forever, and this one employs my favorite trope – marriage of convenience.  Overall, I really did enjoy this story BUT there is a second woman!  That really brought down my enjoyment a great deal, because it was really hard to ship the main characters when the dude is also engaged to someone else.  While they never physically cheat, there are a lot of feelings/scenarios that just shouldn’t have been happening when he was committed to someone else.  I especially get annoyed when pseudo-cheating is justified with the whole “well the other woman sucks” concept – like, doesn’t matter if she sucks or not.  He still made the commitment.

Still, it was also a funny and lighthearted read, so I definitely think I will be trying some more of Layne’s works in the future, and I’ll be interested to see if my fellow book club members are aggravated by the almost-cheating bits of the story like I was.