June Minireviews – Part 3!!

Lies by T.M. Logan – 4*

//published 2017//

A few mixed feelings about this one, but overall an engaging thriller.  I really liked Joe, but also got annoyed with him sometimes because he always seemed to make the choice that would make him look like the bad guy, sometimes unnecessarily.  Also… while I kind of agreed that the final twist made sense, what didn’t make sense was why they had to blame Joe.  So this was a fun one to read, but not one that I absolutely loved.

The Copenhagen Connection by Elizabeth Peters – 3.5*

//published 1982// Also thank you library for literally covering up the title, great idea //

Did this book actually make sense?  No.  Was it held together by improbable coincidences and a good dose of instalove?  Yes.  Did I have a fabulous time reading it?  Also yes.  This was classic Peters, full of wry humor, historical facts, and a good dose of ridiculousness.  I wrote down that this was a “romp of a book” which really sums it up quite well.  There’s a lot of dashing about hither and thither and a lot of tongue-in-cheek mockery of tropes, and I still completely enjoyed it.

Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman – 4*

//published 1993//

Although my journey through the Leaphorn and Chee mysteries is slow, I am really enjoying them.  I think these two men make such a great contrast in both their personal beliefs (Chee is strongly traditional and believes in the importance of following the Navajo religion while Leaphorn is definitely a skeptic) and their detecting methods (Leaphorn is methodical and good at spotting patterns and inconsistencies while Chee tends to follow his gut), which helps keep the different strands of the mystery engaging.  I feel like Hillerman handles the religions and cultural aspects of the Navajo in a sensitive manner.  I especially loved this quote from Chee when he is explaining to someone what the Navajo belief of hozho means to him – “This business of hozho … I’ll use an example.  Terrible drought, crops dead, sheep dying.  Spring dried out.  No water.  The Hopi, or the Christian, or maybe the Moslem, they pray for rain.  The Navajo has the proper ceremony done to restore himself to harmony with the drought.”  I actually love Chee’s view on harmony and being at peace with where you are in life (a perspective that I do not think conflicts with my personal belief in Christianity) and enjoy the way that this is woven into the stories.  However, I did get a bit over Chee’s constant mooning over what to do with Janet.  SHE ISN’T RIGHT FOR YOU, BUDDY.  MOVE ON.

My only concern with these books is that Leaphorn is already getting old and this is only book 11/25??

The Fall of the Ottomans by Eugene Rogan – 4*

//published 2015//

This was overall an informative and thorough look at the Middle Eastern theater during WWI.  I didn’t really know anything about this topic going into the book, and while I didn’t walk away with a bunch of dates and names memorized, I did feel like I got a good overview of what happened there, and it was definitely interesting to see the stage being set for conflicts that are still occurring a hundred years later.  This book was D R Y as dust and somewhat difficult to read, so I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but if it’s a topic that interests you then this one is worth picking up.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – 3.5*

//published 1999//

Even though I had read this one ten or so years ago, I really couldn’t remember anything about it.  When someone gifted me a copy, I decided to reread it.  It’s an engaging enough story, but somehow just doesn’t resonate with me.  It’s very fairy-tale-esq in style, and while I liked the concept, I couldn’t connect with the characters.  An enjoyable one-off but one that moved on to the giveaway box once I was finished reading it.

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton – 4*

//published 2021//

I read this book last fall and just thoroughly enjoyed it, so when the sequel came out I decided to reread this one to remind myself of who all the characters are.  I enjoyed it just as much, or maybe even more, this time around, since I was somewhat more prepared for flying houses!  I still think the phrase “delightfully bonkers” sums this one up perfectly.  It’s madcap and ridiculous and just so much fun.

The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton – 3.5*

//published 2022//

Which brings us to the slight-disappointing sequel.  This one fell into the “trying a little too hard” category.  It reminded me of that scene in Groundhog Day where Phil and Rita build the snowman and it’s so magical, but then when he tries to recapture that in the future iterations of the day, it just feels awkward. A lot of the jokes and innuendo in this one felt forced and clunky.  There is a LOT more sex in this one, which made me uncomfortable just because of the way it fit into the story/made zero sense for the time period it is supposedly set.  And while the difference between the pirates and witches made sense (back in the day, two groups interpreted the whole “flying house” magic thing differently), it made ZERO sense to me that the witches are being hunted and are illegal… like why is this police officer obsessed with witch hunting when there are literally pirates FLYING HOUSES over his head???  I honestly had a lot of trouble getting past this break in internal logic as it’s never explained why everyone is exasperated with but ultimately cool with pirates, but the witches, who do the exact same thing, are evil and must be hunted to extinction!!  This also made all the coy little “IF witches existed!” jokes feel a little weird.  Like I think all the flying houses may prove that witches exist????

Still!  It was a fun read and parts of it were funny.  It took me a lot longer to warm up to this female MC than it did the one in the first book, but I absolutely loved the male MC, who was a carry-over character from book one. There is a third book to the series coming out next year and I will for sure read it, but am hoping that it finds the rhythm of the first book.

By Your Side by Kasie West – 3*

//published 2017//

I usually really enjoy West’s books, and I generally do enjoy YA, but this was definitely YA that made me feel my age.  First off, Autumn, who I actually liked just fine on the whole, gets trapped in a library.  And what is her first concern??  Her first concern is that she’s going to be BORED.  IN A LIBRARY.  SURROUNDED BY BOOKS.  In fact, she goes on to spend most of the time she is trapped in the library WATCHING TV IN THE BREAK ROOM.  What.  Even.  What a waste!  So I was annoyed by this one from the get-go haha  I was also a little perplexed because I really do think public buildings are set so that you can always exit them, so it doesn’t seem like it should have been possible for her to be actually trapped – perhaps unable to exit without setting off an alarm, but not genuinely trapped.

There was a lot of bonus drama that just didn’t feel necessary in this one.  I actually liked Dax and felt like he and Autumn were a good pair, but there was all this stuff with the other guy Autumn had a crush on and his best friend being a complete jerk for literally no reason and it got kind of old for me.  Autumn suffers from anxiety and doesn’t always feel comfortable going to parties and other activities.  While I appreciated the message of you do what is right for you instead of what you feel pressured to do, I didn’t care for the concept that Autumn HAD to explain her anxiety in order to get a pass.  Everyone talks about normalizing stuff, well let’s normalize just saying “no thank you” and then not showing up at something and not having people demand an explanation.

In the end, this was an okay read.  I didn’t hate it, but I did find myself annoyed by it pretty frequently.  And I’m still not over how much Autumn whined about being bored when she was locked in the library.

Leaphorn & Chee – Books 6-10 // by Tony Hillerman

  • The Ghostway (1984)
  • Skinwalkers (1986)
  • A Thief of Time (1988)
  • Talking God (1989)
  • Coyote Waits (1990)

While the first five books of this series were an average of 3.5*, the next set moved firmly into the 4* range.  In Skinwalkers, Leaphorn reappears on the scene, and throughout the next four books, both men are involved in the mystery solving, although not always as a team – it’s interesting to have them sometimes almost opposing because of their different styles of detecting, and their different beliefs about the old ways.  The personableness of both characters vastly improved during this group of books, with more about their family lives and backgrounds, leaving me a lot more interested in them as people as well as interested in the mysteries themselves.

The actually mysteries were solid and did a decent job of wrapping things up.  Hillerman does a good job of talking about nuanced topics without it feeling preachy.  For instance, the entirety of Talking God is about ancient Native American artifacts and bones and managed to present varying viewpoints on whether old bones belong in museums or should be returned to modern Native Americans (even though in many instances there is not a direct oral history between them), and how archeological sites should be handled.  It was all very interesting and thoughtfully done, but never came across as polemic or divisive.

All in all, I’m thoroughly enjoying these.  The next five are in the pile waiting to be read, but that probably won’t happen until January as I am intending to fully embrace Christmasy reads all throughout December!!

Leaphorn & Chee – Books 2-4 // by Tony Hillerman

  • Dance Hall of the Dead (1973)
  • Listening Woman (1978)
  • People of Darkness (1980)
  • The Dark Wind (1982)

I read the first book in this series, The Blessing Wayin June, but for various reasons wasn’t able to get to the next few books until the end of July/early August.  When I read the first book, I really enjoyed the setting and thought the concept was interesting, but the mystery itself was a little weak, and I also struggled with the fact that we aren’t really given any personal information about the protagonist, Joe Leaphorn.  However, I decided to give the next books a chance, and I’m glad I did, as they have steadily improved.  Hillerman does a great job giving us plenty of context and background information to create a unique and engaging setting.  In Listening Woman, there is a whole subplot involving the AIM (American Indian Movement), which was very current for the time the book was published.  I was a little concerned as the books pushed into the 80s because so many crime writers seemed to think during that decade that you couldn’t be a real crime writer without lots of weird sex (I’m looking at you, Ed McBain), but these books have actually stayed pretty clean, greatly adding to my enjoyment of them.

I got a little confused because in People of Darkness, the protagonist abruptly changed from Joe Leaphorn to Jim Chee.  We’re given a little paragraph of reference to Leaphorn now being Lt. Leaphorn and working in an office in the norther part of the reservation, but both People of Darkness and The Dark Wind completely focus on Chee.  I really like Chee a lot, so it wasn’t like this was a bad thing, but it felt really weird and abrupt to suddenly have the stories focus on a completely different guy with a very different method of solving mysteries.

About halfway through Dance Hall of the Dead I finally found a map of the Navajo reservation and printed it off.  Reading these books without a map was just incredibly frustrating because the characters are constantly driving around to different places – everything is very spread apart out west – and Hillerman uses names without a lot of explanation (for instance, getting the map made me realize that Mexican Water is actually a town, not a lake or river, and Window Rock is both a town AND a mountain).  Finding the map increased my enjoyment of these books a LOT.  I’m just a super visual person, and being told things like “they drove from Albuquerque to Shiprock that evening” without any concept of how far apart those two places are was driving me batty.

Hillerman does a great job introducing aspects of the Navajo culture with respect.  I love how Chee really embraces his family’s traditions and is interested in becoming a Singer, learning many of the healing ways.  I’ve just finished the next five books in the series, and both Chee and Leaphorn (who returns as a protagonist later haha) have become a lot more personable, so that’s been lovely.

All in all, this has been a really worthwhile series that is getting steadily better as it goes.  These were all 3.5* & 4* reads for me, and the second batch were all 4*, so I’m quite excited to continue on!