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.

September is buzzing by at a frightening clip.  We’ve been quite busy at the orchard, so I haven’t had as much time for reading or for writing reviews.  Plus, once again, I haven’t been reading anything that’s really excited me, although I’ve had several reads that get described with words like “solid” and “decent.”  So here are a few of those decent reads…

Update:  It’s now 28 September, and I haven’t posted a single thing this month…!!!  As mentioned before, the orchard has sort of taken over my life, plus there have been a lot of random family things going on.  Still, I’m hoping to at least complete THIS post before the end of the month!

Blind Spot by Dani Pettrey – 3.5*

//published 2017//

I read the first three books in this series a while ago, when I got Blind Spot as an ARC.  This summer, the fourth (and final) book was released.  I got it from the library and started to read it, but realized that I really couldn’t remember what all was happening with the terrorist plot line, so I decided to give this one a quick reread.  While I did like this book, I was nagged by the same things that mildly aggravated me the first time around.  The main one is something that annoyed me about this entire series – that Pettrey would have two completely separate plots in the book, and they never tied together.  Consequently, one of those always ended up feeling like filler to me, like she was writing to parallel series at the same time or something.  In this case, there’s the terrorist plot (main) and then a random murder (secondary).  Not only does the murder feel shoehorned into the story, it seemed completely ridiculous to me that the characters in this book were allowed to process/be in charge of the crime scene since they actually knew the victim/possible criminal, and there were questions as to whether or not the dead guy had killed other people and then committed suicide, or been murdered and set up.  I just still can’t believe that friends of his would be allowed to process the crime scene.

But despite this, I still overall enjoyed the book and I really do like the characters.  I was intrigued to see how everything was going to get wrapped up in Dead Drift.

And Both Were Young by Madeline L’Engle – 3.5*

//published 1949//

I’ve gotten a bit off track from my L’Engle reading, dashing off on tangents with random books of hers as I keep drifting further and further backwards in time through her bibliography.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this one, but I’m always drawn to stories that take place in boarding schools, so I thought I would go ahead and give this one a whirl.  While I wasn’t blown away by it, it was a really enjoyable story.  I loved the way that Flip’s discontent with her situation was due to both her actual circumstances, which are kind of lame, but also her own attitude.  As she grows the realize this through the story, she is able to start changing the parts of her life that she actually can change – so while some of the lame parts are still there, she’s overall happier and more contented because she has started to learn how to be proactive in her own life.  This story also had an interesting setting, being in Europe just after WWII in a boarding school with girls of all different nationalities.  While most of them were small children during the war, they have all been touched by it, and L’Engle did a really excellent job of weaving that background in very naturally.  Although this story was sometimes a bit melodramatic, it was overall a really pleasant read.  I don’t see myself going back to it again and again, but I still think I would recommend it, especially if you enjoy thoughtful, character-driven stories.

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – 3.5*

//published 2014//

This is actually the first book in a series, and I’ve heard some good things about it – and who wouldn’t be drawn to that gorgeous cover art??  However, while I found this to be an alright read, I didn’t really find it compelling.  The world-setting was interesting, but didn’t really make practical sense to me – I mean, seriously, four kingdoms, and each one is always the same season?  How does that even work?  What does it mean to always be Autumn – a perpetual state of harvest?  The whole idea just confused me a bit when I started trying to think of what it meant to actually live there.  While this was an okay read for me, I didn’t like it well enough to bother with the other books.  Not a bad read, just kind of boring.

Dead Drift by Dani Pettrey – 3.5*

//published 2018//

This is the final book in the Chesapeake Bay series, and I definitely enjoyed seeing everything get tied up, especially Jenna’s murder.  I still think that this entire series would have benefited from having just one story line, as they consistently felt rather choppy and disconnected, but I still did like them and would read something else by Pettrey if it came my way.  I really liked the characters in these books, and it was fun to see them all get some closure with all the stuff that had been happening throughout the stories.

Gold of Kings by Davis Bunn – 3.5*

//published 2009//

I’ve read a couple of Bunn’s books before and found them to be decently interesting, so when I saw this one for a quarter on the library discard shelf, I went ahead and picked it up.  It kind of made me realize that while Bunn’s writing is alright, it doesn’t really grab me all that much.  This book did definitely have me turning the pages by the halfway point, but it didn’t really make me want to pick up the sequel.  Not bad for one-time reads, but not interesting enough to keep returning to time and again.

August Minireviews – Part 1 – #20BooksofSummer

Well, friends, I just got back from an AMAZING vacation to Wyoming, where the husband and I spent a week with minimal cell phone signal just hanging out in my aunt and uncle’s cabin.  We spent literal hours sitting on the porch reading, in between taking hikes in the mountains and going for drives up dirt forest service roads.  It was truly fantastic.

When I was deciding what books to read, I originally thought that I should take the rest of my #20BooksofSummer list, because otherwise I’m probably not going to achieve the goal.  But then I decided that was dumb, and I was going to take whatever I wanted, so instead of being productive, I spent the whole week reading ridiculous chick lit and lots of fluffy romance and it was delightful.  But now I’m wayyyyy behind on reviews, so there will probably be a couple of minireview batches!!

The first couple of minireviews in this post were written before I left.  I currently have 16 books to review…!!!!!  So here we go!

Mystery Over the Brick Wall by Helen Fuller Orton – 3*

//published 1951//

This is a random children’s book that I’ve had around for a while.  It was an alright read, but nothing particularly memorable.  While I enjoy many of the simpler children’s stories from the 1950’s, whose basic messages are about being kind and helpful, this one just didn’t stir the imagination.  However, it is #9 for my #20BooksofSummer, so at least I am making some minimal progress there!!

Chosen Child by Linda Huber – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This one was first brought to my attention by Cleopatra when she reviewed it back in February 2016.  While I enjoyed this domestic thriller, and found it to be very readable, it wasn’t a book that blew me away.  It was definitely in the category where you kind of more or less know how things are going to turn out, but you still can’t stop watching the train wreck.  Huber did a great job making everyone tangled up in the situation be likable and aggravating by turns – it didn’t exactly feel like there were good characters vs. bad ones.  However, I also found myself being overall annoyed – and somewhat horrified – at how all of the tragedy could have been avoided if two adults had actually honored their marriage vows instead of justifying themselves and seeking attention elsewhere.  So if nothing else, a book to read if you are thinking about embarking on an affair – this one SHOULD warn you off that dire path!

The Arm of the Starfish by Madeline L’Engle – 4*

//published 1965//

I’m still not completely convinced that I am going to try and read all of the entangled L’Engle books (see what I did there??), but this one was quite readable with a very thriller/spy novel tone to it.  I felt like some of the science was kind of weird (starfish can grow new limbs, so obviously horses can, too!  …????) but it was such a fun story that I just went with it.  (And it’s also possible that I’m the dumb one, because I don’t really know much about starfish or limb regeneration so.)  I have a huge pile of L’Engle’s books sitting next to my shelf and am trying to decide if I want to continue reading them or not.  I’ll probably at least give the next one a go just to see what happens.

When It’s Real by Erin Watt – 4*

//published 2017//

This book was added to the TBR over a year ago, thanks to a review by Stephanie.  Recently, the Kindle version was on sale for 99¢, so it seemed like a good time to give it a go!  And while Kindle books frequently languish for long periods of time before I get around to them, I was in just the right mood for this one when I bought it.

I really enjoy the fake relationship trope, and this one was done quite well.  The characters were really likable, and I especially enjoyed Vaughn’s family.  I thought that the way that the two main characters had to overcome their initial prejudices against each other was really realistic (well, as realistic as something this crazy can be haha), and the dialogue was good.  There was a little more swearing/sex than I like (which, just to be clear, Stephanie didn’t like either lol), but overall this one was definitely a great read if you are looking for something a bit more fluffy than thoughtful.  I’ll definitely be checking to see what else Watt has written.

Holiday Wishes by Nora Roberts – 3*

//published 1994//

Honestly, I can barely even remember the two short stories in this volume.  They were pretty bland romance tales, wherein the tension was created because the two main characters spent more time misjudging each other’s motives than they did actually conversing.  While I’ve enjoyed a lot of Roberts’s writing in the past, these stories were too short to really get into the characters, so everything felt a little flat.  While not bad, they definitely weren’t memorable.

July Minireviews – Part 2 – #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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley – 3*

//published 2016//

I really struggled with rating this book.  There were a lot of things I liked about it, including the main characters (for the most part), the concept of the bookstore with its letter room, and the way the book explored grief and healing.  But I hated the way this book ended so much that I almost gave it zero stars.  It was never going to be a 5* read, but it definitely could have rated higher if the ending hadn’t been so incredibly cliched and stupid.  Plus, there was tons of swearing – it felt excessive for a YA book, especially since people are just, you know, hanging out having regular conversations.  Sorry, I don’t need f-bombs every three paragraphs.  Honestly, the further I get away from finishing this book, the more I can only remember the things that annoy me, and I’m already thinking about dropping my rating another star…

The Chance of a Lifetime by Grace Livingston Hill – 3.5*

//published 1931//

A lot of GLH’s books are way too preachy or saccharine, but every once in a while she writes one that’s just a nice story with characters whose faith is very central to their lives, and that’s where this one falls.  I actually really liked the people in this book, and felt that the central theme about what a “chance of a lifetime” really means was developed well.  While there were times that the plot was over-simplistic, on the whole it was really an enjoyable book.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – 3.5*

//published 1962//

I was going to wait and review this book after reading some more of L’Engle’s books, but I’m realizing that even though they are loosely connected, they aren’t all exactly a series in the traditional sense.  I’m reading all her books in their published order that have crisscrossing characters.  Which means I actually should have read Meet the Austins first, but didn’t realize until it was too late…

Anyway, I hadn’t read Wrinkle since probably junior high.  I remember having a vague feeling of not-liking it, but this is considered a classic, and I’ve heard so many people talk about how much they love this book, plus it’s a Newbery Award winner… so I thought I would give it another whirl.  At the end of the day, I just felt kind of ambivalent towards it.  It was a decent and interesting story with likable characters, but it didn’t really have that intensity that made me love it or feel like I urgently needed to keep reading.  I didn’t mind having a lot of “God talk” in the story, but the religious message felt a little vague to me, and it also seemed like the entire point of saving Earth from this “darkness” was really rather left open-ended.  Like, is Earth still under attack or….???

So all in all, not a bad read, but not one that I loved.  I still found it interesting enough to want to try some of L’Engle’s other books.  As for this one, a good read and also #5 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – 4*

//published 2008//

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve joined a “Traveling Book Club” where each member chose a book to mail out, and each month receives/mails the next book in the circle.  Eventually, I should get my original book back, complete with annotations from all of its travels.

Funnily enough, this month’s book was another Newbery Award winner.  I had only ever read one other Gaiman book before, quite a long while ago, so I was interested to pick up another of his stories.  I still hear so much about him around the book blogging world, and have several of his books on my list.  This one was quite enjoyable – an engaging story with a unique setting and memorable characters.  It didn’t capture me completely, but I still really enjoyed it, especially the gentle humor throughout (“he had died of consumption, he had told Bod, who had  mistakenly believed for several years that Fortinbras had been eaten by lions or bears, and was extremely disappointed to learn it was merely a disease”).

While I’m not racing to find my next Gaiman book, I’m still interested to read more of his works as I come across them.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – 4.5*

//published 2011//

I initially read this book back in October 2016, and was pretty excited when it came up on my random draw for my #20BooksofSummer list, as I’ve been wanting to reread it.  Honestly, this book was even funnier and more perfect than I remember it being.  Lincoln is such a wonderful character and I love the way that he doesn’t necessarily have to change himself, but change his perspective of himself in order to become more content and comfortable with his life.  You can read my old review for more details.  For here – a genuinely funny, happy, yet thoughtful read that I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting.

#8 for #20BooksofSummer!

Meet the Austins // The Moon by Night // by Madeline L’Engle

//published 1960//

I’m currently reading all of L’Engle’s books that seem to have crisscrossing characters from what generally seemed to be referred to as her “Chronos” and “Kairos” books – the Austins, whose stories move through time chronologically; and the Murrys/O’Keefes, whose stories move through time in a more wibbly-wobbly manner.  I’m coming into these more or less completely unfamiliar with them.  I read A Wrinkle in Time and at least a couple of its sequels back in middle/junior/high school sometime and felt rather ambivalent towards them.  This time around, I’ve taken all the books listed as Chronos or Kairos and am reading them in publication order.  I’ve mentioned it before, but published order is, generally speaking, my favorite way to read a series for the first time – it seems more organic to read them in the order the author created them.

And so, here we are.  I didn’t realize that there were multiple interconnected series until after I had already read A Wrinkle in Time (which is being reviewed in July’s minireviews).  Technically, I ought to have read Meet the Austins first, then Wrinkle, then The Moon by Night.  But I think I’ll manage to muddle through despite reading Wrinkle first.

Both of these books focus on the same family and have the same narrator.  Vicky Austin is part of a rambunctious, happy, close-knit family growing up in a small town in Connecticut.  In the first book, their family peace is somewhat disturbed by the arrival of a new foster sister.  In the second book, set two years later, things are changing as the children all get older, and the family takes a long road trip around the country as one last hurrah before the oldest child heads off to college and the rest of the family moves to New York City for Vicky’s dad’s new job.

I really enjoyed these stories – Meet the Austins more than The Moon by Night – mostly because it was so enjoyable to read about a family wherein the members of said family actually like each other.  Vicky’s parents are happily married and work together to parent their children as best they can.  They are patient and understanding.  The children have their squabbles, but are ultimately very loyal to one another.  I also grew up in a tight family, and still consider my siblings to be my closest friends.  It was really pleasant to read about a family that more closely matched my own than all these broken, angst-riddled families in more modern YA, with angry, bitter parents who hate each other and whiny, selfish children who only think of their own problems and no one else’s.  I was quite in agreement with the majority of the Austin parents’ parenting decisions, which is more than I can say for most modern writing.

We seem to watch a lot less television than most of our friends, partly because our parents limit our watching, but largely because there’s so much else to do.

It was also fun to read Meet the Austins from Vicky’s perspective.  She’s the next-to-the-oldest in the family.  When Maggy comes to stay with their family, she’s closest in age to Vicky’s next sister, Suzy.  I feel like a lot of time, this story would have been told from the perspective of either Maggy (freshly orphaned, struggling to fit into a new home) or Suzy (suddenly sharing a room and life with a new sister almost her exact same age).  Instead, the story is told by one of the more ‘regular’ characters, an interesting reminder that a tragedy touches many more people than those closest to it.

There is a lot of “religious talk” in both these books.  On the whole, I was okay with it.  I didn’t always agree with L’Engle’s theology, but I appreciated the way that she created a family who believed in attending church and saying prayers, without making a huge fuss out of it.  Vicky’s grandpa is a retired minister, but that doesn’t turn him into a hypocritical monster.  Instead, he’s a wise and gentle old man who loves his family dearly and is always there for advice and compassion.

//published 1963//

I did feel like the religion part was a bit more preachy in The Moon, and it was part of the reason that I didn’t enjoy that book quite as much as Meet the Austins.  In The Moon, Vicky is going through a “rebellious” phase, which mostly seems to consist of her complaining about her super amazing life.  I got a little tired of her internal whining and her condescending attitude towards her family’s religion.  There was a lot more philosophizing and contemplation in The Moon, and it didn’t always make for exciting reading.

Meet the Austins had much more of a story than The Moon.  While there wasn’t this big mystery or anything, there were interconnected vignettes of daily life that painted a picture of how life was changing for the family.  In The Moon, swaths of the story felt much more like a travelogue, with Vicky describing specific state parks in detail, including what types of restroom facilities were available and how nice the fire rings were, and reiterating repeatedly about how different different parts of the country were from others.  It’s also hard to get a grasp on how much time is passing in The Moon – I assume they were gone all summer??  And their route seemed incredibly meandery, as they kept popping up into Canada and then back down into Wyoming and that sort of thing.

However, it was really interesting to read a book so firmly set in the Cold War.  There was a lot of talk about evacuation routes and emergency school drills and bunkers.  It’s just intriguing how that was so much a thing on the mind all the time.

One weird thing about The Moon that I’m not sure if it was originally published this way purposefully, or if something got messed up when they were printing the edition that I was reading, but during dialogue, instead of entire words being italicized, it would just be a syllable.  This genuinely drove me crazy.  While I definitely feel like people talk with italics (“This genuinely drove me crazy!”), I don’t feel like people only emphasize one syllable most of the time??  Here’s an actual sentence from the book to show you what I mean:

I know, Mother, that’s exactly the point.  It doesn’t matter if a baby isn’t housebroken.  He wears diapers.

???  Is it just me, or does this seem extremely strange?  I try to read that as it’s written and it sounds very strange to me.  It was like that ALL THE TIME.

All in all, 4* for Meet the Austins and 3.5* for The Moon by Night.  I got impatient with Vicky’s teenage angst in The Moon, and the kid she likes, Zachary, was a real tool.  But I’m looking forward to reading some more of these books.  As always, I’ll keep you posted.  :-D