So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about. Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it! However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something. So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.
Copper-Toed Boots by Marguerite de Angeli
This was a sweet, gentle children’s book with beautiful illustrations (by the author). There really wasn’t much of a plot, other than Shad wanting boots and various adventures along the way to his earning them, but it will still a pleasant story. 4/5.
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Conner
I had a lot of mixed feelings about this book. It’s told from the perspective of 12-year-old Addie, who lives with her mother. At the beginning of the book, she and her mom are moving into a small trailer. As the story unwinds, we find that the trailer is owned by Addie’s step-father, who isn’t actually her stepfather anymore since he and Addie’s mom got divorced. But even thought Dwight ended up with the two daughters he and Addie’s mom had together, he is not blood-related to Addie and couldn’t get custody of her, despite how unfit of a mother Addie’s mom actually is. The overall book is just about Addie’s life with her neglectful mother – “she’s all or nothing” Addie says, and when she’s “all” she is fun and entertaining and exciting, but when she’s nothing – she’s gone.
My problem really wasn’t with the story, which was genuinely poignant and told very well. I just don’t a single middle-schooler who would enjoy it or really take much away from the story. So much of it is told in a sort of euphemistic kind of way that it felt like a book that would need a lot of explaining for a kid to really understand what’s happening – and that feels like it sort of defeats the whole purpose of Addie’s innocent voice telling the tale.
The event (in the backstory) that led to Dwight getting custody of his two daughters is when Addie’s mother left Addie (at the time age 9) and her two half-sisters (a toddler and a baby) unattended for three days. What I found almost impossible to believe was that Addie wasn’t put in foster care/in her grandpa’s home at the time. I just can’t believe that a judge would give Addie back to her mother without any kind of probationary period. On the other hand, I have firsthand experience with just how jacked up the whole system is, so maybe they would.
All in all, while I wouldn’t say that Waiting for Normal was a pleasant read, exactly, it still was a good one, and one that I would recommend to adults, if not to the theoretical target audience of the book. 3.5/5.
The Cat and Mrs. Cary by Doris Gates
I used to check this book out of the library when I was little, and then, later, I actually found that same copy as a discard on the library’s booksale shelf. The funny part is, I really can’t explain why I like this book. It’s not really a book that gives me lots of warm feelings, or one that I have strong emotional memories attached to. It’s just a fun and happy little book.
Part of it may be that it really isn’t a typical children’s book in that it isn’t particularly about children. The main character is actually an elderly widow, Mrs. Cary, who has recently moved into a small cottage in a small coastal village. I think one of the other things that makes me love this book is that when The Cat first talks with Mrs. Cary, she is only momentarily stymied. From there forward, she’s basically just like, “Huh, talking cat. Okay.” And then she rolls with it!
There’s a bit about smugglers that keeps things interesting, too. It’s just overall a fun story with some nice characters, and everything comes together in the end very well. The Cat is very cat-like, even when he talks, and never fails to make me snicker. This book is very fitting for its age – for instance, we never do find out what Mrs. Cary’s first name is! (Even her nephew refers to her as “Aunt Cary.”) All in all, this is a 4/5 read for me, one that I still enjoy and do recommend.
The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes
This is a classic thriller that I picked up thanks to a review by FictionFan last year. The story is about the Buntings, and older couple who used to work in domestic service but now have their own lodging house. However, they’ve had quite a bit of bad luck and all of their money is gone. They’ve been forced to pawn things they never thought they would pawn, and to give up every bit of pleasure, like ha’penny newspapers and a nice smoke. Things are looking quite dark for them when a strange man appears on their doorstep and rents their rooms – a full month in advance! Like magic, the money problems are gone – as long as Mr. Sleuth is kept happy. Luckily, he’s really a very undemanding man, even if he is a bit odd (and arrived without any luggage). Meanwhile, out in foggy London, women are being murdered by a mysterious man who leaves a scrap of paper on the bodies with his name: THE AVENGER.
There really is a lot of tension built up in this story, and I was completely engrossed. Lowndes doesn’t make it obvious as to whether or not Mr. Sleuth is also the Avenger, and in fact gives us a perfectly reasonable bit of muddy water around the fact. On one hand, Mr. Sleuth does have a lot of very strange habits. On the other – most of these really can be explained by him being rather shy and eccentric. The Buntings are now completely dependent on their income from Mr. Sleuth, so much of the story is about their moral quandary – should they report their suspicions? If Mr. Sleuth is innocent, they will be on the verge of homelessness yet again. But if he’s guilty and they say nothing – does that mean that they are partially responsible for the continued deaths? It all plays out very, very well, and I honestly had no idea what I would do in Mrs. Bunting’s shoes. (Well, other than try to not be quite as grumpy. Mrs. Bunting was a rather cranky character.)
While this book is an easy 4/5, it lacks that final star because it did get a smidge repetitive in the middle and because I felt like the ending was a little rushed. Still, I was completely engrossed in the Buntings’ dilemma. Lowndes draws their situation so incredibly well that I felt strangely sympathetic towards literally everyone. An excellent read and recommended. (NB I read this as a free Kindle book, which can be found here. There were also editions that cost money, so I actually had a little trouble finding the free one originally.)