June Minireviews – Part 4

Oh yeah, rolling through these June reviews now!!

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw – 4*

//published 2019//

This one was for the traveling book club, but also happened to be a book that I own and was planning to read anyway.  This book had a few things that made it feel odd – for instance, it’s set in modern times, but because they are so isolated and the power is out the entire time, it feels like it should be set in a much older time period, which mean that every time something modern came up (“Why don’t we have cell signal?!”) it felt oddly disorienting.  It’s fantasy, but more what I would consider magical realism, where it’s a natural part of the world.  The overall tone is very melancholy, and sometimes the writing was more flowery and not enough plot, but I still liked it as a one-time read and may even pick it up again sometime.

Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen – 4.5*

//published 1811//

It had been quite a while since I had revisited this one, and it was lovely to read through it again at roughly a chapter a day with a group on Litsy.  I splurged and bought this absolutely gorgeous Chiltern edition… which I love so much that I actually bought the rest of Austen’s books in the same editions!  (I told you I’ve been out of control on book buying lately!)  Just as an aside, the Chilterns are the perfect size, they lay flat while you’re reading them, have gilt edges, and somewhat glossy pages.  They’re just SO pleasurable to read!

The book itself – what can be said that hasn’t already been said?  Austen’s humor is so subtle and wry.  I love how gentle she is – she makes fun of people, but it never feels cruel.  Her writing is more of a celebration of how we’re all a little bit ridiculous sometimes.  This time around I was really struck by how Mrs. Jennings is presented as a somewhat obnoxious character in the beginning, but the more time the sisters spend with her, the more they – and the reader – come to realize that while she is a bit over-the-top, she’s also incredibly kindhearted and generous.  There were several times in this story where Austen gives the reader an initial impression of a character, only to gently, slowly reveal different aspects of that person until you couldn’t help but feel differently about them.

Sense & Sensibility is frequently listed as the “boring” Austen, but I have a soft spot for it, as it’s the first of her books that I ever read.  I greatly enjoyed reading it again, and see myself revisiting this irresistible edition again.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord – 4.5*

//published 2019//

Finally!!  This book was EXACTLY what I had been looking for in my romcoms.  While it’s technically YA, it has that absolutely delightful humor and just-short-of-ridiculousness that makes romcoms so much fun.  This story is about two seniors in a private school in NYC, both of whom come from restaurant families.  Pepper lives with her mom, who is now the CEO (or something like that) of their restaurant chain, but Pepper misses the days when it was just one building out in the country, small enough that they all felt like they were a part of it.  Even though the company has expanded like crazy, Pepper’s mom still leans on Pepper to do all sorts of random things, especially helping their social media person run the social media – Pepper has a natural flair for coming up with clever little slogans and tweets.

Meanwhile, Jack’s family also owns a restaurant right there in NYC.  Jack loves it there, but isn’t sure if that’s what he wants to do with his life.  He feels like he’s always in the shadow of his twin brother, who gets better grades and is more popular than Jack.  When Pepper’s mom’s company steals the recipe for the special grilled cheese sandwich that Jack’s grandma invented, the two high schoolers get involved in a semi-ridiculous Twitter war.  Through a series of events, they’re also getting to know each other in real life.

The whole story is, like I said, a little ridiculous, but so much fun.  It had all the snark that I had been looking for, and is all about the friendship/romance that is building between them without pages and pages of them thinking highly-sexualized thoughts about each other, which tragically most modern romcoms (and even some YA) seem to find necessary these days.  I was absolutely in love with both of these characters and shipped them so hard.

Downsides – I wished there was more resolution with the situation between Jack and his brother, and I also thought that Pepper’s mom was just too much.  She acted pretty immature and annoying the entire time, and that never really changed.  But for the most part, this book was genuinely great fun, and if you’re looking for something lighthearted and humorous, I highly recommend this one.

Death in the Air by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1935//

This Poirot mystery wasn’t my all-time favorite, but it still had plenty of the usual Christie humor and a decent conclusion to the mystery.  This one is usually published as Death in the Clouds, but mine is Air, and I’m not sure why.  Usually those are differences between US and UK publishing, but this time it just seems to be that it was briefly called Death in the Air for no real reason.  Mysteries of publishing.

The Dating Charade by Melissa Ferguson – 3.5*

//published 2019//

I really wanted to like this book, but just couldn’t quite embrace it wholeheartedly.  The main issue that I had with this one was that it’s billed as a fluffy romcom, but actually deals with a lot of really serious themes and issues.  In many ways, I felt like I was reading two books.  There would be a section where the two main characters are joking around and having a good time, and then the next scene is dealing with the realities of our messed up foster care system.  I really felt like Ferguson would have written a better book if she had focused on the foster care/adoption theme, because she handled that really well.  It’s super complicated and difficult to find a balance between giving parents a chance to get their lives together so they can keep their children, and recognizing when it’s basically hopeless and the children need to find a more secure environment.  There is also the difficulty of keeping sibling groups together, especially when one of the children is older – the list goes on.  Ferguson addressed a lot of these realities in such a sensitive, thoughtful way – which is what made the “romcom” aspects feel especially jarring.

The other thing was that in order to make the situation work, the main characters had to have just met/not been dating long, because obviously if something as huge as “I might be adopting these kids” came up in an actual relationship, your partner is the first person you would talk with about it.  But having them be almost-strangers just added to the “what even” aspect of the romance, making it difficult for me to believe that these two would have even bothered continuing to date when they each thought the other wasn’t going to be interested in the children that were such a huge part of their lives.

The synopsis seems to imply that the children that the main characters end up with are temporary – I was expecting more of a “oh my gosh my sister just decided to take a trip to Jamaica” scenario, not “my sister is on drugs and just dumped her kids here and I think I’m going to end up keeping them forever.”  Temporary, fluffy reasons for ending up with unexpected children would have made the “I don’t want the other person to find out about this” funny and lighthearted.  Instead, because the reasons that the kids were staying with each of these people were so serious and so probably permanent, trying to keep that information from the other person felt very dishonest and unnecessary.

And so another book that was worth a one-time read, but that overall wasn’t for me.  I really appreciated the way that this book handled the themes of foster care and adoption, and also liked that sex wasn’t the only thing the two main characters wanted to get out of each other, but in the end the juxtaposition of campy romcom mixed with the incredibly serious foster care themes just didn’t jive for me.

May Minireviews – Part 2

Here we are with the final books for May!!!  Hopefully this book blog will get back on track this summer!!

NOTE: I wrote most of these a week or two ago… still trying to get May’s reviews published before July starts!

King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry – 5*

//published 1948//

I read a lot of children’s books in May (and this pattern has carried over into June) as life was very busy and I was looking for quick, simple reads.  Most of them were rereads from many moons ago, and King of the Wind was no exception.  Regular readers of my blog may recall that Henry was one of my favorite childhood authors, and I read King of the Wind probably a dozen times growing up – but then hadn’t read it in, oh, probably 20 years!  I wasn’t sure if the story would hold up, but I shouldn’t have worried.  The combination of Henry’s storytelling and Wesley Dennis’s drawings worked its magic yet again!

This tale is, as are many of Henry’s stories, a mixture of fact and legend.  The story is about a horse named Sham and the boy who cared for him, Agba, and the tale begins in Morocco, where Agba works as a stable boy. The sultan decides to send several of his fastest stallions to the king of France as a gift, with a stable boy in charge of each horse, and so Agba and Sham begin their journey together.  Legend says that Sham, later known as the Goldophin Arabian, became one of the founding stallions of the Thoroughbred breed – every Thoroughbred can trace its lineage back to one of three stallions, one of which is the Goldophin Arabian.  Sham and Agba have many ups and downs in their journey, as Sham’s worth isn’t recognized at first, making an engaging and interesting story.

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1928//

This is one of those Hercule Poirot stories where Poirot doesn’t come into it until about halfway through.  Sometimes that annoys me, but it worked with this story, although it’s always difficult when the reader (theoretically) knows more about what’s going on than the detective, because we’re privy to scenes and conversations were the detective isn’t.  Still, the mystery is a good one, and Poirot is at his most pompous.  If you love Poirot because of his Poirot-isms, this one is definitely worth the read.

Little Gods by Meng Jin – 2.5*

//published 1972//

Another bust for the traveling book club, Little Gods was unbelievably depressing.  (Don’t worry, for the next round of traveling book club, I signed up for romcoms and fantasy, so hopefully I’ll get some books that don’t make me dread picking them up!)  This was a weird story told from random viewpoints (and written without quotation marks, why) about (??? sort of???) a young woman whose mother has died, and now the young woman is journeying back to China to try and find out more about her mother.  In many ways, the book is way more about the mother, who was a brilliant scientist (although not so brilliant at relationships). Throughout, there is loads of scientific theory (so boring, and basically felt like the author showing off how intelligent she is) that really bogged the story down.  Literally zero characters were remotely likable.  Every single parent hated their children, and every single child hated its parents.  No relationships actually were built on respect or love or anything like that – everyone was just in it for what they could get out of it, and, big surprise, none of them worked out.  It felt like there was no point to this story (or at least not one that I could find), and I thought it was never going to end.

That said, there was some lovely writing in between the science, and while the characters were thoroughly unlikable, they were well drawn.  For people who actually like Novels, in all their grimness, there may be something to like here.

Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater – 4.5*

//published 1990//

It had been way, way too long since I had picked up a Pinkwater book.  His books are basically impossible to describe, and definitely aren’t for everyone, as they are full of absolute nonsense.  In this one, a boy ends up traveling through space, time, and other with his uncle (who may not actually be related) and his dog (who is super grumpy).  If you’ve ever thought that maybe time was like a map of New Jersey and space was like a poppyseed bagel, this may be the book for you. It’s also a great read if you love popsicles.

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster – 4.5*

//published 1912//

I really love this epistolary novel, published way back in 1912.  Judy has grown up in an orphanage, but is now old enough to be sent out on her own.  One of the trustees, who desires to remain anonymous, decides to send Judy to college because he has read one of her English papers from high school and believes she has talent that should be cultivated.  While he pays for everything, he asks that in return Judy write him one letter a month to update him on her progress, stating that letter-writing is an excellent way to develop creative writing skills.  Thus, the entire book, except for the introductory chapter, is comprised of Judy’s letters to her benefactor, whom she has never met and only saw in shadow as he was leaving – a shadow that looked like it was made entirely of long legs and arms, leading to her nickname for him, Daddy-Long-Legs.

This book is honestly just plain delightful.  Judy is going to girls’ college (no coed at the time), but has never really spent so much time around “regular” girls, so much of her education is more than just reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.  Her enthusiasm for life and adventure, and lack of family, means that she writes to Daddy-Long-Legs far more than once a month, and her warmth (and illustrations) make for wonderful reading.  For me, the only thing that keeps this from being a full five stars is that there is one point in this story where Daddy-Long-Legs feels a smidge manipulative, which makes me a little uncomfortable, but in the end it’s just such a fun story, and Judy is such a wonderful character, that I’ve read this one time and again.

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster – 5*

//published 1915//

The sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs, I honestly love Dear Enemy even more.  The story centers on Judy’s best friend from college, Sallie McBride (who is also the writer of all the letters in this book).  Judy has purchased the orphanage where she grew up and hires Sallie to help turn it into a happy, healthy place to raise children instead of the sad institution it has always been.  Sallie is a wonderful character who really matures throughout the story.  I love how she wants be a frivolous person who doesn’t do anything useful, but her natural inclination to care for others and do a job well slowly takes over.  The romance in this story is also done so very well, and I really appreciated Webster’s exploration into the difference between a relationship built on mutual trust and respect and one built on an exchange of desires (i.e. you be my nice society wife and I will provide you with money and nice clothes).  Considering when this book was published, it was a rather bold statement to make, that a woman could and even should look for more from a marriage than mere financial security, yet Webster also doesn’t go too far – she still treats marriage as a delightful partnership when done right.

This story is full of escapades and adventures and Sallie’s temper and I love every page – highly recommended.

May Minireviews – Part 1

Oh look, every time I think I’m gong to get caught up – I stop posting for days!!!  Things are legit quieting down at work now, so I’m super excited about my little summer break between greenhouse work and orchard work.  Loads of things to catch up on!!  In the meantime, some random thoughts on some random books!

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan – 3*

//published 2014//

After mostly enjoying A Natural History of Dragons, I decided to give the second book in the series a try.  Like the first book, Tropic is written as though it is a memoir of Lady Trent, who lives in a Victorian-like era in a different world.  My biggest complaint about A Natural History was that setting this story in a different world felt very laborious for the reader, who now has to try and learn loads of new cultures and countries and languages, when all of that would have been mostly unnecessarily if Brennan had simply set her story in AU England, since that’s the vibe the book had anyway.  Well, I had that same complain about Tropic except even more so.  Literal CHAPTERS of Tropic are spent on history and politics, all of which was utterly boring because it was completely made up.  I just couldn’t bring myself to care at all, and that part of the story went on and on and on and ON.  Where are the dragons????  I asked myself repeatedly while dragging my way through this tale.

The other extremely annoying part about this book was Isabella’s attitude towards motherhood.  At the end of the first book (spoiler here), her husband dies (which was a whole other level of aggravating), but Isabella is pregnant.  When Tropic opens, her son is now a toddler, and Isabella basically finds him to be a huge cramp in her style.  She hires someone else to nanny him, noting, “Is the rearing of a child best performed by a woman who has done it before, who has honed her skills over the years and enjoys her work, or by a woman with no skill and scant enjoyment, whose sole qualification is a direct biological connection?”  Well, thank goodness not everyone’s mother feels this way, my gosh.  She further excuses herself by stating that no one would hold a man to the same standards – one of THE most annoying arguments people craft, as though the fact that Group A doesn’t do X means that rather than changing culture’s expectations to demand more of Group A, instead Group B should be allowed to lower themselves to the same expectations!  Throughout the entire story Isabella refuses to acknowledge any true responsibility as a parent, and frequently sighs over the fact that she has a child at all, and between that and the long, drawn out political aspect of the story, I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to bother finishing.

However, the pace did eventually pick up, bringing my rating up to a rather reluctant 3*.  I already own the third book in the series (I got it as as a set on eBay with Tropic), so I probably will read it someday, but my experience with Tropic didn’t really make me feel like reading it right away.

The Big Four by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1927//

In this Hercule Poirot book, Poirot becomes a bit obsessed with the concept that there is an organization, comprised of four powerful people, slowly undermining the governments/economies of the world.  Poirot is determined to discover the identities of these individuals and bring them to justice, especially the one who does the dirty work, known as the Destroyer, a master of disguise and duplicity.  This book is comprised of several short stories that are all connected by the theme of the Big Four.  Hastings narrates, at times convinced that Poirot is right and other times convinced that he’s seeing shadows.  All in all, while this is one of Christie’s novels that goes a bit over-the-top on the “secret society is taking over the world” theme, it’s still good fun with several twists.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – 5*

//published 1868//

It’s kind of hard to write any kind of review for a beloved classic that has been in print since 1868.  This is one of my all-time favorite books, and I couldn’t believe how long it had been since I had read it!  This is an old-fashioned story for sure, but still has plenty of thoughts and lessons that are both timeless and timely.  I love the themes of sisterhood and family.  While most people seem to view Jo as the protagonist of the story, there is so much time spent with the other sisters and their life lessons as well – Meg is always my favorite.  All in all, this was one trip down memory lane that did not disappoint.

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson – 4*

//published 2020// Bonus – picture of the buffet & shelf Tom built me this spring!! AND Roger Miller’s picture! :-D //

Swanson has become an author whose books I try to read when they come out.  Each one has its own style, and I really like that.  This one is about a guy who owns a bookshop.  At one point, back in the day, he published a blog post about eight perfect murders in fiction – they weren’t necessarily perfect books, but the murders themselves are clever and nearly undetectable.  Now, in the present day, it appears that someone is using his list to kill people.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable mystery with excellent pacing.  The bookshop owner, who is also the narrator, is quite likable, and the way the dominoes fell into place felt realistic.  This book definitely has loads of spoilers for several classic mysteries.  Besides the ones on the list of eight murders, there are a few others, including a few of Christie’s classics.  I definitely recommend looking up the books that are spoiled and making sure none of them are ones that you want to read before reading this book.  However, if you don’t want to read those books, and haven’t read them before, it shouldn’t really reduce your entertainment from this story.  Swanson does a great job of organically explaining the plot of each one in a way that didn’t feel boring or out of place, but meant that I could grasp the way that the classic mystery tied into this one.  I had read a few of the books mentioned, but definitely not all of them, and I never felt lost.  I really appreciated the way that Swanson credited and basically bragged on the classic mysteries he used – the way that he incorporated them felt like it came from a place of genuine admiration and love for those stories, and I liked that a lot.

While I really have enjoyed all the Swanson books I’ve read, this is the first one that I see myself maybe revisiting again someday.  Recommended.

Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1947//

I really don’t know how every book in the Swallows & Amazons series can be just as delightful as the one before it, but here we are!  As always, literally every page is a delight.  This is the sixth book in the series, and I’m not even sure I could pick out a favorite because I have enjoyed each of them so much.  They are simple, funny, and delightful, and I highly recommend them to anyone who has a soft spot for simple stories about children having adventures.

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.

April Minireviews – Part 1

Still catching up on a bajillion reviews!  Now that I’ve checked off February (ha!), it’s on to March!!

Coot Club by Arthur Ransome – 5* – finished March 5

//published 1934//

So it may not come as a surprise to learn that I am still in love with these books!  I’m reading this series very slowly, savoring each one.  I’ve also been purchasing them as I go in the Jonathan Cape editions, which come with amazing end maps that I love.  This story was about a gang of children on a sailing expedition.  I usually think of sailboats (when I think of them, which, if I’m honest, is rarely) in association with large, open bodies of water, but in this story the characters are sailing on a river!  There was loads of adventures and excitement, the most adorable characters, and just so many happy things.  I loved every single page, as always.

Wild Horse Running by Sam Savitt – 4* – finished March 5

//published 1973//

This is another children’s books, and a fairly short read with loads of gorgeous illustrations by the author, who is one of my favorites.  This is a story about a wild horse, and like the countryside the horse roams, the story is a bit sparse.  Although it was choppy at times, Savitt still pulls together a tale that tugs at your heartstrings.  Published at a time – tragically not very long ago! – when it was still legal to pursue wild horses by car and plane, run them to exhaustion, and then ship them off to make dog food, it’s obvious that part of the reason Savitt is writing is to shine a light on this horrific practice, but his writing never feels polemic.  If you like horse stories, than you’ll enjoy this one.  If you don’t, this one probably isn’t for you, as there isn’t a great deal of human interest aspect.

Mystery in the Pirate Oak by Helen Fuller Orton – 3* – finished March 6

//published 1949//

As you may be able to tell, I was on a run of children’s books at the beginning of the month, looking for some light, fast reads.  (Although Coot Club was particularly fast – it was 352 pages and still not long enough for me!)  This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I picked up at a booksale back in 1997!  Considering it’s barely 100 pages long, you think I would have bothered to read it sometime in the last 20+ years, but here we are.  This was overall a pretty average, if someone haphazard story, but what really blew my mind was the historical context – published in 1949, yet the characters’ grandma went west in a covered wagon.  It just never ceases to amaze me how actually close we are to that kind of history.

Watership Down by Richard Adams – 4.5* – finished March 6

//published 1972//

It had been years since I last read this classic, so I was rather excited that one of my group members chose it as her book to mail for #LMPBC (Litsy Markup Postal Book Club – four people in a group – each person picks a book to read and annotate – every month everyone mails whichever book they have to the next person until you get your own back).  Not only did I get the pleasure of reading it, I got to read notes and thoughts from the other members as well, which was super fun!

Anyway, if you enjoy animal stories, you have to read this one.  An epic adventure of a small group of wild rabbits who leave their home warren in search of someplace new.  Like truly great animal tales, the rabbits don’t behave unnaturally, other than their ability to converse with one another. (And who is to say they can’t do that in real life anyway?)  Adams even uses words that are part of the rabbits’ language that are “not translatable” into English, which somehow adds to the authenticity.  While this is an animal story, there is a lot of depth to the characters and world-building, and some thought-provoking lessons as well.

Fallen Into the Pit by Ellis Peters – 3.5* – finished March 8

//published 1951//

Ellis Peters wrote the Cadfael mysteries, which are some of my favorite books of all time.  Fallen Into the Pit is one of her much earlier books, and is a “modern” mystery (set just after WWII, which is when it was published) rather than a historical mystery like Cadfael.  While this was a perfectly enjoyable book, I didn’t love it, or particularly bond with any of the characters.  It was an interesting concept – a look at the way that WWII German POWs were being assimilated into Britain by sending them out to live in small villages.  I think part of the reason that I struggled with this book is because the German is definitely one of the bad guys, and was SUCH a jerk, so in a way it felt like the lesson of the book was that Yes, you SHOULD be paranoid about Germans living among us because they SUCK.  So the whole thing felt vaguely racist against Germans, if that makes sense.  Still, a decent if not stellar mystery, and with a likable enough protagonist that I reserved the next two books in the series from the library.  Of course, they are still there because the libraries have been shut down what feels like years, but someday!

The Last Waltz by Dorothy Mack – 3.5* – finished March 10

//published 1986//

Another paperback out of the box of random Regency romances, this one was set in Brussels rather than England, which was a fun switch.  With Napoleon closing in, the setting was more interesting than the actual story, which was incredibly bland.  Truly nothing unpredictable happened in this book, to the point that I can only vaguely remember it a month later!

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward – 3.5* – finished March 12

//published 2015//

This is the first in a series revolving around a group of (modern) detectives in Derbyshire.  While this was a decent read, it was a bit garbled since one of the characters was doing her own research about the killer at the same time as the police, and it was easy to get confused about which people knew what – something that always frustrates me a little.  There were also SO MANY illegitimate babies.  SO MANY.  Basically every time there was a plot twist, it was because someone had had an unexpected pregnancy, and that got old after a while, especially with the not-so-subtle “if only they could have gotten an abortion at the time all their problems would have been solved!” message.  That’s right, because killing your baby solves all your issues and definitely doesn’t create any others. *eye roll*  Anyway, it was a fine mystery, but nothing about it inspired me to pick up the next book in the series.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold – 3.5* – finished March 15

//published 2015//

Quite a while ago I read another of Arnold’s books, Kids of Appetitewhich I genuinely loved.  I’ve been meaning to read Mosquitoland ever since, so I decided to choose it for one of my #LMPBC picks this round.  While I did like it, it just didn’t have the magic of Kids of Appetite.  In this story, teenager Mim has been forced to move with her dad and stepmom from northern Ohio to Mississippi, leaving her mother behind.  Lately, even letters and phone calls from her mom have stopped coming in, and when Mim overhears part of a conversation between her dad and stepmom, implying that Mim’s mom is sick, she steals some cash from her stepmom, jumps on a Greyhound bus, and starts heading north.  The book is journey, with plenty of adventures throughout.

My two main issues with this book – the first was just that most of it was way over-the-top.  I never really believed that any of these things happened to Mim.  There were way too many coincidences and genuinely ridiculously crazy characters.  While some of the episodes were entertaining, most of them just had me rolling my eyes in disbelief.  The book is very episodic in nature, which added to the overall choppy feel.

My second big issue is just that Mim’s dad didn’t tell her what was really going on with her mom.  Mim is 16, not 6, and there wasn’t really any reason that she shouldn’t have been told the truth immediately.  Literally all of Mim’s problems could have been avoided if her dad had had ONE honest conversation with her – and there was literally no reason for him not to, which I found frustrating.

All in all, Mosquitoland was interesting as a one-time read, and I am definitely curious to get it back in a few months and see what notes my fellow #LMPBC readers have left, as it does have a lot of potential discussion points, but it wasn’t a book that I really bonded with.  I do love the cover, though!

March Minireviews – Part 2

I’m back, with another lightning round of minireviews!!

Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter – 3* – read February 22

//published 2019//

Hunter can be hit or miss for me, and this one was mostly a miss.  SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THIS REVIEW.  The main thing that frustrated me about this book was that every single guy in the story was a jerk except for the main romance.  I found it ridiculous that the main character finds out that not only was her dad a serial cheater, but her grandpa was, too.  I mean, seriously?  And what exactly did that add to the story??  The reason her sisters don’t get along is because back in college they both fell in love with the same guy – guy was engaged to Sister A, but then leaves her and marries Sister B, which pretty much puts him in the jerk category, too.  Then we think that at least Sister A eventually found love – but no, her guy is a white collar thief who’s in jail now.  Sister B’s marriage is on the rocks, too, although at least he shows up at the end and they seem to be getting back together.  I’m just really over the “all guys are cheating jerks trope.”

On the other hand, the story had its moments.  I liked the grandma and her sneaky way of bringing her granddaughters together, and I did like the build of the romance between the two main characters.  However, I got frustrated by the sisters, who both needed their heads smacked together on more than one occasion.  All in all, this was a so-so read for me, that I would have enjoyed more if there had more than one nice guy in the entire story.

How to Save Your Child From Ostrich Attacks, Accidental Time Travel, and Anything Else That May Happen on an Average Tuesday by James Breakwell – 3.5* – read February 24

//published 2019//

I follow Breakwell on a few different social media platforms and really appreciate his humor.  I highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter – I think that length is the absolutely best for his humor.  How to Save Your Child is his third “parenting” guide, and probably my least favorite of the three.  While there were some entertaining moments and quotes, the overall book got a little repetitive.  Still, if you’ve enjoyed his other books, you’ll like this one, too.  Below, my three favorite quotes:

If your child falls off the bed and hits their head, you might wonder if you need to take your kid to the emergency room.  You don’t.  If it were a real emergency, you would know, because you would be on your way to the emergency room instead of wondering if you could keep your kid home to save some money.  In a real crisis, your survival genes override your cheapness genes.

When Godzilla starts a rampage, calmly move your child away from the destruction zone and head out to the countryside.  Godzilla is mainly concerned with demolishing tall buildings.  That’s why there’s no footage of him pointlessly stomping around empty farm fields.  If you already live in a rural area, congratulations:  Nothing in your life is worth destroying.  Sit back and watch as those condescending city-dwellers get their comeuppance.  Not that it will bother them.  Like crime and traffic, radioactive monsters are just a part of city life.

The world of Harry Potter is filled with dangers.  I’m talking about the version described in the books and movies, not the version J.K. Rowling retroactively changes on a daily basis to confuse and annoy the internet.  By the time my book goes to print, Dumbledore and Grindelwald could have an entire secret family together and the main character of books one through seven might be a frozen treat from Dairy Queen.  You’re a Blizzard, Harry.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – 4* – read February 25

//published 2019//

Wow, I don’t even know how to review this book.  Overall, I liked it, although I sometimes felt like it was trying a little too hard to be clever, with all the layers upon layers and stories within stories.  I also don’t feel like I should have to read a 500-page book twice to “get” it, but because of the way that all the stories are interconnected and the way time flips around, I was definitely left feeling like I would have to read it a second time to really grasp what was going on.  While much of the world-building and description was fantastic, I weirdly never felt particularly connected to any of the characters, and really didn’t buy the romance between the two main characters, which was definitely quite insta-love-y.  There also was basically not an actual plot, which added the dream-like feel of the whole thing.  Overall, there were a lot of things about this book that I really loved, but it still felt a little flat.  Worth reading, and I’ll probably even read it again sometime, but definitely not the instant winner that The Night Circus was.

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie – 4.5* – read February 27

//published 1925//

Christie rarely lets me down, especially in her pre-1930’s books.  A group on Litsy is reading and discussing one Christie book per month, and this was February’s book.  I’ve read all of them before, so this was obviously a reread, but it had been quite a while and I couldn’t remember all the details of what was going to happen.  This is one of her spy thriller-ish books, so strong on humor with a dash of campiness, but still a fun romp.

For a more detailed review on this one, check out my review from when I read it back in 2016.

Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck – 3* – read February 29

//published 2011//

I read this series several years ago and remember finding them entertaining if a bit too YA (even though the main character is 18).  Since then, Houck has published another book in the series, so I thought I would give it another go.  However, I found this really difficult to get through this time.  Kelsey, who narrates the books, is just too annoying for words, and I had also forgotten how the love triangle really plays a very prominent part in the plot.  So even though I really do want to read a story with handsome princes who are cursed to be tigers, I just couldn’t handle wading through 2000 pages of Kelsey dithering about which perfect brother she loves the most.

*****

Okay!!  That brings us to the end of February’s reviews!  I think I’m going to write a February Rearview post – despite the fact that it’s basically April – and then start minireviewing March’s books in a continued effort to catch up!

87th Precinct // Books 26-30 // by Ed McBain

  • Sadie When She Died (1972) – 3.5*
  • Let’s Hear It For the Deaf Man (1973) – 4*
  • Hail to the Chief (1973) – 4*
  • Bread (1974) – 4*
  • Blood Relatives (1975) – 3.5*

Still working my way through the numerous 87th Precinct books.  As I say every time I do one of these reviews, batches of five are just about right.  Enough time to get into the groove of the characters, but not so much as to burn out on them, as they do have a lot of stylistic similarities.

Sadie When She Died was probably my least favorite out of the batch.  It just ended up being a really sad story, with a broken marriage at its center.  While the pacing was good, it was definitely a downer.  Although I have to admit that most of McBain’s books aren’t exactly upbeat.  He loves to go off on tangents, little side stories of life in the city, and those side stories are invariably depressing.

Let’s Hear It For the Deaf Man was my favorite out of the bunch, because the Deaf Man is such a fantastic villain.  I read somewhere that McBain said the reason he didn’t write more Deaf Man stories was because the Deaf Man is smarter than he is and he just couldn’t come up with clever enough plots haha  But this one was done really well.  Someday, after I’ve read all these, I may go back through and just read the handful of titles with the Deaf Man at the center.

In Hail to the Chief McBain takes a slightly different pattern.  Part of the story is the normal third person narration with the detectives slowly closing in on the solution.  Alternating chapters are first person from the police interview with the president of the gang at the heart of the mystery.  During these sections, the president explains his motives and methods, justifying it all by explaining how he wanted the “war” between the gangs to be over – so that meant that his orders to murder various people were actually altruistic in nature.  The pacing in this one was excellent, and I actually always enjoy McBain’s gang stories (although many reviewers seem to find those the most “purple prose”-ish).  As he always does, McBain thoughtfully explores why gangs exist, along with various aspects of racism and poverty.

While I really enjoyed Bread, it was more of a traditional mystery style than McBain’s books often are, and there were a lot more names to track than usual.  At the heart of almost every crime is a desire for money, and that concept is definitely on display here with lots of back-stabbing and betrayal among various groups.

Finally, Blood Relatives was a good mystery, but I’m always really weirded out by anything vaguely incestuous, and there was a relationship between cousins in this one that felt extra weird because one of the cousins had been orphaned and come to live with her aunt and uncle as a young girl, so the relationship felt more like it was between siblings, if that makes sense.  Still, the pacing was really good here.

As always, it’s the gang of detectives that run the 87th that make these books so enjoyable.  I’m more in love with Carella than ever, having a huge soft spot for Kling and Meyer, and Cotton Hawes has totally grown on me.  McBain has a genuine respect for law enforcement and the work they put in to bring about justice, and presents their struggles well.  While these aren’t the best books in the world, I’m finding them enjoyable in small batches.  It’s also fun to see how McBain’s writing is changing over time.  There are 55 books in the series, the first of which was published in 1956 and the last of which was published in 2005.  That’s a pretty big swath of time, with a great deal of social change both in society in general and within law enforcement, so it is rather fun to watch it evolving.

These aren’t exactly books I recommend in general, but if you like detective stories, McBain definitely helped set the tone of the genre of more realistic, gritty, Dragnet-y stories.

January Minireviews – Part 4

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.

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne – 3.5*

//published 1872//

I’m not sure I had ever read this Verne classic, and there was a bit more mystery than I was anticipating.  This is a book that, in order to enjoy, you have to keep in mind when it was published.  I was kind of mind-blown about how much of the around-the-world travel meant moving through British territory at the time!  My favorite part was when Fogg’s servant rescued the girl, but the girl views Fogg as the hero!  Part of the reason that I can’t rate this book higher is just because Fogg himself is a very dull character in the sense that we never get to see what he is thinking or feeling.  We spend way more times with the thoughts of his somewhat bumbling servant and the policeman who is determined to catch Fogg.  Still, it was a really fun story, and a way easier read than I was anticipating.  As usual, Verne tends to get a little lecture-y but not nearly as much as he does in, say, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse – 5*

//published 1923//

It’s really hard to go wrong with Wodehouse, and even harder to go wrong with a Bertie and Jeeves Wodehouse.  This is really more of a collection of short stories gently connected by tales of Bertie’s friend Bingo’s disastrous love life.  These definitely follow a pattern (Bertie reluctantly gives up several pieces of dreadful clothing for the sake of Jeeves throughout the book), but when the pattern is so delightful, it’s hard to complain.  I loved every page.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

//published 1937//

I really wanted to get a bingo on my January Bingo card, so I needed to read a book that was being made into a movie this year, and apparently Death on the Nile is hitting the big screen sometime in 2020.  I’ve read this one before and when I started to read it again, I remembered whodunit, but weirdly that almost made me enjoy this one more than I have in the past.  This time, I was able to watch how Christie really does give her readers enough clues to solve the mystery themselves if they know where to look.  It was sort of like being behind the scenes of a play, watching how all the tricks are done.  I’ve reviewed this book before, talking about some of Christie’s more philosophical moments in this story, which I still enjoyed.  It is obvious from Christie’s writing in general that she strongly believed that we choose whether to do good or to do evil, and that is a particularly strong theme in this story.

Some Kind of Wonderful by Barbara Freethy – 3.5*

//published 2011//

This was another free Kindle book I picked up many moons ago (March 2017 if you’re interested) and finally got around to reading.  Like Your Perfect Yearwhich I read back in November, this book definitely suffers from having a romcom cover/synopsis, but actually being a more serious, novel-ish read.  It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t what I was expecting, and I really wish that publishers would stop making these books look like they are lighthearted fluff when they aren’t (or maybe authors need to decide whether they are writing lighthearted fluff or something more serious).

Anyway, this was a decent story about a guy who finds a baby outside his apartment door. When he reads the note attached to the baby’s car seat, he finds out that the baby is actually his niece, the daughter of his sister for whom he’s been looking for years, ever since they were separated into different foster homes as children.  He has no real idea how to take care of a baby and ends up asking help from his across-the-hall neighbor who, conveniently, is both kindhearted and single.  However, instead of being a fluffy romp with baby shenanigans, this ended up being a more serious story about adoption, infertility, addiction, abuse, and helping those in need.  I thought the issues were handled sensitively and well, and I really appreciated that there was a Christian character – a pastor, no less! – who was actually a decent human being who was trying to help and serve the people around him.  I had a few issues with the way the story was written – there is the weird “maybe our mom is an angel guiding us” thing, the whole situation with the pastor’s church possibly getting closed down felt a little clunky, and there really wasn’t a way that everyone who loved the baby could end up being the baby’s parents, so there was always going to be some kind of bittersweet ending for some characters.  All in all, a decent read, but not one I would pick up again, and not quite the relaxing story I was hoping to find.

ALSO there was literally NO beach in this story and definitely no bride on a beach, so WHAT is with the cover?!

January 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.

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl – 3*

//published 2016//

This book definitely seemed like one I should like.  Middle-grade steampunk with super fun world-building and interesting characters, yet somehow the story just fell flat for me.  There were some minor continuity issues that annoyed me – things like several sentences explaining why a certain mechanical animal can’t get wet, but then later in the book he gets completed doused in a huge barrel of water, yet is completely fine.  There were little things like that throughout that really distracted me.  The drama was just a little too over-the-top and choppy.  Overall, while I enjoyed it for a one-time read, I don’t really feel interested enough to read the rest of the series.

Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

//published 1924//

This is a collection of short stories featuring (you guessed it) Hercule Poirot.  Like all short stories, this batch had its strengths and weaknesses, but overall were just sort of meh.  There wasn’t really one that jumped out at me as being particularly clever or interesting.  Much of Christie’s brilliance is in her characterizations, and this format doesn’t really allow for that to happen, so it’s mostly just random set up of a problem, Poirot is clever while Hastings is a bit slow, and then conclusion.  A fine little read but not one that blew me away.

The Decorated Garden Room by Tessa Evelegh – 3.5*

//published 1999//

This was a nonfiction read and focuses on turning outdoor areas into living spaces.  The book was an odd mixture of the super practical and then the super impractical.  Overall, Evelegh presents some useful information, like where to start (floor/ground) and gives some ideas for other aspects of creating a garden nook.  But some of her ideas were just so over-the-top that I can’t imagine anyone doing them from scratch.  Still, there are a lot of lovely photographs and some interesting concepts.  I’m not sure how happy I would be if I had paid full price, but since I picked it up as a library discard for a quarter, it was worth the investment.

Watching You by Lisa Jewel – 4*

//published 2018//

Do you ever have one of those authors that you just keep adding their books to your TBR but never seem to actually read one??  Jewel has definitely been one of those authors for me, and I finally got around to reading one of her books this month!  I really enjoyed this one, although Joey’s pattern of self-sabotage (“I’m a terrible person because I do terrible things/I may as well do terrible things because I’m a terrible person”) really began to get on my nerves.  There was also a married couple in this book that didn’t end up staying together, and I think the story would have been a lot stronger if they had.  Instead, it’s just another one of those messages about how “sometimes things just don’t work out” instead of “marriage is work so you’d best work on it.”

But all of those things are side issues. The main story/mystery was done very well.  The pacing was absolutely fantastic – I loved the way the police interviews were sprinkled throughout the story, giving little tidbits of what is going to happen in the future.  The majority of this book was written in third person, past tense – YAY.  At the end of the day, this was an easy 4* read, and I definitely want to see what else Jewel has to offer.

A Mouse Called Wolf by Dick King-Smith – 3*

//published 1997//

This is a very short children’s book (less than 100 pages) that has been on my shelf a long time.  I have a lot of love for many of King-Smith’s books (Babe the Gallant Pig, Harry’s Mad, The Fox Busters, The Queen’s Nose, etc.), but he also went through a time period where he was cranking out books at a ridiculous rate, so some of his stories do lack depth, and this was one of those.  A story about a singing mouse and an elderly lady, this was a perfectly nice little story that I can see younger readers enjoying, but it was a bit too simplistic for me.