December 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.

Will I finish December reviews before the end of January???

The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith – 5*

//published 1956//

I always think of this as a Christmasy book, as that’s when the bulk of the action takes place, and since this is one of my all-time favorites, it seemed like a lovely time to revisit it yet again. Smith is so clever and humorous, with characters that are easy to love and a villain that’s easy to hate. As always, one of the most important parts of this story are the absolutely magical illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnston – I can’t imagine reading this story without them! If you’ve never picked up this story, you absolutely should.

The Starlight Barking by Dodie Smith – 4*

//published 1967//

I only discovered this sequel a few years ago, and while I don’t love it nearly as much as the original story, it is fun to see where Pongo and Missis’s children have ended up!! Again the illustrations make the story, and while this one definitely leans more heavily on magic (which was nonexistent in the first story), it’s still a great deal of fun.

Christmas With You by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1989, 1986//

One would expect the first (and longest) story in an anthology entitled Christmas With You and composed of only two stories to actually be, you know, Christmasy, but I honestly think some editor someone saw the title of this one (Gabriel’s Angel) and saw that there was a snowstorm in the first chapter and just assumed that it must have something to do with Christmas! In truth, the snowstorm is a freak spring blizzard and the entire story wraps up by the following fall, so there is literally not a single Christmas event in the entire tale! Setting that aside, I did enjoy this story (we all know I’m a sucker for a marriage of convenience) although there were some aspects that got a little too drama-y for me. Still a good time.

When I started reading the second story, Home for Christmas, I realized that I had already read it in the past and it employs my LEAST favorite trope (teehee oh btw I had your baby years ago but I never bothered to tell you because I’m pretending like I have your best interests at heart) BUT it takes place in New Hampshire, which I hadn’t visited yet for my #ReadtheUSA2020 challenge and it was less than a hundred pages long, so I rolled my eyes a lot and got through it. Despite the trope making me want to smack the female lead in the face, it wasn’t that bad of a story. However, I can’t believe I’ve ended up reading this one twice!

Santa’s On His Way (various authors)

//published 2018, just like all the Christmas books I read this year for some reason//

Another anthology, this one had four stories in it. Lisa Jackson’s name is in the biggest letters on the cover, so apparently she’s the keynote writer, but hers was the one story (A Baby for Christmas) that I didn’t finish – the characters just weren’t working for me. It was also weird because the other three stories were all published in 2018, but this one was from 1997??

What the Cowboy Wants for Christmas by Maisey Yates and A Cowboy for Christmas by Nicole Helm were solid 3.5* reads – nothing terrible innovative but perfectly pleasant. I’m not a big cowboy-romance reader, but these weren’t too bad.

Snowed In by Stacy Finz was my favorite of the collection (even though I would still give it 3.5* haha) It’s a fun trope and it was done well here. Plus, I liked the way it all came together in the end.

All in all, I probably won’t revisit this anthology again next year, but I may see if Finz has written any full-length novels.

Mutts and Mistletoe by Natalie Cox – 4*

//oh look, this one was also published in 2018//

Sometimes Hallmark-movie-type reads are just predictable and annoying, but other times they are predictable and fun, and this one was the latter category for me. It’s absolutely ridiculous that Charlie’s apartment just happens to be rendered uninhabitable at the same time that her cousin decides to dash off to meet her online-girlfriend, meaning that it’s the perfect situation for Charlie to take over the cousin’s upscale dog boarding business, especially considering that Charlie doesn’t even like dogs. But somehow Cox makes the whole thing work, keeping things light and fun and the scenarios mostly on the right side of believable. Charlie is overall likable and not too stupid despite her lack of knowledge about dogs and country life, and who doesn’t love a grump veterinarian hero? While not perfect, this was the exact kind of fluff I was looking for, and I kept this one for a reread next year.

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer – 3.5*

//published 1926//

This was borderline between 3.5* and 4*. It’s one Heyer’s earliest books, and it shows. Compared to most of her stories, the action in this one is choppy, the dialogue sometimes stilted (especially because most of the story is set in France with a French heroine who is constantly exclaiming things in French except I have no idea what she’s saying so I had to keep stopping to look things up because sometimes it was actually important to the plot of the conversation…), and the age gap between the two main characters was so great that I was honestly a little surprised that that was the direction the romance was headed. Despite all this, the bones of a good Heyer story are still here. It’s a fun story and when Leonie wasn’t shouting in French she was a likable character. The duke is a little over-the-top but I still ended up liking him and I absolutely loved his brother and sister and the family dynamics at work. So while I didn’t love this one, I did still enjoy it. It’s not where I would recommend someone to start if they’ve never read a Heyer story before, but if you already love her books you’ll probably enjoy this one as well.

Also, I just finished Devil’s Cub which is actually about the duke and Leonie’s now-adult son and it was absolutely delightful, so if nothing else it’s worth reading Shades just to get the full impact of the fun in Devil’s Cub.

This wasn’t a Christmas read, but it was December’s book for one of my traveling book clubs and thankfully still fit into my theme of an all-fluff month!!

December Minireviews – Part 2

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.

Onward with more December fluff reads!!

The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan – 4*

//published 2018//

While this one was a little more “novel-y” that I usually like, it ended up being one of my favorite reads of the month. At first, I was afraid that it was just going to be super angsty with a bunch of discontented, whiny women who have perfectly nice lives except they spend all of their time complaining about them. But I was pleasantly surprised by this story about three sisters who love one another but have grown apart. As we come to learn more about their childhood and the circumstances that have shaped them, I was completely drawn to the entire family. While yes, this is a feel-good Christmas story, it’s also a really lovely story about forgiveness, family, and realizing that even the people that we love the most have parts of themselves that we don’t know – everyone has something in their life that’s hard, no matter how perfect that life may look from the outside. I really enjoyed this one and will definitely be on the lookout for more books by this author.

Silent Night by Mary Higgins Clark – 3.5*

//published 1995//

Just to keep things lively, I picked up this short thriller. Clark does a great job giving motivation to multiple characters, which is what keeps this story from feeling completely ridiculous. It’s a fast read – nothing incredibly ground-breaking, but intense and hard to put down.

Christmas Gifts Collection by Elena Aitken – 3.5*

//published 2018//

In my mind, a “stand-alone” book is one that is not part of a series. However, some people use that term to label a book that theoretically can be read independently of the series of which it is a part. So while this collection was billed as a group of stand-alone stories, they were actually all part of a series that centers around a hotel called Castle Lodge. I hate reading books out of order but didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late, so for once I just went along with it. These were perfectly enjoyable stories, although I will say that the last story in the trio was the weakest – supposedly she, as the maid of honor, is helping her best friend plan her best friend’s wedding, but then in end – surprise! It’s her wedding! Except… literally the original bride was the one who was going to get married?? I just ended up feeling annoyed that the original bridesmaid was stealing the beautiful day away from the woman who was supposed to be the bride.

But anyway, they were fine stories, but didn’t make me feel like I wanted to jump in and read the whole series.

Husband Under Construction by Karen Templeton – 2.5*

//published 2011//I didn’t even read the other book in this anthology… I don’t do the ‘surprise baby’ trope lol//

I should have been warned from the title that this wasn’t going to be my kind of book. The problem was that Templeton creates two perfectly likable characters that I totally shipped, and puts them in a no-win situation. Either the female MC is going to have sacrifice her dream job, or the male MC is going to have to leave behind his wonderful, warm-hearted family AND family business to move hours away. I’m sorry, but that just isn’t my idea of a happy ending. Yeah, they end up together, but they do the one where the leave behind Noah’s entire family so they can live where the woman’s new job is – which okay, except literally the female MC goes on and on and on and on about how what she wants to do is have a huge family with lots of kids and spend her time hanging out with them etc etc so – in the epilogue now they have several kids and she’s only working part time here and there. So Noah sacrificed his spot in his family business AND left behind his completely awesome family (and the female MC – sorry, can’t remember her name haha – only has one living relative who also lives in the same town as Noah’s family) so that they could be close to the job that she isn’t even really doing?!?! It felt like a completely stupid way to end the book.

How the Dukes Stole Christmas 3*

//published 2018//

This one had four stories written by different authors – Meet Me in Mayfair by Tessa Dare, The Duke of Christmas Present by Sarah MacLean, Heiress Alone by Sophie Jordan, and Christmas in Central Park by Joanna Shupe. All of them were pretty lame, although Dare’s was probably the best of the bunch. They weren’t horrible as one-off reads, but I already passed this book on because it’s not one I see myself rereading for next year’s Christmas binge.

The Christmas Wish by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1994, 1984//

Two stories here – All I Want for Christmas and First Impressions – both of which were pretty standard Roberts fare. I had read the first story before, about twin brothers writing a letter to Santa for a new mother since theirs died several years earlier. It’s pretty adorable and I really liked the two main characters. First Impressions was published in 1984 so it has that 80s edge to it, but was still fun and frolicky even if the male MC is a little over-the-top grumpy.

November Minireviews // Part 2

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.

The Cats of the Louvre by Taiyo Matsumoto – 2*

//published 2017// Also originally published in Japan so it reads “backwards” for me… which the library apparently didn’t realize as they stuck the barcode directly over the title!! //

Lately, if I see a review of a graphic novel that I think looks interesting, I just check it out of the library right then. This was one of those cases, but here it was a complete fail as Cats ended up being way more bizarre than I had bargained for, although maybe I should have been forewarned since it was a book originally written in Japanese about a French museum and translated into English…

The story is supposedly about these cats that secretly live in the Louvre, which is what drew me in – doesn’t that sound fun?? But it turns out that these are like cat/human hybrid things?? Or maybe not and the artist just drew them that way to give them more personability?? Either way they completely weirded me out and made the whole story feel strange and creepy. Part of the story is also about a little girl who got sucked into a painting decades ago, and then one of the kitten children also gets sucked in… I can’t even describe it, the whole thing was just so weird. I did finish it because it’s a graphic novel so it goes really fast, but was left feeling like I’d had a incredibly bizarre dream. This one just wasn’t for me.

A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Perry – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was another case of cover love for me. Based on the true story of a wolf who (we know through tracking devices) left his home range in northeast Oregon to end up in southwest Oregon in an area that had not previously had wolves (at least not in recent history). This was a decent middle grade read, although not one that I fell in love with, mainly because Perry somewhat romanticizes wolves. For example, at one point Wander is very judgy about another pair of wolves who have killed a cow – or maybe it was a sheep, can’t remember – because obviously their pack leader hadn’t taught them any sense of “honor”… I’m just not convinced that “honor” really comes into it, although wolves do tend to prefer to hunt whatever their parents taught them to hunt.

My only other bit of confusion is that the title of the story is A Wolf Called Wander, but she actually names the wolf Swift, which is his name for most of the story until he chooses to change it, and in real life the wolf’s nickname was actually Journey. It just felt like a lot of names for one wolf. And yes, it makes sense that a wolf wouldn’t have chosen the same name for himself as the humans did, but why wouldn’t you just name the wolf Journey anyway???

But overall minor complaints. On the whole I did enjoy this book and if you have a younger reader who is intrigued by wolves/wildlife, they would probably like this one as well.

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater – 2.5*

//published 2020//

Another graphic novel to add to the “didn’t work for me” pile – while I haven’t read all of Stiefvater’s books, I’ve read enough to know that she’s an author I generally enjoy, so I checked out her graphic novel (illustrated by Morgan Beem) and it just ended up being another story that didn’t jive with me.

Twin brothers – one introverted and obsessed with plants/biology, the other extroverted and easygoing – head out to the swamplands to stay with their honestly bizarre cousins in a “we’re in redneck country” way that made me a little uncomfortable and felt out of character for Stiefvater’s writing. Sciencey brother’s experiments start getting weird when they turn things into plants that are still able to think and move like the people/animals they were before they were changed, and it’s a little vague as to whether they’re just going to be plants forever or… The story was just odd and choppy and hard to follow. I’ll also admit that the artwork style wasn’t for me, either, and if you don’t like the artwork of a graphic novel, it makes the whole experience somewhat negative as well.

Definitely my least-favorite Stiefvater book I’ve read to date. I’m not sure if there is supposed to be a sequel at some point, but this one ended quite abruptly. I think it was also supposed to be somewhat based on the comic book creature Swamp Thing, but I know literally nothing about comic book stories/heroes/villains/etc so I can’t say whether or not it even vaguely resembled the original or not. This one wasn’t for me, but people who enjoy the horror vibe and also think everyone who lives in the south is a stupid redneck may enjoy this one more.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1932//

It had been quite a long time since I read this one, so I couldn’t remember exactly how it came out. The plotting was brilliant as always, and I have a soft spot for Hastings so I was glad to see him here in this one. Christie is pretty much always a win for me, and I’ve been enjoying revisiting some of her earlier books.

Two of a Kind by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

This book contained two stories, Impulse (published 1989) and The Best Mistake (published 1994) and were pretty typical Roberts fare for that era.

In Impulse, the heroine spontaneously sells everything she owns, quits her job, and goes to Europe to travel until her money runs out. It will come to no surprise that she finds an insanely rich Greek to marry. Predictable and a bit ridiculous, but all in good fun.

I really enjoy stories about women who “should” have gotten an abortion, but instead decided to keep their child, a reminder that women are strong enough to be successful and accomplish whatever they want to without having to sacrifice their offspring to get there. The heroine in The Best Mistake was a model on the fast-track to big money when she got pregnant. Now, several years later, she’s living a quieter but still successful life raising her child with no regrets for the career she left behind. She decides to take in a renter in her over-the-garage apartment, and readers will be shocked to discover that he’s both good-looking AND single!!! No one knows what will happen next!!

These weren’t stories I want to read again and again but they were fun as one-off reads.

August 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.

Uhoh, we’re into September now!!  Still trying to knock out August reviews.

A Dance Through Time by Lynn Kurland – 3*

//published 1996//

While I do enjoy romance, time travel romance is a subgenre that I’m not usually into.  This read was for the traveling book club, though, so I waded through it.  While it wasn’t a bad story, and I did overall like the characters, it just went on FOREVER.  Some of the jumping-through-time bits got a little muddled as well (they brought their horses with them from the past??).  While I didn’t mind this as a one-time read, it definitely didn’t inspire me to check out the rest of the series, and solidified the idea that time-travel romance just isn’t my thing.

Sweet Revenge by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 1988//

I rarely worry about issuing trigger warnings for books (mainly because I don’t really read books that need them), but this book was hard to read at times as it dealt with a situation where a woman was repeatedly raped and abused.  The whole point of the story is that the main character is getting revenge on her father for the way he treated her mother, but I felt like Roberts felt way too long with the bits explaining why the daughter would want revenge.  There’s a lot here about the mother’s suffering and horrible life. Even after she escaped from her horrific husband, she struggled with depression and drug/alcohol abuse and eventually commits suicide, and it’s all quite depressing, to the point that I almost DNF’d this book more than once.  (Just to clarify, none of this was super explicit, but it’s all THERE.)  But when we FINALLY got through that section, the story really picked up.  Basically, the daughter becomes a jewel thief to pay all of her mother’s medical bills (she’s technically royalty, as her father is a ruler of a middle eastern country, so she runs in rich circles) and her ultimate goal is to steal an incredibly valuable necklace from her father – one that technically belonged to her mother, as it was his bridal gift to her.  Along the way, she runs into another jewel thief/romantic interest (my favorite character) and that whole bit of the story is really quite delightful.  I could have used a LOT more heist shenanigans and way less spousal abuse chapters.

In the end, while I actually really enjoyed the way this whole story played out, and quite liked the main characters, the first part of the story was just SO depressing and dragged on for so long that I don’t ever see myself reading this one again.

Summer at Lake Haven by RaeAnne Thayne – 4*

//published 2020//

Last December I read the entire Lake Haven series and thoroughly enjoyed them.  They weren’t groundbreaking, but they were relaxing and happy romances with likable characters and a small-town setting.  Summer at Lake Haven is the latest installment and was just as enjoyable as the rest.  My favorite part about this book was the way that the main characters actually had conversations with each other like adults instead of making assumptions and then staying mad for no reason, as so often happens in this type of book. So refreshing!  I also loved how Ian’s parents were actually super nice.  Lots of times the parents are these evil background characters, but here they were kind, welcoming, and supportive, and I thought it was fantastic.

Like the rest of the books, this wasn’t anything that will blow your mind, but if you’re just looking for a way to veg out, I definitely recommend this series.  While this one can be read as a stand alone (as they all can), all the background characters will make way more sense if you read the series in order.

Outsider by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2020//

Another series that I read last year, with another latest installment.  This mystery series is set in Ohio’s Amish country and focuses on the sheriff of a small town.  Kate was raised Amish but left the faith, eventually becoming a police officer and then moving back to her own hometown.  This series overall is really just excellently written.  Kate is likable, and the Amish community background is handled so well.  This particular book took a slightly different direction, as it was much more “thriller” rather than a murder mystery like the rest.  In this book, the Amish were also more background than foreground.  Still, I really enjoyed this read a lot, and hope there are many more books about Kate Burkholder to come.

While this one can be read as a standalone, it will also make a lot more sense in the context of the series, which is so enjoyable that I recommend reading them all anyway.

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1929//

I really love Tommy and Tuppence so much.  Tommy now works for “the government” in a sort of vague way/implied that he works in intelligence.  He and Tuppence go somewhat undercover by taking over a private detective agency that is suspected of being used to move “information” by a mysterious foreigner known as 16.  However, the majority of the book is actually connected short stories as Tommy and Tuppence solve legitimate mysteries to keep up their detective cover.  For each one, they take on the persona of a famous detective, which is both the fun part and the weakness of this story, as many of the detectives that were well-known in 1929 have fallen out of favor 90 years later.  Still, if you enjoy Christie’s writing, you’ll find a lot to like here as the mysteries themselves are clever.  Not my favorite Christie, but still an enjoyable read.

June Minireviews – Part 3

So after spending a couple of weeks basically reading books for younger readers, I suddenly was filled with the yearning to read something for grown ups!  I happened to have an unread duology by Nora Roberts sitting on the shelf, so I started with those and then went on a bit of a book-buying binge, something I very, very rarely do because I mostly use the library to check out books I haven’t read yet, and spend my money buying books I already know that I love and want to reread.  But there was something kind of magical about getting a box of books I’ve never read, especially since I got most of them either on the super cheap via Book Outlet (which I just discovered) or thanks to an Amazon gift card I had been hoarding for just such an emergency as this.  Anyway, the next batch of minireviews is more focused on romcom and fun.

Sacred Sins by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1987//

This is another 1980’s romantic suspense from Nora Roberts, and really that’s about all the description you need.  I really liked the main characters and enjoyed the story at the time, but it was overall pretty forgettable.  The big reveal was a little bit confusing since it was someone who had been in the story earlier but I couldn’t remember very well, so it seemed like he either needed to be more in the story or just be a stranger, if that makes sense.  The pacing was good, and it was just nice to read a book about adults haha

Brazen Virtue by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 1988//

A loose sequel to Sacred Sins, I ended up liking this one better.  In the first book, one of the main characters is a cop, and this book is about that cop’s partner, who I actually really liked in the first book as well.  This is one of those books where the reader knows who the murderer is from the very beginning, but that didn’t make it any less suspenseful.  A big part of this book is that the original person who gets murdered works for a company that provides phone sex, so that aspect was rather eye-roll-y for me, since it’s presented as a sort of “harmless” way to cheat on your wife, but overall the pacing and story really came together well for this one.

Side note – since I now publish little reviews on Litsy much closer to when I read the book, I’m back to mostly posting pictures of books that I take myself – which means you get a lil pic of Paisley with this one, and some background of my house/garden for some of the others!

My One Square Inch of Alaska by Sharon Short – 2*

//published 2013//

This was another traveling book club book, and another bust for me.  Part of it is the incredibly misleading synopsis, which acts as though the road trip that Donna and her brother take to Alaska is the driving plot of the book.  However, that was pretty far off base.  The book is actually about Donna, a teen in a small 1950’s Ohio town.  Donna spends most of the book whining about her life, and the author spends most of the book reinforcing any stereotype you can think of about small town residents, emphasizing how literally EVERYONE who lives in a small town is narrow-minded, prejudiced, uneducated, boorish, stupid, etc. etc.  As someone who lives in a small Ohio town, it was honestly genuinely offensive.  FINALLY Donna and her brother actually go to Alaska, and that entire part of the book felt completely unrealistic.  This was a book that annoyed me so much when I was reading it that I don’t even feel like reliving it via a cathartic rant.

Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams – 3.5*

//published 2019/

So the way I picked which books I was going to buy was mostly finding anything on my TBR that looked romcom-y, because that was really, really what I wanted to read.  Sadly, it’s been a pretty mixed bag.  So far none of them have been terrible, but I’ve struggled to find any that have that actual fun, fluffy magic.  Our Stop was kind of typical.  The premise is great fun – Nadia loves to read the “Missed Connections” section of the paper (online of course) and one day reads an ad that may actually be addressed to her.  Daniel finds himself attracted to a woman he does know – he overheard a conversation she was having when she was in the park that made him admire her brains and empathy, and he has seen her a few times on his commuter train in the mornings. But how do you meet a stranger without coming across as creepy?  And so he writes the Missed Connection.  Throughout the story, Daniel and Nadia keep almost meeting through a series of circumstances that feels believable.

Whenever this book was being a romcom, it was funny and enjoyable.  However, it felt a bit like Williams wrote this happy, lighthearted story and someone read and told her that she really needed to remember that this is the 21st century, and people aren’t allowed to have fun books unless they also get some social commentary.  So there are all these random conversations where characters talk about loads of buzzwords.  Literally none of those conversations felt realistic or natural in their context, instead coming through as incredibly polemic – Remember, while we might be having fun here, we’re still feminists!  Never forget!  There’s an especially awkward scene involving Daniel’s roommate bringing home a very drunk girl from the bar and Daniel preventing the roommate from having sex with her because “If she can’t say yes, it means no!”  Which yes, is true, but doesn’t really fit the whole romcom flavor??  It was things like that that I didn’t necessarily disagree with what was being said, it just didn’t need to be said because it had literally nothing to do with the story.  That whole scene is a complete one-off that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of the plot, so apparently it was only inserted there to give readers a little mini-lesson on consent, I guess.

ANYWAY as seems to be the pattern with most of the books I got, this was fun for a one-time read, but not one I’m going to come back to again and again.  Enjoyable but not magical.

Roomies by Christina Lauren – 3.5*

//published 2017//

I literally cannot resist a marriage of convenience story.  It’s my all-time favorite trope, and even if a book sounds terrible, or has bad reviews, if it’s marriage of convenience, I’ll probably still read it!  Roomies ended up being a sort of meh read, mainly because it felt like the authors did literally zero research on green cards and how they work.  They were doing things like photoshopping pictures of themselves on a beach so they would have “photos” of their honeymoon… as though the government wouldn’t bother to check and see if they actually left NYC at any point?!  They were sending sexy text messages so they would be “on record”… as though they weren’t going to also be time-stamped??  It was just weird stuff like that that made the story feel really unrealistic and thus less enjoyable to me.  The actual romance was perfectly fine, although a smidge too angsty, but it was a struggle for me to get past their plans for “tricking” the government.

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.

Cordina’s Royal Family series // by Nora Roberts

  • Affaire Royale  (1986) – 3.5*
  • Command Performance (1987) – 3.5*
  • The Playboy Prince (1987) – 3.5*
  • Cordina’s Crown Jewel (1992) – 3.5*

Although Roberts’s romances tend to be steamier than I prefer, I still find myself picking them up because her books have a lot of other things to offer – likable characters, good plots, humor, friendships, and engaging stories.  The four books about the royal family of the fictional country of Cordina were pretty typical Roberts fare, and I thoroughly enjoyed them, especially since I was reading them after slogging through  Stoner, Beartownand How To Stop Time right in a row.  I was READY for something fluffy!

The first three books focus on three royal siblings.  The first book is about the oldest, a daughter, who starts the book by escaping her kidnappers and fleeing to safety – but now she has amnesia and can’t remember what happened, or anything about her past life.  This should have been completely cheesy – and it totally was – but Roberts handles the story deftly and made me still care even if the plot was a little ridiculous.

In Comand Performance the story focuses on the crown prince.  The terrorist who orchestrated the kidnapping in the first book is back, so there is just enough mystery to keep things interesting.

The youngest brother is the star of the third book, which was probably my least favorite.  Bennet was just a little too pushy of a character for my liking, but this story did wrap up the whole situation with the terrorist, which was fun.

The final book was published a few years later and is about a member of the next generation of the royal family, Camilla.  This was my favorite of the series.  Camilla’s father (her parents are the couple from the first book) is an American, so her family has always divided their time between America and Cordina.  Fed up with the constant pressure of the press, Camilla runs away to just “live life” for a while – and of course is rather bad at it and ends up wrecking her rental car in a muddy Vermont ditch in the middle of a thunder storm.  I really liked Camilla’s relationship with Delaney and the way he falls in love with her without having any idea of who she really is.

Overall, this isn’t really a series of books that’s destined to become one of my favorites.  For lack of a better term, the writing is very 80’s.  But they were still fun, and they really helped pull me out of my reading doldrums.  I can see myself revisiting them if I’m ever in need of some quick palette cleansers again.

January Minireviews

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.

Almost done with December reviews!  :-D

The Martian by Andy Weir – 4*

//published 2011//

This one has been on my radar for a while, but I’m not usually into “space” books, so I wasn’t sure if I would really like this one.  Set in what appears to be the not-too-distant future, Mark is part of a NASA crew set to land on Mars and spend some time living there, studying the planet.  When an emergency forces the rest of the team to bail, thinking Mark is dead, he becomes the only man on Mars.  Determined to survive and to make it home, the book is a combination of Mark’s journal entries and third-person narration as to what is happening on earth as well.

Like I said, I didn’t particularly have high expectations for this one, and even assumed that it would be a DNF, especially since there were multiple F-bombs on the first page.  However, Mark’s wry sense of humor hooked me almost right away (and the swearing calmed down a lot, too).  I know a lot of reviews actually complain about how Mark is always making humorous remarks, but as someone who survives life by finding something to laugh about, I was here for it.  I did find his almost impossibly bad luck to be a little wearing after a while – every time he would start to get some momentum, something else tragic would happen and we’re back to square one.  I have no idea if any of the sciencey aspects check out, and I frankly skipped a lot of paragraphs that were numbers/explanations, because that ain’t me, but for pure storytelling fun, this one was an unexpected win.

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1933// More importantly – got these gorgeous Jonathan Cape editions from England!! I’m soooo excited!!! //

This is the fourth Swallows & Amazons book, and like the other three, was an absolute delight.  The children are back at the lake where their adventures started, during that awkward period of time after Christmas but before school starts again.  Another pair of children are introduced, so it was fun to see the original group from a slightly outside perspective.  The whole adventure was just so much fun, and really made me want a houseboat.  I can’t recommend these books highly enough.

Northern Lights by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2004//

First off, who names a child Ignatius?!

This was a typical Nora Roberts story – likable characters, engaging plot, too many sexy times.  Nate was a police officer in a big city (can’t remember which one) when his partner was killed, leaving Nate feeling guilty and depressed.  He accepts a position as sheriff in a very small town in Alaska, assuming that the most excitement he’ll face there is the occasional aggressive moose.  However, when a body is discovered in a mountain cave, a disappearance from years ago turns out to be a murder – and Nate believes the murderer is still living in town.

The mystery in this one was extremely well paced, with multiple potential murderers around.  As always, Roberts gives us an incredibly likable protagonist, and plenty of engaging secondary characters as well.  The setting of Alaska – remote, wild, beautiful, dangerous – is drawn very well.  I can’t imagine living somewhere with only a few hours of daylight in the winter!  I loved watching Nate begin to take interest in life again, although, ironically, I felt like the romance was the weaker part of this story overall, as not a lot of connection is built between the two of them before it’s suddenly FOREVER LOVE.  But since I liked both characters, I rolled with it.

Roberts books are always rated Mature, but if you don’t mind skipping a few sexy scenes, there is a lot of good story to go around.

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie – 5*

//published 1924//

On Litsy there is an informal group reading one Christie book per month in published order, and December’s book was this one (we have some discussion questions at the end of the month, which is great fun).  I’ve read all Christie’s books before, but this is a lovely way to revisit them yet again, because they really never get old to me.  The Man in the Brown Suit is honestly one of my very favorites.  It’s absolutely ridiculous, with spies and jewel thieves and tall, dark, mysterious men, but the whole thing is such a rollicking and humorous adventure that I just lap it all up.  I’ve read this one many, many times, but it’s lost none of its charm for me, and I’m still just a little bit in love with Sir Eustace.

Also, I’ve read this one before – here’s my review from 2016 with a smidge more information on the book!

The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle – 3.5*

//published 2018//

I’m sorry if I keep mentioning Litsy, but a lot of my reading activities are somewhat centered there now.  It’s just such a fun, warm community of readers!  Another Litten arranged a group she calls #NewYearWhoDis, where each participant lists out 3-10 of their top books of 2019.  The girl organizing the thing then took the time to sift through everyone’s lists and pair them together with like-minded readers.  The matches traded lists, agreeing to try at least one book from the other person’s list in January.  All that to say, I hadn’t heard of The Storm Keeper’s Island before I saw it on my match’s list.  It’s a middle grade fantasy read and was overall good fun, although there were some minor continuity problems (my favorite is where they’re outside in the middle of a horrific, rainy, windy storm yet somehow manage to light some candles with zero trouble…).  The main problem is that even though this book had a decent ending, there are a lot of lead-ins for the sequel, which my library doesn’t have!  So if any of you have some extra books in this series just lying about, I’d love to borrow them.  :-D

November Minireviews – Part 2

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.

Hey, guess what!   I’m actually reviewing books that I read in November!  Progress!

Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome – 3.5*

//published 1932//

I’m slowly working my way through the Swallows & Amazons series, and LOVED the first two books.   Peter Duck was still adorable and fun, but because it felt a lot less plausible, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much.  I was also confused because in the last book, Swallowdale, Peter Duck was an imaginary character that the children had created a bunch of stories about.  In this book, Peter Duck is a real person that they meet.  I could get behind them finding a real live person with the same name as their imaginary friend, but they NEVER acknowledged a single time that they had ever even heard the name Peter Duck before!  It seems as though there ought to have been at least a paragraph of something like, “Can you believe we’ve found a real live sailor with the same name as our imaginary sailor??”  Still, overall this was a fun one, and also had a great book map, which is kind of my favorite thing in the world.

Birthright by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2003//

This ended up being romantic suspense  that was a surprisingly emotional story, touching on things like adoption, nature versus nurture, what family means, divorce, and second chances.  I couldn’t get completely behind the book because the main character, Callie, was just a smidge too abrasive for my personal taste – her go-to response was just RAGE every time and it got old for me.  But I really liked the way that the love story was between her and her ex-husband, as he is quietly determined to do better the second time around.  This was definitely one of the better reads I’ve pulled out of the random Nora Roberts box, and it’s one I can see myself reading again in the future.  I will say that it’s definitely a mature rating as there is some language and some sexy times, but it was stuff I could skim over for the most part.

They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They? by Patrick McManus – 4*

//published 1977//

McManus is one of those authors that I don’t remember reading for the first time – it’s as though I have always read McManus in the past.  He wrote humorous articles for magazines like Outdoor Life in the 1960’s and 70’s (and beyond), and most of his books are collections of those articles – so short stories, or essays on a topic.  They mostly focus on hunting, fishing, and McManus’s childhood on a small, poverty-stricken farm in the backwoods of Idaho.  Like all collections, some of the stories are stronger than others, but there wasn’t a single one that didn’t make me laugh at least once.  The childhood stories are definitely my favorites, and there is a regular cast of secondary characters, including (my favorite) an old backwoodsman named Rancid Crabtree, who always knows how to accomplish important things, like skinning a skunk or cutting a hole to go ice fishing.  If you’re someone who thinks hunting is barbaric, steer away from McManus at all costs, as you will definitely be offended.  But if you’re a bit of a country person at heart (and have a sense of humor), you should definitely give him a try.  Many of McManus’s life lessons have been imbedded into my family’s philosophy permanently, as he tackles all kinds of hardships with a good-natured dose of self-depreciating humor.

The Phantom Friend by Margaret Sutton – 3* 

//published 1959//

In this installment of the Judy Bolton series, my mind was blown.  The entire premise was that an unethical advertising company was creating television commercials with faint phantom pictures that would cause the viewers to be semi-hypnotized into purchasing what the company was advertising!  Subliminal messaging taken to the next level!  What I don’t know is – was this a serious fear back in 1959??  I can see that it would be, as television was still a very new technology that many people found suspicious.  In many ways, it reminded me of The Secret Benedict Society – can subconscious messages be transmitted into our brains via other technology we are taking in?  Maybe Sutton was onto something, and it’s only our long association with television that has numbed our natural suspicions.  Or maybe the subliminal messaging over the decades has convinced us that television is harmless??  So many questions.

A Regency Rose by Miriam Lynch – 3*

//published 1980//

This one started out at a regular level of 1980’s Regency romance ridiculousness, but then took a sharp turn into the completely implausible, which was disappointing, since I actually did like the characters for the most part.

 

September Minireviews – Part 2

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.

Still trying to catch up on at least SOME of the books I read this month!!

Three Fates by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2002//

This book had excellent pacing and interesting characters, although it was a little slow to start.  I liked the thriller aspect of it, with everyone dashing around and trying to find the statues.  It’s a little heavy on coincidences, but Roberts honestly weaves that into the story, as I really liked the way she incorporate the concept of fate and also the story of The Fates (the myth) into what was happening.  There was one quote in particular I liked – ” [The Fates looked at me.] The first, who held a spindle, spoke. ‘I spin the thread, but you make it what you will.’ The second held a silver tape for measuring and said, ‘I mark the length, but you use the time.’ And the third, with her silver scissors, told me this. ‘I cut the thread, for nothing should last forever. Don’t waste what you’re given.’ “

Engaging Mr. Darcy by Rachel John – 4*

//published 2018//

This was a fun little modern adaptation of Pride & Prejudice that I quite enjoyed.  I really liked the way the author decided to update some of the situations, especially with why Mr. Bennet is a lax father, Lydia’s behavior, and how Wickham played into everything.  For some reason, the author decided to randomly change the first names of the some of the characters from those in the original, but not all of them, which felt a little jarring at times.  Overall, though, this was a fun little romp.

Arabella by Georgette Heyer – 4.5*

//published 1949//

This was a reread from quite a while back, so I didn’t really remember any of the story.  However, it was just as delightful as I’ve come to depend on Heyer being.  I loved Arabella and all of the other characters.  I was on vacation while I was reading this one, and it was just perfect.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware – 3*

//published 2016//

This book totally had me hooked while I was reading it, but left me feeling a little disappointed and confused.  The whole thing was just way, way too elaborate.  I was mostly left wondering why, if you were going to murder someone, you would EVER choose this way of going about it?!  The ending was quite jumbled and depended entirely upon luck.  So while this was fun while I was reading it, it definitely didn’t blow me away.  I’m still planning to check out more of Ware’s work, though.

First & Then by Emma Mills – 3.5*

//published 2015//

It’s ironic, since this was Mills’s first novel, but if I had read this first, I’m not sure I would have bothered to pick up her other books, all of which I’ve loved.  It’s not that this one is bad, because it’s actually a perfectly nice book.  However, it doesn’t particularly stand out – just kind of regular YA lightly-angsty story, lacking the delightful snark and close group of friends that has drawn me to the author’s stories.  Still, this was overall a well-written and thoughtful story that I did enjoy, with characters that I liked.  I appreciate the way that Mills manages to create high school characters who basically learn to look beyond themselves, recognizing that they are actually a small piece in a much larger puzzle.  To me, that should be the lesson you learn in high school – that life doesn’t revolve around you – and Mills manages to do that in each of her stories, yet in a different and engaging way each time.