June MiniReviews – Part 1

Have I mentioned that my life is pretty much just peaches right now???  You all really just can’t understand LOL  In the meantime, here are a few books that I read all the way back in June…

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 Horse & His Boy by C.S. Lewis – 5*

//published 1954//

Growing up, this was one of my least favorite books in the series (along with The Silver Chair), but every time I reread it, I enjoy it more.  There’s a lot to soak in here about providence and why bad things happen to people and how that all works together for good, plus it’s just a fun story.  Narnia is always a joy to me.

Kitty’s Class Day & Other Stories by Louisa May Alcott – 3*

//published 1882//

I’m a huge fan of Alcott, and some of my all-time favorite books were penned by her.  However, I’ve had this collection of short stories on my shelf for literal years and somehow never read it… and when I did, I honestly wasn’t that impressed.  The subtitle for this one is “Proverb Stories” and each tale has a little saying/proverb at the beginning and then the story goes on to illustrate it.  Consequently, these came across as a little on the preachy side.  Alcott is always a fan of making her writing somewhat moralistic, but I feel like that works better with her longer-form writing, as we are able to see characters grow and mature organically.  Here, with only a few pages per story, the lessons felt a bit too in-your-face for my tastes.  Perfectly fine but honestly not particularly engaging.

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling – 4*

My reread of the Potter books also continued in June with a chapter a day of the fourth book.  I think this is where the series really starts to take off, with a lot of connections being made.  It’s a chunkster of a book and sometimes does feel a little ponderous, but overall I still find this series plenty entertaining.

Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibañez – 3.5*

//published 2021//

In May I read Woven in Moonlight and found it to be a decent enough read that I wanted to pick up the sequel, Written in Starlight.  It’s hard to tell about this one without giving away some spoilers for the first book, but basically there is a character from the first story who ends up being sent away into the jungle as a punishment at the end of the book.  It honestly felt a little jarring, so reading the second book felt like reading the other side of the coin.  Although the main character is different, it really ties in with the first story and, I felt, tied up a lot of loose ends.  Overall, I think I actually liked this one better, even if the main character was super dense from time to time.

Led Zeppelin: Heaven & Hell by Charles Cross & Erik Flannigan – 3.5*

//published 1991//

My husband is a huge Zeppelin fan, so we have several nonfiction books about the band.  In my quest to read all of the books I own (LOL) this one was the next stop.  Published in 1991, it was written at a time when there was still a lot of chatter about whether the band would get back together, with John Bonhome’s son, Jason, as the drummer.  This book read more like an extended fanzine, with a lot of information about band paraphernalia, concerts, albums, concert memorabilia, etc.  If you already love Zeppelin and are just looking for some random tidbits, it’s worth picking up for the photographs if nothing else, but if you don’t know much about the band, this isn’t really a great place to start, because the authors definitely assume that you already have foundational knowledge about the band members and the trajectory of the band itself.  I definitely preferred Flannigan’s sections to Cross’s – I find Cross’s writing to be somewhat condescending, something I also noted when I read his biography of Kurt Cobain, Heavier Than HeavenUltimately, Cross felt like it was super important to spend a great deal of time hating on Hammer of the Gods by Stephen Davis (which I haven’t gotten around to reading yet), which, whether or not his claims were justified, just came through as rather petty.  A moderately enjoyable read, but not one I’d particularly pick up again.

May Minireviews – Part 1

Well, I’m finally delving into May’s reviews, and since May does seem like more recent past than April, I at least feel like I’m making progress!!  May is traditionally a super busy month for me since I work at a greenhouse, which means there aren’t as many books to review as there are in most months…

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.

Happiness Hill by Grace Livingston Hill – 4*

//published 1932//

I read a lot of fluff in May, because that’s what I trend towards when I’m busy (or stressed or depressed or in a reading slump or just feel like it haha).  I actually own this one, so I know I’ve read it before, but I couldn’t remember the details – not that the details of a GLH book varies much from one book to the other, but still.  If you don’t like your romances to be clean, somewhat religious, a little saccharine, and quite predictable, don’t pick up GLH.  But I find that that’s frequently exactly what I want, and I quite enjoyed this one, with the traditional strong-moraled heroine, the goofy brother, the gentle-but-in-poor-health parents, and the lonely young hero who yearns for some family.  Basically, if you like GLH, you’ll like this one.

PS No, I’m not the heathen who used this book as a coaster at some point!

100 Years of Color by Katie Greenwood – 3*

//published 2015//

This nonfiction book had such an intriguing premise, but for me it just didn’t quite follow through.  Greenwood looks at each decade from 1900 through 2000, pulling advertising posters, artwork, and textiles, and discusses the colors that were popular during that decade and why… except she doesn’t really get to the “why” all that much.  Instead, each decade has a (very) short discussion page, then several images with no explanation as to why she particularly chose those or thought they were good examples of the decade.  There was so much potential here to really delve into popular colors and patterns but instead she barely skims the surface, making the book more or less unmemorable.  It was definitely a case of me wanting to like a book more than I did.

Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse – 5*

//published 1925//

I’m still working my way through all of Wodehouse’s works in published order.  The 1920s were a great decade for Wodehouse’s writing, as he invents the immortal duo of Jeeves and Bertie, and this book did not disappoint.  I’ve read all of the Bertie and Jeeves books in the past, but am never adverse to revisiting them.  This collection of loosely connected short stories included a couple of favorites, like a chapter from Jeeves’s point of view.  And who can resist a story titled, “The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy”??  Certainly not me!

Unicorn Famous by Dana Simpson – 4*

//published 2021//

This is the latest installment of the Phoebe & Her Unicorn comics, and just as much fun as the rest of the series.  While these can obviously be read in any order, they’ve been so much fun to read in publication order, as characters (and unicorn lore) do develop throughout the series.

Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne – 3*

//published 2021//

In my attempt to read newly published books by authors that I like as they get published, I reserved Second First Impressions at the library and was intrigued to read it after thoroughly enjoying The Hating Game.  However, this one just didn’t really hit the right notes for me.  While I did like the main character, Ruthie, she also frustrated me a lot.  The snarky best friend/coworker also really got on my nerves and I felt like she crossed the line and became condescending towards Ruthie, acting like Ruthie was just too sheltered and backwards to really know what she wanted from a relationship.  Like Ruthie would make a statement about what she wanted from life/a relationship and the snarky best friend was like, “Oh, no, that’s what losers would want!  THIS is what you REALLY want!”  I honestly found it a kind of offensive that Ruthie’s desire for a quiet, not-drama-filled life was dismissed as boring and pathetic.

I’m also personally a bit over having a character’s Tragic Back Story be because of a horrible “religious“ father. Can we please stop having background characters be “Christians“ just so you can talk about how hypocritical they are? Thanks.  I definitely felt like Ruthie could have had a terrible dad and a lot of the same issues without all the extra effort of emphasizing how “religious” her dad was.

Finally, while the two old ladies who lived at the retirement home were funny and sweet, their whole schtick of only hiring good looking young men so they could make them do embarrassing things until they cracked just felt, for lack of a better word, cringe.  I can’t even imagine how this aspect of the story would have gone over if it was two old men who hired young women so they could comment on how good they looked in various outfits and then send them off to do demeaning and difficult tasks just to see how long it would take them to quit.  I mean seriously.

So while this one was an okay read for me, I definitely didn’t love it.  It really lacked the chemistry, snark, and snap of The Hating Game, and read closer to women’s fiction than romcom for me.  The “humor” felt a little forced, like Thorne was writing a serious story but kept trying to make it into a romcom instead.

Three-Act Tragedy AKA Murder in Three Acts by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1934//

While this isn’t my favorite Poirot story, it was still quite good and, as usual, I had no idea what the solution was.  Hopefully no one ever needs me to solve their murder, because I can 100% promise that I won’t be able to do it!  One of my favorite parts of this book was the fun way Christie listed the cast of characters in the front.  The chapter/section headings also aligned with the parts of a play, carrying the theme throughout.

February 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.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – 4.5*

//published 1934//

This is a hard one to review.  Christie does a magnificent job with this one, but overall it’s not actually one of my favorites because it’s also pretty depressing.  Still, it’s brilliantly done, and one of those stories that leaves you pondering the ending.

As a side note, I started collecting these absolutely gorgeous editions from HarperCollins and am IN LOVE!  So far they have been putting out two a year, so now that I’ve caught up, hopefully I can stay with them!  I’m including a bonus picture of all of them I’ve collected so far – just LOOK at those end papers!!!

Of Beasts and Beauties by various authors – 3*

//published 2018//

One of this year’s challenges on Litsy is to read the original and variations of a different fairy tale each month.  I’ve been using it as a chance to read retellings already on my TBR.  February’s fairy tale was Beauty & the Beast, so I thought it was a good time to pick up this collection of B&B retellings that I got as a free Kindle book eons ago.  Unfortunately, it was 810 pages of mediocrity and five books that literally were NOT B&B retellings at all?!?!  I was SO confused by that part.  I struggled through these, hoping that one of them was going to make it worth my while, but they were all just boring and angsty without anything particularly engaging.

In the first, a princess marries a Dark Elf to try and build a better relationship between their cultures. It went on F O R E V E R and basically nothing happened except for her whining about how oppressed she was because her dad is a jerk (which he is but… okay, we get it, he’s a jerk). In the second, a young warrior is kidnapped by a tribe of lizard women who need him to participate in their not-sexual ceremony so the next generation of lizard women can emerge. Another yawn-fest that I skimmed a LOT.  Story 3 was a contemporary thriller that wasn’t bad exactly, it was just soooo dramatic, basically her cousin already works there and the chick needs out of the city so her cousin gets her a gig working here (for the “the beast“) as a maid but then they FALL IN LOVE and now she feels SO HORRIBLE because she has LIED TO HIM about BEING A MAID. Wait, what? Like, you took the job, you’ve been cleaning the house, so actually you ARE a maid. When she “confesses“ he struggles to forgive this “lie“, leaving me honestly super confused. The whole story was like that – tiny things blown way out of proportion.  Story 4 had this fun superhero concept, but the world-building was horrible and way too much was trying to be jammed into 150 pages – super choppy writing, almost like it was supposed to be longer and the editors were like, nah, you need to get rid of about half of this. I constantly felt like I was missing something.  Story 5 (& final, thank goodness) was the best out of the bunch, I think, although still overly complicated for its space. Still not remotely B&B although at least there was a daughter making a sacrifice to save her dad so… kind of??

I pick up these kinds of collections thinking that I may find a new author out of them, but none of these made me remotely interested in anything else these people had written.  But honestly, my review could be colored by the fact that I was really excited to read five B&B retellings and this did NOT deliver.

Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – 4*

//published 1997//

Yes, I know it’s Sorcerer’s Stone here in the US… but this time around I’m actually reading British editions!  I got these fancy Hufflepuff editions a while ago (well, I’m actually still in the process of collecting them) and have been meaning to reread the series ever since.  Another Litsy readalong this year is #PotteraDay and it’s actually been really fun to read these books at a slower pace – I usually race through them as fast as I can.  This way I’ve been soaking them up more and noticing more details.  It’s also entertaining to read the British editions, which do have a lot of different words and phrasings.  I really wish that, on the whole, books written by British authors in Britain would not be “translated” into American English as I think they lose a lot that way.  If I’m reading a book set in England, I want it to be authentic!!  These aren’t the best-written books ever, but they’re still great stories and I always find them enjoyable to revisit.

The School for Good & Evil by Soman Chainani – 2*

//published 2013//

This one was just not for me, and I think a big part of it was because it did NOT feel like a middle grade book.  Maybe I have a dirty mind, but here’s a phrase I don’t want to be used to describe a 12-year-old girl OR to have a 12-year-old girl read:  “Her extremely short dress showed off long, creamy legs.”  The entire book was like that.  It wasn’t overtly sexual, but there were extremely weird phrases used that just made me feel uncomfortable.  At one point, one of the girls gets tangled in a magical thorn patch and is being attacked by the plant – she’s stabbed by a “dark and engorged thorn” during a scene that felt like it spent way too much time talking about how the thorn was going to “enter” her.  There are multiple instances where the girls wear skimpy clothes and make up in a way designed to attract the attention of the boys with details like the “creamy legs” sentence above.  In one scene, one of the girls enters the cafeteria during lunch wearing an outfit that shows off her legs and is low-cut in the front and we’re told that the boys’ food “dribbled in their laps.”  I don’t know, maybe I’m overly sensitive, but this book really gave me the weirds, which was disappointing because it seemed like, from the description, something that should be right up my alley.  And on top of all of that, the whole message about good/evil/beautiful/ugly just felt extremely muddled and confusing – like in the end, it actually did feel like beautiful = good and evil = ugly, so I wasn’t exactly sure what the point was supposed to be?? On the plus side, it’s an entire series checked off my list by just reading one book!

January Minireviews – Part 3

Oh my gosh.  Okay.  I’m still here.  I had a mild breakdown today because freaking WordPress changing literally E V E R Y T H I N G on top of my already crappy week was just more than I could take.  I even started to set up a new blog on Blogspot.  But for now I am going TRY to continue working with this stupid website because I feel like I have so much invested here!

A bit of whining first, then book reviews.  Feel free to skip this paragraph.  I’m in a Mood haha  So besides the fact that the entire dashboard is just stupid now, my biggest issue is that the Pages are just in some kind of random order.  (Maybe what’s been edited recently?  But it doesn’t really seem to be that.  Definitely not alphabetical.  Definitely not in the order they are on my site, or anything else that I can figure that actually makes sense.)  I use these pages every time I make a post because it’s how I index everything.  Each book I review then has a link filed on at least three index pages – the ones you can see at the top of the website.  However, even though I can’t sort those pages and the whole thing looks stupid I can apparently “search” them so I think I can use the search function to find the pages I want when I want them… maybe.  Mostly.  Honestly I’m just flat pissed at how horrible the new set up is.  It’s so, so horrible.  

But onward, right?  I’m going to try to see if I can make this stupid website do what it’s always done for me, even if it now takes about 15 extra steps and makes no sense.  At least I can now “seamlessly create a podcast” from my website.  Because that’s definitely what I want to do.  Oh my GOSH.

As a side note I can “kind of” use the Classic editor by choosing it as a block in the Block editor.  Because that makes sense, right? *HUGE EYE ROLL*

EDIT EDIT EDIT EDIT

I FIGURED IT OUT!!!!!  Okay, sorry, this almost feels like it should be its own post instead of one with reviews but whatever haha  OKAY so if your dashboard has also gone completely wonky – I went to My Profile and then on the left sidebar clicked Account Settings.  Now here’s the stupid part.  Just the other day I had to UNCLICK the button that says “Show advanced dashboard pages” so that the update would NOT show up.  Today I turned it ON and now everything is back to normal.  WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!

I’m SO SORRY that I’ve been whining about WordPress so much lately!!!  I’m going to try to go back to being the upbeat person that I usually am haha  Thanks so much for listening to me rant lately and for giving me helpful possible solutions!!!  Maybe this whole thing is back under control!?!?  Time will tell…  For now – on to a few reviews!!

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.

Time & Time Again by Ben Elton – 4*

The sad part about being way behind on reviews is that books that I really found interesting and thought-provoking at the time have now faded into the distance.  When I read this book back in January, it completely sucked me in.  A fantastic concept well-executed with a great twist – it honestly doesn’t fit my usual style of reading as it wasn’t a particularly happy book, but it was done so well that I didn’t mind.  If you’re someone with a rosier view of the human race than I have (i.e., if you think people are on a generally upward trajectory and are constantly improving rather than devolving), you may not like this book as well.  But since I actually think people are on a cyclical but steady downward trend, this book rather fit with my life philosophy in many ways.  

There were a few too many unanswered questions for me to rank this more than 4*, but all in all it was a solid and engaging read a bit outside of my normal parameters.  

Sheriff Bo Tully mysteries by Patrick McManus

  • The Blight Way – 4*
  • Avalanche – 3.5*
  • The Double-Jack Murders – 3.5*
  • The Huckleberry Murders – 3.5*
  • The Tamarack Murders – 3*
  •  Circles in the Snow – 2.5*
I usually give a series its own post, but I’m so far behind on reviews that I’m not even going to do that haha  
 
I grew up on McManus’s collections of essays/articles and many of my life philosophies are based on his theories.  This series was written late in his life and was one of his few forays into fiction.  Set in a small town in Idaho, the books focus on the county sheriff, Bo Tully, and various murders/adventures/shenanigans that occur in Blight County.  While the series started well with a likable group of characters, the last couple of books fell off sharply, with the stories getting weirder and the final book not even including most of the characters who had been regulars in the earlier books.  I can see myself reading the first two or three books again, but not the whole series.
 
Susannah the Pioneer Cow by Miriam Mason – 3.5*
 
Susannah the Pioneer Cow

//published 1941//

This is a simple children’s story about a pioneer family who moves west (all the way to Indiana haha) in a covered wagon but told from the (third person) perspective of the family cow, Susannah.  It was a happy little story but since it was focused on the cow it was lacking in a lot of details about pioneer life.  I think I would have loved this book when I was an early reader, though, because Susannah does have some exciting adventures.


Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

A fun little collection of short stories based around Miss Marple.  I actually rather enjoyed these because I quite like Miss Marple’s random-yet-somehow-make-sense connections between different people/situations, and those really shine in these shorts.  Not the best Christie has to offer, but still rather fun.

January Minireviews – Part 2

Lately, I’ve considered giving up book blogging since I’ve been quite terrible at keeping up with it. Life is busy and I have a lot of other commitments. Plus, I’m not going to lie, I hate the new WordPress block editor with a seething passion. HATE. IT. It’s so counter-intuitive, overly-complicated, and absolutely nonsense when you just are trying to have a regular blog where you write stuff and stick in a few pictures – I’m not attempting to create an actual webpage here, I’m trying to write a BLOG. Every time I start to write a new post, I just remember how much I hate working on WordPress now, which makes me extra depressed because I’ve always been such a huge fan of this site and have had several different blogs here over the years. Is anyone using a different host that they like better? I’m up for exploration because WordPress now SUCKS.

But anyway, all that to say, at the end of the day I actually use this blog to track what I read and whether I liked it, so even if other people don’t read my reviews, I actually use them as a reference point all the time haha So for now, even though I’m always a couple months behind, I’m going to keep at it. I do enjoy writing the actual reviews (usually) (except for the part where I have to use WordPress’s stupid new editor) so I’m going to keep posting a few reviews whenever I get the chance.

And so – here are some books I read back in January!!!

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.

Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll – 3.5*

//published 1865, 1872//

These books (generally published together now, although originally published seven years apart) are classics that I hadn’t read in decades. There’s a group on Litsy visiting one fairy tale per month, the original and then whatever variations or retellings anyone wants to read, so it seemed like a good way to hit up some of the stories I either haven’t read or haven’t read in a long time, starting with Alice. As I had vaguely remembered, I didn’t particularly enjoy these stories. They’re okay, but they are just a little too frenetic for my personal tastes. I’m consistently intrigued by what books become classics. Why are these books, published way back in 1865 and 1872 still considered childhood classics that everyone should read? I honestly don’t know because while they’re fine stories, I really don’t find them particularly inspiring or engaging. I didn’t mind reading them, but don’t particularly see myself returning to them again.

Thirteen at Dinner AKA Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1933//

This is a crafty little Christie starring Poirot and the faithful Hastings. It’s kind of impossible to talk about this one without using spoilers, but I’m still, after all these years and rereads, consistently impressed with Christie’s story-crafting abilities. It isn’t just the mystery, which was solid, but her ability to make the reader care about what happens to various characters. She pretty much always “plays fair”, giving the reader the facts needs to solve the case… but I pretty much never do. Some of the time for my rereads, as with this one, I remember who the villain is, but still enjoy watching Christie line up the red herrings .

The Pioneers by David McCullough – 4*

//published 2019//

This is a nonfiction book that originally drew my attention because its focus is on the settling of Marietta, Ohio, and the impact that that had on the push of settlers into the Northwest Territory. I’ve read maybe one other McCullough book, but can see myself checking out some of his other titles. Overall, this was a solid read, but at less than 300 pages, not particularly a deep one. While I enjoyed the quotes and diary entries that made the text more personable, I also sometimes felt like McCullough let them dictate the direction of his book a little too much. The last section, especially, wanders away from Marietta and kind of all over the place, almost as though he still had some good quotes but didn’t know how to work them in. But there were loads of fun facts, like how there is a recorded instance of the settlers cutting down a tree that was TWENTY-ONE FEET in diameter, or how one community was so determined to establish a library that they collected animal pelts and sold them to buy their books – Amesville still bills itself as the home of the Coonskin Library. I’ve been to Marietta several times and visited the museums there, but it was interesting to hear about some of the other settlers, as much of the information in Marietta is focused on the most famous of them, Rufus Putnam.

All in all, a decent read about pioneer history, but one that I would label as a starting point rather than all-inclusive.

Bill the Conqueror by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

I’m always in the mood for Wodehouse even when I think I’m not in the mood for Wodehouse. As always, this book followed Wodehouse’s classic formula, but he does it so well and with such funny, funny one-liners that I always enjoy every page. With a whole slew of likable and unlikable characters all engaged to the wrong people, this was another fun read by my favorite author.

The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack – 3*

//published 2017//

This is where waiting two months to write a book review really does the book an injustice. At the time that I read this one, I had a LOT of opinions about it, but now most of them have fizzled away. Basically, the main character works for an auction house that sells incredibly high-quality, expensive stuff. She’s an appraiser, and the story opens with her assessing a collection of books and documents. In them, she finds a manuscript that claims to have been written by a woman from the time of Cleopatra, but what really shocks the MC is when she comes across HER NAME in the manuscript. As things unwind, we discover that the manuscript’s author was a seer and she is writing this entire thing about various future descendants of herself.

I wanted to like this book, and if I turned off the logic side of my brain I did like it, but there were just too many gaps and issues for me to really get behind it. The MC herself is super annoying and a total user of everyone around here. She’s recently found out that she was adopted and is acting like a petty, spoiled child about it and at times is downright cruel to her adopted mother. For someone supposedly in her late 20s/early 30s, she frequently sounded like a petulant, sulky teenager. Even if I accepted the fact that the author of the manuscript was a seer with the ability to look to the future, I couldn’t believe that she would have the mental capacity to understand everything that she was seeing. Could someone from Cleopatra’s time have a vision that involved airplanes and cars and understand them – and have words for them?? The stories that the seer was writing were far too complete to actually make sense as a prophetic manuscript, although the stories themselves were engaging.

The plot with the missing tarot cards was convoluted and choppy and still didn’t make sense at the end. This was one of my traveling book club books, which is why I read it – it wasn’t particularly a book I would have picked for myself, or finished reading if I had. Not a terrible book by any means, but it didn’t really inspire me to find out if Womack has written anything else.

January Minireviews – Part 1

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer – 4*

//published 1932//

Heyer didn’t tend to write sequels/connected books, so I was bit surprised when I read These Old Shades and then discovered that there was actually a sequel. Devil’s Cub is set a generation later – focusing on the son of the main couple from Shades. You don’t necessarily have to read Shades first, but it did add a level of fun, knowing more about the various characters. This wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was good, fluffy, Heyer fun with plenty of snappy dialogue, likable characters, and slightly-absurd adventures.

The Flip Side by James Bailey – 3.5*

//published 2020//

Most romcoms are written by women, and focus on the woman as the main character, but I genuinely appreciated Bailey’s story, which focuses on a guy, and puts that guy in the situation that so many female characters start with. Josh has arranged an incredibly romantic date with his girlfriend with the intention of proposing. Except not only does she turn him down – she confesses that she’s been cheating on him and no longer “feels the magic.” Within the first chapter, Josh is single, jobless, and back to living with his parents in the suburbs. As he looks at his life, he feels completely overwhelmed by all the choices he has to make, and all the choices he has made to get where he is – he feels like a failure and can’t see a way forward. And so, he decides to stop making decisions. Instead, he starts flipping a coin and letting fate decide what happens next. And as one might expect – shenanigans ensue.

There was a lot to enjoy about this story. There are fun and slightly-ridiculous scenarios, mostly likable characters, and a little bit of thoughtfulness about life choices and where they take us. On the other hand, a lot of the pacing felt stuttered, a few of the characters were extremely underdeveloped, and there’s this whole weird thing where Josh gets a ride with a taxi driver named Jesus, which leads to this whole conversation/scenario that felt kind of sacrilegious to me.

At the end of the day – an entertaining and overall enjoyable, but it isn’t one I see myself reading again and again.

The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer – 4.5*

//published 2004// Also, the cards are for another Litsy challenge haha //

These are the sequels to Sorcery and Cecelia, which I reread in December. Like the first book, they are fun and happy epistolary novels. In The Grand Tour, the two couples from Cecelia have just gotten married and are off on a joint honeymoon around the Continent, where they run into another magical mystery. The Mislaid Magician takes place about ten years later – both families now have several children, adding to the fun. This one is extra entertaining as there are letters between the husbands as well.

All in all, these are just such fun books with enjoyable characters and a very fun world-building concept – highly recommended.

Eyewitness Guides: Brazil4*

//published 2020//

Another challenge on Litsy this year is #FoodandLit – there’s a country each month, and participants try to read some books set in that country or written by authors from it, and we also share recipes, although I’m not particularly good at that aspect haha Because I’m really trying to keep my challenges focused on reading books already on my TBR, my goal is to read two books for each country – one nonfiction, most likely a travel guide of some sort – and one fiction, mostly based on what’s available at the library! These Eyewitness guides are great fun – super colorful, full of photographs and maps, and I learned all sorts of things about Brazil, which is actually a HUGE country. It was also fun to read this one before I read my fiction choice (next review) since I had a much better grasp on the geography of the country by the time I got to Ways to Disappear, in which the characters hop around the country quite a bit.

A fun way to armchair travel, especially to countries I’ll probably never visit in person.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This was a weird book that I would never have picked up if it wasn’t for the #FoodandLit challenge. The story is about Emma, who works as a translator. Her main focus for several years has been translating novels by a Brazilian author named Beatriz Yagoda. The story opens with Beatriz climbing up a tree with a suitcase – and that’s the last anyone sees of her. Emma, in snowy Pittsburgh, receives an email that she thinks is from someone connected to Beatriz’s publishing house, and spontaneously decides to go to Brazil to see if she can help locate Beatriz, a decision that makes Emma’s live-in boyfriend/almost fiance quite annoyed. In Brazil, everything is as opposite to Pittsburgh as it can be. It turns out that the email was actually from a mafia-like guy to whom Beatriz owes thousands of dollars in gambling debts. The story wanders through Brazil as Emma and Beatriz’s adult children try to find the missing author all while dodging the increasingly intense threats of the loan shark. The entire book has an almost dream-like quality to it, with an emphasis on the hot, sticky weather (in contrast to wintry Pittsburgh). Emma has an affair with Beatriz’s son, struggling with feeling conflicted about the marriage proposal she knows is coming from her boyfriend back home. Beatriz’s daughter, Beatriz’s opposite in almost every way, is frustrated that Emma is there at all, much less than Emma thinks she knows so much more about Beatriz than anyone else. The whole novel meanders around – it feels like, with the whole loan-shark-deadline-if-you-miss-it-we’re-going-to-kill-you thing, that there should be more of a sense of urgency, but there just isn’t. The ending is odd, but not necessarily out of character for the rest. A book I’m not exactly glad I read, but also not mad that I did, either. It was a fairly quick read, which helped, because I’m not sure how long I could have put up with the complete bizarreness of the whole thing.

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!!

November 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.

Well, here’s the last batch of November reviews – at least I’m getting them done before January!!

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – 5*

//published 1817//

This was only my second time reading this gem, and I was struck afresh by Austen’s snarky humor throughout. Catherine isn’t my favorite Austen heroine, but Henry may be my favorite Austen hero. Also, for some reason I didn’t really notice last time how Henry’s sister gets this entire complicated story in a few paragraphs at the very end of the book – she’s been secretly engaged this entire time?? Where’s my Eleanor Tilney story?! I need one!

Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West – 3.5*

//published 2018//

West is pretty much always good for some clean YA entertainment, so while this one wasn’t particularly memorable, it was still perfectly enjoyable. I did think that Abby’s reaction to the whole art show thing was completely over-the-top… but on the other hand, she’s 17 so maybe West is just being realistic. I really appreciate that West likes to include adults in her stories who aren’t total losers, and Abby’s relationship with her parents and grandpa really made this story for me.

The Illyrian Adventure by Lloyd Alexander – 2.5*

//published 1986//

I really, really love Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, but haven’t really tried any of his other books. This one is the first in a series about a character name Vesper Holly. First off, the cover is completely misleading, as it appears to be a modern girl, so I was thinking that this was going to be a time-travel book or something – but no, it’s set in 1872 and Vesper is supposed to be a “normal” young woman from that era – except she isn’t, she’s super obnoxious. Recently orphaned when we meet her, she doesn’t act remotely sorrowful or sad, but instead bosses everyone around and decides that they should go on an adventure to the other side of the world to continue her father’s research. The entire book is told from the point of view of Holly’s new guardian, which was the other thing that made this book clunky and awkward – Holly is the main character, but we are completely cut off from her thoughts/motives – everything is viewed through the lens of middle-aged Brinnie, who spends much of his time being completely thick-headed and naïve and completely startled whenever Vesper does something unladylike, despite the fact that pretty much is always doing something unladylike.

This book is aimed for the middle grade audience, so perhaps for them the plot would not be so painfully obvious, but there was absolutely no surprise, twist, or anything unexpected in this entire story. The villain is obviously the villain, the hero obviously the hero, and the only person who can’t figure it out is poor old Brinnie who insists on trusting the wrong people and saying the wrong thing to them at the wrong time so everyone ends up in hot water from which Vesper must once again rescue everyone.

In short, formulaic, boring, and a narrator so dumb I can’t believe he made it to adulthood. On the brightside, a book off my shelf and a series I don’t need to read.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville – 3.5*

//published 1851//

This is one of those books that I’ve always felt like I “should” read but never really had any desire to do so. But a fellow Litten had a buddy read for this book scheduled in November, reading the book across the entire month, so I thought it was a good time to give it a go. In the end, I can appreciate what makes it a classic, but it definitely isn’t for me. I was mostly surprised at the complete and total lack of action for 95% of this book. I was expecting a roaring Captain Ahab pursuing his nemesis across the open seas, but instead it’s just a regular whaler drifting about and every once in a while they come across another boat and Ahab demands to know if they’ve seen the white whale and sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it’s no and it doesn’t really matter because they don’t know where he is right now anyway so they just keep cruising along and then they hunt a regular whale because they do need to make some money so we spend a chapter chopping it up and then another five chapters listening the narrator natter on about whales and philosophy and random pointless stories that go nowhere and have nothing to do with anything else.

I don’t exactly regret reading this one but I would never read it again. Someone else told me that they love this book because the rhythm of it reminds them of being at sea – long stretches of quietude followed by a short frenzy of activity. In that way I can appreciate the book, but on the whole it just wasn’t for me.

Room-Maid by Sariah Wilson – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This is one of those “rich girl has to work for a living but doesn’t know how to do anything” stories, which can sometimes be annoying but overall here was good fun, mostly because the main character is a genuinely nice person, although she is a little too air-headed for my personal taste. (Like, I get that you may not look up everything you don’t know how to do because some things seem obvious, but when you’re faced with a major crisis, like spilling something on a couch that you have no idea how to get out, why would you not Google it first??? Multiple catastrophes could have been avoided with the power of the internet.) The pros here were that this book was completely clean and there wasn’t even any “grey area” cheating – not sure why these things are so difficult to find in modern romcoms, but here we are.

While this wasn’t my new favorite, it was still a fun and fluffy story that made for a relaxing read.

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.

Rilla of Ingleside // by L.M. Montgomery

It’s possible that Rilla is my favorite from the series, despite the fact that it isn’t centered on Anne at all (as the title implies). In many ways, you could probably read it as a stand-alone, although it’s much more meaningful when you know all the characters and their backstories. The story begins just as Rilla is turning 15. On the cusp of womanhood, she looks forward to the next few years being full of fun and frivolity. She freely admits that she doesn’t really have any “dreams” like her older siblings (she’s the youngest of Gilbert and Anne’s children), no particular talents or inclinations. She doesn’t even like babies! But Rilla is a wee bit spoiled and is confident that life will continue to fall into place as it always has. But then – World War I begins and everything changes.

//published 1921//

This book works on so many levels. It’s just a plain good story, and a wonderful glimpse at life “at home” during the war. In many ways, it’s a book about women and how, so often, their job through the ages has been to wait and keep the home fires burning. I think what I love about this story is that Rilla doesn’t disguise herself and sneak into war as a boy. She doesn’t even join up with the Red Cross and become a heroic nurse on the front lines. Instead, she just does her best to work hard and be a better person at home. For me, there’s a paragraph towards the end of the book that summarizes the spirit of the story. Victory has just been announced, and Susan, the older woman who works for the Blythes, runs up the flag –

As [the flag] caught the breeze and swelled gallantly above her, Susan lifted her hand and saluted it … “We’ve all given something to keep you flying,” she said. “Four hundred thousand of our boys gone overseas – fifty thousand of them killed. But – you are worth it!” The wind whipped her gray hair about her face and gingham apron that shrouded her from head to food was cut in lines of economy, not of grace; yet, somehow, just then Susan made an imposing figure. She was one of the women – courageous, unquailing, patient, heroic – who had made victory possible.

Montgomery lived through this war – Rilla was published in 1921 – and I think that in many ways this was her ode to the women who stayed behind.

I highly recommend this series on the whole, and Rilla in particular. Montgomery has a wonderful knack for writing about people who feel real, and for writing about everyday circumstances in a way that emphasizes the beauty, heartache, joy, and sorrow that encompasses everyone’s lives, even those of us who are “regular.” Some books that are classics just don’t seem to deserve that classification to me, but the Anne series does – wonderful books that capture a time, place, and people in a way that is still relatable to read about a century later.