March Minireviews – Part 3

Still not feeling the whole blogging thing, so here are some more notes on recent reads.  Part 1 for March can be found here, and Part 2 can be found here.

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

//published 2012//

I honestly have a lot of mixed feelings about this book.  It was definitely more horror than fantasy, which I wasn’t exactly expecting.  However, it’s still a children’s book so while it was more gruesome than I personally prefer, I personally prefer the most minimal amount of gruesomeness possible, so I may not be an accurate judge.  I think part of my issue with this book was that the central theme seemed to be that the pursuit of perfection is inherently bad, but I’m not sure I agree with that.  If the pursuit of perfection is an obsession that causes you to be cruel or harsh to those around you, then it’s bad.  But I’m honestly a little distressed by a recent trend that I see of taking the “you are wonderful just as you are” to a level that turns it into “you are wonderful just as you are, so don’t bother trying to be better,” and I am not convinced that that’s healthy.

ANYWAY philosophical questions aside, the story itself was engaging from the beginning, although it was slow in spots and had an intriguingly ambiguous ending.  At the end of the day a 3.5/5, and still not completely sure if I would purposely seek out another book by Legrand or not…

I originally added this book thanks to a review by The Literary Sisters, so check their review out for a more overall positive vibe!

The Patmos Deception by Davis Bunn

//published 2014//

I read another of Bunn’s books not long ago and found it interesting enough that I thought I would give another of his titles a go.  However, The Patmos Deception ended up as an incredibly bland read to me.  The book was very slow in spots and had this strange love triangle that made almost no sense.  Everything fell into place exactly when and how it needed to, and consequently the ending felt unrealistically tidy.  The epilogue was completely pointless, leaving everything even more open-ended than before (including the love triangle).  The plot was disjointed and rather directionless, with smuggling, counterfeiters, stolen artifacts, and a potentially world-changing ancient scroll all muddled together with the economy crash in Greece.  While it earned a 3/5 from me for moments of interest, it definitely wasn’t a book that made me want to find another of Bunn’s works.

Uneasy Money by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1917//

I was completely in love with the simplehearted Bill, who just wanted everyone to get along.  This was an easy 4.5/5 – not quite as perfectly funny as some of Wodehouse’s other stories, but still an absolute delight.

Adorkable by Cookie O’Gorman

//published 2016//

This story was a lot of fun, and I always like a good fake relationship trope, especially since Sally and Becks have been friends for so long.  However, Sally’s mom and Sally’s best friend were so obsessed with Sally having a boyfriend that it honestly kind of weirded me out, and I found it really frustrating that they acted like there was something wrong with Sally because she didn’t really want a relationship right then.  Not having a significant other should never be portrayed as meaning you are a less valuable person, especially in high school where I think serious romantic relationships are basically a waste of time and energy anyway.  So even though the romance bit was adorable and fun, I never actually felt like things changed with Sally’s mom and best friend – like it still felt like every time Sally was single in her life, they were going to be hounding her about it, and that was aggravating.

There was also this weird thing about Sally’s dad – like I don’t even know why he was in the story??  She hates him and apparently he’s a jerk, but she never spends any time with him and her parents have been divorced since she was really little, so that felt kind of arbitrary, like the only version of her dad that she has is the one her (presumably somewhat bitter) mother has given her.  I just didn’t get why he was there, he would just pop up every once in a while so Sally could be angsty about him, and then he would leave, and it was kind of pointless.

Even though I’m complaining (like usual) I actually did overall enjoy this story.  While I don’t see myself going out and hunting down more books by O’Gorman, I wouldn’t mind reading one if it came my way.  I originally added this book because of a review by Stephanie, but I have to say that she also felt pretty lukewarm about Sally’s best friend!

Sing by Vivi Greene

//published 2016//

I got this book in a subscription box, and it was so fluffy and devoid of any deep thought that it almost gave me a cavity just reading it.  It wasn’t a bad book, but it definitely was another one that emphasized that necessity of romance in order to make life worth living.  Lily’s character just didn’t really grow or change, and the whole story felt kind of stagnant.  It did have it’s funny, sweet moments and I didn’t hate it, but it’s not one that I’m keeping for my permanent collection.

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March MiniReviews – Part 2

Still not feeling the whole blogging thing, so here are some more notes on recent reads.  Part 1 for March can be found here.

The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

//published 1872 & 1883//

These are a pair of adorable little stories that follow the very traditional fairy tale format of the good being very good and the bad being very bad.  That said, I still quite enjoyed them, especially The Princess and the Goblin.  There is a lot of adventure here and some fun characters, even if the ending of the second book was a bit abrupt.

I also didn’t realize that these books were so old, because the edition I have is both stories in one volume, which was published around 1970.  But it turns out that the original stories are from the late 1800’s!

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

//published 2007//

This is technically a standalone novel, but I was quite excited to see my old friend Vincent Ruiz from the Joseph O’Laughlin series make an appearance.  Actually, Ruiz is what kept me reading a lot of this book as it didn’t always completely engross me.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get into the sense of urgency, and I didn’t really like Ali all that well.  Also, Ali has been dating a guy named Dave for quite some time when this book opens, and we continue to see a decent amount of him throughout the story.  But Ali tells us when we first meet him that his nickname is “New Boy” Dave (just like that, with quotations around “New Boy”)… and then proceeds to constantly refer to him as “New Boy” Dave for the entire rest of the book.  I can’t explain why this annoyed me, but it did.  Seriously, does Ali always think of this guy she is really serious about dating/is sleeping with/considering marrying as “New Boy” Dave??  It was SO annoying.   I decided to stop by and talk with “New Boy” Dave on my way home.  What.  Even.

Anyway, the story itself was fine.  I feel like it’s really difficult to write a book about immigrants/refugees without becoming somewhat polemic, and because it is such a complicated and nuanced topic, I don’t always appreciate reading books that turn it into something incredibly simplistic (e.g., all immigrants are precious innocents and if you don’t agree it’s because you are a money-grubbing fat cat), but this book handled the topic fairly well.  All in all, a decent read that I did enjoy, but not as much as some of Robotham’s other books.  3.5/5.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

//published 2001//

Velde introduces her slim volume of short stories by outlining what she perceives as the big issues with the classic fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin:  basically, it doesn’t make any sense.  But she then presents five alternative retellings that help make a nonsensical story feel at least slightly more plausible (at least in worlds with fairies and magic).  While nothing earth-shattering, they were fun stories and a quick, entertaining read.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

//published 1978//

This is an old favorite of mine that I have reread many times over the year.  It’s such a fun retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  A lot of reviewers complain that it’s too slow and that too much time is spent on Beauty’s life before she meets the Beast, but that’s actually the part of this story that I love.  In this version, Beauty’s family is so kind and happy that I would have been perfectly content to spend the entire story just hanging out with them while they adjusted to their new life.  My only real beef with this version is that Beauty spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how plain she is, how ugly, how physically unappealing, etc.  I get really tired of listening to her run herself down, when it’s quite obvious that she just isn’t as stunningly beautiful as her older sisters – probably because she is only fifteen when the book starts and they are in their early 20’s.  Other than that, though, this is a really fun and engaging story, and even if it isn’t action-packed, it has a lot of characters that I love.  4/5.

Rescue Dog of the High Pass by Jim Kjelgaard

//published 1958//

This is one of the rare Kjelgaard books that I didn’t devour as a child, probably because the library didn’t have it.  Recently I acquired it as a free Kindle book, and while it wasn’t my new favorite, it was still an interesting story about Kjelgaard’s theory of the origin of the St. Bernard dogs (an event that is actually lost in the mists of time), which of course involves a young hero and his faithful canine companion.  Nothing amazing here, but an enjoying and interesting little story that I would sometime like to land a hard copy of for my permanent collection.

March Minireviews – Part 1

I have had just zero inspiration for blogging lately.  These anti-blogging moods come on me from time to time, and no longer really fuss me, as I know the urge will return at some point.  In the meantime, I’ve still been reading aplenty, so I thought I would at least share a few notes on some of my recent reads…

Tulipomania by Mike Dash

//published 1999//

I love reading nonfiction on random topics, and doesn’t get much more random than the tulip boom (and bust) of the 1630’s.  Dash does an excellent job painting a picture of the times, and I was honestly intrigued by what was going to happen next.  I couldn’t get over how crazy the entire boom was, with people buying, selling, and trading bulbs – bulbs!  You can’t even tell if they are really what the seller says they are!  Can you imagine paying more than a year’s worth of wages for one??

This book definitely needed pictures – I had to keep stopping to look up different styles/types/varieties of tulips (most of which no longer exist).  Charts and graphs would have been awesome as well, and could have definitely bumped this book a half star.  Dash also had a tendency to sometimes go off onto rambling trails to Nowhereville, but on the whole usually brought it back around to something at least moderately relevant.  On the whole, a 4/5 for this one, and recommended.  It also made me want to plant some tulips.  I feel like I have really underappreciated them up to this point.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

//published 2011//

This was one of those books that I wanted to like more than I did.  While it was creative and not a bad story, it just didn’t have magic.  And despite all the adventuring in the middle bits, in the end it felt like everyone just ended up back where they started, instead of their being some kind of growth.  In the end, 3.5/5 for an alright but rather bland fairy tale.  However, I will say that I originally added to this to the TBR after reading a review over at Tales of the Marvelous, so be sure to check that out for a perspective that found this book more engaging than I did!

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

//published 2016//

This book totally had me glued to the pages when I was reading it, despite the fact that I found Zoe to be rather annoying, and Simon even more so.  (Maybe I found Zoe annoying because she was with Simon?  He just seemed like such a tool!  And her ex-husband was a sweetheart.  I was confused by the creation of a very nice character who is still in love with his ex-wife… but who cheated on her??  The pieces of Matt’s character didn’t always fit together for me.)  I enjoyed having a first-person narration and also a third-person narration instead of all first person, which I think can frequently start sounding very same-y.  I’m sticking with 4/5 for this one because I couldn’t 100% get behind the conclusion – it was like Mackintosh took the twists to one more level, and I couldn’t quite follow her there, so I felt like the conclusion was just barely in the plausible realm, although other people seem to disagree with me, so it’s possible that I just have a different perspective of human character haha Anyway, this one was definitely worth a read and I’m looking forward to reading some more of Mackintosh’s writing soon!

NB: I would 100% be behind another story with Kelly and Nick!

I feel like this book was reviewed by just about everyone when it was first published!  For some other great reviews, check out Stephanie’s Book Reviews, Reading, Writing and Riesling, Cleopatra Loves Books, Chrissi Reads, Bibliobeth, and Fictionophile!

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

//published 1877//

This is a definite childhood classic for me.  I was very much into horses as a girl, and still own multiple copies of Black Beauty, each with its own style of illustrations and binding.  My favorite for reading is still the small Scholastic Book Club paperback.  It’s illustrated with line drawings, but doesn’t say who drew them!  I’ve had this particular copy since I was about ten, and have read it many times.  However, it had been several years since I had pulled it out.  I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, although as a more pessimistic adult, I find the ending not as confidently positive as I did as a youngster – after multiple times a sudden change in the life of Beauty’s owners leading to his being reluctantly sold, I was necessarily confident that the same wouldn’t happen again in his retirement.  What a grump I’ve turned out to be!

Of course, the story is quite polemic in nature – Sewell’s entire goal was to expose many of the everyday cruelties endured by horses and other animals (and people) with no one to speak for them.  But everything is presented in such a gentle and loving way that it’s hard to take offense.  It’s just many little stories that collectively remind readers that the power to make the world a better place is within everyone’s grasp, if they are willing to step forward and do their small part.

Despite the fact that much of the tale is a bit out of date as far as societal issues go (I don’t really remember the last time I saw someone forcing a horse to draw a heavy load uphill while using the bearing rein), the overall lessons of kindness, generosity, and always looking out for those who are weaker than you are timeless.

This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills

//published 2016//

It’s really hard when I don’t feel like writing serious reviews, but then read a book that I really like a lot, and this one definitely falls into that category.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve read about a group of friends that I liked as well as I did Sloane and her group.  Despite the fact that there wasn’t this big urgent plot, this was the book I kept wanting to come back to, just so I could see what snarky adventures everyone was going to have next.  I realized when I was finished that one of the big reasons that I enjoyed this book so much is that it is way more about friendship and the importance of having a core group of good friends that you can really trust than it is about romance and falling in love.  The love story was really a small side issue to the main thrust of the story.

This wasn’t a perfect read for me.  It felt like it took way too long for Sloane to “get” that she part of the group, and what that meant she needed to do.  I really liked Sloane’s dad and her relationship with him, but I definitely needed more of Sloane’s mom – she only appears a few times, so she just kind of comes across as this weird grumpy person in the background.  I personally thought a lot of the things she was grumpy about were justifiable, but she never really gets an opportunity to explain her point of view of their family issues, so in the end the entire relationship between Sloane’s parent is still really ambiguous, which detracted from the overall story for me.

But I legit could read like five more books about this gang of friends.  I so enjoyed their banter and loyalty.  I also loved reading a story where one of the main characters is popular and beautiful and nice, as I am really tired of the trope where the girls who are into girly things are empty-headed back stabbers.  Emma Mills has definitely been added to my list of authors whose backlogs I need to find.  In the meantime, if you enjoy funny, engaging YA, I recommend This Adventure Ends.

This book first came to my attention thanks to Stephanie’s Book Reviews, so be sure to check out her thoughts as well!

February Minireviews – Part 3

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

I seem to have a lot of these this month (plus, it’s just been a month of bad weather so lots of extra reading time!) – Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 can be found here.

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

//published 2016//

Honestly, it’s just been a while since I finished this book, and it isn’t super memorable to me.  It was a decent read that kept me interested, but even after I found out the answers I wasn’t convinced that the villain’s motives made a whole lot of sense.  Still, it was engaging while I was reading it, and while I’m not planning to hunt up more of Kubica’s books, I’m open to reading another one if someone has a recommendation.  For this one, 3.5/5 and kinda recommended.

NB: This book was originally added to the TBR thanks to two separate reviews – one from Cleopatra Loves Books and another from Reading, Writing and Riesling – be sure to check them out!

Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1915// or possibly 1911//

I’m attempting to read all of Wodehouse’s works in published order, but it’s made somewhat extra difficult by the fact that Wodehouse published both in the US and the UK, sometimes at the same time, or sometimes earlier in one place or the other.  Sometimes books have the same title in both countries and sometimes different titles.  And then to keep things really interesting, some books didn’t get published in other country at all, and instead Wodehouse would recycle part of a book from one country and incorporate it into a book that was only published in the other.  Of course now, a hundred years later, I can get all the books no matter where they originated, but pinning down an official and definitive “order of publication list” has been difficult, although I am doing my best.

All that to say that the original list I am working from listed The Prince and Betty as being published in 1912 and Psmith, Journalist being published in 1915.  Except a huge chunk of Betty is actually the entire plot of Psmith.  And it turns out that Psmith was actually published in the UK in 1911 (and in the US in 1915), while Betty wasn’t published there until some time later.  WHY.

But really, that’s all just rambling side notes.  The actual point is that Psmith, Journalist is one of my favorite Wodehouse titles.  I just love this story so much.  A lot of people find Psmith to be obnoxious, but he’s one of my favorites, and this entire story with Psmith helping another fellow run a newspaper makes me laugh every time I read it.  Definitely recommended – “Cosy Moments will not be muzzled!”

The Viking’s Chosen by Quinn Loftis

//published 2018//

This is a book I would never have picked up on my own, but because it came in a book subscription box, I thought I would give it a try.  It ended up being an engaging read that I overall enjoyed, but it ended on such a major cliffhanger that it basically felt like the book had just stopped in the middle of the book.  This probably wouldn’t annoy me quite so much if book #2 had already been published, but it HASN’T so I suppose I will just have to bide my time.

Still, overall an interesting story with decent characters, and a pleasantly not-full-of-sex-and-swearing plot.  3.5/5.

NB: This was published by Clean Teen Publishing, which I had never heard of.  What’s nice is that they actually have a content rating for the book, showing the level of swearing, violence, and sex you can expect in the book.  I honestly wish all books would do this!

The Mystery of the Empty Room by Augusta Huiell Seaman

//published 1953// I didn’t feel like this book had nearly as much drama or terror as the cover led me to believe //

This is an old Scholastic Book Club paperback that has been on my shelf for years.  I thought I had read it once, but reading it this time did not ring any bells, so it’s possible that either had never read it before, or found it completely unmemorable!  It’s not really a book that sticks with you, although it’s perfectly entertaining.  There was a lot of fun and intrigue, but I did feel like a lot of the story revolved around the fact that the characters weren’t actually communicating with one another, so everyone had a piece of the puzzle and things didn’t come together under everyone finally collaborated.  Still, an easy 3.5/5 for a somewhat dated but still pleasant story.

Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki

//published 1903//

I picked up this collection of 22 traditional Japanese fairy tales as a free Kindle book a while back.  I really enjoy reading fairy tales from different cultures, and was intrigued to see what kind of stories would emerge from an eastern culture.  Like all short story collections (and, let’s be honest, fairy tale collections), there were some stories that were stronger than others, but they were all interesting in their own right.  None of them emerged as stories I loved, but I could definitely see some of them turning into longer and more involved tales.

Like most western fairy tales, there were a lot of evil stepmothers (apparently they are universally hated) and a lot of random – and sometimes quite violent – deaths.  Also talking vegetables, children who arrive inside of various pieces of produce, evil badgers, and a dragon king who rules under the sea.

While I don’t see myself returning to these stories time and again, they were fun for a one-time read.

An Odd Situation by Sophie Lynbrook

//published 2018//

In this P&P retelling, Darcy is thrown from his horse on his way to Netherfield.  Because he has a head injury and is in a coma, he is moved to the closest house – Longbourn.  Despite the fact that he is an unknown stranger, the Bennetts take him in.  The doctor recommends that he not be left alone, and that people talk to him/in the same room as him because some studies have shown that people with these types of injuries respond well to outside stimulation.  The doctor also tells them that Darcy (at this point a John Doe) may or may not be able to hear what everyone is saying.

Of course, Darcy can hear what everyone is saying, and this story involves him listening to all of the many conversations that swirl around his sickbed.  Throughout, he comes to realize that he’s a bit of a snob, and also comes to value the various members of the Bennett family, even the obnoxious ones.

Overall, this was a pleasant and engaging retelling, although weirdly passive.  The entire story is from Darcy’s (third person) perspective, and since he’s in a coma most of the time, there isn’t a lot of action.  It would have been nice to get some idea of what Elizabeth is thinking/doing as well.  And while I liked the way Darcy has a lot of self-realizations and makes good resolutions to be a better person going forward, the implication is that Elizabeth is already perfect and has no lessons to learn.  In the original, it’s important for both of them to recognize their shortcomings, and a large part of what makes the story so excellent is seeing them both grow as people.  In this version, only Darcy has to change.

Still, a 4/5 for an enjoyable (and completely clean) variation, and recommended to others who may be addicted to these types of stories. :-D

February Minireviews – Part 2

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

I seem to have a lot of these this month (plus, it’s just been a month of bad weather so lots of extra reading time!) – Part 1 can be found here.

The Basket of Flowers by Christoph von Schmidt

//originally published 1823//

I believe that I have mentioned Lamplighter Publishers in the past.  They are a Christian publishing house that finds old, out-of-print books with strong moral/Christian messages and reprints them in absolutely beautiful hardcover editions.  While I think their efforts are praiseworthy, they also frequently choose books that are a bit too simplistic for me to genuinely enjoy, and The Basket of Flowers falls into that category.

The story focuses on Mary, a young woman of strong moral fiber, who lives with her father, James, a gardener.  James is a widower, and does his best to raise Mary up into an upstanding and worthy individual.  When a jealous neighbor blames Mary for stealing a valuable ring, Mary and her father are banished from the region.

There was a lot to like about this story, which had its moments of excitement and interest, but every time anything would happen, James would go off on a long and prosy sermonette, and while I generally agreed with what he was saying, I couldn’t help but think that he made for a rather dull conversationalist.  And really, that’s the way the whole book was.  I agreed with virtually every life-lesson presented, but the author seemed so busy presenting life-lessons that there wasn’t a great deal of time left for the actual story.  I can see this being used as a read-aloud for younger children, but I’m not sure it has enough kick to engage older readers.  Still 3/5 and I did enjoy the melodramatic ups and downs of Mary’s life.

Amazing Gracie by Sherryl Woods

//published 1998//

Just a random chick lit kind of book I picked up somewhere along the line.  This was a pleasantly relaxing but ultimately forgettable story, and not one I particularly anticipate rereading, so it is off to the giveaway box!

Lost States by Michael J. Trinklein

//published 2010//

I love nonfiction books about random topics, and I also love maps.  Lost States incorporates both things!  Basically, Trinklein looks at a BUNCH of territories that almost became states, or wished they could become states, or would  be really cool if they could become states, etc.  He covers everything from random ways to divide the Northwest Territory, to the possibility of some of our current states splitting (California, Maine, and Texas have all considered it in recent years), to current US territories, to western states that didn’t quite make the cut.

While the book is really enjoyable – and also full of color pictures and maps, making it fun to read – it’s also very brief.  Each potential state only gets one (oversize) page, and one page of pictures/maps, so you don’t get a lot of details about anything.  There is also plenty of Trinklein’s snarky humor to go around, but luckily I enjoyed that part, too.

All in all, Lost States wasn’t necessarily the most educational nonfiction read I’ve come across recently, but it was quick and engaging, and gave me a lot of random trivia to pull out during those awkward conversational silences that come up from time to time.  4/5.

Wedding Date Rescue by Sonya Weiss

//published 2017//

This was one of those random Kindle books that I got for free or possibly 99¢.  It was a perfectly happy little romance that involved both a fake relationship trope and friends-to-more trope (two faves).  However, the last 15% of the book felt weirdly rushed.  There was a lot of time setting everything up and exploring the reasons that the pair were hesitant to make their relationship real, and then all of a sudden all their problems were solved in like five minutes and everything was sunshine and rainbows.  It felt abrupt, and I wasn’t convinced that they had legitimately worked through their problems.  Still, a 3.5/5 for a book that basically relaxing fluff.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

//published 2017//

I actually totally loved this book.  It had a very likable protagonist, a crazy madcap character who reminded me of Jackaby, and some super fun world-building.  While the story was an easy 4/5, it ended on a complete and total cliffhanger without really resolving any of the main plotlines.  The next book isn’t due out until sometime this year, so that always aggravates me.  Still, I will definitely be continuing this series as it appears.  It was so nice to read a children’s book that I felt like I could actually hand to children!

I Capture the Castle // by Dodie Smith

//published 1948//

This is one of those books that I can’t believe it took me so long to get around to reading it.  The title seems to crop up on all kinds of list of “books everyone should read,” and I’ve never read a negative review of it anywhere.  Plus, The Hundred and One Dalmatians is literally one of my favorite books of all time.

If you’re like me, and have somehow reached adulthood without discovering this book, it is about a family living in a run-down castle (in England, of course; we are sadly bereft of castles in the States) between the wars.  Cassandra is our narrator, and the entire book is actually her diary, which she begins in March of the year that she is 17.  Cassandra lives with her father, who wrote a famous book (but hasn’t written anything else since); her stepmother, who is a model for painters and an artist herself; her older sister, Rose (the “beautiful” sister); and her younger brother, Thomas.  The family is becoming rather desperately poor, as Father doesn’t do much besides read detective novels and work crossword puzzles.  Rose is especially discontented with their poverty, and the complete lack of eligible young men.

But everything changes for the Mortmain family when new neighbors arrive – including two handsome (and eligible) brothers.  Rose sets her cap for the oldest, since he’s the one with the money, and the story unfolds from there.  It’s not a book with a fast pace or one that you want to gulp down in big sections, but rather a gentle tale that unfolds at the perfect pace.  I always wanted to know what was going to happen next, but never so much so that I couldn’t take the time to savor Smith’s excellent writing.

All in all, Cassandra is a delight, and I loved getting to know her through her writing.  She definitely felt her age, a mixture of confidence and hesitancy, worldly knowledge and naivety, self-awareness and complete unawareness.  I completely fell in love with her family, especially her stepmother, Topaz, who was probably my favorite character in the whole book.

Still, I couldn’t give this book a full 5* rating, although it did garner 4 from me quite easily.  I felt like the story really bogged down once Cassandra fell in love.  I grew rather bored with the hash and rehash of her feelings.  People being in love is my #1 reason for not liking first-person perspectives.  Can anything be more dull than listening to someone else try to explain (at length) a feeling that can never be explained?  Yes, yes, I get it, he’s amazing, you can’t describe how you feel, so please stop trying.

I also did not personally care for the ending, as I prefer endings to be unambiguously happy, and this one, while not unhappy, still definitely had some open endings with no promise of how they would play out in the future.

This book has been on my radar for many a year, although it was Lady Fancifull’s excellent review that made me actually add it to the TBR, leading to actually getting read!  It does appear that Smith has written some other novels, so I may give one of them a whirl.  While I Capture the Castle did not become an instant classic for me, it was excellently written and very pleasurable reading.  Definitely recommended.

February Minireviews – Part 1

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Last Christmas in Paris by Elizabeth Gaynor and Heather Webb

//published 2017//

This book is a collection of letters written between several different individuals during World War I.  The majority of the correspondence is between Tom and Evie – Evie is the younger sister of Tom’s best friend, Will.  It’s pretty obvious that Tom and Evie are going to end up together, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story.

I really loved this book for about the first 3/4 of the way.  The letters were delightful, the characters engaging, and the voices different enough to make it really feel like I was reading letters from and to different people.  Epistolary tales can be rather narrow, but because we have letters between people besides the two main characters, the story felt fairly well-rounded.  It definitely had a Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society vibe about it.  I really liked the upbeat sense to this book.  It was serious, yes, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom and there were no plot twists were someone turned out to be gay.

But then Evie goes to France also, and the story just kind of fell apart.  The correspondence became disjointed, and the characters no longer felt like they were being true to themselves.  There were also a few instances where I was uncertain of the continuity because of weirdly long gaps between letters.  It was very strange to me that for the first three years, they write letters all the time, then suddenly in 1917 and 1918, there are only a handful of letters, which I think added to the feeling of disjointedness.

In the end, a 3/5 read for a book that started very strong and then just sort of petered out.

Something Fresh (AKA Something Newby P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1915//

In my quest to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, I have waded through over a decade’s worth of school stories and short story collections.  While all of them have been readable and even enjoyable for a one-time read, there have only been glimpses of what I consider to be genuine Wodehouse magic.

But the title of this book is definitely appropriate, as this is the first book that really begins to collect all the bits of what will later be the Wodehouse formula. Plus, it introduces one of my all-time favorite Wodehouse characters, Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle.  While this book may still not be up to the standards of some of Wodehouse’s later works, it was still a delight from beginning to end.

After reading a collection of Wodehouse’s correspondence back in late 2016, I sometimes refer to A Life in Letters to see if Wodehouse himself had anything interesting to say about my current Wodehouse read.  I was intrigued to find that even he thought that Something Fresh was a new and better direction for his writing as well.  Was it because he found and married the love of his life a few months earlier?  I like to think so.

Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry

//published 1953//

As I’ve mentioned before, Henry was one of my favorite authors growing up, and I devoured all of her books.  I collected a lot of them in cheap paperback editions published by Scholastic, and although I’ve upgraded a lot of them through the years, I still have a few of those paperbacks with my name scrawled in painful 2nd-grade cursive on the flyleaf.

I could look at his illustrations all day!

It had been a really long time since I had revisited this title, and while it was a decent story (and the illustrations by Wesley Dennis were magical as always), it really wasn’t one of my favorites.  In some ways, the story feels very choppy.  It’s about a little wild burro who lives in the Grand Canyon at the turn of the century (Theodore Roosevelt is president, and is even in the story!).  The problem is that Henry tries to tell both the story of Brighty’s everyday life + how he helped make the Grand Canyon the park that it is today AND the story of an old prospector who was murdered and how Brighty helped bring the killer to justice.  Except… the murder part feels very strange in a children’s book, and it also takes like ten years to solve the mystery, which makes no sense because why is Jake still around after all this time???  The murder mystery was definitely the weak part of the tale.  If it had been jettisoned and more focus had been made just on Brighty’s life in the Canyon, I think the book would have read better.

In fairness, Henry was basing Brighty on a real burro, who, in real life, did discover a clue that lead to the capture of a murderer – but still.  Brighty had plenty of other adventures.  Still, a very readable little book, and the illustrations really do make it a joy.  3.5/5.