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.

August Minireviews – Part 2

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

Still reviewing August books in August… making progress!!  :-D

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – 4*

//published 2016//

Quite a long while ago Maggie Stiefvater – pretty much the only “famous” person I follow on social media – mentioned that she was reading this book.  It looked magical, and I’ve always thought winged horses would be the most amazing magical creatures, so I added it to the TBR.  And now, years later, I actually got around to reading it!  While somewhat bittersweet, this was a lovely read about a young girl who can see winged horses in the “mirror world” – i.e. she can only see them in mirrors.  She’s the only one who sees them (or is she??) and has learned to not talk about it much.  She’s staying in an old manor house in the English countryside.  The house has been turned into a tuberculosis hospital for children during World War II, so there is definitely a dark tone to the story, especially since it is set in winter – somehow, the entire book feels grey, which is actually a big part of the story.

There were a lot of things I liked about this story.  It was so imaginative and imagery was beautiful.  I really wish that it had been paired with better illustrations – there is so much in this story just begging for gorgeous pictures.  This is technically a middle grade book, but I wouldn’t just hand it over to a youngster without making sure that they’re ready for some of the serious themes presented here, like terminal illness, war, death, etc.  These things are handled sensitively and well, but to me this is more a book you would read with your child rather than one they would read on their own.

One small niggle for me was that the main character does steal several items throughout the story for a “good cause” – and this is never really addressed.  It’s just sort of implied that she was justified in her actions because she “needed” the items, which I’m not sure is actually that great of a life-lesson.  Still, on the whole I really enjoyed this atmospheric tale that gave me a lot of feelings.

Side note – once again, several of these pictures include my BookSpin Bingo board for my challenge on Litsy, because that’s where I originally posted the pictures!!

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull – 3.5*

//published 1938//

I see a lot of these mysteries that are being reprinted by the British Library Crime Classics, but this is the first one I’ve gotten around to picking up.  The main thing about this story that has kept it in the “classics” category is the way the mystery is presented.  The reader is placed in the middle of a murder trial from the get-go – except we don’t know who is on trial until much later in the book.  Hull weaves the murder, the courtroom scenes, and the background for the murder throughout the story in a way that seems like it should be muddled but which, for the most part, works.

While I did enjoy this one overall, it was definitely slow in spots, with a great deal of time being spent making sure that the reader doesn’t like the victim at all.  This is all part of the point (is one justified murdering someone who deserves to be murdered?  Murder, as it were, with “excellent intentions” in mind?) but did get old sometimes.  The story also runs out of steam at the end, with a long chapter devoted to the jury’s arguing back and forth about whether or not they should convict the accused.  But overall it was an enjoyable one-time read with a crafty mystery wherein the reader can slowly decide who is on trial as the story progresses.

Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1924//

As I continue to work my way through Wodehouse’s books in published order, Ukridge was next on the list.  Featuring a character who appeared in Love Among the Chickens, Ukridge is one of those people who is constantly broke, constantly coming up with a ridiculous scheme for making money (that doesn’t really involve work), and generally coming out alright (although usually still broke).  I think we’ve all met someone like this – I know I’ve definitely found myself in situations, wondering how I got there, pushed in by my family’s Ukridge.  (My second anniversary, spent huddled with my husband in a sopping wet one-man tent on the top of a 40* mountain in the rain, comes to mind.)  At any rate, this isn’t Wodehouse’s strongest work, but it was still enjoyable.  While Ukridge may be ridiculous, he’s never mean-spirited, and he genuinely believes that each of his schemes is going to pay off.  This probably isn’t where I would start if I were going to introduce someone to Wodehouse, but if you already love his writing, there’s a lot to enjoy here as well.

Blackbird by Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Lately I’ve been reading more graphic novels, and while I think this one is technically a comic (I’m still a little hazy on the differences), when I saw this gorgeous cover on a Litsy review, I knew I wanted to at least give it a try.  Overall, I really liked it, and the artwork is great fun.  The main character’s life changed when she was a child and an earthquake hit her city.  During that catastrophe, she was rescued by a huge magical creature that everyone else saw but no one else remembers.  Since then, she’s been the “weird kid,” obsessed with trying to find real magic that she’s convinced is out there.

While I really liked the concept and the magic in this story, it was told in a very choppy manner, making it a little difficult to put together the linear storyline.  There’s also this crazy twist that I did like but also didn’t really seem to fit with the other character’s character.  All in all, this volume felt more like a big set-up than it did its own story.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is going to be a sequel, and I haven’t been able to find much information.  (This volume included the first six issues as one.)  I would definitely read a sequel, but I’m not sure I would especially recommend this one just because the ending is so open-ended.

Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers – 4*

//published 2020//

If you’ve ever wished you had a scifi, gender-swapped Cinderella retelling centered around a royal matriarchy set on a distant planet, then this is the book for you.  It’s rare that I buy a book just for the cover, but that’s totally what happened here.  I just love it, and can’t even explain why!  I got this one for only $2 on BookOutlet, and ended up enjoying it way more than I was anticipating.

Princess Delia, heir to the throne, knows that she needs to marry a prince from a neighboring planet that will help save her own, and while she isn’t excited about it, she’s at least resigned to it… mostly.  But when a series of events leads to her meeting Aidan, a kitchen worker with his own reasons for needing to escape the planet (and who isn’t afraid to steal from those who can afford it to help him towards his goal), she’s introduced to parts of her kingdom she didn’t realize existed.  While this is someone Cinderella-y, it also has an Aladdin vibe as well, and I was totally here for it.  I really liked the characters, and while there were some jolts in the plot that felt chunky (and I had to make a cheat-sheet to keep all the prospective-groom princes straight), overall I quite enjoyed this one.  The setting was completely unique and the world-building was intriguing.  Overall recommended, especially if you’re looking for a unique fairy tale variation.

PS I will say that there are a lot of negative/meh reviews for this one, so there’s a strong possibility that I was just in the right mood for it??  I love the way different books are for different people, and sometimes for different versions of myself at different moments in time!

April Minireviews (in May)

So once again I’m super behind on reviews.  Here we are in May, and I have written basically zero April reviews!  So even though my memory is a little hazy on some of the ones I read earlier in the month, here we go!

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs (finished April 7) – 4*

//published 2018//

This is one of the hazy ones.  I picked up this book because the subtitle was “A Novel in Clues,” which intrigued me.  However, the clues were sadly lacking, and even the mystery wasn’t as engaging as I wanted it to be.  It’s definitely more novel-y than thriller-y, and there is a LOT of math in this book.  It is really more of a straight novel, looking at a family after the sudden death of the patriarch. There is a bit of suspense, but it is not the driving force of the story. Still, I did overall enjoy the story and the characters, even if this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.  There were also a lot of dark themes throughout, which I wasn’t completely prepared for – child abuse, vigilante justice, drug abuse, suicide, etc.  In a way, this story was a lot more about the main character coming to grips with her family, both adopted and not, and her place with them, than it was about Isaac’s mysterious equation.  While I did give this book 4* for being a read that kept my attention, it wasn’t a book that I wanted to go back and read again.  And I still feel a little ripped off about the misleading “novel in clues” bit!

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery (finished April 8) – 5*

//published 1909//

Frankly, I’m always going to give every book in this series 5* because I have no objectivity.  I’ve read these books since I was a little girl, over and over, and I love every page of them.  A while ago some other blog that I follow was reading these books for the first time (I honestly can’t remember which blog this was or I would link to it) and she seemed to feel that there was a real up and down to the series.  If I remember correctly, she liked about every other book and felt like the rest were filler content.  However, in my own prejudiced way I absolutely love this entry to the series.  Here, Anne has set aside her personal ambitions to do the right thing for the people she loves – and comes to find that it was the right thing for her as well.  While not preachy, there is an overall reminder throughout the story that sometimes life doesn’t go the way we had planned out, and that’s not always a negative thing.

If I have a criticism of this story, it’s that I would love to have more stories involving Anne’s group of friends.  They are such a fun crowd, and it would have been nice to Diana’s romance mature instead of just sort of appearing.  Still, this is still a book that I love and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting.

Leave It To Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse (finished April 10) – 5*

//published 1924//

No one can make me feel better about life than Wodehouse.  From the opening chapter of “Dark Plottings at Blandings Castle” through the delights of “Sensational Occurrence at a Poetry Reading” and “Almost Entirely About Flower-Pots” (followed by “More on the Flower-Pot Theme”), this book made me laugh out loud on more than on occasion.  Yes, Psmith himself can be a bit much, but the overall story is so fun and full of such fun characters and completely absurd situations that I could barely put this one down while I was reading it.  It’s another reread that just gets better every time I revisit it.

Moonlight Becomes You by Mary Higgins Clark (finished April 12) – 4*

//published 1996//

Despite the fact that I quite enjoy mystery/thrillers, I’ve read almost nothing by MHC.  Recently, I got an entire box of mysteries, including several of her stand-alone titles, and this was the first that I picked up.  The first chapter opens with the main character, Maggie, trapped inside of a coffin (SO CREEPY).  From there, we go back in time a few weeks to find out how she ended up there.  The hook of that opening, knowing that that doom is yet to come, is absolutely fantastic, and the pacing from there is perfect.  While I really enjoyed this story a lot, there’s a supposed romantic relationship between Maggie and one of the other characters that felt like the big weak point of the story and was what kept me from giving this more than 4*.  A lot of the climax hinges on his desperation to find her, but I couldn’t quite find that believable since we hadn’t really had much interaction between the two of them during the rest of the book.  Still, this was a great one-off read that made me quite intrigued to read some more of Clark’s writing.  Plus, it randomly took me to Rhode Island for my #ReadtheUSA2020 challenge, which was a great bonus!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (finished April 13) – 4.5*

//published 2013//

If you’re noticing a reread theme in April, you would be correct.  When I’m feeling stressed or not really feeling like reading, I go back to revisit old friends.  I find books that I’ve loved in the past to be comforting and safe to read.  I’ve been wanting to reread Fangirl for quite some time.  I had only read it once before and I really liked it, and I was curious as to whether or not I would still enjoy it the second time around.  The answer – yes!  I may have even enjoyed it more.  I’ve read several of Rowell’s books, and genuinely feel like this age of character is her sweet spot.  She captures Cath’s insecurities and uncertainties so well, while making Cath be more than just those things.  I really love how romance isn’t the driving story here – instead, we also see a lot of family relationships that Cath is trying to learn how to balance as she heads into adulthood.  I would absolutely love to have a story during this exact period of time focused on Cath’s twin, Wren, who was also going through a lot of growth and change during this time, although in a completely different way.

One thing that kind of made me roll my eyes a few times was the fact that Cath and her sister have lived in Omaha all their lives and are now going to school in Lincoln, but they act like the other students there are basically a bunch of hicks instead of cool city people like Cath and Wren are.  And like… Omaha is NOT that big of a city (I’ve been there), and Omaha and Lincoln are not that far apart, so that felt a little random to me.  However, overall this is book is so funny and well-written that I was able to forgive it a few small issues and just roll with what was happening.

January Minireviews – Part 4

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

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

//published 1872//

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

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

//published 1923//

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

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

//published 1937//

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

Some Kind of Wonderful by Barbara Freethy – 3.5*

//published 2011//

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

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

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

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.

Whittling down the pile of reviews!!!

Jessica’s First Prayer by Hesba Stretton – 3.5*

//published 1867//

I’ve mentioned Lamplighter before – a small publishing company that reprints very old books with strong moral stories.  This one is a very slim volume about a homeless girl and a church-going man who learns the value of living his faith in a real way.  While a bit saccharine, there really is an excellent and thoughtful lesson here.

Golden Sovereign by Dorothy Lyons – 4*

//published 1946//

Regular readers know that I have a life-long addiction to horse stories of all kinds.  I’ve collected a few of Lyons’s books over the years, and sincerely wish that I could find more as I really like them, so if you have any sitting about your house that you want to unload, let me know.  :-D  Anyway, this one is apparently the third book in a series, but I didn’t have any trouble following along.  Connie is finishing her high school career and looking to the future – college and starting her own stable raising palominos, with her beautiful young stallion, Golden Sovereign, as the foundation.  Towards the beginning of the book, she also purchases a run-down mare at a horse sale, convinced that the mare’s lineage is better than her condition.  There’s a bit of a mystery about the mare, and also about Sovereign’s behavior (although I’ve apparently read far too many horse books, as I immediately knew the source of Sovereign’s bad temper!), and a lot about training Sovereign and going around to horse shows.  If you enjoy horse stories, you’ll probably like this one, as it’s a fairly classic formula.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Adventures of Sally by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1922//

The usual Wodehouse froth, although this one was a bit more of a romance than his stories normally are.  Sally is quite likable, and the ups and downs of her life make for entertaining reading, with a bit dollop of Wodehouse humor.

Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss – 4*

//published 1812//

So I’m still really enjoying my life over on Litsy, and have recently joined a book club there called the #LMPBC – the Litsy Postal Mark-up Book Club.  Four people join each group, and each person choose a book to read and make notations in, and then once a month you mail the book to the next person until you get your own book back, full of notations from the other three people in the group.  Each group is a different theme/genre of book, and I joined the Classics and Romance groups.  I’m really looking forward to reading the books coming my way!  At any rate, Swiss Family Robinson was my choice for my Classic, and it was interesting to read it for the first time since my childhood.  Overall, it was a fun and interesting read, but the family did have just an inordinately ridiculous amount of good luck, and even the synopsis on the back cover informed me that it would be impossible to find an island with all of the animals described in the story!  In fairness, the book was written with education for young minds as the primary purpose, so if you think of it as an entertaining way to learn some lessons, it fits the bill.

The Prenup by Lauren Layne – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was my pick for #LMPBC’s Romance group.  I’ve been meaning to read a Lauren Layne book forever, and this one employs my favorite trope – marriage of convenience.  Overall, I really did enjoy this story BUT there is a second woman!  That really brought down my enjoyment a great deal, because it was really hard to ship the main characters when the dude is also engaged to someone else.  While they never physically cheat, there are a lot of feelings/scenarios that just shouldn’t have been happening when he was committed to someone else.  I especially get annoyed when pseudo-cheating is justified with the whole “well the other woman sucks” concept – like, doesn’t matter if she sucks or not.  He still made the commitment.

Still, it was also a funny and lighthearted read, so I definitely think I will be trying some more of Layne’s works in the future, and I’ll be interested to see if my fellow book club members are aggravated by the almost-cheating bits of the story like I was.

September Minireviews

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

Oh wow, it’s the end of September and I haven’t posted a SINGLE REVIEW!  Ha!  September is always a busy month for me, plus this year we also went on an epic western roadtrip (almost 4300 miles in nine days, woot!) so things have been a leeeetle bit crazy.  Still, plenty of reading has been accomplished!!

I really don’t want to do minireviews of some of these books, as I thoroughly enjoyed them, but I am suuuper behind on reviews!  So, as always, the star rating is a more accurate representation of my feelings on the book rather than the length of the review!

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary – 4*

//published 2019//

Oh my gosh, this book was SO adorable.  Basically, Leon needs some extra money.  He works nights, so he decides to sublet his flat for the times that he isn’t there.  The flatmate will get the apartment nights and weekends.  Tiffy needs a place to stay, so even though the concept is a bit irregular, she rolls with it.  Through a series of events, which O’Leary paces perfectly, Tiffy and Leon don’t actually meet for quite a long while.  But roommates really do need to communicate, even if they never see each other – and so the sticky notes begin.

I just really enjoyed this book.  It was lighthearted and fun, and the romance was adorable.  The chapters that were from Leon’s perspective were a little strange to read at first because of the way his steam-of-thought rolls, but after I adjusted I got into it.  I really loved the way their relationship developed over time.  I thought the drama with Tiffy’s ex was a little bit much, and it was hard to figure out how much of it was real, how much of it was just in Tiffy’s head, and how much of it was actually worse than Tiffy thought it was, since all we had was Tiffy’s perspective on the situation.  Still, overall this was thoroughly enjoyable.

Special thanks to reviews by Stephanie, Bibliobeth, and From First Page to Last, which inspired me to give this book a try!!

Those People by Louise Candlish – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was a thriller that kept me completely gripped throughout with its excellent pacing, but felt like it just kind of ran out of gas and stuttered to an end rather than having the tight conclusion I was hoping to see.  I loved the format at the beginning of the book – an excerpt of a police interview from one of the characters, and then a chapter headed “[x] Weeks Ago” – it really made the build-up to the tragedy tense.  The reader knows there is a tragedy, that there is at least one death, knows at least one of the characters who is involved in the tragedy – but the details are vague and unfold slowly.

The ending isn’t unreasonable by any means, it just felt a little loose.  I was also a little big confused – a minor character ties in, and I didn’t really understand why, or what he had to do with anything, or why he would be the one suggesting the specific means of causing the accident.  That may also have been part of the reason I was left feeling mildly disappointed by the conclusion.

But overall excellent, taut writing.  This is my first book by Candlish, but I have a couple of her other books on my list, and will definitely be finding them!  For this one, reviews by Stephanie and Jennifer led me to read it, so thank you!!

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill – 4.5*

//published 2017//

A while back I bought the most adorable card game ever, where players are raising tiny tea dragons.  I bought it solely based on the artwork (although luckily it turned out to be a fun game to play, also).  Last month, I found out that the card game is based on a BOOK and I had to read it as soon as I could get my grabby hands on a copy.

The artwork is STUNNING.  I could seriously look at the pictures in this book all day long.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the fact that all the friendships are actually gay relationships – I still just really feel like it devalues friendship a lot; like this could be about two lonely girls becoming friends, but instead now they are MORE, and the implication seems to be that friendship wouldn’t have been enough.  But it’s still a very gentle part of the story, and the overall artwork is just soooo beautiful.  Apparently there is a sequel being published this fall, and I’m on the waiting list at the library.

Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1931//

Swallows & Amazons was my favorite read in June, and the sequel was my favorite read in August (even if I’m just getting around to reviewing it).  This book was everything I could possibly want from a sequel and more.  I don’t really have words to explain why I love these books so hard, but I cannot WAIT to read Peter Duck.

The Girl on the Boat by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1922//

Is it possible to go wrong with Wodehouse?  Not in my experience.  Who else can pull off a line like this?  “At this, she melted perceptibly. She did not cease to look like a basilisk, but she began to look like a basilisk who has had a good lunch.“

July Minireviews

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

The Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1922//

This is a collection of short stories, all of which are about golf.  In my question to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, this one was next, and I’ve kind of procrastinated on it a bit since I don’t really know much (anything) about golf, but I shouldn’t have doubted – although I certainly missed plenty of golfing references, the ability of Wodehouse to tell a hilarious story still shines through.  Most of the short stories are told by an old man whom we know only as the Oldest Member of the golf club.  He has many a tale to while a way an evening.  As with all story collections, they had their ups and downs, but overall the quality was excellent, and the stories were quite funny.

Winner Takes All by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1984, 1988//

This was actually two stories in one book, and they were originally published separately, about four years apart.  I think they would have read better if they hadn’t been together, because they were actually rather similar stories – both female leads were television producers, both had relationship issues, both meet a really similar dude through work.  Overall they were perfectly nice stories (although a bit too sexy), but also pretty forgettable.

The Haunted Fountain by Margaret Sutton – 3.5*

//published 1957//

Now that I’ve gotten into the Judy Bolton books that I don’t own, I’m reading them at a much slower pace as I have to purchase them as I go.  This one was a decent story, but it had almost no Peter in it, and Peter is my favorite character!  Still, Judy is always a great lead, and it was fun to catch up with a few other characters as well.

The Mysterious Heir by Edith Layton – 3.5*

//published 1983//

Some of you may remember that I purchased a book of random Regency romances on eBay a while back because it had some Georgette Heyer titles that I wanted.  I’m still reading the other books in the box, and The Mysterious Heir is my most recent one.  I really enjoyed this one a lot because Elizabeth and Morgan were super likable, and they actually communicated with each other, which is almost miraculous in Regency romances.  Morgan of course has a deep dark past, where his wife (now dead) betrayed him, and this is where the story went off the rails a bit, because instead of just having Morgan’s wife like have an affair or something, the author literally made her this nymphomaniac (although she didn’t use that term) who was always having sex with literally anyone who would (although none of this was graphic at all) and it just came through as weird.  I think the same impact on Morgan’s life/trust issues could have occurred with a slightly more believable situation with his now-dead wife.  However, other than the chapter of Morgan’s back story, the book was overall a fun romp that I enjoyed.

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski – 4*

//published 1945//

Lenski wrote several children’s historical fiction books back in the day.  Each one focuses on a child in a different region of the country, and they are all illustrated with Lenski’s absolutely delightful drawings.  Strawberry Girl is set in Florida around the year 1900, and it honestly blew my mind how frontier-like Florida was at that time – this is barely over a hundred years ago (and was less than fifty years earlier than when Lenski wrote the story – she says in her foreword that many of the adventures are based on first-person accounts from people she interviewed), yet the people are living a very rough and ready life without indoor plumbing, at a time when things like a cookstove were still considered rather fancy.

This was a really enjoyable story, and I highly recommend Lenski’s books if you are studying a certain region or time period.  It’s a children’s book, so things wrapped a little too conveniently at the end, but I let it go since the intended age range is around 10 years old.  All in all, this was a very fun slice of life story.

This one is also my #8 book for #20BooksofSummer!

Lincoln & Douglas: The Years of Decision by Regina Kelly (Landmark book) – 4*

//published 1954//

I’ve mentioned before that I have a big soft spot for Landmark history books.  Aimed at middle school readers, they’re perfect for an overview or review of a topic.  This one looks at the run-up to the America Civil War, focusing on Douglas and Lincoln and their debates at the time.  The author did a really excellent job of explaining the various points of view on slavery at the time.  She never excuses or justifies slavery, but she does explain that the culture of the time meant that many people didn’t question slavery’s existence, and that didn’t automatically make them evil people.  Douglas is presented as a counterview rather than a villain – someone who was trying to find some middle ground to make everyone happy – and who ended up as most people who take the road do: with everyone mad at him.  Kelly points out how Lincoln’s views on slavery also changed through time, and that there were degrees of being “for” slavery – many people felt that it should basically fade out naturally by not allowing new slaves or slave states; other believed slaves should be educated and allowed more opportunity to purchase their freedom; some believed the government should purchase slaves and then free them, thus compensating owners, etc.  Kelly manages to get a lot of complicated thoughts across in a manner that was easy to read and understand.  I’m basically always a fan of Landmark books, and this one is no exception.

May Minireviews

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

The Indiscretions of Archie by P.G. Wodehouse – 3.5*

//published 1921//

This was another early Wodehouse that I hadn’t read before, and while enjoyable (as all his books are), this wasn’t particularly one of my favorites.  This particular book was created when Wodehouse combined several short stories he had written that all centered around Archie, so while the end result is cohesive, it still feels rather episodic in nature.  Archie is a very likable character who starts off on the wrong foot with his father-in-law and continues to accidentally do random things that keep their relationship strained (at least on the father-in-law’s side – Archie is invariably good-humored), which I think was part of the reason that I didn’t enjoy this book as much – most of the humor was based on Archie trying to do something nice and then it all backfiring and ending up with the father-in-law dealing with the disaster.  In the end, everyone ends up happy together, but that also felt a little contrived.  Still, there were plenty of humorous moments in this one, and while it wasn’t my favorite Wodehouse, it was still an enjoyable read.

Holiday Havoc by Terri Reed & Stephanie Newton – 3.5*

//published 2010//

This book is actually two short stories, one by each author.  Both were similarly unremarkable, with some serious instalove, but entertaining nonetheless.  It’s another book off the Love Inspired pile, which is really whittling down since I took most of them to Goodwill without actually reading them haha

The Villa by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 2001//

Speaking of boxes of books, someone also gave me a box of Nora Roberts books at random a while back, so I’ve been sifting through those as well.  The Villa was definitely more novel than romance, a sweeping drama centered around two families who both own wineries.  I wasn’t completely sure it was going to be “my kind” of book, but I found myself drawn in almost against my will.  While I personally felt like this book could have done with more humor and less sex, it was still a very engaging story.  Despite the fact that there were a lot of characters, they felt like individuals.  The main female lead was a little too “strong independent woman” type for me (read: basically obnoxious but gets away with because she’s a woman), but I still ended up liking her.  This book followed one year of time, and the changing of the seasons was a big part of the story and really added to the overall epic feel.  Not a book I’ll ever reread, but surprisingly interesting for a one-time go.

Carousel of Hearts by Mary Jo Putney -3.5*

//published 1989//

This is yet another book from a box of books – a while ago I purchased a box of regency romances on eBay because the box included several Heyer titles I didn’t own.  Now I’m working my way through the non-Heyer titles, all of which, prior to this one, ended up being DNFs.  Carousel was an entertaining little read that was a bit strong on coincidence but was enjoyable nonetheless.  I really liked all four characters in this story, although they did need a stern talking-to.  It would honestly have been a 4*, except the ending got completely out of hand.  Still, this one ended up being a fun read.

The Legend of Luke by Brian Jacques – 4*

//published 1999//

The next installment in the Redwall series, Luke is really two stories in one.  The book begins with Martin and a few companions heading north to see if they can find out what happened to Martin’s father, who left on a quest when Martin was a child.  (As we learned in Martin the Warrior, Martin and the rest of his tribe were kidnapped and enslaved while Luke was gone.)  The first part of the book recounts Martin’s journey, which concludes when Martin finds several animals who knew Luke and know what happened.  The second part of the book is the story of Luke, pursuing vengeance on the high seas.  The third, and final, part of the book is Martin’s journey back to Redwall, which is still being constructed at this time (the Martin part of the story takes place chronologically after the events in Mossflower).

I actually enjoyed this book, which felt more focused than a lot of the other installments in this series.  It was also nice to have a story where the shrews aren’t just disposable extras!  And, thankfully, there weren’t that many scenes with the youngsters being obnoxious, which has been a theme in the last few books.  Overall, I’m still enjoying and planning to finish the series, but it’s working well to read them one at a time a bit spread out.

April Minireviews

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

Appaloosa Summer by Tudor Robins – 3*

//published 2014//

Growing up, books about girls and horses were totally my jam, and I still get nostalgic for them sometimes.  I can’t remember how I came across this series exactly but it seemed like a good one to read at bedtime, because who doesn’t like to relax at the end of the day with some YA romance + horses??  Overall, that’s basically what I got, although I honestly could have used more horses and less YA romance.  Still, I liked the main character, and I also liked that it seemed like Meg’s relationship with her mom actually improved throughout the story as she realized that her mom actually loved her and wanted what was best for her.

Wednesday Riders by Tudor Robins – 2.5*

//published 2015//

Sadly, the sequel to Appaloosa Summer was not that great.  The horse part, where Meg is helping train several young girls, wasn’t too bad, but the main thread was actually about Meg and her boyfriend and it’s this whole long super boring angsty thing.  Basically, Appaloosa Summer takes place one summer and Wednesday Riders is the next summer.  In between, Meg has been dating the guy she met in the first book.  She’s been finishing her senior year in high school while Jared is completing his sophomore year in college (because yes, there’s a bit of weird age gap between them, not quite enough to be creepy but honestly almost), and Jared confesses to Meg that he was at a party and got a bit drunk and KISSED another girl!  Meg flips out and we have to spend the entire rest of the book with her internal angst.

Like, I get it.  Kissing another girl is 100% wrong and he 100% shouldn’t have done that.  But he’s also not your husband, he’s your boyfriend.  It just felt like Meg spent way too long trying to decide whether or not she could forgive Jared over this.  She was super mean to him, refused to have any kind of conversation with him, and basically spent the entire summer pouting and having little temper tantrums, while at the same time flirting with another guy and not feeling guilty because she and Jared have broken up and anyway even if they hadn’t Jared owes her.  It was SO boring.

I started to read the third book, which is actually about one of the girls Meg is helping learn to ride in Wednesday Riders, but I was kind of just not into and gave up about 10% in.  I don’t really see myself bothering to come back to this series, and despite the fact that Jared and Meg made up in the end, unless Meg learns to stop being a spoiled, self-centered brat, I don’t have a lot of hope for their long-term relationship success.

Jill the Reckless aka The Little Warrior by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1920//

As always, Wodehouse is a delight, and his plots are also almost impossible to summarize.  This wasn’t my favorite Wodehouse I’ve ever read, as it was a bit on the long side.  Published in 1920, it’s still towards the early end of Wodehouse’s career.  It’s interesting to see how his books are getting progressively funnier through time as he is more and more willing to let go of sensible plots in favor of hilarious coincidence.  There are some very likable characters in this story (I was particularly fond of Freddy), and while this didn’t end up being a Wodehouse I want to read again and again, it was still very worth a one-time read.

Marlfox by Brian Jacques – 3.5*

//published 1998//

The next volume in the Redwall series was a perfectly engaging read, but followed the basic pattern of all the Redwall books – heroes on a journey; meanwhile, Redwall is attacked!  For some reason, the last few books Jacques has been a bit over-the-top in writing obnoxious little children Redwallers (aka dibbuns).  I think their antics are supposed to add some levity to the stories, but they really just annoy me because they are rather bratty.  Other than that, though, this was a fun addition to the series.

Judy Bolton mysteries – #21-#24 – by Margaret Sutton – 3.5*

I really enjoyed this batch of Judy Bolton mysteries, although I don’t have much to say about them.  Judy continues to be a delightful character, although I could definitely use more Peter!  They’re just so adorable together.

February Minireviews

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

I must be getting super lazy about reviews, because I am actually giving minireviews of entire series this month… those are like mini mini reviews!

Anyone But You series by Jennifer Shirk

  • Fiance by Fate – 3*
  • Wedding Date for Hire – 3.5*
  • Wrong Brother, Right Match – 3.5*

This was my first foray into Shirk’s writing, but I don’t think it will be my last.  While ultimately forgettable, these books were lighthearted, funny, happy, and clean.  They were the perfect fluff bits for a stressful week.  Shirk does a good job of writing tropes in a way that makes them easy and fun to read.  I really appreciated that Shirk wrote happy, believable romances without having to insert a bunch of sexy-times.  There was tension between her characters that worked, but she didn’t have explicit sex, she didn’t have her characters spending absurd amounts of time sexually fantasizing about the other character (tip for writers: there’s a big difference between having someone be interested in someone/find them attractive and having someone go on and on and ON about how they would like to bang someone), she didn’t even leave me with a bunch of cut scenes implying that these characters were having loads of sex off-screen.  Instead, the story was about the romance between the characters.  Consequently, even though these stories were a bit silly and slightly absurd, I really did enjoy them and found myself rooting for the romances even if they were a little on the insta-side.

All in all, these were really fun little stories.  If you’re just looking for something low-stress, I totally recommend these.  Personally, I’ll definitely be checking out more of Shirk’s writing in the future.

Fields of Wrath by Mark Wheaton – 3.5*

This was another free Kindle book I’ve had forever.  There were a lot of things I liked about this story.  The main character is a Catholic priest named Luis Chavez living in a city in California (can’t remember which one).  Through a series of events, he’s drawn into a situation where he believes people are being trafficked from Mexico, so he goes undercover to see what he can find.  Although Luis is a rogue in the sense that he isn’t any kind of official law-enforcement, it never really felt like he was taking the law into his own hands.  Instead, he believes in the importance of justice and protecting the innocent, and is determined to make sure these things happen.  I really liked the way that Luis’s faith was central to his actions.  He actually reminded me a lot of another Catholic character I love – Brother Cadfael.  He had that same sort of earthy wisdom tempered with a strong faith.

However, the story was a bit disjointed.  There were several other (third person) perspectives going on, which made it difficult to remember which characters already knew what.  The body count was extremely high, yet I had a lot of trouble connecting emotionally with this story, so even when people I liked got knocked off, it didn’t really stir me to the depths.  Honestly, Wheaton killed off so many people that it almost felt more emotional when someone lived!

In the end, it was a book that I wanted to like more than I actually did.  Although there are two more books with Luis as their central character, I just wasn’t interested enough to read them.

A Damsel in Distress by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

When in doubt, turn to Wodehouse.  He never fails to bring me joy.  Even when I feel like I’m not in the mood for a Wodehouse book, within a page or two, it’s the only thing I want to read.  This one was full of his usual capers and coincidences, and I thoroughly enjoyed every page.

Alaskan Bride Rush series by various authors (Love Inspired)

  • Klondike Hero by Jillian Hart – 3*
  • Treasure Creek Dad by Terri Reed – 3*
  • Doctor Right by Janet Tronstad – 3*
  • Yukon Cowboy by Debra Clopton – 3.5*
  • Thanksgiving Groom by Brenda Minton – 3*
  • The Lawman’s Christmas Gift by Linda Goodnight – 3.5*

Those of you who have been with me for a while may remember that quite a while back I inherited roughly half a billion romance paperbacks from my great-aunt, the overwhelming majority of which were “Love Inspired,” a Christian romance series that used to be a thing where you signed up and the mailed you a book every month, which is obviously what my great-aunt did for YEARS.  Originally I wanted to try to read them all, but the overwhelming mediocrity of the first few batches I plowed through made me realize that this wasn’t how I wanted to spend my life.  Instead, I packed them off to various book donation locations, except for a few where I actually had an entire series of them.

As you can tell from the series title, these weren’t exactly intensely serious, deep stories.  Instead, they’re just Hallmark movies in book form.  Honestly, they’re probably more like knock-off Hallmark movies in book form if I’m honest.  :-D  Like most of the Love Inspired books I’ve read, these were super relaxing, incredibly forgettable, very quick reads.  I always enjoy series like this where you get to know a place and background characters, and I was impressed at how well the different authors were able to build off of one another’s stories and characters.  Set in a remote Alaskan town, the stories begin because of an article in a woman’s magazine touting all the hunky single guys to be found in Treasure Creek.  The whole thing is a misunderstanding because the journalist who wrote the article was supposed to be from an outdoors magazine and was supposed to write about the wilderness tours in the area, but apparently she was more into the tour guides.  So women start trucking to Treasure Creek to see what they can find, and there you have one of the goofiest settings for a series of romance stories that you can imagine, yet it somehow mostly worked.

Sometimes you just want to read some stories that follow simple, predictable lines.  They’re the comfort food of books.  While I don’t ever see myself returning to Treasure Creek, they weren’t bad for a one-time read.  So if someone else wants these, you should let me know before I drop them off at Salvation Army next time I’m in town…