April Minireviews – Part 3

Last batch for April!!

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.

Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This was one of those books I wanted to like more than I actually did.  It had been a while since I had really immersed myself in a historical fiction, especially one set during not-a-war.  Overall, I felt like this Oregon Trail based story was well-told, but I personally found the two first-person voices to be incredibly similar, especially considering that they shouldn’t have been similar at all.  Yet I found myself not infrequently flipping back a couple pages to double-check who was talking.  In the beginning of the story, Harmon sets the scene by killing off a huge pile of people – then goes back to the beginning of their journey to give me 200+ pages of getting attached to all the people I know are going to die.  I had a lot of mixed feelings on that – it made it really difficult to emotionally connect to the characters, but I can’t imagine how mad I would have been if they had all died without me being mentally prepared!

But overall, that was really my issue with the story – despite a lot of emotional, high-stakes occurrences, I just never really connected with the characters and often felt like dramatic, horrific things were relayed rather clinically, especially for a first-person narrative.  The story itself was well-told and I felt like was well-balanced as far as bad guys/good guys/complicated scenarios, but I never really felt like the characters were real people.

Divots by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1923//

Only Wodehouse could make me enjoy reading a collection of short stories centered around golf! Tales told by the “Oldest Member” of the golf club to generally unwilling audiences, these stories are typical Wodehouse fluff. If you aren’t into golf and have never read Wodehouse, I probably wouldn’t start here, but if Wodehouse is your jam, these were pretty fun, even if a bit ridiculous!!  I was honestly surprised at how entertaining I found these.

This book was also published as The Heart of a Goof.

Big Jump for Robin by Suzanne Wilding – 3*

//published 1965//

Sometimes I buy a book just for the cover, and this was definitely the case when I purchased this one at an antique store back in 2005.  I can’t resist Sam Savitt’s illustrations!  Overall, this was rather typical 1960s horse-girl-story fare.  The story opens with Robin selling her pony to the neighborhood Obnoxious Rich Guy because she has overheard her parents worrying about money and wants to do her part.  Throughout the story, Robin works hard to help her family and become a better horsewoman, and I was definitely rooting for her.  The story was rather underdeveloped in places and didn’t turn into a new favorite, but Savitt’s illustrations mean that I’ll keep it on my shelf despite the fact that I don’t particularly yearn to reread it.

Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson – 3.5*

//published 2021//

This was a traveling book club book, and probably not one I would have read on my own.  I really enjoyed the world-building here and the way that religion was a legitimate part of life, where prayers and such actually did make a difference.  However, the whole bad guy/good guy aspect felt consistently muddled and I was frequently uncertain who I was actually supposed to be rooting for, and demon possession, even in fantasy-land, doesn’t seem like something fun and fluffy to be embraced.  It wasn’t a bad story, just not exactly my jam.

The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

The third book in the Percy Jackson series confirmed my opinion of them as solid but not mind-blowing books.  I’m enjoying the series but don’t really see myself rereading them again and again.  The characters are likable and the adventures engaging, and I do love some of the modern interpretation of the gods, but they somehow just lack that special magic that really connects me to a series on a deeper level.

March Minireviews – Part 3

Hmm.  In June.  Checks out.

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.

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White – 3.5*

//published 2014//

One of those books that I really wanted to like more than I did.  It’s an intriguing concept/world and that cover is GORGEOUS, but it was just really light on some plot points.  It was only 275pgs long and should have been longer as some parts of the story felt more like an outline than the actual story.  The main character was also a little too “independent and sassy” at times – like girl, I get it, you’re independent, but that doesn’t mean you just do the opposite of what everyone thinks you should do??  This was a fun one as a one-off, but I just wanted more!

The Inn at Eagle Point by Sherryl Woods – 3.5*

//published 2009//

Woods is one of those romance authors whose books I see everywhere but somehow haven’t gotten around to reading yet.  I had a few of the books from her Chesapeake Shores series so thought I would start there.  This was a perfectly nice and regular romance and a good set up for the series, which follows the romances and adventures of a sibling group, one of my favorite ways to do a series.  I didn’t fall in love with this one, but it was good enough to get me to pick up the second book.

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan – 3.5*

//published 2006//

The second book in the Percy Jackson series was perfectly enjoyable, even if it did follow the same basic outline as the first story.  There were a lot of fun capers here and it’s an engaging way to meet some of ye olde gods in a new context.  Percy himself is likable, especially as a middle grade hero, and the book does a decent job of being its own thing while still building towards a series finale.

Sensible Kate by Doris Gates – 3*

//published 1943//

I have another of Gates’s books on my shelves that I’ve read several times and weirdly enjoyed, The Cat and Mrs. Cary, so when I came across this one I thought I would give it a try.  However, this one just didn’t quite strike the right tone with me.  It was an odd little book about an orphan named Kate who has decided that since she can’t be beautiful, she can at least be sensible, a word that was used about 500 times too many in 189pgs.  This book had a lot of potential with some interesting side characters, especially the grumpy old lady next door who doesn’t like children, but Gates never really went anywhere with it.  She also ruthlessly killed off another side character for literally no reason – I kept expecting him to come back, not dead, but he never did!  I was genuinely upset by it.  Everything came together okay in the end, but this definitely wasn’t a book I’ll be rereading.

Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century by Dick and James Strawbridge – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I’m always on the lookout for new books to add to my nonfiction collection of practical literature, but while this was a decent one to check out of the library, it didn’t have enough new information for me to want to keep it forever.  This is the 2020 update to the original 2010 book by the same title. This father/son duo own and operate their own homestead in the UK, and this book is full of concepts and ideas for becoming (as the title implies) more self-sufficient. While there were a lot of things about this book that I really liked, the organization and direction felt muddled to me. For instance, the entire first section of the book just jumps directly into getting off the grid – generating your own electricity, dealing with your own waste water, running plumbing that works from collecting rain water, building a water wheel, building a windmill, etc. It felt strange to start the book with these huge, expensive, complicated, advanced projects. There also isn’t really any kind of progression – nothing like “the top five goals you should set“ or anything along those lines. It’s just page after page of somewhat haphazardly organized projects and ideas.

It’s definitely not a book I would recommend to a beginner, but if you have already been gardening and that sort of thing for a few years and are looking to “level up“, this book may be good for inspiration and ideas. It’s not detailed enough to be an actual handbook, but for instance, while if you wanted to build a windmill you’d need to do some more research, there is enough info here to help you decide if a windmill would even work for you at all.

I did feel like this book’s emphasis on self-sufficiency sometimes meant that they skipped middle steps. Instead of going from “buying all your food at the big-box grocery store“ to “using a small electric food dryer to try preserving some of your own“ they dismiss a small dryer like the one I have (~$40) as “too expensive“ and give you a two-page spread on building a solar dryer, the materials for which had to be at least $40 in and of themselves. There were a lot of things like that, where middle steps that can help you decide if this is even something you want to do (for instance, do you even LIKE smoked meat? That would be good to know before investing in building an entire smokehouse) were basically dismissed as not self-sufficient ENOUGH – straight to the big guns.  I liked some of the ideas, but honestly in some ways this book felt overwhelming and discouraging because of its lack of progression, and the tone sometimes came across as a little condescending if you weren’t willing to go ALL IN.  For most people, it’s not practical or possible to go straight off-the-grid completely, based on how much time it takes up in your day alone, but the Strawbridges didn’t really seem to see it that way.

February 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.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan – 4*

//published 2005//

I’ve had the Percy Jackson series on my radar for literal years and finally picked up the first book in the series in February.  While this one didn’t become an instant classic for me, I could definitely see why it has appealed to so many people.  I found it it to be entertaining and enjoyable, even if it didn’t blow me away.  I loved the concept of moving the ancient Greek/Roman gods to modern-day America and found Percy to be a likable hero.  This book was definitely more about action than it was world-building, but it’s a middle grade read so I wasn’t really anticipating a lot of lengthy explanations, and it’s a book that is more enjoyable if you don’t scrutinize it too closely.  I saw a lot of reviews just absolutely slamming this book for being a Harry Potter knockoff, but that’s apparently because a lot of people think that Rowling invented things like the Chosen One trope, or the concept of having two boys and a girl have adventures together.  There are a few similarities between the two, but definitely not to a level where I felt like Riordan was trying to copy Rowling at all.  This book was published at the height of Harry Potter madness (this came out the same year as Half-Blood Prince) and I think HP fans were just weirdly obsessed with Rowling being the only person who could write a fantasy story.  ANYWAY all that to say that I found this book good entertainment and am continuing the series.  There wasn’t a lot of depth, and there was a lot more running around fighting monsters and getting through due to good luck than there was character-building, but sometimes that’s the kind of story that just hits the spot, and I can definitely see the high-action sequences appealing to its intended MG audience, especially for reluctant readers, where that faster pace can pull them along.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – 5*

//published 1850//

As part of my 2022 reading goal to tackle longer/more difficult books, I started David Copperfield on January 1 and read a chapter a day until it was finished. However, on the first of every month I add another book, so there is some overlap, depending on how long the books are. I finished this one at the end of February, and it was such a worthwhile journey.  I had read this one back in high school but couldn’t remember any of the details – just that Uriah Heep was SO creepy (spoiler: he’s SO creepy!!!)  Overall, I couldn’t believe how this book, published in 1850, contained so many people and situations that resonated with me completely. While a chapter a day doesn’t always work for me, it was kind of ideal for a book like this.  I think I may have been less patient with DIckens’s rambles if I had been trying to read this one straight through. As it was, 10-20 pages of Dickens a day was just about right. I fell in absolute love with so many of the characters here and found myself completely choked up on more than one occasion.  Is it a perfect book?  No, of course not.  But is it well worth the read?  Absolutely.

I thought I’d also include these photos of my edition – first off, so many of the chapter titles in this book absolutely cracked me up (did I mention that this book is funny?? Because it had me snorting with laughter on multiple occasions) and secondly, there isn’t a copyright date for my specific edition, but there is this notation on the flyleaf that it was owned by Ethel Chamberlin in 1900, which I just thought was absolutely the coolest thing.

Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon – 3.5*

//published 2020//

Modern/loose B&B retelling set a a private school for rich, almost-in-trouble kids in Colorado (the school, that is – the kids can be from all over the world lol).  This was a fun concept and I actually really liked the characters, but it was just glaringly obvious from almost the first chapter who the “bad guy” actually was, which meant that there wasn’t really any suspense and it was almost painful to watch Jaya be mad at the wrong person (even though it was not as obvious to Jaya so like she wasn’t stupid, really – the reader just has a lot more information than she does).  Usually I like have the perspective of both main characters, but hearing from Gray in this scenario just meant we know for 100% sure that he’s a good guy, which doesn’t leave us with a lot of bad guy options.  There were some fun moments and some interesting characters, but while I mostly enjoyed this one, I didn’t absolutely love it.

Of Princes and Promises by Sandhya Menon – 3*

//published 2021//

So for the first 75% of this book I actually enjoyed it more than the first book.  It’s a Frog Prince riff and was done so well.  I love how Menon gives us these situations where you can’t say with absolute certainty whether or not magic is real.  I really liked the characters here and there was a lot of good story about learning to embrace your true self and not be worried about what other people think about you, etc etc etc.  But THEN for literally no reason Menon decided to throw in a VILLAIN and just – the whole story went right off the rails, leaving me completely confused.  Suddenly, the entire book was about this other person and her backstory and what had happened to her – and like… I didn’t care??  She was a stranger??  She had nothing to do with the rest of the book?!  Why is she here??  What is the point of her??  It was very disorienting and made the entire ending of the book feel weird and awkward instead of satisfying.  It was a really bizarre decision on where to go with the conclusion of the book and quite aggravated me.  So overall it was a fun read, but the weird ending really brought down my overall rating.