November Minireviews – Part 2

Orchard life is wrapping up fast.  I always think that that means I’m going to have more spare time… but we’ll see if that’s actually true!!!

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.

Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey – 4*

//published 2019//

This one has been on my TBR for so long that the sequel has already been published as well haha  I really enjoyed this one overall, although I have to admit that a large part of that was because it is set so close to home and Winfrey hit so many fantastic Columbus/German Village/Ohio references.  The Columbus skyline is even on the cover!!  Our own amazing bookstore, The Book Loft, is featured, which was super fun.  The story itself was fine.  I really liked the male MC, Drew, but the female protagonist, Annie, did get on my nerves just because she kept purposefully misunderstanding/taking offense at literally everything Drew said.  Basically he says one teasing thing to her when they first meet, she immediately decides to take it offensively, and then does nothing but complain about him and assume the worst about him (while complaining that HE assumes the worst about everyone else!) despite the fact that he’s actually being perfectly lovely to her and everyone else around him??  It got old fast.  But overall, the humor, the fun side characters, the PG13 rating, and (of course) the fun setting meant that I really enjoyed this one.

Not Like the Movies by Kerry Winfrey – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I didn’t like the sequel quite as well, mainly because while I really enjoyed Chloe as the side character, she got on my nerves when she moved to the MC position.  She spends about 50% of her time talking about how marriage is not for her and it’s a terrible idea and ew gross why would anyone do that and marriage is for losers and she would rather DIE than get married on and on and on and ON to the point that it started to feel offensive.  Another huge chunk of internal dialogue is devoted to the fact that she’s bisexual which apparently means you spend all of your time sexually evaluating literally every person you see; she was constantly thinking things like “I couldn’t decide if I would rather hang out with her or kiss her” or “he’s okay as a friend but I didn’t find him as attractive as his sister”, like she was always objectifying pretty much everyone she met and it really got on my nerves.  It got to the point where it felt like Winfrey wanted to write a romance that would appeal to her straight readers, but still score points for being “diverse” but that meant she had to constantly remind everyone that even though Chloe’s main crush is a dude, she would still be into that guy even if he was a girl!  She likes girls!  Like sexually likes girls!  Enough that she’s always looking at them and thinking about whether or not she would like to sleep with them!  As long as she doesn’t have to marry them, because getting married is for losers!!  So parts of this were still fun and engaging, and the actual plot line was good, but Chloe herself was SO annoying that it really brought down my overall enjoyment of the book.

Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – 4*

//published 2021//

So it’s funny because I’ve had the first book in this series, Aurora Rising, on my TBR for so long that it wasn’t even part of a series when I added it, yet I managed to actually read it only two months before the final book appeared!  Quite fortuitous.  I really enjoyed this grand finale, and there was a fabulous little summary that was just enough to get me back in the groove at the beginning of the book, but easy to skip/skim if you already remembered what was going on.  This one definitely flirted with the overly-complicated line, but I think it managed to not quite cross, despite the time loops making some of the story feel repetitive.  I definitely plan to reread this series in the future, and I’m interested to see if I like this one better when I read it closer to its predecessors.

You Lucky Dog by Julia London – 3*

//published 2020//

I was attracted to this one because of its cute cover and fun premise – Carly and Max both own basset hounds, but come home to find that their dog walker has mixed up the dogs!!  Returning accidentally-swapped dogs seemed like a fun meet-cute, and it was… kind of.  The problem with this book was that it was just Too Much.  Literally every person in Carly’s life is a Drama Queen set at 11, full of bizarre quirks and weird backstories.  Her parents were having all this just over-the-top drama and the entire love story basically got drowned out by the honestly somewhat-depressing complications and people in Carly’s life.  I never really shipped her and Max that much, mostly because they both got on my nerves in their own way, and because they never seemed to have an actual conversation that made sense or wasn’t interrupted by Carly just running off to solve some other crisis.  They were horrible communicators, and once again the whole thing where the woman has a great job opportunity and doesn’t even discuss it with the guy she likes because obviously he will demand that she relinquish the job and stay with him because OBVIOUSLY NO ONE UNDERSTANDS THE CONCEPT OF COMMUNICATION AND COMPROMISE.  Nothing makes me mad about a story faster than someone “already knowing” what the other person is going to say and so they DON’T EVEN TALK ABOUT IT.  UGH.  So anyway, this story was okay and some of the plot had some promise, but overall it was a little flat because of all the extra drama and a complete inability for the main characters to have a normal conversation.

Sleigh Bells Ring by RaeAnne Thayne – 4*

//published 2021//

Thayne has become one of my go-to authors for relaxing, low-angst, clean romance.  I really enjoyed her newest book, which happened to be Christmasy and just right for a little seasonal preview, as I read it right before Thanksgiving, mostly because it was due back at the library haha  Nothing crazy here, 100% predictable story with likable characters, realistic drama, and a fun family.  My only complaint was that I would have liked this to have turned into a series, as some of the secondary romances could easily have been their own books.

August Minireviews – Part 3

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

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

A Dance Through Time by Lynn Kurland – 3*

//published 1996//

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

Sweet Revenge by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 1988//

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

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

Summer at Lake Haven by RaeAnne Thayne – 4*

//published 2020//

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

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

Outsider by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2020//

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

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

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1929//

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

The Cliff House // by RaeAnne Thayne

//published 2019//

Back in December I read a series by Thayne (Haven Point) that I actually ended up really enjoying.  They were what I think of as low-drama romances – just everyday little stories taking place in some random small town somewhere, and The Cliff House was similar in type.  This one bordered, honestly, with Women’s Fiction, as the romance wasn’t really central to the plot.  Most of the story is really about two sisters, Daisy and Beatriz, and their aunt, Stella, who raised them after their mother died when they were around 10.  Adoption is a theme that seems to keep popping up in my reading lately, and it was a central part of this story as well.

After taking in Daisy and Beatriz, Stella also fostered many other children, and even started an organization to support and help foster/adoptive families.  One of her foster sons went on to marry Beatriz and become a now-famous rockstar.  When our story opens, Bea has been divorced from her husband for several years, and lives with their daughter, who is now (I forget) around 10 or 11.  Bea is realizing that she has romantic feelings for an old friend of hers, also her neighbor, and is trying to figure out how to further the relationship, when the ex-husband comes back to town, full or repentance for letting Bea go and wanting to patch things up with her.

Meanwhile, Daisy has lived her life with a very tight rein on her emotions thanks to the trauma and difficulties she suffered when they were children, before they came to live with Stella.  One interesting aspect of this story was a bit of exploration on how things can impact us as adults – when Daisy and Bea were living with the drug-addicted mother, constantly on the brink of being homeless and hungry, Daisy felt like she was the one who had to care for and protect Bea.  As an adult, Daisy has become very focused on making sure that she has a secure job, good savings, back-up plans, etc.  Bea has remained the more free-spirited one of them, sometimes frustrated by Daisy’ refusal to loosen up.  Anyway, a new guy moves to town and is immediately drawn to Daisy, and I actually really enjoyed their relationship/story probably the most out of three.  I had a lot of empathy for Daisy, who finds it difficult to express a lot of emotion, and doesn’t completely understand why people would want to do that anyway.

The final thread in the book is Stella, who is now around 40, and despite raising so many children throughout her life yearns for one of her own.  She has secretly decided to go through with artificial insemination, and at the beginning of the story has just found out that she is actually pregnant.  She’s absolutely thrilled, but also a little terrified, and not completely sure how to share the news with Daisy and Bea.  While she’s still processing all of that, her college boyfriend – to whom she was practically engaged – moves into town.  Now widowed, he and his daughter are looking for a place to settle down.  I also really enjoyed this story of Stella working through her past and accepting that maybe her future wasn’t going to turn out exactly as she planned.

I’m not sure why I enjoyed this book.  It wasn’t full of excitement or big twists.  It was just a quiet book about three women who love one another all arriving at a crossroads in their lives.  There are a lot of themes of family, sisterhood, acceptance, and courage.  While the story could be slow in spots, it never felt like it was dragging.

I had a few quibbles.  I felt like the relationship between Bea and her friend/neighbor wasn’t as developed as the others, possibly because we’re told that they’ve been friends for years.  But it was hard to get a grasp on how well they would really deal together because the potential for “more” than friendship means that their friendship itself is a little rocky when we meet them.  I also got frustrated with both Daisy and Stella from time to time for withholding information from people who care about them, in a few instances just so the plot could be furthered rather than because that was what seemed like the natural thing for them to do.

Also – I feel like the title doesn’t really match the story.  All three women live in different houses, and it didn’t particularly feel like there was “a” house that bound them together, so I’m not even completely sure which house IS “the” cliff house??  It seemed like an odd choice for the title.

Still, all in all a 4* read and one that I recommend, especially if you like your romance to be on the women’s fiction-y side of the spectrum.

Haven Point Series // by RaeAnne Thayne

  1. Snow Angel Cove (2014)
  2. Redemption Bay (2015)
  3. Evergreen Springs (2015)
  4. Riverbend Road (2016)
  5. Snowfall on Haven Point (2016)
  6. Serenity Harbor (2017)
  7. Sugar Pine Trail (2017)
  8. The Cottages on Silver Beach (2018)
  9. Season of Wonder (2018)
  10. Coming Home for Christmas (2019)

Someone on Litsy was reading one of the books in this series, and it looked like just what I needed for some relaxing Christmas romances.  Six of ten books in this series are set during Christmas time, so it was rather perfect.  I’d never heard of Thayne before reading this series, but I will definitely be checking out more of her books, as I thoroughly enjoyed these.

So my favorite way to do a series is when there is a group of friends/siblings and each book is about one of them.  My second favorite way to do a series is when it’s about a small community, and that’s the way the Haven Point books are written.  Each story can be read independently, but various people from the earlier books are floating around in the background, so it’s more fun to read them in order.

Haven Point is a small town in Idaho a couple of hours from Boise.  The town has been somewhat struggling lately, but in the first book a new guy buys a bunch of properties there, and throughout the series more businesses are developing thanks to his investments – all part of the quiet background.  If I could magically transport myself and my family into a parallel life somewhere else, a small mountain town in the Rockies would be on the short list, so the setting was definitely one that appealed to me.

These were definitely more at the “sweet” end of romances (as opposed to “steamy” at the other end of the spectrum).  While there were some lustful thoughts and feelings, there was basically no sex either on or off page, which was lovely.  Some moderate swearing, but nothing crazy.  It’s kind of sad to me that these are the kinds of assessments I have to make about romance books these days, but here we are.  At any rate, one of the things that I liked about this series was that sex was consistently viewed as a serious step, not something to be taken lightly.  And since it is a serious step, and does change everything about a relationship, I was glad to see it handled that way.

Another things I especially liked about these books was that almost all of them involved not just two people falling in love, but two people plus some random children all creating a family together.  Some were widowed or divorced or inherited unexpected children from other places, or whatever.  But throughout the series, the concept was just as much family as it was romance, and I liked that.  Even though most of these books were, by nature, a little insta-love-y, the concept of creating a family made everything feel more like long-term thinking instead of short-term lust.

I was going to choose my favorite, but as I’m flipping back through my notes, I’m not sure which one it would be!  They were basically all 4* reads except for Redemption Bay and Season of Wonder.  In the former, the main female character, McKenzie, is the mayor of the town and ends up having to make nice to her old nemesis, Ben, who is considering whether or not Haven Point will be a good town for an expansion of his company.  While I liked the romance and the chemistry between McKenzie and Ben, I was driven absolutely crazy by the lack of logic with the whole “Should I choose Haven Point” thing – Ben claims that the next big competitor for the position is another town, Shelter Springs – and then later it’s revealed that Shelter Springs is ten minutes away?!?!  Like yes, it would make a slight difference as to who would benefit from the taxes of the actual company being there, but putting a gigantic company in a town ten minutes away from your town is NOT the end of the world, since obviously people would still be living/shopping/patronizing your town?!?!  I couldn’t get it.  Then in the end he’s like, “Oh, haha jk actually I already decided Portland.”  What the heck?!

In Season of Wonder my annoyance was more traditional – the main female character, Dani, was just obnoxiously paranoid about everything and R E A L L Y was getting on my nerves.  Still, even those two books garnered a comfortable 3.5*

There were minor aggravations from some of the other stories – for instance in Evergreen Springs the female character is constantly hassling the male character about sharing his feelings, etc. – yet every time he does, when he turns around and asks her a perfectly reasonable question in response, she shuts him down.  Hello?  Emotional intimacy needs to work both ways??

But these types of things were, for me, balanced out by the warmth of the stories overall.  There are several stories that deal with adoption and foster care, and these are handled so well.  In Serenity Harbor, the main male character, Bowie (I know, right?  Bowie??) ends up with a much younger brother, Milo, who is autistic.  Meanwhile, the main female character, Kat, is saving money to adopt a little girl she met and fell in love with in an orphanage in Guatemala, who also happens to have Down Syndrome.  Throughout the story, the theme of loving and accepting children (and people) as they are is presented so well.  In this day and age, where Down Syndrome is being “cured” by murdering everyone who has it before they are even born (in a completely not-Hitler way, of course!), it was genuinely refreshing to see a character who cherished and loved everything about this little girl.

While these weren’t perfect romance books (for instance, they really didn’t have much humor), they were still some of the more enjoyable books from that genre that I’ve read this year.  I’ll definitely be looking for more books by Thayne soon, and recommend this series to anyone looking for some relaxing reading with likable characters.