Shelfie by Shelfie // Shelf 1A

Last fall, Bibliobeth started a new book tag, Shelfie by Shelfie.  You can see her original post here – and I’ve nabbed her image as well.  :-D  The concept is that you take a picture of a bookshelf, and then answer ten questions about the books on it.  I have about a billion bookshelves, so I thought that I would give it a go!

Luckily, my husband is pretty awesome at building shelves, and about three houses ago we had a really long, wide hallway that seemed perfect for bookshelves – and it was.  Except we were renters, which meant we were moving pretty much annually at the time.  The shelves have come with me for every move since then (and since we own this house, here’s to hoping they stay where they are for many years to come!), but haven’t always fit together in the same order as they did in that original hallway.  Still, they are pretty awesome, designed for both books and knickknacks.  So I’ll post a picture of the overall bookshelf, and then focus on just one of those shelves – hence the 1A.  ;-)

You’ll have to excuse the clutter – we’re still doing renovating (neverending) and this room is the current catch-all.  I’m sure taking these pictures will also inspire me to organize the clutter a bit, right??  (ha!)

Okay, here is today’s shelf – on to the questions!

 1 – Is there any reason for this shelf being organized the way it is, or is it purely random?

The majority of my fiction books are shelves in alphabetical order by author’s last name, with some exceptions here and there.  I look at amazing pictures of people shelving books by size or color or other aesthetically-pleasing methods and I’m jealous, both of their creativity and the fact that if I did that I would never be able to find a book again because there are just TOO MANY.  :-D  So yes, alphabetical – and this shelf takes us from Adjordan to Alexander.

However, there are some exceptions to my alphabetical rule, and the three books under the moose are an example – those are three of the four Bayern books by Shannon Hale (the first one seems to have wandered off to introduce someone else to the magic of this series).  Sometimes books just fit in certain spots in the shelves!

2 – Tell us a story about one of the books on this shelf that is special to you; i.e. how you got it, a memory associated with it, etc.

I think I’m going with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (by Joan Aiken) for this one.  I have so many memories of reading this with my Mom!  We used to read it together every winter, and even when I was too young to really ‘get’ the story, I still loved the feelings it invoked.  This is the first book I can remember reading that really had an ‘atmosphere’ – just reading it made me feel cold and made the room seem a little darker!

It’s a tough question, though, because I also have a deep attachment to all of the Louisa May Alcott books, especially Eight Cousins and its sequel, Rose in Bloom.

3 – Which book from this shelf would you ditch if you were forced to and why?

Well, it seems like the logical answer would be “one of my many copies of Little Women,” especially since the two copies on that shelf are not actually the only copies of that book that I own.  But that’s not the answer at all, because every copy of Little Women that I own has its own story and its own special place in my heart!  :-D  I suppose I would ditch one of the two Ginny Aiken books, mainly because I haven’t actually read them yet – picked them up at booksales somewhere along the line – so I don’t have an emotional attachment to them (yet).

4 – Which book from this shelf would you save in an emergency and why?

Probably Rose in Bloom, which teaches me something new every time I read it.  That particular copy, as you can see from its rather battered condition, has been with me many a year.

5 – Which book has been on this shelf for the longest time?

I’m going to interpret that as “Which book have I owned the longest?” since they’ve all been there since I moved here.  I’ve had most of these books a long time, but the red copy of Little Women (illustrated by Jesse Wilcox Smith – gorgeous) – I received from my mom for my 13th birthday, so it’s been with me for over 20 years!

6 – Which book is the newest addition to this shelf?

It’s actually the skinny blue book to the left of Jane Fairfax.  The blue book is a sequel to The Cat-Sitter Mystery (which I’ve owned forever, maybe even longer than Little Women), The Copy-Cat Mystery, which I just recently purchased when I was rereading The Cat-Sitter Mystery – I didn’t even know there was a sequel until this year!

7 – Which book on this shelf are you most excited to read (or reread if this is a favorite shelf)?

Wow, this shelf actually has a lot of favorites, as I really love Louisa May Alcott’s works, and the Bayern books are fantastic – Dominion was also a gripping read, of course Wolves of Willoughby Chase is always perfect, and the last book on the shelf is actually the third book in Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, which I also dearly love!  But if I really, really had to choose, probably Little Women as it has actually been quite a while since I’ve read it, and it’s a book that means a great deal to me.

8 – If there is an object on this shelf apart from books, tell us the story behind it.

These actually do tend to be knickknacky shelves as well, so there are indeed non-book objects…  the jar contains rose petals from various momentous events in my life; the stuffed bunny was a childhood favorite; the white dish has a cow on it because I collect cows; I also collect giraffes; the glass jars seem to have just appeared from nowhere as I honestly have no recollection as to where they came from or why I have them (apparently I just like dusting things); the framed motto was a gift from my mom; and the moose (which is incredibly soft!) was purchased on our trip to Colorado in 2015, when Tom and I saw our first wild moose!

9 – What does this shelf tell us about you as a reader?

Umm…  well, probably that I like things to be somewhat orderly, I have a love for Louisa May Alcott, and I don’t mind owning more than one copy of the same book.  :-D

10 – Choose other bloggers to tag or choose a free question you make up yourself.

Hopefully many of you will choose to participate in this fun book tag – and make sure you tag Bibliobeth (and me!) when you do!

For a free question – Which of these books do you think everyone should read?

I think I am going to go with An Old-Fashioned Girl for this one.  Polly’s adventures have gotten me through a lot of my life, and especially gave me encouragement and challenged me when I was single.  I love how she is independent and industrious, but still so kind and womanly.  And of course Polly ends up with a Tom as well.  :-D

Advertisements

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore // by Robin Sloan

//published 2012//

This was the third book I received for my Mr. B’s Book Emporium subscription, and it was yet another book I already had on my TBR, making them 3/3!  I really enjoyed this book a great deal.  It had some fun adventures, some great characters, and a satisfying ending.

Our narrator is Clay, who begins the book unemployed in San Francisco.  Through a bit of serendipity, he walks past a Help Wanted sign in the window of a musty bookstore – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, in fact.  When Clay begins working as the night clerk there, he realizes that there is a lot more going on besides selling books.

It’s hard to tell a lot about this book without giving things away, so I’ll leave it at that.  Clay ends up on some rollicking adventures with some old friends and some new ones, and it’s a really good time.  There were so many things about this book that I really enjoyed.  I liked Clay himself, and loved basically all the other characters as well, so I was really invested in their discoveries.  I loved the way that Sloan works in Clay’s favorite epic fantasy series and uses it as a catalyst for so much of what happens.  Clay is just enough of a geek to make this book super fun.

“Besides,” I say, “I’m the rogue in this scenario.”

Kat raises an eyebrow and I explain quietly, “He’s the warrior, you’re the wizard, I’m the rogue.  This conversation never happened.”

For the most part, I enjoyed Clay’s narration, although the tenses didn’t always seem to flow right.  However, there were moments when the line between what Clay is thinking and what Clay is saying out loud gets blurred and it happened just often enough to annoy me.

We are in the Gourmet Grotto … It’s downtown, right next to the cable-car terminus …  The Gourmet Grotto is its food court, probably the  best in the world: all locally grown spinach salads and pork belly tacos and sushi sans mercury.  Also, it’s below-ground, and it connects directly to the train station, so you never have to walk outside.  Whenever I come here, I pretend I’m living in the future and the atmosphere is irradiated and wild bands of biodiesel bikers rule the surface.  Hey, just like the Singularity, right?

Kat frowns. “That the twentieth-century future.  After the Singularity, we’ll be able to solve those problems.”

So at what point did the first paragraph stop being Clay’s narration/explanation for the reader, and start being something he was saying out loud to Kat?  It really isn’t clear, and for some reason got on my nerves, especially since it happened pretty regularly.

But overall this book was just so much fun that I wanted it to keep going forever.  4/5 for a really happy, fun, thought-provoking book – recommended.

The Rose-Garden Husband // The Wishing-Ring Man // by Margaret Widdemer

I read a review for The Rose-Garden Husband over on The Captive Reader, and I must say that while Claire said she enjoyed the book, she also admitted to being frustrated by it – probably because everything works out for the book’s heroine with much greater ease than it ever seems to in real life!

//published 1915//

Phyllis is a librarian in the early 1900’s (the book was published in 1915), and her life is rather a hard one.  Long working hours, low wages, a lonely boarding house – most of the time Phyllis’s natural optimism is able to help her through, but on the dreary day in which our story begins, she is feeling rather low and frustrated.  What she really wishes, she realizes, is for a lovely home with a rose garden, and a husband.  And because this is a story instead of real life, her wish is granted almost immediately!

Widdemer manages to marry Phyllis off to a young man who was in a bad automobile accident several years earlier and is now unable to walk.  An invalid, his mother has cared for him ever since, but now she is very sick and dying, and is afraid that no one will care for her son when she is gone.  Believing that a wife would have more commitment than mere hired nurses, she asks her old friend and attorney to find a proper young woman to care for her son when she is gone.  While the premise sounds rather far-fetched, Widdemer actually pulls it off rather well.

Of course, Phyllis brings light and sunshine (and roses) into Allan’s life, and there are happy endings all around.  The story is nothing if not predictable, but was still told in such a warm and happy tone that it was just a delight to read.  Phyllis isn’t perfect, but she seemed like she would make a wonderful friend to have, and I was very glad to see her happy ending.

//published 1917//

The Wishing-Ring Man is a loose sequel, taking place several years later.  The heroine of this story is Joy, a young orphan who has lived with her grandparents her entire life.  Her grandfather is a famous poet, so Joy has had a rather strange upbringing – he considers her his muse, and writes many poems dedicated to her, and Joy wears rather ridiculous flowing clothes and has to attend all of his literary gatherings.  I’m making this sound a little weird and creepy, but it isn’t presented that way at all.   Joy’s grandfather is definitely pompous and self-centered, but not at all creepy.

Still, Joy is beginning to realize that her life isn’t exactly normal, and she wishes that she could have some ‘regular’ adventures.  Through a series of events, she and her grandparents end up spending a summer in a little cabin-camp in the mountains.  There, she meets our old friends Allan and Phyllis, now the happy parents of two adorable children.  When Phyllis invites Joy to come stay with them for a month, Joy’s grandpa won’t let her – he has always said that the only way she could leave his care was if she was safely engaged.  So… Phyllis announces her engagement to a man she has never met, which seems like a brilliant plan… until he shows up!

Honestly, once I got through the rather weird beginning, I actually liked The Wishing-Ring Man even better.  Joy and John are so adorable together, and I loved the fact that the ‘fake relationship trope’ has apparently been around a very long time.

Both of these stories were completely predictable and completely enjoyable.  I actually enjoyed the relationship between Phyllis and Allan even more in the second book as well – they are so happy together and their family is adorable.  I just wanted to be friends with everyone!

These books are both available as free Kindle books, so there is no reason not to read them as soon as you can.  They are perfect stories for relaxing on a wintry evening.  Easy 4/5 for both and definitely recommended.

The Burnaby Series // by Anne Emery

  • Senior Year
  • Going Steady
  • Sorority Girl
  • High Note, Low Note
  • Campus Melody

These are happy if somewhat unexciting books published back in the 1950’s by my old favorite Scholastic Book Service.  I can’t tell you how many of those 1950’s Scholastic paperbacks I have picked up for a dime at various book sales and garage sales, basically guaranteed to be good for at least one read.

And now I own even more because I only started with two of these books and ended up buying the other three on eBay.  :-D  (Because yes, my quest to read all of my own books sometimes involves needing to buy more books to accomplish this…)

//published 1949//

Senior Year focuses on Sally Burnaby, the oldest of five children, who is – you guessed it – a high school senior.  She’s excited about this final year of high school because she has a great life and figures that this grand finale will be even better.  She’s anticipating a year of fun and frolic, and also looking forward to going away to college – getting out of the house and away from the family for the first time.  Of course, not all is a bed of roses.  Sally’s best friend from childhood has received a special gift from an elderly relative and spending their senior year away at a boarding school, leaving Sally – who is something of a follower – feeling a bit adrift.  Her other best friend/long-time date/neighbor, Scotty, suddenly doesn’t seem as interested in escorting Sally on dates anymore, maybe because Sally has suddenly started thinking that going steady with Scotty might be nice.

I was honestly surprised at the casual way in which Emery approached some more difficult subjects.  Modern writers and readers frequently dismiss these older books as no longer relevant, because apparently everyone in the 50’s lived in a Leave It to Beaver sort of dream world.  But despite the fact that the Burnabys are a close-knit and happy family with two parents who love each other very much, and a mother who doesn’t work outside the home, the challenges and struggles that Sally face seemed quite modern to me.  She struggles with disagreeing with her parents on how she should be living her life and spending her time, struggling with that strange moment in time where you are still under your parents’ authority but are starting to become an adult, struggles with friends who are drinking and becoming more sexually involved than Sally was comfortable with (not in an explicit way, but being explicit isn’t actually necessary).  She struggles to find her true self, to understand what is really important in a friend, and learn whether it’s worth sacrificing standards just to avoid being single.

//published 1950//

In short, I really enjoyed watching Sally’s character develop and grow, which carried over in Going Steady.  In this book, Sally and Scotty decide to become a couple during the summer after they graduated from high school.  They have been good friends their entire lives, and this feels like the natural next step.  This book got a little too much about Scotty and felt repetitive at times, but still felt honest nonetheless.  I really loved one section of the book where one of Sally’s high school friends has gotten married right away, and then got pregnant right away.  At this point in time, Sally and Scotty are feeling rebellious because their families think they are moving too fast, and they have also decided to get married.  When they go to visit Sally’s newlywed friends, however, they recognize the wisdom of a lot of what their parents have had to say about the financial struggles of getting married so soon and other difficulties that really only work if you have a genuine foundation of lasting love – which Scotty and Sally are starting to realize they don’t actually have.

This was such an intriguing book to me because, in the end, the guy doesn’t get the girl – the girl gets single and realizes how happy she can be that way.  It wasn’t in this crazy feminist “a girl never needs a man” kind of way.  Instead, this book was really about how love works best when it happens at the right time instead of being rushed.  It wasn’t the right time for Sally and Scotty, and when they realized that, they were able to look to their futures in a more healthy, happy way.  Throughout the story, Sally had clung to her relationship with Scotty because being single seemed like such a terrible fate.  But int he end I love that she decides that it’s time “to be the kind of person who could have fun without a man.”  Not because relationships are inherently bad, but because being in one with the wrong person just so you aren’t alone is.

//published 1952//

The next three book focus on Sally’s sister, Jean, who is two years younger.  I was a little sad to leave Sally behind, but Jean is also a likable individual who had shown up quite a bit during the first two books.  Sorority Girl opens during Jean’s junior year of high school, right after the ending of Going Steady.  Sally is now attending their local college (where their father is a professor), so we do see her here and there, along with her new boyfriend, who is just adorable.  Throughout the first two books, Jean began hanging out with Jeff, who is her regular escort to various events, but not her official boyfriend.  They’re very close, though.  In the background of Sally’s books, Jean was finding her feet and becoming more outgoing, and is now thoroughly involved in high school activities with a close circle of friends.

I appreciated that Jean is really quite a different character from Sally.  Sally is quieter and follower who had to learn how to make her own way.  Jean is more outgoing and fun, and also more dependent on having people like her.  She’s very musical and is starting to think that she may be able to make a career of playing the piano.

However, things change when she is approached by the members of the high school sorority.  Technically, groups and clubs that “seeks to perpetuate itself by taking on its members on the basis of personal preference of its membership, rather than upon the stated qualifications for membership.”  But some allowances are made in a sort of “we pretend we don’t notice” kind of way, for two sororities and two fraternities.  Jeans adventures with becoming and joining the Nightingales were quite interesting to me.  Watching Jean get caught up in the “honor” of becoming part of an exclusive group, and then watching her realize that this mean also excluding people she likes and admires, was insightful.  There was a lot to learn from this book, and I appreciated that Jean didn’t just magically wake up perfect, but really wrestled – not just with figuring out what was the right thing to do, but then actually doing that right thing even after she knew what it was.

//published 1954//

High Note, Low Note follows Jean through her senior year.  She and Jeff are going steady, and both are looking to the future.  However, Jean feels uncomfortable because Jeff is a lot more serious about their future being together than she is.  This one was a little too much about boys to be as enjoyable as some of the others, but still read well.

//published 1955//

Finally, Campus Melody follows Jean to her freshman year at college, where she is attending on a music scholarship.  This was a good book about that initial adjustment to living away from home – away from that support system that you almost don’t even realize is guiding you throughout your teen years.  Jean makes some rather poor decisions and learns from them, especially involving a popular senior on campus who starts dating her.

I think the only thing that disappointed me in this book was the ending, which I felt like was a bit of a cop-out and didn’t actually fit with all the lessons Jean had been learning throughout the story.  However, it did mean that everything tied together neatly, so I was willing to forgive it a bit.

All in all, this review has been a lot longer and more rambly than I anticipated, but I really did enjoy this little series.  They weren’t ground-breaking books, but they were pleasant and engaging reads.  At my age, I think what I actually enjoyed the most were the parenting techniques of Mr. and Mrs. Burnaby, who were really fantastic background characters with a lot to offer.

One note – for some reason Goodreads does not have this series listed in the proper order.  Instead, they list Sorority Girl as book #5, when, by both publishing date and chronologically to the overall story, it is obviously #3.  Reading books in their proper order is extremely important to me, so I found that bit of misinformation to be quite aggravating.

Most of these books were a 3-4/5 for me, and I think the series as a whole is a 3.5/5.  While they aren’t ground-breaking literature, and could be a bit repetitive in parts, I think they have just as much to offer in terms of life-lessons and pleasurable reading as 85% of contemporary YA – and all without the sex, swearing, and divorce!

‘Love Inspired’ – Part 2

A while back my great-aunt passed away, and somehow my grandpa ended up with two boxes full of books.  Almost all of them are ‘inspirational’ romances published by Harlequin as ‘Love Inspired’.  At one point (not sure if you still can) you could subscribe and have a new book mailed to you every month.  Aunt Darby did just that, and now I’m in possession of somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 or so of these ‘Love Inspired’ titles.  Most of them are pretty cheesy but alright for a one-time fluff read.  I’m sure that I’ll binge through some of them periodically.  They’re perfect to grab out of the crate when I’m just looking for a quick, no-brainer book.  However, most of them will probably end up exiting this house after that one-time read, because they just aren’t worth the shelf space to me.  So if there’s one that sounds especially appealing to you… let me know, and I’ll be quite happy to mail you a gift!  ;-)

Here’s the next round of five for this project – the first five can be found here.

The Pastor Takes a Wife by Anna Schmidt

//published 2010//

This was a pleasant little story where single-mom Megan falls for the new pastor, Jeb.  There was actually a little bit of grit to this story that I liked, but I just wasn’t feeling the chemistry between Megan and Jeb.  I’m always annoyed when a story spends the majority of the time talking about why two people aren’t suited for each other – and then magically, at the end, they are!

Still, overall a nice little tale that was pleasant for a one-off read – 3/5.

A Mother’s Gift by Arlene James and Kathryn Springer

//published 2010//

This is actually two novellas in one volume.  The first, Dreaming of a Family, could have been an alright read, but Dixie was just over-the-top rude to Joel at the beginning.  I found it impossible to believe that an adult woman would say the things she said to a comparative stranger, especially making fun of his physical handicap.  It was just absurd.  2/5.

The second, The Mommy Wish, was better, but Julia of course has this deep, dark secret that if Nick knew about it, it would change his whole perspective of her, and she’s kept herself locked away and never goes out to see people and it’s been years of angst… and then the ‘terrible’ thing just really wasn’t that terrible.  I mean sad, yes, but worth years of agony?  Not remotely.  Still, 3/5 for an otherwise fun story that did have some nice moments.

Triplets Find a Mom by Annie Jones

//published 2012//

This one was so bad that I had to DNF about halfway through.  I just can’t put my finger on what wasn’t working with this story.  It was like chunks of it were missing.  The story wasn’t bad, but the writing was honestly just kind of terrible.  The characters didn’t make a lot of sense, and everyone was just sort of milling around.  The concept was engaging and the setting was nice, but it was just so random and abrupt that I couldn’t get into the story at all.  It was just…  I don’t know.  For instance, Sam is a widower and he has triplet daughters.  Polly meets these girls for literally like 30 seconds.  She sees them the next day, and knows which one is which, despite the fact that they’re identical.  Like, just because Polly herself is a twin didn’t make me buy the concept that she magically can tell these identical girls apart immediately.  Sam has this weird thing about dogs that made zero sense, so when Polly finds a stray, she is determined to find another home for it because she doesn’t want to ‘bother’ the girls…???  It was just stuff like that all the time.  It felt like something was going to happen, and then there is just some weird thing out of nowhere instead.

Close to Home by Carolyn Aarsen

//published 2009//

Probably my favorite out of the batch (although that isn’t saying much).  Jace and Dodie were a good couple, and I appreciated the way that some sensitive topics were handled well.  However, it took waaaaaaaayyyyyyy too long for Dodie to freaking TALK TO JACE.  Like ONE CONVERSATION is all that needs to happen, and it dragged out way too long before that took place.

I was also a little uncomfortable with the concept that Dodie was ‘wasting her life’ because she hadn’t gone to college or pursued a career.  As someone who did go to college but has not pursued a career, and has worked part time random jobs very contentedly my entire life, I felt vaguely insulted.  Guess what, gang?  A career isn’t the only way to find validation and purpose in life!  Anyway – 3/5.

The Marriage Mission by Pam Andrews

//published 2010//

This was actually a really pleasant, nice little story.  I liked Mac and Jenny a lot and thought they made a great couple.  However, I was so bothered by the message of this book.  I kept reading because I thought it would actually get resolved in the end – but it really didn’t.

Basically, Mac has been working in foreign missions throughout his adult life.  He has come stateside to a small West Virginia town to accept a year-long post at a local church while he recovers from an improperly-set broken ankle.  There is the possibility that the church will call him to stay on permanently, and there is also a possibility that the mission he’s worked for will call him to another foreign post.  Mac falls for Jenny almost immediately, and the feeling is mutual.  But then it turns into this whole angsty thing about Mac feeling like he can’t ‘impose’ on Jenny by dating her when he isn’t sure if he is going to go back overseas, and Jenny feeling like she isn’t ‘worthy’ to go with Mac if he does go back overseas, yadda yadda yadda.  And what bothered me was that neither of them ever acted like, I don’t know, that if they were a couple they would actually be a team and could work through these things together?!  It was also never explained why Jenny couldn’t go with Mac if he did go overseas.  I feel like basically all the missionaries I know are married, and not all of the spouses went to seminary?  It seemed like Jenny’s compassion, hard-working attitude, and general common sense would make her an excellent missionary’s wife.

In the end, it’s all resolved because Mac decides not to go overseas – which didn’t feel like real resolution to me at all.  Mac never had a conversation with Jenny about whether she would be open to going overseas.  The insistence on the either/or scenario meant that so much of the tension in the book felt entirely contrived.  So 2.5/5 for this one.

The Night Circus // by Erin Morgenstern

Even though I finished The Night Circus two weeks ago, I still am having a lot of feelings, and I doubt that this review will be very comprehensive.  It’s one of those books that is just too magical for reviewing.

//published 2011//

I feel like this book has been on my TBR forever, and when it came in the mail last month, I was quite excited to finally read it!

Recently, I decided to subscribe to receive a monthly book from Mr. B.’s Emporium of Books, because I really do love receiving book boxes, but the truth is that I don’t really read by ‘genre’, and the overwhelming majority of book subscriptions make you choose that way. E.g., I do read a lot of YA, but I don’t usually care for contemporary, angsty YA – I prefer fantasy/sci-fi YA instead.  But subscribing to a YA book box means I end up with contemporary YA, which is alright, but not really something I seek out.  (It’s how I ended up reading that book with the one-armed black skater boy hero a while back.)  All that to say, with Mr. B’s you actually fill out a (lengthy) survey about the books you like (and don’t), and I thought it would be fun to see if they managed to send books I enjoy – and The Night Circus was the first one I received!

This book was… gah, it was just plain magical.  Despite the fact that it involved a lot of ingredients I don’t usually like, I was completely and totally engrossed and did not want to put this book down.  As a general rule, I do not like present-tense narratives and I do not like books that rely on a dated header to tell you where you are in the story (e.g., ‘Associates and Conspirators – London, February 1885’), but this book used both and it only added to the magic.

The descriptions in The Night Circus were amazing.  I absolutely loved hearing about the different displays/acts in the circus.  Morgenstern created a definitive sense of place – the circus became its own character in the story, and it was amazing.  The introduction chapters written in second person should have been annoying, but instead were brilliant.  I was drawn into the story immediately by this method, as I stood waiting in line for the circus to open.

Pacing was excellent – just enough back-and-forth in time to keep the story building in a specific direction without feeling the whiplash of jumping around in time.  I fell in love with all the characters, even the ones I didn’t like.  The story unfolded with the precision of a perfectly-executed song.

For a while, I was nervous about the ending, but I shouldn’t have been, as that was perfect, also.

There were a few annoyances.  A character dies and I didn’t want him to, and Morgenstern has an aggravating tendency to drop French words and phrases throughout without bothering to explain them, even when they are an important part of the story.  But these are minor issues with a book that overall captivated me.

I am quite excited to add this book to my collection, and anticipate rereading it again in the (probably near) future.  All in all, a 5/5 read for me, and one of those few books that possesses genuine magic on every page.

NB – several reviews caused me to add this book to my list, and I’m not sure I have them all but among them – Stephanie’s Book Reviews, The Literary Sisters, Tales of the Marvelous, and The Penniless Bookworm.

Miss Billy trilogy // by Eleanor H. Porter

I’ve had Miss Billy’s Decision on my shelf since 2003, picked up in an antique shop simply because it was written by the author of Pollyanna.  However, I have never gotten around to reading it!  With the help of Goodreads, I discovered that this is actually the second book about Miss Billy, so I was able to purchase the first book, Miss Billy, on eBay inexpensively, and a Kindle version of book three (Miss Billy Married), as hard copies of that one were pushing the $30 range. (!)

All in all, this was was a pleasant collection, but nothing amazing, mostly because Billy wasn’t a super engaging heroine, and Porter did not do a particularly good job with story crafting – the characters just sort of mill around, especially in Miss Billy.

//published 1911//

The story opens with Billy’s aunt dying, leaving her alone in the world.  At age 18, it seemed to me like she should have been able to find a companion and live quietly until her majority at 21 (keeping in mind that these books were published in the early 1900’s), but instead Billy writes to a man she’s never met – a good friend of her father’s, for whom she was named.  William, a widower, lives in a rambling house with his bachelor brothers, Cyril and Bertram.  Each of the brothers has an odd quirk.  Cyril is a monk-like man devoted to his music (specifically piano).  William, since the death of his wife and infant son, focuses on collecting things.  Bertram is an artist famous for painting portraits of young women – ‘The Face of a Girl’.

Through a series of events, when the gentlemen receive Billy’s letter, they do not realize that she is female, and have no real idea how old she is.  They reluctantly agree to take in the waif, since she is, after all, named for William, but when Billy arrives in all her feminine glory, they are cast into disarray!  Of course, it turns out that Billy makes all of their lives brighter and better.  William finds an older female cousin to come live with them and be Billy’s companion/chaperone and everyone is getting along famously until William’s sister Kate (married and in her own house) tells Billy that the brothers used to be super happy until Billy moved in and threw off everyone’s groove.  Devastated, Billy takes Aunt Hannah and moves back to her home town.

The reason that the story was strange was because, first off, Kate is a jerk.  Throughout the next two books, she is the center of all mischief and miscommunications as she is incredibly meddlesome.  Kate’s interference with everything got a bit old after a while, especially since she was absolutely never apologetic, even when she wrecked havoc all around.

Secondly, Billy only lives with the brother for a couple of months.  During that time, her characters comes across more as someone who is 11 or 12, not 18.  She bounds through the house, is boisterous and enthusiastic, and doesn’t really do anything useful.  When she leaves with Aunt Hannah, she doesn’t really explain to the brothers that she isn’t planning to come back, and they spend the rest of the book being incredibly mopey and depressed, and years go by and they only see her a handful of times, as Billy takes off for Europe.  The amount of sadness and loneliness they feel seems incredibly disproportionate to the amount of time Billy actually lived with them.

//published 1912//

The second book is all about Billy deciding which brother to marry, of course.  It’s pretty obvious which one she loves, but Kate comes in with her interfering ways and almost ruins everyone’s lives, and then continues to complain, throughout the rest of that book and well into book 3, that Billy chose the wrong brother and that their marriage will never be successful because Billy didn’t take Kate’s advice and marry the brother Kate thought she suited!  I mean, a bit of sisterly advice is one thing, but Kate’s nagging was ridiculous.

Overall, though, the second book was probably my favorite.  It had the most story and the characters were better developed.

//published 1914//

In book three, Billy starts her married life and is quite happy, until she starts listening to other people/books/articles/etc.  This  book followed a pattern that got old after a while, wherein Billy latches onto some quirky bit of advice and then follows it obsessively.  E.g., she reads an article that says that young wives need to let their husbands basically ‘do their own thing’ and wives should continue to follow their own personal interests as well.  This advice made perfect sense, but Billy takes it to extremes by acting completely indifferent towards her husband (all while internally sighing at how much she misses him) and kind of blowing him off all the time, leaving him confused by a wife who no longer seems interested in spending time with him.  Of course, they always resolve things and are happy again – until the next time someone gives Billy some advice.

Then the baby is born, and the book took a decided turn for the worse.  I genuinely wanted to shake Billy, who became obsessed with the baby, completely ignoring her husband.  Constantly reading books on child-rearing, she insists on doing everything by the book and on the clock, with the baby receiving specifically allotted amounts of time for napping, playing, etc.  It was fine at first, but this dragged on for SO long.  What I really couldn’t believe was that Aunt Hannah didn’t step in and give Billy the talking-to she really needed.

In the end, I still wasn’t completely convinced that Billy had grasped the concept of balance.  While everything seemed to be going well when the story ended, I could definitely see Billy reading some other article and becoming just as annoying as ever.

These were perfectly fine and enjoyable books, with some delightful bits here and there.  But I just never really liked Billy all that well – she never felt like a very real person – and her tendency to obsess over one thing and really agonize over it got old for me.  A 3/5 for this little series, but it probably isn’t one I’ll reread.