October Minireviews – Part 2

So this wraps up the October reviews… however, as usual, I’m reading like a fiend in December.  So will I actually be caught up on reviews on the end of the year so I can start 2022 with a fresh slate???

UPDATE: I wrote most of this post before Christmas and then, as usual, dropped off the face of the blogging planet LOL So I probably will NOT be caught up on reviews by the end of the year, but such is life!

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 Third Victim by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 2018//

I’ve really enjoyed a lot of Margolin’s legal thrillers, and this was another solid entry, even if it wasn’t particularly outstanding.  Part of the problem was that I found out that this is actually the first book in a series, and it had that flavor of “setting things up” that sometimes interfered with the pacing of the actual story.  As usual, Margolin’s MC is a defense attorney, and I really like how he presents them as such a necessary and important part of our legal system.  Even if it means that they sometimes are defending people who have committed horrible crimes, our country allows everyone to receive a trial and places the burden of proof on determining that someone is guilty, not determining that they are innocent. While this one was a little slow in spots, it was still a solid read, and I can definitely see myself reading more of the Robin Lockwood series in the future.

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This one has been on my TBR for quite some time, and I finally got around to reading it.  Apparently it is also a prequel for a series, but while I found this one to be a decent read, it somehow just didn’t jive with enough to want to read the rest of the series.  A murder occurs in the neighborhood where a detective lives, so he is drawn into the murder investigation.  But the detective himself killed a man once and got away with it… it’s an interesting premise and it was a decent story, but it was also kind of a downer somehow, just a depressing feel to the whole story.  Plus, there were loads of birding terms, but thankfully since this was somehow my second British mystery focused on birders in the same month (I mean, what even) I had already done some research!

Real-Life Organizing by Cassandra Aarssen – 3.5*

//published 2017//

This was a nice, if somewhat basic, home organization book.  It was mildly aggravating because she basically complains that all Marie Kondo wants to do to organize is get rid of stuff, but then spends half the book telling you to get rid of stuff.  And actually I do agree that unloading little-used items is the key to making your home more organized, spacious, and comfortable, it was just annoying because Aarssen acted like it was so ridiculous to expect people to do that… and then expects people to do that.  Whatever.

Anyway, she did have a few tips that I really liked.  One of them was assessing areas you want to organize with a problem/solution mindset – so looking at a dresser and determining what is wrong (sock drawer is overflowing, there is always clutter on top, area is poorly lit, can never find the tshirt I want, etc) and then coming up with an individual solution for each issue.  So instead of just “organize dresser” you end up with some specific action items that will address the specific problems keeping the dresser disorganized (get rid of 10 pairs of socks, find a basket to organize clutter, add a lamp, fold tshirts a different way, etc).

Another tip was to use photographs – for one, taking pictures of areas around your house and then looking at them to determine what is actually clutter.  She talks about how we easily become “blind” to items that have been sitting around for a while, but looking at a photograph often helps us see those problem areas more clearly.  Another use for photographs was for “sentimental clutter” – i.e., someone in the book (I can’t remember who, it’s been a while) had some sort of collection (salt and pepper shakers maybe??) that people had given her over the years – as with so many things, once people find out you collect something, they love to keep giving it to you haha But at some point, those items can become something of a burden, but you hate to get rid of them because you remember the people who gave them and the occasions that led to the gifting.  Aarssen’s suggestion was to take photographs and to actually make a photo book of them, which can include captions that tell the story behind them, and then you can get rid of the physical items that no longer fit what you need in your life.  It doesn’t mean you have to purge the entire collection, but it can be a way to find balance between cherishing the sentiment behind the gifts and clearing away some everyday clutter.

A final tip from this book that actually made good sense to me was to identify the “prime real estate” of different areas of your house.  These are spots that are easily accessible.  So often, when we move into a house, we just put things away and then leave them there forever, even if it doesn’t match how we end up using the space.  By shuffling things around so that things you use everyday are in cupboards and drawers that you can get to easily, those items are much more likely to be put away whenever you finish with them.

All in all, there wasn’t a load of groundbreaking stuff here – it was a library book that I didn’t feel like I needed to add to my personal collection – it was still a worthwhile read.  There were also a lot of good tips for organizing playrooms/children’s areas that didn’t apply to me but sounded like they made sense, so the book may hold more value to individuals with little ones at home.

Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys – 2.5*

//published 2017//

This is another one that’s been on my TBR for several years, but in the end, although I got through it, I never really got on with this book.  In September 1939 Lily boards a ship heading for Australia where she is going to be work in domestic service for a few years.  The setting on board a ship with so many people of different classes and countries, all on the brink of a world war, was quite interesting.  The first chapter is at the end of the journey, and we know someone has been arrested for murder.  Then we go back to the beginning of the journey.  I kept waiting for something thriller-ish to happen, or for someone to get knocked off, or SOMETHING, but instead everyone just has a lot of feelings, many of which felt rather inconsistent.  I never really cared for or about Lily, and in the end the big reveal just… no, thank you.  It was a big eye-roll for me and honestly felt like a cheat.  It wasn’t a terrible read, and the setting was done really well, but it was SO slow that I felt like I was never going to finish it.

Well-Matched by Jen DeLuca – 3*

//published 2021//

This is the third in DeLuca’s romantic series that is centered around one town’s Renaissance Festival.  I’ve really enjoyed the first two books and was actually interested to read this story since I’ve always liked both April and Mitch.  However, April just honestly came across as a bit of a bitch in this one.  She’s a single mom and her daughter is getting ready to graduate high school and go to college.  April put her personal plans “on hold” when she had her daughter, and one of the biggest decisions she made was living in a small town instead of moving to the Big City to pursue her Career (yes, the capital letters are warranted because of how much time she spends talking about this).  And like, this is fine, and it’s fine that April is excited about the next stage of her life, but I cringed SO many times because of how excited she acted about all of this when her daughter was around.  Her daughter, who we’re told hasn’t even turned 18 yet, and is only going to college, not actually starting her own life/moving into her own house, has not actually graduated high school yet, and all April can talk about is how excited she is that she’s “finally” going to be an empty-nester, that she can “finally” sell their house and get out of town, that she can “finally” live in the city where things are awesome, that she can “finally” do all these things that apparently her daughter has just kept her from doing and it felt so cruel to me, especially when April would be all petty that her daughter wasn’t also excited.  Yeah, it’s crazy that your daughter isn’t thrilled that her home base is now not going to be in her hometown with her friends and family, but she shouldn’t be worried because you’ll have a “spare room” in your new place for her on breaks.  Just.  Ugh.  Plus, April spends all this time justifying things like not knowing her daughter’s teachers’ names and not really knowing what all activities she was involved in and not going to her extracurricular stuff because April was “so busy” providing for them… and I’m pretty sure that if it was a single father saying those things everyone would be up in arms because he was putting his job ahead of his family or something, but April’s just been “doing her best” and we should all be proud of her!  So brave!

It’s especially annoying because I didn’t actually dislike April in the other two books, but here DeLuca decided to turn the bitch up to about 11 and it REALLY brought down my overall enjoyment.  Mitch, however, rescued the story because he’s perfect and I loved him and I’m so sorry that he’s ending up with April.

My last complaint about this book?  Basically every adult having a conversation specifically about how having children is just, ugh, so much work and kind of gross and interferes with everything and why would anyone do that, like it’s okay for you, I guess, but that’s because you’re kind of weird and don’t have any REAL life plans.  The amount of unnecessary conversations about how having children is super lame really got on my nerves a lot.  And maybe that was my problem with this book in a more succinct form – it felt borderline anti-children, as though NOT having children is the natural thing to do, and having them is something only weird lame-o people with no other plans do.

I’m sure I’ll still read any books that DeLuca adds to this series because I have enjoyed them overall, and this one still had its funny and enjoyable moments, but I won’t be rereading this one because I don’t ever want to listen to April complain about how her daughter low-key ruined her life – to her daughter’s face! (but don’t worry, because we actually have had a lot fun even though it’s literally not what I wanted to have happen to me at all!) – again.

Snow White & Rose Red by Patricia Wrede – 3.5*

//published 1989//

Another 3.5* read to round out October.  I really love Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series and the Cecilia books she co-wrote with Caroline Stevermer, but some of her other books just lack that humor that makes those reads magical.  This wasn’t a bad book by any means, but it’s just a very straightforward retelling of the original fairytale, set in Elizabethian times to give it some historical flavor.  A book I enjoyed but don’t see myself rereading.

The Shadow of the Bear

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by Regina Doman

Published 1997

Someone, and I can’t remember who (SO BAD at remember who recommends books to me!  I’m sorry!), recommended this series of fairy tales retold to me.  The Shadow of the Bear is the first and is a modern-day retelling of Snow White and Rose Red.  I’ve actually always really liked that fairy tale, and was excited to see someone paying attention to it.

Doman tells a story without magic, yet a story that is still most definitely a fairy tale.  I really, really enjoyed this book, and am looking forward to reading the rest in the series.

One of the things I especially loved was the way that the beginning of each chapter was a quote from the original fairy tale – that really added context and helped the reader to see the parallels between the original story and Doman’s version.  The story was well-paced and the characters were engaging.

The author is obviously a Catholic, and her conservative viewpoints come through strongly in her writing.  However, she isn’t obnoxious about it, and there are no “preachy” sections.  I would be thrilled to find more YA Christian fiction like this, as I think that Doman has struck an excellent balance between allowing her characters to naturally discuss their religion (and the morals thereof) without making the book into a theology lesson.  I also think that the story is strong enough that non-Christian/non-religious readers will also find it enjoyable and intriguing, which, for me, is the hallmark of good fiction: are the story and characters strong enough that even someone who completely disagrees with the author’s viewpoint can still enjoy them?  (e.g., I obviously have a lot of disagreements with Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody books, but the story/characters are strong enough to keep me reading anyway)  For Doman’s tale, I think the answer is yes.

Sometimes the writing does get a little …  flowery? … for me (one scene where they’re getting on the subway and one of the characters goes off on this thing about how these underground trains remind her of dragons yadda yadda and, I don’t know, it just felt a bit over-the-top with this poetical description in the midst of the conversation; on the other hand, the character has a bit of an overly-dramatic personality, so in a way it fit, lol) but overall the story moves briskly.

Excellent read, 4/5.