February Minireviews – Part 1

February was a really low reading month for me.  I read a few books that were kind of downers and took me a while to get through.  But hopefully that means I can catch up on reviews a little faster!!!

Edit: I wrote most of this post literal weeks ago but… life has just been crazy!! This is my busiest time of year, plus we are working on our crazy bathroom/closet/laundry room remodel still lol But since I know you all are quite interested to hear what I was reading back in February – and considering I already wrote the post but just never got around to putting the pictures in – here you go!!

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.

1984 by George Orwell – 4.5*

//published 1949//

What.  Even.  This is one of those classics that I had never read because it just sounds so dang depressing.  But, current life in this country being what it is, I thought maybe it was time to set aside my prejudices and and read it – and I have no regrets because it was SO GOOD.  Yes, it’s incredibly depressing – but that’s also kind of the point.

This is definitely a book that you read and while you’re reading it, you assume that your political opposition = the government from 1984 – like I can see both conservatives and liberals thinking that the opposite are the ones who best represent everything that is creepy about the politics in this book.  That said… we all know I’m conservative, so it’s probably no surprise that I could see a lot of parallels between the Party and certain groups here at home who find it necessary to rewrite books, “cancel” everything that doesn’t fit their strict narrative, tear down all statues of historical figures they don’t like, and try to get us to ignore basic biological facts because, you know, 2+2=5.

But even beyond this, in many ways this book transcends political differences as well, reminding us of what happens when we, as a people, allow the government to have complete and total control over our lives.  To me, the warnings in 1984 are beyond “don’t let such-and-such party be in charge of your government” – it’s “don’t let ANY government take away your basic human rights.”  And no matter what side of the fence you’re on, if you don’t have a big problem with our freedoms and privacies being swiftly eroded, well, maybe it’s time for you to read 1984 as well.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams – 3*

//published 2019//

This was a book I’d had on my list for quite a while, so I was really looking forward to a lighthearted romcom when I picked it up.  (I needed a little 1984 contrast!)  Unfortunately, this one just didn’t live up to the hype for me.  The idea is that the main character is having marital issues with his wife, who feels neglected and uncherished.  Yearning to recapture the romantic magic they had when they were first together, Gavin turns to his buddies for advice – and finds out that they have a secret book club wherein they, all men, read romance novels and then try to apply the lessons on love they find there to their relationships.  It’s a super fun concept, but it just fell really flat for me.

My main issue – it’s obvious that both Gavin AND his wife (Thea) have problems, but the entire book is all about how EVERY problem in their marriage is 100% Gavin’s fault – Thea has been PERFECT the entire time.  Gavin spends the entire book groveling, begging, pleading, and kissing Thea’s feet, only for her to repeatedly shrug him off and basically say it isn’t good enough.  And you know, it’s one thing to say that if it’s just you and another person involved, but Gavin and Thea have daughters, and it just made me SO angry when Thea kept blowing Gavin off because “it’s better for the girls to have no father than one who isn’t really committed” and a bunch of other BS.  Thea also has a sister who I genuinely wanted to thrown down a flight of steps.  She’s a complete bitch and half the reason Thea was so reluctant to take Gavin back was because Thea’s sister basically kept telling Thea she wasn’t “allowed” to forgive Gavin because what he did was “unforgiveable.”  (Please keep in mind that Gavin DID NOT EVEN KIND OF CHEAT ON HIS WIFE – his “unforgiveable” offense was… being busy with his job… earning a lot of money… for Thea and his girls… and the freaking sister who LIVES WITH THEM)  There were times that Thea would soften towards Gavin and then her sister would just go off on Thea about how she “doesn’t need a man” and she just needs to be “strong” for the “sake” of the girls, yadda yadda.  The sister was a HORRIBLE person and I despised her – she honestly made it hard for me to even get through this book.  There’s also the part where the men’s book club chapters are basically the guys just sitting around reeling off feminist platitudes about “toxic masculinity” etc.  So boring, and completely unrealistic.  Honestly, this entire book felt like the author had never had a conversation with an actual man in her entire life. Finally, it’s a sexy-times book, which I’m sometimes okay with, but this was one of those stories where that aspect just permeated the entire narrative, like Gavin finds out that Thea’s been “faking it” their entire marriage and it’s this whole involved thing (and I’m sorry, but is it really Gavin’s fault that he hasn’t been “satisfying” his wife if his wife freaking has been lying THE WHOLE TIME?!?!) that just kept going on and on and I frankly did not care and did not want details.

So… a weak 3* because there were some funny moments and I like the concept.  I also liked poor Gavin although I felt like he deserved better and also I feel sorry for anyone with a sister-in-law as obnoxious as Thea’s sister.  But this one definitely wasn’t a win for me, and although at the time I had the next books in the series out from the library, I flipped through them and decided to send them back without bothering to read them – especially since the second book was about the horrible sister!

The Big Six by Arthur Ransome – 4*

//published 1940//

I’m still working my way through the Swallows & Amazons books.  This wasn’t my favorite in the series – possibly the first time I’ve given one of these books less than 5* – but it was still a lot of fun.  My main problem with this one is that someone is casting off boats on the river and three of the local boys (members of the Coot Club from an earlier book) are getting blamed for it.  It just seemed painfully obvious who had the motive to do this (hint: not the boys who were getting blamed for it) so I was really frustrated/stressed by the adults in this story who were being so mean to the boys throughout the story.  I don’t like it when people are getting in trouble for something they didn’t do, so since that was a big part of this story, it bothered me.  I will say that the boys’ parents actually did believe the boys were innocent, though, so I appreciated that part of it.

While I didn’t love this one, it was still an overall really enjoyable story with adorable characters – I genuinely am loving these books!!

A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell – 3.5*

//published 2019//

While this wasn’t the best thriller I’ve ever read, it was the first thriller I had read in a while and I’d kind of forgotten the way a decent one can just suck you in and refuse to let you do anything else with your life besides find out what happens.  In this one, Caroline (who is super rich) finds out her husband is having an affair.  She goes to a local dive bar and ends up having a one-night stand with the bartender.  For Caroline, it’s just a one-off.  For Aidan, it’s much more, as he becomes obsessed with her and begins stalking her… or does he?  The first half/two-thirds of the book is told from Caroline’s first-person perspective and Aidan’s third-person perspective, but while what they have to say about different events is mostly the same, they differ at critical moments, leaving the reader unsure which of them is lying.  When a Big Event occurs, the narrative switches to straight third person. I did figure out what was going on, but it was pretty close to the end when I did, and there were still had some details that I hadn’t worked out.  If you read a lot of thrillers, this one may not bring anything fresh to the table, but if you’re like me and you only pick them up from time to time, this one was pretty entertaining.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – 3.5*

//published 2018//

This was a reread for me – I read this one back in 2018, and you can read my more detailed review from that time here.  I did like it a little better this time around, but I still just don’t love this one.  Most of my criticisms from my original reading still stand – this book is unrelentingly depressing; the romance between two of the main characters is really underdeveloped, leaving me confused about why I’m supposed to hope they end up together; there are way too many different voices; having the story center around a Jewish family means that the story is somehow too rooted in our real world instead of a fictional one, which makes the rhythm of the story feel weird to me; and the women in this story all end up betraying someone throughout the course of the tale, adding to the overall downer tone of the story.  It’s not a bad book, and so many people really love it.  There is loads of gorgeous writing, and the concept is fantastic.  But in the end, this book just isn’t magical to me.

Spinning Silver // by Naomi Novik

//published 2018//

Although published in 2015, I didn’t get around to reading Novik’s first book, Uprooteduntil last year.  It was incredibly magical, and was one of my favorite reads of the year.  This also meant that I didn’t have to wait very long for Novik’s sophomore novel, Spinning Silver, which came out this summer.  While this book didn’t quite live up my expectations (which were very high, thanks to Uprooted), it was a stirring and  beautiful story in its own right – just not exactly what I had been expecting.

I think the biggest difference between the two books, and the reason that I just can’t rate Spinning Silver as highly as Uprooted, is that Spinning Silver just isn’t a very happy book.  Every single one of the narrators (and there are three main ones, plus several chapters from a handful of others) has had a terrible, difficult life, and they’re basically convinced that they have nothing else to look forward to.  While the narrator of Uprooted was essentially an upbeat lady, always trying to make the best of her situation and always convinced that there was a way to save everyone, the narrators in Spinning Silver come from desperately difficult situations and are resigned to the fact that sacrifices, even of lives, will have to be made for the greater good.  The three main characters each betray someone in the course of the story, and while it can definitely be argued that they owed nothing to the people they betrayed and thus were justified, it doesn’t change the tone of the story, which is that betrayal and sacrifice are sometimes just what has to happen.

It wasn’t exactly that every page was drudgery, but there was just a lot of heavy stuff to deal with. Horrific poverty, prejudice, cruelty, abuse, demon-possession, kidnapping, murder, forced marriage, etc.  Adding tot he mix that the main narrator, Miryem, is Jewish, it kind of read like historical fiction with a bit of magic thrown in, and the historical fiction part wasn’t very happy.

My understanding is that Novik is Jewish, and I’m sure she is very well qualified to write Miryem’s character, but somehow the Jewishness of Miryem didn’t exactly fit with the tone of the story in my mind.  Miryem herself was an excellent heroine, and her Jewishness was a part of that and it was fine, but it was also the only thing really anchoring this story into my world versus setting it someplace completely fictional, and I think maybe that was why it felt strange??  I’m just not sure.  It may have also been because Miryem’s character felt like Novik was not-completely-subtly trying to constantly make a point about the persecution of Jews through the ages.  Again, not a bad point to make, and it’s a point that is completely true and justified, but it didn’t always fit with the flow of the story.

The multiple-narrators aspect of the story mostly worked.  Honestly, the voices between the characters weren’t super different – where they were and what was happening was what set them apart from one another, not necessarily the way they talked/thought.  One of the characters is supposedly very uneducated and poor and comes from a horrifically abusive background, yet her voice sounds basically the same as Miryem’s, who comes from a loving family and is much more widely-traveled and well-read.  The third main narrator is the daughter of a lord and has grown up in a much more refined setting, yet again she sounds basically the same as the other two girls.  I guess most of the time, if there need to be more than two narrators to keep the story flowing, it just seems like the story ought to be written in third person instead.

I’ve spent a lot of time whining about this book, yet it was still an easy 4* read for me.  The story itself is good, and the writing is excellent.  I genuinely felt cold while I was reading this book about the ever-lengthening winter.  And while I would have preferred to hear from the main characters in the third person, I still found them likable.  Despite their horrible backgrounds and current situations, all three of the main heroines are strong and determined to do what is right, no matter the cost.  They have a strong loyalty to family and community and are willing to do whatever it takes to protect the ones they love.

I would have liked to have had an epilogue of some kind.  While it’s implied that everyone’s lives are going to be a bit better going forward, it would have been nice to have seen that, at least briefly, considering how long I had to spend wallowing in their misery.  The love story aspects of the tale were definitely a bit rushed.  Towards the end of the book, Novik skips a multiple-month period, glossing over it in just a few paragraphs.  Yet that’s the exact time frame that two of the characters are genuinely coming to know and love each other.  Consequently, the lovey conclusion between the two feels a bit thin.

All in all, I do recommend this book.  And I think that I’ll actually like it better on a reread, now that I know where things are going.  Part of my discontent with this story was definitely because of the overall tone being so much darker than Uprooted, and I wasn’t ready for that.  Now that I know what to expect, I think that I can appreciate the other aspects of the story more fully.  While Spinning Silver wasn’t an instant classic for me like Uprooted was, it is still a solid, well-written tale with sympathetic characters and an engaging story that I fully intend to reread in the future.