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.

September Minireviews – Part 2

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.

Still working on September reads – life continues to be crazy at the orchard. Apples everywhere!!!

Hunted by Megan Spooner – 3.5*

//published 2017//

This was a book that it seemed like I should have liked more than I did. A somewhat Beauty & the Beast retelling set in a Russia-ish country with lots of snow and atmosphere and a likable main character. But somehow I just didn’t find this book magic. I think part of it is because of this weird thing in the epilogue where the author is basically like, “Oh, they didn’t actually get married, they just like living together and why would they get married?” It was presented very strangely, and especially considering the time period/culture in which this story is set it came across as a very jarring and odd way to end the story.

My sister read this one as well, and when we were discussing it, she hit the nail on the head – throughout the story, the main character is looking for some sort of truth/purpose… and she never actually really finds it. As a Christian, I think that truth and purpose can be known, but Spooner’s conclusion seemed to basically be that the best we can hope for is to be somewhat happy (and apparently maybe find someone to live with that we mostly like). The entire background philosophy of this book just didn’t really jive with my personal philosophy, so I didn’t get along with this story the way I wanted to.

I’m making it sound pretty negative, but I actually did enjoy this book while I was reading it, and there’s a lot of good story here. If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, you’ll probably like this one, but for me it definitely didn’t fall into the “instant classic” category.

Secret Water by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1939//

I love these books so hard, even if they are making me feel discontent with my own childhood, which I used to think was perfect. But was it really perfect?? MY parents never dropped me off on an island with my siblings and a pile of supplies and a sailboat, leaving us to explore our surroundings for a week! I mean, seriously. Did they even love me??

The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1930//

I thought I had read all of Christie’s mysteries, but this one didn’t seem even remotely familiar to me. A collection of short stories, the main character is really an elderly man named Mr. Satterthwaite. In each story, Mr. Quin appears (usually mysteriously) and helps Mr. Satterthwaite think through a situation and solve a mystery, sometimes a cold case. While these weren’t my favorite Christie stories by any means, they were still enjoyable and engaging to read. The reader is left with the impression that Mr. Quin may be some type of supernatural being, but I honestly appreciated the fact that Christie never addressed it or tried to explain him. Mr. Quin just was. While I wouldn’t start with this one if you’ve never read Christie, if you already enjoy her stories you’ll probably find these engaging as well.

Thorn by Intisar Khanani – 4*

//published 2020//

This book was a retelling of The Goose Girl, and was overall well done. The main character (who becomes known as Thorn) was a bit too passive for my taste – things tended to happen to her throughout the story. Also, if you’ve read the original fairytale you know the fate of Falada, yet I felt like I really got to know Falada in this story, so I kept hoping that fate wouldn’t occur… but it did. I was SO sad.

While this wasn’t one I see myself reading again and again, I enjoyed it as a one-off read and definitely recommend it, especially if you’re into fairytale variations like I am.

Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff – 2.5*

//published 1998//

This was one of my traveling book club books for September, and I somewhat struggled to get through it. The set-up is interesting: Claire is a being known as a Keeper – technically human (ish) but with, well, cosmic powers that enable them to keep the dark side from breaking through into our realm. (It’s been a few weeks since I finished this one, so that may not be exactly correct, but close enough.) Keepers are “summoned” simply by the draw of the need, so Claire finds herself in a small B&B in southern Ontario and ends up stuck there, guarding a literal portal to hell and trying to figure out how to close it again.

There were aspects of this book – like the talking cat – that I really enjoyed, but for a book that includes a portal to hell, it was puh-retty slow moving. Claire spends most of her time thinking about how amazing she is because she’s a Keeper, trying not to flirt with the guy who works as the B&B because he’s too young for her (he’s like 20 and she’s almost 30… again, something like that… and it really did feel uncomfortable, not because of the woman being older, but just because that’s a genuinely large age-gap at those ages, and Claire’s interest in this guy was almost purely physical, so it was all about her thinking how hot he was followed by “oh he’s too young for me” which really just emphasized how uncomfortable the entire thing was), and trying not to flirt with the other guy because he’s actually a ghost (except apparently Keepers literally can give ghosts a physical form for just a short period of time… just so they can have sex with them??? This also just came across as bizarre and uncomfortable rather than funny like it seemed like the author was trying to do). So not only was I stuck reading about a love triangle, I was stuck reading about a love triangle where all the people in it were extremely cringey and weird. Plus, I just never did end up liking Claire, who was really stuck on herself.

Way too many things were left unexplained or just didn’t make sense (sometimes Claire can just manipulate the physical world to do whatever she wants, but then things will happen and she’ll act like she can’t fix them or change them, and I just never could understand what the rules were, or even if there were rules), and the “romantic” interactions between Claire and the two guys were just ugh. While this wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, it most certainly did not inspire me to continue with the series.

July Minireviews – Part 1

Hey friends!!  Here I am with book reviews in July for books I actually read in July!!  Will wonders never cease!

Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene – 3*

//published 2018//

For a week or two in early July I was trying the thing where I read multiple books at once.  It worked at the time to get through a few books I was struggling to finish (“rewarding” myself with chapters from the books I actually like weirdly helps me haha), but I’ve noticed that when I do this thing where I read one chapter at a time and then read a chapter from the next book, and then a chapter from the next book, I frequently end up finishing books I would normally just bail on.  Amber & Dusk was a great example.  This book was DEADLY slow.  Like, indescribably slow.  Literally NOTHING was happening except for the main character whining.  But part of me didn’t completely notice because I was only reading one or two of the very short chapters at a time.  But I got about 2/3 through this book and suddenly thought, What has actually happened in this story, anyway?!  And the answer was… basically nothing!  The last handful of chapters were suddenly jammed with action, incredibly rushed, didn’t really make a whole lot of sense, and then suddenly the book was over?!  I was, frankly, incredibly underwhelmed by this story.  The world-building itself was also very weak, I never really got any sense of where they were or what life was like for regular people.  This whole “overthrow the evil ruler” bit was… okay?  I guess?  But there is literally no real direction on what’s going to happen once she’s gone, and I wasn’t particularly impressed with the queen’s replacement, who spent basically the entire book whining and complaining about how she “deserved” so much more from life… not exactly qualities I look for in a rebel leader.  So.  Whatever.  Originally I went ahead and checked the sequel out of the library thinking I would just see what happened, but when that book actually got here I realized I literally didn’t care, so I just sent it back.  Three stars is somewhat generous, but I mean I did actually finish the book, and there were a few characters that I liked, and moments of creativity, so I decided to round up a little.

Finding Home by Irene Hannon – 4*

//published 2012//

This one is a loose sequel to Seaside Reunionand since I happened to own both, I went ahead and read this one.  Set in the same town with some overlapping characters, Finding Home was a perfectly happy little romance, even if it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking.  Honestly, I didn’t take any notes on this one and can’t remember much about it… so, pleasant but forgettable apparently haha

We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1937//

Book Seven of the Swallows & Amazons series did not disappoint in any way.  I’m better than halfway through this series now, and honestly am already thinking about rereading them whenever I’m done.  I love these books!  In this one, the four original Swallows accidentally end up in the North Sea, in a manner that actually feels like it could really have happened.  This one was a bit more action-oriented than some of the others, and even though there was a giant coincidence that helped bring everything together, even the coincidence didn’t feel terribly unlikely, so I was willing to roll with it.  Another absolutely delightful addition to this series.

As a side note, I’m only missing one book to complete my set of Jonathan Cape editions.  I absolutely love these hardcovers – they are a pleasure to read and have the most delightful endpaper maps!!

The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie – 4.5*

//published 1929//

This was a reread for me, but it’s one of my favorites.  It’s a little over-the-top, but that’s part of the reason that I love it.  A loose sequel to The Secret of Chimneysseveral of the characters overlap, including the intrepid Bundle, who makes a lovely, no-nonsense heroine.  This is more of a spy thriller than a straight mystery, so if you don’t like Christie’s campier style, this one isn’t for you.  However, I found it to be an absolutely delight – her humor is so strong throughout this one that it almost feels like a Wodehouse!

I also read this one back in 2016, so if you want a few more thoughts, that review can be found here.

Byrony & Roses by T. Kingfisher – 3.5*

//published 2017//

As you may be able to guess from the title, this is a retelling of Beauty & the Beast.  In this version, there is no father – the story opens with Bryony getting lost and finding herself at the castle.  She personally bargains with the Beast to come back and stay with him.  This was an okay version – some of it was interesting and different – I loved the malevolent magic hovering over everything.  However, Bryony adjusted to the fact that the Beast was a Beast basically immediately.  The Beast himself is a victim, rather than someone who needs to learn a lesson, so he doesn’t really have a lot of character development and is always studiously polite and helpful, making it difficult to even picture him as a Beast.  But my biggest beef with this story is that Bryony is obsessed with her garden to an unhealthy degree – as in, when she goes back to visit her sisters, she spends a few hours “fixing” her garden before going in to see her sisters?!?!  Like, oh she’s been gone for weeks and weeks and weeks and has no idea what’s going on with her actual family, but she’s sidetracked by weeds in the garden and decides to take care of them first?!?!?!  And that was not the only instance of her literally thinking that a garden was more important than people.  It felt strange and unnatural, and did not particularly endear me to Bryony – and I say this as someone who really enjoys gardening!

So, in the end, like so many other books I’ve read lately, a perfectly fine one-off read, but not anything that made me want to rush off and see if Kingfisher has written anything else.

May Minireviews – Part 1

Oh look, every time I think I’m gong to get caught up – I stop posting for days!!!  Things are legit quieting down at work now, so I’m super excited about my little summer break between greenhouse work and orchard work.  Loads of things to catch up on!!  In the meantime, some random thoughts on some random books!

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan – 3*

//published 2014//

After mostly enjoying A Natural History of Dragons, I decided to give the second book in the series a try.  Like the first book, Tropic is written as though it is a memoir of Lady Trent, who lives in a Victorian-like era in a different world.  My biggest complaint about A Natural History was that setting this story in a different world felt very laborious for the reader, who now has to try and learn loads of new cultures and countries and languages, when all of that would have been mostly unnecessarily if Brennan had simply set her story in AU England, since that’s the vibe the book had anyway.  Well, I had that same complain about Tropic except even more so.  Literal CHAPTERS of Tropic are spent on history and politics, all of which was utterly boring because it was completely made up.  I just couldn’t bring myself to care at all, and that part of the story went on and on and on and ON.  Where are the dragons????  I asked myself repeatedly while dragging my way through this tale.

The other extremely annoying part about this book was Isabella’s attitude towards motherhood.  At the end of the first book (spoiler here), her husband dies (which was a whole other level of aggravating), but Isabella is pregnant.  When Tropic opens, her son is now a toddler, and Isabella basically finds him to be a huge cramp in her style.  She hires someone else to nanny him, noting, “Is the rearing of a child best performed by a woman who has done it before, who has honed her skills over the years and enjoys her work, or by a woman with no skill and scant enjoyment, whose sole qualification is a direct biological connection?”  Well, thank goodness not everyone’s mother feels this way, my gosh.  She further excuses herself by stating that no one would hold a man to the same standards – one of THE most annoying arguments people craft, as though the fact that Group A doesn’t do X means that rather than changing culture’s expectations to demand more of Group A, instead Group B should be allowed to lower themselves to the same expectations!  Throughout the entire story Isabella refuses to acknowledge any true responsibility as a parent, and frequently sighs over the fact that she has a child at all, and between that and the long, drawn out political aspect of the story, I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to bother finishing.

However, the pace did eventually pick up, bringing my rating up to a rather reluctant 3*.  I already own the third book in the series (I got it as as a set on eBay with Tropic), so I probably will read it someday, but my experience with Tropic didn’t really make me feel like reading it right away.

The Big Four by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1927//

In this Hercule Poirot book, Poirot becomes a bit obsessed with the concept that there is an organization, comprised of four powerful people, slowly undermining the governments/economies of the world.  Poirot is determined to discover the identities of these individuals and bring them to justice, especially the one who does the dirty work, known as the Destroyer, a master of disguise and duplicity.  This book is comprised of several short stories that are all connected by the theme of the Big Four.  Hastings narrates, at times convinced that Poirot is right and other times convinced that he’s seeing shadows.  All in all, while this is one of Christie’s novels that goes a bit over-the-top on the “secret society is taking over the world” theme, it’s still good fun with several twists.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – 5*

//published 1868//

It’s kind of hard to write any kind of review for a beloved classic that has been in print since 1868.  This is one of my all-time favorite books, and I couldn’t believe how long it had been since I had read it!  This is an old-fashioned story for sure, but still has plenty of thoughts and lessons that are both timeless and timely.  I love the themes of sisterhood and family.  While most people seem to view Jo as the protagonist of the story, there is so much time spent with the other sisters and their life lessons as well – Meg is always my favorite.  All in all, this was one trip down memory lane that did not disappoint.

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson – 4*

//published 2020// Bonus – picture of the buffet & shelf Tom built me this spring!! AND Roger Miller’s picture! :-D //

Swanson has become an author whose books I try to read when they come out.  Each one has its own style, and I really like that.  This one is about a guy who owns a bookshop.  At one point, back in the day, he published a blog post about eight perfect murders in fiction – they weren’t necessarily perfect books, but the murders themselves are clever and nearly undetectable.  Now, in the present day, it appears that someone is using his list to kill people.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable mystery with excellent pacing.  The bookshop owner, who is also the narrator, is quite likable, and the way the dominoes fell into place felt realistic.  This book definitely has loads of spoilers for several classic mysteries.  Besides the ones on the list of eight murders, there are a few others, including a few of Christie’s classics.  I definitely recommend looking up the books that are spoiled and making sure none of them are ones that you want to read before reading this book.  However, if you don’t want to read those books, and haven’t read them before, it shouldn’t really reduce your entertainment from this story.  Swanson does a great job of organically explaining the plot of each one in a way that didn’t feel boring or out of place, but meant that I could grasp the way that the classic mystery tied into this one.  I had read a few of the books mentioned, but definitely not all of them, and I never felt lost.  I really appreciated the way that Swanson credited and basically bragged on the classic mysteries he used – the way that he incorporated them felt like it came from a place of genuine admiration and love for those stories, and I liked that a lot.

While I really have enjoyed all the Swanson books I’ve read, this is the first one that I see myself maybe revisiting again someday.  Recommended.

Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1947//

I really don’t know how every book in the Swallows & Amazons series can be just as delightful as the one before it, but here we are!  As always, literally every page is a delight.  This is the sixth book in the series, and I’m not even sure I could pick out a favorite because I have enjoyed each of them so much.  They are simple, funny, and delightful, and I highly recommend them to anyone who has a soft spot for simple stories about children having adventures.

April Minireviews – Part 1

Still catching up on a bajillion reviews!  Now that I’ve checked off February (ha!), it’s on to March!!

Coot Club by Arthur Ransome – 5* – finished March 5

//published 1934//

So it may not come as a surprise to learn that I am still in love with these books!  I’m reading this series very slowly, savoring each one.  I’ve also been purchasing them as I go in the Jonathan Cape editions, which come with amazing end maps that I love.  This story was about a gang of children on a sailing expedition.  I usually think of sailboats (when I think of them, which, if I’m honest, is rarely) in association with large, open bodies of water, but in this story the characters are sailing on a river!  There was loads of adventures and excitement, the most adorable characters, and just so many happy things.  I loved every single page, as always.

Wild Horse Running by Sam Savitt – 4* – finished March 5

//published 1973//

This is another children’s books, and a fairly short read with loads of gorgeous illustrations by the author, who is one of my favorites.  This is a story about a wild horse, and like the countryside the horse roams, the story is a bit sparse.  Although it was choppy at times, Savitt still pulls together a tale that tugs at your heartstrings.  Published at a time – tragically not very long ago! – when it was still legal to pursue wild horses by car and plane, run them to exhaustion, and then ship them off to make dog food, it’s obvious that part of the reason Savitt is writing is to shine a light on this horrific practice, but his writing never feels polemic.  If you like horse stories, than you’ll enjoy this one.  If you don’t, this one probably isn’t for you, as there isn’t a great deal of human interest aspect.

Mystery in the Pirate Oak by Helen Fuller Orton – 3* – finished March 6

//published 1949//

As you may be able to tell, I was on a run of children’s books at the beginning of the month, looking for some light, fast reads.  (Although Coot Club was particularly fast – it was 352 pages and still not long enough for me!)  This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I picked up at a booksale back in 1997!  Considering it’s barely 100 pages long, you think I would have bothered to read it sometime in the last 20+ years, but here we are.  This was overall a pretty average, if someone haphazard story, but what really blew my mind was the historical context – published in 1949, yet the characters’ grandma went west in a covered wagon.  It just never ceases to amaze me how actually close we are to that kind of history.

Watership Down by Richard Adams – 4.5* – finished March 6

//published 1972//

It had been years since I last read this classic, so I was rather excited that one of my group members chose it as her book to mail for #LMPBC (Litsy Markup Postal Book Club – four people in a group – each person picks a book to read and annotate – every month everyone mails whichever book they have to the next person until you get your own back).  Not only did I get the pleasure of reading it, I got to read notes and thoughts from the other members as well, which was super fun!

Anyway, if you enjoy animal stories, you have to read this one.  An epic adventure of a small group of wild rabbits who leave their home warren in search of someplace new.  Like truly great animal tales, the rabbits don’t behave unnaturally, other than their ability to converse with one another. (And who is to say they can’t do that in real life anyway?)  Adams even uses words that are part of the rabbits’ language that are “not translatable” into English, which somehow adds to the authenticity.  While this is an animal story, there is a lot of depth to the characters and world-building, and some thought-provoking lessons as well.

Fallen Into the Pit by Ellis Peters – 3.5* – finished March 8

//published 1951//

Ellis Peters wrote the Cadfael mysteries, which are some of my favorite books of all time.  Fallen Into the Pit is one of her much earlier books, and is a “modern” mystery (set just after WWII, which is when it was published) rather than a historical mystery like Cadfael.  While this was a perfectly enjoyable book, I didn’t love it, or particularly bond with any of the characters.  It was an interesting concept – a look at the way that WWII German POWs were being assimilated into Britain by sending them out to live in small villages.  I think part of the reason that I struggled with this book is because the German is definitely one of the bad guys, and was SUCH a jerk, so in a way it felt like the lesson of the book was that Yes, you SHOULD be paranoid about Germans living among us because they SUCK.  So the whole thing felt vaguely racist against Germans, if that makes sense.  Still, a decent if not stellar mystery, and with a likable enough protagonist that I reserved the next two books in the series from the library.  Of course, they are still there because the libraries have been shut down what feels like years, but someday!

The Last Waltz by Dorothy Mack – 3.5* – finished March 10

//published 1986//

Another paperback out of the box of random Regency romances, this one was set in Brussels rather than England, which was a fun switch.  With Napoleon closing in, the setting was more interesting than the actual story, which was incredibly bland.  Truly nothing unpredictable happened in this book, to the point that I can only vaguely remember it a month later!

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward – 3.5* – finished March 12

//published 2015//

This is the first in a series revolving around a group of (modern) detectives in Derbyshire.  While this was a decent read, it was a bit garbled since one of the characters was doing her own research about the killer at the same time as the police, and it was easy to get confused about which people knew what – something that always frustrates me a little.  There were also SO MANY illegitimate babies.  SO MANY.  Basically every time there was a plot twist, it was because someone had had an unexpected pregnancy, and that got old after a while, especially with the not-so-subtle “if only they could have gotten an abortion at the time all their problems would have been solved!” message.  That’s right, because killing your baby solves all your issues and definitely doesn’t create any others. *eye roll*  Anyway, it was a fine mystery, but nothing about it inspired me to pick up the next book in the series.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold – 3.5* – finished March 15

//published 2015//

Quite a while ago I read another of Arnold’s books, Kids of Appetitewhich I genuinely loved.  I’ve been meaning to read Mosquitoland ever since, so I decided to choose it for one of my #LMPBC picks this round.  While I did like it, it just didn’t have the magic of Kids of Appetite.  In this story, teenager Mim has been forced to move with her dad and stepmom from northern Ohio to Mississippi, leaving her mother behind.  Lately, even letters and phone calls from her mom have stopped coming in, and when Mim overhears part of a conversation between her dad and stepmom, implying that Mim’s mom is sick, she steals some cash from her stepmom, jumps on a Greyhound bus, and starts heading north.  The book is journey, with plenty of adventures throughout.

My two main issues with this book – the first was just that most of it was way over-the-top.  I never really believed that any of these things happened to Mim.  There were way too many coincidences and genuinely ridiculously crazy characters.  While some of the episodes were entertaining, most of them just had me rolling my eyes in disbelief.  The book is very episodic in nature, which added to the overall choppy feel.

My second big issue is just that Mim’s dad didn’t tell her what was really going on with her mom.  Mim is 16, not 6, and there wasn’t really any reason that she shouldn’t have been told the truth immediately.  Literally all of Mim’s problems could have been avoided if her dad had had ONE honest conversation with her – and there was literally no reason for him not to, which I found frustrating.

All in all, Mosquitoland was interesting as a one-time read, and I am definitely curious to get it back in a few months and see what notes my fellow #LMPBC readers have left, as it does have a lot of potential discussion points, but it wasn’t a book that I really bonded with.  I do love the cover, though!

January Minireviews

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.

Almost done with December reviews!  :-D

The Martian by Andy Weir – 4*

//published 2011//

This one has been on my radar for a while, but I’m not usually into “space” books, so I wasn’t sure if I would really like this one.  Set in what appears to be the not-too-distant future, Mark is part of a NASA crew set to land on Mars and spend some time living there, studying the planet.  When an emergency forces the rest of the team to bail, thinking Mark is dead, he becomes the only man on Mars.  Determined to survive and to make it home, the book is a combination of Mark’s journal entries and third-person narration as to what is happening on earth as well.

Like I said, I didn’t particularly have high expectations for this one, and even assumed that it would be a DNF, especially since there were multiple F-bombs on the first page.  However, Mark’s wry sense of humor hooked me almost right away (and the swearing calmed down a lot, too).  I know a lot of reviews actually complain about how Mark is always making humorous remarks, but as someone who survives life by finding something to laugh about, I was here for it.  I did find his almost impossibly bad luck to be a little wearing after a while – every time he would start to get some momentum, something else tragic would happen and we’re back to square one.  I have no idea if any of the sciencey aspects check out, and I frankly skipped a lot of paragraphs that were numbers/explanations, because that ain’t me, but for pure storytelling fun, this one was an unexpected win.

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1933// More importantly – got these gorgeous Jonathan Cape editions from England!! I’m soooo excited!!! //

This is the fourth Swallows & Amazons book, and like the other three, was an absolute delight.  The children are back at the lake where their adventures started, during that awkward period of time after Christmas but before school starts again.  Another pair of children are introduced, so it was fun to see the original group from a slightly outside perspective.  The whole adventure was just so much fun, and really made me want a houseboat.  I can’t recommend these books highly enough.

Northern Lights by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2004//

First off, who names a child Ignatius?!

This was a typical Nora Roberts story – likable characters, engaging plot, too many sexy times.  Nate was a police officer in a big city (can’t remember which one) when his partner was killed, leaving Nate feeling guilty and depressed.  He accepts a position as sheriff in a very small town in Alaska, assuming that the most excitement he’ll face there is the occasional aggressive moose.  However, when a body is discovered in a mountain cave, a disappearance from years ago turns out to be a murder – and Nate believes the murderer is still living in town.

The mystery in this one was extremely well paced, with multiple potential murderers around.  As always, Roberts gives us an incredibly likable protagonist, and plenty of engaging secondary characters as well.  The setting of Alaska – remote, wild, beautiful, dangerous – is drawn very well.  I can’t imagine living somewhere with only a few hours of daylight in the winter!  I loved watching Nate begin to take interest in life again, although, ironically, I felt like the romance was the weaker part of this story overall, as not a lot of connection is built between the two of them before it’s suddenly FOREVER LOVE.  But since I liked both characters, I rolled with it.

Roberts books are always rated Mature, but if you don’t mind skipping a few sexy scenes, there is a lot of good story to go around.

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie – 5*

//published 1924//

On Litsy there is an informal group reading one Christie book per month in published order, and December’s book was this one (we have some discussion questions at the end of the month, which is great fun).  I’ve read all Christie’s books before, but this is a lovely way to revisit them yet again, because they really never get old to me.  The Man in the Brown Suit is honestly one of my very favorites.  It’s absolutely ridiculous, with spies and jewel thieves and tall, dark, mysterious men, but the whole thing is such a rollicking and humorous adventure that I just lap it all up.  I’ve read this one many, many times, but it’s lost none of its charm for me, and I’m still just a little bit in love with Sir Eustace.

Also, I’ve read this one before – here’s my review from 2016 with a smidge more information on the book!

The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle – 3.5*

//published 2018//

I’m sorry if I keep mentioning Litsy, but a lot of my reading activities are somewhat centered there now.  It’s just such a fun, warm community of readers!  Another Litten arranged a group she calls #NewYearWhoDis, where each participant lists out 3-10 of their top books of 2019.  The girl organizing the thing then took the time to sift through everyone’s lists and pair them together with like-minded readers.  The matches traded lists, agreeing to try at least one book from the other person’s list in January.  All that to say, I hadn’t heard of The Storm Keeper’s Island before I saw it on my match’s list.  It’s a middle grade fantasy read and was overall good fun, although there were some minor continuity problems (my favorite is where they’re outside in the middle of a horrific, rainy, windy storm yet somehow manage to light some candles with zero trouble…).  The main problem is that even though this book had a decent ending, there are a lot of lead-ins for the sequel, which my library doesn’t have!  So if any of you have some extra books in this series just lying about, I’d love to borrow them.  :-D

November Minireviews – Part 2

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.

Hey, guess what!   I’m actually reviewing books that I read in November!  Progress!

Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome – 3.5*

//published 1932//

I’m slowly working my way through the Swallows & Amazons series, and LOVED the first two books.   Peter Duck was still adorable and fun, but because it felt a lot less plausible, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much.  I was also confused because in the last book, Swallowdale, Peter Duck was an imaginary character that the children had created a bunch of stories about.  In this book, Peter Duck is a real person that they meet.  I could get behind them finding a real live person with the same name as their imaginary friend, but they NEVER acknowledged a single time that they had ever even heard the name Peter Duck before!  It seems as though there ought to have been at least a paragraph of something like, “Can you believe we’ve found a real live sailor with the same name as our imaginary sailor??”  Still, overall this was a fun one, and also had a great book map, which is kind of my favorite thing in the world.

Birthright by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2003//

This ended up being romantic suspense  that was a surprisingly emotional story, touching on things like adoption, nature versus nurture, what family means, divorce, and second chances.  I couldn’t get completely behind the book because the main character, Callie, was just a smidge too abrasive for my personal taste – her go-to response was just RAGE every time and it got old for me.  But I really liked the way that the love story was between her and her ex-husband, as he is quietly determined to do better the second time around.  This was definitely one of the better reads I’ve pulled out of the random Nora Roberts box, and it’s one I can see myself reading again in the future.  I will say that it’s definitely a mature rating as there is some language and some sexy times, but it was stuff I could skim over for the most part.

They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They? by Patrick McManus – 4*

//published 1977//

McManus is one of those authors that I don’t remember reading for the first time – it’s as though I have always read McManus in the past.  He wrote humorous articles for magazines like Outdoor Life in the 1960’s and 70’s (and beyond), and most of his books are collections of those articles – so short stories, or essays on a topic.  They mostly focus on hunting, fishing, and McManus’s childhood on a small, poverty-stricken farm in the backwoods of Idaho.  Like all collections, some of the stories are stronger than others, but there wasn’t a single one that didn’t make me laugh at least once.  The childhood stories are definitely my favorites, and there is a regular cast of secondary characters, including (my favorite) an old backwoodsman named Rancid Crabtree, who always knows how to accomplish important things, like skinning a skunk or cutting a hole to go ice fishing.  If you’re someone who thinks hunting is barbaric, steer away from McManus at all costs, as you will definitely be offended.  But if you’re a bit of a country person at heart (and have a sense of humor), you should definitely give him a try.  Many of McManus’s life lessons have been imbedded into my family’s philosophy permanently, as he tackles all kinds of hardships with a good-natured dose of self-depreciating humor.

The Phantom Friend by Margaret Sutton – 3* 

//published 1959//

In this installment of the Judy Bolton series, my mind was blown.  The entire premise was that an unethical advertising company was creating television commercials with faint phantom pictures that would cause the viewers to be semi-hypnotized into purchasing what the company was advertising!  Subliminal messaging taken to the next level!  What I don’t know is – was this a serious fear back in 1959??  I can see that it would be, as television was still a very new technology that many people found suspicious.  In many ways, it reminded me of The Secret Benedict Society – can subconscious messages be transmitted into our brains via other technology we are taking in?  Maybe Sutton was onto something, and it’s only our long association with television that has numbed our natural suspicions.  Or maybe the subliminal messaging over the decades has convinced us that television is harmless??  So many questions.

A Regency Rose by Miriam Lynch – 3*

//published 1980//

This one started out at a regular level of 1980’s Regency romance ridiculousness, but then took a sharp turn into the completely implausible, which was disappointing, since I actually did like the characters for the most part.

 

Swallows and Amazons // by Arthur Ransome – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1930//

Do you ever have a book that you barely remember reading as a child, and then you revisit it as an adult and it’s really nothing at all like you remember?  That happens to me from time to time, since I grew up in a reading household.  I started reading at a ridiculously young age, and I was blessed with parents who loved to read to us out loud as well.  Some books, like Wind in the Willows, I only ever hear in my dad’s voice when I’m reading them!

At some point, Dad also read Swallows and Amazons to us, but it didn’t really stick in my memory.  I could only remember a few hazy things – it had something to do with boats, something to do with camping, and when they wanted to say “goodnight” they all said “Drool!  Drool!” which meant “goodnight” in their made up language haha  Otherwise, I didn’t remember much about this 1930 classic.

As an adult, it has been on my lists of reads to revisit for quite some time, and I was surprised to learn that it is actually the first in a series of twelve books!  These stories were originally published in Britain and appear to have been much more popular there.  Sadly, my library only has Swallows and Amazons, but none of the sequels, so if I want to read the rest, I’ll have to invest some cash!  There’s a pretty high probability of that happening, though, because Swallows and Amazons was a delight from end to end.

The story does indeed have something to do with boats and camping.  Four children – John, Susan, Titty, and Roger – are staying with their mother and their baby sister alongside a lake for the holidays.  Their father is in the Navy and his ship is all the way in Hong Kong.  The story begins when the children receive a telegram from their father giving them permission to spend the summer camping on a small, uninhabited island in the lake, which they will be able to access via a lovely little sailboat called the Swallow.  The rest of the book chronicles their adventures as they set up camp and explore the island and the lake, and then run into two sisters, Nancy and Peggy, who man their own little sailboat called the Amazon.  The two sets of siblings are both rivals and compatriots, especially when it comes to the “retired pirate” who lives on a houseboat in a nearby cove.

While this definitely isn’t a story of high drama and intensity, I was completely engaged in all of the adventures.  The children are delightfully independent, and their mother swiftly became one of my favorite characters as well.  She grew up in Australia on the coast, and has plenty of sailing and camping knowledge of her own.  Everyone felt realistic, and I honestly fell in love with literally every character in this story.  Even the “slower” parts, like the children visiting the charcoal burners, were still interesting both in what they added to the story, and what they had to say about the time period and area.  I loved how both the boy and girl characters in this story were equally involved in the adventures.  Yes, Susan was in charge of cooking and other “mothering” aspects of the camp, but all of the girls were just as capable of handling the boats and other more traditionally masculine aspects of the adventure.

All in all, I enjoyed every page of this story, and so ordered a copy of the second book, Swallowdale, on eBay.  I’m quite looking forward to delving into more adventures of this intrepid group of explorers.

Read #5 for #20BooksofSummer!