January 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.

Minireviews for books that I’ve read in the same month that I’m writing the reviews?! This is madness!!

The Secret Quest by Margaret Sutton – 3.5*

//published 1962//

This is my final Judy Bolton book for now.  I’ve really enjoyed revisiting this series, and now own almost all of them.  Maybe someday I’ll find the missing 10ish that I don’t yet own.  I really do love the way these stories build on each other and the characters get older with time.  Judy and her friends are just super likable, and even if some of their adventures are absurd, it’s all in good fun.

Sophia & Augusta by Norma Lee Clark – 4*

//published 1979//

This was a fun little Regency read – always nice to have one where the sisters actually love each other and want to help each other.  It went on just a smidge too long – there was a point where the happy endings could have been handed out, but Clark decided to add ONE MORE TWIST to keep it going for another 40 pages or so, and that was just a bit too much.  But still, overall good fun with likable characters and nothing too crazy.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig – 3*

//published 2017//

I had a tough time with this one, probably because I was reading it at the same time that I was reading Stoner, which sort of made me focus more on the negative, depressing aspects of this story rather than the positive, happy ones.  Basically, the concept is that the main character, Tom, is someone who lives for centuries, rather than decades.  He was born in the 1600’s (I think… it’s been a while since I read this one, may have been late 1500’s lol), and now, in the present day, only looks as thought he is in his mid-40’s.  Quite a long while ago, Tom was approached by a group known as the Albatross Society, comprised of other individuals who live ridiculously long lives.  The goal of the Albatross Society is to collect and protect long-lived individuals, and to make sure that the general public don’t find out that the Albatrosses exist.

So yes, there’s this whole thing of Tom just trying to live a regular life, parts of Tom’s backstory being filled in, and a sense of unease concerning the leader of the Albatross Society.  I had trouble really getting into this book, especially since Tom’s (extremely long) life was mostly depressing.  Also, yes, he’s lived a long time, but he has been a “regular” kind of guy most of the time, so it seemed a bit eye-roll-y that he managed to be friends with lots of famous historical figures.  All in all, while the concept was interesting, I just couldn’t get into it.  I’m also almost completely positive that I either started this book or one very similar to it several years ago and didn’t finish, but can’t remember for sure (it seems like the main character of the other book was Ben??  Does this sound familiar to anyone??).  As for this one – not bad, but not particularly memorable.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1926// I’ve never been to PEI, but Grandma went and brought me back this copy <3 //

Oh wow, this is one of my all-time favorites.  I’ve read and reread this book so many times, and love it more every time.  The story begins on Valancy’s 29th birthday.  She is unmarried and lives with her widowed mother and widowed cousin.  They are not destitute, but are definitely poor, and they are part of a large family “clan” – the kind that has innumerable traditions and rules and not-to-be-missed gatherings.  Valancy has always been rather meek and downtrodden, living in constant fear of offending her relatives.  But when she finds out that she only has a year to live, she realizes that she no longer has anything to fear and begins to live her life the way that she wants.  Which, in 1926 isn’t anything too terribly crazy, but since I ought to have been born in 1897 myself, this book is just at my pace.  Valancy is funny and delightful, and her journey of self-discovery and independence is wonderful.  Her love story resonates with me a great deal as well.  If you’ve never read this book, you definitely should.

And, if you’re interested in more of my gushing about it, I also reviewed it back in 2015.

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith – 4*

//published 2018//

A couple of years ago I read and absolutely loved The Nesting Place by this author.  While I had picked up that book hoping for some advice on home decorating, what I found was a book about contentment and accepting the fact that life isn’t perfect.  It’s a fantastic book that I still pick up and flip through from time to time just for a bit of encouragement.

So, I was intrigued to pick up Smith’s next book, especially since her style in The Nesting Place did not seem remotely minimal.  In this book, Smith looks at the concept of minimalism and talks about how it is possible to be more minimalist without your home becoming sterile and barren.  While I didn’t find this book as engaging as The Nesting Place, it still had a lot of useful information.  Smith is more practical in this book, actually going step by step through decorating and furnishing a room.  She doesn’t backtrack on her concepts from her first book, but does build on them and look at how sometimes decorating means leaving empty spaces so that there is room to actually live in your home.

There are a LOT of snarky reviews of this book on Goodreads, and I honestly don’t understand them, and was a bit shocked at how harsh some of them were.  Like… it’s published by Zondervan so the odds are extremely high that the author is going to mention God at some point (and it’s not like Smith spends the whole book preaching the Gospel or anything, it’s more of a side thing, that part of her inspiration for creativity is because of God’s creativity).  Yes, her style is similar to Joanna Gaines, but it’s just a popular style right now, and I don’t think that makes her a “Joanna Gaines wanna-be without the real style.”  My favorite was the person complaining about how Smith spent too much time talking about her personal experiences – um, hello?  That’s actually the point of the book!  Anyway, all that to say, this book may not be for you, and that’s okay.  But if you are looking for a simple base of where to start with how to decorate your home, this book offers some basics in a warm, friendly, approachable way.

The Blue Castle // by L.M. Montgomery


//published 1926// please ignore this dreadful cover//  Barney would never wear a sweater like that//  good grief //

So, when on vacation, I always take an ambitious pile of books – a pile I know I will never finish reading, but I bring them all anyway.  I love to bring books that are old friends when I go on holiday – books that I can read in a leisurely fashion – returning to old friends in a gentle and relaxed manner.

The Blue Castle is one of my most beloved books.  Although Montgomery is famous for her Anne of Green Gables series (which I most certainly love), I am incredibly fond of The Blue Castle and Jane of Lantern Hill.  This is, perhaps, one of the earliest “romance” books I ever read, but the beauty of this story is that it manages to be innocent and thought-provoking at the same time.  Even though I have read this book many, many times, it never fails to make me laugh, to make me tear up, and to make me pause.

At the age of 29, Valancy is “on the shelf” in old-fashioned Deerwood.  An unimportant member of a large and gossipy clan, Valancy lives with her widowed mother and her father’s cousin, and spends her days trying to do what she is supposed to, living by the dull, strict rules of her mother and the rest of the Stirlings.  Never in love and with no real possibility of it in her future, Valancy is more or less resigned to a long, boring life that will continue along the same road it always has.

But Valancy isn’t as meek and mild as the clan believes her to believe, and when she finds out that she only has a year to live, she grabs the reins of her own life and begins to do what she pleases.  In pre-World War I Canada this isn’t anything too crazy, but it’s plenty crazy enough for her family, who thinks that Valancy has gone out of her mind when she begins speaking up at clan gatherings, purchasing pretty clothes, and sliding down the banister.

However, all of that is just a prelude to Valancy’s real adventure – she agrees to go nurse an old school-mate who is dying of consumption, a decision that changes the rest of Valancy’s life.

My friends, I genuinely love this book.  Valancy is one of my very favorite heroines of all time, and her self-discovery is a wonder to behold.  She is funny, kind, and intelligent.  Montgomery weaves a story around her that is both pathetic and endearing, but never too mushy.  She touches lightly on topics that were a bit daring for the time, like Cecily’s unwed motherhood, with grace and an underbite of challenge.  This is a book that I have always wished had a sequel.

As a sidenote, I will mention that two of my brothers and my dad have also read this book and loved it. Montgomery has the knack of writing about girls/women in a way that has universal appeal – while womanly, they never come across as “girly.”  Valancy, and most of Montgomery’s other heroines, has true grit.  While romantic, it is also tough.  Valancy is no wimp, and her story is one that is challenging and engaging.

It is a quick, light, happy read, but crafted perfectly.  The story unfolds exactly as it should – the timing is exquisite.  Every word in this book is precisely the right one for the moment – not a one is out of place or unnecessary.  I cannot recommend The Blue Castle highly enough.