February Minireviews – Part 3

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.

A Deal With the Elf King by Elisa Kova – 4*

//published 2020//

Sometimes I think I enjoy a book more when I have kind of low expectations going in lol  This one was for the traveling book club, which can be hit or miss reads for me, but I actually ended up really enjoying this one (although it did get a bit too sexy for my tastes towards the end).  The world-building was done really well, and when the main character goes to the magical land, she asks questions and people actually answer them, almost like it’s important for her to have useful information so she can accomplish the things they need her to do.  (I’m looking at you For the Wolf and From Blood & Ash.)  I think part of the reason this book worked for me was that it wasn’t trying too hard to be clever.  It was just a fun, enjoyable story with a dash of magic, instead of trying to create this involved and complicated and mysterious system that no one ever really explains.  There’s a second book out in this series, and it is on my ereader, waiting for me to get to it!

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood – 4*

//published 2021//

I struggled a little with rating this one.  There was SO much that I really enjoyed.  I absolutely loved the two main characters together.  There was so much fun banter and snark and several ridiculous situations that felt at least moderately plausible.  I actually liked Olive a lot, and even though she works in STEM, Hazelwood for the most part managed to not get all preachy about how men suck, which was nice.  I realized while I was reading this that some of my book issues are actually culture issues with the way our current society approaches sex.  I just really hate that dating = sex in modern vernacular.  Keeping in mind that this is a fake relationship book, so Olive and Adam aren’t actually dating, but Olive’s friends think they are – at one point, pretty early in the “relationship” her friends say something along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s nice that you have a boyfriend, but it’s just SO GOOD that you’re finally get LAID” as though Olive’s lack of sex in her life was this horrific situation that no one would have to suffer.  Throughout, even at the beginning when Olive and Adam have only (supposedly) been dating for a week or two, Olive feels obliged to kiss/have physical contact with Adam in order to “sell” the relationship – I just don’t feel like you should have to full-body kiss someone after you’ve been dating them for a couple of days because otherwise no one will believe you’ve really been on a few dates???  The general attitude towards sex has, in general, greatly reduced my enjoyment of contemporary romances, because more and more it’s just literally portrayed as an obligatory part of, if not a first date, definitely a second, and I honestly think that’s kind of gross.

BUT ANYWAY I digress.  The actual story had a lot of fun points, and people who aren’t as old-fashioned as I am have given this book many rave reviews because the characters really are great fun.  All in all, I did enjoy this one, but I already have chucked it in the giveaway box because I won’t be reading it again.

Star Sand by Roger Pulvers – 2*

//published 2015//

This was an odd book. I rolled with it in Part 1 because it’s translated from Japanese, so some of the odd sentence structuring and odd dialogue could be due to translation. The premise was interesting – a small Japanese island, a girl helping two AWOL soldiers – one Japanese and one American. The girl is somewhat obsessed with collecting star sand from the beach – which I had to look up because no one was actually telling me what star sand is. Fast forward to 2011. A college-aged girl, whose POV reads like a hyperactive 11-year-old, learns about the diary of the Japanese girl and the fact that three skeletons were found in the cave where the soldiers were hiding. Blah blah blah eventually she meets someone who tells her what “really“ happened in the cave and it just – didn’t make sense?? What didn’t make sense is someone going back and rearranging bodies after people were dead??  I was just so confused. Why go back a decade or more after the war, dig up the bodies, and move them around?! Also, I could be wrong here (I’m not known for being a sciency person), but if a body has disintegrated to the point that it’s just a skeleton, doesn’t it like… not stick together any more? Like if you want to rearrange a skeleton so the person is sitting instead of laying in a grave, wouldn’t you have to move each bone individually and put them back together in the new position!?! Literally nothing in the final section of this book made sense, and combined with the modern narrator, supposedly in her early 20s, whining about her brother putting games on her cell phone and saying things like “I just HATE my brother he’s SO AWFUL!!!!!!!!“ Her voice was NOT remotely believable.  The motivations of the Japanese girl’s actions were incomprehensible to me, and it made the whole story fall apart.  Interesting premise that went no where.

Family for Beginners by Sarah Morgan – 4*

//published 2020//

Sarah Morgan is turning into one of my favorite authors.  I just love the way that she writes relationships, and while there is always some romance in her stories, they are usually more about the connections between parents, spouses, children, and siblings, and Family for Beginners was no exception.  Flora is very happy with her life, but she’s an orphan with no siblings, and now that she’s older and most of her friends are married and starting families of their own, she’s lonely.  When she meets Jack, she’s immediately drawn to him.  But Jack has been widowed less than a year and has two children home.  Izzy, a teenager, is completely devastated that her dad has a girlfriend.  This all sounds like it should be ridiculously melodramatic, but somehow Morgan just makes it feel like a real story.  I genuinely felt so bad for Izzy, who is trying her best to keep her family together.  Flora was incredibly likable without being annoying, and even though Jack could be dense at times, I liked him as well and really did feel like he is trying to do the best he can for his family.

The deceased wife’s name was Becca, which I thought was an interesting choice as there were echoes of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in this story – Flora hears a lot about how perfect and amazing Becca was and feels intimidated by the legacy Becca has left behind.  There was a bit of drama concerning Becca’s past that felt rather drawn out, but everything was resolved in a way I found very satisfactory.  Another win for Sarah Morgan, who is turning into an auto-buy author for me.

The Golden Road by L.M. Montgomery – 3.5*

//published 1913//

The sequel to The Story Girl is not as enjoyable of a read for me, as it tends to be a bit more bittersweet as the cousins are getting older and starting to look towards the future.  However, there are still some fun stories and adventures here.  This time around what really struck me is that Felicity, who is a bit bossy/snobby in The Story Girl is a LOT bossy/snobby in The Golden Road – there were multiple times where she was basically like “that’s the right thing to do, but it would make me look bad so I’m not doing it” and it really annoyed me.  I actually would have loved it if Montgomery had written one more book about this crew, as she left them at a very awkward age.  I would loved a story where they’ve all grown up and some of them have left the family farm – a book of letters and a reunion would have been great fun, and would have given some of these characters an opportunity to be more mature and likable than they are here.  A pleasant read, but not my favorite of Montgomery’s works.

January Minireviews – Part 3

Here is the last batch of January reads!!

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 Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – 4*

//published 1952//

One of my 2022 goals is to clear at least 12 books off my classics backlist, and this one was very satisfying because it was so short!  I didn’t exactly like this book, but Hemingway writes in such a way that I had trouble putting it down, despite the fact that it’s literally an old man going fishing.  There is a tautness to his writing that makes it work, and so many layers to what is, at surface-level, a simple story.  I personally wasn’t a huge fan of the way it ended, but you can’t make everyone happy.

The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery – 4*

//published 1911//

The Kindred Spirits Buddy Read group on Litsy is continuing their foray into Montgomery’s works through 2022, and this was our January pick.  It had been a very long time since I read this one, so it was fun to revisit.  It’s a rather episodic book, but I did overall enjoy it although it will never be one of my favorites.  While the characters here are fun, they somehow lack depth – each of the children seems to fit a role and not go much beyond it.  And despite the fact that the story is being told in first person, the narrator is probably the one we get to know the least, which is odd.  Perfectly pleasant, but it will probably be another decade or so before I bother to reread this one again.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – 2*? 4*? No stars?

//published 1847//

The Litsy group that read through all of Austen’s works last year (the PemberLittens) is continuing into 2022 by reading books about Austen and also other works from women from the Austen-ish era.  Wuthering Heights was January’s book, and since I had never read this one all the way through – I remember abandoning it halfway in high school with the general feeling that the only “happy” ending would be for everyone to die of the plague – I thought I would give it a try as an adult and see if it was more palatable.  In a word – yes, it was, but… it’s really hard for me to rate this one.  First off, it was just absolutely ridiculous.  I actually found myself snorting with (inappropriate) laughter in multiple spots because it was just so over-the-top.  On purpose?  Who knows.  I was also absolutely befuddled by the fact that some people consider this a romance, or consider Heathcliff and Catherine to be a romantic couple.  What?!  These two are both mentally ill, unstable, obsessive, selfish, and creepy.  At one point, Heathcliff digs up Catherine’s dead body.  This isn’t romantic!  What is happening?! But I weirdly did like the way the story ended, although some of my fellow-readers thought it was too tidy.  I felt like Cathy, unlike her mother, actually outgrew her selfish whims and gain some balance to her personality, and I liked that.  I can’t say I exactly enjoyed reading this, but it did keep me engaged.  I was so confused by multiple people having the same name/being related that I printed off a little cheat-sheet towards the beginning of reading it and thoroughly enjoyed X-ing out everyone as they died… which was pretty much everyone, so my high school desire to have everyone die off for a happy ending was very nearly fulfilled lol  All in all, it was a worthwhile read, I think, but not one I see myself revisiting.  I did use this buddy read as an excuse to buy this pretty copy, though, which I’m perfectly happy to keep on my shelf.

Nation of Enemies by H.A. Raynes – 3*

//published 2015//

This was another one that is a little hard to rate.  It was also kind of creepy because it was published in 2015 (i.e. pre-Covid and pre-“vaccine passport” insanity) but was all about a future where the entire world is using a chip-based medical system where every person has a MedID rating based on how healthy they are and various genetic features that extrapolate how likely they are to be sick in the future (i.e. cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc).  People with good Med numbers are able to get good jobs, housing, move from place to place, etc. while people with bad numbers are relegated to the outskirts of society.  Many people tout this as a positive as eliminating the low numbers means that we are on track to eliminate said diseases, but others are beginning to grow uneasy with how swiftly the system has been used to alienate huge sectors of the population into second-class citizens.  The MedID chips have now become a way to not only track medical history, but everything else, making it easy to decide “criminals” (both real and determined by people who don’t like people) are unable to purchase groceries, travel from state to state, or get a job.  The story opens on the cusp of a huge presidential election, with one candidate determined to build on the MedID system and other poised to begin removing it, restoring the freedoms everyone once knew.  In the decade since the MedID was instated, the country has descended into a state of constant terrorist attacks, many by frustrated low-MedID citizens, others by various anarchist groups, some by other political powers playing on the emotions of vulnerable individuals.

Rayes does a great job setting all of this up, introducing the reader to several people within the government and within society who are both benefitting and losing from the MedID system, and showing how various things are working behind the scenes of the big election.  It was really terrifying and amazing to see how this concept, basically where the vaccine passports are headed, had changed the society, and it was all very believable.  But about halfway through the story, things began to lose steam as Raynes slowly turned his story into a more typical political thriller instead of exploring a lot of the nuances presented by a society dominated by this system.  In the end, basically everyone was a bad guy, which was kind of weird, and a lot of ends were left loose.  This was also a really long book, clocking in at 528 pages, so it definitely felt like it could have used some editing to tighten things up.  In the end, a story with some strong potential that just frittered away.

The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel – 2.5*

//published 2001//

Apparently this book is also a Hallmark movie, but I haven’t seen it.  It was chosen by a member of the traveling book club book, which is really the only reason I finished it as I found the main character, Livvy, to be insufferably selfish and bratty.  Set during WWII in Colorado, Livvy is from an upper-class family and has always lived a rather spoiled life. The author tries to make her a sympathetic character by giving her a dead mother and a distant father, but she never felt like a real person to me.  She gets pregnant from a one-night stand with a soldier with whom she’s gone on a few dates, and her father solves the “problem” by finding a farmer in eastern Colorado for her to marry, sight unseen.  Ray is stereotypically strong and silent, but the main things we have to know about him is that he’s uneducated by Livvy’s standards and thus rather dumb, he immediately begins to worship the ground Livvy walks on for literally no apparent reason, and Livvy’s so concerned about Ray’s “heart” because of his “innocence” around women – she goes on and on and on about this, about how she’s sooooo “experienced” and Ray isn’t, despite the fact that she went on like 3 dates and got pregnant, not sure how that makes her some kind of relationship/sex expert and it REALLY got on my nerves.  But Livvy’s that way about everything.  She’s from the city and she’s gone to college, so she’s soooo smart and clever and worldly and wise and all these other people are just sort of dumb hicks.  I kept think that she was going to recognize the fact that she’s just a blatant snob, but she never really does.  She and Ray have like two conversations and then from there forward Livvy’s always saying things like, “I could tell from the love in his eyes how much he yearned for us to be together” blah blah blah, which was both boring and unbelievable.  There’s this whole story about these Japanese women who are in a prison camp nearby and how the Japanese prisoners are working on the region’s farms, including Ray’s, but it’s really a sort of surface-level look at this because we never talk with Ray, we just get Livvy’s assumptions about how Ray feels about it.  What Livvy assumes is that he completely approves of interning the Japanese and thinks the Japanese are stupid and guilty, despite the fact that he treats them incredibly well and absolutely nothing in his actions support her theory.  Livvy also spends a bunch of time driving all over the countryside despite Ray specifically telling her that his gas rations are supposed to be being used for farm work, not pleasure.  Livvy justifies it by basically saying she’s bored.  I was also amazed at how a farm wife during World War II could be bored and have nothing to do, but here we are.  Everyone else in my traveling book club seemed to really like this one (I was the last to read it) so maybe I’m just being overly harsh, but I found Livvy to be painfully unlikable, which made the whole story drag for me a lot, since it’s literally all from Livvy’s perspective and literally all about her in every way, because to Livvy, Livvy is the most important person in the world.  I had absolutely zero confidence in her long-term happiness with Ray, because Livvy never actually changed as a person.