May Minireviews – Part 2

Oh no, I already started work at the orchard!  Does this mean I’ll NEVER catch up on reviews??  ::cue dramatic music::

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 Gin O’Clock Club by Rosie Blake – 3*

//published 2020//

Add this one to my long list of books I wanted to like more than I did…  Lottie is caught up in her career and her grandpa, Teddy, is afraid that she’s taking life too fast, especially since Teddy’s wife died.  Teddy has three buddies and together they comprise the Gin O’Clock Club, which gets together for cards, shenanigans, and gin, and he enlists their help in showing Lottie that she needs to slow down and enjoy her blessings while she can, including her (live-in) boyfriend, Luke.  Basically, the guys convince Lottie and Luke to try some “old-fashioned” dates.  In exchange, Teddy agrees to try some “new-fashioned” dates, since Lottie is concerned that Teddy hasn’t really bounced back since his wife passed away.  Throughout the book, we also get letters that Teddy is writing to his wife as part of the way that he is working through his grief, and those letters were absolutely so touching and sweet without feeling over-the-top that they alone almost made reading the book worth it.

There was so much about this book that I liked.  Teddy and his friends were absolutely fantastic – funny without being cutesy – and Luke was a total dreamboat that no woman in her right mind would take for granted.  All the date ideas were great fun without being weird and I just overall loved seeing the older guys working with the younger folks and all of them learning from one another.

The problem – and it was a BIG PROBLEM – is Lottie herself.  There’s no other way to say it: she was a total bitch.  Like, hardcore.  She literally treats everyone around her like disposable trash, while spending her entire internal monologue saying Oh wow I’m treating everyone like disposable trash; I should really stop that.  And then NOT STOPPING.  And at first I was okay with it because she was showing growth, right?  Like she starts going on these dates and realizing how awesome Luke is and how important it is to hang out with her grandpa and how people are more important than things….  And then she literally just goes exactly back to where she started with no hesitation.  It was like the book was starting over!  There was also this big drama where Lottie was stressed out about something Luke was doing but Teddy couldn’t say anything because it involved someone else that he’d promised not to tell and like – the completely obvious solution was for Teddy to ASK this other person if he could tell Lottie??  But instead he just lets it keep going on and on and poisoning everything in Lottie’s life and it was SO unnecessary.

In the end, I honestly wanted Luke to run far, far away.  Lottie was emotionally and verbally abusive to him on more than one occasion.  I’m really over this whole “the female MC is a horrible person, but it’s really the fault of someone else/society, not her.”  Like no, she’s just a dreadful person, and if Luke had said/done half the things that Lottie did, he would have been crucified, but since Lottie is a woman, she gets a HUGE pass and I’m not okay with it.  I really wish that I had liked Lottie better, because I loved everyone else in this story, and everything else about it, including that the story is about a couple trying to stay together instead of breaking up and moving on to someone else.  All the not-Lottie characters were just delightful, but I couldn’t get past how horrible Lottie was.

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis – 5*

//published 1953//

For some reason, I never liked this story as much when I was a kid, but I thoroughly enjoyed my reread of it this time around, especially the character of Puddlegum.  It’s just been so much fun to read these again!

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – 4.5*

//published 2021//

This was actually one of my favorite books that I’ve read so far this year.  I read The Martian last year and had super low expectations for it because I’m not usually a “space story” person, but I ended up really enjoying it.  Consequently, I decided to read his newest book when it came out this spring, and even though it went a completely different direction from what the synopsis made me assume, I honestly was totally here for it.  The pacing here was fantastic, the flashbacks that filled in the MC’s background were well-placed, and I couldn’t believe how much I fell in love with Rocky.  As the book was drawing to a conclusion I didn’t really see how Weir was going to give me an ending that both made sense and didn’t make me completely depressed, but he 100% pulled it off – I absolutely loved the way everything came together in the end.

There is a lot of science-y stuff here.  I have literally no idea if what he’s saying is realistic/true/practical or not.  I just rolled with the adventure haha

Anchored Hearts by Priscilla Oliveras – 4*

//published 2021//

Last year I read Island Affairand while it wasn’t my favorite romance ever, it was still a perfectly fun little read, so when I saw the next book in the series was out, I decided to pick it up.  Luis is the male MC from the first book; the female MC of Anchored Hearts is his sister, Anamaria.  Overall this was a pretty typical romcom read with likable main characters and a splash of angst.  I absolutely loved the warm families that both these characters possessed, even if those families weren’t perfect.  Some of the issues with the male MC and his dad dragged out a little too long for me, but overall I ended up liking this one better than the first book, and I would definitely read another book in this series.

The Night Dance by Suzanne Weyn – 3*

//published 2005//

This was a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and while it was okay, it was rather choppy and the entire story revolves around literal INSTA instalove, which definitely led to some eye-rolling moments for me.  I really loved the setting – Weyn chose to have this story take place just after the death of King Arthur, with the hero one of his knights trying to fulfill a promise to the king to return Excalibur to the Lady in the Lake.  This mean that even though the story was short, the world-building didn’t feel too compromised (since the reader already has the basic gist from Arthurian lore).  All in all, a pleasant one-off, but not a new fave.

The Midnight Dancers

by Regina Doman

Published 2008

This is the fourth installment of Doman’s “Fairy Tales Retold” series.  While the first three built on each other and should definitely be read in order, The Midnight Dancers is only loosely connected and can easily be read as its own story.

Per usual, Doman does a fantastic job creating a (semi anyway) plausible situation, allowing the familiar story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses (one of my favorite fairy tales, incidentally) to unfold, sans magic.

The story is about a family of twelve daughters.  In a Brady Bunch-like move, Mr. Durham, a widower with six daughters, marries a widow with six daughters of her own (the youngest one in curls).  This mixed family produces a lot of characters to follow, but Doman does a fairly good job giving everyone different enough names, making them much easier to follow.  (For some reason that I can’t understand, authors frequently give characters very similar names, which gets very confusing when there are a lot of different people to follow; The Thirteenth Princess comes immediately to mind.)  She’s also unafraid to have sisters whose stories/opinions are not super important – some of them are basically just names and that’s okay because we don’t really have time to listen to the opinions of all twelve girls.

The story focuses on Rachel, one of the two oldest sisters.  Tired of her conventionally conservative and dull life, Rachel yearns for excitement, adventure, romance – all things that seem completely out of reach.  Instead, she’s stuck spending her days working around the house and around their church family as well.  Her relationship with her dad has deteriorated, and all in all Rachel feels bored, unappreciated, and stifled.

When she and her sisters discover a secret passageway from their bedroom out of the house, Rachel views it as a perfect opportunity to start really living life.

Meanwhile, a few years earlier, Mr. Durham met Paul Fester, who actually saved his life (they were both in the military at the time).  Those who have read Doman’s other books will recognize Paul as one of Rose’s college friends.  Paul happens to be living for the summer near the Durham’s home, and, through a series of events, finds himself trying to help Mr. Durham out by trying to find out what, exactly, his daughters are up to.

Overall, this was a really good book, and I actually really enjoyed it.  However, there were times that I felt like the story spun out of control a bit.  The “bad guys” that Rachel and her sisters meet are a little over-the-top (as an aside, I’m also not sure where Doman gets her information on how people act when they’ve smoked some weed; I really am not confident that it leads to all the evils she sets forth), and seem to rather suddenly go from a kind of sleezy would-be seducer to a potential rapist and murderer, and it all seems a bit much.  In the same vein, Paul seems to take the whole “wait until the girls decide to confess for themselves” line a bit far, as there reaches a point where they’re actually going to be in danger, and he’s still shilly-shallying, waiting for them to realize the errors of their ways and freely confess.

Still, there are some excellent conversations in this book.  Paul is Catholic (as is Doman), while the Durhams are protestants.  While Doman doesn’t go quite so far as to say that the Durhams are wrong, she does manage to portray a very stereotypical “conservative Christian family” that doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with me, especially since it felt as though many of the questions she raised about faith, church, and family, were left unresolved.

I did like the way that she brought Rachel and her dad back together, allowing both to realize that they were wrong; overall, it felt like the Durham family was definitely on its way to becoming stronger and closer at the end of the book.

Overall, a solid read, although a bit overly dramatic at times.  4/5.

The Thirteenth Princess



by Diane Zahler

Published 2010

I love fairy tale retellings.  Even when I know, deep down, that they’re going to be terrible, I still can’t resist them.  It’s like eating that last cookie that you know is going to make you feel sick but they are THE BEST COOKIES EVER so how can you resist?  This was one of those books.  My rarely-wrong sixth-sense that tells me whether or not a book is going to be dreadful was urging me to RUN, but I have really enjoyed the sudden spurt of retellings of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, and how could I really resist?

First off, let me clarify that this is a book for younger readers (I think it’s officially in the 9-12 range; the young heroine was 12.  However, while the writing was definitely manageable for a reader at that level, I don’t think that I would recommend the story for those who are younger – Zita seems overly interested in kissing and what it is like to by physically close to boys (and specifically one boy in the story), and I really don’t appreciate stories that encourage that kind of thing in such young girls.

(And yes, I know that back in the day everyone got married when they were 13 etc etc etc BUT this is a FAIRY TALE, not a historically accurate novel.  If it was historically accurate, well NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED, much less letting a princess’s love interest be a stable hand.  Point being, if you’re writing books for pre-teens, I don’t think that you should be reassuring them that going about kissing boys is what they should be doing.  This book would have worked even better if either Zita had been a bit older or the whole kissing/having the maids say that it’s important to know “when to stop” had just simply not been in the story AT ALL.)

Anyway, the basic premise of the story is that the king got married and had a wife he really loved except she kept having daughters and she had twelve daughters and it really soured their whole marriage and things got really weird and the king went kind of insane except no one seemed bothered by his actions even though they were pretty cruel and irrational and basically the book doesn’t straight-up say it because it’s for preteens but you are definitely given the impression that he got drunk and more or less raped his wife after they were visited by some neighboring king who had sons because our king was reminded of how upset he was about not having a son (even though the story goes out of the way to say that the oldest daughter is going to inherit the throne and that her father would never dream of letting the throne pass on to someone else so…  what’s the big deal about the son then?  Just one of the many things that didn’t hang together)….  um where was I?  Oh yes, he impregnates his poor, exhausted, abused, mistreated, misaligned wife yet again and then has the nerve to get super upset when she has another daughter.  First off, who the heck’s fault is it when someone has a girl instead of a boy?  (The male, actually…  he’s the one who contributes that particular gene…)  And secondly, not like you have a super awesome track record here:  You already have TWELVE DAUGHTERS.

So the king goes into this fit of rage (and the queen dies from childbirth complications and is probably glad for the escape from someone who apparently only loved her as a potential son-bearer) and decides that this youngest daughter is going to be brought up as a servant.

Wait, what?

So yes, Zita is raised in the kitchens except it’s no secret that she’s a princess, so the whole thing is stupid, because the cook doesn’t want her hanging out with a stable boy because she’s a princess, but she’s expected to help cook everyone’s food?  At first, she’s not allowed to see her sisters, but then when she finds out that she’s a princess, her sisters are all super excited and she starts sneaking out to see them?  The whole thing was just dumb.  It was a concept that could have worked, but it just felt like the author was too lazy to pull things together, almost like she purposely wrote a preteen book, hoping that 10-year-olds wouldn’t be able to see through all her plot holes.  (And I don’t expect tons of explanation and details about the government or whatever, but a story, no matter how simple or involved, should at least MAKE SENSE.)

The the author tried to make the rest of the sisters a little more relatable (apparently that isn’t a word?  Well it should be) by giving them all names and trying to give them little quirks and whatnot, except all of their names started with an A (in an attempt to make Zita’s name more emphatically different), so it just got super confusing.

And I’m really not even going to touch on the actually story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, the part where they actually start dancing.  Suffice to say that it made just as little sense as the rest of the book.  The villain came out of absolutely no where, no warning, no hints, and actually absolutely no point.  Even after I found out who it was, I was just confused.  She tried to explain, but was really unable to come up with any plausible reason as to why this particular person should have been the villain.

Whatever.  The whole book was pretty dreadful.  I just get super frustrated when someone has an intriguing idea and then are too (I don’t know what… lazy?  Illogical?  Apathetic?) to make it work.