The Stars Duology // by Diana Peterfreund

  • For Darkness Shows the Stars
  • Across a Star-Swept Sea

Quite a long while back I read Across a Star-Swept Sea, and while I overall liked it, there were parts of it that I found really confusing/not well-explained.  Well, guess what, it’s because it was actually a sequel, despite there being NO indication of this anywhere on the cover or in the front of the book.  THIS IS  A PET PEEVE OF MINE – I do not understand WHY publishers publish sequels and act like it’s a secret.  Just.  Why.

Anyway.  I’ve been meaning to go back and read both books and I finally got around to it!

The first book, For Darkness Shows the Stars, is a riff on Persuasion, which is what finally made me get around to it – after rereading Persuasion, I thought it would be fun to read this one while the original was fresh in my mind.  I thought this book did a great job capturing the basics of Austen’s story, but all the characters were somehow amplified.  In Persuasion, Anne’s dad is self-absorbed and a bit ridiculous; here he’s cruel and willing to do anything as long as he has everything he wants.  Austen’s Wentworth is a bit stubborn about recognizing that Anne had valid reasons for her past choices; here he is harsh and unforgiving, to the point of purposefully inflicting pain on Anne with cruel and snarky comments and actions.  It made this story grittier and the stakes higher, as now it’s not just that Anne’s family may have to tighten their belts and live a little more frugally, it’s that the lives and livelihoods of so many people are on the line.

This book would have garnered an easy 4*, maybe even 4.5*, from me except for one HUGE problem – the ages of the characters.  Like I think what was happening here was Peterfreund wanted this book to be YA, so she needed her characters to be YA-aged.  But the problem is that the whole POINT of Persuasion is that TIME HAS PASSED, so Peterfreund’s brilliant solution?  That the Anne/Wentworth characters were FOURTEEN when they separated and now it’s only FOUR YEARS LATER so they are still only EIGHTEEN and I’m sorry but it made the entire story COMPLETELY, and I do mean COMPLETELY, unbelievable.  Like sometimes I can kind of get behind young people doing things that are obviously beyond what they would actually do, because circumstances can swiftly mature some individuals… but this just made no sense, especially since Peterfreund also chose to make Wentworth’s character SO harsh and unforgiving about the fact that Anne didn’t come with him… WHEN THEY WERE FOURTEEN.  I’m sorry, but you’re still mad because she didn’t come with you when you were both CHILDREN?!  I can’t even begin to describe how distracting these ages were from the actual stories.  There are lots of times that I can kind of pretend the ages are different or somehow work around in my brain, but it was impossible here and it made the entire story absolutely absurd, to the point that even though I thought it was really a great story overall, I almost can’t recommend it because the age thing made the whole book just stupid and pointless.  It just turned the Anne/Wentworth story into some ridiculous teenage angst instead of an actual crucible of maturation like it was in the original story.

This just shouldn’t have been a YA story, and I think this is where the obsession with categorizing books by the age of the intended audience has screwed everyone up.  Now adults feel like they can’t writing stories about adults because obviously no teen would ever be interested in a book about adults.  I see adults basically apologizing for reading YA because it’s not “for” them, and other adults saying that only teens should be “allowed” to read YA because otherwise adults are “stealing” those books and fandoms.  It just annoys the heck out of me.  Who cares how old the characters are if the story is good??  The characters should be the age that fits their actions, attitudes, and situations, not the age of the intended target audience.  It’s just absolute nonsense, and For Darkness Shows the Stars definitely emphasized the ridiculousness of forcing fictional characters to be a certain age just so a certain age will read your book.

ANYWAY.  After that I reread Across a Star-Swept Sea.  I gave a pretty detailed review of this Scarlet Pimpernel retelling in my original review (linked above).  I enjoyed this one even more the second time around, because it made so much more sense as a sequel!  Here, the youth of the characters is still somewhat annoying, but also somewhat makes sense, because, let’s be real, smuggling people across enemy lines while pretending to be a complete airhead definitely sounds like something teens would get into.

All in all, I did enjoy both these books and actually would love to read a third book set in this world (although since the second book came out back in 2013, it probably isn’t going to happen).  There were fun scifi/futuristic reads and both (besides the age thing) were actually great riffs on their original stories, stay true to the essence of the tale while still making it something new.  I don’t particularly see myself rereading these again and again, but I did enjoy them this time around. 4/5 for the pair.

July Minireviews – Part 2

Over halfway through October already!!! Time is running away so fast!!  I’m still living in July!! :-D

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.

And All Through the House by Ed McBain – 2.5* 

As I continue my journey through the 87th Precinct, this short story (with pictures…) was next on the list, although it appears that it was actually published in 1984 rather than the mid-90s, so I’m not exactly sure why it’s listed as book #46.  This was a bit of an odd one, just a short (less than 50 pages) story of a “typical” Christmas Eve at the precinct.  There wasn’t really any kind of plot or story, so it felt a little weird.

Romance by Ed McBain – 3.5* – published 1995

This one is about an actress who gets stabbed… twice!  And since the actress is the main character in a play that is about an actress who gets stabbed, there are a lot of rather ridiculous scenes that read a bit like an Abbott & Castello sketch, which is great fun.  McBain is always mildly preachy in his books and it came through a little heavy-handed in this particular one, which brought down my overall rating of the book, but still a solid installment to the series.

Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling – 4* – published 2003

Definitely my least favorite of the series, I’m just not sure why we have to listen to Harry be a jerk for so long.  Rowling makes a few plot decisions in this book that I also don’t like.  However, overall still an enjoyable read.

Nocturne by Ed McBain – 4* – published 1997

This was another one where the main mystery, about an elderly, once-famous concert pianist being murdered, was really good, but the secondary plot, about a prostitute being slaughtered, was a bit much.  For the most part these books aren’t that gruesome, but the murder of that poor girl will stay with me for a long time, and not in a good way.  It just didn’t feel like we needed that much detail for that part of the story.  Still, the rest of the book was a solid read.

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis – 5* – published 1956

This is always a really hard book for me to read, and I’ve actually read it the fewest times out of the whole series.  I can understand why Lewis decided to end the series the way he did, but it’s still tough.  Although I will say that, reading this as a child, this was the first time I ever understood wanting to go to Heaven because of it being a beautiful and perfect place rather than just as a better option than hell!

The whole deal with Susan, which I believe has been completely misrepresented and poorly interpreted, always makes me somewhat hesitant to review this one, because how much do I really want to get into this controversy?  Suffice to say that I think it’s clear that Lewis wasn’t trying to say that Susan no longer believed in Narnia because she decided to embrace “womanly” things like makeup and dating, but because she had embraced worldly things to the detriment of her priorities.  Makeup and dating aren’t bad things objectively, but it’s clear from the context that those types of things have become Susan’s driving force.  Susan wasn’t on the train with everyone else, so I personally believe that the deaths of her loved ones helped her to readjust her life.

I actually wrote a little piece on this on tumblr wayyy back in the day – https://manycurrentssmallpuddle.tumblr.com/post/105298215925/can-you-explain-the-susan-pevensie-post-the and when I was looking that one up, I found another post that I really liked – https://manycurrentssmallpuddle.tumblr.com/post/129939476895/just-to-clarify – that summarizes why Gaiman’s “The Problem With Susan” just absolutely misses the ENTIRE point.

Sons of Pemberley by Elizabeth Adams – 3.5* – published 2020

Basically, this AU of P&P explores what would have happened if Darcy’s mother hadn’t died when Georgianna was born.  Adams gives us just bucketloads of extra characters, which while fun, also made this story extremely bulky and somewhat confusing, especially when she works both backward and forward in time AND decides multiple characters should have the same name from different generations – there are at LEAST two characters for almost every name, which really doubled-down on the confusion aspect.  Adams also takes pretty much every unlikable “villain” character from the original and gives them a backstory that makes them understandable and a forward-story that makes them redeemable, which is nice but… also means the entire story is somewhat boring.  I did enjoy this one, and recommend it to people who enjoy a good P&P variation, but it’s not one I see myself revisiting.

The Big Bad City by Ed McBain – 4* – published 1999

Overall, once McBain got through the rather dreadful 80s entries, the series really improved.  Most of the 90s books were done really well without nearly as much gratuitous (and bizarre) sex.  I also really appreciate when he would have a plot line for one of the detectives and then follow it through in the background of multiple books – here, we finally see the main conclusion of what happened when Carella’s dad was murdered a few books ago, although McBain makes sure to still show us how Carella continues to work through his grieving process over the next several books after this one as well.

June Minireviews – Part 3

Should I just give up on this project???  I’m weirdly stubborn about someday actually being CAUGHT UP on these reviews without skipping any. I may have a problem haha  And yes, things are still chaotic at the orchard!! However, the gardening season is winding down so hopefully the actual amount of work that needs to be done around the house will calm down a smidge.

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.

10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston – 4*

//published 2019// And that picture is from last year, not this June haha //

I read this one last year and really enjoyed it, so when a loose sequel appeared, I decided to reread this one first.  I enjoyed it just as much the second time – maybe even more.  The family is just so warm and loving in this story, which make all the dating scenarios fun and funny instead of weird and creepy.

10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley Elston – 3.5*

//published 2021//

I did enjoy the follow-up but not quite as much as the original book, mainly because there isn’t as much big family time as their was in 10 Blind Dates.  Still, there is a lot to find entertaining here and the characters are all so likable that the overall book was fun.  My biggest issue – the core group of friends/cousins have had a life-long feud with two other cousins, and I would have really liked to have seen some better resolution with their relationship.  A few times it felt like they were on the cusp of a breakthrough of realizing how the “Evil Joes” could have felt left out so maybe the “evil” wasn’t all on one side… but it just never quite happened.  Still, this one was a lot of fun and I can definitely see myself rereading these again.

Emma by Jane Austen – 3.5*

//published 1815//

I reread this one as a chapter-a-day read with the PemberLittens group on Litsy.  Emma is by far my least favorite Austen, although I will say that I found it more readable in small doses – this is the highest I’ve ever rated this book haha  Emma is just soooo annoying and bratty.  I spend all my time wanting to smack her.  I also still am not a big fan of the romance here, mainly because, besides Frank Churchill, Emma has never had a chance to even MEET anyone else, having spent all her days in Highbury.  So while I do have a fondness for Knightley in general, there is also an inevitability to their relationship because really… who else does she have??  Every time I read Emma I think it’s the last time I’m going to read Emma.  Maybe I’m serious this time??

The Other Typist by Suzenne Rindell – 2.5*

//published 2013//

This book has been on my TBR since it was published in 2013. At the time, it got a lot of positive buzz from several bloggers that I follow. Since then, I’ve read one of Rindell’s later books (this one was her debut), Eagle & Crane, and loved it. All that to say, I was anticipating something a little creepy and intriguing, but ended up honestly being bored most of the time. Hardly anything happens for long swaths of book, other than the narrator constantly telling us that she’s unreliable and giving us a LOT of incredibly heavy-handed foreshadowing about where she ends up, meaning that there honestly weren’t a lot of surprises. The ending answered zero questions, which in this case just kind of felt like lazy writing instead of intriguing. It wasn’t a horrible read, but if this had been the first Rindell I read, I would never have bothered to pick up another. In Eagle & Crane she doesn’t try nearly as hard to be mysterious and it works so much better.  I can still see myself trying another of her books based on the strength of Eagle & Crane, but this one didn’t impress me.

The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis – 5*

//published 1955//

I really enjoyed my chapter-a-day reread of this classic as well – it’s one of my favorites of the series and I still do NOT think it should EVER be read as the first book, despite being chronologically the first.  It’s so much richer and more meaningful when read after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I absolutely love reading about the creation of Narnia, the establishment of the kingdom, and the challenges that the children face.  It may be my favorite of the series overall.

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer – 4*

//published 1934//

This isn’t my favorite of Heyer’s books, but it was June’s traveling book club book, and I actually enjoyed it more as a reread than I did when I first read it back in 2018.  Some of the scenes are honestly hilarious, and it does make use of the marriage of convenience trope, which is definitely my favorite.  As before, I found myself growing steadily more annoyed with the female main character’s stammer – something that doesn’t bother me at all in real life, but was q-q-q-quite annoying t-t-t-t-to r-r-r-r-read after a while.  Still, if you’re looking for just some relaxing fluff, it’s hard to go wrong with Heyer.

The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman – 3*

//published 1970//

This is the first book in the next mystery series I am hoping to read – Leaphorn & Chee.  Set on the Navajo Reservation in southwest US, the main character of the first book is Joe Leaphorn.  There were a lot of things I really enjoyed about this one.  The setting was great and Hillerman does a fantastic job helping the reader understand the complicated jurisdiction lines when something as serious as murder occurs with the boundaries of the Indian reservation.  The mystery itself was engaging and the pacing was good.  However, Leaphorn himself was not a particularly knowable character?  We read the entire book and I never even found anything about where he lives or what is home life is like.  There is a casual reference to a message being left for him by his wife – but we never meet her.  Does he even like her?  Does he have children?  I don’t have to know ever nitty-gritty detail about a MC’s life, but Leaphorn ended up feeling a bit more like an outline of a person than someone I knew.  The mystery itself went a bit off the rails at the end as well, leaving me with a lot of questions, and this book undeniably NEEDED a map in the worst way – Hillerman was constantly and casually talking about driving from here to there without any real indication as to what that distance meant in real time (1 mile? 10 miles? 100 miles?).  Still, it was a good enough story that I felt like I wanted to give the second book a try – even if it didn’t come in at the library until the next month haha

June MiniReviews – Part 1

Have I mentioned that my life is pretty much just peaches right now???  You all really just can’t understand LOL  In the meantime, here are a few books that I read all the way back in June…

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 Horse & His Boy by C.S. Lewis – 5*

//published 1954//

Growing up, this was one of my least favorite books in the series (along with The Silver Chair), but every time I reread it, I enjoy it more.  There’s a lot to soak in here about providence and why bad things happen to people and how that all works together for good, plus it’s just a fun story.  Narnia is always a joy to me.

Kitty’s Class Day & Other Stories by Louisa May Alcott – 3*

//published 1882//

I’m a huge fan of Alcott, and some of my all-time favorite books were penned by her.  However, I’ve had this collection of short stories on my shelf for literal years and somehow never read it… and when I did, I honestly wasn’t that impressed.  The subtitle for this one is “Proverb Stories” and each tale has a little saying/proverb at the beginning and then the story goes on to illustrate it.  Consequently, these came across as a little on the preachy side.  Alcott is always a fan of making her writing somewhat moralistic, but I feel like that works better with her longer-form writing, as we are able to see characters grow and mature organically.  Here, with only a few pages per story, the lessons felt a bit too in-your-face for my tastes.  Perfectly fine but honestly not particularly engaging.

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling – 4*

My reread of the Potter books also continued in June with a chapter a day of the fourth book.  I think this is where the series really starts to take off, with a lot of connections being made.  It’s a chunkster of a book and sometimes does feel a little ponderous, but overall I still find this series plenty entertaining.

Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibañez – 3.5*

//published 2021//

In May I read Woven in Moonlight and found it to be a decent enough read that I wanted to pick up the sequel, Written in Starlight.  It’s hard to tell about this one without giving away some spoilers for the first book, but basically there is a character from the first story who ends up being sent away into the jungle as a punishment at the end of the book.  It honestly felt a little jarring, so reading the second book felt like reading the other side of the coin.  Although the main character is different, it really ties in with the first story and, I felt, tied up a lot of loose ends.  Overall, I think I actually liked this one better, even if the main character was super dense from time to time.

Led Zeppelin: Heaven & Hell by Charles Cross & Erik Flannigan – 3.5*

//published 1991//

My husband is a huge Zeppelin fan, so we have several nonfiction books about the band.  In my quest to read all of the books I own (LOL) this one was the next stop.  Published in 1991, it was written at a time when there was still a lot of chatter about whether the band would get back together, with John Bonhome’s son, Jason, as the drummer.  This book read more like an extended fanzine, with a lot of information about band paraphernalia, concerts, albums, concert memorabilia, etc.  If you already love Zeppelin and are just looking for some random tidbits, it’s worth picking up for the photographs if nothing else, but if you don’t know much about the band, this isn’t really a great place to start, because the authors definitely assume that you already have foundational knowledge about the band members and the trajectory of the band itself.  I definitely preferred Flannigan’s sections to Cross’s – I find Cross’s writing to be somewhat condescending, something I also noted when I read his biography of Kurt Cobain, Heavier Than HeavenUltimately, Cross felt like it was super important to spend a great deal of time hating on Hammer of the Gods by Stephen Davis (which I haven’t gotten around to reading yet), which, whether or not his claims were justified, just came through as rather petty.  A moderately enjoyable read, but not one I’d particularly pick up again.

May Minireviews – Part 3

Oh look, more minireviews from the backlog!!!

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.

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez – 3*

//published 2020//

This one has been on my radar for a while because of that gorgeous cover, and also because I’m always interested in books with a Central/South American flavor to them.  This book was, I think, what you might call magical realism rather than fantasy.  It was a solid story about a group of people holed up in hiding because they people that they conquered several generations ago have now risen up and conquered them.  There’s a lot of discussion about imperialism and what it means to have a group conquer another group, and which culture is the “real” culture, etc etc.  Some of it was handled well while other bits felt a little too polemic.  While I liked the characters, I also somehow couldn’t connect to them.  There were really random scenes that felt over-the-top violent for the rest of the story, and Ibañez decided to arbitrarily kill off a character I really liked, which always annoys me.  The author also chose to put a LOT of Spanish words in her text, which did add to the flavor of the story, but there was no glossary in the back, and the context did not always make the meaning of the words obvious, which meant I frequently had to stop to look up words, which always takes me out of the story – for some reason way more than it does when all I need to do is flip to a glossary.  (I think because looking it up means I have to actually set down the book and pick up a completely different item – my phone or a computer – to find the answer, which frequently leads to other distractions.)

In the end, I did like this book, and I think some people might like it even more than me, but it just wasn’t a perfect match.

The Marriage Game by Sara Desai – 4*

//published 2020//

I had actually been meaning to read this book for a while, and then a member of the traveling book club chose the sequel, The Dating Game, for her pick.  Even though the second book could be read as a stand alone, I figured this was a good chance to go ahead and read this one, and I ended up really enjoying them both.  This is just the kind of fun and fluffy romance I like (although a little on the sexy side).  Layla was quirky without being obnoxious; Sam was angsty but reasonably so; and Layla’s family was absolutely hilarious while still filling realistic.  This one definitely hit the spot and I can totally see myself rereading it at some point.

The Dating Plan by Sara Desai – 4*

//published 2021//

I didn’t like this one quite as well, but still really enjoyed it.  My main issue with this one is that Daisy and Liam are in a fake relationship, but are CONSTANTLY talking about how it’s fake when the people they are supposed to be fooling are just in the next room, or around the corner, or what have you.  It was driving me crazy how they would basically get into a shouting match about how the whole thing is fake, and yet Daisy’s nosy family never noticed???  It just didn’t jive.  Liam also spent a little too much time hating on himself – we get it, you were a jerk.  Still, all in all it was still great fun.  A third book is scheduled to be published in November, and I’ll definitely be reading it!

Living in Norway by Solvi Dos Santos & Elisabeth Holte – 3.5*

//published 1999//

This was another book that I read for the Food & Lit Club, where we “visit” one country per month with books and recipes.  May’s country was Norway, and I read this one in addition to a travel guide that I didn’t review (it was very travel guide-y).  Reading Living in Norway was like reading a PBS special. I could practically hear the soothing voiceover of a narrator the entire time.  Going season by season the authors visit different homes in Norway, discussing architecture, history, hobbies, and ways of life. I’m not sure how much this book reflects the majority of Norwegians’ lives as it seemed to focus a lot on the artsy types, but the photography was gorgeous and it was all and all an enjoyable read.  I’m fascinated by life so close to the Arctic Circle in terms of daylight and weather and loved reading how the people who live here embrace winter and the long hours of darkness.  So many of the architectural details there are because of the long winters, so it was very interesting to learn more about them.  Maybe not a book for everyone, but if you’re looking for some gentle nonfiction with a lot of photographs, this was pretty fun.

Love at First by Kate Clayborn – 3*

//published 2021//

I read Love Lettering last year and had a lot of mixed feelings about it, but decided to give Clayborn’s new book a try.  Once again, I was left with a book that had a fun concept but, for me, no follow-through.  I really liked Will and Nora, but this whole thing with Will needing to sublet the apartment felt weird and forced.  The synopsis makes it sound like Will’s going to, I don’t know, tear down the entire apartment building or something, but instead he literally just wants to make it into an Air B&B? Like I get you not wanting that to be your next-door neighbor, but it didn’t seem worth the amount of angst that was going on.  What redeemed the story were all the secondary characters – all the other apartment building folks were delightful and fun and I really enjoyed them.  This one weirdly reminded me a lot of Second First Impressions which I had read earlier in the month, and, like that one, this one just didn’t quite hit the mark for me, because all the conflicts felt strangely manufactured instead of natural.

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 Raven Cycle + Call Down the Hawk // by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater is one of the few authors that I just really like and enjoy as a person (honestly I usually try to find out as little as possible about authors; I just want to enjoy their writing, not analyze their personal belief systems), and I loved the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, despite being definitely in the angsty YA paranormal genre (not my usual wheelhouse) as well as The Scorpio Races.  The Raven Cycle has been on my TBR for many moons and I finally got around to reading it this spring!!

  • The Raven Boys 
  • The Dream Thieves
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue
  • The Raven King

These were all solid 4* reads for me; I would honestly bump Blue Lily, Lily Blue to 4.5* as it was my favorite of the four.  I don’t even know how to review this series.  Stiefvater creates a world that is magical, complicated, and intricate, while at the same time keeping it tied down to reality with knowable, likable characters, a wry sense of humor, and strong friendships.  I fell in love with everyone in these books, and finished every book wanting more.

She ended up concluding the series in a way that was not how I would have chosen/how I hoped it would go down, but it still made sense and pulled things together.  Also, she really made me want an old Camaro even more than I did originally.

Call Down the Hawk is the first book in a spin-off trilogy that focuses on one of the main characters from the original series and his brothers, as well as what was ironically my least favorite part of the magic from the Raven Cycle – the dream magic.  I feel like more could be explained about the connections between the ley lines and the dream magic, as well as the trippy aspect of Ronan dreaming/creating things that he can then access in the real world but that we didn’t originally know were created by him… there are times that things get a little tangled (I was still definitely left with some questions at the end of The Raven King), but in many ways CDtH sort of shakes off some of those things and goes in its own direction.

All in all, if you like YA fantasy where the romance is more in the background than the foreground, there’s a lot to like here. The Raven Cycle does lean a little too heavily on tarot for my taste, but on the whole was new and different.  I really liked CDtH and felt like it did a good job tying to the original story while still doing its own thing.  However, I would definitely recommend reading The Raven Cycle before CDtH – technically it’s a stand alone, but I’m not convinced the story would make that much sense without the background you get from the original books.

A solid 4* for this batch.  Spoiler alert: I already read Mister Impossible, the second book in the Dreamer Trilogy, which just came out in late May or June or whenever it was, and it was also quite good – I can’t believe I have to wait all the way until next year to find out how everything ends!!

Seeking Mansfield trilogy // by Kate Watson

This trilogy has actually been on my radar for a while, so when I reread Mansfield Park in March, it seemed like a great time to pick up this modern adaptation.  I’d been putting it off because it had been so long since I read MP that I couldn’t really remember the details.  At the time that I added this one to the TBR I didn’t realize that there were two sequels (or maybe there weren’t two sequels at the time… we all know how long books linger on my TBR lol).

  • Seeking Mansfield (2017)
  • Shoot the Moon (2018)
  • Off Script (2020)

In Seeking Mansfield, Fanny’s character has been updated to Finley, a teenage almost-orphan (her father has died and her mom is in prison) who has been adopted by her parents’ best friends, the Bertrams.  Mr. Bertram is cool but busy with business, Mrs. Bertram has some chronic health problems, and the four children of the original story have been reduced to three (although let’s be real, we didn’t really need both sisters since they act almost exactly the same anyway) – Tate (in college), Oliver (Finley’s crush), and Juliette (a total brat).  Finley’s older brother is a professional soccer player, so even though they’re close, she doesn’t get to see him often.  Shy and a little uncertain about her place in the world, Finley is nonetheless drawn to the theater (in stage manager/director roles) and is hoping to seize an opportunity to work with the prestigious Mansfield Theater over the summer.  Finley’s dad was a famous actor, so in many ways the theater is in Finley’s blood.

Of course, everything changes when teen stars/heartthrobs Harlan and Emma Crawford move in next door to live with their aunt and uncle for the summer.  Emma immediately sets her sights on Oliver, and Juliette is desperate to date Harlan, even if it means ditching her son-of-a-local-important-politician boyfriend.

It’s YA, so there is plenty of angst to go around, but overall I thought this was a really solid modernization of MP, despite the characters in this version being a lot younger than the characters in the original – the drama of the intersecting love lives actually fit the YA scene pretty well.  I felt like the essence of the original story was captured really well and enjoyed watching Finely find her inner strength.  There were a few times where the drama felt pretty over-the-top, but I was willing to roll with it.  It also seemed like there could be more/better resolution between Finley and her mother – I wasn’t sure how I felt about the whole “Finley HAS to visit her mom and forgive her” – it was just a really complicated and nuanced situation that felt like it was kind of shoehorned in for no real reason.

Shoot the Moon focuses on the oldest Bertram, Tate.  In Seeking Mansfield we find out that Tate has a gambling addiction.  When we start the second book, he’s going to therapy and meetings, but doesn’t really think that he has a problem, despite the fact that he’s also secretly running a underground gambling ring in his friend’s apartment.  When his dad finds out, Tate is in huge trouble.  His aunt Nora offers to let him work for her on her political campaign, where Tate also runs into his old crush/nemesis Alexandra.

This book was pretty terrible and I honestly more or less hated the entire thing.  First off, we meet Aunt Nora multiple times in Seeking Mansfield, and as the modernized Aunt Norris character she’s DREADFUL.  She’s constantly saying hateful, cruel things to Finley for no reason, is obsessed with political/societal posturing, and is just an all-around jerk.  But suddenly, in Shoot the Moon, she’s the good guy??  She’s the kind, understanding, empathetic relative who is the only one willing to stick her neck out to help Tate.  I couldn’t get over the fact that I spent the whole first book hating this character, but am supposed to magically love her in the second book AND totally support her running for public office!  Sorry, but I would not vote for this woman – she had ZERO redeeming qualities, but anyone who didn’t like her or who pointed that out was just labeled as someone who “hates women” and doesn’t want them to be in politics.  *HUGE EYE ROLL!*

On a similar note, we find out in the first chapter that Finley and Oliver have broken up?!  I mean, seriously, what was even the point of the first book if every single aspect of character development is completely mitigated in the first few pages of the second book??  There was also a lot of personal family drama going on in my life in early April, so honestly a book about a spoiled brat refusing any and all advice from the people who actually care about him, insisting that he has no problems/any problems he does have are the fault of his family and not him, and that character never really acknowledging that he said or did anything wrong just wasn’t the story that I needed.  I get that Tate is supposed to be self-centered and self-destructive, but I was really over watching him make the same mistakes over and over and over and over and then whining about how hard his life was.  The love interest, Alex, was pretty much just as bad – she’s completely self-absorbed and consistently a jerk, but for some reason I’m supposed to think she and Tate will make a great couple??  I literally never shipped them for even a second, and honestly wished that the story had ended with them realizing that they weren’t good for each other – because they WEREN’T!  This book was an incredible disappointment and I almost bailed on it multiple times.

And in fairness, I think I should mention that Oliver and Finley do end up together again by the end of the book, but they’re really just extremely peripheral to the entire story, so it just felt like Watson had broken them up so she could create awkward love triangles.  It was super annoying.

That said, I approached Off Script with trepidation, especially since it was supposed to be a riff on Emma, my other least-favorite Austen.  However, this book was significantly better – much closer to Seeking Mansfield in story quality – and ironically I didn’t need to have read Shoot the Moon at all in order for this one to make sense (although I would definitely recommend reading Seeking Mansfield.)  This story follows up on the Crawford siblings from the first book, and I thought the modern/YA adaptation of Emma’s character (and story) was done extremely well, with Emma Crawford focusing on the career of her new assistant (she’s so beautiful that she has to be a movie star!) and the Knightley character being filled by Finley’s older brother, Liam, who is totally fine with calling Emma out on her nonsense.  There was a lot about this book that I really enjoyed, although it did definitely go off into an extremely preachy/polemic #MeToo essay at the end that didn’t feel particularly organic or natural.  Like I thought the decision that Emma made to create the organization she did made total sense, but listening to expound on the evils of the patriarchy for paragraphs at a time felt clunky. I also felt like things could have been better resolved with her brother.

In the end, if you enjoy YA and are interested in Austen variations, I would totally recommend reading Mansfield Park and Off Script.  Definitely skip Shoot the Moon, though, because it’s pretty terrible and adds nothing to the overall story arc of the series.

March Minireviews – Part 3

I dream of a day where I’m reviewing books from only, like, two months ago instead of three!

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.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – 3.5*

//published 1814//

It’s tough to decide sometimes which Austen is my least favorite – Mansfield Park or Emma.  I just finished the latter, after reading the former in March, and I’m still kind of undecided. The problem with MP is that Fanny is so freaking apathetic about everything in her life except for Edmund.  She’s definitely the Austen heroine most influenced by being “in love” and unfortunately I really don’t like Edmund either (such a twat) so it’s hard for me to really empathize with Fanny even on that.  The ending is also so strange and rushed, just basically “haha they get married after all, eventually, and trust me, they’re super happy!” like… I’m not actually convinced, Jane.  MP has its moments and definitely has some Austen humor to get it through, but I do think it’s overall the most boring of Austen’s novels, with Fanny as the most passive of heroines.

Andy & Willie by Lee Sheridan Cox – 4*

//published 1967//

This is just some old random 1960s book I picked up somewhere along the line.  I think I may have read it way back in the day, but it had been so long I couldn’t even remember if I liked it.  (One would think that since it is still on my shelves, it meant I liked it.  Unfortunately, that’s not always true haha)  But I actually really did enjoy this one a lot.  It was surprisingly funny.  Basically, it’s just a kid telling about his life and adventures in the small Indiana town where he lives.  He and his best friend are always getting into scrapes, and Cox does a great job of letting the older readers in on the reasons why some of Willie’s adventures end up the way they do, even if Willie himself is perplexed by the way adults’ minds work.  This isn’t really a book you’re likely to find around, but if you do, it’s definitely worth a read.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – 2*

//published 1904//

This was March’s fairy tale for the #FairyTaleReadAlong on Litsy.  For most of the fairy tales, I read an adaptation, but in this case I had never actually read the original so I decided to give it a try, and wow was it dreadful.  It’s violent and creepy and weirdly hateful towards adults in general and parents in particular.  I think maybe some parts were supposed to funny, or tongue-in-cheek??  But to me it just came across as bizarre and I didn’t like it at all.  What really sent me over the edge was a line in the final chapter/epilogue – “Mrs. Darling was now dead and forgotten” – just… wow.

The Boomerang Clue AKA Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1933//

First off, real talk, why would you ever publish this book under the second title??  It literally gives away half the plot?!  At any rate, this was another great Christie novel with absolutely delightful main characters and plenty of entertaining humor and rather ridiculous adventures.  And let’s be real, the actually question is, why didn’t they KILL Evans?!  I mean seriously!

Defiant Dreams by Cheri Michaels – 3*

//published 1985//

This was one of those random paperbacks from the box of Regency romances I bought from ebay eons ago.  This one is actually set in the US during the Civil War and is about a southern belle who has to go north for safety and ends up staying with relatives in Gettysburg.  Spoiler alert: the war comes to her!  Of course she falls in love with a northern soldier, etc. etc.  This wasn’t a terrible story, but it jumped around a lot instead of actually explaining things.  There are also scenes that just make no sense, like when she calmly removes a bullet from a soldier’s side as though she’s had literally any kind of training in this??  There were just too many moments like that, where the protagonist magically knows how to do something, for me to really get into this one.

February Minireviews – Part 3

We’re just going to pretend like it’s perfectly normal to review books three four months after I read them… (because yes, I wrote half this post in May and am only just now coming back to it!)

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 Substitute Guest by Grace Livingston Hill – 3.5*

//published 1936//

Are GLH’s books predictable and cheesy?  Yes.  Is that what I want sometimes?  Also yes.  This one was pretty normal GLH fare, but that’s not actually a bad thing in my mind – sometimes I just want something warm, relaxing, predictable, and happy.  It’s rare that GLH doesn’t deliver.

Gods of Jade & Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was one of those books that I wanted to like more than I did.  While the concept was quite good, somehow the book just lacked magic.  The third-person narrative – which I usually prefer – here felt distant and almost stilted.  There were times that there would be an somewhat lecture-y tone to the tale, filling the reader in on a piece of culture or fable, rather than letting those things be a natural part of the story’s flow.  This was also a book that definitely needed a map, as I had no real grasp on the distances they were traveling.  All in all, while it was a fine one-off read, it didn’t really make me interested in seeing what else Moreno-Garcia has written.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever by John Donohue & JT Malloy – 3.5*

//published 2020//

It’s always hard to review a book that’s memoir-ish, and this one is no exception. The author was in his late 20s during the Vietnam War. He had been a Marine straight out of high school but was considered “too old” to enlist for Vietnam, so he was working as a merchant marine. When the war protests started to turn on the soldiers themselves, the guys from Chick’s hangout-bar thought it would be amazing if someone could go visit all the active duty guys from their neighborhood, take them some local beer, & reassure them that what they were doing was appreciated & they were missed & loved. Chick’s job enabled him to hop on a boat headed to Vietnam with the idea that he would take 3 days shore leave when he got there & find some of the guys. What with one thing & another, his boat left without him, leaving him stranded in Vietnam in the days leading up to & the first couple of weeks of the Tet offensive!

Reading this book is basically like listening to your old uncle tell his stories from the war. It wasn’t a bad book at all, but it did tend to ramble off & sometimes go into back stories not directly related to the main plot & it wasn’t always easy to tell what was happening “now“ & what was an explanation from the past. (i.e. a few paragraphs telling a story to illustrate why Chick doesn’t like ship captains – it was hard to tell if it was THIS ship captain, or one from his past.) Chick is also very pro-unions, which I’m not against unions but I also got a little tired of every chapter having at least a few sentences explaining why unions are awesome & solve everyone’s problems.

For the most part it doesn’t get too political & there’s some great perspective here on how basically the soldiers were just doing their best to do what they were told. Most of them had been drafted, they weren’t passionate about being there, & they didn’t have the ability to see any kind of big picture concerning how the Vietnamese people really felt about the situation. In the end, Chick decides that the protestors weren’t wrong to protest the war, but still felt that harassing the young men being sent to fight wasn’t the right way to execute that protest.

This is a memoir so it’s inherently biased, but was overall an interesting read for a bit of a different look at the war – Chick is pro-soldier, but also a civilian. It was a pretty fast read & I appreciated that the author decided to keep the language pretty clean throughout.

The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold – 4*

//published 2021//

I’ve read a couple of Arnold’s books now and have enjoyed them all.  This one is his newest and I read it as part of my personal campaign to read new books by authors I like as they come out instead of just sticking them on the TBR and maybe getting to them in five years.  This one is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with a girl who has to take a cross-country journey to find a mythical portal that her father is convinced is real.  She meets up with several other travelers on her way.  This was a book that was eerie and engaging, and one that folded back on itself in a way that was somehow believable.  It had just a few too many unanswered questions for me in the end, but still completely sucked me in and kept me turning the pages.  Like Kids of Appetite, it had elements that it felt like I shouldn’t like, but somehow worked.

You Have a Match by Emma Lord – 3*

//published 2021//

After really enjoying Tweet Cute last year, I was interested to read Lord’s new book.  However, this one just fell short for me.  Mostly, there was just too much going on.  The main character, Abby, finds out that she has an older sister who was adopted.  She and Savvy start communicating without telling any of their parents and agree to meet at a summer camp.  There was a lot of potential here to explore the dynamics between the two sisters and how they related with the adults involved, but Lord’s writing gets sucked into typical YA drama, with way too many pages spent on Abby’s crush on her best friend, Leo.  This was definitely a story that would have been significantly better without the love story aspect.  I was looking for an adoption story with Parent Trap vibes and instead got boring YA-romance angst with bits of adoption drama thrown in.  It made the story feel rather choppy and disconnected.  All in all, it wasn’t a bad read, it just wasn’t for me.