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.

February 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.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – 4.5*

//published 1934//

This is a hard one to review.  Christie does a magnificent job with this one, but overall it’s not actually one of my favorites because it’s also pretty depressing.  Still, it’s brilliantly done, and one of those stories that leaves you pondering the ending.

As a side note, I started collecting these absolutely gorgeous editions from HarperCollins and am IN LOVE!  So far they have been putting out two a year, so now that I’ve caught up, hopefully I can stay with them!  I’m including a bonus picture of all of them I’ve collected so far – just LOOK at those end papers!!!

Of Beasts and Beauties by various authors – 3*

//published 2018//

One of this year’s challenges on Litsy is to read the original and variations of a different fairy tale each month.  I’ve been using it as a chance to read retellings already on my TBR.  February’s fairy tale was Beauty & the Beast, so I thought it was a good time to pick up this collection of B&B retellings that I got as a free Kindle book eons ago.  Unfortunately, it was 810 pages of mediocrity and five books that literally were NOT B&B retellings at all?!?!  I was SO confused by that part.  I struggled through these, hoping that one of them was going to make it worth my while, but they were all just boring and angsty without anything particularly engaging.

In the first, a princess marries a Dark Elf to try and build a better relationship between their cultures. It went on F O R E V E R and basically nothing happened except for her whining about how oppressed she was because her dad is a jerk (which he is but… okay, we get it, he’s a jerk). In the second, a young warrior is kidnapped by a tribe of lizard women who need him to participate in their not-sexual ceremony so the next generation of lizard women can emerge. Another yawn-fest that I skimmed a LOT.  Story 3 was a contemporary thriller that wasn’t bad exactly, it was just soooo dramatic, basically her cousin already works there and the chick needs out of the city so her cousin gets her a gig working here (for the “the beast“) as a maid but then they FALL IN LOVE and now she feels SO HORRIBLE because she has LIED TO HIM about BEING A MAID. Wait, what? Like, you took the job, you’ve been cleaning the house, so actually you ARE a maid. When she “confesses“ he struggles to forgive this “lie“, leaving me honestly super confused. The whole story was like that – tiny things blown way out of proportion.  Story 4 had this fun superhero concept, but the world-building was horrible and way too much was trying to be jammed into 150 pages – super choppy writing, almost like it was supposed to be longer and the editors were like, nah, you need to get rid of about half of this. I constantly felt like I was missing something.  Story 5 (& final, thank goodness) was the best out of the bunch, I think, although still overly complicated for its space. Still not remotely B&B although at least there was a daughter making a sacrifice to save her dad so… kind of??

I pick up these kinds of collections thinking that I may find a new author out of them, but none of these made me remotely interested in anything else these people had written.  But honestly, my review could be colored by the fact that I was really excited to read five B&B retellings and this did NOT deliver.

Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – 4*

//published 1997//

Yes, I know it’s Sorcerer’s Stone here in the US… but this time around I’m actually reading British editions!  I got these fancy Hufflepuff editions a while ago (well, I’m actually still in the process of collecting them) and have been meaning to reread the series ever since.  Another Litsy readalong this year is #PotteraDay and it’s actually been really fun to read these books at a slower pace – I usually race through them as fast as I can.  This way I’ve been soaking them up more and noticing more details.  It’s also entertaining to read the British editions, which do have a lot of different words and phrasings.  I really wish that, on the whole, books written by British authors in Britain would not be “translated” into American English as I think they lose a lot that way.  If I’m reading a book set in England, I want it to be authentic!!  These aren’t the best-written books ever, but they’re still great stories and I always find them enjoyable to revisit.

The School for Good & Evil by Soman Chainani – 2*

//published 2013//

This one was just not for me, and I think a big part of it was because it did NOT feel like a middle grade book.  Maybe I have a dirty mind, but here’s a phrase I don’t want to be used to describe a 12-year-old girl OR to have a 12-year-old girl read:  “Her extremely short dress showed off long, creamy legs.”  The entire book was like that.  It wasn’t overtly sexual, but there were extremely weird phrases used that just made me feel uncomfortable.  At one point, one of the girls gets tangled in a magical thorn patch and is being attacked by the plant – she’s stabbed by a “dark and engorged thorn” during a scene that felt like it spent way too much time talking about how the thorn was going to “enter” her.  There are multiple instances where the girls wear skimpy clothes and make up in a way designed to attract the attention of the boys with details like the “creamy legs” sentence above.  In one scene, one of the girls enters the cafeteria during lunch wearing an outfit that shows off her legs and is low-cut in the front and we’re told that the boys’ food “dribbled in their laps.”  I don’t know, maybe I’m overly sensitive, but this book really gave me the weirds, which was disappointing because it seemed like, from the description, something that should be right up my alley.  And on top of all of that, the whole message about good/evil/beautiful/ugly just felt extremely muddled and confusing – like in the end, it actually did feel like beautiful = good and evil = ugly, so I wasn’t exactly sure what the point was supposed to be?? On the plus side, it’s an entire series checked off my list by just reading one book!

February Minireviews – Part 1

February was a really low reading month for me.  I read a few books that were kind of downers and took me a while to get through.  But hopefully that means I can catch up on reviews a little faster!!!

Edit: I wrote most of this post literal weeks ago but… life has just been crazy!! This is my busiest time of year, plus we are working on our crazy bathroom/closet/laundry room remodel still lol But since I know you all are quite interested to hear what I was reading back in February – and considering I already wrote the post but just never got around to putting the pictures in – here you go!!

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

1984 by George Orwell – 4.5*

//published 1949//

What.  Even.  This is one of those classics that I had never read because it just sounds so dang depressing.  But, current life in this country being what it is, I thought maybe it was time to set aside my prejudices and and read it – and I have no regrets because it was SO GOOD.  Yes, it’s incredibly depressing – but that’s also kind of the point.

This is definitely a book that you read and while you’re reading it, you assume that your political opposition = the government from 1984 – like I can see both conservatives and liberals thinking that the opposite are the ones who best represent everything that is creepy about the politics in this book.  That said… we all know I’m conservative, so it’s probably no surprise that I could see a lot of parallels between the Party and certain groups here at home who find it necessary to rewrite books, “cancel” everything that doesn’t fit their strict narrative, tear down all statues of historical figures they don’t like, and try to get us to ignore basic biological facts because, you know, 2+2=5.

But even beyond this, in many ways this book transcends political differences as well, reminding us of what happens when we, as a people, allow the government to have complete and total control over our lives.  To me, the warnings in 1984 are beyond “don’t let such-and-such party be in charge of your government” – it’s “don’t let ANY government take away your basic human rights.”  And no matter what side of the fence you’re on, if you don’t have a big problem with our freedoms and privacies being swiftly eroded, well, maybe it’s time for you to read 1984 as well.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams – 3*

//published 2019//

This was a book I’d had on my list for quite a while, so I was really looking forward to a lighthearted romcom when I picked it up.  (I needed a little 1984 contrast!)  Unfortunately, this one just didn’t live up to the hype for me.  The idea is that the main character is having marital issues with his wife, who feels neglected and uncherished.  Yearning to recapture the romantic magic they had when they were first together, Gavin turns to his buddies for advice – and finds out that they have a secret book club wherein they, all men, read romance novels and then try to apply the lessons on love they find there to their relationships.  It’s a super fun concept, but it just fell really flat for me.

My main issue – it’s obvious that both Gavin AND his wife (Thea) have problems, but the entire book is all about how EVERY problem in their marriage is 100% Gavin’s fault – Thea has been PERFECT the entire time.  Gavin spends the entire book groveling, begging, pleading, and kissing Thea’s feet, only for her to repeatedly shrug him off and basically say it isn’t good enough.  And you know, it’s one thing to say that if it’s just you and another person involved, but Gavin and Thea have daughters, and it just made me SO angry when Thea kept blowing Gavin off because “it’s better for the girls to have no father than one who isn’t really committed” and a bunch of other BS.  Thea also has a sister who I genuinely wanted to thrown down a flight of steps.  She’s a complete bitch and half the reason Thea was so reluctant to take Gavin back was because Thea’s sister basically kept telling Thea she wasn’t “allowed” to forgive Gavin because what he did was “unforgiveable.”  (Please keep in mind that Gavin DID NOT EVEN KIND OF CHEAT ON HIS WIFE – his “unforgiveable” offense was… being busy with his job… earning a lot of money… for Thea and his girls… and the freaking sister who LIVES WITH THEM)  There were times that Thea would soften towards Gavin and then her sister would just go off on Thea about how she “doesn’t need a man” and she just needs to be “strong” for the “sake” of the girls, yadda yadda.  The sister was a HORRIBLE person and I despised her – she honestly made it hard for me to even get through this book.  There’s also the part where the men’s book club chapters are basically the guys just sitting around reeling off feminist platitudes about “toxic masculinity” etc.  So boring, and completely unrealistic.  Honestly, this entire book felt like the author had never had a conversation with an actual man in her entire life. Finally, it’s a sexy-times book, which I’m sometimes okay with, but this was one of those stories where that aspect just permeated the entire narrative, like Gavin finds out that Thea’s been “faking it” their entire marriage and it’s this whole involved thing (and I’m sorry, but is it really Gavin’s fault that he hasn’t been “satisfying” his wife if his wife freaking has been lying THE WHOLE TIME?!?!) that just kept going on and on and I frankly did not care and did not want details.

So… a weak 3* because there were some funny moments and I like the concept.  I also liked poor Gavin although I felt like he deserved better and also I feel sorry for anyone with a sister-in-law as obnoxious as Thea’s sister.  But this one definitely wasn’t a win for me, and although at the time I had the next books in the series out from the library, I flipped through them and decided to send them back without bothering to read them – especially since the second book was about the horrible sister!

The Big Six by Arthur Ransome – 4*

//published 1940//

I’m still working my way through the Swallows & Amazons books.  This wasn’t my favorite in the series – possibly the first time I’ve given one of these books less than 5* – but it was still a lot of fun.  My main problem with this one is that someone is casting off boats on the river and three of the local boys (members of the Coot Club from an earlier book) are getting blamed for it.  It just seemed painfully obvious who had the motive to do this (hint: not the boys who were getting blamed for it) so I was really frustrated/stressed by the adults in this story who were being so mean to the boys throughout the story.  I don’t like it when people are getting in trouble for something they didn’t do, so since that was a big part of this story, it bothered me.  I will say that the boys’ parents actually did believe the boys were innocent, though, so I appreciated that part of it.

While I didn’t love this one, it was still an overall really enjoyable story with adorable characters – I genuinely am loving these books!!

A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell – 3.5*

//published 2019//

While this wasn’t the best thriller I’ve ever read, it was the first thriller I had read in a while and I’d kind of forgotten the way a decent one can just suck you in and refuse to let you do anything else with your life besides find out what happens.  In this one, Caroline (who is super rich) finds out her husband is having an affair.  She goes to a local dive bar and ends up having a one-night stand with the bartender.  For Caroline, it’s just a one-off.  For Aidan, it’s much more, as he becomes obsessed with her and begins stalking her… or does he?  The first half/two-thirds of the book is told from Caroline’s first-person perspective and Aidan’s third-person perspective, but while what they have to say about different events is mostly the same, they differ at critical moments, leaving the reader unsure which of them is lying.  When a Big Event occurs, the narrative switches to straight third person. I did figure out what was going on, but it was pretty close to the end when I did, and there were still had some details that I hadn’t worked out.  If you read a lot of thrillers, this one may not bring anything fresh to the table, but if you’re like me and you only pick them up from time to time, this one was pretty entertaining.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – 3.5*

//published 2018//

This was a reread for me – I read this one back in 2018, and you can read my more detailed review from that time here.  I did like it a little better this time around, but I still just don’t love this one.  Most of my criticisms from my original reading still stand – this book is unrelentingly depressing; the romance between two of the main characters is really underdeveloped, leaving me confused about why I’m supposed to hope they end up together; there are way too many different voices; having the story center around a Jewish family means that the story is somehow too rooted in our real world instead of a fictional one, which makes the rhythm of the story feel weird to me; and the women in this story all end up betraying someone throughout the course of the tale, adding to the overall downer tone of the story.  It’s not a bad book, and so many people really love it.  There is loads of gorgeous writing, and the concept is fantastic.  But in the end, this book just isn’t magical to me.

November 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.

Well, here’s the last batch of November reviews – at least I’m getting them done before January!!

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – 5*

//published 1817//

This was only my second time reading this gem, and I was struck afresh by Austen’s snarky humor throughout. Catherine isn’t my favorite Austen heroine, but Henry may be my favorite Austen hero. Also, for some reason I didn’t really notice last time how Henry’s sister gets this entire complicated story in a few paragraphs at the very end of the book – she’s been secretly engaged this entire time?? Where’s my Eleanor Tilney story?! I need one!

Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West – 3.5*

//published 2018//

West is pretty much always good for some clean YA entertainment, so while this one wasn’t particularly memorable, it was still perfectly enjoyable. I did think that Abby’s reaction to the whole art show thing was completely over-the-top… but on the other hand, she’s 17 so maybe West is just being realistic. I really appreciate that West likes to include adults in her stories who aren’t total losers, and Abby’s relationship with her parents and grandpa really made this story for me.

The Illyrian Adventure by Lloyd Alexander – 2.5*

//published 1986//

I really, really love Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, but haven’t really tried any of his other books. This one is the first in a series about a character name Vesper Holly. First off, the cover is completely misleading, as it appears to be a modern girl, so I was thinking that this was going to be a time-travel book or something – but no, it’s set in 1872 and Vesper is supposed to be a “normal” young woman from that era – except she isn’t, she’s super obnoxious. Recently orphaned when we meet her, she doesn’t act remotely sorrowful or sad, but instead bosses everyone around and decides that they should go on an adventure to the other side of the world to continue her father’s research. The entire book is told from the point of view of Holly’s new guardian, which was the other thing that made this book clunky and awkward – Holly is the main character, but we are completely cut off from her thoughts/motives – everything is viewed through the lens of middle-aged Brinnie, who spends much of his time being completely thick-headed and naïve and completely startled whenever Vesper does something unladylike, despite the fact that pretty much is always doing something unladylike.

This book is aimed for the middle grade audience, so perhaps for them the plot would not be so painfully obvious, but there was absolutely no surprise, twist, or anything unexpected in this entire story. The villain is obviously the villain, the hero obviously the hero, and the only person who can’t figure it out is poor old Brinnie who insists on trusting the wrong people and saying the wrong thing to them at the wrong time so everyone ends up in hot water from which Vesper must once again rescue everyone.

In short, formulaic, boring, and a narrator so dumb I can’t believe he made it to adulthood. On the brightside, a book off my shelf and a series I don’t need to read.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville – 3.5*

//published 1851//

This is one of those books that I’ve always felt like I “should” read but never really had any desire to do so. But a fellow Litten had a buddy read for this book scheduled in November, reading the book across the entire month, so I thought it was a good time to give it a go. In the end, I can appreciate what makes it a classic, but it definitely isn’t for me. I was mostly surprised at the complete and total lack of action for 95% of this book. I was expecting a roaring Captain Ahab pursuing his nemesis across the open seas, but instead it’s just a regular whaler drifting about and every once in a while they come across another boat and Ahab demands to know if they’ve seen the white whale and sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it’s no and it doesn’t really matter because they don’t know where he is right now anyway so they just keep cruising along and then they hunt a regular whale because they do need to make some money so we spend a chapter chopping it up and then another five chapters listening the narrator natter on about whales and philosophy and random pointless stories that go nowhere and have nothing to do with anything else.

I don’t exactly regret reading this one but I would never read it again. Someone else told me that they love this book because the rhythm of it reminds them of being at sea – long stretches of quietude followed by a short frenzy of activity. In that way I can appreciate the book, but on the whole it just wasn’t for me.

Room-Maid by Sariah Wilson – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This is one of those “rich girl has to work for a living but doesn’t know how to do anything” stories, which can sometimes be annoying but overall here was good fun, mostly because the main character is a genuinely nice person, although she is a little too air-headed for my personal taste. (Like, I get that you may not look up everything you don’t know how to do because some things seem obvious, but when you’re faced with a major crisis, like spilling something on a couch that you have no idea how to get out, why would you not Google it first??? Multiple catastrophes could have been avoided with the power of the internet.) The pros here were that this book was completely clean and there wasn’t even any “grey area” cheating – not sure why these things are so difficult to find in modern romcoms, but here we are.

While this wasn’t my new favorite, it was still a fun and fluffy story that made for a relaxing read.