Once again, I’ve gone off the radar and, once again, it was not intentional. I’ve been writing these posts on Sundays, but our Sundays have just gotten busy. I guess I should shift things and write this on Saturdays or Sundays.
Anyway, what has been new with us? The kids have been busy with school. Chris is all of a sudden less busy after school. In my last post, way back in September, I talked about his swim lessons starting up. Because it is hard to get into swim lessons, I usually sign him up for more lessons than he’ll need. Usually, I can sign up for 3 sessions at a time. For the first session, I sign him up for the level I know he’ll be at. For the second, I sign him up for the same level and then the next one up. Then, for the third, I sign him up for the same two levels plus the next level. Then, based on whether he passes a level or not, I cancel him out of the levels he won’t be taking. Well, this time, I thought there would be no way he would pass his current level. At his last session, he was only completing about half of the skills. Therefore, I made the decision to just sign him up for the same level for all three sessions, thinking it would take him longer to pass (it usually takes him 6-8 sessions to pass a level). Well, that little stinker passed the level! And, of course, I couldn’t get him into the next level so he’s out of swimming lessons until 2023 now. It does make our schedule easier, but I’m losing my twice a week dedicated reading time.
Lillie has been busy with schoolwork and the school play–she has been cast as the villain of the play! While she’s excited for this, she is feeling the crunch so she has decided not to work on the crew of the spring musical. She did give up volleyball this fall as she realized it would just be too much. However, she did join our Girl Scout Service Unit’s Mega Troop (along with our current troop), so she’s working with other girls her age and older to plan the spring campout.
As for the rest of our world–fall weather has finally arrived and my plan is to plant some bulbs this afternoon while we have a break in the rain. The change in temperature was pretty sudden this year, but the rain was welcome as it washed a lot of the smoke from local wildfires out of the air.
Okay, onto my reading catch up…and something new!
As usual, I’m linking up with Kathryn at Book Date for her It’s Monday…What Are You Reading? blog hop.
Since my last update, I finished:
The Body in the Library (Miss Marple #3) by Agatha Christie
Date finished: September 22, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ / B
I’m now 2 novels and a handful of stories in the Marpleverse, and I’m sure of one thing: these are quite different from the Poirot novels. These seem to be cozier and more prone to dip into comedy. All this is fine and good, but I did have to adjust my expectations.
Jane Marple is such a fun character, but, like in her first novel, I wish she were more in the action. In this one, she seems to always be on the outskirts of things…until it is clear that the police can’t solve this and Miss Marple is their only hope.
The mystery here is quite good–there are plenty of clues, but they are woven into the narrator that the reader will most likely not catch them at first. I also love the friendship between Miss Marple and Mrs. Bantry; it is a completely realistic relationship between two women, especially at the time.
Unfortunately, I had to put this book aside when I was about halfway through so I could finish some other books before their book club discussions. While I could easily sink back into the story when I returned to it, I think it may have hurt my momentum. The second half felt too long–which is ironic for a short novel. This mystery may have worked better as a longer short story than a shorter novel.
While this wasn’t a perfect novel, and I think I’m still adjusting to the Marpleverse, it was worth the time to read, and I’m eager to meet up with Jane Marple again.
Suburban Hell by Maureen Kilmer
Date finished: September 22, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / A
You know a book will be good when you start madly texting your friends to tell them to read this before you’ve even finished it!
This is Scream meets Desperate Housewives, and that is the pairing I never knew I needed in my life. I live in the suburbs, I’m navigating adult friendships. This book is me, except for the She Shed, which serves as a portal for demonic forces. I loved the friendships in this book and the fact Kilmer doesn’t shy away from shining a light on each woman’s vulnerabilities.
I think it is hard to categorize this book. If you are fine with horror, this will read as satire. If you are not a fan of horror novels, this is a gentle entry to some scary reads. I probably fall into the former–I didn’t find this particularly creepy, but I cackled at several points in this story. The writing is easily digestible–this is the sort of book you can read at 7 am in the waiting room of an orthodontist’s office with a Disney movie playing on the TV and the soundtrack to another Disney movie playing over the sound system. Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience.
I did have a few issues with this book. I would have preferred stronger creepy vibes. I was also distracted by the hole at Liz’s house. I’m not talking about the actual hole in her backyard, which unleashed the powers of hell on the neighborhood, but the gaping plot hole in her house. It seems like her husband and kids are strangely unbothered by what is happening with Liz.
All in all, though, this was a fun entry to spooky season reading. It will encourage you to value your friendships and prompt you to think twice about getting a Roomba.
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
Date finished: September 24, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / A
Sometimes you realize that something is in your wheelhouse, even though it doesn’t sound like it should be. For me, it is these little vignette collection novels that don’t seem to be about anything. I’ve read enough of them now to know that it is something I quite like…and this was no exception.
I have read Jhumpa Lahiri in the past and knew how beautiful her writing was. I’ve enjoyed what I read, but I prefer her short stories to her novels. Because this is sort of a hybrid between the two, it worked very well for me.
It’s easy- and misleading- to say this is just a book about a woman wandering around town. On a very superficial level, that would be accurate. But it is more about a woman who is very comfortable in her own small world but has realized that she needs to expand her borders. The actual intent behind the book sneaks up on you, and you won’t realize until the end that you’ve read a fully-realized novel.
I read this slowly, and I would recommend it. Because of its nature, trying to read it in one to two sittings (which is completely possible with this slim volume) would be a mistake, and you will miss the nuances.
I get that the vignette-collection-novel may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love a big old mug of it, which I got with this book.
I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet by Shauna Niequist
Date finished: September 26, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 / A+
Shauna Niequist is one of those authors with a broad appeal but especially appeals to a subset of people around her age, and I fall into that group. This book, however, can add one more group in which everyone should fall: people who have lived through a global pandemic.
Niequist was already going through a period of transition. She was dealing with the fallout from a crisis in her family of origin, she and her immediate family moved from a large midwest home to a small New York City apartment, and she had joined the ranks of women of a certain age. Add into the factor a pandemic, and it’s no wonder she was struggling. While I may not have had the same non-pandemic issues (I haven’t moved and my family of origin is just as it has always been, although I am about the same age as Niequist), I saw myself in her words, and she worked through the issues in her life.
I’ve seen some people say that Niequist is vague about some of her personal issues, but I have no problem with that. The problems with family and friends are not her message but how she works through them. I don’t need the dirt–it’s not my business. I also didn’t feel she was “vaguebooking” about them. If this had been a novel, it would have been an issue. But I don’t believe that memoirists owe us a trip into issues they would rather keep to themselves.
Niequist is known as a “Christian writer” and published this book by a Christian publisher. However, I truly believe that it has broad appeal. Instead of labeling Niequist as a “Christian writer,” I would just say that she’s a writer who is Christian. Christianity is rarely explicitly mentioned, and when it is, it is told as a part of Niequist’s experience. There is nothing preachy or evangelical about this memoir.
I did a slow and steady read of this book, which was the perfect way to really absorb Niequist’s wisdom. This is a book I would readily give as a book to friends and one I would recommend to just about anyone.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Date finished: September 26, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5 / B+
I feel like I can now tell one of my bookish best friends that they can lay off me; I’ve read this now!
I had meant to read it for ages, but it wasn’t until one of my book clubs picked it up that I finally dug in. Given the length of this book (which, despite all the nice things I’m about to say about it, makes this what I would consider a poor choice for a book club), I did a slow and steady read over 2 months. I’m glad I chose to do this.
Verghese is a lovely writer, and the story is fascinating, but there is just so much medicine here. I’m not talking about a sensational Grey’s Anatomy high-level treatment. We get to be in the operating rooms and scrub in on surgeries. (Figuratively speaking, of course!) I will not knock the book for the medical substance, but reading this book a little bit each day made it easier for me–not a doctor–to follow along.
The real gift of this book is Verghese’s gift of creating characters. I didn’t love them all. In fact, I vehemently hated a few. Yet, every emotion they evoked was intentional and I can’t fault that. The details of this story may become fuzzy to me over time, but I won’t forget Marion the people in his life.
While I still don’t think I would suggest this for someone’s book club (because of the length), I do highly recommend it. Just take your time and let it soak in.
Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney
Date finished: September 28, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / A
Alice Feeney is an author I’ve heard a lot about but had never read. I chose this as my first Alice Feeney reading experience when I learned that it was meant to be an homage to Agatha Christie, which it pays successfully.
Between the time I heard about this and when I read it, I saw a lot of mixed reviews, and I get why that is. This is based on And Then There Were None, which puts it in a difficult position. Some readers will expect something they may not get, while others will feel it is treading on well-trod ground. However, I didn’t find myself torn on this point–in many ways, it was a love letter to Agatha Christie, and I was happy to go where Feeney was taking me.
Okay, I see how the ending can be divisive. I fell into the camp of enjoying it, but I understand that others may not have liked it. I thought I had the book figured out and was surprised at how things went, yet felt like it made sense when it was revealed. I will say that there were some logistical issues in the end–not in how it ended, but more in the “how does that work?” sort of way.
I was struck by the loveliness of Feeney’s writing and even copied out some passages that I found particularly evocative. I felt that the pacing was perfect for this sort of story, and it kept me turning the pages.
While I felt a few things could have been improved, I enjoyed this book, and I will be adding Alice Feeney’s backlist to my TBR.
Sulfur Springs (Cork O’Connor #16) by William Kent Krueger
Date finished: September 30, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / A
Just when you think you have William Kent Krueger figured out, he throws you a curveball. This time, we leave the Northwoods of Minnesota and head South…far south.
Normally, I would not appreciate such a change of setting because I think the Boundary Waters and environs are important to Cork’s story. However, Krueger brings him to Southern Arizona, another area I know quite well, and it was fun to visit another familiar place with Cork. For the record, Krueger nails the setting.
The change of setting also gives this series a “fish out of water” element that is unique. Cork is not the Sheriff, nor is he working with the police. Nobody knows him, and he doesn’t know who to trust–and there are plenty of people not to trust.
We also get a better look into Cork’s relationship with his new wife, Rainy. Their relationship has mostly developed off-page at this point. Rainy has always been a character who is interesting but not completely developed. Here, we get her back story and a taste of the kind of woman she is (and, in my opinion, Cork has upgraded in the wife department).
The violence in this book is more explicit, and there were a few points where I had some trouble reading it. However, the graphic nature fits the story, and I don’t feel it indicates a change in Krueger’s writing style.
While I’ll be glad to return to Minnesota, I’m glad that Cork took this trip to Arizona. It was fun diversion of the series and it gave us a new insight into Cork’s new life with Rainy.
True Biz by Sara Nović
Date finished: October 4, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ / B
I feel like I need to review this on two different scales. I read this for my marginalized authors book group as it is written by a member of and is about the deaf community. My experience of reading it as a testimony for the deaf community was quite different from my experience of just reading it as a story.
I have very little experience with the deaf community. My father’s side of the family tends to lose their hearing in their late 80s, and I have an uncle who got a cochlear implant once he reached that point. That sort of experience has little, if anything, to do with what Nović writes about in this book. I felt like I was learning about a new culture with this one. Of course, I know that people experience deafness, but I hadn’t realized the challenges that deaf culture faces simply to survive in the face of forced assimilation. I’ve seen numerous videos of young deaf children who have recently received an implant and are hearing their parents’ voices for the first time and never thought that maybe the real-life experiences of these children weren’t the heartwarming memes that I’ve seen. Nović dives deep into these experiences, and through this book, I developed a respect for a culture I had never considered before.
On the flip side, the actual story of this book didn’t completely work for me. Part of this was simply preference. While I don’t think this book is characterized as Young Adult, it has a very YA feel. I don’t think there is anything wrong with YA literature, but it isn’t something that appeals to me right now (my kids are reaching the YA age, and I prefer to read books that escape my current reality).
The bigger issue with me is that I couldn’t understand Charlie’s relationship with Slash. It seemed like Nović was trying to justify it, but it just didn’t make any sense to me. Upon finishing the book, I realized that it was a case of A having to happen so B could happen, but that just highlighted how out of place it was. As it took up so much of the book, this became a substantial distraction.
I also wish Nović had delved deeper into Charlie’s relationship with her dad. A good amount of time is spent on her relationship with her mother (which felt very one-dimensional), but I felt like her father was just an afterthought.
I’m glad I read this book, and I’m glad that it exists in the world because it highlights the deaf community, unlike any other book I’ve encountered. I wish the story were stronger, but I would love to read more from Nović.
Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories
Date finished: October 6, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / A
I started this almost immediately upon finishing the Hercule Poirot collection, so I tend to think of the two in comparison with each other. While you can see the evolution of Agatha Christie’s writing the Poirot collection, this collection is more uniform in style. There are no clunky early stories, and there are no later stories that put the rest of the collection to shame. These are well-polished stories from an author who has come into her own voice.
There are more fundamental differences, too. While both Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple fall under the detective umbrella, they are each unique creatures. Poirot is an actual detective and comes to his mysteries in a defined role. While clearly the smartest person in the room, Miss Marple is an older woman to whom limited regard is given. In many of these stories, she isn’t even involved in the central crime but is the only one able to put the pieces together to solve it.
Some say that the Miss Marple stories (and novels) are cozy, but I don’t ascribe to that opinion. Yes, you have the village setting, and the crimes are usually relayed in less graphic terms. But Miss Marple definitely has a harsh undertone that is oddly delightful.
If you are looking for a short story collection and not necessarily trying to read everything Agatha Christie has written (as I am), I would recommend this. It’s a delightful way to make the acquaintance of Miss Jane Marple.
The House at Sea’s End (Ruth Galloway #3) by Elly Griffiths
Date finished: October 8, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5 / B+
One would think that archeological murder mysteries would start to get old, but Ruth Galloway is still going strong.
Ruth is as delightfully awkward as ever, and now she’s a mom with all the mom insecurities. There is a lot of Ruth trying to juggle motherhood and her career, but it is done endearingly and not the same-old, same-old. She now also has an official relationship with the police department, which allows her presence in these murder cases actually make sense.
I quite liked the mystery here. There are a couple of levels to it, and I was surprised at the reveal, even though I realized retrospectively that the clues were all there. Ruth’s supporting cast is still here, and they are becoming more fully formed characters in their own right.
My issue with this book was including a friend from Ruth’s past. I’m not sure why she was there, but I also felt that her story was given the short end of the stick. She seems like she would be an interesting character, and we are given enough of her backstory to entice us, but then it doesn’t go anywhere with no promise that we’ll ever see her again.
While that additional character was a distraction that took me out of the story, I still enjoyed the bulk of this novel. I’m here for Ruth and can’t wait to see what she digs up next.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Date finished: October 9, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ / B
This one had been on my TBR for a while, and I was holding it to read until October. I enjoy Native American Literature, and I’m going all in on Spooky Season this year, so this sounded perfect. Well, maybe not so much.
The basis of this story is fantastic the plot definitely kept me going. However, it took me a while to settle in with the writing style, and I felt like I missed out on some of the first section because of that. However, I was there for the story once I found my footing, and it was right where I wanted it to be on the spooky meter.
What I was not there for was the level of graphic violence. I can usually handle violence on the page without a problem. This book, however, crossed the line several times. I don’t know if I can say it was gratuitous, but it made clear to me that there I can only take on-page violence up to a point.
This book was not for me, but it has its merits, and I think that some readers would love it.
The Last Wild Horses (Klimakvartetten #3) by Maya Lunde; narrated by Karen Gundersen, BJ Harrison, Christa Lewis, Sarah Mollo-Christensen, and Rob Shapiro
Date finished: October 11, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ / B
I have listened to this second book by Maja Lunde, and I really enjoy her flavor of climate fiction. However, this book didn’t work as well for me as her previous book, The End of the Ocean.
The foundation of this book is a species of wild horses found in Mongolia. On this foundation, three stories are built: a nineteenth-century man who travels to Mongolia to bring horses back to Russia, a late twentieth-century German veterinarian who is working to return the horses to Mongolia, a Norwegian woman four decades in the future who is trying to save not only the last of the wild horses but also her and her daughter’s life. Through these three lenses, we see the effort to save a population. Sometimes that population is the wild horses of Mongolia, and sometimes it is humanity.
While I found the story interesting, I felt this book bloated. Her previous book had 2 different timelines, and it was a much more streamlined experience. Three timelines are just one too many, and I felt that Mikhail’s story was superfluous. While Karin’s and Eva’s stories work well together, Mikhail’s just seems out of place. Every time Lunde cut to his story, I was immediately taken out of the story.
This book would have been much more impactful if it were just 2/3 of its current form. However, the 2/3 of the book that did work made this a worthwhile, if imperfect, read for me.
The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
Date finished: October 13, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / A
When they claim that this book is a mix of Mexican Gothic and Rebecca, they hit the target. This is a good, old-fashioned gothic haunted house story with a menacing former wife.
I suppose describing it makes it sound formulaic, but it really isn’t. There are enough details to truly enrich this tale and keep you guessing. Given its comps, I was looking for certain things, but Cañas smartly subverts expectations at key points. She also hits the mark on the atmosphere, creating a community brimming with secrets and things that come out at night.
If I had any complaint about this book, it would be that I would have liked the mercury on the spooky meter to go up just a bit. I don’t think this book was especially tame, and I did get a chill now and then, but I was never truly spooked. However, I’ve been leaning into horror this spooky season, so my tolerance may be on the high side. Another reader might find this frightful (in the appropriate way).
This was an excellent debut, and I hope we get more from Isabel Cañas in the future!
Desolation Mountain (Cork O’Connor #17) by William Kent Krueger
Date finished: October 14, 2022
Rating: Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / A
Cork O’Connor is back, and he’s playing with the big guys this time.
While Cork is back in his beloved Northwoods of Minnesota, this plot definitely has a bigger reach–domestic terrorism? Cover-ups? Assassination? Cork is in an entirely new arena, but he’s not alone. He has his family (minus Annie, who is conspicuously absent) and his mide, Henry Meloux. He also has an acquaintance from his past, a former secret service agent now working for hire.
Honestly, this story shouldn’t work. The scope is just too large for Cork’s world. However, the addition of his old something-like-a-pal, Bo Thorson (a character who was introduced in a previous and lesser-known standalone novel). Without Bo, there would be no way I could have suspended my disbelief.
We get a lot of Stephen in this book, who has become an interesting character on his own. My guess is that Stephen’s character will continue to develop alongside his father’s scrapes in the future. I would have liked more of the newer characters, Rainy and Daniel. However, I hope they will become more integral in future novels. And, as usual, Waboo steals the show and the readers’ hearts.
I enjoy it when Cork steps out of his comfort zone now and then. Krueger seems to know how much of that is appropriate, so I’m not worried about the series’ future. This was a fun romp, but I’ll be happy when Cork returns to his usual cases and dangers.
A Mirror Mended (Fractured Fables #2) by Alix E. Harrow
Date finished: October 15, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / A
After reading this book, I realized something very quickly: it has the same plot as Marvel’s Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Magic. There is nothing wrong with that–superhero movies are modern fairy tales, and fairy tales have familiar tropes. It also shows that this story doesn’t need fancy special effects or lazy misogyny (looking at you, Marvel) to succeed.
Zinnia has been jumping around various Sleeping Beauty stories for a few years now, and then, one day, she ends up in Snow White’s story. But she’s not with Snow White, she’s with the Evil Stepmother, who is really, really sick of being a villain. Harrow uses the jumping-off point to use the idea of a multiverse to develop her characters deeply. I think I may have enjoyed this book more than its predecessor.
I greatly enjoy these Fractured Fairy Tales, and I hope that Harrow continues to keep them coming. I mean, aren’t we due for a Cinderella tale?
The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex
Date finished: October 18, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐.5 / C+
This is one of those books with so many pieces that I like, but they just didn’t come together.
The premise of this story is fascinating, and I loved the atmosphere that Stonex created. However, jumping between two time periods hurt this story as I never felt I could become invested in either plotline. I also had trouble connecting the two different timelines together. Obviously, I could see how they fit, but they never felt like they were in the same universe.
As for the pacing, I felt this book spent too much time idling. There was always a promise of some development, but payoffs were few and far between. There just wasn’t any earned suspense here.
I will give Stonex credit for her writing style, which was quite lovely. I’m willing to chalk this up to a book that just wasn’t for me and give her another chance.
Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
Date finished: October 18, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐.5 / C+
It seems like everyone loves this book, so why was it just “meh” for me?
I think it comes down to two issues. The reading world is hyping this book to the heavens right now. I should have known better than to pick up something, knowing I was coming in with high expectations. Not everyone has my problematic relationship with hype. If you do, I suggest waiting at least a year to read this–or until it isn’t the book on everyone’s lips.
The second issue is that the success of this book relies on the reveal. You will most likely adore this book if you are surprised by the reveal. Unfortunately, I realized what was happening very early (like within the first 10 pages). I had no sense of suspense or wonder about this book; those ingredients are needed for this book to work for a reader.
So, what can I say? The prose was nice, although I don’t know if I would read any more of Valente’s books based on that. This isn’t a bad book, but it was not a book that worked for me.
Alone in Wonderland by Christine Reed
Date finished: October 22, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5 / B+
I’m going to start this review with an apology: I will be referring to another book, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, often here. This book follows in Wild’s footsteps and name-drops Wild occasionally.
Like Wild, this is another account of a woman who takes to the trail to figure out her life after the death of a parent. For Christine Reed, that trail is the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier in the state of Washington.
You can’t miss the similarities between the two books, but I would not say this is one woman’s attempt to retell another book. Instead, Reed takes inspiration from Strayed to find a way to process her own story.
This book departs from Wild in several ways. Reed is far more prepared than Strayed was to take an extended backpacking trek. Also, Reed’s backpacking journey is a more realistic undertaking for someone who isn’t a seasoned trekker. Instead of a month-long hike up the west side of the country, Reed takes an 11-day hike in a well-traveled area.
The more important difference is that Wild is a book that is written several years after the events it recounts. Reed’s book comes shortly after her own hike, and it’s clear that she is in a different place with her grief and struggles. We are working through her issues with her, not watching her reflect on the past.
Reed also does something interesting with the structure of her memoir–she divides her hiking memoir from her grief memoir in alternating chapters. When I first realized this was happening, I worried that this would make the book feel choppy. However, I quickly realized that this made for a much clearer reading experience. It also leads me to believe that readers who did not like Wild may have better luck with this book.
Reed has a clear voice, although I do feel that she lacks nuance at times. This is her debut novel, and I feel like she is a writer who may improve with time. As it is now, the writing is fine, but sometimes I bit too guarded.
While I feel Reed has room to grow as a writer, I did enjoy this book…and now I want to do some hiking on Mt. Rainier.
And now…for something new
At this point, I normally list what I’m currently reading. But this week I started something new…a BookTube channel! I have to admit that I have absolutely no clue what I’m doing and this video is a little rough. I’m hoping that each video will get a little better, but time will tell. My goal is 2 videos a week and one will include what I normally post here (I’ll still do this post, but I’ll include the video in this section). So, check it out and let me know what you think!