Sunday, October 1, 2017

Book Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #3, 2017)


Original Summary


Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges of waywardness, incorrigibility, and moral depravity. The strong-willed, patriotic Edna Heustis, who left home to work in a munitions factory, certainly doesn’t belong behind bars. And sixteen-year-old runaway Minnie Davis, with few prospects and fewer friends, shouldn’t be publicly shamed and packed off to a state-run reformatory. But such were the laws—and morals—of 1916.

Constance uses her authority as deputy sheriff, and occasionally exceeds it, to investigate and defend these women when no one else will. But it's her sister Fleurette who puts Constance's beliefs to the test and forces her to reckon with her own ideas of how a young woman should and shouldn't behave.

Against the backdrop of World War I, and drawn once again from the true story of the Kopp sisters, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions is a spirited, page-turning story that will delight fans of historical fiction and lighthearted detective fiction alike.

My Thoughts


Where do I start? I must have been too excited, too hopeful, so when Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions let me down, it really let me down. I loved Girl Waits with Gun and Lady Cop Makes Trouble, but this one? It just fell . . . flat. Horribly, boringly flat. It took me roughly 2 weeks to read this cover to cover, when the others took me 3 days, at the most.

Breaking down the problems: too many vignettes of those girls who have given "midnight confessions" to Constance, no genuine mystery for Constance to be involved in other than trying to keep immoral girls out of being sent to prison (which I get, but still, this is a bit of a historical mystery series so more please), and finally the political figures were too stereotypical of the parties in question according to how the opposite party views them. For example, Constance and Sheriff Heath are democrats so they're all for social reform and the Republican figures are characterized as heartless wolves who want anyone with a "social disease" behind bars. No bias at all, there.

It probably didn't help that I was about ready to wring Norma Kopp's neck. She's been annoying in each book with her staid ways. She's an ISTJ gone horribly wrong because no one ever bothered to try and stand up to her so now she rules her family with an iron hand "for their own good." And Constance hasn't got the guts to stand up to her sister in any sort of scenario that matters. For a lady cop, she's pathetic when it comes to wrenching back some of the power her sister is hoarding.

And as for Fleurette, run, girl, run. Norma will lock you up in your room and throw away the key if you stay any longer. And Constance stands up for you only so far. Of the 3 sisters, I like Fleurette the most. She stands a chance of perhaps living a normal life if she's able to make a go of it. I think owning a dress shop would suit her perfectly, give her respectability, and a lovely income. So that's my vote and prayer for Fleurette for the next book in the series. Not that she would be an actress, but that she would fulfill one of her incredible talents as a seamstress.

Then you have the vignettes. Minnie drove me crazy because she's a bit narcissistic and is willing to do anything to obtain pretty things and a nice lifestyle. I didn't mind Edna because she at least had a purpose for wanting to be on her own, and pretty noble one, wanting to serve her country during a time of war. I just felt that there were too many points of view just thrown at the reader. While I agree that locking wayward girls away until they're a certain age is ridiculous; I also didn't care for being thwacked upside the head by the idea that nobody should be held accountable for their behavior.

So, while I didn't hate Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions, too much of it didn't work. It's the only one in the series that has disappointed me so far. I'm hoping the next in the series (if they continue), will have an actual plot for me to follow and won't just spend the entire book wandering in circles. Give me a murderer or a thief, please!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Mini Book Review: A Thing of Beauty by Lisa Samson (2015)

Former child star Fiona Hume deserted the movie biz a decade ago--right after she left rehab. She landed in Baltimore, bought a dilapidated old mansion downtown, and hatched dreams of restoring it into a masterpiece, complete with a studio for herself. She would disappear from public view and live an artist’s life.

That was the plan.

My Thoughts

This is one of those books that I gulped down so fast that now I can almost remember nothing about it. I hate it when I do that. I do know that I loved reading it because it felt like it had a depth to the writing and story that I don't find that often.

But now I feel guilty that I can remember so very little, sort of like Lucy in Narnia when she read the story in the book of spells on that one island and then, once she had finished, couldn't re-read it because the book wouldn't let her, and then she could only remember vague images and snatches of the story. Just know that I loved it!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Book Review: Fairer Than Morning by Rosslyn Elliott (Saddler's Legacy #1)


Official Summary


On a small farm in 19th-century Ohio, young Ann Miller is pursued by the gallant Eli Bowen, son of a prominent family. Eli is the suitor of Ann's dreams. Like her, he enjoys poetry and beautiful things and soon, he will move to the city to become a doctor.

Ann travels to Pittsburgh, accompanying her father on business. There she meets Will Hanby, a saddle-maker's apprentice. Will has spent years eking out an existence under a cruel master and his spirit is nearly broken. But Ann's compassion lights a long-dark part of his soul. Through his encounters with Ann's father, a master saddler, Will discovers new hope and courage in the midst of tremendous adversity.

When the Millers must return to Ohio and their ministry there, Will resolves to find them, at any cost. If Will can make it back to Ann, will she be waiting?

My Thoughts


Rosslyn Elliott's name first crossed my radar about 5 years ago while I was working at the library and in charge of organizing the Christian fiction section. I remember being impressed with the quality of her cover design (I was a bit of a sap over pretty covers at that point). I wanted to read her work, but made the mistake of picking up Sweeter than Birdsong first. I'm not sure how I missed that it was the 2nd in a series, but somehow I did, and it just did not hold my attention.

God works miracles, no matter how small. As my family prepped for our latest family vacation, I hopped out my local library's collection of ebooks and checked out at least a dozen for the trip; determined to give myself a decent selection because I never know what will appeal to me when. Fairer Than Morning happened to be one of my choices and on the flight back home from one of the longest layovers of my life, I decided to start reading it.

Life has intervened a time or two which is why it's taken me a good couple of weeks to finish it, but one thing I do know is that Rosslyn Elliott impressed me. I didn't realize until the afterword that her book was based off the real lives of William Hanby and Ann Miller, but that little tidbit of information only made me love their story all the more.

Fairer Than Morning is beautiful. Not quite perfect in execution, or at least what I consider perfection, but still quite beautiful. And even though I've included the summary, know that the story is much deeper than the summary implies. I loved how faith really was a natural part of the character's lives. Preaching wasn't a part of the story, the Lord just wove His way in and out of the tale. That's my favorite element of faith-filled storytelling. It should feel natural, and Rosslyn Elliott captured that authentic feeling for me.

Will and Ann were both likeable and yet flawed in ways that I can relate to. I loved Will. Watching him grow from a teenager to a young adult, overcoming the hardships of being apprenticed to a brute, and discovering the Lord was amazing. I also appreciated his struggles with lust and vengeance. Both of those are very human feelings, very tied to our fleshly desires. Will wasn't perfect, just like Ann wasn't perfect. She had her fair share of petty moments, of weakness, of blindness towards beauty and intellect. But she also came to a profound understanding of who she wanted to be as a woman and what type of man she would be suited to marry. And it turned out that neither of the romantic heroes she had been considering were actually suited to the steady life of service her heart desired. It's not that I disliked Eli or Allan. But neither of them were of a nature to give back, to love others, and to protect the weak. Will's nature developed into a man who cannot simply stand by and watch a wrong being done without standing against it. Ann loved that in him and so do I.

Like I said, there were a few elements that didn't quite work for me. A few sappy, soap-operaesque moments that cropped up from time to time. But the real meat of the story, the progression in faith and knowledge of God and the maturing of a young man to adulthood, all of those elements stood strong and firm. So, bravo, Rosslyn, for your authentic story. I'm not sure when I'll get to the 2nd book in the series, but it is now on my list to be read.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Review: A Great Catch by Lorna Seilstad (2011, Lake Manawa Summers #2)

Official Summary


When twenty-two year old Emily Graham’s meddlesome aunts and grandmother take it upon themselves to find her a husband among the Lake Manawa resort guests, the spunky, slightly clumsy suffragette is determined to politely decline each and every suitor. Busy working in the suffrage movement, she has neither the time nor the need for a man in her life. The “cause” God has called her to is much too important.

Carter Stockton, a recent college graduate and a pitcher for the Manawa Owls, intends to enjoy every minute of the summer at Lake Manawa before he is forced into the straight-laced, dawn-to-dusk business world of his stern father. He has no plans for romance until Emily crashes into his life at a roller skating rink.

When subterfuge and distrust interfere with their budding romance, will the pitcher strike out completely? Or will the suffragette find strength in her faith and cast her vote for a love that might costs her dreams?

My Thoughts


While I enjoyed A Great Catch to some extent, it didn't live quite up to my expectations. For one thing, I didn't even remember Emily Graham from Making Waves, so I had no connection to her. I'm sure she was in that book; she must have been too vanilla of a character for me to notice.

In addition to that, I'm not fond of suffragette characters 90% of the time. There's a certain obnoxious quality to Emily that I just didn't appreciate. I'm also not much of a baseball fan and this entire book revolved around baseball and Emily bringing one of the Bloomer Girl baseball teams to Lake Manawa for a game. Now, I thought the Bloomer Girls was a fascinating bit of history, but it wasn't really enough to hold my attention. I found myself wanting to race through the book to the finish so I could start on the 3rd, which stars Lilly, Marguerite's maid, from Making Waves

Carter was too pushy with his intentions, another aspect that bored me. I guess I just wasn't sure why this story was needed when it felt much more important to tell Lilly's tale instead. And once again the reader had to contend with a heroine who wants to go her own way instead of God's way and has to be drawn back into the fold and reminded that God calls according to His purpose. I don't know, it just felt a tad cliched after having almost the exact same faith issue fed me in Making Waves.

Oh well, I guess you can't win them all. I guess I just loved Trip and Marguerite so much from Making Waves, that A Great Catch never stood a chance. It's not that the book was bad, and there's a good chance someone who loves suffragettes and/or baseball will love this book. It just didn't work for me.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Book Review: Making Waves by Lorna Seilstad (2010, Lake Manawa Summers #1)



Official Summary

When spunky Marguerite Westing discovers that her family will summer at Lake Manawa in 1895, she couldn't be more thrilled. It is the perfect way to escape her agonizingly boring suitor, Roger Gordon. It's also where she stumbles upon two new loves: sailing, and sailing instructor Trip Andrews. But this summer of fun turns to turmoil as her father's gambling problems threaten to ruin the family forever. Will free-spirited Marguerite marry Roger to save her father's name and fortune? Or will she follow her heart--even if it means abandoning the family she loves?

Author Lorna Seilstad's fresh and entertaining voice will whisk readers away to a breezy lakeside summer holiday. Full of sharp wit and blossoming romance, Making Waves is the first book in the LAKE MANAWA SUMMERS series.


My Thoughts

In a fit of positive boredom, I browsed through all the Christian fiction ebooks my library had to offer, desperate for something fun. And just happened to stumble across Making Waves. Thank you, Lord, for inspiring Lorna Seilstad to write! For gifting her with a hearty imagination, hilarious sense of humor, and the writing chops to bring a story together.

Making Waves is Lorna Seilstad's first novel, but you would never really guess it by the solidness of her storytelling. A majority of my issues with Christian fiction stems from its preaching to the choir, but Marguerite's faith felt natural, an extension of herself, probably because she spoke to God like you would speak to a friend. In that instance, the authoress reminds me a little of Stephen Bly. Stuart Brannon, Bly's first character, spent a goodly portion of his life conversing with God in a way that said the Lord was standing right next to him. Marguerite's relationship with Christ gave me the same feeling. That's what I like from my Christian fiction, and that's what Lorna Seilstad delivered.

If I were to make one mild remonstrance it's that the "villain" felt a little bit based off Cal Hockley, Rose's intended in Titanic. Abrupt mood changes, nice to mean, etc. Most people don't really swing to such extremes so it felt a bit melodramatic at times, but I loved the book so much that it really didn't matter.

One of the best things in the story was watching Marguerite realize that she couldn't lie any longer. Not to herself, not to Trip, not to Roger, and not to her family. The truth set her free in ways that lying would have never done. And God rewarded her and gave her the desires of her heart and healed her family in the bargain. The story itself is loads of fun, but it also shared a couple of important profound messages about trust and truth.

In the end Making Waves was the perfect way for me to combat boredom on a weekend. While it's wholeheartedly late Victorian, the story also delves into an area of the US that I never really experienced or even imagined. Who knew that the wealthy would go camping by Lake Manawa in order to escape the brutal heat of the summer? I learned some exciting tidbits of history and fell in love with Marguerite and Trip along the way.

Now I just have to fight back the urge to dive into the 2nd book in the series, A Great Catch. As much as I'd like to, I can't spend all my time just reading, no matter how tantalizing Lorna Seilstad makes the idea!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Book Review: A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White (2017)



Official Summary

Rosemary Gresham has no family beyond the band of former urchins that helped her survive as a girl in the mean streets of London. Grown now, they concentrate on stealing high-value items and have learned how to blend into upper-class society. But when Rosemary must determine whether a certain wealthy gentleman is loyal to Britain or to Germany, she is in for the challenge of a lifetime. How does one steal a family's history, their very name?

Peter Holstein, given his family's German blood, writes his popular series of adventure novels under a pen name. With European politics boiling and his own neighbors suspicious of him, Peter debates whether it might be best to change his name for good. When Rosemary shows up at his door pretending to be a historian and offering to help him trace his family history, his question might be answered. 

But as the two work together and Rosemary sees his gracious reaction to his neighbors' scornful attacks, she wonders if her assignment is going down the wrong path. Is it too late to help him prove that he's more than his name?


My Thoughts

Oh dear, dear, dear.

I don't know what happened.

Roseanna M. White is a lovely author and I absolute adored her Ladies of the Manor series. But something just missed the mark for me with A Name Unknown. It shouldn't have. I mean, this book has a library and a charming hero who is politeness personified.

But I felt like something was missing.

Entire scenes were skipped. I mean, if the hero and heroine are going on a trip to a magnificent castle, I want to go with them! I want to tour it with them and see what they see. Not be in the carriage with them heading to the castle and then find myself skipped ahead several hours as the heroine reminisces on how the castle was so awe-inspiring. 

Chunks of time were chopped. Weeks were lost. A chapter ends with the heroine realizing she needs to get back to the manor on her own and it's late at night. Then we're ahead at least a week at the start of the next chapter.

I honestly don't remember her other books having this time choppiness, but I could be wrong. I just felt like I was missing stuff. We had plenty of character growth, but not enough relational growth. Peter and Rosemary needed to spend loads of time together. I needed to see them go for walks, for rides, for drives into the country, and to see them walk through the bloody castle.

Rosemary's friendship with a local woman needed to be experienced and not just referenced back to after one of these leaps in time. Apparently she spent that time getting to know this young woman. I just didn't get to experience it with her, so I had no connection with their friendship.

As you can tell, the time leaps is my biggest complaint with this novel. If that had been fixed, then everything else would have fallen perfectly into place. As it is, I came out the other side disappointed and wishing that I'd waited for a copy from the library rather than shelling out $10 for a Kindle book that I will likely never read again. Oh well, live and learn. I'll still pick up her next book in the series, but my expectations are now significantly lower.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book Review: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay (2016)

Some books got it and some books ain't got it. A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay is the latter.

It felt like I started reading one novel and ended up finishing a completely different one. There was no cohesive whole, just bits and pieces that never matched up together. I was expecting a story of an art restorer and ended up in a whirlwind romance where the heroine (and you wouldn't believe how easy it is to forget her name is Emily despite the title because of how few characters actually use her name) falls in love with an Italian chef and in two weeks has given up her Americanized life and moved to Tuscany so he can help run his family's restaurant.

This one really disappointed me. I was hoping for something poignant and genuine like in Lizzy & Jane or for something magical and literary like in The Bronte Plot. Instead, I'm following a heroine who magically transforms her art from mediocre to magnificent simply by moving to Italy. None of it matched, and if that wasn't disappointing enough, any important conversations and scenes that the reader should have been privy to were referred to instead of experienced. Emily mentions that she had this conversation or was sitting with this person or experiencing that thing, but we weren't there to experience it with her. It's the worse kind of telling instead of showing.

My usual complaint of Ms. Reay's books remains the same; there isn't enough faith in this story to make it anything other than a clean read instead of a Christian one. Ben and Emily fall in love in just two weeks and never once do they express their faith to one another. Ben could have been marrying an atheist for all he knew, which would have gone off real well in his devoutly Catholic family, I'm sure.

While I may not have been overly fond of Dear Mr. Knightley because I don't care for epistolary novels, I would happily give it a re-read before ever again picking up A Portrait of Emily Price. I know that Ms. Reay loves classic literature and tries to imbue her work with it. In this last novel, she failed. Sure, there's a couple of mentions of a book by James Joyce called A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but I'm curious as to how many of her readers have picked up Joyce's tome? I know that I never have, but I have read Austen and Bronte. No more obscure reads, please, otherwise the magic of Ms. Reay as an anglophile may just fade.

The next book on her docket is The Austen Escape (releasing November 7, 2017) and I can only hope it's a vast improvement from A Portrait of Emily Price.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mini Movie - The Perfect Bride (2017)



Am I a romantic? Sometimes I wonder. I guess there are levels of romanticism in everyone, more in me that in some and less than what some of my friends possess.

But even I have to admit that Hallmark's The Perfect Bride is absolutely, well, perfect.

Especially if you happen to have a mild crush on Kavan Smith and think that Pascale Hutton is just about the cutest thing ever captured on film. Which I do. My friend's husband claims that a Hallmark movie is "good" when it doesn't end with a wedding. Well, this one ends at a wedding, but not necessarily with a wedding, if that makes any sense.

Bridal Bootcamp Instructor Girl meets adorable Wedding Photographer Boy, gets her crush going, has dreams shattered by discovering boy is actually engaged to another girl now attending her Bridal Bootcamp. Ohhhh, that angst.

What I love about Pascale is her ability to make you believe all the feels she's experiencing. Her character is a real sweetheart who refuses to do anything to ruin Wedding Photographer and his fiance's happiness.

Of course, this is Hallmark. Duh, you know what happens. But for a girl like me who only watched The Perfect Bride for Kavan and Pascale, I confess it's pretty cute.

Thank goodness for loving besties who will record a Hallmark movie for you when you don't have the station!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

CCLE - From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (1967)

And so ends my classic children's books for the month of April. And by far, my top favorite read for this month is From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. This is another one of those books that was my sister's childhood favorite, but that I had never read, although I have seen both film versions, one starring Ingrid Bergman from 1973 and the other with Lauren Bacall from 1995.

But the book has a special magic to it. I can relate to a little girl who wants so desperately for her life to change, for her to be different, that she plans the perfect runaway scheme, taking with her only a musical instrument case full of clothes and her little brother who also happens to be the moneybags in the family. I remember a few times where I was so hungry to be understood and appreciated that I tried running away from home too. Although whereas I only made it a few blocks from home, Claudia and Jamie make it all the way into New York City where they proceed to make the Metropolitan Museum their home for a week. Remember, this book was written in 1967, long before they had things like security video cameras.

And that's why I love it. This is a book of glorious imaginings and possibilities, long before the incredible wave of technology wiped a lot of magic out of our lives. Claudia makes sense to me. She helps out so much at home, being the oldest child, but she feels her family doesn't appreciate her and doesn't understand her. She yearns to be special, to be different, to do something glorious with her life, to be the heroine of her own story.

And this book helps her along that path, giving her a secret to keep, a secret about the new Angel statue at the museum that may or may not have been carved by Michelangelo, but she and Jamie discover the truth by tracking down the prior owner, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

My favorite moment in the whole book is near the end. Claudia spends a great deal of time in this story wanting to learn everything about everything, to always be learning new things, ever single day. But Mrs. Frankweiler has news for her.

She says, "I don't agree with that. I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate factors, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow."

That's a truly glorious sentiment, and that's why I love to take time to just bask in the things I already know, usually the things related to Christ. It's a beautiful feeling, a moment of certain clarity in the hubbub of life's craziness.

Out of all the books I've read for this challenge, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is the one I hope every child has a chance to read. It's encouraging beyond description.

And this is my farewell to Amanda's Classic Children's Literature Event 2017! I can't believe I managed to read 4 books this time around!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

CCLE - The Borrowers by Mary Norton (1952)

The Borrowers by Mary Norton is my 3rd book for the Classic Children's Literature Event.

This one is actually a re-read; my childhood was peppered with a love of the Borrowers and then another group of tiny people called The Littles. But the Borrowers don't have tails like the Littles, so they are slightly different.

The Borrowers are Pod and Homily Clock and their daughter Arrietty and they happen to live underneath the kitchen floor of a rather old house owned by Aunt Sophy and run by Mrs. Driver the housekeeper and Crampfurl their man-of-all-work. The Clock's story is first told to a little girl named Kate by her aunt who happened to be the sister to a Boy who moved into the house unexpectedly. Naturally, any little boy who happens to move into a house with just adults is liable to be curious, and he stumbles quite by accident across the Clock family. Imagine meeting a family of tiny little people while you happen to be reclining in the garden?

There's a good chance that a lot of modern children wouldn't understand many of the phrases in this book, but at the same time, this is a great chance to develop a child's understanding different eras, and not just lock them in to the modern sensibilities that we see today. I think that's one of the best reasons to encourage children to read historic literature; it deepens them in profound ones, at least, it does when the books have something deeper to share.

This is only the first book in a long series of adventures, and I love it so much that I intend to keep reading the series, something I wish that I'd done as a child. There's just enough imagination to feed my love of nostalgic stories, but just enough reality to keep the reader grounded. It's a brilliant book.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

CCLE - Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald (1947)

My sister read a ton of children's fiction growing up. She had diverse tastes (still does), and so her books were a little bit of everything, including the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series. I was pretty much a Hardy Boys kinda girl, so our tastes almost never crossed, but now that we're both adults, I'm actually trying some of her favorite books when she was a kid. Hence my rather odd choice of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for this challenge.

I LOVED it. You have this dear older widow woman who befriends pretty much every child in her small town, invites them into her upside-down house (the chandeliers are on the floor, etc.) and just lets them play and be creative. Eventually word gets out that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle knows children, so whenever children in the town start to rebel, inevitably the parents seek out Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for her "cures." Like the little boy who doesn't like to clean his room; she just advises them to let the mess get so big that he can't get out of his room and starts missing out on adventures with his friends. He'll have no choice but to clean his space. And the once sweet little girl who starts back-talking like crazy, so Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle loans the family her parrot who is the queen of back-talk and shows the child just how nasty the habit is. You've got the radish cure for the little girl who refuses to bathe and whose parents plant radishes in the accumulating dirt on her skin one night, and the children who don't want to go to bed on time so the parents let them stay up as late as they want without saying a word until the children are so exhausted and crabby they beg to go to bed on time.

The book is organized a little like the Mary Poppins books, but if I were to choose a favorite between the two, it would be Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle hands-down. She's a charming, delightful woman whose love of children and her neighbors is absolutely genuine. The lessons learned are all valuable since they address bad habits, and this first book in the series has "practical" cures instead of magic cures like in the later books. I'm not sure that I'll read any farther in the series, but I highly recommend the first Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as a delightful read for your little ones, especially read out-loud for story time once chapter at a time!

Read for the Children's Classic Literature Event hosted by Amanda at Simpler Pastimes!





Sunday, April 16, 2017

CCLE - Mary Poppins Comes Back by P.L. Travers (1935)

It's that time again! Time for the Classic Children's Literature Event hosted by Amanda at Simpler Pastimes!

My first read of the event is Mary Poppins Comes Back by P. L. Travers, originally published in 1935. I never imagined myself attempting to reconnect with this character since I didn't much care for the first book in the series, not because of the author's writing style, but simply because Mary Poppins is not a likable character.

However, I did pick up Mary Poppins Come Back and did read it faithfully from start to finish. These books are written rather like Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, in that each chapter is a separate vignette that eventually forms a clearer picture of the characters' lives and personalities. I'm still not entirely sold on the formatting, but it does hold its own form of enchantment for readers, like a collection of short stories all written about the same characters.

As for the book itself, Jane and Michael are the oldest children in the Banks' family, followed by twins John and Barbara and then darling little Annabel, the infant who joins the family halfway through the book. Mary Poppins, of course, is their nanny/governess, and just like the first time, she randomly appears because the children are once again in need of her. Instead of blowing in on a breeze however, now she floats down from the heavens on a kite string. Very Poppinsish of her.

The chapters are all individual tales, like I said, within the main book. We have a chance to meet Mr. Banks' nanny from his childhood (an unpleasant dictator of a woman), travel with Jane into the painting of a bowl where she nearly gets trapped, meet a relation of Mary Poppins named Mr. Turvy, learn that their boy-of-all-work Robertson Ay is actually a book character called the Dirty Rascal, fly to the sky where all the constellations put on a circus for Mary Poppins and the children, bounce around the park with the neighborhood on balloons that all magically have the owners' names printed on them, watch Mary Poppins and some very strange wooden people bring spring to the neighborhood, and finally, watch Mary Poppins ride a carousel in the park that eventually steals her away from the children.

Whewww. Like I said, each chapter is an individual vignette and there are 10 of them in total. Some of the stories, like the one with Mr. Turvy and then the one with the balloon lady are quite charming. There's an adorable innocence to them that's just a little heartwarming. And then there's the chapters that are a bit terrifying, like the one where Jane goes into the bowl's painting. She nearly gets stuck there because the little figures painted on the bowl don't want to release her and she had to be rescued by Mary Poppins.

I also didn't care much for the chapter where Mary Poppins and a character named Nellie Rubina create spring. I understand the concept without much difficulty, but Nellie Rubina is at least as disagreeable as Mary Poppins, if not more so, and I didn't like that she's supposed to be an ancestor of Noah which is why they do what they do. It was just too weird.

Just like the constellation circus was both weird and boring. Even if I'd been a child reading this chapter, I wouldn't have cared for it.

Robertson Ay's back story was possibly one of the best bits in the whole book except that it was a bit on the scary side, with a lot of people dying and getting their heads put on spikes around the castle walls. What is this . . . Game of Thrones?!

And of course, we have Mary herself. Dear Mary Poppins, a woman as disagreeable, contentious, and negative as ever. A woman who puffs herself like a little hen whenever someone dares suggest anything out of the ordinary has occurred. A woman who stops to stare at her own reflection for 5 minutes and then snaps at the children for lollygagging. She pretty much has all of the habits that one would never wish on their own children. So why, in heavens' name is she tasked with childcare?

True, she comes to Jane's rescue, and yes, she loves little Annabel, but her nasty attitude and outright lying about their adventures means she really isn't a good role model for anyone's child.

However, while I dislike Mary just as much as I did in the first book, there are I believe 8 books in the series, so maybe those later books will bring much-needed perspective on the woman. As to whether I'll bother reading those 6 books left in the series, your guess is as good as mine.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Taking a Break with Kong: Skull Island (2017)



In a fit of the good old adventuresome spirit, I talked my sister into watching Kong: Skull Island with me today. Thank goodness it was still at the theater! I'd been trying to go for a viewing since it hit theaters last month, but life got seriously in the way.

Oh well, it turns out that today was a good day for a trip to the theater. And Kong: Skull Island was a PERFECT movie for my Jurassic Park-loving self.

The Good Bits


Tom Hiddleston - Does this really need explaining? I sure hope not. I even love listening to him swear in his British accent, and for the most part, he really didn't swear all that much. Just helped keep people alive, figured out that Kong might not be a mindless killing machine, and made googoo eyes at the cute Brie Larson. It's like the adorableness of Brendan Fraser making The Mummy movies just that much better!

NOT in the city - Does anybody else get tired of Kong being in the city, crunching buildings, climbing towers, and roaring? I was ready for something different, and this is indeed that something.

The era - Whereas the X-Men reboot focuses on the rather hideous side of the 1970s, Kong: Skull Island makes the era almost appealing. We've got the end of the Vietnam war and a tiny bit of 1970s fashion without being too overwhelming. We've also got a unique perspective of the 1940s added to the story too, including one of my sister's favorite songs from WWII, We'll Meet Again by Vera Lynn. The style they chose worked, as did the crossover of values and social mores.

Witty Dialogue - A lot of action movies try oh, so hard to be exciting and thrilling, but they forget to imbue their dialogue with a tinge of humor. That's why I'm looking at the new Mummy starring Tom Cruise with a rather cynical, bored eye. It's not funny, Kong: Skull Island, despite the people dying and such, has loads of witty dialogue that had the audience in stitches. Loved it.

Shorter time-frame - AMEN! I do not want to spend 2 1/2 hours in the theater. The only time I'm really willing to do that for a movie is if Marvel heads up the name. And even then, 2 1/2 hours is a bloody long time. So having an action film be neatly concise, fitting perfectly under the 2 hour mark, just made me grin.

The Meh Bits


Bad Military Men - This gets old. I'm tired of this stereotype being constantly in use in films, so even though I loved watching Samuel L. Jackson go bananas (pardon the pun), he was putting peoples' lives at risk just so he could win a "war" that wasn't actually a war. Why bother fighting an enormous ape that's just defending his territory? Just leave already!

And, wellllll, I'm thinking that's it for the meh section. At least for me. Kong: Skull Island was well the price of my admission and despite the creepiness of ENORMOUS critters since Kong is not the only behemoth in the film, my sister and I both loved it. I'd say that for me it earns its place alongside The Mummy and Jurassic Park franchises!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Classic Children's Literature Event & Other Musings



Wow. It's been a long time since I've been active on this blog. Reasons? I'm afraid I got bored. Bored with the layouts, bored with reviewing books, just bored of the online blogging life in general, though not bored with my blogging friends, I promise.

A weird side effect of going to a writer's workshop is that I suddenly lost all desire to write. No doubt my lack of inspiration was born out of fear of inadequacy, something I've always struggled with where my writing is concerned, and I let that fear mandate my online life. Not that I was ever all the active on my blog; not when you can look at any number of book blogs and find them posting 4 reviews a day. As much as I would love being able to read that many books, my 40 hour a week job requests my presence. Alas, for all those poor, unread books!

But if there's one thing I know, it's that I have always enjoyed participating in Amanda's Classic Children's Literature Event. She used to host it in January, but moved it to April, probably a wise decision since April isn't right after Christmas.

So, knowing her event is coming up has inspired me to rework my blog a little bit, changing up the layout with, what I consider to be, a much more modern and user friendly design. I feel like my blog is more comfortable, and maybe, I'm hoping, I'll be less fidgety with it. Because if there's one thing I'm guilty of, it's never being 100% pleased with end results of graphic design.

But back to the:

Classic Children's Literature Event - April 2017


Here's how the challenge works: I read as many classic children's books as I want (published pre-1967) and write a blog post about each of them. Simple!

If I want to, I can also participate in the Read-a-Long for this session, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. While I have read Carroll's book before, it's been a long time since my last re-read. To be honest, I've never been all that much of a fan simply because Carroll was a bit of nutcase in my mind. But a part of me still wants to love Wonderland, so it's a good thing for me to re-read it, keeping a little bit more of an open mind.

In the past, I've given a list of books that I intended to read. Not happening this year. I own a couple of children's classics that I'd like to read and I'll probably head over to the library the beginning of April to scour their offerings, but as to limiting myself to a list, no can do. That always seems to be where I fail the most, attempting to fulfill a list of requirements that limit my inspiration. So I'm just going to blow wherever the wind takes me this time around.

Book Review: Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering (Drew Farthering #5)


Published 2017, rated 5 stars

Julianna Deering is my new hero. She's a queen among women; wielding her pen with the efficiency of Aragorn and his sword Anduril.

Where do I even start with my praises of Murder on the Moor?!

Okay, first of all, great character development in this 5th book in her Drew Farthering series. Drew and Madeline have been married for almost 2 years now, still happy little newlyweds, but Drew undergoes a maturing of character that involves not letting past prejudices interfere with his perception of new people that he meets. He also realizes that sometimes, his wife is right. Big shocker, there. So I was very pleased to see them grow, both individually, and as a couple. As my mother put it (she read the book first), it's terrific to see Madeline be more self-assured and less "whiny." Her words, not mine.

As a huge Sherlockian, it delighted me to see a story that obviously founds its base in The Hound of the Baskervilles, but was also completely unique unto itself. And that ending?! Oh my goodness, I had no idea that twist was coming! And that's the first time I can say that with this series, so I was thrilled beyond repair. Great job, Ms. Deering, on shocking and amazing me.

The atmosphere was perfect. I love that Drew's best friend Nick Dennison put in an appearance in his Watsonesque role. I also love that first appearance are deceiving. Drew does a lot of jumping to conclusions about people and their motives and half the time, he's wrong. It was a good lesson for him, and a good reminder for the reader that we can't see inside someone's heart and so it's wrong to judge them or think we know them when we really don't. A hard lesson to learn.

Of the Drew Farthering series thus far, Murder on the Moor is hands down my favorite, although Dressed for Death comes in a pretty close second. These books just make me so happy and feed my already fat love of all things 1930s. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Book Review: For Love and Honor by Jody Hedlund (An Uncertain Choice #3)

I didn't think it possible. But I actually enjoyed For Love and Honor. Considering how much I detested, and yes I know it's a strong word but very true, the first two books in the series, I wasn't holding out much hope.

Lady Sabine is wealthy, considers herself plain, practical, and hides a skin blemish that could very easily get her accused of witchcraft. Sir Bennet is the younger son of a family whose eldest son suffered great personal loss and in his grief managed to gamble enough of the inheritance away as to threaten the livelihood of the castle they own. Sir Bennet must find money and fast, but refuses to sell the family's treasured artwork and artifacts. He's a bit of a history nut, and since I too live with one in the form of my sister, I get where he's coming from. Lady Sabine happens to be incredibly wealthy and is tricked into visiting Sir Bennet by her grandmother, a woman who is desperate for her grandchild to find love. While Sabine thinks she is visiting Bennet to purchase artwork, grandmother has plans that involve matrimony. As it happens, Sabine and Bennet connect through their genuine love of art, history, and learning, and together prove that unlikely couples can find true love.

I'm pleased to say that Ms. Hedlund finished strong (I suspect this is the last in the series), and I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of Sir Bennet and Lady Sabine's tale. I think it had just enough of Ivanhoe in the story to hold my interest. Plus, there was no direct descriptive mention of medieval torture methods (EWWWWW!), and I felt like the characters were more relatable to me as a person than the previous novels.

Where For Love and Honor is concerned, I can honestly recommend it. In fact, I might even consider reading it again, which says a lot since I can't even fully remember what the first two novels entailed. There was a bit more authenticity to the relationship this time, and a lot less medieval torture. I still didn't see much in the way of Christian faith being represented, which disappointed me, but you can't have everything. It's simply a good read on a wintery day when you can curl up with a blanket and a warm cat and read for several uninterrupted hours.

Note: I received this ARC free from the publishing house in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

Book Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #3, 2017)

Original Summary Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges ...