Average Girl Reads
Simple book reviews and commentary from the girl next door.
In one of my January posts, I set two goals for myself: to read at least 25 books this year, and to read at least five of the books stored on my iPad. Although I have a dismal history of not completing goals, I actually managed to complete these two well before the end of the year! As of this writing, I have completed 72 books, and 10 of them were from the stash of books in my Kindle app.
While I am happy that I finally met my goals, I also feel a little guilty in claiming success. No matter how hard I try, I am still having trouble shaking the feeling that my preference for genre fiction over literary fiction makes my accomplishment less impressive. At least 90% of the books I read this year were historical romances. This has been a stressful year (difficult new job for me, loss of job for my husband) and historical romances calm my nerves and help me escape. However, novels in this genre tend to be quick reads for me; I can usually finish one in two days. Is completing 72 of these books really an accomplishment compared to someone who finished "War and Peace" and "Moby Dick" in the same year?
Of course, I can always look at this from another angle. Part of the reason that I wanted to read more books was to vary my activities. It is the same reason that I want to do more knitting and devote my time to learning other skills instead of always reverting to playing iPad games and watching TV during my free time -- I want to keep my mind more active with a variety of activities. When viewed from that angle, I'm not sure that it matters what I read. Some people say that the best exercise is the exercise you will actually do. Perhaps the same thing applies to books, in that the best books are the ones you will actually read.
Last week I made a discovery while reading a book entitled Looking for La La: I have trouble with stories that have a messy protagonist. When I say "messy", I'm talking about a lead character who can't seem to pull his or her life together to the point. The heroine of this book, Cathy, was a stay-at-home mum who wasn't much of a housekeeper or a cook. She wasn't very good at the parenting bits like keeping up with the kids' field trips and such. Up to this point, I could identify with her. However, she also had a penchant for lying for no good reason and drinking every day to the point of falling down. The lying and the drinking, combined with the other stuff, made me wonder what Cathy's husband and friends actually see in her. The sloppiness is meant
A protagonist doesn't have to be perfect for me to read a book. However, since I read for enjoyment, I want to see a messy protagonist discover more about herself and start to make positive changes. With Looking for La La, the story ended happily but I never got the feeling that Cathy learned anything. Her lies got her in trouble a lot throughout the story, but everyone forgives her in the end without her really doing anything to earn it. All her friends have major life moments all around her, but Cathy ends up where she started with a messy house and no job.
I guess what I'm saying is that I like to see growth in the main character. Even though I know that the books I choose are escapist , it is still encouraging to me when the characters find their way. Stories of growth and redemption, however unrealistic, make me optimistic about improving aspects of my own life.
If you read enough romance novels, especially the historicals, then you will eventually come across the name Georgette Heyer. From what I understand, she was the mother of the Regency romance. Although my preferred setting for historical novels is the American prairie, I've seen enough references to Heyer's work that I was beginning to think I was missing something. So when I ran across April Lady on the NC Digital Library site, I figured I'd give it a shot.
April Lady is about a husband and wife who each think that their spouse married them for convenience, but actually they are in love with each other. Between listening to bad advice and dealing with the messes that their family members make, the couple is pulled farther apart before everything is righted in the end. I was attracted to this plot because the couple is already married at the beginning of the novel, which is different from most of the romances I read.
How did I like my first Georgette Heyer novel? My feelings are mixed. I expected the language to be a bit formal and difficult for me to understand, but parts of the dialogue had the rhythm of 1930s movie slang and was quite enjoyable to read. Unfortunately, the characters spend a lot more time thinking about their situations instead of talking to each other. The plot goes around in circles for quite a while and I was tempted to stop reading the book a few times. It reminded me of those thin Harlequin romances that all my classmates were reading when I was in junior high, the type of story that would end on page 10 if the husband and wife would just talk to each other. However, the final scenes of the book were amusing and made me decided to try another Heyer book.
The thought occurred to me that perhaps April Lady isn't from Heyer's heyday, and the reviews on Goodreads seem to bear this out. Several Heyer enthusiasts on the site note that this is, in their opinion, an inferior reworking of an earlier Heyer novel, The Convenient Marriage. Based on this, I may try another romance from the earlier part of the author's catalog.
Waiting for Summer's Return by Kim Vogel Sawyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Synopsis: After moving to the Kansas prairie, Summer Steadman loses her husband and children to typhoid fever. She has no job and no family to go back to, so she accepts Peter Ollenburger's offer to tutor his convalescing son in exchange for room and board.
This is the first book in a series, but it doesn't end in a cliffhanger. It is one of those series where all the books stand alone fairly well. The main connecting thread seems to be life on the Kansas prairie. I didn't even realize that I had read the sixth book in this series until after I finished this one.
I categorize romance novels as either "sweet" or "hot". This one is definitely sweet romance with the Christian element front and center. There is not a single scene that would make a reader blush. The couple gets together in a realistic manner, and they are given time to resolve their individual issues without the solutions felt hasty or forced. The heroine is dealing with heavy grief in the beginning of the book, and I appreciate the author not trying to brush past it quickly to get to the romance. I would definitely pick up another one of her books the next time I am in the mood for a gentle heartwarming story.
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Rain Shadow by Cheryl St.John
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Synopsis: Rain Shadow is a white woman who was raised by the Lakota Sioux after her parents were killed. She is also a single mother traveling with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show when their train gets derailed and her son is injured. This forces her to stay with Anton, a widower with a son. Everyone around them sees that they should be together, but will they figure it out?
This is not a full review, but rather a few thoughts:
--This story is the second in a series, but I don't feel that I missed anything by not reading the first book.
--One of the main plot lines was the heroine looking for her family, and I felt that it was wrapped in an unsatisfactory manner with a few lines at the end of the book.
--There was one of those minor obstacles between the hero and heroine that make a reader say, "Really? That is keeping them apart?". Luckily, there were also more major and believable obstacles that are the main focus of the plot so the minor one isn't too annoying.
--The name of the series, Dutch Country Brides, made me think it was what I would call a sweet or clean romance. However, it was more of a hot romance; not as hot as full-on erotica, but it might make a reader of Christian romances blush.
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When Calls the Heart by Janette Oke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I picked this book up because Hallmark is running a TV show based on the series. Since I had already watched the first three episodes of the show, I figured reading this book would be like a review. Boy, was I wrong! I don't know if the plot points from the show were pulled from later books in the series or created specifically for TV, but they aren't anywhere in this book. From what I know of Janette Oke's writing, I think the TV scriptwriters adding twists to try to make the story more exciting.
The one thing the book and TV show have in common is that the main character Elizabeth is a privileged young teacher who leaves her family to teach on the other side of the country in a small town. The book is a quiet year-in-the-life sort of story told in first person. You follow Elizabeth from settling in to the teacherage at the beginning of the school year until she leaves at the end of the school year, with all her little adventures in between -- getting supplies, ridding her house of mice, and such.
Overall I did enjoy the book, especially the fact that the main character isn't quite as helpless as she appears on the TV show. There is a Christian aspect to the book, but it isn't as front-and-center as in some Christian romances. Also, the story ends with what I think is the right balance for a book that is part of a series. You could stop at the end of this book and be satisfied that the story is wrapped up, but reading another book with these characters would also be nice.
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