Reading Roundup: October 2015

The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig

 Willig has become one of my favorite authors for romantic historical fiction (if you like Kate Morton, you should try Lauren Willig). Some of her other books have used a structure that alternates between the present and the past, but this one is set completely in the past (early 1920s England) and has a more straightforwardly linear structure than some of Willig's other books that I've read. It was a fun read and I enjoyed the story; the resolution to the mystery also surprised me as well. The characters all felt a little flat, however, and I would have enjoyed the book more if it had had more emotional depth.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

This was our book club read for the month, and we all agreed that it was kind of boring. On the one hand, James avoids a lot of the problems that I've seen in other homages to Austen. She stayed fairly true to the characters and the time period in which the books were set. However, the tone of the book was really flat and there wasn't much dramatic tension, or even emotion from the characters. It was also the annoying type of mystery that can't be solved until some late-stage dramatic reveal that comes out of nowhere. I didn't hate the book, and I thought some of James' little references to other Austen works were fun, but it was not a favorite.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

The voyeur in me picked up this book solely to find out more about the mysterious tragedy mentioned in the plot summary, but it turned out to be a really great read after all. It's structured a bit like a mystery, with the root cause of that tragedy hidden at the end, but it's not really a mystery novel. Also, it's the kind of book that has chapters from many different characters, and sometimes that really doesn't work, but in this case it does. I like books like this that function like a puzzle, as we start to put together all the different moving parts and see how they all work together in the end. The payoff wasn't as big as I had hoped, but it was still a great read.

After You by JoJo Moyes 

The problem with writing a sequel is that it is nearly impossible to live up to the delightful experience of reading the first book; we already know the characters and we've already lived through some big surprises, so there's a steep hill for the author to climb. I realized in the middle of this book that it just wasn't very enjoyable because I actually liked Will a bit better than Louisa. Well, maybe not, but one of the things that made Me Before You so enjoyable was the interplay between the two characters. A sequel just doesn't work without one of those two characters to serve as a foil for the other. I know that Moyes got a lot of pressure to write a book about Louisa, and there were a number of things that I liked about the book, so it wasn't all that bad.

Always Will by Melanie Jacobson

I first loved Melanie Jacobson's books because of the way she so deftly explored the particularities of the Mormon single adult scene; I thought this added an extra layer to her romances and made them both funny and relatable to me. This book, and her previous one, have moved away from the Mormon singles scene to more generic romance between single adults who aren't Mormon, but who also don't indulge in alcohol or who have casual sex. They are also fanatically ready to get married at age 25, like the protagonist of this book. I have no idea if this is true-to-life at all or not; I live in Utah and I'm nearly 38, so it's not like I know very many non-Mormons in their twenties. It's just interesting to read a book about characters that could be Mormon, but probably aren't, and even if they are they don't talk about church at all. It was still a fun little romance and I mostly enjoyed it, although I thought it was a bit too heavy on the angsty discussions and could have used a little more action.

Key Lime Pie and Blackberry Crumble by Josi Kilpack

I have now read all of the Sadie Hoffmiller mysteries, even though things were a bit out of order. I think that the first book was really strong, and then things were somewhat uneven but generally got better from that point on. One of the things that I found interesting was that, like Jacobson, Kilpack seemed to want to create a character that would be relatable to Mormons but that wasn't actually Mormon so she could appeal to a more general audience. Blackberry Crumble included Sadie going to church and teaching Sunday School, and dealing with some gossip from her church community about her actions, but it felt a little weird to me since church-going didn't seem to be a big part of her life in the first few books in the series. It didn't come up a lot in the rest of them either. Granted, most of the books take place within a short window of time and Sadie is often some place besides her home, but this aspect of her life doesn't always seem to be as fleshed out as it could be. Key Lime Pie deals with a character from a previous book who seemed to have a bit of a personality change between that book and this one, and it just wasn't that enjoyable to me. It also seemed to need more filling out of the characters and better descriptions, since I had a hard time really caring about any of them. Blackberry Crumble was a little more fun to read and had more complex conflict so I had a better time reading it.

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