Enchanted Glass

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by Diana Wynne Jones

Published 2010

This was, apparently, one of Jones’s last books, and it was an enjoyable and entertaining read.  Per usual for her, it was a bit overly complicated for my taste, but I cannot help but enjoy her writing.  Her characters are charming and likable, and the dialogue always great fun.  However, she constantly introduces concepts and never really explains what is going on.  Every time I finish a book of hers, I find myself wondering But what about…  

Still, there is something quite gripping about her stories; every time I pick one up, I can hardly bear to put it down until I’m finished, even when there isn’t a lot of action.  Both this book and Howl’s Moving Castle made me laugh because they both include a sort of helpless adult man who has been saddled with a great deal of responsibility for people, and he isn’t sure why or how but now everyone is looking up to him and expecting him to make all  the right decisions and the need him and just when he’s getting incredibly irritated, everyone hugs him and tells him how amazing he is and he is forced to grudgingly admit that he actually enjoys all the fuss he has to go through.

I really enjoyed this story.  4/5.

Happy Little Family

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by Rebecca Cauldill

Published 1947

This is a super happy and very simple little book, just a few chapters about a pioneer family.  The pencil drawings are perfect and sweet.  The stories center around 4-year-old Bonnie.  The book took me maybe a half-hour to read.  It’s a perfect read-aloud for little ones, and precious in every way.  5/5.

The Negotiator

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by Dee Henderson

Published 2000

Okay, so this is officially the first book in the O’Malley series.  I talked a bit about it in my review of the prequel for this series, Danger in the Shadows.  This series is about a group of seven adults who, as children, lived in the same orphanage.  (A home for older foster kids who were basically too old to really be “adoptable.”)  There, they became close friends, and adopted each other as brothers and sisters.  When they became adults, they  legally changed their last names to be the same–O’Malley.

The books start when they are all in their 30’s and well-established in life.  They are still very close, and that family-ness is a large part of what drives these books.

In order to enjoy them, you just have to accept the fact that somehow, these penniless orphans have managed to become a group of highly-educated and important people.  Kate, the heroine of this book, is a well-known hostage negotiator in Chicago.  Marcus is a U.S. Marshall.  Stephen is a paramedic, Jack a firefighter, Rachel a psychologist who works for the Red Cross, Jennifer a pediatrician, and Lisa is forensic pathologist.  But if you can give Henderson that caveat, the books are excellent reading.

As I said in Danger in the Shadows, Henderson does an unusually good job incorporating realistic religious discussion into her books without being flippant, preachy, or shallow.  Her characters struggle with very real problems, and she addresses those with serious answers, but in a way that fits into the natural flow of the book, helping the story move along instead of bogging it down.

At the beginning of The Negotiator, Kate finds out that her sister, Jennifer, has been diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer; her prognosis is bleak.  However, Jennifer has just become a Christian.  Her acceptance of this faith is the springboard for the series, as her sickness draws the family together and begins to force them to face issues that they have kept buried for a long time.

So, Kate is called into a negotiation situation–a man has strapped himself with explosives and entered a bank, and is threatening to blow the place up.  One of the customers in the bank happens to be an FBI agent whose name is familiar to those of us who have read Danger in the Shadows–it’s Dave, Sara’s sister.  Through a series of events, Dave and Kate continue to  be thrown together as what appeared to be a straight-forward and isolated hostage situation in the bank is actually only the beginning of trouble; an airplane explosion throws everyone into the midst of major mystery.

This is a great suspense story.  The story is well-paced, the characters very likable, the sibling rivalry and affection fun, the questions about life real.  Definite recommendation, 4/5.

Midnight in Austenland

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by Shannon  Hale

Published 2012

So.  First off, I have no idea what Hale is up to, but she published two books last year–this one, and a sequel to The Princess AcademyPalace of Stone.  I read both of them within the last month (actually, I think I’ve read almost all of Hale’s books in the last couple of months, as I read all the Bayern books and Austenland as well), and I think that she may have devoted more of her talent to Palace of Stone, which I greatly enjoyed, and not enough into Midnight in Austenland, which was a disaster.

Midnight is a loose sequel to the original Austenland.  While our heroine from the original book does not return, the setting is the same, and several of the minor characters are back for Round 2, and overall it makes sense to read the two books in order.

Except you should stop after you read the first book, and not bother moving on to this one, unless you enjoy unnecessarily convoluted plots lines, a murder that no one seems to care about, a murderer whose motive makes absolutely zero sense, and a completely depressing heroine who has dragged along the apparently necessary modern-day story of a woman whose divorced because her husband left her for someone else and now she has to find herself  because her entire identity was just her husband before and now that he’s gone what will she do well what she will do is find out that she’s a strong and independent woman who can live life on her own and be witty and clever and pretty and super funny and she can realize that her husband was a sleezeball and that it’s entirely his fault that their marriage fell apart because she’s actually perfect and made the ideal wife and never made any mistakes and it’s all the fault of that slimy husband because men are terrible unless they happen to  be this one handsome dude with a British accent that she just met who is actually perfect.

Just.  Whatever.  I’m just tired of stories about divorced people.  I realize that lots of people are divorced, so maybe they relate to this, but I’m tired of my fiction being filled with bitter, depressing women and stereotyped stupid men who can’t keep it in their pants.  It. Is. BORING.  Divorce happens because two people have decided to not work through their difficulties before one of them started cheating on the other.  I’m not saying that anyone is ever justified for cheating on his/her spouse (at ALL) but I’m tired of the assumption being that the cheater is the only person who did anything wrong, ever.  Anyway.

So yes.  Where Austenland was fluffy and funny and light-hearted, Midnight is depressing and bitter.  It has its moments of cleverness and funny lines that made me laugh, but the overall story was just so weak (seriously, the whole murder made no sense) and Charlotte is completely uninteresting to me as a person.

2/5.

The Zookeeper’s Wife

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by Diane Ackerman

Published 2007

This is actually a nonfiction account of a young Polish couple who helped protect, smuggle, and house Jews in Warsaw during World War II.  Prior to the war, they owned and operated Warsaw’s zoo (hence the title) and throughout the war still worked with animals for different reasons, giving the flexibility and cover stories that were useful to their cause.

The story is an interesting one, but Ackerman’s writing style is rather bland for me.  Instead of telling the story in a linear fashion, she just sort of recounts various vignettes. Despite the fact that these people lived intense, focused, dangerous lives, Ackerman’s book never once made my pulse race.  There was none of the connection to people and their lives as in, say, Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.  

And I think that she was writing this as non-fiction, and she wanted to be very true to the people and accurate with their story, which is why there isn’t a lot of dialogue or “and then she thought” or anything like that, and that’s fine.  While it made for an interesting one-time read, it possessed none of the drama and real-life-ness needed to make it a book I would want to add to my personal collection.

3/5.