Merry Christmas + Mini Reviews

Okay, so I’ve been a really terrible blogger (again).  It’s been the usual combination of insanity and me wondering where all my time is?!  Then, I finally return to WordPress to find that everything is different on my dashboard.  And yes, I realize I can switch to classic mode, but I always like to at least try the not-classic.

Anyway, while I haven’t exactly been in a reading slump, I’ve not really read anything that’s made me go “!!!!!!!!!” so I’ve decided to compile another mini-review post.  I kind of hate doing this because this always ends up being a super long post, but such is life.  :-D

The Hollow Hills //  by Mary Stewart  //  Published 1973


So this book is the second of the Arthurian quartet, which started with The Crystal Cave.  In this sequel, we continue to follow the story of Arthur through Merlin’s voice.  I really liked this book.  The language is excellent, and Merlin’s “Sight” allows us access to important action scenes that Merlin couldn’t/didn’t physically see.  However, a lot of this book is simply slow.  The first chunk of the book is Merlin meandering about waiting for Arthur to be old enough to be interesting.  And while I enjoy many of Merlin’s thoughts and philosophies, the book just didn’t have enough actual action to keep me really engaged.  Still, we do see the beginning of Arthur’s reign in this book, and get to see him being shaped into the man and leader he will become.

Through a man’s life there are milestones, things he remembers even into the hour of his death.  God knows that I have had more than a man’s share of rich memories; the lives and deaths of kings, the coming and going of gods, the founding and destroying of kingdoms. But it is not always these great events that stick in the mind: here, now, in this final darkness, it is the small times that come back to me the most vividly, the quiet human moments which I should like to live again, rather than the flaming times of power. I can still see, how clearly, the golden  sunlight of that quiet afternoon. There is the sound of the spring, and the falling liquid of the thrush’s song, the humming of the wild bees, the sudden flurry of the white hound scratching for fleas, and the sizzling sound of cooking where Arthur knelt over the wood fire, turning the trout on a spit of hazel, his face solemn, exalted, calm, lighted from within by whatever it is that sets such men alight. It was his beginning, and he knew it.

A Murder is Announced  //  by Agatha Christie  //  published 1950 

christie_a-murder-is-announcedIn this next Miss Marple mystery, we begin our story in the small village of Chipping Cleghorn.

Frequently, Christie employs a writing technique that I actually enjoy – chapters are further divided into little mini-chapters, with each little section switching to a different character.  Because most of Christie’s  mysteries are classic cozies with a limited set of players, this style works well, especially in the introductory chapters.

Overall, A Murder is Announced wasn’t really for me.  There were a few too many people killed, Miss Marple was just sort of dropped into the story, and the ending was a bit too much of a jump for me.  Still, the story is paced well, and I always prefer to read in the third person instead of the first.  And I have to say that the execution of the crime/perpetrator was quite well-done – for me, it was the motivation that was lacking.

So, for me, a decent read that really is about what I expect from Christie’s work in the 1950’s as opposed to her earlier, and in my mind much better, earlier writing.

Bellweather Rhapsody  //  by Kate Racculia  //  published 2014  //  A Novel


This is definitely a book that, if I was reviewing it closer to the time that I read it, would have deserved an entire post.  Tragically, I read it about six weeks ago, so the initial feels I had about this book (and there were a lot) have really quite faded.

In this novel, Rabbit and his twin sister Alice have been selected to attend a state-wide music festival for high schoolers.  The festival is held every year out in the middle of nowhere in an ancient and imposing hotel called the Bellweather.  There, we meet a strange and eclectic group of people whose lives are twined together throughout this weekend as they face ghosts both past and present.

This was an engaging book with excellent pacing.  I’m not going to lie: I was also quite drawn to the fact that the book was published in a classy font that made me happy just to look at it.  in the end, though, the curse of A Novel stuck with this book for me – it was dreadfully depressing, and no one really had a particularly happy ending.


  • Seriously?  Is this how kids think/act/talk in high school?  This book would have made significantly more sense with a setting as a college music festival instead.  The idea that some of these kids were only 14 was not only hard to believe, but, frankly, disturbing.
  • On that note:  Hello?  Chaperons?  Every adult in this book was completely self-centered and only interested in his/her personal activities.  Rabbit and Alice didn’t even know where their chaperon’s room was, and basically didn’t see her the entire weekend, despite the fact that Alice’s roommate disappears and Alice believes she (the roommate) was murdered.
  • The bad person in this  book is a really bad person.  I guess I’m not necessarily saying this as a negative, because she’s actually an incredibly well-written villain.  She is disturbing beyond belief.
  • Adultery.  Per usual.  Because apparently all adults are only driven by sex now.  These scenes where she convinces herself that she should be able to “live her own life” and “let loose” and have this one weekend out of her entire life where she’s truly free – yeah, those scenes are super boring to me.  Basically, what you’re saying is “I feel like having sex with this person, so I’m going to do it despite vows of fidelity that I’ve taken.”  What these scenes also imply is that if you’re married, it’s only because you’re too lazy or too comfortable to find something better, because obviously there is no possible way that you could still love/enjoy being with this person you married so many years ago.
  • Crazy old guy who runs the hotel – excellently done.
  • Person exploring their homosexuality?  Of course we have that.  We always have that.
  • Table of contents laid out like the program for an orchestral performance – beautiful.
  • Did I mention that this is kind of ghost story?  Because it’s kind of a ghost story.  It starts with a murder, bam!  That old ghost story is deftly woven throughout this tale, very well done.

I’m sure that this book has a lot of artistic merit, and, like I said, I found it to be an engaging read.  But it was just so depressing, and I am so over being told that marriages that last longer than five years only last that long because the people involved are too stupid to bail.  It would be really nice if someone wrote a novel about a couple who like each other and get along and still like hanging out because I know people like that so they definitely do exist in real life.  

Still, if you want to read a rather depressing-yet-intriguing tale that involves a lot of musical language, you should give it a try.   Also, I first heard about this book over at PaperBreathers, so if you want a more positive review, check out what Sophie has to say!  :-)

The Last Enchantment  //  by Mary Stewart  //  published 1979

2715068In the third book of Stewart’s Arthurian series, Merlin is growing old.  This book mostly covers Arthur’s reign and Merlin’s attempts to protect and help him, as well as the building of Camelot.  But, surprisingly, this book was really not very interesting.  I’m not sure how or why, but I really wasn’t able to connect with the characters very well.  Despite the length of these books, there isn’t a lot of depth or emotional attachment to the characters.  A lot of this book was about Merlin having ‘feelings’ or visions, and then kind of wandering about from place to place.

And, at the risk of sounding like a raving feminist, this book was really quite anti-woman.  Every woman in this book, with the exception of Nimue, was shown as either weak and flat, or evil and conniving.  Although, if I’m honest, the men weren’t much better, as they were all either stupid brutes or sneaky weasels.

The other thing that frustrated me about this book was the incredibly vague way that time passed.  I genuinely have no idea how long of a timer period this book is supposed to cover, especially since Merlin starts referring to himself as elderly in his mid-30’s!  (And yes, that struck a little close to home.)  Even though it seems like a minor thing, it made it really hard to follow what was going on.  Overall, The Last Enchantment didn’t leave me yearning to read the fourth and final book.  (Spoiler alert: I still did.)

They Do It With Mirrors  //  by Agatha Christie  //  published 1952

81In2eIi7-L._SL1500_This Miss Marple mystery was actually about Miss Marple, which was nice.  In this tale, Miss Marple goes to visit a childhood friend whom she believes may be in danger.  With an astonishingly unlikable group of people to choose from, the hardest decision I had was which of the characters I sort of hoped was the murderer!

Even though I didn’t really like any of the players, the mystery itself was well done, and I found the ending to be quite plausible.  I do enjoy the way that Christie quite often presents you with all the information you need – it’s not another clue that you need to find, but another way of looking at the clues you already have that ends up being the key to the puzzle.

While this isn’t a favorite of mine, it was still a fine read.

The Wicked Day  //  by Mary Stewart  //  published 1983

!B80Jq+gBWk~$(KGrHqUOKp!Ey+jC1UHjBM4DykfP4w~~0_1Okay, last review for this post.  I started to include Afterworlds by Scott Westerfield, but I legit do have enough to say about that book to justify making it its own post!  So we’ll finish off these mini-reviews with the final book of Stewart’s quartet, and some thoughts on the series as a whole.

In this final book, we no longer have Merlin’s voice narrating.  At the end of The Last Enchantment, Merlin basically retires (long story), so The Wicked Day is told in third person.  This book focuses on Arthur’s son, Mordred.  Mordred was conceived (and, by the way, this is all according to Stewart; I’m not really super familiar with traditional Arthurian legend, and I’m sure she’s changed things to fit her narrative) incestuously when, before he was king, or knew that he was the son of the king, Arthur slept with his half-sister, who also happens to be a witch, Morgause.  Merlin has prophesied that Mordred would be Arthur’s downfall and bane.

Mordred, like his father before him, doesn’t know how is father is, and definitely doesn’t imagine that it could be the king.  He grows up in Orkney, raised by simple fisher-folk.  When he gets a bit older, Morgause contrives to have him brought to the castle to live with her and her sons, but most people (including Mordred) believe him to be the bastard of Morgause’s dead husband, King Lot.  Eventually, King Arthur calls Morgause and her sons to Camelot, where, eventually, Mordred discovers his heritage.  He is the only son of Arthur’s body, since his wife, Guinevere, is barren, and Arthur refuses to set her aside and take another wife.  As the story progresses, Mordred and Arthur come to know and love each other, and Mordred is chosen to be Arthur’s heir.  Despite this, darkness still hangs over them and, in the end, though unwitting, Mordred is, in fact, the cause of Arthur’s death.

I really, really struggled to get through this book.  I did not like a single person.  Most of them were rather flat and uninteresting anyway.  Mordred’s half-brothers are bloodthirsty and dreadful, and there are a couple of rather graphic and gruesome deaths.  And, once again, it was just boring.  Actually, this whole series kept reminding me of when I read the Eragon books.  They came highly recommended, and I enjoyed the first book in the series, but they just kept getting less interesting and more depressing, and the characters, instead of growing and evolving, were just astonishingly flat for a books of this length.

I will say that, in many ways, Stewart has written an account of King Arthur that is (mostly) plausible, and maybe part of the reason that these books were so unexciting was that they rather read like a historical account instead of adventure in fiction.

In the end, I felt incredibly MEH about the whole series, but there are some passionate fans out there – I’ve seen these books highly recommended several places – so it’s possible that they may work for you.


Okay, that’s all for now!  The Afterworlds review will be coming soon, and then maybe I’ll (sort of) stay on top of things for a while.

Merry Christmas!!

The Dreamhunter Duet


by Elizabeth Knox

Dreamhunter – published 2005

Dreamquake – published 2007

And here we have an excellent example of why I try to not read  books until the full series has been published.  I cannot imagine waiting two years to read the concluding book in this pair.  While Knox has billed them as a “duet,” I would argue that they are really just two volumes of the same book.  Dreamhunter really has no conclusions, and Dreamquake picks up the story the same night that Dreamhunter ends.

I added these books to the TBR after reading a review on Tales of the Marvelous, but, per usual, I can’t remember what the review said!!  I’ll read it after I write this, and see if there is anything else to add.  ;-)

I don’t even know where to start with this story (I’ll probably refer to it as one story, because it really was just one story, not two).  It was completely unique, engaging, intense, and intriguing.  But, in the end, the lack of relatability with the characters, and the fact that I felt like a lot of questions were still unanswered in the end, leaves me with a 3/5 for the tale, although one of those almost-4 kind of 3s.

First off, Knox is from New Zealand, and it was so much fun to read a book set in a fantasy New Zealand instead of a fantasy America or England.  It was also completely confusing to me because I didn’t realize this until we got to a point in the story where they were having summer holidays while celebrating Christmas.  Blew my mind, really.

Anyway.  The story takes place in this country set in the early 1900’s.  It’s very similar to any country around that time, except for a crucial difference – this world possesses the Place.  Only some people can enter the Place, and out of those few, even fewer can capture dreams.  But those who can do so are known as Dreamhunters.  The Dreamhunters sleep in the Place and catch a dream.  Then they return to the regular world and are able to share that dream with anyone who sleeps nearby them.  This phenomena has set up an entire industry, with special Dream Palaces (for Dreamhunters who are able to send their dream out a ways) and Dream Parlors (for those who can only send their dream out to a room or two away), an entire governmental body to regulate the Place and the people who work there, and Rangers, who are the people who can enter the Place but can’t catch dreams – the Rangers work to keep the Place safe and to help Dreamhunters carry supplies and things that they need.

This all sounds quite intriguing, right?  Something new and different.  However, where the story starts to get a bit confusing is the next part, where I (try to) tell you who the story is about.  It’s a young adult fantasy, and there are a couple of young adults right off the bat – Rose and Laura, cousins, who are almost old enough, when the story opens, to see if they can enter the Place.  This first attempt is a formality observed and recorded by the government agency in charge of the Place – this group determines who can or cannot be licensed as a Dreamhunter.

So, I start the book thinking that it’s really going to be about Rose and Laura, and it is, kind of…  except it’s not.  Knox spends a lot of time building this world and explaining how the Place impacts the lives and community.  Laura and Rose are part of a very famous Dreamhunting family – Laura’s father is actually the person who discovered the Place, while Rose’s mother is one of the most famous and talented Dreamhunters of all time.  Rose’s father, who is not a Dreamhunter (or able to enter the Place) rounds out the family, as Laura’s mother died several years before the story starts.

And so, the story sort of ends up being about the whole family, because each member of the family is following a different strand of the story – and that was part of what annoyed me – it really felt like things could have moved along much better if they just shared information.  And it actually felt quite unnatural that they weren’t – one gets the impression that they’ve always been a very close family, so why all the secrecy all of the sudden?

None of the characters really felt real to me.  I never felt any huge emotion when one of them did something dramatic, because I was never sure whether or not it was in character – should I be surprised?  Should I think Yeah!  Exactly what I thought she’d do! ?  I just never knew.  Every time someone did anything, I felt the same as if the author had told me that the train departed from the station…  was the train supposed to depart?  Was it supposed to stay there longer?  Did everyone get on board the train first?  No clue.  Despite conversations, the characters still somehow felt like inanimate objects instead of real people.

In the second book, Laura develops a relationship with another young Dreamhunter.  This fellow apparently falls madly in love with Laura, but that whole relationship also feels extremely strange, especially when they quite suddenly decide to have sex without a lot of preamble or anything.  Except I also didn’t have a lot of strong feelings about that, either, because Knox has never really told us how Laura feels about this guy.  Is she fulfilling a deep desire?  Is she just doing this because she thinks he expects her to?  I don’t mean to sound callous, but it honestly reminded  me of a scene in Jim Kjelgaard’s Haunt Fox, where his main character, a wild fox, take his mate.  There was just no emotion.  

Just a couple of days before Laura and Sandy (the fellow) sleep together for the first time, she has this conversation with her uncle:

Then she sighed…  “Sandy suits me.”

It seemed a strange, cold thing for a girl to say, and Chorley shivered to hear it.

“I like to be with him,” she added.  “I’m safe with him.”

Then, just a couple of days later, we’re treated to this scene (they’ve already been kissing, and we’ve already had to interrupt the kissing so Laura can go pee – even though her “bladder was full but shy.  She spent a long time in the box before anything came” – I mean really?) –

Laura thought, “Do people do this?  She’d never seen anyone kissing like this.  Books said things like, “He rained kisses on her face.”  But suddenly they seemed tied together, mouth to mouth.

…[unnecessarily and weirdly detailed undressing scene]

Inside Laura’s great excitement, there was a kind of peaceful expectation.  She had felt big and powerful before, and she had felt small and lost.  Being like this with Sandy seemed the best way to discover what size she really was, and where she belonged, both in her body and in time and space.

And that, my friends, is what really bothered me about this whole situation.  Not that Laura and Sandy were having extra-marital sex, but that the author presents this scene with Laura, who is not passionately in love with Sandy, not sure that he is the person with whom she’d like to seek a deeper, more serious relationship with, and not even sure what all lovemaking really means, as a “solution” for her adolescent feelings of confusion and uncertainty about who she really is.  Because yes, if you’re sixteen and not confident in yourself, you should just go sleep with your boyfriend.  That will help you discover your true self.  Say what?!

Throughout the story, Laura is either dependent on Sandy, or on a magical servant she and her father have created.  Laura herself, who should be (and, I think, technically is) the protagonist, feels oddly thin and surreal.  While not necessarily a passive heroine – because she definitely makes decisions and makes things happen for herself – she never feels real.  I never connected with her, and never felt like Laura really discovered who she was, making her completely unrelatable for me.

Another thing that bothered me was the gruesomeness of the story at times.  One of the major dreams that is caught is Buried Alive, in which a man wakes up and finds himself in his own coffin, already buried.  When people experience the dream, they desperately try to escape the coffin, and end up self-mutilating their faces and hands in this attempt.  I felt that Knox put way, way too much detail her descriptions of people’s battered fingers and faces.  It was quite disturbing.

On top of all of this, there are just way too many subplots.  I thought maybe they would all come together in the end, but they don’t, not really.  The one that most annoyed me I’ll put under the break, because it contains a major spoiler.

Overall, I really, really wanted to like these books.  They had a unique and intriguing premise, and the world-building was excellent.  But the characters came across as surreal, and there were way too many open questions in the end for  me to really like these books, or strongly recommend them.

Continue reading

The Crystal Cave


by Mary Stewart

published 1970

So this is book one of four in the “Arthurian Saga.”  However, The Crystal Cave isn’t really about Arthur at all – it’s entirely about Merlin.  We start with Merlin as a young boy, and watch him grow to adulthood throughout this engaging story.

First off, this book is set in Wales.  I’ve always been intrigued by/wanted to visit Wales, mostly because of the names.  Who can’t be drawn to a place where people are named things like Myriddn Emrys?  I love the way that anything in Welsh immediately sounds magical.

The story itself was quite good.  I’m no expert on Arthur, and haven’t read very many different versions of the legends surrounding him.  The exception is Gerald Morris’s series (beginning with A Squire’s Tale), which are some of my very favorite books (even though I haven’t read/reviewed them since I started blogging).  The point is, I really had no idea how Merlin’s story was going to unfold, and still have no real idea how things are going to continue on in the next three books.  I am coming to the series without a lot of preconceived ideas as to how a Arthurian legend should read, so I’m not going to be able to tell you how “accurate” (is that a word for how well a fictional book follows a legendary account?) the story is.

This was a pretty serious book.  Part of the reason I read more YA fantasy than adult is that frequently adult fantasy seems to have completely lost its sense of humor and is instead very grim and intense.  This book is alright in that area…  while definitely not funny, it doesn’t unnecessarily dwell at length on depressing themes.

The story is told in first person by Merlin himself, and he is telling this story as a very old man looking back on his life.  This adds a personable touch to the story, but because Merlin is also a magician who is gifted with the Sight, he is able to tell us about other parts of the story, even if he wasn’t there in person to see it happen.  This keeps the story well-paced and engaging, as Merlin tells what is happening even when he’s doing relatively boring or mundane things at the time himself.

There’s a lot going on, and there are a lot of characters to track, but Stewart, overall, does a good job of keeping people straight and finding natural ways to remind her readers of who somebody is if we haven’t heard from him in a while.

I definitely enjoyed this story and found it engaging, and am planning to finish the series.  However, I will say that at times the story can be a bit dark.  These are definitely adult books, with topics like adultery, whether a demon can father a child, war, betrayal, murder, magic, dark arts, and more.

My problem with these stories is the problem I have with really the Arthurian legend as a whole – Merlin is a bit too much like a god for my comfort.  In these stories, particularly, Merlin believes himself to be called by God, but decides throughout the course of this book that all the gods are actually one god, and any good or worship wrought in a “good” way is service to God, while any evil or worship in a “bad” way (e.g., human sacrifice as one religion practices in the book), is service to the devil.  This is not necessarily bothersome to me as a reader, but it does make me a bit uncomfortable recommending the books, as my personal religious views are obviously quite a bit different than Merlin’s!  :-D

Overall, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.  While this book was a bit heavy at times, the story still moved well, and I am interested to read about the arrival of Arthur at the beginning of book two.

PS I’m not sure if Arthurian legend books should be categorized as historical fiction??  Any thoughts??

The Postmistress


by Sarah Blake

published 2010

So I picked this up for a quarter at the library booksale.  I wavered, because it does say a novel on the front, and I’m discovering more and more that a novels are just not for me.

The language in The Postmistress was beautiful.  However, the story was an incredible downer – nobody ended up happy, and we are left with a very hopeless perspective on life.

The story focuses on several different people.  One group lives in a small town, Franklin, on the “arm” of Massachusetts.  This group includes Iris, the postmistress.  Middle-aged and single, Iris lives a peaceful life, viewing herself as a small but critical part of the United States Government: her job as a postmistress is sacred to her.  Iris is falling in love with the town mechanic, Harry.  We also meet Emma, the bride of the town’s doctor.

Meanwhile, in England, a war is on.  Frankie, an American, is living in London and reporting, via radio, about the Blitz.  She loves her work, and Blake ties together her two locations frequently through Frankie’s stories, as the people in Franklin listen to what Frankie is reporting.  (Frankie and Franklin…  ha, just noticed that!)

Like I said, some of the language is beautiful.  The descriptions of London life during this tumultuous and terrifying time are wonderful –

A draft of night air hit her, and the sounds of bombs falling now, further along to the west.  A thick gust of smoke crossed as the wind shifted off the river carrying the stink of the explosions.  …  There was no veil, no protective curtain where it happened out of sight, “over there.”  This was the shock.  This had always been the shock, and it seemed to Frankie the most important thing for people to know.  Over here, there was nothing between you and the war.  …  That was it, wasn’t it?  The nothing between.  That scant air between the couple kissing this evening: their bodies leaning against each other before going underground was the same air between the gunners and the bombs, and it was the same air that carried her voice across the sea, on sound waves, to people listening in their chairs at home.

Or this bit –

One day someone you saw every day was there and the next he was not.  This was the only way Frankie had found to report the Blitz.  The small policeman on the corner, the grocer with the bad eye, the people you walked to work with, in the shops, on the bus: the people you didn’t know but who walked the same route as you, who wove the anonymous fabric of your life.  Buildings, gardens, the roofline, one could describe their absence.  But for the disappearance of a man, or a little boy, or the woman who used to wait for the bus at the same time as she did, Frankie had found few words:  Once they were here.  And I saw them.

As the stories unwind, the characters are woven together.  Through various circumstances, Frankie meets Franklin’s doctor in London.  Later, after she’s traveled through occupied France and part of Germany, Frankie returns to the States, and finds herself drawn to Franklin.  Because it is a novel, though, no one is allowed a happy ending.  People die (just to prove that people died), and Frankie never finds the answers for which she was searching.

Also, because it is a novel, we have to have at least a couple of random sex scenes – and, for me, details of someone losing their virginity is really just not all that interesting, you know?  And ditto for the shagging of a random stranger up against a wall outside the bar.  I mean, really?  So unnecessary.

And finally, as a novel, we have to have at least a bit of time devoted to a woman being on her period, because apparently it’s important to emphasize that women have menstrual cycles now.

(Keep in mind that this is literally out of nowhere.  The paragraph before, Frankie is just hanging out, thinking about life.)

A clot of blood released into her underpants.  Then another.  Christ.  She shimmied the three steps over to her bureau, holding her hand between her legs so nothing dripped onto the landlady’s carpet.  She reached and found a Kotex and a pair of clean underwear and fastened the one to the sanitary belt around her waist, pulled the other up, and tossed the soiled underwear on top of the blouse already soaking in the tiny sink by the door.

?!?!??!?!?!  The end.  No purpose whatsoever.  I do not understand this trend of talking about menstrual cycles.  Why….????  You know, it’s one of those things that I have to think about enough in real life, really not interested in reading about it in my fiction.  Sheesh.

But you know, I could have gotten past all that, even gotten past the fact that the first chapter is all about Iris going to the doctor in Boston so she can get a “certificate” stating that she is still a virgin so whenever Harry gets around to shagging her, she’ll be able to prove that he’s the first (!?!?!?!?), if there had been even the slightest glimmer of hope at the end of this story.  But there wasn’t.  Like most a novels, this one ended bleakly – “We can’t change what’s coming.  Something is always coming.”

I think that part of Blake’s point is that tragic things happen all over the world, but we only care about the things that touch us.  The implication, of course, is that this is wrong.  Frankie felt passionately that the States should have been involved in the war long before they were, hence her desire to tell the everyday stories in an attempt to tell the people home how everyday life in Europe was terrifying.  But as somewhat of an isolationist, I’m not sure that I agree with a lot of what Frankie has to say, or with a lot of Blake’s attempted parallels to the modern world.

If you enjoy a novels, you will probably like this book.  It is written well, and the story is engaging.  Personally, though, I really like something with at least a glimmer of hope.

ALSO something else really torqued me off about this book, but involves major spoilers, so I’ll put the minirant below the break.  ;-)

Continue reading

The Moving Finger


by Agatha Christie

published 1942

Even though it’s been a while since I’ve read them, I have this vague feeling that I really didn’t like the Miss Marple books as well as some of Christie’s others.  And I’m not sure whether or not it’s Miss Marple herself, or the fact that more books with her as the main character were written later in Christie’s career – I find myself trending towards her 1920’s and 30’s books myself.

At any rate, The Moving Finger was not one of my favorites, mainly because Miss Marple isn’t really a part of the story.  The story is about a young man named Jerry, who is recovering from a long illness by leasing a house in a small village.  With his sister to keep house for him, Jerry settles in for what he assumes will be a quiet life.  However, it isn’t long before he and his sister receive an anonymous “poison pen” letter.  Jerry finds out that several – that is to say, most – villagers have been receiving these letters.  While uncomfortable, the letters don’t seem dangerous – until a woman commits suicide after receiving one.

This is not a bad story, but it’s not a great one, either.  The characters are a bit flat, and both Jerry and Joanna’s love stories feel a bit contrived (and a bit out of place as they don’t move the story forward much).  Miss Marple pops in at the end, magically knows all the answers, and wraps everything up.  I much prefer going along with the person who knows the answers in the end.  Because Miss Marple wasn’t really a part of the story (it isn’t even her village!), it felt odd to have her be the person who pulls it all together.  In my opinion, this story would have worked better without her – as a stand alone with Jerry as the amateur detective, perhaps.

Still, a fine if not stunning addition to the Marple tales.

Digital Fortress


by Dan Brown

published 1998

First off, I just want to take a moment to say you all of you beautiful WordPress people – I love you.  All of you are so friendly and encouraging, and even when we disagree we have such good conversations.  You all make me love book blogging.  I post all of these same posts over on my old book blog on tumblr, and yesterday’s Harry Potter post caused another tumblrer to go a bit ballistic on me – they created a counter-post explaining how everything I said was wrong, and they did it all while calling me names and using clever gifs to point out how stupid I am, and how I’ve obviously never actually read the Harry Potter books (because I have so much spare time to make posts about books I haven’t read!).  And, you know, it’s the internet so that was their prerogative, but still.  It just felt like we could have had a really engaging conversation about our two differing opinions, but instead the other poster started out by telling me that I’m a “f*ing idiot” who has never read the books and who is stupid and couldn’t understand the books even if I did read them.  When I created a post (because actually this wasn’t the only person to respond, they were just the most virulent) simply saying that it’s my blog and I can have my opinion, and others are welcome to disagree but shouldn’t expect me to engage with them if they start out by name-calling, they reposted it and said that I was just a whiny whiner who expects people to kiss my ass and only listen to opinions the same as mine.  All of this has made me feel very sad about book blogging today.

So anyway, the point is, I love hearing from all of you, and love hearing what you think, even when you disagree.  And I especially love the way that we can have great conversations without calling each other stupid idiots.  Thanks for listening to me whine.  You guys are great.

Okay!  Digital Fortress!  This book was actually reviewed by my blogging friend Sophie a while back.  Here’s the ironic thing – I wrote it down when she reviewed it, but I can’t remember anything she said about – I can’t even remember whether or not she liked it!  So I’m going to write my review, and then read hers before closing to see if there is anything awesome I missed!

I’ve never read a book by Dan Brown, and it was actually mildly funny to me that I got this book and it says that it’s the author of The Da Vinci Code, which I’ve never gotten around to reading (whoops).  So I came into this book without any real preconceived ideas of what to expect, especially since I couldn’t remember what it was in Sophie’s review that made me want to read it in the first place!

The book, set in its current time (so late 90’s), is actually about a top-secret and little-known branch of the American government…  the NSA.  (It was actually quite intriguing to read a story from before 9/11, before Snowden, before anyone really know what the NSA was all about.)  Susan is a cryptographer, and she works in a secret-secret department with a huge computer that reads every email, deciphering codes as it goes.  Our story begins because someone has created an unbreakable code, which could destroy the NSA’s ability to uncover secret information before it happens.

There was a lot going on in this book.  The story was gripping and fast-paced.  Such a delight to read a third-person narrative!  Susan is a fantastic protagonist.  She’s incredibly intelligent, brilliant at her job, and a complex individual. She’s also deeply in love with her fiancee, David, who spends most of the book overseas trying to find another piece to the unbreakable code.

Cons for me –

  • lot of killing.  Nothing dreadfully gruesome, but, let’s face it, lots of people die.  Almost everyone, really.  I’m not really a big fan of bloodbaths, and some of the people were killed for fairly minor reasons.  It was hard to get emotionally attached to anyone when I was afraid they would be dead in the next chapter.
  • While I loved the third-person narrative, Brown tends to jump perspectives a lot, and without really any warning.  So at one point we could be following one person’s thoughts, and then we switch to another person in the next sentence.  At times, it made the narrative a bit disjointed because of that little jolt that comes when you find yourself thinking, “Wait, who is ‘he’ exactly??”
  • Language/a bit of sex – nothing crazy, and nothing that really detracted from the reading for me, but I’m throwing it out there.  One scene in particular with a prostitute getting it on with her customer…  all just a set-up so we could kill them in the next scene…  it felt weird.  Definitely not a G-rated book.

Pros –

  • Short chapters.  I have a serious love/hate relationship with short chapters, because I can’t resist them.  Some of Brown’s chapters were only a paragraph or two long.  It’s like candy.  I couldn’t stop.
  • Susan.  I just really liked her.  I liked how she was strong, independent, and intelligent, but still very womanly.
  • PLOT TWISTS oh my gosh this was a great book for suddenly flipping everything upside-down.  Loved it.

All in all, this was a great read.  It was fast, exciting, and engaging.  It was the first book in a long time that I stayed up past midnight, elbowing my husband to make him stop snoring, just to finish it.  I literally could not go to sleep until I found out what happened.  An easy 4/5, and I’ll be looking for some more works by Dan Brown soon.

And hey – I just reread Sophie’s review (so much more coherent than mine lol) – and she liked it, too. So that’s two opinions – you definitely should give it a whirl.  ;-)

A Bit About Harry Potter {Part 3}

Part I

Part II

So I finished this series (again) a couple of weeks ago.  Per usual, Deathly Hallows kind of ruined my life for a couple of days because I really can’t get anything else done when I’m reading that book beyond reading the book.  Even though I know how it ends, it still completely engages me every time.

For my final discussion, I’d mostly like to talk about Snape.  In the Harry Potter fandom, I frequently come across people who are die-hard Snape lovers.  They laud him for his faithfulness, his willingness to risk his life, his ability to walk the dangerous edge of being a spy.  They quote his famous “Always” line as though it is the most romantic thing anyone has ever said.

However, I disagree with pretty much all of that.  In  my opinion, Snape was a selfish and cruel man with an obsession for an idealized woman he had created in his mind.  Nothing that he did was truly altruistic.  He never really matured or changed as a person, other than to become more twisted and bitter.  Snape lived his life as could-have-beens that never really could have been, and blamed everyone else for his own failings.  When given the opportunity to truly do good, he never did.

It’s obvious throughout the story that Snape never really loved Lilly for who she was.  He never truly appreciated her skills, talents, beliefs, or dreams.  While he acted as though James never deserved her, it was Snape himself who chose to walk a path completely different from the one Lilly was following.  Where James matured, Snape stagnated.  In the end, Lilly married the man who had actually become a man.  I think that their patronuses illustrate this mostly clearly – James and Lilly’s are a matching set – different, yet complementing.  Snape’s becomes the same shape as Lilly’s – obsession, rather than love.

Throughout his career at Hogwarts, Snape does nothing to show that he has changed or developed as a person.  He is cruel and taunting towards students he doesn’t like – the same sneering bully that he ever was.  Given the opportunity to help Harry, he does a bare minimum, just like he always did with Lilly herself.  He’s unwilling to see Harry as a unique and talented individual.  Instead, Snape only sees Harry as a product of James.  While he agrees to keep Harry alive for Lilly’s sake, he hates Harry for James’s sake.  That is not the mark of a man who has truly changed his stripes.

In short, Snape’s so-called love for Lilly is not romantic.  He is not faithful.  He always did what he wanted to do, no matter what it hurt or cost Lilly.  The fact that he still obsesses over her doesn’t make his character compelling – it makes him a fool who can only look at the past with regrets over Lilly’s choices, not his own.

Beyond Snape…  let’s see…  well, I actually like Dumbledore.  A lot of people are down on him and say that he used Harry, etc.  I say that he was only a man who was doing his best.  He never forced Harry any step of the way; everything that Harry did was of his own free will.

Also, side note, I really, really tried my best to read a homosexual relationship into the friendship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, and it just was no soap.  It makes zero sense.  Really.

I love the development of relationships between Harry, Ron, and Hermione – as a trio, and as each pair.  Personally, I think that the fact that Ron and Hermione end up together is perfect.  I also think that Harry marrying Ginny is excellent.

The ending of this book is amazing.  Harry’s sacrifice, followed by the way that Voldemort is no longer able to touch the people for whom Harry sacrificed himself – the fact that Neville pulls Gryffindor’s sword from the hat – the way that Voldemort dies like any other mortal human – all excellent.

Not excellent?  Rowling’s haphazard killing of loads of people just to try to make an emotional impact.  It really wasn’t necessary, and it kind of annoys me.

Overall, though, I really enjoy these books.  Per usual, any time there’s a huge series like this, there are lots of continuity questions (like if Harry saw his mom die, how come he couldn’t see the thestrals all along??), but I don’t really get fussed over things like that.  These books are a thoroughly good read, and more books set in this world would indeed be a fantastic thing.

Archer’s Goon


by Diana Wynne Jones

Published 1984

So this may be my favorite DWJ book to date.  This was a fun and rollicking story with a family that works together, and a whole troop of annoying enemies (who are also all siblings; I have a thing for sibling groups).  The interactions and dialogue in this story are fantastic, and there were several points where I actually laughed out loud at something particularly ridiculous.

Howard comes home from school one day to find the Goon sitting in his kitchen.  The Goon explains that he’s come to collect 2000 words from Howard’s father because Archer wants them.  Absolutely none of this makes sense to Howard or his sister at the time, but we gradually find out that Howard’s dad, an author, has been “paying” 2000 words to Archer, who “farms” a section of town–and these words are apparently powerful, because Archer isn’t the only who wants them any more.  All of his siblings, who farm the rest of the town (not geographical areas, per se, but departments – utilities, banks, crime, education, etc.) are also trying to get their hands on those words.  When Howard’s dad goes on strike and refuses to produce them, things get a bit…  chaotic.

Summarizing a DWJ plot is a difficult job, so you’ll just have to take my word for it and give a go.  Jones also actually ended this book strongly (in my opinion), which was a fantastic change from many of her other books I’ve read.  As always, her world-building is excellent, especially in this book where it turns out that normal life isn’t so normal after all.  Archer and all of his siblings are written well and Howard’s family is a team that works together throughout the story.

A solid read for fun and relaxation – 4/5.

Family Grandstand


by Carol Ryrie Brink

published 1952

I’m not sure what has happened to our society, but I can’t seem to find books like this any more.  This is a happy book about a happy family.  There are two parents and several children.  The parents have rules and the children obey them.  Everyone respects and loves everyone else.  The adventures are funny and not stressful, and emphasize kindness, selflessness, inclusiveness, the importance of a good attitude, and respect for those in authority (like parents, the elderly, and teachers), all without sounding preachy.  There’s no divorce, no discussion of sexual orientation, no realization that parents are actually evil and stupid and selfish.  Instead, it’s everything that a children’s book should be:  innocent and fun.

I understand when people say that there need to be children’s book where children are in the same situations as the potential readers, e.g. story-children whose parents are divorced.  That’s well and good, but at the same time, we have to remember that books are, in many cases (possibly even most cases in children’s literature), a presentation of an ideal.  I don’t think that normalizing divorce (which is just one of many examples; extra-marital sex amongst under-15-year-0lds would be another) by presenting it in every single story for every single child in that story is a good trend.  What you’re saying is not just “Hey, it’s okay if you’re in this situation,” but also, “Hey, this is the way everyone is, and it’s all you can really hope for for your future, too.”  I’m really over modern children and YA literature insisting that it’s impossible for two adults to get married (without having sex first to “make sure it’s going to work”…  because yes, I think we should tell young adults that your marriage is going to work or not work based on whether or not you like to bang…  that could be what’s leading to the high divorce rates later..???), and then stay married…  you know, forever.  Until one of them dies.  Like they promised to do when they got married.

Books like Family Grandstand aren’t trying to insist that every family in 1952 was perfect.  But in 1952 the ideal was still perfect:  a happy family with happy parents in a happy home full of love and respect.  I think that modern literature could do with a bit of an idealist lesson from those “hopelessly old-fashioned” 1950’s.