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Mini Reviews & Updates

Well, friends, we are finally in our new house, and life is much, much  better.  It also seems to be returning to a more manageable level of chaos.  Yesterday was my first full day just at home working (or, as I call them, Hermit Days :-D) in ages and it was glorious.  While the house will be an ongoing (and going and going and going) project, every step just makes it a bit homier and happier.

So I’ve read a lot of books over the last two months or so since I last posted, and I thought I’d just give some brief thoughts on the ones that I remember.  (Usually, I write books down when I’m done with them, but I didn’t write them all down and now that little book is in a box somewhere so you’ll just have to rely on my memory – ha!)

  • The Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce – 4/5 – First Test; Page; Squire; Lady Knight

So I really wanted to write a lot about these books, but I read them at the end of May/beginning of June, and it’s just been too long ago for me to do them full justice.  I had never read anything by Tamora Pierce before, but I enjoyed these books enough to try some more of her stuff, even though there were a lot of things about these stories that irritated me as well.  I really, really liked the main character (Kel?  Right?  Too lazy to look it up, so we’re just going to go with it), who was intelligent, industrious, forthright, and humble.  I also enjoyed the stories themselves.  The battles were interesting without unnecessarily gory descriptions (usually).  The writing was excellent and the stories were well-paced.

As for dislikes, those always stick out in the memory more, right?  So I may list more of them than positives, but my overall feel for this series was good, so don’t be fooled lol.

First off, there is apparently a series that takes place about ten years before this series starts, and in that series a girl isn’t allowed to be a page/squire/knight, so this girl pretends to be a boy so she can be those things.  (I haven’t actually read this series; this is what I gleaned from reading the Protector of the Small series.)  Somewhere along the line everyone is like, What this chick is awesome!  So they change the law so that girls can be knights, too.  All well and good, right?  Except Protector of the Small is ten years later and in all that time not a single girl has signed up to be a page.  So when Kel does, everyone flips out.  I’m sorry, but first off, really?  In ten years, in the entire kingdom, no other girl was ever interested?  And secondly, in ten years you didn’t have time to adjust yourselves to the fact that a girl could, in fact, be a knight?  But no, everyone has to be all freaking out about this and it’s this huge deal and in fact the whole first book is about Kel’s first year as a page and she’s on probation just because she’s a girl (even though the law says she can be a page) etc etc etc.  To add to the nonsensicalness of this is the fact that loads of women are doing all sorts of other “non-traditional” things, including other types of soldiers, so everyone making a big deal about a girl studying to be a knight just doesn’t really seem to flow with the world-building, and left me feeling irritated (frequently) because all it did was (purposefully) lead to lots of opportunities for conversations about how Girls Can Do Whatever They Want Because They Are Mighty and whatever.  It wouldn’t have bothered me if this series had taken place say, two years after the law or something a bit more reasonable, or if women didn’t do anything other than sit and knit in this world, but neither of those things were true, and so the whole fuss just seemed out of proportion to what was going on.

The second big thing was that Kel is so young when it starts.  She’s ten and she knows all these awesome battle techniques?  The whole series would have made way more sense if Kel was 2-4 years older the entire way through.  Because she’s so young in the first book, she’s still really young when she becomes a squire and we’re suddenly having conversations about using protection if you decide you want to have sex even though you’re only fourteen but even though I’m your mother not a single part of my conversation with you is going to be about how sex is more than a physical act and there is plenty of time ahead of you for these things and oh hey if you get it wrong you end up with a baby so it’s okay that the message I’m giving to younger readers is that sex is 100% A-OK as long as you have protection of some kind have fun!  Excuse me!?

Third and final for this mini-review that is turning into a medium review (although I am talking about four books at once so) is that throughout the stories these various battles are going on against various people, and then there is an actual war going on, and then at the end of the fourth book there’s no real conclusion at all to the bigger picture of what’s going on in the world, and that was a little frustrating to me.  The series just kind of petered out without any real wrap-up.

There were other things, like unnecessary references to Kel’s having a period, some random deaths in Squire that seemed completely out of place, and some over-the-top bullying.  Even though I’ve spent way longer griping about these books than praising them, I really did enjoy them, and really do want to read more of Pierce’s work.  While they’re a bit humorless for me, they were still enjoyable and engaging reads.

  • The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick – 3/5

I totally watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries as they unfolded on YouTube, and was intrigued to check out the book (from the library, of course :-D).  Short story: if you enjoyed the series, you’ll probably enjoy the book.  It would be fun to read the book and watch the episodes in tandem, but I don’t have that kind of time.  I will say that (spoiler) in the book, we get more details about the Jane/Bing relationship, and it did seem quite out-of-character to me that Jane and Bing would be sleeping together after such a short friendship, and that did bother me a bit, but overall the book added some fun  background to what was appearing “publicly” on the videos, and that was a lot of fun.

  • Bachelors Anonymous by P.G. Wodehouse – 4/5

If you’re feeling stressed, you should read a Wodehouse.  There’s a quote from someone that appears quite frequently on the front cover of Wodehouse books that says something along the lines of “It’s impossible to feel sad while reading Wodehouse,” and that’s really close to true.  Even his weaker stories (like, honestly, this one) are absolutely hilarious.  In this story, the concept of a Bachelors Anonymous club that helps keep its various members out of entanglements with females, is enough to give the story its own flavor, even though all the usual Wodehouse ploys are in play.

  • Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters – 4/5

I enjoyed the Amelia Peabody series so much that I’ve had to make myself be patient and wait a bit before starting the Vicky Bliss series, just to prove that I have some semblance of self-control.  I have heard rumors that at some point in the Vicky Bliss series, reference is made to the Emersons, so I’m excited to see if that’s true.  Borrower of the Night was actually the first Elizabeth Peters book I ever read.  My aunt had a copy that I remember reading when I was probably 12 or 13, and honestly too young to really understand a lot of what was going on.  The story is told from Vicky’s first-person narrative, and she is, to say it bluntly, a tall and buxom woman of high intelligence, and I think that I was confused by a lot of her oblique references to her curves, powers of attraction, and sleeping with Tony.  As an adult, I understood the story (and oblique references) much better!  Vicky isn’t nearly as entertaining a narrator as Amelia, but she’s still quite believable, and Borrower of the Night is full of dark passageways, lost diaries, and seances, making it a great deal of fun.

One thing I love about Peters in general is her ability to not use a lot of foul language.  So many books in general and mysteries in particular that I read that are being currently published seem to substituted a lot of swearing in place of actual witty and useful dialogue.  Peters manages to without, leading to a cleaner narrative without losing the supposed “emotional impact” or “true to life language” that swearing is supposed to bring.  Take this brilliant sentence:

“It’s that Nolan,” said Tony, adding a few qualifying adjectives.  “Do you know what that rat said to me today?”

The phrase “a few qualifying adjectives” entertains me to no end.  Without actually writing any swear words at all, we know exactly what Tony is saying, and I love it.

Overall, this book was great fun, and I’m super excited about reading the rest of the series.  It’s not nearly as along as the Peabody/Emerson series – only six or seven titles – but it should be a good time.

  • Black and Blue Magic by Zilpha Keatley Snyder – 3/5

A while back, I reread The Velvet Room by the same author (the link takes you back to the old tumblr blog, by the way), one of my childhood favorites, and still a classic that I try to read every couple of years.  More recently, I was suddenly struck by the fact that I have quite a few books (like that one) wherein I loved them as as child, but have never bothered to find out what else the author wrote.  As an adult, with access to GoodReads and the library and Amazon, I find and devour every book written by every author I love, but some of those childhood favorites have yet to be explored.  Most recently, I’ve read The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg, who wrote my much-beloved childhood favorite The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and it was an instant hit. That inspired me, and I added the rest of Konigsburg’s books to my TBR, along with a few other childhood loves, including Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

All that to say (I really am a genius for taking an entire paragraph to add nothing of import to a review), Black and Blue Magic was my first Snyder book beyond The Velvet Room.  I really enjoyed it, but it lacked the depth and emotion that The Velvet Room always offers to me.  Still, this was one of those delightful stories where no one is a bad guy, where lessons are learned through relatively harmless mistakes, and where everyone ends as a better person than they were in the beginning.  Books like these are like warm, fluffy blankets, and they are the stories that kids ought to be reading in school.  Black and Blue Magic is about a somewhat-clumsy boy who, through an act of kindness to a stranger, is granted a special magic – wings.  (But only when he wants them!)  Harry is such a lovable kid – helpful and sweet, loves his  mother, and all while still sounding and acting like a real boy.

Actually, probably my biggest turn-off for this book was the illustrations.  I honestly try to avoid books with illustrations a lot because they mess up the pictures in my head and ruin them forever.  (The most tragic is the copy of Rose in Bloom that I read as a child – I know that Mac does not look at all like that picture, but he keeps showing up in my head that way, and it is so frustrating!)  The pen-and-ink drawings by Gene Holton make Mr. Mazeeck look like a strange alien and Harry not at all like someone whose last name is Marco.  Sometimes I wonder if illustrators really read the story…?????

Overall, though, this was a sweet and charming little story that would be an excellent read for 9-12 year-olds.

  • A Sudden, Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jones – 3/5

This is not a children’s or YA book, but most definitely adult.  Having only read Jones’s books for younger readers before, that was a bit of an adjustment.  Nothing explicit, but just the overall tone of the  book is grown-up, with grown up problems and drama.  While a good story, and one that felt like it actually had an ending (unlike many of her other books), there was nothing about this book that really captured me.  When I was reading it, I enjoyed it, but rarely yearned for it when I wasn’t reading, which is unusual for her books (they usually have this sort of addictive quality that I can’t explain).  I really felt like a lot of the characters were not well-developed, and I was frequently startled when a character would act the way it did – instead of creating characters, it felt almost like she was using puppets that she had do whatever she wanted whenever she needed them to do it.  This was probably exasperated by the fact that there were so many people in this story that it was hard to keep everyone straight, especially since she may refer to them by name at one point, and then by what the other group thought of them at another (e.g., by name of Zillah, but then as “the pretty one” from the POV of those who don’t know her name), which really added to the already-complicated list of characters.  In short, while not a terrible book, this was a pretty solid 3.

  • The rest of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries

There were about 5-6 titles that hadn’t been printed when I last read through the series, so it was a lot of fun to get to ones I hadn’t read.  Overall, the series was a lot of really happy cozy mysteries.  I love the main characters, Daisy and Alec, and enjoyed watching their little family grow and bond.  I was consistently entertained (as I always am when I read books set in that era) over how everyone has servants.  Even before she was married, Daisy and her flat-mate had a housekeeper who came to do the “heavy” cleaning for them – and they go on and on about how broke they were, living on sardines, etc.  But they still have a servant!  Anyway, the fact that Daisy, solidly middle-class, has a housekeeper, a cook, a maid, a nanny, and a nanny’s assistant, blows my mind.  No wonder she has time to gallivant about discovering dead bodies!

As with any series of this length (around 20 titles now, I think), there were some good and some weak.  For instance, I really enjoyed the characters and story of Anthem for Doomed Youth, especially the way that Alec’s mystery was running parallel to Daisy’s, but the (current) final title, Heirs of the Body, was really just a terrible mystery, one that I had solved from the outset, and one that delivered absolutely nothing in way of a twist.  Heirs of the Body is obviously freshest in my mind, so I’ll add that in that book I was confused by Alec’s behavior – he is usually respectful and patient of Daisy, but in this book he was frequently short-tempered and abrupt, dismissing and cutting her off in a way that seemed completely out of the character that’s been developed for him over the rest of the series, a trend that I found quite distressing, as I’m very fond of Alec.

Still, overall the series is fairly solid.  While they lack the depth of the Cadfael books (still my all-time favorite mysteries), and definitely aren’t as engaging as the Amelia Peabody books or even most of Hercule Poirot’s adventures, they’re fun and fluffy cozy mysteries.

  • Sophie’s Heart by Lori Wick – 3/5

Spontaneously purchased this second-hand the other day (because when one is in the midst of moving a thousand books, one feels the urge to add to said collection).  Wick wrote one of my favorite relaxation romances, The Princessbut overall her works are a mixed bag for me.  Her historical novels are, honestly, rather terrible, as they are completely modern language and action set in historical times wearing costumes, but her modern novels are sometimes good.  Sophie’s Heart was a pleasant and happy read, but ran tooooo long (another problem I frequently  have with Wick).  Still, I really liked Sophie and the Riley family, and while this book held absolutely zero surprises (young intelligent beautiful immigrant woman goes to work as a housekeeper for young widower with three children what in the world will happen next?!), everything moved along pleasantly and relaxingly (new word), making it a very nice oh-hey-I’m-actually-supposed-to-be-unpacking-but-I’ll-read-for-just-five-minutes kind of book.  Like all of Wick’s books, it’s rather long on religion, but her characters are honest and engaging, and the religious aspect feels honest and realistic instead of coming off as overtly preachy.

***************

Well, my friends, that went on way longer than I was expecting to – and I’m sure there are more that I’ve read recently but just aren’t coming to mind!  Hopefully, as I said, life will be settling back into some semblance of a new normalcy, and regular book reviewing can resume!  I’ve missed being more engaged in the book-reading community on WordPress and am excited about getting back into the groove!  :-D

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9 thoughts on “Mini Reviews & Updates

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  6. Glad you gave PotS a try! :D Dislikes are definitely more memorable, haha. To clarify on the ten-years part, Kel is actually the first “approved” female page in a hundred years. (Alanna from ten years prior pretended to be a guy and could use magic, so everyone was like, “She cheated! She used magic! Normal girls still can’t be knights!” So Kel is different in that she can’t use any magic at all, and if she actually becomes a knight, those same people who complained about Alanna cheating can’t say anything about Kel. The women who started the trend of doing “non-traditional” things are really part of a tribe where women are allowed to be warriors, and because the Queen is part of that tribe, she’s been trying to change things around in Tortall so that women have more opportunities like that.

    I agree though – the world-building is definitely a bit flawed just reading this series by itself! I’ve complained about other series for that reason too, and got comments about how it’s because I haven’t read some other series that came before… so I won’t do that to you. ;) I think – as with all books that I love enough to reread over and over again – that it gets to a point where I become so invested in them that I can’t see the flaws anymore. That’s why I like seeing other people review familiar works so that I can keep discovering new things about old books. :P

    But ooh, Zilpha Keatley Snyder! I actually haven’t read The Velvet Room nor Black and Blue Magic (I stuck to her Green Sky series) but LOL illustrations! I totally understand how they can ruin a story!

    (Ahhh sorry, this turned out to be a longer comment than I imagined… )

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    • First off, just to clarify, long comments make me super happy and also make me feel less awkward about rambling on on other people’s posts, haha

      What you were saying about the difference between Kel doing stuff as a nonmagical person v. Alanna’s magical abilities also makes that whole thing make a lot more sense. I still can’t quite buy Kel being an incredible hand-to-hand fighter at the age of 10, though… ;-)

      Like the Pern novels, I think that I really need to try to read Pierce’s works in published order, and see if that makes the overall world make better sense. There were several points in PotS where I basically found myself thinking “??!??!” but I don’t want to be totally harsh on Pierce, because those things may make sense in the overall context of her works. I have DEFINITELY found that to be true with the Pern books. I was also super sad because I felt like the last PotS book just STOPPED without really ending a lot of the storylines. I don’t know if there are other books that take place after that series?? But the whole war and everything that was going on was finally starting to make sense and become cohesive and then the book just sort of trailed off, leaving me super sad and wondering about like 79% of the characters and what was going to happen to them lol

      YOU MUST READ THE VELVET ROOM. That book was just WHOA one of my favorites as a child… Sophie, there is a SECRET LIBRARY in an ABANDONED CASTLE-LIKE HOUSE. Who doesn’t want that?!?!?! Legit, I think ‘The Velvet Room’ kind of ruined my childhood (the first of many books to do so) because… seriously!? Why don’t >>I<< have a secret library!?!? But for real, it's a really, really good book that takes place in California during the Great Depression, so there is actually a lot of history woven into the story that I didn't even notice I was learning as a kid haha

      And illustrations – DANGEROUS. I guess I've come to realize that unless the illustrator actually worked with the author on the illustrations (like, say, 'A Monster Calls', where the illustrations MADE the story), I don't want to see them because they mess everything up. I'm serious about poor Mac in 'Rose in Bloom.' I cannot get this picture of him out of my head when I'm reading that story and it makes me so angry because that's not how Alcott described him!!! At all!!! It's like seeing a movie and then those actors are ALWAYS those people when you read the book. (Although not always a bad thing if the cast is right – 'Anne of Green Gables' comes to mind – EVERYONE IS PERFECT – Gilbert – oh dear)

      Like

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