May Minireviews

Gah, so yes, I’m always so behind on reviews, even though I haven’t been reading nearly as much!!  Is it June 4?  Yes it is.  Have I been working on this same post for days?  Yes I have.  Does it only have three minireviews so it really shouldn’t have taken that long?  Yes it does.  Ah well!  Better late than never! :-D

//Dragonflight//by Anne McCaffrey//published 1968//

Dragonflight

A while back I read a trilogy by McCaffrey set in the world of Pern.  While I enjoyed the series, I found much of it complicated and involved.  However, as I did some more research, I found out that McCaffrey wrote a LOT of books that take place in Pern.  I decided to start at the beginning and start reading through them and see if they made more sense that way.

Apparently, even though the trilogy I read (Harper Hall) were technically a stand-alone trilogy, they are set later in the history of Pern than the Dragonrider trilogy, which is the first trilogy McCaffrey wrote.  I’m working on reading the Pern books in their published order (which is roughly, but not completely, chronologically, from my understanding).

All that to say, Dragonflight is the first Pern book McCaffrey wrote, and I actually really enjoyed it.  And, bonus, it made my retrospective reading of the Harper Hall trilogy more enjoyable as well, as a lot of what was going on in those stories make way more sense in the context of these earlier books.

These are definitely high fantasy in the sense that the world-building is extensive and the tone is somewhat serious.  However, besides the dragons, there really isn’t a lot of “fantasy.”  The people of Pern do not have magic or wizards or spells or witches.  They are simple farmers, craftsmen, and dragonriders.

I’m looking forward to delving more into Pern; I just started the second book (Dragonquest) today.  McCaffrey weaves a strong story, doing a good job of making Dragonflight a whole book while still building for the next.

//Girl Missing//by Tess Gerritsen//published 1994 as Peggy Sue Got Murdered; this edition 2004//

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I originally read about this book in a review over at Reading, Writing & Riesling, so thanks!!

Girl Missing is what I think of as a “lite” thriller.  While there is definitely a mystery and some edge, I never reached a point where this book would have kept me up all night.  It’s actually a really fast read, and a solid 3/5 for me.

The protagonist, Kat, is a medical examiner.  When a Jane Doe shows up at the morgue it isn’t too unusual – but when several more bodies crop up, Kat is afraid that a new drug of some kind is sweeping through the streets on the “bad” side of town.  But because they’re “just druggies,” Kat’s boss, the mayor, and Kat’s ex-husband (who is also the DA), are way more concerned about the celebrating the city’s bicentennial and making themselves look good than they are about pursuing the possibly-but-not-proven connected deaths of some local lowlifes.

Like I said, this was overall a decent read, but it lacked something for me. I never really felt connected with Kat or with what was going on with her.  She was from that “bad” neighborhood, but we never really got a lot of back story as to how she got out.  We’re told that her mother wanted her to be a doctor and come back to the neighborhood, but Kat is basically like “yeah, not for me” and that’s kind of the end of it.  She meets a rich dude and they become the unlikely duo, but because Kat isn’t sure if she can trust  him or not, I wasn’t sure if I could trust him or not, so I ended up not connecting with him, either.  Somehow this book was just a little too fast, so it felt like a lot of things kind of glossed, and while the ending made okay sense, it didn’t make brilliant sense – I didn’t really feel like Gerritsen had given me a lot of clues, so it kind of felt random.

Also, speaking of random, I was completely distracted by the original title and kept waiting for Peggy Sue…  who never appeared.

So yes, a definite middle-of-the-road read for me.  Enjoyable, but not super engaging.  It didn’t really drive me to read any of Gerritsen’s other works…  does anyone out there have a suggestion for a favorite of hers that they think is a better representation of her writing??

//Hidden Trail//by Jim Kjelgaard//published 1962//

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I’m still working my way through all the Kjelgaard books that I own.  Hidden Trail is a typical Kjelgaard read, with plenty of wilderness adventure.

Jase is the hero of this story.  He’s a photographer for the Conservation Department, and is assigned by the government to take pictorial record of various natural happenings in parks, national forests, etc.  Along with his faithful companion, Buckles the Airedale, Jase heads out into the wilderness at the drop of a hat, often for weeks at a time.

When our story opens, he is being sent to record the migration of elk from their summer feeding grounds in a big national park to their winter feeding grounds.  Along the way, they have to face hunting season (outside the park), plus plenty of natural predators and dangers.  However, a secondary project for Jase is figuring out why there are so many more elk at the summer grounds than the winter grounds.  The difference (over a thousand elk) cannot be accounted for by hunters.  How could that many elk simply disappear?  Jase formulates a theory, and follows a rogue herd of elk east instead of south, encountering dangers – including poachers – along the way.

This is an interesting little story, perhaps more interesting fifty years after it was written.  Several pages are devoted to Jase’s careful choosing of various photographic equipment and explanations of how he can make it work despite cold and possibly damp weather.  How far that kind of thing has come over the decades!

While this is a great adventure, it bogs down a bit when Jase discovers that the Indians are hunting some of the elk illegally.  He’s befriended by an Indian, then they are caught by poachers, then Jase escapes and then…  his Indian friend is just gone for a while?  And then shows back up?  And then the whole story just ends really fast.  So while it was a fun story, it felt a little disjointed and rushed at the end.  Some of the time, Kjelgaard puts a little too much emphasis on conservation/natural history, interfering a bit with the flow of his story.  This book wasn’t too bad, but there were definitely points where it felt a little preachy about the importance of preserving a natural balance.

Still, I always enjoy Kjelgaard, if for no other reason than all the happy memories they bring back, of a time when I was convinced that my future life would be lived out in a small trapper’s cabin in the wilderness with no companions other than my faithful dogs!

Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy

//by Maggie Stiefvater//

Okay, wow, confession time: I really debated about posting a review on these books.  Why?  Because they are totally out of my usual comfort zone and I really enjoyed them.  BOOKS ABOUT WEREWOLVES, PEOPLE, AND I LIKED THEM A LOT.  But in the end, I decided no shame!  Time to embrace the fact that I thought these books were hugely enjoyable.

Sophie first turned me onto these books with her review of Sinner.    Technically, Sinner isn’t even in this trilogy – it’s a fourth book with some of the same characters.  (I haven’t read it yet, although I just got it from the library!)  Anyway, for some reason her review made me think, Wow, maybe there are actually some good paranormal romance books out there that don’t have glitter and love triangles in them!  And guess what: it’s true!

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published 2009

Okay, the trilogy begins with Shiver. And let’s be honest: who could resist this cover??  I love the cover artwork for this entire series.  In the first book, we meet Grace, a high school senior who lives in the small town of  Mercy Falls, Minnesota.  Mercy Falls is like most other small towns in most respects, but has one big difference – wolves.

The wolf pack that lives in Boundary Wood is bolder, stronger, and stranger than most.  Grace should know.  She was attacked by them when she was a little girl – and then rescued by one of the wolves.  That wolf, her wolf, still visits her.  She sees him sometimes by the edge of the trees; she knows him by his eyes.

When a bleeding, dying, naked boy shows up on her back steps one day, his appearance isn’t the biggest shock – instead, it’s the fact that this boy has Grace’s wolf’s eyes.

So this book is a bit angsty for me.  I often tend to get aggravated/roll my eyes when there is too much angst/drama/feelings/passion.  But Stiefvater pulls it off really, really well.  Even though Grace and Sam are kind of insta-love, they aren’t exactly insta-love.  And even though I feel like Grace and Sam’s relationship should be an embodiment of everything I hate about YA romance, I completely was on their team and wanted them to be together so much.  Their story is well-told and engaging, and Stiefvater writes both characters in a way that makes me like them as individuals and as a couple.

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published 2010

 

 Throughout the books, the story is told in first person from alternating viewpoints.  Sam and Grace are the main narrators (especially in Shiver), but other characters also tell their parts – sometimes only one chapter in the entire book.  I think that part of the reason that these books really worked for me was that Stiefvater did a pretty good job of creating voices/characters that sounded different.  I tend to read books on the fly, snatching them up and reading a few pages here and there throughout the day (especially lately – life has been CRAZY), so sometimes these multiple-viewpoint books don’t work for me because I forget who is doing the talking.  But Stiefvater’s characters were distinctive enough that I was able to keep them straight in my head and could usually recognize who was doing the talking when I jumped back into the story.

One of the big things that Stiefvater does is changes one of the basic werewolf tenets – instead of the full moon instigating the change from human to wolf, it’s temperature.  This adds a lot of drama to the stories, as each person/wolf has his/her own level of sensitivity to temperature.  Also, eventually, werewolves can no longer shift back to their human form.  Thus, much of Shiver is spent with Grace and Sam convinced that Sam will soon be a wolf permanently.

Of course, this also led to me being very frustrated through most of the first book.  Why don’t these people just move to Florida!??!!?  This issue is eventually addressed, but it seemed like that should have been something we got out of the way early in the story, not two-thirds of the way through.

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published 2011

The whole werewolf thing isn’t really magic, which also made the story more intriguing, especially with the entrance of ex-rock star/science genius Cole.  Even though Cole would probably drive me crazy in real life, I really just thoroughly enjoyed his character.  His sense of humor, the way that he faces the dark places inside of himself, his realization that life is more important to him than he originally thought – out of everyone, I felt like Cole’s character grew the most.  The point actually is that Cole believes that being a werewolf is a disease and, like any disease, can be understood, treated, and perhaps even cured.

The fact that Stiefvater didn’t go more with that direction was a bit disappointing to me.  I wanted to get to the end of Forever and know that, even if they couldn’t be cured, that the pack could at least understand what was wrong.  And even though I felt like things ended with some security and tying-up of loose ends, there still wasn’t any real resolution.

But I have to say that my biggest gripe with this series is the same that I have with almost every YA book I read: WHY ARE THESE CHARACTERS IN HIGH SCHOOL?!?!?!  Because yes, of course they are all 17, and they all have terrible parents – starting with actually attempting to murder their toddler because they don’t understand the werewolf thing, to complete neglect, alcoholic, liars, cheaters, overbearing, spoiled, and immature – the series covers a wide gambit of awful parenting.  Not a single character has a parent I would care to meet up with for cake, much less have as a close relative.

And I guess what made that frustrating was the fact that the only reason all those terrible parents were in the story was to up the angst level.  None of them (except for Isabel’s dad) really did anything to actually further the plot.  Grace’s parents, in particular, were literally  just in the story to add complications and drama – complications and drama that were completely not needed, and just left me feeling exasperated.  This entire story would have made about a thousand times more sense if these characters were even two years older.  In my mind, I kept putting all these people in college instead of high school and it made me so much happier.

I will say that I appreciated the fact that Stiefvater’s characters were not rampantly promiscuous.  Sex is treated well in these books, and the fact that we have some high schoolers sleeping together is at least not thrown out as Oh yeah everyone should be doing this as a thing!  So that was a nice change of pace from some other YA I’ve read.

There were a few deaths that I felt like were over-the-top, but let’s be real, I hate book characters dying.  Like, if a character’s death doesn’t change the entire course of the tale, don’t kill them!  Please! Why?!  One person in particular – like I really liked this person, and she just arbitrarily dies in the first chapter of Forever and I was like ?!?!???!  I was super sad about her dying.

One of my favorite parts of this story??  NO LOVE TRIANGLE!!!  Say what?!  I didn’t even think that was possible!  I was beginning to think that as soon as you fell in love with someone (if you’re a girl), you immediately meet someone else you like just as well except he’s a little edgier!  Which should I keep??  They’re both so cute!  ::heart eyes::

No, but seriously, it was absolutely fantastic to have Grace like Sam and Sam like Grace and that was the end.  Like it’s obvious that Isabel kind of has a crush on Sam, but I think it’s more of being in love with the idea of Sam.  Isabel loves the way that Sam loves Grace, and I think that Isabel yearns for that kind of love for herself.  Isabel, incidentally, really develops as a character throughout the series as well, and I really liked her snark.

Overall, I was completely hooked by these books.  I really enjoyed the story and the characters, and I wanted the series to just keep going on and on.  There is one more book, separate from the trilogy but involving some of the same characters (including my favorite Cole!).  I just got Sinner from the library, so that review will probably be appearing soon (or in a few months if I’m honest lol).  Even though the Wolves of Mercy Falls are outside of my usual reading parameters, they were totally worth picking up, and made some great relaxing reading throughout a crazy month.