So I’m sitting here looking at the pile of books I need to review, and I’m thinking to myself that most of them are a bit… unmemorable.  So I think I’m going to take the lazy route and combine some of these 3-star reviews into one post.  I’d like to get a bit caught up on these reviews so I can start reviewing closer to the finish date!

The Eternal World by Christopher Farnsworth


//published 2015//

This is one that I read about on Amazon or Goodreads and thought sounded interesting.  The premise is that there is this group of guys who, back when the Spanish conquistadors first started conquering the Americas, discovered an actual fountain of youth.  Since then, they’ve been able to keep themselves alive through the centuries, accumulating wealth and power.  Now, in the modern world, their source of the Water is being threatened and they have to try to find a way to replicate it.  They hire David Robinton, who is basically a scientific genius, to attempt this.  Of course, Robinton has no idea what he is actually getting into.

Meanwhile, the conquistadors have one enemy, someone else who has access to the Water.  Shako is the daughter of the chief of the American Indian clan the Spaniards slaughtered to gain access to the fountain, and she has been haunting their footsteps for the last few hundred years, determined to avenge her people.  Robinton finds himself entangled in the feud, without even a clear understanding as to what the feud is about.

On the whole, The Eternal World was engaging and exciting.  There was a good pace to the story, and Farnsworth does a really good job of muddying the waters concerning who is a bad guy vs. who is a good guy.  He also examines some concepts regarding immortality, money, and power that are thought-provoking and interesting.  The whole idea of something that can instantaneously heal people, and go on to keep them alive indefinitely – on the surface, it sounds brilliant, something that is obviously a good idea.  Robinton believes in the concept wholeheartedly.  His sister died of cancer when she was a little girl, and Robinton has devoted his life to pursuing a medical breakthrough that would prevent such tragedies.  But as the actual practicalities of what such a formula would mean begin to play out, Robinton starts to question everything he has always believed.

For me, what kept this book from pushing up to the 4-star level was the ending, which felt rushed and a little weird, and while it wrapped up most of the physical aspects of the story, never really gave any kind of genuine resolution to all the moral questions it raised.  There was also a lot of violence in this book, and some of it felt gratuitous and unnecessary, like having the one conquistador be this super creepy murdering rapist.

Still, on the whole, it was a decent read, even if its not destined to become one of my favorites.

Any thoughts on any of Farnsworth’s other works?  This one didn’t really inspire me to seek any of his other books out, but if someone had one they especially thought was awesome, I would be willing to give it a try!

Belle by Cameron Dokey


//published 2008//

This was a fairly average retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  While a pleasant story with nice characters, the “twists” to the tale weren’t really interesting enough to push this book’s star-rating any higher.  I do like Dokey’s writing, though, and it is always nice to have a B&B retelling where Beauty’s family is actually super nice.

As an aside, does anyone else have a favorite Beauty & the Beast retelling?  It’s one of my favorites, and I love seeing all the crazy ways it has been reimagined!

Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl


//published 2001//

This was one of those books that I wanted to like a lot more than I actually liked it.  Alexandria is a lovely heroine and a nice narrator, but for some reason I just couldn’t get into this story all that much.  Given the gift of beauty, dandruff that turns into gold dust, and tears that turn into diamonds – all because she shared her lunch with an old crone – Alexandria goes from poor and uninteresting to being sought after by the rulers of two neighboring countries.  Locked in a tower for her “protection” until she decides which of them to marry, Alexandria doesn’t really know what she is going to do.  When Alexandria’s geese come to rescue her, her adventures really begin, but it just kind of felt like there wasn’t a lot of point to the story.  It’s always awkward to have an escape with no real plan as to where they are heading, so the whole book felt a little random.  There were a lot of characters that I really liked, and some funny moments, but it wasn’t the type of book that I felt like I should bother reading again.

Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie


//published 1944//

For this novel, Christie set out to show that humans are human through all the ages – and murder is murder.  Set in Egypt around 2000 B.C., our mystery centers around a family whose patriarch works as a ka-priest, a man who is paid to maintain tombs and perform certain religious ceremonies at different times.  The story begins with Renisenb, a young widow who has returned to her father’s home after the untimely death of her husband.

Christie weaves an excellent mystery here, with suspicion and motivation abounding.  It’s an interesting mystery because there is no detective or person leading an investigation, other than the suspicions of Renisenb’s grandmother.

While I really enjoyed this book, as I do all of Christie’s mysteries, I wasn’t particularly attached to any of the characters, and I had a strong suspicion of the murderer’s identity from the beginning.  Still, a solid read with an interesting setting.


Towards Zero // by Agatha Christie


//published 1944//

In this crafty Christie, she tells us from the beginning what she intends to do –

“I was thinking, as I say, not so much of the various points of law raised [during the trial] … but of the – well, of the people in the case … Human beings.  All kinds and sorts and sizes and shapes of ’em.  Some with brains and a good many more without.  They’d [the witnesses] come from all over the place, Lancashire, Scotland – that restaurant proprietor from Italy, and that schoolteacher woman from somewhere out Middle West.  All caught up and enmeshed in the thing and finally brought together in a court of law in London on a grey November day.  Each one contributing his little part.  The whole thing culminating in a trial for murder … I like a good detective story … but, you know, they begin in the wrong place!  They being with the murder.  But the murder is the end!  The story begins long before that – years before sometimes – with all the causes and events that bring certain people to a certain place at a certain time on a certain day … all converging towards a given spot.  And then, when the times comes – over the top!  Zero hour.  Yes, all of them converging towards zero…”

Christie goes on to weave her tale.  The murder doesn’t occur until page 124 – better than halfway through the book.  Until then, we meet the people and watch them head towards zero.  It makes the whole story feel uneasy and off balance.  We know that someone is going to die, that someone out of the characters we are meeting is going to be a murderer – but we don’t know who.

Of course, we also get the delightful Superintendent Battle, one of my favorite Christie characters.  In this particular instance, we also get Battle ruminating about another Christie character –

Battle rubbed his chin and frowned.

“I wish I knew what keeps putting Hercule Poirot into my head.”

“You mean that old chap – the Belgian – comic little guy?”

“Comic my foot,” said Superintendent Battle.  “About as dangerous as a black mamba and a she-leopard – that’s what he is when he starts making a mountebank of himself!”

Agatha_Christie_Towards_ZeroAll in all, while Towards Zero isn’t Christie’s most memorable work, it’s still excellent writing and an engaging story.  The red herrings were laid perfectly and the pacing was quite good.  A comfortable 4/5 and definitely recommended.

20 Books of Summer

Cathy over at 746 Books is hosting her annual 20 Books of Summer Challenge, wherein participants attempt to read 20 (or 15 or 10 or basically any number you like) books between June 1 and September 4.  I’ve followed along with this challenge before but have never “officially” joined in so…  here we go!


For my 20 books (links to GoodReads) –

Okay, gosh, I’m already scared.  There are some beefy books on this list!!!  But these are personal goals, right??  So we will see how things go!  I also reserve the right to DNF any of those random books…  I sometimes start books from the TBR, but if they don’t engage me in the first 80-100 pages, I’m not afraid to send them off unread!  This actually part of the reason I don’t usually do these challenges where I list off my future reads.  What if I change my mind??  But then I thought, “What happens if I change my mind?  It’s not like Cathy is going to send the 20 Books of Summer police after me!”  (Right??)  So if a book doesn’t strike my fancy, I’ll replace the title with something else new and exciting, and let you all know about the update!

I’m currently in the middle of another hefty book, House of Thieves by Charles Belfoure, but I am hoping to be at least most of the way through it by Wednesday, when the challenge officially begins!

Right now, I’m way behind on reviews, so it’s possible that I may get more of these books read than I will reviewed, as I like to review books in the order I finish them, but I’m hoping to at least give a little shout-out whenever one gets checked off!

Cathy is using #20booksofsummer for Twitter updates.  I’m quite dreadful at Twitter, but I’ll see what I can do.  Not sure if anyone else is on Instagram??  I may incorporate the hashtag into some updates there as well.  (On Twitter, I’m PopcornandBooks, and on Instagram I’m PopcornandBooks15.)

Hope to see some of you reading along this summer as well.  Best of luck!!

A-Z of Books

I saw this fun little survey of sorts over at Cleopatra Loves Books and thought… why not!

  • Author You’ve Read the Most Books From:

Let’s see… probably Agatha Christie, although P.G. Wodehouse probably gives her a close run for her money!

  • Best Sequel Ever:

//published 1950// please ignore the 'look inside'// I really wanted to post the same cover as the one I have and that was the only image I could find! //

This is quite difficult.  Some of my favorites – Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott (the sequel to Eight Cousins), Pollyanna and the Orange Blossoms (actually the third book in the series but just so, so delightful), and Wild Trek (the sequel to Snow Dog), which was a dearly-loved childhood favorite!

  • Currently Reading:

Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher and The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson.

  • Drink of Choice While Reading:

Hot chocolate in the winter, and ice water in the summer.

  • E-Reader or Physical Book:

I rebelled against purchasing an e-reader for quite a long while, but finally gave in.  I have to admit that it is convenient for traveling and for days where I’m not sure how much reading I’ll have time for (doctor visits and that kind of thing).  But at the end of the day, given a choice, I always pick up the physical book.  The scent, the feel, the ability to flip around throughout the story – I genuinely love everything about reading an actual book.  I’m also a bit in love with the way that every book I’ve read carries with it the memories and history of where I was the last time I read it.  I love writing in the flyleaf where I was when I purchased a book, and then reading it again and remembering the happy holiday I was on when I found it.  I love the ease of being able to hand someone an actual book and say, “YOU MUST READ THIS.  TODAY IF POSSIBLE” – and the fact that other people can do that for me.  In short – physical books!  :-D

  • Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Dated in High School:

Okay, so maybe a LITTLE aided by Jonathan Crombie!

Um, Gilbert Blythe comes to mind immediately.  He’s definitely my all-time book crush.  (Aided by Jonathan Crombie??  No, of course not!  :-D)

  • Glad You Gave This Book a Chance:

I think I’ll go with Jeeves and the Wedding Bells for this one.  A Bertie & Jeeves book written not by P.G. Wodehouse initially sounded terrifying.  But, aided by the comfort that FictionFan hadn’t hated it, I gave the sequel, by Sebastian Faulks, a shot – and it was actually quite good.  It wasn’t, of course, Wodehouse, but it was still a somehow gentle and happy epilogue to give that famous duo some closure that I ended up really enjoying.

  • Hidden Gem Book:

Hmmm.  I think I’m going to go completely off the reservation here and throw out a book that I haven’t actually reviewed on this blog, The Hidden Hand by E.D.E.N. Southworth.  Originally published in 1859, it has been reissued by Lamplighter Publishing, a small company that reprints old books with strong moral/religious messages.  While ridiculously dramatic, The Hidden Hand is nonetheless a gripping tale full of adventure, solid characters, good vs. evil, redemption and justice.  Melodramatic yes, but with a great story to back it up, and a heroine who is no alabaster princess waiting to be rescued, but a harum scarum spitfire who goes out and gets stuff done.

  • Important Moment in Your Reading Life:

I’m not sure I can pinpoint a really specific moment, but I think just the way that I was raised, surrounded by books, constantly encouraged to read, and to answer all my questions by “looking it up!” – we always had read-aloud evenings when we were children, and it wasn’t unusual for an evening to be spent with everyone reading his or her book in the living room.  It was only when I got older that I realized that that wasn’t necessarily “normal” and that many people my age weren’t brought up with a love for books.

  • Just Finished:

Remembered Death by Agatha Christie.

  • Kind of Books You Won’t Read:

I’m pretty open to most anything.  Lately, I’ve even been trying some sci-fi, which was always a genre I avoided.  I’m not really into super smutty romance/erotica, and I don’t like really long novels that are super depressing.  Other than that… I’ll probably try it.

  • Longest Book You’ve Read:

Um…  does the Bible count??  Other than that, I’m not sure, but probably some crazy nonfiction.  While several were in the 500-600 range, GoodReads tells me that The War That Ended Peace is 793 pages, and thus my longest read in recent history.  (And an excellent one, by the way.)

  • Major Book Hangover:

download (1)Oh dear, so many choices!!!  A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is definitely a title that has stayed with me.  Over a year since I read it, and I still find myself thinking of it now and again.  The story, the illustrations, and the language wove together a perfect and emotional tale.

  • Number of Bookcases You Own:

Um.  Twelve?  Ish?  Plus books stuffed in various other nooks and in boxes all around…  shhh…  I don’t have a problem…

  • One Book You’ve Read Multiple Times:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott comes immediately to mind – probably the book I’ve read the most times.  However, I have many books that I revisit like old friends, some every year – The Secret Garden, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Blue Castle, Spindle’s Endand the entire Harry Potter series.  I love rereading books, actually.  Many of the books on my shelves have become a part of me through many rereadings – I also think it may be another reason that I love physical books so much more than ebooks.  (PS – I didn’t do a very good job with the “one” part of that question, did I??)

  • Preferred Place to Read:

My beautiful window seat – and, incidentally, one of my many bookshelves!

Oh dear, I read anywhere and everywhere – while walking from one room to another, while folding laundry, while brushing my teeth.  I may or may not have slipped in a paragraph here and there at a red traffic light!  My husband did build me an amazing window seat last year, so that has become a favorite place to curl up.  We’re in the process of rebuilding the front porch, and I already know that that is going to be a favorite spot as well – I love reading outside.  Lately, I’ve been doing most of my reading on my lunch hour at work, which generally finds me on my favorite bench hidden away in an arbor in the sample gardens – perfect!

  • Quote That Inspires You/Gives You All the Feels from a Book You’ve Read:

Oh dear, another hard one!  For today, I think that I will go with one of my favorites from A Little Princess.  I loved this book as a child – and still love it as an adult – and was always very much inspired by Sara, who handled tragedy and difficulty so graciously and generously. 

‘Whatever comes,’ she said, ‘cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.’

  • Reading Regret:

I feel that this must be the same for all of us – far more books than time!

  • Series You Started and Need to Finish:

I actually can’t think of one, as I’m a bit obsessive with reading series from beginning to end – none of this jumping about through the middle bits for me!

  • Three of Your All-Time Favorite Books:

image3I’ll try to choose three I haven’t already mentioned… let’s go with The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, Dear Enemy by Jean Webster (which I probably should have chosen as my favorite sequel – I love it even more than its predecessor, Daddy Long-Legs!), and The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

  • Unapologetic Fangirl For:

I’m not entirely sure that I qualify as a fangirl for anything or, if I do, it’s for really random people like P.G. Wodehouse and Daniel Pinkwater.

  • Very Excited for This Release More Than All Others:

Tragically, I always seem to be quite behind the times with books, so I never know what is coming down the pike until two years after everyone else has read it!  Combined with the fact that most of my favorite authors seem to no longer be in the land of the living…

However, I will take this opportunity to rant about a book that was supposed to appear in 2011, but there is still no sign of it – the sequel to Pegasus by Robin McKinley.  That is a fantastic book and I loved every page, but it LEGIT stops IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STORY.  There is literally NO wrap-up.  The book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger – it ends in the middle of the book!  It makes me shake my fist in rage every time I think about it.  ROBIN MCKINLEY, WHERE IS THE SEQUEL YOU PROMISED US!?  Arrrrrggghhhhhhhhh

  • Worst Bookish Habit:

Reading when I ought to be doing something else, like listening to someone’s attempts to converse with me, or walking the dog, or cooking dinner.  Whoops.

  • X Marks the Spot – Start on the Top Left of Your Shelf and Pick the 27th Book:

Remember that multiple bookshelf thing???

::: Basket of Flowers – written by an anonymous author in Germany back in the 1800’s.  It’s actually a book published by Lamplighter, the company I mentioned earlier.

::: Wild Palomino: Stallion of the Prairies by Stephen Holt.  When I was a kid, I was way, way into horse books.  Grosset & Dunlap published this fantastic series called “Famous Horse Stories.” I still collect them when I find them in second-hand shops.

007::: The Never-Ending Story by Michael Ende.  Classic.  Everyone should read it.

::: The Mysterious Schoolmaster by Karin Anckarsvard.  Actually the first book in a fantastic little series originally published in Sweden, and published in the US in the 1950’s by Scholastic.  A genuinely fabulous little mystery that I read and reread as a kid.

::: Orienteering by the Boy Scouts of America.  Because yes, these are the type of books I pick up a book sales all the time.  :-D

::: The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects by Spike Carlsen.  Highly recommended, actually – it’s printed by Storey Publishers, my favorite go-to for all books about homesteading, gardening, and other old-time skills.

::: The Great Smoky Mountains by Insiders’ Guides.  Because yes, I also pick up used travel guides at book sales, too!

::: Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie.  That’s on my Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse shelf!


Many of Thelwell’s cartoons have no need for words!

::: Riding Academy by Norman Thelwell.  If you’ve never looked up Thelwell’s cartoons, you certainly should!

::: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  Considering I own about ten copies, I suppose it isn’t surprising that it would crop up!  However, this is my favorite reading copy, the perfect size, and one of those delightful old hardbacks that they printed in the early 1900’s that fall open just right.

  • Your Latest Purchase:

Ooo.  I think it was Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence which I picked up secondhand.  It’s on the short TBR list!

  • ZZzzzzz Snatcher – the Last Book That Kept You Up Way Too Late:

Another Agatha Christie, I believe – I started And Then There Were None around suppertime, and stayed up until it was finished!

Well, friends, I have been working on this little survey off and on for over a week.  Things are still quite busy what with working, but I think next week is my last week at the greenhouse.  We will see what happens with life then!  In the meantime, there are at least ten books awaiting review…  someday, little books, someday!


Dragon Harper // by Todd McCaffrey and Anne McCaffrey

Well, friends, this is a momentous post, as I believe it will be my final post about Pern!  Yes, there are still four books after Dragon Harper, but I have been unable to work up the enthusiasm to get past the first 150 or so pages of Dragonheart, and so I believe that this may be the end of the series for me…


//published 2007//

I already complained a bit about the direction this series went in my review of the last book, Dragon’s Fire.  I’m not even sure where to begin with why these books aren’t anywhere close to as good as Anne’s original stories.

One big thing is definitely that Todd McCaffrey seems incapable of really thinking of anything new to have happen, so he keeps going back and cover the same territory again and again.  His timeline for his books is choppy and confusing as he jumps around all over the place with each book, reusing characters and events.  In five books, we’re covering only 15-20 years of history.  There just isn’t enough story to cover 2000+ pages of material.

Two big events happen in these 20 years: there’s a devastating plague that kills a bunch of people.  Then, there is a devastating dragon plague that kills a bunch of dragons.  Two plagues in less than 20 years seems excessive, and also seems like lazy writing.  It would already be boring if there was only one book about each of those events, but five books that cover those same two events repeatedly is just a complete yawn-fest.

Todd tries to make it interesting by inserting these other random events, like new information about the watch-whers (like I said, I actually enjoyed Todd’s first book, Dragon’s Kin) and the whole bit about finding better firestone, but it just isn’t enough to keep things moving.

Another gigantic problem I have with these newer books is the sudden young age of the protagonists.  This is adult fantasy/sci-fi, and the books have always been about adults.  Now all of a sudden, they’re about kids who are 12-14 years old, and it makes absolutely no sense.  It was weird in Dragon’s Kin, and a bit ridiculous in Dragon’s Fire (plus creepy because of the whole 13-year-old kid having sex with someone several years older than him in a situation that definitely felt rape-like), and it’s just plain absurd in Dragon Harper.  The main character is Kindan, who was only 12 in Dragon’s Kin, and so is only probably 13 in Dragon Harper.  For some reason, we’re supposed to believe that Kindan is really respected and liked by the MasterHarper (with no explanation as to why).  For some reason, Kindan receives a fire lizard egg even though he just an apprentice (with no explanation as to why).  Kindan isn’t really great at anything that harpers do, yet for some reason is considered a very promising apprentice (with no explanation as to why).  He doesn’t Impress with a dragon, but instead of staying at the Weyr as unsuccessful candidates traditionally do, for some reason he returns to Harper Hall (with no explanation as to why).  The Weyrleader really likes Kindan a lot and for some reason promises Kindan that he can come be the Weyr’s Harper whenever he becomes a journeyman (but guess what…  there’s no explanation as to why).  And on top of never bothering to explain literally anything, all these great things are happening to a 13-year-old kid.  [insert lots of question marks here]  (And this continues in Dragonheart with another protagonist who is just a kid, but everyone is all like, “Oh, wow, we are definitely going to give her so much respect even though we have no motivation or reason to do so!”)

So Kindan has his little gang of outcasts at the Harper Hall, and they all get bullied by this tough kid.  The tough kid insults a girl (or something like that??) so Kindan challenges him to an actual duel to the death, and everyone is just like, “Oh, okay, yeah that’s totally his right.”  Say what?!  Then, in this weird Karate Kid kind of music-montage, Kindan goes off for one week of training and comes back an actual fencing expert.  And did I mention that he was also seriously injured the week before doing this training?  So not only does he become a fencing expert, he does that all while still healing up?  [insert lots of question marks here]

Of course, our 13-year-old hero wins the duel and doesn’t kill his enemy, but instead makes the bully become his slave.  Except then the bully becomes utterly devoted to Kindan and is like his bodyguard/sidekick.  [insert lots of question marks here]

On top of all this, we have this totally weird thing where there are two girl apprentices, but they just sleep in the apprentice dormitory with all the boys??  And they all bathe in the same room??  And at the same time, Kindan falls in love with the Lord Holder’s daughter and is having all these kissy times with her.  So I’m supposed to believe that a 13-year-old boy is capable of sharing bathtime with girls in a totally cool, non-sexual way, while also sneaking off to make out with another girl, and also at the same time able to share a sleeping space with the kissy girl (long story) but manages to “behave himself” despite temptation….??  [insert lots of question marks here]

I said back at the beginning that I didn’t really know where to start with all the problems I had with this book, but now I don’t know where to stop.  Should I stop with Kindan becoming the noble hero who works tirelessly to save people from the plague?  (Except I’m also supposed to believe that there was only one Healer for a Hold of 10,000 people?)  (And also, Kindan kind of sucks at the whole thing?  Like he doesn’t really come up with this great way to save people…  they all still die.  Yet everyone is like, “Oh, wow, Kindan, you’re so amazing!  We love you!  Everything we have is yours!”  And they basically throw flowers and kisses at him everywhere he goes and he is treated like a son of the Hold and adulated as a hero… with no real explanation as to why.)  (And there is also this big thing where they realize the plague is killing all the people who are something like 16-24 years old or something like that, but then we never find out why so it just continues to make no sense with no actual explanation.  There’s an afterword that says, “Sometimes there are epidemics and they kill really healthy people.”  Okay… but why is that happening here?  Why do we emphasize it with no concept as to why??)  Or should I stop with how all the Master Harpers die in the plague, but instead of making various journeymen the new masters, the new MasterHarper just randomly puts all Kindan’s friends in charge of everything?  (Because that’s what I would do, put a bunch of 13-year-olds in charge of everything.)  Should I stop with the fact that, for no reason that anyone ever explains, Kindan and his friends are taxed with the task of searching through all the Records for a way to help stop the plague?  (Again.  This is something that happens repeatedly, and I do mean repeatedly…  Oh, people are sick.  We should search the Records.  Let’s have these random kids do it!  That makes the most sense!)  Or the part where they actually do find something in the Records that may help, and then the adults who told them to search the Records totally blow them off?  (I know, let’s have these random kids search through the Records to see if they can find any helpful information.  Wait, you actually found something?  Well, we don’t have time to listen to you – you’re just a kid!  Run along now!)

In short, this book made no sense.  And to top it off, the characters were just terrible.  They were wooden and boring.  There was no connection between their actions and their thoughts – no real explanations or motivations.  They were just pieces on the chessboard, being shoved here and there in an attempt to make something happen.

And that’s really why I’m not finishing the series.  Dragonheart is shaping up the same way.  I can work up zero interest in the main character of that book because she makes zero sense.  She just says and does things that are completely inconsistent.  Combined with the fact that I already know the answers to all the “mysteries,” and I already know how they are going to solve the problem of the dragon plague – since, you know, we already had an entire book written about this event – it’s just too, too boring to justify continuing to plow through it.

This is an incredibly disappointing ending to a solid year of reading through Pern.  While there were some ups and downs throughout, I give Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books a solid 4/5 on the whole and, perhaps unbelievably, do actually want to read them again someday.  But for now – and the future – I’ll be giving Todd McCaffrey’s contributions a miss.

The Great Zoo of China // by Matthew Reilly


//published 2014//

Stephanie read this book quite a while back, and, as my regular followers know, I’m a sucker for dragons so I added it to the TRB without hesitation.  Now in fairness, Stephanie only gave this book 3/5 and did warn that it was heavy on action and light on character development, so it wasn’t a complete surprise, but still!  I honestly think this book would make Bruce Willis raise his eyebrows in disbelief.  It was nonstop chaos from about page 100 on.

China has been keeping a huge secret for decades: they have discovered real dragons and have spent many, many years (and many billions of dollars and, frankly, many lives) to create a tourist attraction that will rocket them to the top of the cultural pile: an interactive zoo filled with live dragons.

The book starts out great as a select group of Americans have been invited to a top-secret sneak peek at a zoo, including our protagonist, CJ, who is a famous herpetologist (a person who studies reptiles), and her brother, Hamish.  CJ is supposed to be writing an article for National Geographic, and she’s brought her brother as a photographer.  They have no idea what to expect, and the dragons are a huge shock.  The Chinese have developed intricate and involved ways of protecting their visitors from the dragons.  The first hundred pages are spent explaining how the dragons came to be, how they are prevented from attacking people, how the different types of dragons interact, etc.  It’s all quite interesting, but even Hamish points out that anyone who has seen Jurassic Park has an idea how these types of projects usually end.

And guess what?  Things go… badly.  The dragons have figured out how to circumvent the protective systems and are able to start attacking the humans – and then all hell breaks loose.

Okay, so pros:  the concept was great.  Despite the many similarities to Jurassic Park, Reilly had enough new ideas to prevent it from feeling like a total ripoff.  Some of the twists were excellent.  The explanations for the dragons and the whole zoo were really great, although I was a bit confused with things like, “Curiosity in an animal was a sign of intelligence and it was rare.  You found it only in a few members of the animal kingdom: chimpanzees, gorillas, dolphins.”  ?? Maybe I define “curiosity” differently, but my dog is definitely curious, and I have an entire flock of chickens who are basically the nosiest creatures on earth – if I’m outside, they are all up in my business, trying to find out what I’m doing.  I spent several days painting fence on a farm once, and had to endure the cows standing about giving me advice the entire time.  Even wild animals, like foxes, I’ve seen take time to examine something they don’t recognize or understand.  Isn’t that what curiosity is???  But still.

The cons?  The book just didn’t quite deliver.  Reilly instead decided to make the whole book nothing but a huge mess of running about, being eaten by dragons, dodging dragons, almost getting killed by the Chinese, Jeeps careening off cliffs and waterfalls, attacks from giant alligators, helicopter wrecks – it just didn’t let up, and after a while it got rather boring.  It was extra frustrating because I actually felt like this could have been a really, really good book if Reilly had spent just a smidge more time on character development and a little less on flaming trash trucks and narrow escapes.

I mean, seriously.  I’m supposed to believe sentences like, “They had been running for about ten minutes when…”  ????  Oh, after a nice exhausting day running from dragons, I just trot about at a run, effortlessly.  Totally.  I also liked the part where the crocodile grabbed CJ and started to drown her, except she escapes, and then we just never talk about her arm again.  Apparently the croc just held it very, very gently.  And then there’s where they just run up several flights of stairs – “After about eight minutes of hurried climbing…”  ????  Eight straight minutes of running up stairs?  And they’re alive!?  And that’s just on page 253!  They still have 200 pages of intense physical exertion ahead!

The other thing about this book that drove me absolutely crazy was the actual formatting Reilly used.  He would start a paragraph…

Then another…

As though he was being really dramatic…

Except it was super annoying.

He would also insert random italics to emphasize entire phrases right in the middle of his narrative:  “She skipped up on a chair and with Johnson beside her, leapt up onto the control console and out the shattered window, past the dragon and onto the roof of the upturned cable car.”

What.  Even.  I’m not a child.  I can figure out which words in the sentence are important without them getting surrounded by flashing lights.  A few times is weird but alright, but the more the action ratcheted up, the more italics appeared and it got super old super fast.

In the end, I guess I’m going with 3/5 as well, although it is honestly almost a 2/5.  There were parts of this book that I really enjoyed, and the bones of the story were solid.  Even though I’ve made fun of it a lot, I actually did enjoy reading the book for the most part, even if some of it made my eyes roll almost out of my head.  If Reilly had actually worked on developing a plot and some characters, this would have been an awesome book.  Instead, I just had hundreds of pages of CJ pulling stunts that made DieHard look like it was performed by kindergartners.

And Then There Were None // by Agatha Christie

AKA Ten Little Indians

AKA Ten Little Niggers

Because yes, this book is old enough that having “Niggers” in the title wasn’t considered offensive, at least in the UK.  According to Wikipedia, it was never published as Ten Little Niggers in the US –

In the original UK novel all references to “Indians” or “Soldiers” were originally “Nigger”, including the island’s name, the pivotal rhyme found by the visitors, and the ten figurines.  (In Chapter 7, Vera Claythorne becomes semi-hysterical at the mention by Miss Brent of “our black brothers”, which is understandable only in the context of the original name.) The word “Nigger” was already racially offensive in the United States by the start of the 20th century, and therefore the book’s first US edition and first serialization changed the title to And Then There Were None and removed all references to the word from the book, as did the 1945 motion picture.

The book and its adaptations have since been released under various new names since the original publication, including Ten Little Indians (1946 play, Broadway performance and 1964 paperback book), Ten Little Soldiers and – the most widely used today And Then There Were None.


//published 1939//

This is widely believed to be one of Christie’s best works.  And Then There Were None is absolutely terrifying in the way that all truly good murder mysteries ought to be, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It had been so many years since I had read it last that I couldn’t at all remember the conclusion, so it was as good as a first-time read.


So many awesome covers for this one!

Ten individuals are invited, under various guises, to spend a little holiday on a private island.  But as soon as they arrive, things go from a tad odd to completely bizarre: there is no sign of their host, and, after dinner, a voice accuses them each of a different murder.  In the room of each guess hangs an old nursery rhyme (“Ten Little Indians” in this version), and, one by one, each person on the island is murdered in a manner that seems to coordinate with the rhyme.

The pacing in this book is perfect.  The tension ratchets with each death.  I started this book at supper one night, and stayed up until midnight to finish it.  That’s how good this book is.

Are there weaknesses?  Perhaps a couple of nitpicky ones.  But on the whole, no.  It’s brilliant from beginning to end, and the clues are there for the reader to discover.  (Well, theoretically.  Not this reader.  I’m really quite dreadful at solving mysteries.  If it was on me to solve the murder of an acquaintance, their death would be forever a mystery.)


Actually, this is for the miniseries, but I love it.

All in all, it is a book that well deserves its hype.  If you read no other Christie, at least read this one. 5/5.

The Book of Lost Things // by John Connolly


//published 2006//

I can’t remember where I first heard about The Book of Lost Things, but a story about a boy who is pulled into the land of his books is a great premise, so I was definitely interested to see where this book led.

Twelve-year-old David is our protagonist, and the story opens during the last few weeks of his mother’s life.  It is London on the brink of World War II.  David’s mother has cancer and is fading away.  David finds solace in his books, the ones that his mother read to him when he was little, and that he now reads to her while she is quietly dying.

David loves his mother, and throughout the story we are given a picture of a woman who is a perfect mother, the kind of woman who instinctively understands her child and his needs.  When David’s mother dies, David is devastated.  Things only get worse when, a less than six months later, David’s father introduces Rose, who becomes David’s stepmother.  David has already been struggling with grief and adjustments.  His books have started to speak to him, and he has strange dreams and times when he faints.

And then, after the birth of his new little brother, David finds himself in a different world, one similar to many of the stories he has read.  It is a world full of danger and evil, and David isn’t sure how he will find his way home again – or even if he wants to.

There were many things about this story that I really enjoyed.  David himself is a likable child, and my sympathies were entirely with him. We aren’t really given his father’s perspective at all, but he still comes off as a bit of a jerk, considering that he’s dated, impregnated, and married another woman all in less than a year since his wife’s death.  Throughout, David’s dad never seems to care about David’s grief or what is most important for David.  I’m not sure whether this was intentional on the part of Connolly, but I really disliked David’s dad, who seemed completely selfish to me, putting his own needs and desires above those of his child.

David’s mother had been dead for five months, three weeks, and four days.  A woman had joined them to eat at the Popular that day.  His father had introduced her to David as Rose.  Rose was very thing, with long, dark hair and bright red lips.  Her clothes looked expensive, and gold and diamonds glittered at her ears and throat.  She claimed to eat very little, although she finished most of her chicken that afternoon and had plenty of room for pudding afterward.  She looked familiar to David, and it emerged that she was the administrator of the not-quite-hospital in which his mother had died.  His father told David that Rose had looked after his mother really, really well, although not, David thought, well enough to keep her from dying.  ….  When they thought he wasn’t looking, David saw them kiss briefly.

So even though it’s only been five months, three weeks, and four days, it’s obvious that David’s dad has been in this relationship for some time, keeping it a secret from David.  What a jerk.

Throughout the first few chapters, the books whisper to David, but it turns out that that isn’t really relevant.  Actually, there are a lot of things in those first few chapters that aren’t really relevant.  David’s blackouts and the whispering books are never really explained.  Apparently that all stops when he returns from his fairyland journey, but why?  Why did they start?  How?  And how did his adventure there stop them?  If the Crooked Man was the one imitating David’s mother’s voice to lure David into fairyland, than why did David’s mother’s voice appear in the creepy castle where the Crooked Man didn’t want David to go?  No answers.

As David meanders through fairyland being chased by weird human-wolves that were created because Red Riding Hood had sex with a wolf (??!?!), there just isn’t enough story to keep things going.  There are lots of meet-ups with semi-familiar characters (basically, if it was a fairy tale that had a character you liked, they are probably creepy and gross and possibly perverted in this version), but the story has a strange, disjointed feel.  Throughout, David is supposedly being lured/chased by the Crooked Man, a vague and evil menace, who has apparently lived on the souls of children for centuries, but the Crooked Man’s character never made a heck of a lot of sense, and I couldn’t really tell if he was supposed to be a metaphor or if he was just really poorly written.

The story was overly graphic on the violence, with scenes of death and dismemberment described in harrowing and completely unnecessary detail.  There was a lot of gore in this book, and I have no idea why because it didn’t accomplish anything.  The whole book was just genuinely disturbing.

In the end, we get no answers.  The whole story is just this sort of random “journey to manhood” for David, but it seemed like a terrible lesson to teach about the passage to manhood.  It had all the cliches: stiff upper lip; don’t show your feelings; stand strong; be a man; don’t be weak; never cry.  To me, these concepts of “manhood” are just as outdated as telling girls that they should swoon at the sight of blood and should always sit at home sewing a sampler whilst waiting for the prince to arrive.  There is a difference between teaching children/boys that they should be strong and teaching them that to show emotion/tears is a weakness.

Basically, we are told that David was the unreasonable one in the whole situation of recovering from the death of his mother.  Although Connolly doesn’t say it in so many words, the epilogue shows that David’s father was right to “move on” and start a new life, while David was selfish and immature because he didn’t immediately accept Rose and the changes in his life (despite the fact that the changes were huge and sudden and David was TWELVE) –

Rose and his father, when they were alone in their bed at night, remark[ed] upon how much the incident had changed David, making him both quieter and more thoughtful of others; more affectionate towards Rose, and more understanding of her own difficulties in trying to find a place for herself in the lives of these two men, David and his father; more responsive to sudden noises and potential dangers, yet also more protective of those who were weaker than he, and of Georgie, his half brother, in particular.

Setting aside that this is, you know, the end of the book, so we freaking know who Georgie is already (a prime example of Connolly’s condescending tone throughout), this whole paragraph just bothered me to no end.  David’s dad and Rose were right; David was wrong.  David is a MAN now because he knows how to set all his own feelings aside and be strong, and being strong with no feelings is what makes you a MAN.  It just kind of blows my mind that a story can be written with such terrible lessons for a boy, but if it was flipped and the story was about a girl learning that the way to truly be a woman is to be quiet and humble and attend instantly to the needs of the men in her life, everyone would be freaking out.

The epilogue was absolutely dreadful, leaving us with David’s father and Rose divorced at the end of it all (I mean, seriously?  We just spent an entire book with David literally having to go into another world to learn how to deal with this relationship and then Connolly decides it isn’t even real enough to make it last?), David getting married and then having his wife die, and basically everyone getting super lame endings, which was really aggravating.

To top it off, the last 150-200 pages aren’t even part of the story – it’s all Connolly condescending again, explaining to the reader about how clever he was to incorporate all these old fairy tales in such new and exciting ways (yes, thank you, it was great that you made Sleeping Beauty a vampire and Snow White basically the grossest person you could imagine, not to mention the whole Red Riding Hood/wolf sex thing, wow you are super clever, congratulations), and then actually reprinting the fairy tales in case you couldn’t remember how the story of Snow White actually goes.

I think that part of my extreme dissatisfaction with this book comes from reading it close after completing A String in the Harpwhich also deals with a family’s grief over the death of a mother, except in that book, the family comes to realize that being a family is more important than anything, and they all actually deal with their grief in a healthy way, by learning to lean on one another, and it’s beautiful.  A Monster Callswhich I read last year, was also an incredibly poignant book about grief.

But The Book of Lost Things is, at the end of the day, about becoming a MAN, which means no feelings allowed!  Even if you’re twelve and your mother just died and your dad callously got remarried right away without even talking to you about it because basically apparently David’s dad couldn’t handle not having sex so.  Way to be a man.  Good job.

1/5 for The Book of Lost Things, and at least I don’t have to worry about trying to find any more books by John Connolly.

Dragon’s Fire by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey


//published 2006//

So my most recent reads in Pern have been a bit up and down.  I really enjoyed Dragon’s Kinand was very disappointed in Dragonsblood.  I have read two more books in the series since then – Dragon’s Fire and Dragon Harper – and I think part of the problem is Todd McCaffrey’s timeline.  I understand why Anne McCaffrey’s books jump around in Pernese time a bit.  She wrote a trilogy, it was well-taken, and then she kept adding to the series at both ends, progressing the story/characters she had originally started with, while also filling in background and history from earlier periods of Pernese history.

However, I don’t think that Todd McCaffrey has that excuse.  He chose a point in Pernese history to write about – just before and during the Third Pass – yet instead of writing in a linear fashion, these four books he has authored/co-authored jump around all over the place, covering and recovering the same years, making the whole story choppy and confusing, as we keep reading about the same characters at different points in their lives.  It’s hard to remember whether or not certain things have already happened to a character, especially when we add in that Todd is obsessed with the dragons’ ability to jump through time.  Time travel was a rarely-used gimmick in Anne’s books, but a very standard one in Todd’s.

The other thing that happens with Todd’s constant going over of the same time periods is that the whole thing feels extra lazy, like he couldn’t think of a new plot, so he just literally reuses an old one.  So far:

Published Order:

  • Dragon’s Kin
  • Dragonsblood
  • Dragon’s Fire
  • Dragon Harper
  • Dragonheart (I just started this one today)

Chronological Order:

  • Dragon’s Kin and Dragon’s Fire – same exact time
  • Dragon Harper (a lot of which was covered as backstory in Dragonsblood and is then recycled into its “own” story)
  • Dragonheart (looks like it will be the exact same time as Dragonsblood)
  • Dragonsblood

So, fair warning, my reviews for the next couple of Pern books may get a bit whiny…

Here’s the thing: Dragon’s Fire is an alright book.  However, it is just the exact same story as Dragon’s Kin except with a different perspective.  These two books should have been one book.  As alternating chapters to Dragon’s Kin, Dragon’s Fire would have been interesting and engaging.  As the same exact story with another book in between them, Dragon’s Fire was boring and pointless.

Added to that, large parts of this book made no sense.  Supposedly, there was all this stuff going on with the “holdless” (people who have basically been shunned due to committing a crime), but it all jumps around, and there isn’t a lot of motive given.  We start with Harper Zist and his wife setting out to find some holdless people and basically hang out with them, but it’s all really random and confusing, because we don’t really know why??  Or what is going on??  Or why??

There is this whole thing with Pellar – who, by the way, is a really good character whom I quite liked – except he’s like this secret spy who is kind of an apprentice??  Maybe??  I don’t know, it was just weird.

The whole story with the actual holdless is confusing, too.  Like why is Cristov hanging out with Jamal?  We’re introduced as though the two boys are old friends, but then later find out that Jamal was holdless the whole time and he and his sister were actually just hanging out scamming people out of money??  Or something??

I could go on.  The whole book was full of weak plotting, unexplained motives, and underdeveloped characters.

I was especially appalled by the fact that Pellar, who is only 13, has sex.  Throughout the series, it’s always been this weird thing that characters bonded to dragons and relations of the dragons (watch-whers and fire lizards) are overcome with the same lust as the animals when one of the animals rises to mate.  However, while weird, it somewhat made sense within the context of Weyr – the senior Queen rises to mate, and the strongest Bronze will capture her: the rider of the strongest Bronze thus becomes the Weyrleader.

But in this book – and, I’ll venture to add, the next few books – Todd takes this whole thing to a different level.  We’ve never been given the impression that the people of Pern marry at extremely young ages, yet suddenly we have children barely past puberty having sex…????

In this particular instance, Pellar has been staying with a small, isolated camp that supposedly is home to the last Queen watch-wher (which is a whole different sent of contradictions, as in Dragon’s Kin a character travels about Pern helping people learn how to care for and understand their watch-whers, but suddenly in Dragon’s Fire they are super rare and on the point of extinction…???), and the Queen is ready for a mating flight.

Pellar nodded and ran back to the cave … he was surprised to see some of the younger women eyeing him consideringly.

“It’d only be for the flight,” the woman said when she caught his gaze.  “Nothing more than that.”

Pellar nodded, not sure of his own feelings …

“How many turns are you, anyway?” Polla asked, regarding Pellar carefully.

Pellar hastily pulled out his slate [Pellar is mute] and wrote 13.

Polla read it and laughed, nodding toward the younger woman.  “Arella’s nearer your age, she’s only three Turns older.”

Pellar found it hard to believe that the other woman had only sixteen Turns; he would have guessed nearer to thirty.  Life with the watch-whers was clearly very demanding.

“Come sit by me, then,” Arella called, patting a spot near her.

Pellar crossed around the fire and had just sat, nervously, when the watch-whers mated.

Much later, Arella whispered in his ear, “Now you are one of us.”

Where do I even start with this?  The fact that Todd is apparently incapable of writing a paragraph that is longer than a sentence in length (I edited out two sentences)?  The fact that a 13-year-old basically gets raped by a woman older than him, one he thought was old enough to be his mother (even though she is apparently only three years older…)?!?!?  This whole thing was just way too bizarre for words.

I will stop complaining now.  Suffice to say that there were a lot of gaps in this book.  I haven’t even begun to cover the whole mining/firestone aspect of the story, which was just as complicated and nonsensical.  So much of this book felt like padding, an attempt to fill the story out to the length of a full book.  It was so frustrating because a lot of the boring, pointless bits could have been cut out and the entire story could have been added to Dragon’s Kin for one interesting book (minus the child-rape, of course).  Instead, we’re stuck with a pointlessly annoying book full of contradictions, back-tracking, coincidences, and actions without motive.

1/5 and an incredibly weak addition to the series.

Rearview Mirror // April 2016

Well, as of last weekend I had these grandiose ideas in which I would actually review the stack of 7 (!) books awaiting attention before I wrote April’s roundup, but seeing as it is already May 5, I think I will just finish April off and let those additional reviews fall where they may!

April was a super busy but honestly fantastic month.  I am still loving my new job.  I really hadn’t realized how much I hated sitting in an office all day until I stopped doing it.  I’ve switched from production work in the back to working the retail section (annuals).  That’s alright, but I am definitely homesick for production, which may be my life calling.  Still, even in retail I spend most of the day outside or in a greenhouse, playing with plants and listening to the life stories of random people who somehow think telling me about themselves will help me direct them to better plants (and maybe it does??).

Still, this whole “full-time” thing is for the birds!  So little time for real life!  I’m okay with it since it’s just temporary…  and the whole summer stretches out full of long days of being productive and happy around the homestead.  Yay!  I am really excited about devoting a lot of time to wrapping up some remodeling projects (read: SO MUCH PAINTING), playing in the gardens, and helping out my grandpa with his place.

As for reading, my job actually allows tons of time for it, as I have to take an hour lunch every day.  So I take my PB&J and a book (or two), and hide out on my favorite bench in the sample gardens – it’s tucked away under an arbor behind a nice screen of shrubbery – quite secluded and peaceful.  If one must take an unpaid lunch hour, one may as well do it outside with some good reading material!

Favorite April Read:

774175I think I’m going with A String in the Harp for this one.  Bond’s story was just so perfectly crafted.  Even though it’s not a book with a lot of action, the characters are so perfectly drawn, and the prose so wonderfully written, that I found myself slowing down so that I could drink in and savor every word.  Bond has created a beautiful story about grief, hope, and family that I highly recommend.

Most Disappointing April Read:

5116SCF7B2LI think I am going with Dragonsblood for this one.  I had really enjoyed Dragon’s Kin a great deal, and came into Dragonsblood looking forward to seeing what Todd McCaffrey would do next with Pern.  But at the end of the day, Dragonsblood felt like a lazy attempt to capitalize on the popular series.  The plotting was weak and full of gaps, the writing was emotionally distant, and there were far too many times where a character would conveniently guess the exact information they needed to know to solve a huge problem.

Other April Reads:

  • A Gift of Dragons by Anne McCaffrey – 3/5 – a solid but overall not super exciting collection of short stories set in Pern.
  • The Boomerang Clue by Agatha Christie – 3/5 – an entertaining read, but definitely one with several skeptical-eyebrow-raising moments.
  • Forest Patrol by Jim Kjelgaard – 4/5 – a really enjoyable (although not terribly thrilling) story about a young man working as a forest ranger in the 1940’s.
  • Dragon’s Kin by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey – 4/5 – a really solid addition to the series that explores the intriguing (and hitherto somewhat belittled) watch-whers and their place in Pern.
  • The Diamond Secret by Suzanne Weyn – 3/5 – a predictable but still pleasant story based on “what-if” of Anastasia Romanov’s survival.
  • Emily’s Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary – 5/5 – an absolutely delightful tale of small-town life in the early 1920’s – a perfect family read-aloud.
  • Black Rainbow by Barbara Michaels – 2/5 – a book I thoroughly enjoyed bashing for its weak plotting, ridiculously boring heroine, long bouts of pointless ranting about the disadvantages of the female position in society, and an obvious villain.  Although I did learn about “moonbows” so there is that.
  • Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie – 3/5 – another solid and interesting read, but with a villain whose motives felt like a bit of stretch.
  • Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Time by Dominic Utton – 3/5 – an epistolary read that I quite enjoyed, even if it was rather impractical at times.

Added to the TBR:

Well, I’m still quite behind on reading reviews from other blogs, but fear not – the TBR is still getting longer!

Currently, I have my TBR on a spreadsheet with four tabs:

  • Stand-Alones:  797 (up from 778)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own, but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  548 (up from 529)
  • Series: 120 (no change)
  • Mystery Series:  50 (no change)

I also think that May may finally see the end of the Pern series.  I started reading Dragonheart today, and there are only three more titles after that one.  (So far… apparently Anne McCaffrey’s children have the rights to continue with the series should they so chose.)  While I’ve enjoyed (most of) this series, I’m also looking forward to getting into something new.  Maybe something a little less dragony and not over twenty books long!!  I started reading the Pern books last May, so it has literally taken me a year to get through the series!

Awaiting Review:

  • Dragon’s Fire by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey
  • The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  • The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly
  • Be Buried in the Rain by Barbara Michaels
  • Dragon Harper by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey
  • The Bronze Pen by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  • Towards Zero by Agatha Christie
  • The Eternal World by Christopher Farnsworth