Rearview Mirror // October 2016

October has been a really busy month on the blog!  I managed to read/review eighteen books!!!  This was probably helped by a week of vacation and some quick reads, but still.  Good times.

Favorite October Read:

attachmentsushardcoverhiresRainbow Rowell’s Attachments is going to be this month’s winner.  The characters were all so very likable, the setting done well, the pacing excellent – just an all-around really fun and entertaining read that still had a bit of meat to it.  It’s my new favorite of Rowell’s books.

Most Disappointing October Read:

51pdlr0k-il-_sx324_bo1204203200_Kind of random, but I think I’m going with Magic Below Stairs by Caroline Stevermer.  The book itself was alright, but I think I just had higher expectations because I enjoyed the Cecelia and Kate books a lot.  This book was really just sort of a throw-away – not much happened, characters from the other books were only in the very vague background, and the plot was kind of weird.

Other October Reads:

  • Sorcery and Cecelia; The Grand Tourand The Mislaid Magician by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer – 4/5 for the series – these are old favorites that I revisited on holiday – full of fun, magic, humor, and mishaps.
  • The Wanderers by Cheryl Mahoney – 4/5 – a really fun fairy tale romp with engaging characters and an interesting story.
  • A Prefect’s Uncle by P.G. Wodehouse – 3/5 – with a little less cricket and a little more story, Wodehouse’s second published work was a much more enjoyable read than his first!
  • Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George – 3/5 – interesting setting but definitely a little sloppy in the details.
  • The Ex by Alafair Burke – 3/5 – an engaging story that had me turning pages as fast as I could, but I’m still not convinced as to the murderer’s motive…
  • Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie – 3/5 – interesting premise but the book needed to be twice as long to really build the story and characters – instead, it felt really choppy and disorienting at times, and the ending was completely weird.
  • 13623931-_uy200_Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter – 3/5 – alright, but not as well-plotted as the first two books in the Jackaby series.
  • Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas – 3/5 – a book I really, really wanted to like, except the villain situation changed horses midstream, and the ending made me roll my eyes so far they almost fell out of my head.
  • The Brontë Plot by Katherine Reay – 3/5 – this book would have been so much better if I had actually liked the main character.
  • Endless Night by Agatha Christie – 3/5 – so boring for most of the book (with such a whiny narrator) and then a really good twist at the end.
  • Dragon on Trial and Krakens and Lies – 4/5 for the series – the Menagerie series was just great fun and definitely a recommended trilogy for middle schoolers.
  • The Game by Diana Wynne Jones – 3/5 – interesting but weird.
  • Wild Justice by Phillip Margolin – 4/5 – a great start to the series – hopefully the rest of the books stay on the good side of gruesome, because I really like the characters.

Other October Posts:

I had a lot of fun answering the questions for FictionFan’s 100 Book Tag, and then the next day I spent an entire post bragging about the books I bought with my birthday money – poor taste, but what can you do?!

TBR Update:

So, for those who are astute, you will notice below that the TBR has dropped.  This is due in large part to the fact that I add things to the TBR in a completely haphazard fashion.  Anywhere I see a book – someone’s review, GoodReads, a newsletter, the library, in a bookshop – I just throw it on the list.  Later, when I’m using my lottery method to decide what book is next, I check on GoodReads to see if it is part of a series and to reread the description (and usually the original review that inspired me to do the reading).  If the book is part of a series, it gets taken off the TBR and kicked onto the appropriate section.  Not infrequently, I decide that I don’t actually want to read the book at all.  This month I had a few books that I got from the library, read the first few chapters, and sent back unfinished.

All that to say – the TBR has dropped, even if I haven’t actually read that many books.  But I think the “dropped” part is the important part – right??

For those of you who don’t know, I’m weirdly obsessive with organizing the TBR, and have it on a spreadsheet divided into five different tabs:

  • Stand-Alones:  849 (DOWN 15!!!)
  • Nonfiction:  46 (up 1)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own, but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  541 (up 4… pretty good, considering all the birthday money – luckily I’ve bought a lot of books I’ve actually read within the last two years, so they don’t get counted!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  136 (up 4)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  61 (up 7… yeah, several of the books that got removed from the TBR actually just got flipped to the mystery series page!)

Awaiting Review:

Actually, after a spurt of reviewing over the weekend, I’m in pretty good shape.  And I’ve finally started reading First Lord’s Fury, which means I won’t be starting/finishing any other books for a few days.  (Okay, so that’s kind of a lie since I’m also reading four other books right now, but, you know.)  Anyway.

  • Signs Point to Yes by Sandy Hall (spoiler: it was terrible, so you can look forward to that rant coming soon!)

Current Reads:

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  • First Lord’s Fury by Jim Butcher (finally finishing the Codex Alera… I love everyone!  The Vord are terrifying!  I think they’re all going to die!  So scared!  I can’t wait to see how it ends – except I never want it to end!)
  • Tales from St. Austin’s by P.G. Wodehouse (about halfway through…  guess what… more cricket!)
  • The Storyteller and Her Sisters by Cheryl Mahoney (second book in the Beyond the Tales series – better than halfway through – great fun!)
  • A Life In Letters by P.G. Wodehouse/edited by Sophie Ratcliffe (better than 3/4 through…  super interesting and excellently edited)
  • Sunsets by Deborah Howard (actually, a book about death/dying and also hospice as it is written by a hospice nurse… only one chapter left)

Approaching the Top of the Pile:

51w0uqick0lThe probable next five reads…

  • Wait for What Will Come by Barbara Michaels (although I’ve sent back the last three of her books to the library unread because they just didn’t look interesting, so we’ll see if this one is any  better…)
  • The Gold Bat by P.G. Wodehouse (ummm…  you don’t think this one is going to be about cricket, do you??)
  • The Ghost Rock Mystery by Mary C. Jane (one of my own… an old Scholastic Book Club book!)
  • The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag (Stephanie was a little so-so about this one but it sounds interesting to me so we’ll see)
  • Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan (I’m going to start the Lynburn Legacy – heard a lot of mixed reviews on these so time will tell where they lead!)

Wild Justice // by Phillip Margolin

wild-justice

//published 2000//

All the way back in the spring, I randomly entered a Sweepstakes sponsored by HarperCollins, giving away all five of the Amanda Jaffe books in order to celebrate the release of the latest in the series, Violent Crimes.  And somehow – I was one of the winners!!!  Even though winning the books didn’t come with any kind of obligation to review them, it’s just kind of what I do with books that I read, so even though it’s been six months since I received them, I am finally getting around to reading – and reviewing – this series.  A special thank you to the publisher for giving me these books!!

What really happened was I started to read Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne series.  I really enjoyed Sleepyheadand started to read the second book, Copy Cat, in the early spring.  But I just couldn’t get through that book.  There was too much gruesomeness, with a perpetrator who focused on torture and it was just too, too much for me.  I don’t enjoy reading violent descriptions.  Point is, I abandoned Tom Thorne and retreated to safety: Agatha Christie.  And I’ve been reading all of Christie’s stand-alone mysteries ever since.  I thought about putting those on pause and jumping into the Amanda Jaffe books…  but I was kind of scared.  What if they were violent and terrifying??  So they’ve just been sitting there…

But I finished with Christie and, out of excuses, started to read Wild Justice – and it was fantastic.  Honestly, I was drawn in immediate by the quote at the beginning of the book, from Francis Bacon – “Revenge is a kind of wild justice.”  I absolutely love that line, and it really set the tone for the entire story.

Amanda has finished law school and come back to Portland to join her father’s criminal defense firm.  Although she is young, Amanda is intelligent and a quick learner.  She loves her father – a widower – and is excited to work with him doing the work he loves.  But I really enjoyed the fact that Amanda was still wrestling throughout the story with whether or not criminal defense was the direction she wanted to go with her life.  There was also a lot of growing in the relationship between Amanda and her dad.  I liked that they had a good relationship, but that that didn’t mean that things were perfect all the time.

The story really picks up when a surgeon, Dr. Cardoni, is arrested for murder – and not just any murder – a gruesome, torture scene.  (Although, thankfully, mostly off-screen with vague details – a few scenes that made me uncomfortable – one in particular – but overall not too bad.)  Amanda’s father has represented Cardoni before (although not for homicide).  Even though Amanda and her dad – and basically everyone else – are convinced that Cardoni is guilty, they work hard to defend him (which leads to a lot of those conversations/thoughts about whether or not this is really what Amanda wants to do with her life – all of which I thought was handled really well).

There are a lot of threads going on in this story.  Margolin’s choice to go with a third person narrative, however, enables us, as the reader, to know more about what is happening than Amanda does.  Most of the time this works really well, although there were moments that I found myself thinking Amanda was rather thick – only to remember that it was because she didn’t actually know something that I did, if that makes sense.

One of the things that I liked about Amanda is that she was single for much of the book and that she was okay with that – but also not okay with that.  Being single can be a weird thing.  While you are content with who you are as a person and recognize that you don’t need someone else to be complete, there is still something really wonderful about the companionship and comfort that comes from a secure relationship.  And, as you get older and all your friends pair off, it feels awkward sometimes to be the not-couple friend.  As someone who didn’t get married until the age of 27 (and spent most of my 20’s single), I felt like Margolin captured that balance in Amanda’s character.

Amanda buttered her toast at the kitchen table.  While she sipped her milk she took stock of her life.  On the whole she was happy.  Her career was going well, she had money in the bank and a place she loved to live in, but she was lonely at times.  Two of her girlfriends had married during the past year, and she was beginning to feel isolated.  Couples went out with couples.  Soon there would be children to occupy their time.  Amanda sighed.  She didn’t feel incomplete without a man.  It was more a question of companionship.  Just having someone to talk to, who would be around to share her triumphs and help her up when she fell.

While the ending was satisfying, there were still a few loose threads that I would have liked to have seen taken care of.  Most of the circumstances were explained, but not all.  So while I definitely agreed that the conclusion was the logical one, I would have still liked to have seen the rest of the red herrings cleared up.

Still, Wild Justice was thoroughly engaging and a confident 4/5.  I really like Amanda and her dad and am interested to read the next book.  Hopefully it manages to stay on the conservative side of the gruesome line as well!

October Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So, inspired by the way that Stephanie reviews the unreviewed every month, I think that some months (or maybe all of them!) will get a post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Endless Night by Agatha Christie

endless-night-v2

//published 1967//

A while back, as a part of my goal to read all of Agatha Christie’s books, I read a couple of the novels she wrote under the name of Mary Westmacott.  I only reviewed Giant’s Breadbut I did skim through two of her other Westmacott novels.  All of them, although well-written, were rather depressing.  On the whole, I read for pleasure, and I don’t find pleasure in being depressed so I gave her other Westmacott novels a miss.

All this to say, much of Endless Night reads as a novel rather than a mystery.  The actual death doesn’t occur until about 3/4 of the way through the book.  The rest is all about the feelings and actions of our narrator, Michael Rogers.  While there is a story throughout, much of the narration is verging on stream-of-consciousness, as Rogers meanders through various tales of his life, usually weaving his way back to the main thrust of the story.  From the beginning, Rogers hints at a disaster involving his wife.  These insinuations lend to the overall feeling of unease throughout the book.

Honestly, for most of the book I felt like it was a 2/5 read for me as it was just a downer and not much was happening, plus I just wasn’t a fan of Rogers, who was a bit of a whiner (also melodramatic; I was really over his sentences like, “Ellie!  Oh Ellie!  If only I had known!”  Pull yourself together, man, geez).  However, that last 25% of the story brought it up to a 3/5 and an overall recommendation, because when Christie decides to actually pull back the curtain and show the reality of what is happening, everything falls into place like magic, and it made me want to reread the whole book and see if I could see where she was going now that I knew the destination.

Dragon on Trial by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland (Menagerie #2)

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//published 2014//

The sequel to The Menagerie picks up virtually immediately after the conclusion of the first book (as in, like within half an hour).  Like the first book, I thought this was a great middle-school read.  There is lots of action, and the characters are really fun.  This time, Logan, Zoe, and Blue find themselves working with Marco (a were-rooster, so great), who I thought was a hilarious addition to the team.  With griffins, unicorns, mer-people, and more, these books are just great all-around fun.

All in all, this book did a really good job of forwarding the overall plot of the trilogy while still having its own contained story as well.  So while the main thrust of the story (who murdered the goose who lays the golden eggs??) was concluded, the overall theme of someone is sabotaging the Menagerie is still waiting to be tied together in Book 3.

4/5 and recommended.

The Game by Diana Wynne Jones

game1

//published 2007//

This short story was engaging but a bit confusing.  In the end, it turns out that Jones was basically writing about stars/planets/gods as though they were people, which I started to cotton onto about halfway through the tale, but in some ways it felt like the story would have made better sense if Jones’s afterword had been a foreword instead.

The whole concept was great fun.  It’s a short story, so the characters are terribly well developed, but that didn’t make them less likable.  While this was a fun little romp, I actually think that I would find it more interesting to read now that I know from the beginning what characters I am watching for.  3/5 and kind of neutral as far as recommendation or not.

Krakens and Lies by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland (Menagerie #3)

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//published 2015//

I am actually really sad that it appears like this series is only going to be a trilogy.  It was a lot of fun, and really like the characters and the setting that the Sutherlands have created.

In this book, we finally find out who is sabotaging the Menagerie and why, and also what happened to Logan’s mom.  While I felt like some of the conclusions were a little bit of a stretch, it was all in good fun.  Overall, I felt like this was a really great children’s/middle school series that I would definitely recommend, especially for kids who love animals.  Even though my youngest sister is a bit older than the target age group, I’m still going to give her the first book to read, as I think they’ll appeal to a wide range of ages.

I have to say that one thing that I really liked was that I felt like the characters acted their age.  They are all around 12-13 years old, and it seemed like there was a great balance between them being independent and them needing adult help/supervision.  I loved the way that Logan had a great relationship with his dad, and how Zoe’s family really gets along, even when they have their differences.  Honestly, all the families that we met in this book were loving and supportive of one another, and that was just a delight, especially when so many children’s/YA books act like it’s impossible for young people and their parents to ever relate to one another.  The Sutherlands presented different family shapes, but all with parents/adults who, even if they didn’t completely understand their children, still loved them and had their best interests at the forefront.

All in all, this book – and the series as a whole – is a sturdy 4/5 and definitely recommended for its anticipated age group, as well as anyone who as ever secretly hoped that unicorns and dragons were real.