The Tottering TBR // Episode XIV

Fairly quiet week here on the blog.  For some reason, I’ve been reading a lot of books that go in pairs, so that takes extra time, and only counts as one book when I finish them.  Also, I just found out today that I’m starting my job back up at the garden center on this coming Monday, so I’ll be back to 40hrs/wk plus commuting time, so be forewarned – both reading and blogging will probably be reduced!  However, I’m pretty excited about starting there again as I get paid to be outside playing with plants, so it’s hard to complain about that.

Added to the General TBR:

As usual, I’m rather behind on reading reviews, but I still managed to add four books, including Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner.  Carol’s review over on Reading, Writing & Riesling made this book sound quite exciting!

Off the General TBR:

thehouseofthescorpionThis week, I reviewed The House of the Scorpion and its sequel, The Lord of Opium, both by Nancy Farmer.  They were pretty engaging, although they seemed a bit intense for children’s books!  Because they are a duology, they only count as one title off the TBR.

I also read Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey, a thiller-ish that I enjoyed but somehow lacked that zing. Turns out that it was actually on my TBR, so I got to knock it off!

I also removed a cheesy-looking title from the list that I’m not even sure how it ended up there.  Finally, while I did review The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar, it won’t officially be off the list until I finish the sequel, The Fourth Wish, which I haven’t even started yet.  :-D

Total for the General TBR:  888 – only up one!


Added to the Personal TBR:

Only two free Kindle books this week!  Such self-restraint!

Off the Personal TBR:

Still working on the Pride and Prejudice variation – it’s my bedtime book.  Things are spiraling out of control there.  So much angst.  Why.  But I can’t stop.

Total for the Personal TBR:  614 – up two!


Total for the Series TBR:  Nothing added to taken off this week, although I am about halfway through the second book in the Night and Nothing trilogy.  So we’re holding steady at 148.


Total for the Mystery Series TBR:  No changes here, either – still at 72.


Total for the Nonfiction TBR:  No changes here, although I have been reading several of my own nonfiction books, mostly studying up on gardening stuff yet again!


Grand Total for the Week:  Six added and three off, so only a net gain of three – I’m going to call that a win!

The Art of Wishing // by Lindsay Ribar


//published 2013//

This book has been on the TBR long enough that it doesn’t have a date attached, and the blog whose review inspired me to add it appears to no longer be a blog!  So I don’t really remember what it was that originally caught my fancy.

While in some ways a typical YA, this book does have a fun little premise and, on the whole, is executed well.  Margo McKenna is our narrator and heroine.  She’s a typical high school senior – good grades, loves math, and is really excited about landing the lead role in this year’s musical.  She totally nails her tryout, but the role goes to a sophomore instead, leaving Margo feeling confused – especially when it turns out that Vicky is kind of terrible at singing and acting.  But when a series of coincidences mean that Margo ends up with a ring that was once in Vicky’s possession – Margo finds out that Vicky had a little help…  magical help.

I think that the main reason that I enjoyed this book is because I liked Margo herself.  Throughout, Margo is trying to make decisions that are not just good for her (or for her love interest), but for a variety of people in her life.  I also really appreciated the way that she works hard at becoming a better person.  There are several times that, instead of caving into the temptation to be bitter and angry about the fact that Vicky has the lead role, Margo makes a conscious decision to not let that bitterness rule her.  Instead, she is unfailingly polite to Vicky (and not in a sarcastic way), and completely throws herself into the (secondary) role that she is supposed to play.  I love that Margo wasn’t “naturally” nice about the situation, but worked hard at approaching the situation maturely.

While there is a bit of insta-love between Margo and Oliver (who turns out to be a genie), it ends up making sense within the context of what is happening, and I actually liked a lot of the way that their relationship panned out, and I felt like they had some good discussions.

The bad guy was a little over the top, and I didn’t really like the violence that went with his character.  I also felt like it was really weird that Oliver acted like it was pretty normal for his “masters” to request/expect sexual favors while they were in control of their wishes.  Like… why would one of only three wishes involve having sex with a total stranger…???  It wasn’t this huge part of the story, but it was all part of Oliver explaining how the whole thing worked.  I think he was trying to emphasize the fact that he has to do whatever his master wishes, but it still felt kind of weird.  His stories about having to kill people/arrange for their deaths seemed to make that point more poignantly to me.

While there were the expected unintended consequences of wishes, I felt like some of those areas were explored thoughtfully, in a way that made me wonder what I really would wish for if I had three wishes – because who knows what the long-term consequences are when you start meddling with fate?  I really liked the bit where Margo was trying to decide whether or not she should make her wish change the mind of someone in her life – her thought process through whether or not it was fair/right to force someone to do something they wouldn’t have actually done – even if it’s the best decision from Margo’s perspective – was really interesting.

The ending was good, with a bit of kick and only slightly rushed.  While it felt like this book worked well as a stand-alone, there is a sequel, so we will see where that leads.

All in all, this was a pretty solid 3/5 read.  It was entertaining and fun, had a decent story, and involved characters who were around 18 instead of 15, so their actions and decisions made a lot more sense.

Cold Shot // by Dani Pettrey

I received Still Life from the publisher in exchange for a review, and because of who I am as a person, I knew there was no way that I could just jump into the second book in a series, so I checked Cold Shot out of the library so I could read it first.  I’m really glad that I did that in this instance – these two books are really closely connected, and Cold Shot gives a lot of the background for the group of characters whose stories continue in Still Life.  I think I would have been confused if I had tried to read Still Life on its own.

These were the first of Pettrey’s books that I’ve read, although I’ve had her Alaskan Courage series on the TBR for a while now.

Both books focus on a core group of friends.  Griffin, Luke, Declan, and Parker all grew up together.  Several years ago Luke disappeared.  Another dramatic event had already fractured the relationship between Griffin and Parker, so while the remaining three friends have stayed in touch, things just aren’t the same.


//published 2016//

Cold Shot opens with Griffin working as a park ranger at Gettysburg.  It was actually kind of funny to me because my husband and I had been talking that day about going to Gettysburg this spring, and I had been reading some stuff online and recalling other trips I have made there (he’s never been), then I flip open Cold Shot and bam!  Gettysburg!  Another funny thing was that despite the fact that I’ve been to Gettysburg several times, I somehow never really realized how close it is to the Chesapeake Bay/Baltimore, Maryland.  So there was this kind of weird ocean/bay vibe that wasn’t remotely bad, but just funny because I never really think about Gettysburg in those terms.

Anyway, in the first chapter, Griffin interrupts some guys trying to do some grave looting in the park. Except it turns out that skeleton they’ve found is much more recent than Civil War era.  Griffin calls in forensic anthropologist Finley Scott to check out the body, and she confirms that the body has been here less than a year.  As the case unwinds, both Declan (now working for the FBI) and Parker (a crime-scene analyst) get called in as well, and soon the three are working through not only the case, but their shared past as well.

So overall I did like this book and was engaged in the story.  It kind of reminded me of Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series, where everyone in this group of friends just-so-happens to do something super helpful for crime solving, but I was willing to roll with it.  I really liked Griffin and Finley together and felt like they developed a solid relationship.  Pettrey also did a good job a weaving a theme of the importance of forgiveness (of others and of self) throughout without turning preachy.

However, the thriller/mystery aspect wasn’t particularly strong.  In some places, the twists felt a little left-field, and in others things fell into place a little too smoothly.  Also, they determine at one point that the sniper was shooting from a range of 1500 yards, and I looked it up and while it is possible, it’s like ridiculously difficult, to the point where it seemed hard to believe that a sniper that skilled would be able to just sort of fade away and no one would know where he was or what he was doing.  And while I liked Griffin and Finley together, their continual internal dialogue about not feeling good enough for the other began to get a little repetitive in places, feeling more like filler than actual story.

Still, a decent book, which was also encouraging because it meant that the book I had actually agreed to review probably wouldn’t be terrible!  Overall, 3.5/5.  Recommended if you like your thrillers to have a bit more romance than thrill.

Also, Stephanie reviewed this book last year when it first came out, so you should check out her review here.

PS I think this book lost a half star just because of the cover.  Like what is with that dude?  He looks like he’s cold and also possibly having some gas pain or something.  Weirded me out.  Although I will say that I’m overall not a fan of just a PERSON on the front of a book; that always seems weird and awkward to me.

The House of the Scorpion // The Lord of Opium // by Nancy Farmer

This duology left me with very mixed feelings.  So much of the conceptualization was really intriguing, yet somehow the story didn’t grab me the way I wanted it to.  While I wanted to see how things came together, in the end some of the solutions were just smidge too simplistic for my taste.  These are considered children’s books, but I would definitely put them in the YA category, despite the fact that the main character is only 14.


//published 2002//

It’s really hard to talk about these books without divulging too much about what happens.  But basically the story starts with Matteo, a little boy who is actually a clone.  He was made from an old man known as El Patrón, who rules a country whose entire purpose is to grow opium.  Matt is being raised by Celia, who loves him, but within the first few chapters Matt ends up at the main house where he discovers that he is not a regular little boy as he supposed, but a clone – and almost everyone considers him a monster, subhuman.

These books delve a great deal into what makes us human, and when we become human.  While much of the discussion is about clones, and another “subhuman” group, the eejits, they are questions that can easily apply to many marginalized groups in today’s society – I found myself regularly marveling at how the statements concerning clones made by the majority of Opium’s population echoed the justifications put forth by pro-abortion advocates today – things like “they can’t really feel pain” or “I decided to create it so I can decide to terminate it” or “it doesn’t really understand what’s happening, so it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s treated well.”

In the first book, Farmer purposely keeps the reader in the dark about a lot of things – sometimes a bit too much, I felt.  However, if you flip open the cover of the second book, you’ll find the answers to many questions in the first few pages – maps and a chronology of events.  These were very helpful by the time I was about halfway through the first book.

All in all, I enjoyed the story in The House of the Scorpion.  It was intense and gritty, yet did so in a way that was completely appropriate for younger (I would say 11+) readers.  Basically, if a reader is old enough to understand the content, there isn’t anything they shouldn’t read.  Some of it is disturbing, but never grotesquely so.  Matt is a well-drawn and engaging character.  Despite the fact that the first few chapters cover the first 13 years of Matt’s life, the story didn’t feel rushed or like an info-dump.  Farmer’s pacing is excellent, giving enough information to keep the story going.  So much of the world-building is discovered through Matt’s eyes (although third person), which was done very well.

However, the ending felt strangely abrupt.  Matt goes through so much and has so many enemies within the house – and then the end.  It felt like a cop-out in some ways.  Not completely dissatisfying, but it almost felt like Farmer wanted a bridge so that she could roll into a second book.  Ending the first book in a more natural way wouldn’t have led into the second book that she wanted to write, so the first book gets a bit of a ??! ending.


//published 2013//

The Lord of Opium picks up Matt’s story the day after the first  book ends.  In this book, Matt has a lot more difficult decisions, plus he’s battling with a lot of emotions and the aftermath from the ending of the first book.  Farmer brings up a lot more questions about humanity, conservation, drugs, cloning, immortality, slavery, immigration, whether the ends justifies the means, and whether or not we choose our own paths or if they are chosen for us.  These topics are handled very deftly.  I never really felt like she was preaching at me, yet I found myself pondering a lot of the questions she had raised.  Despite the fact that my life is nothing like Matt’s, I still somehow really related to him as a character, and felt like a lot of the dilemmas he faced were once that I could understand.  To me, that’s a sign of solid writing.

Because these are children’s books, we had a happy ending. I  felt like it was a bit of a stretch, but I like happy endings, too, so I was willing to roll with it.  I actually would be totally into another book about Matt to see where his dreams take him next.  All in all, I would go with 3/5 for both books, but a really high 3, like a 3.8, and recommended.

A few spoiler-filled ?!?!? moments below the break – don’t read them until you’ve read the books!  But if you have read the books, I’d love to hear your opinions!

NB: These books were first brought to  my attention by a great review of The House of the Scorpion over on Paper Breathers.  Thanks, Sophie!

Continue reading

The Tottering TBR // Episode XIII

A weekly post wherein I pretend to lament the fact that I have so many books on my TBR… but in fact am secretly rubbing my hands together with delight that there are so many amazing books left to be discovered…

A busy week around the house and on the blog, as I managed to post almost every day!

Added to the General TBR:

I am almost caught up on reading reviews, which means the TBR has suffered!  I added eleven titles to the list.  Three of them are novels by Amy Tan – this is the problem with reading a book that I actually enjoy, like The Joy Luck Club – only one book gets removed from the list, but several more get added so I can explore that author’s writing more!

But most of my additions were thanks to some great reviews around the blogosphere…

  • 517r8jt85l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Fictionophile wins the award for adding more than one title to the list this week.  Her reviews of Rainy Day Sisters by Kate Hewitt and Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomer both appealed to me.  I really enjoy reading books about siblings, so Hewitt’s book, about a pair of half-sisters getting to know each other as adults sounded intriguing.  Pocketful of Names also has a set-up that I enjoy – a loner who, through circumstances beyond her control, ends up having to help out various people and is drawn out of her solitude.
  • While Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten doesn’t exactly sound like my usual kind of book, Bee’s review of it over on HeartFullofBooks just sounded so interesting that I couldn’t resist adding this YA thriller to the list.
  • A while back I started to read Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne series.  A couple books in I came across one that I just couldn’t stomach – too gruesome for me – so I gave them up, rather reluctantly as there was a lot about Billingham’s writing that I enjoyed.  (And I know I could have just skipped that title and jumped into the next, but there is some weird psychological twist in my brain that won’t let me skip around inside of a series!)  Anyway, Cleopatra’s review of one of Billingham’s stand-alone novels, Rush of Blood, made me think that that may be a good way to jump back into his writing, as this one sounds quite intense!!!
  • I really do enjoy fairy tales, and I also love reading traditional stories from other countries.  On top of that, Russia has always had a fascination for me – such a rich tapestry of culture to explore!  All that to say, when TheLiterarySisters reviewed a compilation of Russian fairy talesRussian Magic Tales (edited by Robert Chandler), it sounded like it would tick a lot of boxes for me!
  • Another trope that I like is where a young person comes to appreciate an older person in their life.  Chrissi described this type of tale in her review of Margot & Me by Juno Dawson.  With a WWII diary playing a key role in the story, it sounds like this book has a lot to offer.
  • Finally, Stephanie couldn’t say enough good things about Making Faces by Amy Harmon, which she described as an emotional tornado that still ended hopefully and beautifully.

Off the General TBR:

The funny thing is that I initially thought that I was finally going to have a week where I took more books off than I added, as I actually eliminated a lot of titles from the list!

thejoyluckclubI reviewed Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Clubwhich while not exactly uplifting, was still beautifully written and completely engaging.  I also wrote a minireview for The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsburg, which will post towards the end of the month.  Spoiler alert:  I really didn’t like this book, which was especially disappointing considering how much I’ve loved some of her other books.

However, besides eliminating those two, I also found several duplicates and whatnot – for instance, the books in the Joseph O’Laughlin series (which I’m currently reading) were somehow all listed individually, scattered throughout the TBR.  All in all, I removed six titles that shouldn’t have been there!  Woohoo!

Of course, I also read and reviewed two Wodehouse books – Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith, neither of which were on the list!

Total for the General TBR:  So I’m sitting at 887, which isn’t bad considering the number of books I added this week – only up three!


Added to the Personal TBR:

After a couple of weeks of doing pretty well with free Kindle books, I fell off the bandwagon a smidge this week…  four more titles!

Off the Personal TBR:

No progress here this week.  I’m actually reading a Pride & Prejudice retelling that is ridiculously long and involved and encompasses two volumes and really isn’t worth the amount of time I’m putting in reading it for the story I’m getting out of it…  except I can’t stop…

Total for the Personal TBR:  612 – up four!


Added to the Series List:  

One of the books that I removed from the General TBR actually belonged on this tab (a fluffy chick lit series), so we went up one here.

Off the Series List:

18505811Nothing off, but I did review the first book in a trilogy, Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour.  There were a lot of things about this book I really liked and a lot of things I didn’t like, so I’m curious to see which direction the second book goes.

Total for the Series List:  148, up one.


Added to the Mystery Series List:  

This was another book that was misplaced on the General TBR when it actually comprises several titles and belongs over here – the Sergeant Cluff books by Gil North.

Off the Mystery Series List:

Still working on the Joseph O’Laughlin books – I reviewed #4 this week, Bleed for Me.  

Total for the Mystery Series List:  72, up one.


Total for the Nonfiction List:  Holding steady at 61.


Grand Total for the Week:  Seventeen on and only six off, so up eleven for the week!

Bleed for Me // by Michael Robotham


//published 2012//

This is the fourth installment of the Joseph O’Laughlin series, and Joe himself is once again our narrator – and once again in the first person, present tense.  Although I have to say that the tense didn’t bother me as much this time – I think Robotham is getting better at it, sometimes having Joe explaining what just happened instead of in the moment, which makes the narration somewhat more believable.

While Bleed for Me was just as intense as the earlier books, I didn’t enjoy it as much as Shatter.  I think this was partially because the victims/intended victims were very young.  There is something inherently uncomfortable about people who prey on the young and innocent, and consequently this book was disturbing to me.  It was done well, and in many ways addressed the dangers of placing too much trust in people we don’t really know, but it was still troubling.

The personal troubles between Joe and his estranged wife continue, leaving me feeling consistently annoyed with the wife, who I actually really liked in the first couple of books.  But she basically comes out and says that she can’t handle the person Joe has “become” since he found out he has Parkinson’s, which is why they have now been separated – not divorced – for two years.  So here’s Joe, gradually dying of a degenerative disease, separated from his home and beautiful daughters because his wife feels like Joe is too morbid (or something, I’m honestly still not clear on what her issue with Joe really is – she just keeps saying things like “I don’t love you in the right way” whatever the heck that means), and that just seems cruel.  Sure, they still share duties with the daughters and work together on parenting, but it’s not the same as living with them, which is obvious from the way that Joe hangs around his old house like a stray dog, hoping for glimpses of all the little family-life details that he’s missing.

I guess I just don’t understand why that makes a better background story for Joe than having him stay married, with him and his wife working together through the difficulties of life.  Instead, it’s just another couple (or at least half a couple) who are willing to give up on over two decades of relationship because things have gotten hard.

ANYWAY I do love series like this because I love recurring characters and seeing a bit more of them every time.  Vincent Ruiz is still one of my faves, just as gruff and honey badger-ish as ever –

Political correctness is not one of Ruiz’s strong suits.  He once told me that being politically correct was like pretending you could pick up a dog turd by the clean end.

He’s also a great friend for Joe, and I love the way that their friendship has progressed since the first book.

The story itself was very gritty and done well.  The bad guy was so slimy, and watching him slither through loopholes was incredibly frustrating.  However, I felt like there were more aspects of this book that didn’t fit together than there have been in the earlier books.  While we got explanations for most of the stuff that happened, some things are just left as implied that it was because of this other guy being involved.  The mystery kind of stretched beyond the initial tragedy, and it sometimes felt like some of the connections between this crime and another were a little forced.

Still, I did enjoy this installment, and am curious to see what else Robotham has in store as the series progresses.  3/5.

Mike at Wrykyn // Mike and Psmith // by P.G. Wodehouse

These books have also been published together as Mike, but I read them in two separate volumes.


//published 1909//

Wrykyn, one of Wodehouse’s fictional schools, has appeared in other stories, so it was a somewhat familiar setting for Mike at Wrykyn.  Unlike many of Wodehouse’s other school stories, this one has a fairly linear plot, and while cricket is an important aspect of the story, it isn’t the story.

Mike is the youngest son (although not the youngest child) of a large and rollicking family.  The story opens in the Jackson home, at breakfast, where Mr. Jackson announces that Mike, aged 15, will be heading off to Wrykyn this term.  Mike is quite amenable to idea, as all of his older brothers have gone there (in fact, the next son, Bob, is still there), and he knows that he should be able to be involved in cricket.  The three brothers older than Bob (Joe, Reggie, and Frank, of whom only Joe really plays a part in the story) all play cricket at a somewhat professional level, and while no one wants Mike to get a big head, the general consensus is that he may be the best of the lot.

Wodehouse does a really wonderful job of telling the story of Mike’s first term at Wrykyn.  While cricket is a crucial part of the story, it’s really much more about Mike’s character, and it was quite nice to see him learn to become a lot less self-centered.  The story is in no way preachy, though, as it is full of Wodehouse humor and really entertaining characters.

Mike at Wrykyn is an easy 3/5, with Mike himself a sturdy and interesting protagonist.

Even though Wrykyn was later combined with Mike and Psmith to make one story, I definitely think they make more sense as two volumes.  While both stories center around Mike, they take place at different schools and are set a couple of years apart.


//published 1909//

In this tale, we meet Rupert Psmith for the first time.  While I have heard some people (namely my mother) claim that Psmith at times irritates them, he is actually one of my favorite Wodehouse characters.  (Although I will admit that if he was someone I had to deal with regularly in real life, I would probably throttle him.)

At the beginning of the story, Mike’s father has decided to remove Mike from Wrykyn for Mike’s last term of school.  Mike has been warned about his poor grades before, and was told that this would be the result, and now, with the arrival of Mike’s most recent report, the threat is being made good.  Instead, Mike is shipped to a much smaller school, Sedleigh.  Mike is in a very bad mood over this decision, as he loves Wrykyn and was going to be the captain of the school’s cricket team this term.  Thus, he enters Sedleigh with a chip on his shoulder against the school.

The first fellow-student he meets is also a new arrival.

“I’m the latest import.” [said the new student] “Sit down on yonder settee, and I will tell you the painful story of my life.  By the way, before I start, there’s just one thing.  If you ever have occasion to write to me, would you mind sticking a P at the beginning of my name? P-s-m-i-t-h.  See?  There are too many Smiths, and I don’t care for Smythe.  My father’s content to worry along in the old-fashioned way, but I’ve decided to strike out a fresh line.  I shall found a new dynasty.  The resolve came to me unexpectedly this morning.  I jotted it down on the back of an envelope.  In conversation you may address me as Rupert (though I hope you won’t) or simply Smith, the not being sounded.  Compare the name Zbysco, in which the is given a similar miss-in-balk.”

To me, one of the best parts of this story is when Wodehouse does or does not insert the P at the beginning of Psmith.  For instance, whenever Psmith is being addressed by one of the teachers – “Smith.”  Sometimes the P appears from a fellow student and sometimes not.  It’s a funny and subtle way of indicating just what the situation at hand entails.

Psmith and Mike form a bond and, as one of the first arrivals at the school, secure a very nice study for themselves, even though it was unofficially claimed by a previous student the previous term.  Thus, the first few chapters involve a great deal of mild warfare as Mike and Psmith settle into their new home.

“I am with you, Comrade Jackson.  You won’t mind my calling you Comrade, will you?  I’ve just become a socialist.  It’s a great scheme.  You ought to be one.  You work for the equal distribution of property, and start by collaring all you can and sitting on it.”

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Mike and Psmith.  Wodehouse does a great job of creating two characters who are dissimilar and yet who fit together as friends very well.  Because I’ve read some of the later Psmith books, I know that they remain friends as they grow into adulthood, and I’m intrigued to read those book again now that I’ve finally gotten this early background of the pair.

Another solid 3/5 for this book, and I definitely recommend both Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith.  While not as full-developed as Wodehouse’s later novels, these are short, snappy, full of humor, and all-around great fun.

Thorn Jack // by Katherine Harbour


//published 2014//

What with one thing and another I’ve had a bit of a gap between finishing the last series that I read (The Lynburn Legacy all the way back in December!) and starting a new one, mainly because I started and then didn’t finish a series that was really just too, too boring.

But Thorn Jack is the first in a trilogy, and since I count anything with more than two related books as a series, it qualifies!  All in all, despite the fact that I found this book to be, at times, needlessly complicated, it was still a decent read that I enjoyed, and I’m looking forward to seeing what direction Harbour goes with the next two books.

First off, the book itself – the physical book, I mean – is almost square in shape, which I found to be weirdly appealing.  It also meant that there was more text than one might expect from 300-odd pages, so while I moved through the story efficiently, it wasn’t a particularly fast read.  At the beginning of each chapter was a quote from a random (real life) source, followed by a quote from the journal of the main character’s sister.  The journal quotes were written in a fancy script font that my poor, tired eyes found a bit difficult to decipher as it was also rather tiny.  I fear, dear readers, that I am growing old.

The story centers on Finn Sullivan.  At 18, she and her father have moved back to her father’s hometown in New York (state, not city), and are living in her grandmother’s house.  (As an aside, Harbour is a bit vague as to what happened to the grandmother.  She says that she was “last seen” at a funeral, but no one says in so many words that she actually died.  After this mention on page six, we never really hear about or from her again, which seemed odd to me.)  One of the main reasons that they have moved here, from San Francisco, is because Finn’s older sister, Lily Rose, committed suicide almost a year before the book begins.  It is time for a change, they’ve decided, and so Finn’s dad has accepted a professorship at a small college near their new home in New York.

Finn is beginning college as well, although on a different campus than the one where her father teaches.  HallowHeart is a small school, and in some ways an odd one.  But then, as Finn begins to discover, the entire town of Fair Hollow is a bit odd.

Soon Finn befriends Christie and Sylvie, and the adventures really begin.  I quite liked the friendships between these three.  Christie and Sylvie have grown up together, but they accept Finn into their circle quite comfortably.  Christie is actually rather popular and a bit of a flirt, so it was kind of nice to have a situation where it wasn’t “the outcasts” against the world.  Instead, both Christie and Sylvie seem to be of average popularity.  Despite the one-boy-two-girl scenario, there isn’t any romancing between the three of them, which was also refreshing.

When Finn meets Jack Fata, the story really begins to roll, as it is rather obvious that there is something a bit odd about Jack as well.  While there is definitely a bit of insta-love between Jack and Finn, it honestly fits with the fairy tale-esq feel of the whole story.  I liked that Finn’s driving force behind her actions wasn’t just to save/protect Jack, but an overall sense of what is right and what is wrong, and a determination to protect several innocent victims caught in the mix.

This was one of those books where I felt, at times, that the author was taking the whole “show, don’t tell” thing a bit too far, as she leaves the reader to muddle about in confusion for quite some time.  I honestly might read the first several chapters of this book again now that I know that it ends – I think it will all make a great deal more sense.

The story is a bit on the dark side of my taste, but there is still a bit of humor throughout, and the complete and total lack of a love triangle boosted this book’s rating in my view quite a bit.  There are some deaths and moderately gruesome scenes, but overall the story manages to stay away from the overtly violent.

Overall, the biggest detraction for me was that this book felt choppy.  It didn’t flow very naturally, and I frequently felt a bit jerked about.  It also seemed completely unreasonable that Finn and her friends would be in denial of the whole “there is something possibly supernatural going on here” for as long as they were.  And even as they accepted the fact that there was something crazy happening, they didn’t follow basic rules of dealing with evil spirits (which they talked about and so obviously knew), like not giving your name to possibly evil beings, or inviting them into your home.

In the end, this is a 3/5 for me.  The book had a lot of potential, and did avoid several of the tropes that I find most annoying in YA fantasy, but it squared up completely with some of the others, and also felt like it could use a bit of ruthless editing to make the plot flow better.  I’m hopeful for improvement in the next installment, so we will see where things go.

The Joy Luck Club // by Amy Tan



//published 1989//

When I picked up The Joy Luck Club, I was hoping to read a book that would emphasize the mystery of the culture within a culture – the difficulty of balancing the culture from the past with the culture of a new place and time.  In this story, Tan blends old and new culture beautifully, telling the story of four women and their daughters in a way that wonderfully expresses the yearning every parent has to see life be better for their children than it was for themselves, and the inability for any child to truly appreciate the sacrifices that have been made for them.  And she does this while emphasizing the impact that the Chinese culture has had on each of the characters.  Throughout the story, Tan’s ability to express various aspects of this culture and its influence on Tan’s characters gave layers of depth and interest to the tale.

It is an odd story in many ways, being more of a collection of vignettes surrounding a group of individuals than a linear story.  There are four sections in the book, and within each section is a chapter told by either one of the mothers or one of the daughters.  For me, this was the only part of the book that was a tad confusing – because there were long gaps between characters’ chapters, and because the next chapter about a character would not directly pick up where the last chapter had ended, I found myself having to flip back through the book at the beginning of each chapter to remind myself what had happened in this family before.  I think this mild confusion was emphasized because every chapter is told in first person, so rather than reading a chapter wherein an individual’s name is repeated throughout, thus helping me to remember that Lindo Jong was the person who was pledged to marry a neighbor’s son, the personal pronouns in every chapter meant that I had to flip back to that chapter to remind myself whether Lindo Jong was the person pledged to marry the neighbor’s son, or the one who told the Moon Lady her secret wish.

However, the first person narratives did, in this instance, make the stories feel much more personal and real, and also gave the narrators opportunities to emphasize not just the action of what occurred, but how they felt about the event and how they believed it influenced them in the future.

The nature of these stories means that we jump back and forth in time.  The mothers were all born, in China, around 1915, so when they tell a tale from their childhood, it usually takes place sometime in the 1920’s.  Most of the immigrated to America in the 1940’s, and their daughters were born in the early 1950’s, so many of the stories take place in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Finally, the present-day story, where the book begins and ends, takes place in the late 1980’s, when the daughters are approaching middle age, and the mothers are elderly.  Despite this, I never felt lost or confused as to what was happening when.  Tan easily inserts dates when necessary, and they flow naturally into the story, giving context and place to each chapter.  This is a book where date and location are important, as the story ranges through the good part of a century wherein the world goes through many advances in technology and changes in societal mores.

While Tan doesn’t claim this book to be autobiographical, she was born in 1952 of parents who had immigrated from China just a few years before.  This is definitely a story that is rooted in what the author knows.

This wasn’t exactly a happy book, yet despite the many tragedies and misunderstandings throughout, Tan somehow manages to leave us with a sense of hope, that each of these mothers will be able to reach her daughter and share what it is that has shaped her.

I’m not sure that The Joy Luck Club is a book that I will return to again and again, but it was a thoughtful read, beautifully written and brilliantly executed.  I look forward to seeing what else Tan has written since this 1989 debut.

This book was initially brought to my attention by a lovely review by The Literary Sisters, who do a much better job than me at outlining the story!

The Tottering TBR // Episode XII

A weekly post wherein I pretend to lament the fact that I have so many books on my TBR… but in fact am secretly rubbing my hands together with delight that there are so many amazing books left to be discovered…

If it’s possible to have normal weeks in life, this was one of those weeks.  I hung out with my family, sold a few notebooks, read some stuff, wrote a couple of reviews, and of course celebrated Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day is actually a big holiday for our family.  I’m not even sure how it exactly started, but sometime back when I was in my teens, my dad decided that I would love the movie Groundhog Day and that we should watch it, which we did and I did and it was brilliant.  Then the next year my brother was old enough to really get it, so we watched it again…  and, well, we’ve watched it every single Groundhog Day for probably somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty years.  (If I’d known what a tradition it was going to become, I probably would have paid more attention about when we started!)  Now we not only watch the movie, we also have a series of snacks that we eat throughout the movie that coordinate with events in the movie – usually angel food cake, popcorn, fudge, and sticky buns.  2016-02-02-1457-2Plus my mom makes the most adorable little groundhog pudding cups!

2016-02-02-1457Last year, we even found Dad a Punxsutawney travel poster.

Anyway, back in the book blogging sphere, it was a pretty average week.  I didn’t make any great strides in checking off reading projects, but I did get a few books reviewed, plus posted January’s Rearview Mirror.

Added to the General TBR:

I am once again quite behind on reading reviews, so I am sure there are even more books waiting out there to be added.  Still, I managed to add six, including another book by Wendy Van Draanen (since I liked Flipped so well), and a few books inspired by random advertising emails.  Two of my books were inspired by blogger reviews –

  • The Literary Sisters reviewed The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy, an adaptation of that fairy tale that sets it in WWII Poland.  I love fairy tale retellings and am also endlessly intrigued by stories set in random locations during WWII, so how can this not be a win??
  • The other addition is also historical fiction – Following Ophelia by Sophia Bennett.  Heart Full of Books reviewed this one, and I was totally hooked when they said that it was like a nineteenth century version of Hannah Montana, except without wigs.  Perfect.  :-D

Off the General TBR:

188214I reviewed two books from this category this week – Flipped by Wendy Van Draanen, which I quite liked, and The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux, which I didn’t like quite as well.  I also reviewed The Swoop! (which I loved!) in my quest to read all of Wodehouse’s book in published order.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have all of his books on the TBR to begin with, so some of them – like this one – don’t technically help reduce the number on that pesky list!

However, I also removed one another book that I came across – a long while back, back in the day when the TBR was just getting started, I added all of Grace Livingston Hill’s books because I have enjoyed reading some of them in the past.  Now I frequently remove them without even reading them if, as in the case of The White Lady, it just sounds exceptionally lame.

Total for the General TBR:  884 – up three!


Added to the Personal TBR:

This week I added four.  Two were free Kindle books, and the other two are actually books that I got my husband for my birthday (because yes, getting him books for gift-giving occasions is a great way to add to my collection!)

  • Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery is the story of Emma Gatewood who, at the age of 67, told her family she was going for a walk.  She left with just a little bit of money and some clothes and went on to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail by herself without a tent, a sleeping bag, or any of the other items that most of us would consider essentials for overnight trails.  At the time, the AT was minimally maintained, and the awareness that Gatewood raised helped solidify the AT’s place as a classic thru-trail.  Gatewood is actually from here in Ohio, and there is a six-mile out-and-back section of trail down at Old Man’s Cave named for her that Tom and I (and Waylon) hike all the time.  Tom has been reading this book already and says that it is really well-written and engaging.  I’m looking forward to this one a lot.
  • 51hcc1zml8l-_ac_us240_ql65_The second book is another nonfiction title, And On That Bombshell: Inside the Madness and Genius of Top Gear by Richard Porter.  Porter was a script editor for Top Gear for all thirteen years of the Jeremy Clarkson era, and tells the story from the first (dreadful) pilot episode through the crash ending that led to release of Clarkson from the BBC.  Tom and I have watched Top Gear for years, and have found the new Amazon show with Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May (The Grand Tour) to also be quite entertaining and even, at times, informative.  I’ve read several articles and whatnot by Porter, and he is quite humorous, so I’m anticipating an overall light read with this one.

Off the Personal TBR:

Here’s something crafty:  I originally had The Mystery of the Yellow Room on the General TBR, but when I got it as a free Kindle book, I added it to the Personal TBR, too – so now it’s off both and I get credit both places!  Go me!

Total for the Personal TBR:  608 – also up three!


Total for the Series TBR:  Nothing added or removed here, so holding steady at 147.


Total for the Mystery Series TBR:  Holding steady here, too, at 71.


Total for the Nonfiction TBR:  I’m displaying so much restraint that this tab, too, is holding steady – 61.


Grand Total for the Week:  With ten added and four removed, I’m only up a net of six this week.  So don’t worry – I definitely have this list under control.  ;-)