March Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Rose Bride by Nancy Holder – 3.5*

//published 2007//

This story started strong, but got rather muddled.  It also honestly seemed really lame to me because basically different mothers beg the gods (and goddesses) to show their children that they’re loved, and the way the goddesses complete this task is by killing off basically everyone in those children’s lives and making them suffer horrifically until they finally find each other…!??!  I’m just never a fan of stories where the main character is very Job-like in that they just keep getting hit with one tragedy after another.  It gets old and same-y after a while.

So while this one wasn’t bad for a one-time read, it wasn’t so amazing that I yearn to read it again and again.

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer – 3*

//published 2015//

This was one of those books where I honestly probably only got 2* of enjoyment out of it, but because it did keep me glued to the pages I feel like it deserves the added star.  This wasn’t a bad book, per se, but it incorporated a plot device that I always feel is cheating, because it means that the author doesn’t have to actually explain anything or even make any of it make sense.  So not a bad book, and I definitely wanted to find out what was going to happen, but in the end not really my type.

Compass American Guides:  Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by Brian Kevin – 4*

//published 2009//

So we are actually planning two big trips this year and I am super excited about both. In May we are heading south to Great Smoky National Park, and in September we are heading west to Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  In some ways, Yellowstone is kind of stressing me out because it is SO huge that I know there is absolutely no way that we can begin to see even a fraction of all there is to see, so I want to make the best of our time there, which, for me, means loads of research!  Luckily I have quite a bit of time to learn as much about these two gigantic, beautiful parks as I can.  (And yes, I’m the kind of person who actually reads travel guides cover-to-cover.  Not sure exactly what that says about me as a person haha)

This Compass guide was a fantastic place to start, and I’m super disappointed that there aren’t more of them for more parks (like Great Smoky for instance…).  It’s a great blend of a traditional travel guide with lots of photos, tips, and information.  The guide is divided into three main chapters, two for Yellowstone (one each for the south and north loops) and one for Grand Teton.  This book really helped me to get my head around the different areas of the parks and what they have to offer.  There was also a lot of information about places to stay and eat, which could be useful when we’re closer to the actual trip.  My one complaint about this book is that the maps are infrequent and not that great.  I’m very visual and way into maps, so that would have really helped increase my understanding of the parks.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park:  Adventure, Explore, Discover by Amy Graham – 3*

//published 2009//

One thing that I learned back when I was doing lots of different research projects and papers for various projects in college was that if there is a children’s book on the subject, it can be a great place to start to get a basic overview.  Nonfiction children’s books tend to strip a subject down to its basic essentials, which are then presented in layman’s terms.  I have found it to frequently be a great way to help me get a simple overview of a topic.

This book is part of a series that is obviously for children who are writing a report on a topic, as it focuses on providing a lot of other resources, like websites, throughout the book.  In and of itself it’s a pretty simple, rather unexciting, presentation of the park’s natural and social history.  I honestly felt like this book could have said a lot more about what the park is about today, as the chapters on the history make up the bulk of the book.  Still, as I had hoped, this book did provide a decent overview that helped me get my head around some of the basics of the most-visited national park in the country.

Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd – 3*

//published 2019//

This was an enjoyable middle-school read with a likable protagonist and an imaginative setting.  While I enjoyed this story, it didn’t really hit that MAGIC chord deep inside, although it was still a really fun story that I would recommend for middle readers.

The Rosemary Tree // by Elizabeth Goudge

//published 1956//

I’m not sure how Goudge manages to make writing about everyday life, with virtually no drama, so entirely engrossing.  While The Rosemary Tree was not as thoroughly engaging as The Scent of Water (which remains one of the most magical books I have ever read), I was still completely drawn into the lives of the small group of people at the center of its story.

This is the story of a vicar named John, his wife Daphne, and their three little girls.  It is the story of John’s old nanny Harriet, and of John’s great aunt Maria, who still lives on the old estate and trying desperately to hold it together.  It is the story of Michael, a middle-aged man once full of promise but now learning to face his mistakes.  It is the story of a young Irish woman named Mary who teaches at a local school, and her coworker – an older and depressed woman – and the woman they work for: even older, and possibly even evil.  It’s the story of an elderly pig-keeper, of a monk, of the way different places make us feel.  It is a story of many strands of life coming together, of the way that life patterns weave us together, and of the great contentment that can come from understanding and accepting your place in it.  It is, in fact, a story of rosemary – of remembrance.

Like most of Goudge’s works, it is a gently religious story.  But Goudge’s characters rarely come to God quietly.  Instead, in a very human and realistic way, they rail against an all-powerful Being who doesn’t seem to greatly care about what is happening here. The honesty and poignancy of what Goudge has to say consistently blows my mind.  Everyone’s journey is different, and this isn’t the type of story where everyone comes to God and suddenly all their problems are miraculously cured.  Goudge has a knack for writing about human character, and our view of God, like no one else I’ve ever read.  She does it in such a way that I don’t hesitate to recommend her books to even those who are ambivalent towards religion – while religion is an important part of what she is writing, it never feels as though she is trying to convict or convert her readers.

Despite the fact that I should find Goudge’s writing quite boring – truly, nothing really happens in this book! – I could barely put it down.  I fell in love with every character in this book.  The story covers a few days where several lives intersect and impact one another, and it is done with an artist’s touch.  I even felt empathy and sorrow for the bad ones.  Goudge’s writing is such that characters I would despise in other stories – or real life! – somehow become more pitiful than anything, as the complete emptiness and pointlessness of their actions is revealed.

While I don’t feel the desperate urge to get this book into the hands of literally everyone, as I still do with The Scent of Water, this is still a worthwhile book.  Like Water, it is somehow refreshing and uplifting without being preachy.  Goudge is another author whose books I am slowly trying to find and read, and I’m happy to add this one to my permanent collection as I definitely see myself returning to it someday.

Gone, But Not Forgotten // by Phillip Margolin

//published 1993//

A man comes home from work, and his wife is missing.  On their bed is a rose, dyed black, and a note that says, “Gone, But Not Forgotten.”  She’s the third woman to disappear in this manner, and the Portland police still have no idea where they are.  The crime scenes are clean.  No bodies have been found.  There are no real clues or leads… until one evening a woman, claiming to be a detective from Hunter’s Point, New York, shows up at the home of Portland’s DA with an incredible story.

This is the third of Margolin’s stand alone books that I’ve read.  My first introduction to his writing was through the fantastic Amanda Jaffe series.  Margolin has a knack for writing addictive crime thrillers that keep me turning the pages even during the courtroom scenes, which I frequently find dull in the hands of less talented authors.  Margolin was a criminal attorney, so those parts of his story always ring true, and I love the way that he is unafraid to discuss the moral complexity of defending criminals.

My main consistent frustration with Margolin’s books is the way that he starts them: by introducing about 57 people in the first 20 pages, with no particularly indications as to which characters are going to be important in the future.  Like yes, a few of them are obvious, but some not so much.  Here are the people we meet, by name, in the first couple of pages of Gone, But Not Forgotten (in order of appearance):

  • Alfred Neff, judge
  • Betsy Tannenbaum, attorney
  • Walter Korn, retired welder and jury spokesperson
  • Andrea Hammermill, defendant
  • Randy Highsmith, prosecutor
  • Martin Darius, jerk
  • Russ Miller, regular dude
  • Vicky Miller, wife of Russ
  • Frank Valcroft, Russ’s boss
  • Stuart Webb, account executive at Russ’s job

Those people are all in chapter one, fifteen pages.  Chapter two is still introducing people/threads.  It’s super fun to see all these apparently not-connected individuals and see how their lives start to come together, but it is also a confusing information dump, and I almost always end up getting a scrap of paper and writing notes, because if Margolin mentions Russ Miller on page 128, he doesn’t do a particularly good job reminding you who he is.

But once I get through the initial introductions, and people start to slot into place, Margolin’s books always pick up the pace and drag me along, and this one was no different.  This is one of those crafty novels where you get a lot of the information, so it’s more of a how than a who… sort of.

This book was more violent than some of Margolin’s others that I have read.  The main bad guy was a genuine creepy psychopath, and this really wasn’t the best book to stay up until midnight finishing, because then I just laid there with mind going in circles and also feeling completely creeped out by this guy.  On the other hand, I literally couldn’t just go to bed and stayed up late finishing this one, so even though in many ways this was only a 3.5* read for me, I bumped it up to a 4* in the end because it was so addictive.

While Gone, But Not Forgotten wasn’t my favorite Margolin book, and it’s not where I would start if you’re new to his writing, it was still an intense, engaging thriller that had me completely engrossed.  I’m still working my way through Margolin’s backlog, and so far he hasn’t disappointed me.

March Minireviews

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

A Duchess in Name by Amanda Weaver – 3*

//published 2016/

I picked this Kindle book up for free somewhere along the line because I’ll pretty much always pick up marriage of convenience tropes.  This one was pretty average.  I actually liked the story and the characters a great deal, but there was a lot of pretty explicit sex in this one, which always brings down my overall enjoyment of a story.  It also meant that even though this was the first in a series of four, I didn’t really feel like paying to read the rest.

Virtually Sleeping Beauty by K.M. Robinson – 2.5*

//published 2018//

Another Kindle freebie, and another book that I really wanted to like.  The premise is fun with a very Ready Player One vibe, with one character stuck inside a popular virtual reality game.  The narrator and his best friend go into the game to try and rescue her.  However, the execution of the story was incredibly flat.  It honestly felt more like an outline or rough draft than it did an actual book.  The plotting was choppy and cliché.  The characters were one-dimensional and rather insipid.  The ending was incredibly abrupt.  I didn’t remotely believe that the characters had become even basic friends, much less that they had fallen in love, especially considering the whole story takes place over a few hours.  It turns out that this was more of a short story than an actual book, so that’s why I ended up finishing it.  If the writing had been this poor for the full length of a novel, I wouldn’t have continued.  I do have a few other of Robinson’s books as free Kindle books, but reading this one hasn’t made me exactly eager to try the rest.

The Fox Busters by Dick King-Smith – 4*

//published 1978//

Although I’ve only reviewed a couple of King-Smith’s books here, his books were an absolute delight to me growing up, and The Fox Busters was the story that introduced me to the magical absurdity of his writing.  This isn’t really a book I would recommend to very small children, as there is, frankly, a decent amount of death, but I remember loving the military-like execution of events.  Basically, the chickens of Foxearth Farm have, through generations of natural selection (due to generations of farmers not really being bothered to take much care of said chickens), become almost like wild birds.  This means that generations of foxes around the farm have very rarely ever been able to experience the delights of a chicken dinner.  The events in The Fox Busters occur when a trio of especially intelligent pullets are hatched right around the time that a quartet of particularly clever foxes are growing up nearby.  This is the story of their battle.

So yes, it’s honestly a rather violent book.  A lot of chickens – and several foxes – die during the course of it.  But the sheer creativity is fantastically engaging.  King-Smith’s writing is brisk and to the point – he doesn’t tend to linger over descriptions or unneeded details.  Yet somehow that suits the overall military feel of the book.  There is a sly tongue-in-cheek humor throughout that I think I rather missed as a child, but found quite amusing as an adult.

While this isn’t a perfect book, it’s well worth a read if you’ve ever raised chickens, or if you’re just looking for a quick bit of British humor.

Show Lamb by Hildreth Wriston – 4*

//published 1953//

This is another book from my personal collection, one that I picked up at a book sale eons ago but never got around to reading.  It’s a shame, because this is a book I would have quite enjoyed as a child – a bit of historical fiction set in 1850 Vermont, focusing on 10-year-old Chad.  Chad, along with his parents, sister, and aunt, live together on a sheep farm, and Chad wants nothing more than to also be a sheep farmer like his father.  He feels that the best way to start on that path is to get to choose his own lamb to take to the fair that fall, but Chad’s father doesn’t think he’s old enough yet.  This story follows Chad from lambing season through the fair (he of course does choose his own lamb, secretly, which is part of the story) and is a delight the entire way.  One of the things I liked best about this book was that there were multiple times that Chad was strongly tempted to do the wrong thing, but for the most part he choose not to – and even if that behavior wasn’t rewarded immediately, it always paid off in the end.  This is a lesson sadly lacking in virtually all children’s literature these days, as modern authors seem to think it’s much better to tell children that their parents are the enemy and also rather stupid and inept.  In Show Lamb, Chad’s father is not at all perfect, but he is good and genuinely loves Chad, and this really comes through in the story.  We’re also shown a contrast in the lazy, no-good neighbor, which was also done well.

All in all, it seems a shame that literally no one else on Goodreads has ever come across this one (I added it myself), as I found it a delightful little piece of historical fiction with a lot to offer.

The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer – 3.5*

//published 1959//

I’m not sure if it’s because I had the large print version or what, but this was one of the few times where a Heyer book felt like it went on forever.  While the last third of the book picked up the pace and become much more engaging and humorous, the beginning and middle really dragged.  Without any insight into what Hugo was thinking, it was hard to recognize that he was pulling the collective leg of his relatives, because it’s hard to recognize, in writing, that he’s speaking in “broad Yorkshire,” beyond his saying “happen” instead of “perhaps.”  There were also moments where supposedly he accidentally forgot to use his Yorkshire accent, but again this was hard to pick up in writing, so a lot of the subtlety of humor was lost on me. It was a fun story with some likable characters and a lot of potential, but this one felt too directionless for too long, as though Heyer couldn’t quite decide where she was headed with this story.  It was (sadly) still better than a very large chunk of modern romances, but it wasn’t a Heyer I particularly felt I needed to add to my permanent collection.

Before She Knew Him // by Peter Swanson

//published 2019//

I have to give Swanson kudos – he has a genuine knack for writing books that I can’t put down.  Whenever I finish one of his books, I’m immediately struck by his strong overuse of coincidences, his insistence that all men are obsessed with/only motivated by sex, and the fact that I didn’t really like anyone in his story… yet the writing is so gripping that I barely notice any of those things when I’m actually reading the book.  Before She Knew Him is the third of Swanson’s books that I’ve read, and it was just like the others: completely addictive.

Hen and Lloyd appear to be a more-or-less regular married couple.  They’ve just moved to a suburb of Boston.  Hen has had a bad couple of years as far as her mental health goes, and is looking forward to a fresh start in a new space.  She’s an artist and an illustrator, and has a new studio close to their new house.

By page 25, Hen and Lloyd have met and had dinner with their next-door neighbors, Matthew and Mira.  While taking an informal tour of their house, Hen sees an item in Lloyd’s study that triggers a memory for her – she’s positive that it belongs to a young man who was murdered several years earlier, an unsolved crime that became something of an obsession for Hen.  Hen immediately begins to wonder if she’s right – which means Matthew is actually a murderer – or if she’s imagining things.  But here’s what Swanson does:  he let’s you know, also by page 25, that Hen’s suspicions are completely founded.  Not only did Matthew kill Dustin Miller, he’s killed others as well…

This book is a bit of a twist on the unreliable narrator concept, in that the reader knows that Hen is actually completely reliable, but no one around Hen fully trusts what she’s saying because of her mental health problems and her earlier obsession with Miller’s homicide.  I thought that I might become rather bored with a story where I already know such a big part of the story, but instead I found myself completely racing through the short, snappy chapters, keen to see where things were headed, and becoming more and more horrified with Matthew.  I also really appreciated that Hen did talk with the police instead of trying to do everything herself… it wasn’t her fault that they never quite believed her…

For me, the worst part of this book was the dreary insistence that literally every single male alive today is a cheating, sex-obsessed douche, and if you think that’s wrong, it’s just because you are too trusting of your man (who is actually a cheating, sex-obsessed douche, you just haven’t realized it yet).  One of the “twists” in the story is where one of the characters is revealed to be a cheating on his wife… I would honestly have been much, much more surprised if it turned out he wasn’t.  This plot device gets very, very old to me.  I see it especially applied in thrillers, where apparently it’s too much work to write multi-faceted men, or even men who are decent people.  So much easier – and trendier! – to just make them all terrible people.  I’m really quite over it.  As someone who is incredibly happily married, and has parents who are happily married, and grandparents who were happily married, and multiple friends who are happily married – I just really wish authors would stop acting like happy marriages are just made up of women who haven’t yet realized their husbands are already cheating on them.

In the end, a bit on the fence between a 3.5 and 4* read.  There were several coincidences that played a pretty big part in driving the plot forward, the men were completely dreadful, and I felt like Swanson went one twist too far.  But on the other hand, I basically couldn’t put this book down, and I’ll definitely end up reading whatever Swanson produces next.

The Enchanted Sonata // by Heather Dixon Wallwork

//published 2018//

First off, what do you do when an author gets married and changes her writing name??  Should I move her older books to “Wallwork, Heather Dixon”?  Or pretend like she didn’t put Wallwork at the end of her name for this one and still list it under Dixon, Heather??  Sigh.

Anyway, a little while back I read Illusionarium by this same author (minus the Wallwork).  While I found it interesting, I didn’t particularly find it Magical.  Emily from over at When Life Reminds You of a Book suggested that I try Dixon/Wallwork’s newest story, The Enchanted Sonata, and I am so glad that she did because I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story.

It’s a sort-of retelling of the The Nutcracker with a bit of Pied Piper mixed in.  As such, the story takes place in two different worlds.  Clara’s world – which we presume to be our own – is set in late 1800’s Russia (ish – maybe not Russia exactly but definitely that vibe).  At age 15, Clara’s passion is playing the piano.  Ever since her father died a couple of years ago, she has been extra determined to play for the Christmas concert, throwing herself into composing her own song for the occasion.  Her instructor has finally deemed her playing good enough, and now, on Christmas Eve, she is on the cusp of all of her dreams coming true.

In the other world, also Russia-like, but with more magic (and also giant, angry rats that roam the woods outside the walled cities seeking whom they may devour), Nikolai is fast approaching his majority and his coronation day.  He feels doubts, though, that he is worthy to rule his country.  Those doubts are solidified when the country is attacked by a magician who changes children and soldiers into toys, and mockingly challenges Nikolai to defeat him – if Nikolai is truly worth of the throne.

Okay, first off, this book had some really big weak points.  It was fairly predictable throughout, and there wasn’t a lot of character development/depth.  Wallwork is a fan of making a point with her books and sometimes hasn’t quite grasped the concept of subtlety.  While this one wasn’t as bad as the on and on droning about “true north” in Illusionarium, there is still way too much time spent on discussing metaphorical rats.

However, my biggest problem with this story was Clara’s age – at no point did she seem like she was 15.  Sometimes she acted far, far more childish than that, yet I’m also supposed to believe that she is ready to get married and become a queen?  I was also bothered by her obsessive crush on a fellow pianist in her real world, mostly because the implication is that he’s quite a bit older than her.  I already found Nikolai at 18 years old flirting with Clara at age 15 years old to be a bit bothersome.  Anyone older than 18 is DEFINITELY out of the running for flirting with a 15-year-old in my mind.  This whole aspect of the story would have sat much easier with me if Clara had been 17 or 18. It doesn’t seem like much of a difference but IT IS.

But now that the negatives are out of the way – the positives.  And there are many!  First off – THAT COVER!  I don’t understand why all covers aren’t this gorgeous.  It’s not like it’s this big complicated thing, and it’s so much more engaging than just having a bland picture of a girl in a cape, which seems to be so prevalent in YA fantasy these days.

The usage of musical language in this book was absolutely perfect.  This sounds corny, but the whole story somehow read like a symphony.  I could practically hear the background music the entire time I was reading it.  The sense of place was fantastic – it’s the kind of book that makes you feel the cold, the snow, the moonlight.

While Clara and Nikolai didn’t have as much depth as I wanted them to, they were still done well, and I could see their motivations and methods.  The magic made sense without being too complicated.  The story itself was done very well.  I loved the aspects of The Nutcracker – I really enjoy it when an author takes a classic story that kind of doesn’t exactly make sense and turns it into something approaching believable.  I also really liked the little side story with the candymakers – although again, it would have been nice to see that fleshed out a little more.

All in all, while The Enchanted Sonata wasn’t a perfect book, it was still a confident 4* read.  If you’re looking for a fairly quick, magical story, this is one I recommend.

Redwall Series: Books 1-10 // by Brian Jacques

About a month ago, for some reason I started thinking about the Redwall books.  I had only some hazy memories of reading and enjoying them as a youngster.  I’m not sure why I felt such an urge to read them again, but I found the first 16 of them for $20 on eBay, so I went for it.  Now that I’ve read the first ten books, I’m actually not sure how many of them I read back in the day.  Several of them seem vaguely familiar, but I don’t have clear memories of any of them except for the first book, Redwall.  However, I think it’s possible that I’ve discovered where my subconscious affection for badgers originated.

The Redwall books take place in a land inhabited solely by animals.  Most of the adventures center around an abbey called Redwall, a haven for peaceful creatures who desire to help others.  Most of the books are somewhat formulaic in that there is always a pack of bad animals (aka vermin) attacking the good animals who are forced into battle in self-defense, despite their normally peace-loving natures.

World-building is overall solid, although I’m still left with a few questions, mostly regarding things like size.  Do these creatures live in a completely alternate world where mice are like human-sized, and everything else (like trees and rocks) are based from there?  Or are they actually mouse-sized and trees are just humongous?  Questions like this pestered me a bit throughout my reading, mostly because of who I am as a person haha

There’s also the question of clothes, which the Redwall animals do wear.  I was honestly against this – mice wearing sandals?  This seems far more ridiculous than mice that talk, read, and write.  I ignored most of the references to clothing.  In my imagination, the animals were a bit more animal-y.

I was also left with some questions about carnivorous creatures.  Basically the good creatures are small herbivores – mice, squirrels, hedgehogs, moles, hares, etc.  The bad guys are larger creatures that are frequently carnivorous in real life – rats, ferrets, weasels, stoats, foxes, etc.  For some reason badgers, although they eat small rodents in real life, were added to the good column.  Birds are hit or miss.  In the beginning, there is an implication that owls, hawks, and other birds of prey are dangerous.  But in later books, there is a very casual attitude towards birds – in a couple of books, owls are just hanging out being friendly with everyone with no questions asked.  There wasn’t a lot of continuity with the whole who-eats-whom question.

But for the most part things hang together.  If you’re looking for books where bad guys get redeemed, these are not for you.  The bad creatures are invariably bad and the good creatures are invariably good.  These are the kind of stories where the bad guys get badder and the good guys get gooder – there is basically never any kind of crossover between the lines – in the almost 4000 pages of Redwall I read, only two bad creatures were somewhat redeemed.

These are books for somewhat younger readers – they’re usually in the children’s section, and I would put them probably middle grade – and they do tend to be rather formulaic, but for the most part it works.  I was still pretty invested in how Redwall would be saved this time around.  These books jump around a bit in the timeline, although the last nine books (there are 22 altogether) are all in order.  I’ve been reading them in published order, which is my normal default, although they would be interesting to reread in chronological order someday.  In the meantime, I found a timeline online to help me keep things straight!

Below are a few notes on each of the books individually.  I’m beginning to get a bit burned out on them, so I’m taking a break and doing some other reading for a while, but I do definitely want to finish the series soon.  I have to say that these books are also killing my reading goal on Goodreads!  I was three books ahead when I started, and now I’m three books behind!!  Time for some short and snappy fluff reads!

Redwall – 3.5* – published 1986

This is one of those books where it’s kind of obvious that the author wasn’t necessarily expecting to write 21 more books in the same world.  In that way, I allowed a decent amount of leniency when things didn’t exactly match up to some of the later books.  (I.e., at one point all the vermin are riding in a haycart pulled by a horse – which apparently doesn’t speak/isn’t intelligent – basically the only animal I’ve discovered to date that fits that description in this world.)  I think in some ways Jacques wasn’t sure whether or not this was happening in our human world, or in a separate world with no people.  The rest of the series seems pretty firmly set with no people.

Anyway, there was a lot to like about this book, although I did keep feeling a little confused that Matthias, who is supposed to be the warrior hero, never really seemed to be around when the actual battles were taking place!  Jacques isn’t afraid to kill characters off, and Redwall seemed filled with a lot of deaths just to keep things interesting.  I think I must have read this book more than once in the distant past, because it definitely seemed the most familiar out of all of them.

Mossflower – 3.5* – published 1988 

It’s possible that part of the reason I enjoy these books is because Jacques is really good at naming stuff.  The name Mossflower just makes me happy every time I see it.  The second book in the series is set far in the past from the original story.  In Redwall, we are introduced to the fact that one of the abbey’s founders was a warrior mouse named Martin, whose likeness and legend are embroidered into a tapestry in the Great Hall.  In Mossflower, Jacques takes us back in time to Martin’s arrival in Mossflower country and the events that led to the founding of Redwall.

Overall, this felt like a tighter, more cohesive story than Redwall.  The different strands wove together better, although there were definitely some slow spots.  The characters felt a little more individualized as well, instead of just being different kinds of animals.  There is also a lot more badger lore in this story, and the badgers are my favorites so hard.

Mattimeo – 4* – published 1990

In the third book, Jacques jumps back forward in time, setting this story as a chronological sequel to Redwall.  Here the story focuses on Matthias’s son, Mattimeo.  The story was much sharper and more connected here.  Jacques likes to have multiple stories taking place in multiple places, which sometimes works and sometimes just feels like two stories.  In this book, things actually worked together cohesively.  I liked the connections back to Redwall and some of those events.

Mariel of Redwall – 4* – published 1991

This story is set sometime well after the events of Mossflower but way, way before the events of Redwall.  Here, the abbey is completed for the most part, but has not yet received its beautiful bell that plays such an important role in Redwall.  The story focuses on a female character for the first time – Mariel is intense and determined, and I really found her to be a believable character.  While the overall pattern of this story was pretty predictable, there were some great characters in this story that kept it from being to repetitive.

Salamandastron – 4* – published 1992

Set sometime after the events of Mariel, but still well before Redwall, this story focuses on badgers and the great badger mountain of Salamandastron.  While I really enjoyed this one, and loved the badgers, it felt like Jacques cheated a little bit by never explaining how one of his main characters got from the introduction – parents murdered and left to die as a tiny baby – to living in Salamandastron.  I was really looking forward to getting Urthstripe’s story and then… I never did!

Martin the Warrior – 4* – published 1993

This story is set before Mossflower and basically the story of Martin’s early life.  I really, really liked this one a lot.  I knew that things were going to end badly for Martin and Rose, because in Mossflower Martin arrives alone and never mentions Rose, but I got genuinely choked up when she was killed, even knowing that it was coming.  A lot of times Jacques tends to get a bit lazy in his writing – various types of animals have a “type” rather than individual characters coming through individually.  But in Martin there were a lot more individuals instead of just species, an it really heightened the emotional involvement I felt in the story.

The Bellmaker – 4* – published 1994

For his seventh book, Jacques created a direct chronological sequel for Mariel.  At the end of that book, Mariel and Dandin set off questing, and they have been gone several seasons at the opening of The Bellmaker.  The Bellmaker himself, Joseph, is Mariel’s father.  Martin the Warrior, who throughout the series tends to appear to residents of Redwall in times of trouble via dreams and visions, visits Joseph in a dream and tells him that he needs to set off and find Mariel because she’s in trouble.  Meanwhile, Mariel and Dandin are far away, getting entangled in a battle against – you guessed it – a pack of vermin.

This is one of the very, very, VERY few instances where Jacques allows a vermin animal to become something more than just an evil puppet creature, and it was one of my favorite aspects of the story.  However, this was also a book where Jacques’s tendency to give characters some obnoxious speech pattern to separate them from the rest of the pack comes through strongly – Rosie the hare was completely annoying Mariel with her tendency to laugh (which Jacques constantly writes out along the lines of “WAHAHAHA HOO HAR!”), and she was just as annoying in The Bellmaker.  Like I get it, Rosie has a loud laugh.  Oh my gosh.

Outcast of Redwall – 4* – published 1995

I really had trouble rating this one.  The majority of the story is not, in fact, about the outcast (Veil), but rather about a badger named Sunflash.  I really, really enjoyed Sunflash’s journey, which is why I ended up with a 4* rating for this one.  However, I basically hated Veil’s story, which honestly wasn’t even necessary to the rest of the tale, and felt like an entire opportunity for Jacques to emphasize his pattern of nature over nurture – once a vermin, always a vermin.  Veil is never presented as a sympathetic creature even a little, which meant that Bryony’s love and defense of him felt completely strange.  Spoilers for the rest of this paragraph – in the end, Veil saves Bryony’s life at the sacrifice of his own, which is apparently somehow supposed to make him feel like a redemptive character.  However, since he had actually locked Bryony in a cave an left her to die like two chapters before, I found him hurling himself in front of her to take a spear for her to be simply unbelievable.  Throughout the story Veil always choose the selfish route and always blames everyone else for his problems.  He is full of hate, spite, and cruelty.  He murders two other creatures as an act of petty revenge!  His final act of saving Bryony’s life made absolutely zero sense with the character Jacques had created.

However, I enjoyed Sunflash and his story so much that it redeemed the rest of the book for me, so I still ended up with a 4* rating in the end, especially since Sunflash and his mother are reunited in the end – that just really made me so happy.

Pearls of Lutra – 3* – published 1996

This was definitely my least favorite out of the series so far.  The plot was incredibly choppy and dragged a great deal.  While there is some level of coincidences/convenient help from ghost-Martin in all the books, here it felt like the only way things moved forward was thanks to convenient coincidence or a helping hint from Martin’s spirit.  Half the book was spent chasing after some of the children of the abbey (seriously, I was so over everyone having to wandering around looking for these obnoxious little ones!), and it just never felt like the different stories came together.  Also, this is the ninth book.  In the previous eight books, all of the vermin warriors have been male, with the exception of a few crafty vixens, who were more seers/witch-type characters than actual warriors.  But suddenly, half the vermin fighters are female!  I’m not sure why this bothered me, other than it felt like it didn’t match everything else that Jacques had built in the previous books.  Chronologically, this book does take place after Mattimeo, so maybe the vermin culture is just becoming less patriarchal as time passes??

The Long Patrol – 3.5* – published 1997

I really should have stopped with Pearls, because I feel myself getting a little burned out on these, but I hated to stop with the book I had liked the least.  The Long Patrol was better than Pearls, but I’m not sure if it was genuinely not as good as some of the earlier books, or if it was just because I wasn’t feeling it!  While I did enjoy the hares, the story felt slow in this one.  It was also extremely strange to have a female badger with the Bloodwrath – again, something that throughout the earlier books was emphatically a male badger characteristic.  It may have felt more natural if we were given any kind of backstory for Lady Cregga, but we aren’t.  It also felt like a sudden geographical upheaval in the world, as previously the coastline has always been to the west, but in this story some vermin attacked Salamandastron on the west coast and then somehow ended up shipwrecked… on the east coast that didn’t even exist in earlier books??  I’m quite keen on maps, which Jacques includes in the front of each of his books, but the sudden appearance of an eastern sea confused me, especially since I thought there was a lake there in Salamandastron.  


I’ve greatly enjoyed the Redwall books so far (for the most part), but am ready for a break.  However, I definitely intend to finish the series in the future, although maybe not the next twelve books all in one go!

TBR Update! (I may have a problem…)


Several weeks ago I had this sudden inspiration to tackle my outlandishly long TBR and turn it into something a bit more manageable, because, let’s be frank, there is no way that I’m going to read nearly 900 books, especially when the list is continually growing.  My TBR is on a spreadsheet, so it is at least easy to edit.  This whole process started because I was in the mood for a fluffy read, and realized that my list of over 800 books have zero indication as to what genre of book a title is!

So my goal was twofold:  I wanted to reduce the TBR by at least 50%, and I wanted to sort the remaining books by genre, so if I’m in the mood for something specific, I can find it.  The latter goal I accomplished by highlighting the titles in color code.  But both goals involved looking at every single book on Goodreads, reading the synopsis, perusing the reviews, and then deciding whether or not it was worth the cut.  It was definitely one of those projects that ended up being way more involved than I anticipated!

But today I finally finished my brutal reduction.  While the TBR started at (an admittedly ridiculous) 889, I am now down to a mere 427!  I successfully eliminated 462 books and it’s honestly a great feeling.  I’m left with a list of books that I’m a lot more excited about reading and one that’s organized so I can actually find the kind of book I’m in the mood to read – although I’m sure I’ll still use some type of randomizing system for the most part.  I’m cognizant of the fact that 427 is still kind of ridiculous, but here we are lol

Now my long-time readers will remember that the main TBR is only one section of the overall TBR (I’m not pretending that I don’t have a problem here).  Some of the eliminated books actually just changed places – the numbers for my Series TBR and Mystery Series TBR have both gone up.  However, I fully intend to tackle those lists as well, as I’m positive that several eliminations can be made there also.

In the meantime, I haven’t really been reading anyone else’s reviews, because I didn’t want to add anything to the TBR until I was finished with my housekeeping.  So now there are 300-odd emails in my inbox, the majority of which are book reviews, so guess what my next task is??  So don’t be surprised to find me creeping liking/commenting on some of your older posts!

Of course, my other problem is that I randomly decided to start reading the Redwall series.  All of those books are over 300 pages long, and they weren’t on any TBR anywhere, so they aren’t getting me anywhere fast as far as reading goals go, but I am enjoying them!!  I’m probably going to take a break from them soon, though, as I’m not quite halfway through the series and starting to feel like I am reading to delve into something else for a while.  I’m reading book #10 right now, which seems like it may be a good spot to pause and get into something else.  I’m at almost three solid weeks of Redwall reading and am starting to feel a bit burned out haha

Spring has been peaking around the corner for the last couple of days, so I’ve also been busy browsing seed catalogs and sketching dream gardens.  February and March are my personal favorite months for gardening:  anything is possible!  I’m a fantastic gardener in March.

Hope all is well with everyone out there – I’m looking forward to catching up on blog posts.  And hopefully I’ll have a little Redwall post soon!

Off Planet // by Aileen Erin

NB: I received this book via NetGalley, which doesn’t impact my review.

//published 2019//

Every once in a while I find a paranormal series that I actually really like.  It’s rare, and it’s kind of a weird thing because it doesn’t seem like a genre I should enjoy at all, but here we are.  Last summer I thoroughly enjoyed Aileen Erin’s Alpha Girl series and signed up for her newsletter, which is what led me to the ARC of her newest book, Off Planet, the first in a new series, due to be published later this month.

Overall, I enjoyed this read and definitely am looking forward to the next in the series.  It’s an interesting concept, decent world building, and a mostly likable main character.  I liked that friendships were an important part of this story, and there was enough sass between the characters to keep me reading.

The pacing was good for the most part, but did somewhat drag in the middle where it felt like the torturing of Maite went on and on and on and ON.  Consequently, the ending seemed more rushed to me as Erin wrapped up some loose ends, leaving a complete story that still has plenty of lead-ins for the sequel.  I felt like more story could have taken place after Maite escaped, rather than literal chapters of her struggling to survive in a never-ending sequence of performing the same task repeatedly.

Throughout the majority of the book I admired Maite for her strength, stubbornness, loyalty, and determination to do the right thing.  That’s why her sudden character change at the end of the book felt out of place.  Trying to avoid spoilers here, but it’s not exactly a surprise to find out that Maite has A Destiny, and the way she wigs out about it honestly aggravated me.  Like, you’ve spent the whole book being willing to do whatever it takes to protect the people you love, but suddenly your life is all about you and what you want and how hard your life is why does everyone always want you to do stuff blah blah blah.  It really felt like the Maite at the end of the book was completely different from the Maite I’d read about for previous 90% of the story, and that frustrated me.  I think the book may have flowed more smoothly if Maite had been less perfect throughout the beginning of the book – then her flipping out over her Destiny wouldn’t have felt as jarring.

A personal drawback to this story was the frequent swearing.  I find swearing, especially f-ing things, to be 100% unnecessary, and it’s something that really brings down a book’s overall enjoyment for me.  Erin’s characters had some of their own slang/swearing, and I would much preferred that to be developed and used as a way to express outrage and frustration, rather than just falling back on boring f*s.  Obviously swearing doesn’t bother lots of people (maybe even most people), so that’s a personal thing.  Otherwise, the book was pretty clean – no explicit sex scenes or anything like that.

I feel like I always spend more time on the negatives than the positives when I’m reviewing the book.  Despite my griping, I really did thoroughly enjoy this story.  I loved the creative setting, and I’m rarely against the trope of Evil Corporations Stealing Your Soul! – and it’s done well here.  The alien aspect really fit well into the overall sci-fi vibe, and I personally love sci-fi that doesn’t spend too much time explaining the specifics of the sci bits haha  Except for the slightly-repetitive middle (which, I’ll admit, does serve the purpose of showing Maite’s strength of character), the pacing was good, and it was definitely a book I wanted to come back to when I wasn’t reading it.  While I’m little scared of the developing love triangle (please, let’s just NOT develop the love triangle, seriously), I’m overall super intrigued to read the next installment.  The bummer about reviewing ARCs is you have to wait such a long time for sequels…

All in all, Off Planet was an easy 3.5* teetering towards a full 4*, and if you like your sci-fi on the lite side, this may be the read for you.

PS Have to say that this cover is SO much better than the original cover that I see floating around.

Rearview Mirror // February 2019

Well, here we are with two months of 2019 already behind us!  Life does go by swiftly.

I’ve had a quietly busy month here at home.  The back room is FINALLY finished (ish).  Ironically, we weren’t sure exactly what we were going to do with that room, but Tom was struck by inspiration one day.  I have a set of three amazing bookshelves that he built for me several houses ago.  In this house, they’ve always been in the lower room because that is literally the only place they fit – but they’ve never fit there very well.  Tom had the brainy idea of moving them into the back – where they fit like they were built to go there!  This has also opened up the lower room to many new possibilities.  Of course, this meant that I personally moved every single book that I own over one weekend, and with over a thousand books, that’s really a serious chore (somehow, although those shelves were fiction only, I ended up also rearranging all the nonfiction shelves as well?!).  But the payoff has been fantastic!!!  I’m completely in love with my new library, complete with loads of south-facing windows, the perfect table for quiet lunches, and access to the window seat in the lower room.  We’re planning to get a big chair and ottoman, and the room will be complete!!

// Beautiful bookshelves!!! (Also Waylon and a blurry Paisley) //

// Table + windows (+ Waylon) //

// View from the back room to the lower room. Just on the other side of the opening is a comfy window seat!! A big chair will replace the rocking chair eventually. //

In the book world, I decided to do some serious housecleaning on the TBR.  I’ve always just thrown loads of books on there and let them sit, which is why the TBR has hovered between 800 and 900 books for quite some time now (and that’s not even including series!).  I usually employ a random method of choosing what to read next, but I was thinking about how sometimes I do want to mood read – I want something fluffy, or a thriller, or something thoughtful – and I have no real way of knowing what I’m getting into on the TBR.  So I have begun the somewhat arduous task of actually going through every title on that spreadsheet, looking it up on Goodreads, deciding whether or not I really want to read it, and then either eliminating it, or highlighting it in a color-code that indicates the genre.  Do I have a problem?  Yes, I definitely have a problem!!!  HOWEVER I have gotten rid of an astounding 190 books so far!!!  I still have a little over 500 (187 have made the cut at this point) to check, so hopefully a lot more will come off.  I’m excited because the books still on the list genuinely spark interest in me, so I am hoping that this is going to lead to more fulfilling reading in the future.

Speaking of which, a couple of weeks ago I for some reason just starting thinking about these books I read back in like fifth or sixth grade, and then really wanted to read them again.  So I bought the first 16 books in the Redwall series on eBay for like $20 and here we are!  I’m actually genuinely enjoying revisiting Mossflower.  These books have a lot of weaknesses, but they are just overall ripping good tales of adventure and good vs. evil.  If you like shades of grey between your heroes and your villains, these books aren’t for you.  But if you want to know exactly who the bad guys are, these may be your style!

Favorite February Read

Although my review ended up kind of gripey, I really did genuinely enjoy reading Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills.  The friendships and banter kept me turning the pages.  I always enjoy reading a book where I think I would enjoy hanging out with the characters in real life.

Most Disappointing February Read

I didn’t have any serious duds this month.  I suppose my least favorite was probably one of the reads from the goofy Love Inspired series that I read.  I really have low expectations for those books, but Thanksgiving Groom still got on my nerves.  There were just a few too many plot holes, and the main characters were super annoying.

By the Numbers

In February:

  • I completed 21 books for a total of 6071 pages.  My average was 216 pages per day, which is down slightly from January, but still pretty solid.  Gardening season is approaching, so I’m anticipating that my average will actually drop every month.  :-D
  • My average star rating was 3.57, so slightly up from last month.
  • Seventeen books were from my private library, with the rest either from the library or Kindle Unlimited.
  • I read four Kindle books and fifteen physical books – mostly paperbacks this month.
  • The oldest book I read this month was A Damsel in Distress by P.G. Wodehouse, published in 1919.
  • Mattimeo, a Redwall book that I haven’t reviewed yet, was the month’s longest read at 446 pages.  Wrong Brother, Right Match was the shortest at 180 pages, although I’m always suspicious of Kindle page amounts.

TBR Update

So as I mentioned earlier, a purge of the TBR has begun!  I genuinely am excited about getting this system back under control.  I feel like after reading/blogging for several years now, I have a much better handle on what I actually want to read – in the beginning, when I first started following book blogs, I just added anything and everything that sounded remotely interesting, little dreaming how swiftly the list would grow!  Now I feel like I am ready to be more selective about adding books, and I think the backlist purge is going to mean that I overall enjoy more books going forward!

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:

  • Standalones:  669 (down 190!!!)
  • Nonfiction:  85 (up 1)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  667 (holding steady)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  241 (up 3)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 109 (up 2)

Awaiting Review

I’m actually caught up on everything except for the Redwall books.  I’ll probably do a review for the first five of those when I finish Salamandastron.  

Currently Reading

Speaking of Salamandastron… it’s my current read.  Rereading these books has made me realize that they may have influenced my love of badgers.

The Probable Next Five Reads…

This totally got hijacked by Redwall, and probably will continue to be!  However, after Salamandastron, I’m going to take a brief break to read and review an ARC – Off Planet by Aileen Erin.

That’s the update at this end!  We’re settling in for a bit more snow this weekend, but hopefully the March Rearview will include some spring weather!!!