Beauty & the Beast // by K.M. Shea // Guest Post

Despite the fact that my sister loves Shea’s books, I still haven’t gotten around to reading them quite yet.  *guilty look*   However, she is rereading them yet again, so I will be posting her guest reviews as they come along.  Mary Rose is my best friend, my sister, and my neighbor, so we hang out together a lot, and ranting and raving about books is kind of a hobby of ours.  :-D  Here is her review – enjoy!

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//published 2013//

Fairytale retellings are my favorite, I’ve read a lot over the years and I have yet to come across a series as perfect as K.M. Shea’s. Her books continually stick to the heart of the story, pulling out the key concepts and factors, strengthening the characters, adding backgrounds that make sense, all while respecting the original tale. She also has kept a good balance of each of her stories being enjoyable stand-alone reads while also weaving them into an interlocked storyline.

This is my fourth re-reading of all her currently available fairytales so I figured it was finally time to write a review for each as I finished them: 

Beauty and the Beast is a comfortable and classic retelling of the tale, original without being overly fantastical in leaving out the needed aspects. Shea shows a respect for understanding the roots of the story and in so doing crafts an enjoyable retelling. 

Severin is cursed (through no particular fault of his own) and can only be saved by falling in love/being fallen in love with. His servants have been cursed along with him but are overwhelmingly loyal. Our heroine, Elle, falls through the roof of his Chateau, breaking her leg, and so has to stay until she is fully healed. This leads to classic fairytale/Hallmark movie story telling in which love slowly unfolds, drama ensues, but in the end everyone is happy and together (as they should be because this is a Fairytale). 

There were quite a few things I appreciated about this story, and since Beauty and the Beast is a popular story to retell, I’d liked to explain some, hopefully without any real spoilers: 

Severin isn’t cursed through any fault of his own. He is a good person with normal faults and pitfalls, but overall isn’t this terrible “beast on the inside” that deserved to be punished. It makes it much easier, for me at least, to understand why his servants would be loyal enough to be cursed along with him, and why they would care for him so deeply from the start. Also this means he doesn’t magically become a Changed Man when he meets Elle, he is simply still who he is, but improves (as everyone does) as he falls in love with her because that is what love does: improve our true selves. 

Elle is sharp, smart, and quick witted. She’s strong, self reliant, and extremely confident. It is a common theme throughout all of Shea’s books (that I’ve read, which is 90% of them) that she gets female characters right: they are characters, just like everyone else. She does not worry about “gender roles” or “making a statement for the feminists” but instead respects that people are people and allows a character to develop organically regardless of their sex. Elle is no exception. She is still feminine, she still has her own insecurities (as is human), she enjoys using her looks to get at the prince on occasion (well done scene), and she never shies from the fact that she is a woman. HOWEVER, neither does any of that detract from who she is either, because she is strong, focused, determined, and not at all thinking of Severin as a prince who will save her, but merely the love of her life. I appreciate Shea’s writing of women, it will be a common theme in any review I do of her books because she writes women as they aught to be written- not as though they’re struggling against The Man, but as they are: Humans, with pitfalls and strengths, weaknesses and abilities, and it’s so refreshing. And in the end I think we see Elle grow due to her love for Severin as well. 

Love: Shea has the perfect handle on what love truly is. In all the fairytales she underlines it accurately, but in this, the first book, she really sets the tone for what true love is, “You young maidens now days get misty-eyed thinking about true love and the fathomless adoration you will share. It’s not like that. Real love is looking at someone and knowing you wouldn’t mind waking up to their bad breath for the next century, and you are fine with them seeing you before you brush your hair and fix your face for the day. …. Loving a person isn’t a magical, sparkly passion. It’s hard work. It’s putting the other person before yourself. It’s companionship and being able to trust and depend on each other. That loquacious true love everyone spouts about is really finding a partner who will go through the heartbreaks and joys of life with you.” 

In the end this is possibly one of my favorite retellings of Beauty and the Beast, and honestly I give it a 4/5 (only misses being a full five because there’s minor unnecessary drama, like seriously, in real life I feel like there would have been COMMUNICATION, but that’s just me apparently, and honestly it’s not that bad, I just feel like it wasn’t fully accurate to the personalities of the servants at the very least.).

Overall Shea’s fairytales are… simplistic. But in their simplicity they clearly show the depth of each story and its original intent. As a whole the series is definitely a 5/5, please stay tuned for the next review, Wild Swans, a retelling of the Seven Swans. In the mean time- go read Beauty and the Beast by KM Shea! 

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The Giver Quartet // by Lois Lowry

  • The Giver – 4.5/5 (published 1993)
  • Gathering Blue  – 3.5/5 (published 2000)
  • Messenger – 2/5 (published 2004)
  • Son – 3/5 (published 2012)

It had been many years since I originally read The Giver (and was mind-blown by it), and until recently I didn’t even realize that there were other books that followed it.  So I was pretty excited to dive into this quartet.  However, while I found The Giver as brilliant as ever, I felt that the other books really dropped off, especially Messenger, and, to some extent, Son.  I’m not even sure that I can give this series a rating as a whole because of the wildly differing ratings between books.  I guess a 3/5 overall, but I strongly recommend reading The Giver even if you decide to give the other books a miss.  And you totally can, because while the rest of the books sometimes involve characters from the first book, none of them really build on themes from the first book – and it’s the themes that make The Giver so fantastic.

There will definitely be spoilers throughout the rest of this review, as it’s impossible to really rant without spoilers.  So if you intend to read the series, do that first and then come back and see if you agree with me…

The Giver is a brilliant book that reveals everything in perfect time.  As the reader slowly grows to understand the community where Jonas lives, it becomes more and more creepy, and it’s done just so, so well.  It’s not a very long book, or one full of lengthy descriptions or conversations, but it’s very brevity is part of what makes it so amazing.  The concept of individuality and feelings exchanged for safety is really intriguing.

For me personally, the only let down is the ending, which is rather strange and ambiguous.  First off, the plan that the Giver and Jonas hatched never really made sense to me.  The reason that the original Receiver’s memories returned to the community was because she died, and it doesn’t really make sense to me that Jonas just leaving the community would release those memories to the people.  The ending, with Jonas and the sled is also just really weird.  Like is there an actual sled?  Is Jonas just hallucinating?  Does he actually die out in the snow or does he really make it to safety?  The ending is abrupt and a little strange, which is why the book doesn’t get the full 5* for me.  However, part of that is just personal opinion.

Gathering Blue is listed as a companion novel, not a sequel.  However, I would not have even placed it as that if I had just come across it at random.  The story takes place in a completely different location with a completely different culture.  Still, it was a good story overall.  I really liked Kira, and watching her discover things about her village was intriguing, a similar self-discovery path to Jonas’s in the first book, this concept that just because things “always have been” doesn’t necessarily make them right.

However, I still had some questions about this book.  Like what is the whole thing with the Beasts?  It seems obvious that they aren’t real and are being used as a method of manipulation by the village’s leaders, but that’s never really made clear.  Overall, the village leaders’ whole purpose isn’t really explained in any way.  Apparently they are trying to control the people to… what?  They’ve made sure they have control over certain talented youth in the village, but we never find out exactly what they plan to do with them.

And again, an ambiguous ending.  So Kira is going to stay and ‘fix’ things – but how?  Just by weaving some cloth?  There aren’t really any answers, and I wasn’t particularly left with confidence in her ability to change the whole village.  Overall, I enjoyed the story, but was a bit let down by the vague ending and the complete lack of connection to The Giver.

I don’t really know what I was expecting when I opened Messenger, but what I got was… weird.  This whole book felt extremely strange, and I don’t know if I am just getting worse at understanding things, or if it really doesn’t make any sense.  First off, it got strangely… supernatural, I guess.  The first two books felt like they could be real, a future world but still our world.  But in Messenger, the gifts that people like Kira had in Gathering Blue suddenly become Gifts, and they are a strange supernatural ability that transcends understanding – it felt like this was a weird fantasy book instead of something dystopian like the first two books.  I mean, Matty can heal things just by putting his hands on them and thinking about it??

The forest, which was just a… well, forest, in Gathering Blue suddenly becomes Forest, a restless and potentially malevolent force that physically attacks people, determining whether or not they can ever reenter the woods.  Just…  ????

We find out that Jonas arrived at the village where Matty now lives (Matty was Kira’s friend in Gathering Blue, and these two villages are few days’ travel apart).  This is the first we’ve come across Jonas since The Giver, and apparently he and Gabe literally arrived on a sled?  So there really was a sled on top of the hill?  Like… why?  Why was a sled just sitting by a tree?  Did Forest put it there since apparently it just does whatever it wants?  Anyway, since then, even though Jonas is still just a teenager, he has become the leader of this village (“Leader”, because everyone receives their “true name” when they become an adult, so they are basically known by some random quality instead of a name – Mentor, Healer, Herbalist, Seer, etc. also strange).  He also has a Gift.  In The Giver it made sense that Jonas “saw beyond” because what he was actually seeing were things that the other people from his town had been genetically modified to not see, e.g. color, etc.  But in Messenger, Jonas/Leader is able to actually see things beyond his literal line of sight – so he can ‘see’ the progress Matty is making through Forest, etc.

So yeah, the Gifts become kind of weird, and suddenly the story no longer feels like it’s a future version of our world, but like it’s something entirely different, which put everything off-kilter for me.  And this doesn’t even get into the weird Trademaster thing, where this strange guy shows up and people from Village can go and trade with him, except apparently they are actually trading parts of themselves?  And in exchange they start getting mean and nasty, but then in the end Matty magically heals Forest and Village and everything and everyone just goes back to normal…  I guess?!?!  It was a really weird book and I felt confused literally the entire time I was reading it.

Finally, we get to Son.  This book started really well.  It’s about Gabe’s birthmother, Claire.  Of course, in the community where Jonas and Gabe came from, people don’t have children naturally; certain females are chosen to be inseminated and bear a Product.  Now the book already started weird to me because apparently the community had the Birthmothers have their first pregnancy at age 14??  And while this is quite possible, it doesn’t really fit in with everything else in the community, which is done at maximum efficiency.  Like age 14 is not the ideal age to have your first child, so I don’t feel like that is really when they would have impregnated the Birthmothers.  But whatever.

Anyway, basically Son starts as a kind of prequel/parallel to The Giver, except from Claire’s perspective.  Something goes wrong during her birthing process and they have to surgically remove her baby.  However, during pregnancy, Birthmothers are exempt from taking the Pills that keep people from having feelings.  Claire is declared unfit to give birth again, and reassigned to the Fish Hatchery… but no one remembers to have her start taking the Pills.  So Claire is left with actual real feelings, and, like a natural mother, yearns to find/see/hold/have her own baby again.  She manages to locate him, and is able to visit him (without anyone knowing that she is his Birthmother, of course), and this is the whole first part of the book and is done really well.

Then.  Then the part comes where Jonas and Gabe run away.  Lowry conveniently has Claire escape from the community, but does it without really telling us how –

Years later – many years later – when Claire tried to piece together memories of her last days in the community, the last things she could see whole and clear were the bicycle moving away and the back of the child’s head.  The rest of the hours that followed were fragments, like bits of shattered glass.

So somehow Claire manages to get on a supply boat, ride out to the ocean, get shipwrecked, and then get washed up on a beach, all in about two pages with no real explanations.  This really felt like cheating.

Next, Claire ends up in a remote fishing village, that apparently has no way in or out??  Like they have this horrific path that no one can climb that goes straight up a cliff, or they can try to leave by boat except the currents are too dangerous.  I don’t mean to be weird here, but Lowry specifically says that no one could remember the last time a stranger arrived in their village… doesn’t it seem like this place would be horrifically inbred?  It felt extremely strange, again.

Eventually Clarie regains her memory and is determined to find her son.  A crippled guy helps her train to climb the cliff path.  He did it this one time, years and years ago, but conveniently remembers every single step of the way, down to the exact distances she is going to have to jump between rocks at certain places, so he makes her train FOR LITERAL ACTUAL YEARS and then she leaves.  Of course, she gets to the top, and guess who is there??  Trademaster!

By this point, I was so aggravated with this entire book that I almost didn’t finish it, and basically skimmed the rest.  Blah blah blah Claire trades her youth.  Oh surprise, she never bothers to tell Gabe that she’s his mother.  Instead, she just hangs out like a creeper in Village and watches him from afar.  Eventually Gabe has to go do a final battle with Trademaster because he has a Gift, of course.

It just.  It didn’t make sense.  None of it really made any sense.

So this review has gotten regrettably long and rambly, but the point is that I was really intrigued by these books, but then they just kept making less and less sense as they went along.  The Giver had a very tight, poignant narrative that was thought-provoking and eye-opening.  The rest of the books were just kind of weird fairy tales that didn’t seem to have much of a point.  I don’t regret reading them, but I don’t really see myself returning to them, either.

November Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The Voyage to Magical North and The Journey to Dragon Island by Claire Fayers

//published 2016//

I have to say that I actually really, really enjoyed these books, so the whole “meh” feeling doesn’t really apply here.  I gave them an easy 4/5 and completely enjoyed joining Brine on her unexpected pirate ship adventure.  Fayers did a great job with world-building – as an adult, I still found interesting and engaging, but I think that the target audience (middle school) would still easily be able to follow the simple yet involved rules of Brine’s world.

//published 2017//

Brine herself is a very fun heroine, and I felt like her character was balanced out well by Peter, and later Tom.  All in all, I enjoyed how the characters didn’t really fall into stereotypes, but also didn’t feel like they were trying to not fall into stereotypes.

I would definitely recommend these fun and magical little books, and will be looking out for further adventures of Brine & co. in the future.

Cinchfoot by Thomas Hinkle

//published 1938//

Another Famous Horse Story, I found this one to be a bit boring.  Cinchfoot just sort of meanders about but there isn’t a really strong plot or story that feels like it is pulling things along.  Not a bad read, but not one I see myself returning to again.  3/5.

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater

//published 1979//

While this wasn’t my favorite Pinkwater book ever, it still had some very funny moments.  I also think that Pinkwater’s thoughts/views on the educational system are brilliantly insightful and cutting.  I also loved the way that Lionel realized that if he wasn’t learning things, it was his own fault at some level.  Some of the adventures the boys have are quite ridiculous, but the ridiculous is exactly what Pinkwater writes so well.  3.5/5 and I do recommend it, but only if you’ve read some of Pinkwater’s stronger works first.

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

//published 1946//

This was a pretty adorable little Heyer tale.  I did find Carlyon a bit too overbearing at times, but Elinor was just too adorable, as was Carlyon’s younger brother.  I quite enjoyed the way that the love story was secondary to all the ridiculous spy tales.  Fun and frothy; classic Heyer.  4/5.

The Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

//published 2017//

So I purchased this edition because of the amazing illustrations by MinaLima.  My husband gave me some money for my birthday that he said was specifically for books, and, more specifically, I must purchase at least one book that I’ve been not purchasing because of its unreasonable expense!  This one fit the bill – but it was worth every penny, as the book itself is absolutely gorgeous. The illustrations are amazing – not just the big, fancy, interactive ones, but all the details on every page.

It was also interesting to read the original version of B&B – it’s a great deal more convoluted and involved than the traditional version we see these days, as Beauty has eleven (!!!) siblings, and there are multiple chapters devoted to a complicated backstory with fairy feuds.  It was still a very engaging story, although I can see why it has evolved the way that it has, getting rid of some of the extraneous characters and building more personality among those that are left.

Anyway, this was definitely a worthwhile purchase and read, and I can see myself returning to this gorgeous book many times in the future.

The Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner by Ann Larkin Hansen

//published 2017//

This is another Storey book, and another addition to their Backyard Homestead series.  While this book did have some interesting information, and I did like the format where things were laid out by season, it was definitely an outline type of a book.  There wasn’t really a lot of depth about anything, making this more of a starting-point reference rather than an end-all tome.  It makes a nice addition to my collection, but definitely wouldn’t be the book I would choose if I could only have one homesteading manual.  Still, excellent formatting and very nicely put together, as I’ve come to expect from Storey.

The Little Nugget by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1913//

This was a fun little tale of a very obnoxious little boy who is worth a great deal of money, and so has multiple people attempting to kidnap him for various reasons.  While there were several funny moments and it was overall an enjoyable tale, it wasn’t as developed as most of Wodehouse’s later works, and lacked that sort of bubbly perfection.  It was an easy 3/5 read and one that I do recommend, but not if it is your first foray into the world of Wodehouse.

The Jackaby Quartet // by William Ritter

//published 2017//

So in August the fourth (and final, as far as I can tell) Jackaby book hit the shelves.  Having thoroughly enjoyed the first three books, I was eager to reread them and then get the grand finale.  So this is mostly going to be a review of The Dire King, with some thoughts about the series as a whole.  The links go back to earlier reviews of the series (not this time around).  When reviewing the final book of a series, it’s virtually impossible to avoid some spoilers, so the brief review is: 3/5 for Dire King and 4/5 for the series as a whole.  I personally didn’t like the way a bunch of things concluded in Dire King, but that’s kind of a matter of personal opinion, as it technically worked.  But in the end I was left with a lot more questions than answers, and felt like the plotting in the final book was rather sloppy, like Ritter was hoping that as long as there was enough action, the readers wouldn’t notice gaping holes in the logic.

I really wish that Ritter had stuck with episodic stories for this series.  I still think the first book was the best of the bunch, and it was because it was a self-contained story.  The further into The Grand Scheme that Ritter got, the sloppier the stories got, and the more it felt like he was only really interested in getting us to the final book.  The Grand Scheme got really involved and complicated, while the concept of just writing paranormal mysteries with these characters would have been fantastic.

More thoughts below with mild spoilers…

I really enjoyed reading back through the three earlier books, and actually liked Ghostly Echoes better the second time around when I already had an idea of where things were going.  (Maybe I’ll like The Dire King better if I reread it??)  These books are just plain fun.  The dialogue is hilarious, and Jackaby and Abigail are a brilliant combination of characters.  There’s still a bit too much modern SJW talk, with women’s rights being handled in a very heavy-handed way, and the whole transgender thing in Ghostly Echoes that makes absolutely no sense within the context of the story and is quite obviously being inserted to show us how open-minded Ritter is.  But I’m willing to overlook these types of things as long as the rest of the story holds up, and for the most part it does.

However, the further into the series we go, the more Ritter starts to build what I think of as The Grand Scheme.  Many series – in fact, most – do this, but for me it only works if the small schemes aren’t sacrificed in the process.  Each book should still be able to stand as a solid and engaging story on its own, and while it’s okay to have teasers leading into the next book/The Grand Scheme, it can be frustrating when it feels like I only got part of a story (I’m looking at you, Robin McKinley’s Pegasus).  Ritter doesn’t quite do this, but he’s close, which is probably another reason that I enjoyed Ghostly Echoes more the second time around – it wasn’t as annoying of an ending when I had the final book right in front of me!

The thing is, it just started to feel like Ritter had bitten off more than he could chew with his Grand Scheme.  All of a sudden we’re jumping in and out of fairy land and the land of the dead and we’ve got conflicting kingdoms and factions and all kinds of critters running around and it’s not really clear who is on which side and even if there are sides and there is this whole thing that’s going to apparently blow up the Veil that separates the physical world from the fairy world and there is this guy who can make zombies kinda and this little furry critter that gives cryptic advice and no one knows or really seems to care whose side he is on and then all of a sudden this one character who was kind of a minor character turns out to be the one who betrays everyone except when did she even meet the bad guy??  Like it felt extremely weird and was never explained how she even did what she did or why so her motivation makes literally zero sense and then in the end everyone apparently is just like Oh, okay, and they all go home??!?  And what happened with the zombie guy?  And apparently there was some guy who has been keeping the Veil safe for like hundreds of years and could live that long because he was wearing this magical gem but then he… took it off??  And died?? And the whole Veil started to collapse??  So why did he take it off??

Basically, the whole book made me kind of dizzy.  Things were happening very quickly and strangely without any genuine explanations, and instead of there being this big epilogue that made everything make sense, there was an ending that I found to be VERY STRANGE and did not like AT ALL.  The ending itself dropped the entire book a half star for me, like I could not get behind it at all.

So The Dire King was a bit of a letdown for me.  It had its moments, but just didn’t pull things together the way I had anticipated.  This series could have been a lot more fun and entertaining if Ritter had stuck with smaller stories that tied together instead of attempting to pull of a very complicated and involved Grand Scheme that just didn’t end up making a whole lot of sense.  I still recommend the series as a whole, and definitely will be rereading it sometime in the future – and maybe will enjoy The Dire King more when I have a sense of where it’s headed.  And I’ll be keeping an eye on Ritter to see what he decides to write next.

The Night Circus // by Erin Morgenstern

Even though I finished The Night Circus two weeks ago, I still am having a lot of feelings, and I doubt that this review will be very comprehensive.  It’s one of those books that is just too magical for reviewing.

//published 2011//

I feel like this book has been on my TBR forever, and when it came in the mail last month, I was quite excited to finally read it!

Recently, I decided to subscribe to receive a monthly book from Mr. B.’s Emporium of Books, because I really do love receiving book boxes, but the truth is that I don’t really read by ‘genre’, and the overwhelming majority of book subscriptions make you choose that way. E.g., I do read a lot of YA, but I don’t usually care for contemporary, angsty YA – I prefer fantasy/sci-fi YA instead.  But subscribing to a YA book box means I end up with contemporary YA, which is alright, but not really something I seek out.  (It’s how I ended up reading that book with the one-armed black skater boy hero a while back.)  All that to say, with Mr. B’s you actually fill out a (lengthy) survey about the books you like (and don’t), and I thought it would be fun to see if they managed to send books I enjoy – and The Night Circus was the first one I received!

This book was… gah, it was just plain magical.  Despite the fact that it involved a lot of ingredients I don’t usually like, I was completely and totally engrossed and did not want to put this book down.  As a general rule, I do not like present-tense narratives and I do not like books that rely on a dated header to tell you where you are in the story (e.g., ‘Associates and Conspirators – London, February 1885’), but this book used both and it only added to the magic.

The descriptions in The Night Circus were amazing.  I absolutely loved hearing about the different displays/acts in the circus.  Morgenstern created a definitive sense of place – the circus became its own character in the story, and it was amazing.  The introduction chapters written in second person should have been annoying, but instead were brilliant.  I was drawn into the story immediately by this method, as I stood waiting in line for the circus to open.

Pacing was excellent – just enough back-and-forth in time to keep the story building in a specific direction without feeling the whiplash of jumping around in time.  I fell in love with all the characters, even the ones I didn’t like.  The story unfolded with the precision of a perfectly-executed song.

For a while, I was nervous about the ending, but I shouldn’t have been, as that was perfect, also.

There were a few annoyances.  A character dies and I didn’t want him to, and Morgenstern has an aggravating tendency to drop French words and phrases throughout without bothering to explain them, even when they are an important part of the story.  But these are minor issues with a book that overall captivated me.

I am quite excited to add this book to my collection, and anticipate rereading it again in the (probably near) future.  All in all, a 5/5 read for me, and one of those few books that possesses genuine magic on every page.

NB – several reviews caused me to add this book to my list, and I’m not sure I have them all but among them – Stephanie’s Book Reviews, The Literary Sisters, Tales of the Marvelous, and The Penniless Bookworm.

Soulfinders Trilogy // by Maria V. Snyder

  • Shadow Study
  • Night Study
  • Dawn Study

For those of you who haven’t been following along, I’ve been reading Snyder’s ‘Study’ books, except they really should all be included under the Chronicles of Ixia title without multiple trilogies confusing everything.  Reading the three trilogies not in order would be quite confusing, so I’m not sure why they are listed separately at all.  At any rate, the first three books (Study series) focused on Yelena and had her as a narrator throughout.  The next three books (Glass trilogy) focused on Opal and had her as a narrator.  These final three books return to Yelena as a main character, and while she narrates large sections of them, Synder also gives us third person views from multiple other characters.

//published 2015//

I really enjoyed the earlier books (although I found Opal’s story to be much weaker than Yelena’s), but was blown away by , how fantastic these last three books were.  They really came together for some fantastic storytelling.  With the world-building well established, Snyder was able to weave all kinds of threads together, and I was on the edge of my seat throughout.

//published 2016//

At first, I was a little leery of the multiple perspectives.  While I was excited to hear from some of the other characters, I was concerned that it would bog down the pace, and did a bit, especially in Shadow Study.  Snyder really wanted to give the readers a lot of background on Valek, and did so by having Valek sort of travel down memory lane, so it would be something like, “Valek sat in his office, sifting through papers.  But his mind kept drifting back to the day of his first mission…” And then it would launch into the story of his first mission, which was fine, except Snyder did not do a very good job of differentiating between flashback time and real time.  Instead of inserting a paragraph break, it would just sort of muddle back into the real-time story and was always a bit of a jolt.  Plus, we obviously couldn’t have Valek mentally meandering back in time when he’s in the middle of doing something exciting, so the Valek sections were slow on action and long on background.  It worked fine, and it was important to truly understand things that had happened to him in the past in order for the actions in the next two books to have their full impact.

//published 2017//

In the last two books, the action turned up to about level ten and never looked back.   There were some great twists and I enjoyed every page.  I couldn’t  believe that Snyder was able to wrap everything up in Dawn Study, but she did.  And I really, really appreciated the fact that she didn’t feel a need to kill off a bunch of people in the final book just to prove how hardcore her story is.  (I don’t mind characters dying when it forwards the story, but it aggravates me when they are killed just so the story has more ‘grit’.)

I don’t really know if these books are considered ‘adult’ fantasy or YA, but while Yelena (and Opal) start out as teens, time actually does pass in this series, and everyone gets older.  Yelena is in her 30’s by the end, and Valek talks about being ‘too old’ at 41 for this type of thing.  I quite liked adults doing adult things for once.

While my understanding is that Snyder says she isn’t going to write any more about Valek and Yelena, she seems to have left the door open for revisiting the world they live in.  Another trilogy focusing on the next generation would be incredibly fun stuff.

If you’re interested in reading these books, I definitely recommend getting on Snyder’s website and reading the short stories that she has posted for free there.  Honestly, it was kind of annoying because I felt like some of those stories included some pretty crucial information, and really should have been included as prologues or something instead of ‘optional’ reads.

Also, I apparently lucked out, because Dawn Study was just published this year, so no waiting for me!

Final ratings:  4/5 for the Soulfinder trilogy; 5/5 for Dawn Study in particular; 4/5 for the Chronicles of Ixia as a whole.

October Minireviews // Part 1

Well, here we are in the last week of October and not a single book review posted!  I’m going to try to catch up with some minireviews, but we will see what happens.  I’ve actually been reading some good books lately, but life has just been too busy to be conducive to review-writing!

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup

//published 2015//

This book was first brought to my attention by Cleopatra, and I was immediately attracted the combination of a nonfiction book on a rather random topic, and learning more about the science behind Agatha Christie’s murders.  This book did not disappoint.  It was informative and engaging, full of fascinating information without becoming too lecture-y.

The format of each chapter made each poison accessible.  Each starts with an incident of Christie using the poison in a story, followed by the history of the poison, a scientific explanation of how the poison actually kills someone, the antidote (if any!), famous real-life cases of the poison being used, and then tying back in to Christie’s use of the poison in her stories.  Throughout, I was consistently impressed with the overall accuracy of Christie’s use of poisons and descriptions of their symptoms.

Although reading this book made my husband nervous, Harkup is quite clear that (in most cases), science has advanced enough to make it difficult to get away with poisoning, although I was genuinely quite astonished at the fact that ricin, found in castor bean plants, is so very poisonous.  I’ve always heard the old saying that if you don’t like someone you can make them some castor-bean tea, but after reading this book it does seem that these plants should come with a more thorough warning, especially for families with small children who like to play in the garden!

Overall, this book was a surprisingly engaging read.  My only real complaint is that while Harkup did provide a interesting introduction, the book ended rather abruptly – a few closing comments would have been nice to sort of tie everything back together.  Still, with so much information presented in such an interesting manner, I really can’t complain too much.  Definitely recommended for people interested in bumping someone off or just learning more about the science behind Christie’s works.

Glass Trilogy by Maria V. Snyder

First off, I would have been quite annoyed if I had read these books in the order listed on Goodreads.  If you are interested in reading all of Snyder’s books set in Ixia/Sitia, read the three Poison Study books, then the Glass books, and then the Soulfinders books.  I’m in the middle of the second Soulfinder book, and think that I would have been rather confused if I hadn’t received all the background from both the Glass trilogy and also a short story available on Snyder’s website, that really should be included as a prologue to the first Soulfinder book, as it has a lot of critical information.

ANYWAY the Glass trilogy itself was really good, but the main character/narrator, Opal, was just not as likable to me as the main character/narrator of the Poison Study books (Yelena).  Opal always felt like she was three steps behind and more worried about herself than anything else.  But by far the worst part about the trilogy were the love triangles, yes, plural, because the players switched about between different books, and none of the options were good.

Overall, I would give these three books 3/5, maybe 3.5.  The stories weren’t bad, it was just that I found Opal so annoying and felt like she consistently made the wrong/selfish choice.  I also felt like the conclusion to the love triangles was kind of weird and made me uncomfortable – more in the next paragraph, so skip it if you are worried about spoilers!

SPOILER PARAGRAPH FOR REAL: Opal is kidnapped/tortured by a guy in the beginning, and in the end, that’s the one she ends up with!  He goes through this huge change of heart, etc., but Opal’s attraction to him began before the change and before she knew he had changed.  The way that it was presented made me very uncomfortable.  The whole thing was really weird.

Dot Journaling: How to Start and Keep the Planner, To-Do List, and Diary That’ll Actually Help You Get Your Life Together by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

//published 2017//

If you’re like me and like to have things explained to you (thoroughly), instead of that artsy ‘just follow your heart and do what looks right to you’ nonsense, this book may be for you.

I’ve been intrigued by the concept of Dot/Bullet Journaling, because I am way into lists and also into journaling and I also actually have started making notebook inserts and selling them on Etsy, and most people are using them for this type of thing. Miller does a really nice job of explaining the concept of dot journaling, and then laying out some basic guidelines and ideas. She does emphasize that the entire point of this method is its flexibility and convenience of being able to make it your own, but also gives actual real examples and ideas.

My only personal issue with this book is that a lot of times the pictures were the explanation, which was totally fine, except sometimes the pictures also crossed the middle of the book, which meant that important parts of the pictures were tucked down inside the binding and were not readable. This seemed like a really obvious flaw that could have been fixed before printing, as it occurred on multiple occasions. It does make the book look nice, having the pictures cross both sides of the book, but then maybe a different binding should have been chosen, as this really aggravated me.

Overall, though, this was a friendly and accessible book that made me feel like it is possible to use a dot journal without having to be a really creative and artsy person.

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

//published 2014//

This was my latest book from my Bethany Beach Box, which despite mostly 3/5 reads, I have been enjoying.  I actually really like children’s fiction, and it’s been interesting to see what books are considered worth promoting this way.  Turtle was another 3/5 read, honestly mostly because it was quite boring.  As an adult, it was rather obvious that Nye’s entire goal was to write a book that showed a Muslim family in a Muslim country in a positive light.  There is nothing wrong with that, but considering how people complain about books written in the 1950’s and how they’re “too sweet” and not at all “realistic”, it seems a little strange to turn around and praise a book that is basically sugar.

Aref and his parents are moving from Oman, a country in the Middle East, to Michigan, so that his parents can complete their doctorate degrees.  Aref isn’t happy about leaving, and most of the book are little adventures that he has with his grandpa as they visit all of their favorite places together.  I honestly ended the book feeling quite aggravated with Aref’s parents, who seemed to feel that their education and life was more important than Aref being close to his grandpa.

But what really  bogged this book down were the lists.  We’re told at the beginning that Aref and his family love learning new things, and then writing down what they have learned that day.  So throughout the book, whenever Nye wants her readers to learn something, we have to suffer through a list, in Aref’s handwriting, telling us about the habits of turtles or how awesome it is to live in Oman under the rule of a sultan, which really added to the boring factor in this tale.

I realize that I am not the target audience for this book, but even at the age of ten I don’t think that I would have enjoyed reading a bunch of lists.  All in all, this book came across as a book that practically screamed USE ME FOR A UNIT STUDY IN YOUR SECOND GRADE CLASSROOM, but in my mind didn’t have a lot to offer just simply as a story.