Uprooted // by Naomi Novik

//published 2015//

While Fatal Trust was a really good read, Uprooted is the book that has finally pulled me out of my reading slump.  I started with a very ambivalent attitude, assuming that this was just going to be another meh read, but ended up being drawn in – almost reluctantly! – to a genuinely fantastic fantasy novel.

Agnieszka is our narrator, a young woman who has grown up in a valley knowing that their lord, the Dragon, would choose a girl from her year to be given to him for ten years.  In exchange, the Dragon protects his people from the evils of the Wood that borders their land.  Everyone expects Agnieszka’s best friend, Kasia, to be chosen, but it is no surprise to the readers that the Dragon selects Agnieszka instead, and takes her to his tower to begin her years of servitude.

At first, I was really aggravated with both Agnieszka and the Dragon, because it felt like they just needed a good conversation between them.  The Dragon is so ridiculously impatient with Agnieszka, acting like she should just already know what he expects her to do and that she should already understand a bunch of stuff about magic and how the Wood works, all of which felt quite unreasonable.  Agnieszka, on the other hand, is absurdly stubborn, refusing to do anything the Dragon wants her to do just… because.  But their relationship gradually got a lot better and that’s when the book really started to get interesting.

Novik does a fantastic job of world-building.  It was so easy to immerse myself in the way Agnieszka’s world works.  The magic, the lifestyles of the people, the Wood itself – all superbly drawn.  I also loved the characters – there was a lot of depth to them, and their motivations were easy to grasp and understand, making the whole story flow well.  Even when ‘good’ people were doing the ‘wrong’ thing, I could see what was driving them and accept that they were doing what they were doing.

But what really pushed this book to the next level was the ending – it was perfect.  I could not imagine a single way to make it better.  It was everything I wanted the ending of this book to be.  There was just the right amount of explanation, just the right amount of resolution, just the right amount of epilogue.  I loved it, and the conclusion to this story made me close this book with a huge sigh of contentment, even though I was also sad that it was actually over.

Also, I really, really wanted to give this a full 5* rating (and I did on GoodReads), but there is a sex scene… and while I didn’t mind these two characters having sex, I felt like I ended up with a lot more detail than was necessary.  It’s also the only thing that would really hold me back from recommending this book to my (much) younger sister, or young teen readers in general, which is disappointing because this book has so much to offer.

In conclusion, I definitely recommend this one if you enjoy a fantasy novel with well-developed characters, excellent world-building, a completely engaging plot, and a perfect ending.  Uprooted is a book I fully intend to add to my permanent collection, and I’m also excited about reading Novik’s other books, a series about the Napoleonic Wars… except with dragons!  4.5/5 for this one, and highly recommended (except for that one bit).

This book was first brought to my attention by a great review by Sophie over at PaperBreathers, so thank you!

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Summer of Lost and Found // by Rebecca Behrens

//published 2016//

I really wanted to like this children’s book (I mean, look at that gorgeous cover!), but in the end it was just a middling read for me, and not one that I’ll ever bother with again.

The story focuses on Nell, whose father is an author and whose mother is a botanist.  At the beginning of the tale, Nell’s father disappears – except he doesn’t really disappear; he’s left, and Nell’s mother is super cagey about where he is and when/if he is coming back.  So this means that instead of spending the summer at home in New York City, Nell has to go with her mom to do some research on Roanoke Island in North Carolina.  Nell isn’t super happy about giving up all the plans she had for hanging out with her best friend, but slowly finds herself drawn into the small town life on the island, as her mom researches some kind of really old grapevine that may possibly have been on the island at the time of the arrival of the original British colonists (the ones who disappeared).  Nell becomes intrigued by the missing colonists and begins trying to do some research with the aid of a boy, Ambrose, she met at one of the historical parks.  She also meets a girl about her own age whom she immediately dislikes, because the other girl, Lila, is super bossy and annoying.  Throughout the story there are also journal entries written by a boy from the lost colony.

Somehow, though, this book just wasn’t magical.  Children’s books especially have that potential (and it has nothing to do with whether or not there is actual magic in the story – its the essence of the story itself that is or isn’t magical), and this was just fell flat.  Part of it was the very muddy historical fiction aspect – for instance, in the end, Nell and her friends solve the mystery of the lost colony… except no one has ever really solved that, and it felt like if I was just a kid reading this book I would get to the end and assume that maybe that mystery had really been solved in real life?  I don’t know, it just felt strange that that was the way she decided to go, having a couple of kids solve a historical mystery that’s been around a couple centuries.

The whole situation with Nell’s dad felt extremely contrived, and it also seemed unnatural that Nell wouldn’t have actually confronted at least one of her parents way earlier in the story.  If Nell’s  mom felt like she needed to ‘take a break’ from Nell’s dad, what was the point of sending him away like two days before she’s leaving for the summer anyway?  It already felt like they were going to take a break, so the whole ‘disappearance’ was really just a way of making Nell have to go with her mom.

A lot of the story felt that way, like Behrens had an idea of where she wanted the story to go, but had to be rather heavy-handed in making it happen.

I appreciated that Behrens was trying to make Nell a sort of modern-day girl, and I didn’t mind the fact that some of the story was her texting or emailing people.  However, it seemed odd to have her texting during actual face-to-face conversations with other people.  Like when she meets Lila, they’re sitting in front of the bookstore talking, and Nell literally starts texting her best friend in the middle of the conversation, things like, “Met this girl in the bookstore – might be kind of cool” or “Nevermind.  The girl’s kind of full of herself.”  I think Behrens was trying to make sure we knew about Nell’s feelings towards Lila, but the texting felt like an extremely awkward way to express that.  Like, is she texting while Lila is still talking?  Does Lila pause the conversation so Nell can pull out her phone and send a message to someone else?  It was weird, and it happened on more than one occasion.

Finally, and this is a spoiler, so don’t read this paragraph if you want to read the book (or maybe do, because this was something that annoyed me throughout the whole book and I actually skipped to the end to find out if I was right, which is something I pretty much never do) – Ambrose is a ghost!?  And it’s just kind of like…  oh, okay, he’s a ghost!  So now everything makes sense.  It really, really felt like a cop-out, and I’m not really sure if like Behrens herself just believes in ghosts so presenting one as a reasonable solution is a sensible conclusion for her?  Because legit everyone, including adults, just say “Ohhhh, he’s a ghost!” and then that’s about it.  Also, I was hoping that there would be some good reason for why Nell can see/talk with Ambrose but other people can’t – like it would have made so much sense for it turn out that she’s a distant relative or something but… nothing.  No explanation.  Apparently Ambrose just liked the looks of her…???

Overall, there were just too many jumps/gaps in logic for me to get on board with this book.  I realize it’s children’s literature, but I think it’s just as important for children’s books to make sense (within their own world – I realize the rules of Narnia are different from the rules of The Secret Garden which are different from the rules in Babe: The Gallant Pig but each book still makes sense within its own context, and that’s the key) as it is for adult books, because having those rules flow together is what makes it easy to immerse oneself into the story.  There were way too many times that I felt jarred out of the story by a ?!??! moment.

A 3/5 for a pleasant read, but Summer of Lost and Found isn’t a book I’ll be rereading.

Nimona // by Noelle Stevenson

//published 2015//

I picked up this graphic novel to just sort of flip through it and see what the pictures were like, and before I knew it I was about a third of the way through and completely engrossed in the story.  Nimona was a surprisingly enjoyable read for me.  To date, I haven’t been much into graphic novels, but I’m starting to think that that’s just because I haven’t found any good ones before this.

Originally a webcomic, Nimona is about a villain, Ballister Blackheart, who, in the first chapter, is joined by a new sidekick: Nimona.  Ballister isn’t too excited about having a tagalong at first, but it turns out that Nimona is a shapeshifter, and soon the pair is working together to wreck havoc.

What I LOVED about this story was the fabulous world-building.  The setting for this story is sort of medieval, with knights and villages and dragnos and stuff, except with modern technology (and beyond), like video calls and tiny walkie-talkies.  So it’s actually kind of a sci-fi story, except with knights.  I was completely in love with the setting and was delighted with how well everything blended together even though it felt like it should have been ridiculous – like a science fair that actually looks like a medieval fair, or jousting knights who also have illegal laser guns.

The characters were also fantastic.  I fell in love with Ballister basically immediately.  He’s the perfect villain-who-isn’t, and his relationship with Nimona is a delight.  I totally wanted Ballister to be my uncle.  Nimona herself has a lot more layers than it appears at first, and honestly my biggest beef about this whole story is just that I want MORE NIMONA (and more everything if I’m honest… I need like three sequels at least).  Ambrosius Goldenloin is the other main character – the official hero/arch-nemesis of Ballister.  Of course, they were erstwhile friends, wrenched apart by a terrible tragedy, and now fight against each other.  I actually really felt like their relationship was done well, too – their being more than friends felt like a natural part of the story, not THE story.

Of course, the artwork is also amazing.  It’s colorful and engaging, and I really loved Stevenson’s style.  There are so many expressions, not just from the people, but from the various animals Nimona shifts into as well.  I feel like I could easily reread this story and get so much more out of the pictures now that I already know where the story is heading.

Overall, this story was an easy 4/5.  I felt like some aspects of the plot could have been tightened up, and I really wanted a more concrete ending for Nimona herself, but I couldn’t believe how this story completely sucked me in.  I enjoyed every page and wanted about five times more.

It also made me interested to read some more graphic novels, so if anyone has some good suggestions, do let me know!  Nimona came to my attention via an excellent review by ChrissiReads last year.

August Minireviews – Part 1

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 High Window by Raymond Chandler

//published 1942//

In this outing for PI Phillip Marlowe, the tough-talking-but-soft-hearted detective finds himself working for a rich but rather dreadful old widow.  Per usual, Marlowe is pulled into all sorts of shenanigans, most of which would seem unrelated to someone more optimistic than our hero.  The mystery in this one seemed stronger to me than the first few books, and I really enjoyed the story.  These books are pretty fast reads and I am finding them to be thoroughly engaging.  3.5/5.

Once Upon a Kiss by various authors

//published 2017//

This collection of short stories are all retellings of fairy tales by random YA authors.  I picked it up as a free Kindle book in hopes of maybe finding some new authors to check out.  However, none of the stories in this collection rated higher than a 3/5 for me, and some I didn’t even bother to finish.  To me, a short story should still have a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and end, and some kind of driving force for the protagonists, but a lot of these stories just came across as ‘sample’ writing – a few stories literally just stopped and were like, ‘If you want to find out more about what happens next, be sure to check out my book!’ which annoyed me so much that I won’t be checking out their books.

Overall, not a complete waste of time, but almost.

The Cat Sitter Mystery by Carol Adorjan

//published 1973//

This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I’ve had around for as long as I can remember.  I read this book when I was pretty little – it was possibly one of the first mysteries I ever read.  I was quite enthralled with the exciting and mysterious events surrounding Beth’s neighbor’s house!

Rereading as an adult, this story about a girl who moves into a new neighborhood and then ends up taking care of her eccentric neighbors’ cats, doesn’t really have a great deal of depth, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.  Adorjan does a really great job of making the whole story plausible, and also setting up reasonable explanations for all of the shenanigans.  The side story about Beth trying to settle into her new neighborhood in the middle of summer is also done well.

My edition is fabulously illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush, who illustrated several other childhood favorites, like Magic Elizabeth and Miracles on Maple Hill.  They are probably most famous for their work with the original editions of The Borrowers and their sequels.  The Krush’s line drawings are just perfect, especially of the cats.

All in all, a comfortable 4/5 for this short children’s book, an old favorite that held up quite well to an adult reread.

The Story of Amelia Earhart by Adele de Leeuw

//published 1955//

Back in the 1950’s, Grosset & Dunlap published a series of children’s biographies called ‘Signature’ books – each one has a copy of the famous person’s signature on the front, and an illustrated timeline of ‘Great Events in the Life of…’ inside the front cover.  I really enjoy history books that are aimed at the middle school range because they usually hit all the high points without getting bogged down with a lot of details and political opinions.  It’s a great way to get a basic introduction to a person or event.  I’ve collected a lot of these Signature books over the years – they have those delightful cloth covers from the era and are just a perfect size to read.

That said, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this one.  While it was a fine read, de Leeuw’s choices about what random vignettes from Earhart’s life to include seemed really random.  For instance, an entire chapter is devoted to a random event in Earhart’s life involving a neighbor who treats his horse cruelly – and in the end, Earhart and her sister don’t actually get to rescue the horse – instead, it escapes and then dies leaping over a creek?!  It just felt incredibly random and didn’t really add any information about Earhart – it never came back as this big influential event or anything.  There were several other, smaller stories like that throughout, like de Leeuw had collected tons of tales and then just pulled out of a hat which ones to include.  It was definitely much choppier than other Signature books that I’ve read.

Still, Earhart had an amazing and fascinating life.  I really loved how so much of what she did wasn’t amazing because she was the first woman to do it – but just the first person.  I love biographies that emphasize a woman’s abilities, intelligence, and skills as those of a person instead of those as a woman.  No one is going to believe that women are just as capable as men if we constantly act like being a woman was a weakness they had to overcome.

All in all, this was a fun and interesting book.  I’m not particularly into aviation, but apparently Earhart herself wrote a couple of books – I’m especially interesting to check out her book 20 Hrs., 40 Min. about flying over the Atlantic – I’m curious to see how it compares to Charles Lindbergh’s account, which I ended up really enjoying a lot.

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

//published 1943//

The fourth Phillip Marlowe felt a little darker than the first three.  Marlowe seems a little jaded, and while he still manages to make fun of many of the terrible people he meets (usually everyone he meets is pretty terrible), sometimes it felt a little serious, like Chandler genuinely was starting to think that everyone out there really is terrible.  There is also a rather gruesome scene when a body is found – not exactly graphic, but so well implied that it didn’t need to be in order to make me feel a little queasy (possibly because I was trying to eat a baloney sandwich at the time).

However, the mystery itself was, I felt, the strongest yet.  The reader has access to all the same information as Marlowe, and while I was able to connect some of the dots, I didn’t hit them all.  I really enjoyed watching everything come together, but the ending was just a bit too abrupt to feel completely satisfactory.

Still, a really great read, if a bit darker than the earlier fare.  3.5/5.

July Minireviews – Part 1

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.

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

//published 1956//

Actually, I felt more than “meh” about this book – it was a delight, and an easy 4/5.  However, what can one say about Heyer’s work that hasn’t already been said?  The characters were lively and clever, the adventure took many hilarious twists, and there happy endings handed out all around.  Heyer is always so relaxing and pleasant – never any niggling doubts as to whether or not everything will end with sunshine and rainbows.  I really loved everyone in this book, and it had me snorting with laughter on more than one occasion.  It felt like the ending was a bit rushed/it would have been nice to see a little bit more of a love story between Gareth and Hester, but all in all this story was just super adorable and happy.

Also, it was #10 for #20BooksofSummer!

Sunlight & Shadow by Cameron Dokey

//published 2004//

I really liked Dokey’s fairy tale retellings (this is the third I’ve read).  This story moved right along.  It was a little weird because Dokey used five first-person perspectives, and never told us who we were jumping to next, you just kind of had to read a few sentences and figure it out.  This felt weird at first, but once I got into the groove, it worked completely.  The voices were actually really, really similar, though, so it was mostly the actual circumstances that indicated who was doing the talking.

In her afterword, Dokey said that this book was actually inspired by the story from one of Mozart’s operas, which I found entertaining.  It has a very mythological flavor, since the main character (Mina) is the daughter of the Queen of Night and the Mage of Day.  The story is not just about Mina finding true love (which of course she does), but about the balance between light and darkness.  As always, Dokey has a slim thread of thoughtfulness running throughout a story that appears to be all fluff and lightheartedness, leaving me thinking about it a bit after I’ve finished.

An easy 3.5/5 and a very pleasant read, as well as being #12 for #20BooksofSummer!

Unwilling by Elizabeth Adams

In this Pride & Prejudice variation, shortly after the Netherfield Ball, Mr. Bennett finds out that he doesn’t have much longer to live.  He regrets wasting time and money, and decides to do the best that he can to make up for it.  He makes a bunch of rules for the girls, including sending Lydia back to the schoolroom, and gives them actual lessons to do, which feels a little bit weird since Jane and Elizabeth are in their 20’s.  Mr. Bennett is also determined that if any eligible suitors come asking, he will marry the girls off, as long as it doesn’t seem like the guy is a total jerk.  So at Hunsford, Mr. Darcy asks Mr. Bennett for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, and Mr. Bennett says yes.

All in all, this was actually a really pleasant P&P variation.  It was definitely PG13 – a lot of innuendo and discussions, but nothing explicit.  It was also quite refreshing that there were no ridiculous villains.  However, it did feel like only Elizabeth was doing the changing.  In the original, both Darcy and Elizabeth realize their shortcomings, but in this version, Darcy didn’t really seem to have any.  Towards the end, he is really insulting towards the Gardiners when he meets them for the first time.  Elizabeth takes him to task and Darcy apologizes, but he never interacts with them again in the story, so it didn’t necessarily come through that he really felt remorseful about the situation.

Still, a pleasant story and an easy way to spend an afternoon.  3.5/5.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

//published 1901//

Burnett is another one of those authors whose two most famous books – The Secret Garden and A Little Princess – were childhood favorites (that I still love today), but somehow I’ve never really checked to see if she wrote anything else.  So I added The Making of a Marchioness, along with its sequel, The Methods of Lady Walderhurst to my 20 Books of Summer list.

This was a pleasant read, but was almost like an outline of a book rather than a full-length story.  It’s only around 180 pages with large print, so more of a novella.  Still, the main character, Emily, was rather adorable, even though she was almost absurdly nice.  Through a series of events she gets invited to a country house party (mainly so she can do a bunch of errands for the hostess) and ends up marrying the most eligible bachelor there.

However, there really isn’t much of a love story.  Walderhurst admires her from afar, but during his proposal, he says that he “must marry, and I like you better than any woman I have ever known.  … I am a selfish man, and I want an unselfish woman.”  It doesn’t seem particularly romantic that he’s marrying her because she won’t make very many demands on his time or purse, but overall he seems like a fine fellow, so I actually did end the book believing that they would deal well together.  A 3/5 and I am intrigued to read the sequel.  Also, #15 for #20BooksofSummer!

March Minireviews – Part 2

I realize that we are now several days into April, but I am trying to wrap up the backlog of March reads.  It always makes me sad when I have to reduce the pile this way, but life is just too busy to keep up on the blog, I’m afraid!

Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1910//

I actually love the Psmith books, although many people find him rather obnoxious (he is).  This book had a whole new level of interesting since I read Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith.  In those books, we discover the foundation of the friendship that is at the heart of Psmith in the City, so that added much more depth to the overall story.  In many ways, Mike is actually the central character, with Psmith playing a bold supporting role.  Mike is such a steady, stolid character, which contrasts all the better with the rather pompous Psmith.  I also love how whenever Wodehouse has Mike refer to Psmith in conversation, Mike always says “Smith.”  Wodehouse’s subtle decisions to keep or drop the P are cleverly done.

Another favorite thing of mine is discovering connections between different books and events, so it was great fun to find a reference to Three Men in a Boatwhich I read last fall.  All in all, Psmith in the City is a delightful 4/5 (on the Wodehouse scale, where a 1/5 is the same as a 4/5 for normal books) and definitely recommended – although you’ll enjoy it even more if you read the Mike books first.

From Italy With Love by Jules Wake

//published 2015//

This books is actually a DNF, so I’m not sure why I’m bothering to mention it, other than to see if someone else has actually finished it and thinks that I should totally keep reading because it gets better later on.

I really liked the premise, where an eccentric uncle leaves his niece a rare antique car, but in order to inherit it she has to drive across Italy, following a specific route which he has laid out for her.  As part of an inheritance for this other guy, the uncle says that the guy has to go, too.  I always kind of enjoy crazy old meddling old people who set up the young’uns, especially from beyond the grave, so I was all for it.  However, so much of this book just didn’t make any kind of sense.  The uncle promised the dude, Cam, that he could have this special car, so Cam has already told his brother that they can use this car for some fancy car show where they’re going to make tons of money except they had to spend tons of money to get ready for it.  Except how did Cam know that the uncle was going to die???  (Maybe he actually knocked him off and the book turns into a mystery later?!)  So Cam is obnoxious the whole time, which also makes no sense because what he is actually going to inherit from this drive across Italy is the first chance to buy the car from the niece (Laurie).  So wouldn’t it make more sense for him to be buttering her up and trying to get on her good side?

Meanwhile, Laurie is actually engaged to this other guy, and it’s obvious from literally the first page that this guy is a total tool, and as the first couple of chapters progress, it’s painfully obvious that the dude is trying to get in on all the cash he thinks Laurie is going to inherit, but Laurie seems basically oblivious to the whole thing, and it really bothered me that she went off on this trip (and is presumably going to fall in love with) some other guy while still being engaged to the first guy, even if the first guy is a jerk.  I found it 100% impossible to believe that Laurie would inherit this car and not do any kind of research on it, even something as basic as finding out how much it’s worth.  I mean, seriously?

And honestly, I could have overlooked a lot of this if the story had been remotely interesting, but it wasn’t!  To top everything off, it was boring me out of my mind.  Plus, while as of around 30% through the book Wake hadn’t dragged me through any sexy times, she still kept hinting around at stuff, so I had to keep listening to Laurie get “flushed” and “flustered” a whole lot, and, even worse, be repeatedly exposed to the word “nipples.”  Please.  “Nipples” is not a word that engenders romance, so I don’t want to hear about them, or hear what some guy thinks about them, or even to really think about them within the context of a romantic encounter.  Ugh.

So yeah, a rambling DNF on this book, but at least it’s one off the list!

Nettle King by Katherine Harbour

//published 2016//

This is the third and final book in the Night & Nothing series.  Thorn Jack was engaging, Briar Queen was engrossing, and Nettle King was a solid finish.  Part of the problem was that there was just too much of a gap for me between Queen and King, so I had trouble getting into the groove of this story.  But overall – I really liked this trilogy, and definitely see myself reading it again.  In many ways it reminded me of the Lynburn Legacy books by Sarah Rees Brennan.  These weren’t as funny as those, but it had a similar world-building in the sense that it all took place in a small, isolated community.

I also found myself comparing it a lot to The Fourth Wishwhich I had just finished.  In both stories, girls find themselves in love with guys who, due to magic, are basically eternal beings who have been around for centuries.  But where Wish felt ridiculous and contrived, I 100% shipped Jack and Finn.  Both characters are constantly seeking to put the other person’s safety and needs above their own.  Plus, they are a bit older (in college), and had a strong support system of other characters around them.  There was so much more depth to relationship between Jack and Finn than there was between Margo and Oliver.  I felt like Jack and Finn would be friends and lovers forever, but that Oliver and Margo would get completely bored of each other within months.

Anyway, the overall conclusion to the Night & Nothing series was quite satisfying.  I definitely want to read these books again within a tighter time frame, because I felt like I lost a lot of the intrigue by waiting so long between the second and third books.  A solid 4/5 for Nettle King and for the series as a whole.  Recommended.

March Minireviews – Part 1

Usually, I only post a group of minireviews for books that have just been sort of meh for me, leaving me with not a whole lot to say about the story.  But this month I’ve been super busy with work and other projects and just simply haven’t had time for reviews.  I really struggled through a reading slump the end of February and into March, but over the last couple of weeks have been back in the groove, which means I actually have quite the little pile of books waiting to be reviewed.  Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to really unpack all the ins and outs, so I’m going to try to just give each read a few paragraphs… hopefully I don’t get too carried away…

Dead End Close by Dominic Utton

//published 2017//

I actually started a whole long review of this book but then got really carried away.  I disliked this book so much that the whole review was turning into a rather incoherent rant, so maybe I can just summarize a briefer, coherent rant here.  I actually rather enjoyed Utton’s first book, Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Timeand I think that added to the disappointment that I felt about Dead End Close.  This book focuses on several households all on the same dead-end street in Oxford.  There’s a bit of mystery/thriller aspect, but at the end of the day this book was just overwhelmingly depressing.  No one has a happy life, no one has a happy ending.  All of my notes on this book end with “???” because I just didn’t get this book at all.  There’s this weird guy meandering through the story (and sometimes narrating it) with a clipboard, and we are given the impression that he’s a supernatural/angelic being of some kind (???), but apparently there for observation purposes only has he does diddly-squat to prevent anything from happening.  Throughout the story, all the lives that started pretty bad to begin with only get worse.

But the biggest reason that this book gets 0/5 stars for me is that a huge part of the plot centers around a trio of Oxford boys who are trying to get into a club, and the initiation process requires them to rape a girl, video it, and then get the video to go viral.  This whole part of the book literally made me ill to read, it was so disturbing and dark and gross.  And maybe I could have gotten around this if this book had had some kind of point, but it didn’t.  The whole story was just completely pointless.  It went no where, there was no character development, terrible things happened to everyone, people get raped and killed, and a heavy sense of hopelessness lingers on every page.

I think I was especially irked when I got to the end and Utton attempted to whitewash his entire story by acting like, somehow, there was a message of hope.  Like, “Oh wow, sometimes bad things happen, but there’s always hope!”  Yeah, that doesn’t really fly with me when the only “hope” part of your story is in the next-to-last paragraph of the entire book.

Dead End Close was given to me free of charge from the publishers, and this is my obviously very honest review.  I hated every word of this book and wouldn’t even recommend it to someone I didn’t like.  Weirdly, I would still read another of Utton’s books, though, because I enjoyed Harbottle, but this one was flat dreadful.

The Wreckage by Michael Robotham

//published 2011//

They say that a book can impact your mood.  I think this is true, but I also think that sometimes my mood impacts the book.  I picked up The Wreckage (the fifth in the Joseph O’Laughlin series) during the height of my reading slump and could not get into it.  And even though I eventually finished the book, it never really gripped me.  I can’t say for sure if that was the book’s fault or mine, but I definitely felt very meh towards this story the whole way through.

I think a large part of this was because it didn’t feel nearly as personal as the other books in this series.  The other books have dealt with tight, domestic-type crimes (kidnapping, murder, robbery, etc.), but this one was more political, following a storyline in Iraq, where a reporter believes that several bank robberies are connected; and London, where our old friend Vincent Ruiz finds himself entangled in a complicated web of disappearances, robberies, and embezzlement.

The story was done well, and the present-tense that Robotham insists on using made more sense as a third person narrative.  But my personal disinterest meant that I didn’t read this book very closely, and consequently it felt disjointed to me.  It left me with a 3/5 rating, but I think that it will be better when I read through this series again.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

//published 2017//

This was another ARC, but one that I thankfully enjoyed a great deal more than Dead End Close.  This story drifts back and forth in time, following the lives of three German women before, during, and after World War II.  While this wasn’t exactly a cheerful read, it was a very engaging one.  Shattuck handles the shifts in time perfectly, giving information about the lives of these women at just the right time.  It is not a mystery, but each of the women has her own secrets that are only gradually revealed.

It was quite fascinating to read a story about “everyday” Germans.  Marianne, passionate about the resistance; Benita, rather naive and sometimes willfully blind; Ania, caught up in the dream of a better life and failing to see how the promises were built on shifting sand.  The language is lovely and the characters are well-drawn, although I wish that we saw more of Marianne’s thoughts and actions.  She is weirdly both the center of the story and yet in the background of it.

While I don’t see myself returning to this book time and again, I would definitely read another of Shattuck’s books, and recommend this one to anyone who enjoys history from the perspective of ordinary people struggling to see what is right.  4/5.

The Fourth Wish by Lindsay Ribar

//published 2014//

This book is the sequel to a lighthearted YA novel that I read in February, The Art of Wishing.  While Wishing didn’t really blow my mind with its awesomeness, it was still an entertaining and pleasant read, and I was expecting more of the same from The Fourth Wish.  Unfortunately, it was overall pretty terrible.  In this book, Margo is struggling to adjust to her new life as a genie.  For some reason, Ribar decided that the overwhelming majority of people who get a hold of a genie would use their wishes to find some kind of sexual fulfillment.  Color me crazy, but if I had three wishes for anything, I really don’t think any of them would involve sex…???  Plus, we also have to spend a lot of time nattering on about how genies can be either male or female (I mean the same genie can be either), and how this doesn’t change who they are on the inside, and they can still love each other no matter their outward apperance, aw how romantic except why so boring and consequently not actually romantic at all.

I skimmed large portions of this book hoping to actually find a story, but there wasn’t one.  Margo was a total whiner in this book, spending most of  her time being a jealous girlfriend.  I don’t really have high hopes for her relationship with Oliver, especially since they are not both timeless, eternal beings.  Like I don’t think this relationship is going to last five months, much less five centuries.

In the end, 2/5 and nothing that inspired me to find out if Ribar has written anything else.