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 2

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.

I had a lot of minireviews for July, so Part 1 can be found here.

Water Song by Suzanne Weyn

//published 2006//

This book was a retelling of The Frog Prince, but set in World War I Belgium without (much) magic.  I really, really liked the concept and setting for this story, but honestly the book was just too short for what was going on.  This ended up feeling more like an outline/draft for a story instead of a full story, which meant the characters were very flat and I couldn’t get behind the main love story because it felt so abrupt.  The ending felt rushed and a little strange, and after a big build up around the locket, the actual reveal was quite anticlimactic.

This was a book where I found myself wishing that Weyn had taken the time to turn it into a real, full-length novel.  There was so much potential in the story and characters, but this book barely skimmed across the surface.  3/5 for a decent read and a fantastic concept, but not a book that I would bother reading again.

#16 for #20BooksofSummer!

Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

//published 1940//

This is the second book starring hard-bitten private detective Phillip Marlowe.  As with the first book, The Big SleepMarlowe’s narrative is what makes this book worth reading.  While the story is fine, with a decent mystery and fair pacing, it’s Marlowe’s slang-ridden, dryly humorous observations that keep me turning the pages.

After a little while, I felt a little better, but very little.  I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country.  What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.  I put them on and went out of the room.

This book is, as with the first, very reflective of the ingrained prejudices of its time, and the easily offended will probably not make it past the first page, where ‘negro’ appears three times, but I found the story to be all the more engaging because of its unvarnished view of its time – so much more interesting to read the books written then, where these words and concepts flow naturally because it was just the way it was, rather than books set during that time but written now, that frequently try too hard to belabor the point that there were prejudices.  It was genuinely disturbing to see how no one really cared about the first murder in the story because the victim was ‘only a negro,’ and that the case was given to a man on the police force generally considered to not be important or skilled enough to deal with something ‘more worthwhile.’  In the end, when Marlowe mentions to the murderer that he may have been able to get away with killing ‘just a shade,’ he really won’t be able to get out of also killing a white woman.

So yes, a fun story with a lot of twists and a fairly satisfying (if somewhat hurried) ending; Marlowe’s voice is absolutely hilarious; and, to me, an absolutely fascinating look and reminder of how in the not-so-distant past, having separate ‘joints’ for blacks and whites was not only normal, but considered completely unlikely to ever change.  3.5/5, and I plan to continue reading more of Chandler’s works.

The Methods of Lady Walderhurst by Frances Hodgson Burnett

//published 1901//

This is the sequel to The Making of a Marchionesswhich I read earlier this month.  I found myself a bit ambivalent towards that read, and I actually enjoyed this one even less.  The story begins with the marriage of Emily and Walderhurst, but the majority of the book focuses on Emily’s relationship with Walderhurst’s current heir, Osborn, and his wife.  Osborne has spent his whole life anticipating becoming the next Lord Walderhurst, and is quite upset when Walderhurst marries a reasonably young and healthy wife.  The entire book is a bunch of melodramatic nonsense that would have been a good story if Emily’s devotion to Walderhurst (who is mostly absent in India for the book) actually made a bit more sense.

I would have been willing to go along with the whole thing if the ending hadn’t been so odd and abrupt.  Just – quite, quite strange.  All in all, I think that I’ll stick with The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, and leave Emily Fox-Seton on the shelf.  2/5.

#19 for #20BooksofSummer!

Martin’s Mice by Dick King-Smith

//published 1988//

I’m not sure whether or not I’ve rambled on about King-Smith on this blog before, so even if I have it’s been a while.  While he’s best known for his classic Babe: The Gallant PigKing-Smith was an incredibly prolific writer of children’s books.  While I don’t love all of them – some are really just too fast and shallow to be considered good reading, even for a children’s book – others have become lifelong favorites, like The Fox Busters and The Queen’s Nose.  

In this tale, we have the story of a farm kitten, Martin, who doesn’t like eating mice.  He thinks they are so beautiful and precious.  When he discovers that the farmer’s daughter keeps rabbits as pets, he is intrigued by the concept – and when he catches a mouse one day, he decides to keep her as a pet.  The rest of the story follows the adventure (especially when his long-lost dad finds out), and involves all sorts of funny critters, like an extremely intelligent hog, a crafty fox, and some quick-thinking mice.

While this isn’t a book that’s likely to win a lot of awards or to cause you to ponder your life, it’s still a very fun and witty story that would be a great read aloud or early reader book.  4/5.

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!

April Minireviews

Usually this space is reserved for books I felt kind of “meh” about, but this time around it’s just a way of trying to catch up on some of the backlog.  I’m ready for summer break!!!

Paper Towns by John Green

//published 2008//

I really was going to write a whole long review complaining about this book, but who has time for that?  I read this book because I felt like I needed to actually read one of Green’s books before dismissing him as a pretentious and condescending guy who just says whatever young adults want to hear so he’ll stay popular.  (These days, they call that “being relevant.”)  Now I can be quite smug about not liking him, because, after all, I have tried his books!

Paper Towns was about what I expected.  The main character was completely unrealistic, a high school senior who cared about grades, grammar, and making his parents proud.  And it wasn’t really those things that made him unrealistic, it was just his entire manner and way of speaking.  He spends most of this book running around trying to solve a mystery, following clues he believes his neighbor/crush has left for him.  I’ve heard Green get a lot of flack for perpetrating the “manic pixie dream girl” method of creating a story, but I’m not sure I buy that.  Like half the point was Quentin realizing that he saw Margo as a manic pixie dream girl (although he doesn’t use those words), and understanding that he’s only ever seen her as a very one-dimensional character instead of an actual person.  Yes, Margo is weird and quirky; and yes, she helps Quentin appreciate his life more fully; and yes, we don’t really get to know her from her own perspective – but I still felt like Quentin’s realizations of her were above the MPDG level.  A little.

Overall, the story was just dumb and kind of pointless.  It was a book that desperately was trying to be poignant and deep, but really just came through as cliched and boring.  I compare that to something like The Scent of Waterwhich doesn’t at all try to be poignant and deep and yet manages just that, and can’t believe that people hail someone like John Green as a genius and brilliant writer.  OVERRATED is the main word that comes to my mind, as this book was desperately boring, the characters were flat, and the entire book read like one long cliche.  2/5.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

//published 1817//

Somehow, I had never gotten around to reading this particular classic, and I’m quite sorry that I waited this long.  While this book didn’t have the character studies of some of Austen’s other works, I found myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions.  Austen’s wry sense ofhumor was at the forefront of this rather frivolous tale, and I loved the way that she poked fun at all sorts of things, but all in such a gentle and kindhearted way.

I purchased the perfect copy of this book, a wonderfully-sized paperback that I love.  My only problem was the “introduction,” in which I was treated to a ten-page synopsis of the story (complete with all the spoilers) and not a word of actual insight or thought!  I’m really heartily tired of introductions that are actually a CliffNotes version of the book.  Just because it’s a classic doesn’t mean that everyone who picks it up has already read it!  I mean really.  If the foreword isn’t going to actually give information, what’s the point?!

But the story itself is adorable and fun, and although this may have been my first reading of it, I don’t anticipate it being the last.  5/5.

Wild Palomino: Stallion of the Prairies by Stephen Holt

//published 1946//

This is another book in the Famous Horse Stories series, and one that I’ve had on a shelf for years and never actually read.  I wasn’t really missing all that much, as Wild Palomino was a wildly impractical tale from page one through the finish.  At the time that I actually read it I kept thinking, Wow, I should make sure to point out that crazy plot twist when I review this book!  But I honestly don’t remember many of specifics as this was an easily-forgotten story.  It’s perfectly fine, and the younger audience for whom it was written would probably enjoy all the drama and excitement, but it was just too implausible for me to really get into.  2/5.

The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1912//

So I mean, sure, some people complain about Wodehouse’s books being a little samey.  I’ve never found that to be an issue for myself personally, because each one has its own unique charm, despite following more or less a set of guidelines.  But I found myself getting major deja vu when I was reading this book, mainly because it wasn’t my imagination – Wodehouse actually used part of one of his other stories!

The part I haven’t been able to figure out completely is whether or not this book or Psmith, Journalist came first, mainly because of the whole thing where Wodehouse wrote lots of his books as serials before printing them as a book, and also tended to have some of his books published first in the U.K. and then in the U.S.  or vice versa.  Either way, this whole book felt weird because of the inclusion of virtually the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist, including a character named Smith!

The Prince and Betty starts as its own story, with Betty’s rich stepfather (or possibly actually father or possibly uncle, I’m not sure which as it has been a while) deciding that his next big scheme is going to be opening a casino on a small European island country.  Complicated hijinks begin, including the rich guy’s attempt to  make Betty marry the prince of said small country.  Of course, Betty and the prince already knew each other from before (except she didn’t know he was a prince… and neither did he!), but Betty thinks that the prince is just trying to appease her father (or stepfather or uncle), so she gets angry and runs away.  So far, so good.

Except next the story takes a strange turn.  Betty lands a job as a secretary for a small newspaper and – well, insert the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist here!  It’s a shame because I actually love Psmith, Journalist  – like, a LOT – but it didn’t feel like it fit into this book at all.  I’m not sure if it’s because I had already read Psmith, or if it really did read like two different books mashed together.  So yes, both halves were good reads, but they didn’t go well together, but that could have just been me…

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.

‘Pride & Prejudice’ Variations – Minireviews

I have confessed before that when my life gets  busy and stressed, my reading gets suuuuper fluffy, and, in most cases, takes on the form of terrible Pride & Prejudice variations.  I hate to admit it, but I find them endlessly entertaining, mostly because I love the concept of one thing being different, and suddenly the whole story changes.  While many of them are, admittedly, dreadful, some are still enjoyable.  I’m embarrassed to tell you all how many I’ve read lately, but here are a few, just as a sample…

The Houseguest by Elizabeth Adams

//published 2013//

This one was pretty low key, but still pleasant.  In this story, Darcy and Elizabeth meet at Netherfield per canon, but, after the assembly where Elizabeth becomes quite prejudiced against Darcy, Georgiana comes from London to stay at Netherfield as well, and she and Elizabeth become friends.  A few months later, when Darcy is away visiting a relative (and Jane is staying in London with the Gardiners), Georgiana invites Elizabeth to come and stay with her.  However, Darcy returns home early, so he and Elizabeth have an opportunity to know each other better.

Things I liked:  This was just a nice variation.  There weren’t all these crazy evil people trying to drive Darcy and Elizabeth apart, there weren’t loads of steamy sex scenes, and there was no violence or rape.  In short, it was a variation that I don’t think would have made Jane Austen twitch too much.  I liked the slowly developing friendship between Darcy and Elizabeth, and I liked how not all of Darcy’s relatives immediately disliked Elizabeth.  It was also nice to have Georgiana be nice, because some variations like to turn her into a selfish shrew.

Things I didn’t like:  There was this kind of random love triangle that was never a really serious love triangle, and I don’t even understand why authors bother with it in these stories because DUH the whole point is Darcy and Elizabeth end up together, so it doesn’t really seem fair to the other fellow, does it??  Also, this book had a ridiculously long epilogue that was so involved it felt like Adams should have just written a sequel.  Instead, we just got like a couple of paragraphs throwing everyone’s lives into disarray.

Conclusion:  3/5 for a pleasant story.  Nice for relaxing but not terribly thrilling.

Fate & Consequences by Linda Wells

//published 2009//

In this version, Darcy arrives at Ramsgate too late to stop Georgiana.  He pursues her (and Wickham, obviously), and manages to catch up with them at an inn in a small town called Meryton.  While Georgiana hasn’t actually stayed a night with Wickham, she is still ruined when word gets out of her attempted elopement.  While in Meryton, Darcy and his sister happened to run into Elizabeth, and a series of events leads to Elizabeth and Georgiana beginning a correspondence.  Darcy and Elizabeth also begin a clandestine correspondence, and fall in love through their letters.  Because Georgiana is ruined when Darcy and Elizabeth meet, Darcy has already been humbled in many ways, and is much more open to falling in love with Elizabeth in consequence.

Things I liked:  Again, I like stories where people are friends and then fall in love, and this version did that well.  Elizabeth and Darcy are just so good for each other in this story, always supporting and helping each other through difficult times.  There was a good secondary story about Elizabeth having an aunt that she never knew about because her aunt was also ruined as a young woman and sent off to Scotland in disgrace.  I also liked the way that Mr. Bennet and his wife began to work through their relationship and ended as a stronger couple in the end.

Things I didn’t like:  Mostly the ridiculous drama, like seriously Wickham is a bit over-the-top, and Lady Catherine definitely is.  Also, one of Elizabeth’s letters go missing and even though she and Darcy hardly know each other at this point, Darcy goes into this deep, dark depression and refuses to eat or sleep for days and it all just seemed a *tad* melodramatic for the situation.  Also, definitely too much sex.  Just please.  No.

Conclusion:  Still, 3/5 because there were a lot of good characterizations, and when Wells wasn’t going crazy with emotional turmoil, the story moved along well.

1932 by Karen M. Cox

//published 2010//

I really love versions where the actual setting is different.  In some ways, I think that illustrates how universal this love story really has become.  Here, Cox decided to set the story during the Great Depression.  Elizabeth’s family has lost most of their money and has to move to the small town where her mother grew up.  The Darcys of course were much better planners and have suffered minimal financial distress, and Darcy is one of the largest landowners around.

Things I liked:  I loved the concept and the setting, and I liked that Darcy and Elizabeth got married towards the middle of the story (in this version, it would be sort of the equivalent of Elizabeth accepting Darcy during the Hunsford proposal), and then grew towards love from there.  I also liked that Georgiana was likable and kind.

Things I didn’t like:  Overall, this story just felt rushed, like the author had this great idea and felt like she had to publish it before someone else beat her to the punch.  Consequently, the story felt choppy in bits.  The love story between Georgiana and the sheriff could have been much more interesting.  Darcy’s refusal to tell Elizabeth the truth of Georgiana’s past, even after Darcy and Elizabeth married, felt very unnatural, so I didn’t really buy their entire disagreement which was central the story – it seemed like Darcy would have told Elizabeth at least the basic gist.  Later, Darcy and Elizabeth have an argument and it felt like that dragged way too long – Elizabeth leaves her husband and returns home for weeks?!  

Conclusion:  3/5.  I wanted to like this story more than I did.  The author has written at least one more version with a unique setting, so I’ll probably give that one a try as well.