May Minireviews – Part 2

Oh no, I already started work at the orchard!  Does this mean I’ll NEVER catch up on reviews??  ::cue dramatic music::

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

The Gin O’Clock Club by Rosie Blake – 3*

//published 2020//

Add this one to my long list of books I wanted to like more than I did…  Lottie is caught up in her career and her grandpa, Teddy, is afraid that she’s taking life too fast, especially since Teddy’s wife died.  Teddy has three buddies and together they comprise the Gin O’Clock Club, which gets together for cards, shenanigans, and gin, and he enlists their help in showing Lottie that she needs to slow down and enjoy her blessings while she can, including her (live-in) boyfriend, Luke.  Basically, the guys convince Lottie and Luke to try some “old-fashioned” dates.  In exchange, Teddy agrees to try some “new-fashioned” dates, since Lottie is concerned that Teddy hasn’t really bounced back since his wife passed away.  Throughout the book, we also get letters that Teddy is writing to his wife as part of the way that he is working through his grief, and those letters were absolutely so touching and sweet without feeling over-the-top that they alone almost made reading the book worth it.

There was so much about this book that I liked.  Teddy and his friends were absolutely fantastic – funny without being cutesy – and Luke was a total dreamboat that no woman in her right mind would take for granted.  All the date ideas were great fun without being weird and I just overall loved seeing the older guys working with the younger folks and all of them learning from one another.

The problem – and it was a BIG PROBLEM – is Lottie herself.  There’s no other way to say it: she was a total bitch.  Like, hardcore.  She literally treats everyone around her like disposable trash, while spending her entire internal monologue saying Oh wow I’m treating everyone like disposable trash; I should really stop that.  And then NOT STOPPING.  And at first I was okay with it because she was showing growth, right?  Like she starts going on these dates and realizing how awesome Luke is and how important it is to hang out with her grandpa and how people are more important than things….  And then she literally just goes exactly back to where she started with no hesitation.  It was like the book was starting over!  There was also this big drama where Lottie was stressed out about something Luke was doing but Teddy couldn’t say anything because it involved someone else that he’d promised not to tell and like – the completely obvious solution was for Teddy to ASK this other person if he could tell Lottie??  But instead he just lets it keep going on and on and poisoning everything in Lottie’s life and it was SO unnecessary.

In the end, I honestly wanted Luke to run far, far away.  Lottie was emotionally and verbally abusive to him on more than one occasion.  I’m really over this whole “the female MC is a horrible person, but it’s really the fault of someone else/society, not her.”  Like no, she’s just a dreadful person, and if Luke had said/done half the things that Lottie did, he would have been crucified, but since Lottie is a woman, she gets a HUGE pass and I’m not okay with it.  I really wish that I had liked Lottie better, because I loved everyone else in this story, and everything else about it, including that the story is about a couple trying to stay together instead of breaking up and moving on to someone else.  All the not-Lottie characters were just delightful, but I couldn’t get past how horrible Lottie was.

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis – 5*

//published 1953//

For some reason, I never liked this story as much when I was a kid, but I thoroughly enjoyed my reread of it this time around, especially the character of Puddlegum.  It’s just been so much fun to read these again!

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – 4.5*

//published 2021//

This was actually one of my favorite books that I’ve read so far this year.  I read The Martian last year and had super low expectations for it because I’m not usually a “space story” person, but I ended up really enjoying it.  Consequently, I decided to read his newest book when it came out this spring, and even though it went a completely different direction from what the synopsis made me assume, I honestly was totally here for it.  The pacing here was fantastic, the flashbacks that filled in the MC’s background were well-placed, and I couldn’t believe how much I fell in love with Rocky.  As the book was drawing to a conclusion I didn’t really see how Weir was going to give me an ending that both made sense and didn’t make me completely depressed, but he 100% pulled it off – I absolutely loved the way everything came together in the end.

There is a lot of science-y stuff here.  I have literally no idea if what he’s saying is realistic/true/practical or not.  I just rolled with the adventure haha

Anchored Hearts by Priscilla Oliveras – 4*

//published 2021//

Last year I read Island Affairand while it wasn’t my favorite romance ever, it was still a perfectly fun little read, so when I saw the next book in the series was out, I decided to pick it up.  Luis is the male MC from the first book; the female MC of Anchored Hearts is his sister, Anamaria.  Overall this was a pretty typical romcom read with likable main characters and a splash of angst.  I absolutely loved the warm families that both these characters possessed, even if those families weren’t perfect.  Some of the issues with the male MC and his dad dragged out a little too long for me, but overall I ended up liking this one better than the first book, and I would definitely read another book in this series.

The Night Dance by Suzanne Weyn – 3*

//published 2005//

This was a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and while it was okay, it was rather choppy and the entire story revolves around literal INSTA instalove, which definitely led to some eye-rolling moments for me.  I really loved the setting – Weyn chose to have this story take place just after the death of King Arthur, with the hero one of his knights trying to fulfill a promise to the king to return Excalibur to the Lady in the Lake.  This mean that even though the story was short, the world-building didn’t feel too compromised (since the reader already has the basic gist from Arthurian lore).  All in all, a pleasant one-off, but not a new fave.

The Broken Earth Trilogy // by N.K. Jemison

Oh man, I was SO CLOSE to actually being caught up on book reviews and stuff… and then somehow the entire end of January just disappeared!!! So here I am in February, writing up some January reviews!

  • The Fifth Season
  • The Obelisk Gate
  • The Stone Sky

I’ve had this series on my TBR for quite some time, so when Jemison came up as January’s #AuthoraMonth on Litsy, I decided it was time to finally read them. While the world-building was excellent and the concept quite good, this story was also relentlessly depressing, which made it a difficult read for me. There is also one view of the narrative that’s told in second person – it was annoying to start with and only got more annoying as the story progressed. Even when I found out who was talking and why – I was still aggravated because not only was it second person, it was second person present tense, which literally made ZERO sense within the context of the tale. Finally, the conclusion of the story really depends on the motivations and actions of one character who I felt was entirely too young for that scenario to make sense – and even if she was older, I still wouldn’t have really believed that she was willing to destroy the world because of this one certain situation, which meant that the entire third book/conclusion to the story arc left me feeling a little so-so about the entire series.

I was going to say some more about these books (mostly complain about the second person thing), but now it’s been a month since I read them and a lot of my stronger feelings have faded haha In the end – interesting but so depressing that I’m not really planning to read any more of Jemison’s books. I also felt like there was a strongly polemic undertone about racism that at times felt a little like I was getting clunked in the head with it, and that wore on me after a while.

All in all, I don’t exactly recommend this trilogy, but if it sounds intriguing to you, it’s worth giving it a try. In retrospect, the story telling really must have been pretty strong for me to stick out even though all that second person nonsense, but that really did drive me absolutely crazy.

May Minireviews – Part 2

Here we are with the final books for May!!!  Hopefully this book blog will get back on track this summer!!

NOTE: I wrote most of these a week or two ago… still trying to get May’s reviews published before July starts!

King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry – 5*

//published 1948//

I read a lot of children’s books in May (and this pattern has carried over into June) as life was very busy and I was looking for quick, simple reads.  Most of them were rereads from many moons ago, and King of the Wind was no exception.  Regular readers of my blog may recall that Henry was one of my favorite childhood authors, and I read King of the Wind probably a dozen times growing up – but then hadn’t read it in, oh, probably 20 years!  I wasn’t sure if the story would hold up, but I shouldn’t have worried.  The combination of Henry’s storytelling and Wesley Dennis’s drawings worked its magic yet again!

This tale is, as are many of Henry’s stories, a mixture of fact and legend.  The story is about a horse named Sham and the boy who cared for him, Agba, and the tale begins in Morocco, where Agba works as a stable boy. The sultan decides to send several of his fastest stallions to the king of France as a gift, with a stable boy in charge of each horse, and so Agba and Sham begin their journey together.  Legend says that Sham, later known as the Goldophin Arabian, became one of the founding stallions of the Thoroughbred breed – every Thoroughbred can trace its lineage back to one of three stallions, one of which is the Goldophin Arabian.  Sham and Agba have many ups and downs in their journey, as Sham’s worth isn’t recognized at first, making an engaging and interesting story.

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1928//

This is one of those Hercule Poirot stories where Poirot doesn’t come into it until about halfway through.  Sometimes that annoys me, but it worked with this story, although it’s always difficult when the reader (theoretically) knows more about what’s going on than the detective, because we’re privy to scenes and conversations were the detective isn’t.  Still, the mystery is a good one, and Poirot is at his most pompous.  If you love Poirot because of his Poirot-isms, this one is definitely worth the read.

Little Gods by Meng Jin – 2.5*

//published 1972//

Another bust for the traveling book club, Little Gods was unbelievably depressing.  (Don’t worry, for the next round of traveling book club, I signed up for romcoms and fantasy, so hopefully I’ll get some books that don’t make me dread picking them up!)  This was a weird story told from random viewpoints (and written without quotation marks, why) about (??? sort of???) a young woman whose mother has died, and now the young woman is journeying back to China to try and find out more about her mother.  In many ways, the book is way more about the mother, who was a brilliant scientist (although not so brilliant at relationships). Throughout, there is loads of scientific theory (so boring, and basically felt like the author showing off how intelligent she is) that really bogged the story down.  Literally zero characters were remotely likable.  Every single parent hated their children, and every single child hated its parents.  No relationships actually were built on respect or love or anything like that – everyone was just in it for what they could get out of it, and, big surprise, none of them worked out.  It felt like there was no point to this story (or at least not one that I could find), and I thought it was never going to end.

That said, there was some lovely writing in between the science, and while the characters were thoroughly unlikable, they were well drawn.  For people who actually like Novels, in all their grimness, there may be something to like here.

Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater – 4.5*

//published 1990//

It had been way, way too long since I had picked up a Pinkwater book.  His books are basically impossible to describe, and definitely aren’t for everyone, as they are full of absolute nonsense.  In this one, a boy ends up traveling through space, time, and other with his uncle (who may not actually be related) and his dog (who is super grumpy).  If you’ve ever thought that maybe time was like a map of New Jersey and space was like a poppyseed bagel, this may be the book for you. It’s also a great read if you love popsicles.

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster – 4.5*

//published 1912//

I really love this epistolary novel, published way back in 1912.  Judy has grown up in an orphanage, but is now old enough to be sent out on her own.  One of the trustees, who desires to remain anonymous, decides to send Judy to college because he has read one of her English papers from high school and believes she has talent that should be cultivated.  While he pays for everything, he asks that in return Judy write him one letter a month to update him on her progress, stating that letter-writing is an excellent way to develop creative writing skills.  Thus, the entire book, except for the introductory chapter, is comprised of Judy’s letters to her benefactor, whom she has never met and only saw in shadow as he was leaving – a shadow that looked like it was made entirely of long legs and arms, leading to her nickname for him, Daddy-Long-Legs.

This book is honestly just plain delightful.  Judy is going to girls’ college (no coed at the time), but has never really spent so much time around “regular” girls, so much of her education is more than just reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.  Her enthusiasm for life and adventure, and lack of family, means that she writes to Daddy-Long-Legs far more than once a month, and her warmth (and illustrations) make for wonderful reading.  For me, the only thing that keeps this from being a full five stars is that there is one point in this story where Daddy-Long-Legs feels a smidge manipulative, which makes me a little uncomfortable, but in the end it’s just such a fun story, and Judy is such a wonderful character, that I’ve read this one time and again.

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster – 5*

//published 1915//

The sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs, I honestly love Dear Enemy even more.  The story centers on Judy’s best friend from college, Sallie McBride (who is also the writer of all the letters in this book).  Judy has purchased the orphanage where she grew up and hires Sallie to help turn it into a happy, healthy place to raise children instead of the sad institution it has always been.  Sallie is a wonderful character who really matures throughout the story.  I love how she wants be a frivolous person who doesn’t do anything useful, but her natural inclination to care for others and do a job well slowly takes over.  The romance in this story is also done so very well, and I really appreciated Webster’s exploration into the difference between a relationship built on mutual trust and respect and one built on an exchange of desires (i.e. you be my nice society wife and I will provide you with money and nice clothes).  Considering when this book was published, it was a rather bold statement to make, that a woman could and even should look for more from a marriage than mere financial security, yet Webster also doesn’t go too far – she still treats marriage as a delightful partnership when done right.

This story is full of escapades and adventures and Sallie’s temper and I love every page – highly recommended.

January Minireviews

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

Almost done with December reviews!  :-D

The Martian by Andy Weir – 4*

//published 2011//

This one has been on my radar for a while, but I’m not usually into “space” books, so I wasn’t sure if I would really like this one.  Set in what appears to be the not-too-distant future, Mark is part of a NASA crew set to land on Mars and spend some time living there, studying the planet.  When an emergency forces the rest of the team to bail, thinking Mark is dead, he becomes the only man on Mars.  Determined to survive and to make it home, the book is a combination of Mark’s journal entries and third-person narration as to what is happening on earth as well.

Like I said, I didn’t particularly have high expectations for this one, and even assumed that it would be a DNF, especially since there were multiple F-bombs on the first page.  However, Mark’s wry sense of humor hooked me almost right away (and the swearing calmed down a lot, too).  I know a lot of reviews actually complain about how Mark is always making humorous remarks, but as someone who survives life by finding something to laugh about, I was here for it.  I did find his almost impossibly bad luck to be a little wearing after a while – every time he would start to get some momentum, something else tragic would happen and we’re back to square one.  I have no idea if any of the sciencey aspects check out, and I frankly skipped a lot of paragraphs that were numbers/explanations, because that ain’t me, but for pure storytelling fun, this one was an unexpected win.

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1933// More importantly – got these gorgeous Jonathan Cape editions from England!! I’m soooo excited!!! //

This is the fourth Swallows & Amazons book, and like the other three, was an absolute delight.  The children are back at the lake where their adventures started, during that awkward period of time after Christmas but before school starts again.  Another pair of children are introduced, so it was fun to see the original group from a slightly outside perspective.  The whole adventure was just so much fun, and really made me want a houseboat.  I can’t recommend these books highly enough.

Northern Lights by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2004//

First off, who names a child Ignatius?!

This was a typical Nora Roberts story – likable characters, engaging plot, too many sexy times.  Nate was a police officer in a big city (can’t remember which one) when his partner was killed, leaving Nate feeling guilty and depressed.  He accepts a position as sheriff in a very small town in Alaska, assuming that the most excitement he’ll face there is the occasional aggressive moose.  However, when a body is discovered in a mountain cave, a disappearance from years ago turns out to be a murder – and Nate believes the murderer is still living in town.

The mystery in this one was extremely well paced, with multiple potential murderers around.  As always, Roberts gives us an incredibly likable protagonist, and plenty of engaging secondary characters as well.  The setting of Alaska – remote, wild, beautiful, dangerous – is drawn very well.  I can’t imagine living somewhere with only a few hours of daylight in the winter!  I loved watching Nate begin to take interest in life again, although, ironically, I felt like the romance was the weaker part of this story overall, as not a lot of connection is built between the two of them before it’s suddenly FOREVER LOVE.  But since I liked both characters, I rolled with it.

Roberts books are always rated Mature, but if you don’t mind skipping a few sexy scenes, there is a lot of good story to go around.

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie – 5*

//published 1924//

On Litsy there is an informal group reading one Christie book per month in published order, and December’s book was this one (we have some discussion questions at the end of the month, which is great fun).  I’ve read all Christie’s books before, but this is a lovely way to revisit them yet again, because they really never get old to me.  The Man in the Brown Suit is honestly one of my very favorites.  It’s absolutely ridiculous, with spies and jewel thieves and tall, dark, mysterious men, but the whole thing is such a rollicking and humorous adventure that I just lap it all up.  I’ve read this one many, many times, but it’s lost none of its charm for me, and I’m still just a little bit in love with Sir Eustace.

Also, I’ve read this one before – here’s my review from 2016 with a smidge more information on the book!

The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle – 3.5*

//published 2018//

I’m sorry if I keep mentioning Litsy, but a lot of my reading activities are somewhat centered there now.  It’s just such a fun, warm community of readers!  Another Litten arranged a group she calls #NewYearWhoDis, where each participant lists out 3-10 of their top books of 2019.  The girl organizing the thing then took the time to sift through everyone’s lists and pair them together with like-minded readers.  The matches traded lists, agreeing to try at least one book from the other person’s list in January.  All that to say, I hadn’t heard of The Storm Keeper’s Island before I saw it on my match’s list.  It’s a middle grade fantasy read and was overall good fun, although there were some minor continuity problems (my favorite is where they’re outside in the middle of a horrific, rainy, windy storm yet somehow manage to light some candles with zero trouble…).  The main problem is that even though this book had a decent ending, there are a lot of lead-ins for the sequel, which my library doesn’t have!  So if any of you have some extra books in this series just lying about, I’d love to borrow them.  :-D

Off Planet // by Aileen Erin

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

//published 2019//

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June Minireviews – Part 1

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

The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

//published 2015//

I’ve seen this book pop up here and there on various lists and reviews.  A retelling of One Thousand and One Nights (ish), it’s set in a desert country where magic isn’t an impossibility, even if it isn’t terribly common.

I really wanted to like this book, but I honestly just found it rather boring.  The first half of the book is soooo slow.  Basically nothing happens except listening to Shahrzad have a lot of feelings.  She purposely becomes Khalid’s bride so she can get revenge on him because she hates him so much, but it takes her roughly .03 seconds to fall in love with him, and then we have PAGES of her agonizing about her feelings and wondering how she can have sympathy for this horrific monster.  I’m not a huge fan of instalove, but I can understand its sometimes necessity to make a story (kind of) work, but in this case it verged on the absurd.  I will say that what I did like was that eventually Shahrzad and Khalid have a REAL CONVERSATION where they both explain their back stories and are honest with each other, which I really, really appreciated because I HATE it when characters lie to this person they supposedly love more than life itself.  But that conversation happens way further down the line than it should have.

Initially I was still planning to read the second book just to see how everything comes out, but life interfered and it was a few days before I had an opportunity to pick it up.  That’s when I realized that I actually just didn’t care enough to plow through another 400 pages.  The Wrath & the Dawn wasn’t a bad book, and I think that if I had gone straight into the second book I would have probably enjoyed that at about that same middling level, but in the end I just wasn’t that intrigued.  There were things I liked about this book, but the overall incredibly slow pace combined with characters who pretty much do nothing but have a lot of feelings (we hear about Shahrzad’s the most, but they ALL have LOTS of feelings) meant that this was really only a 3/5 read for me.

The Man With Two Left Feet & Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1917//

Fun little collection of Wodehouse tales – and incidentally the first time that the Bertie/Jeeves duo makes an appearance.  While these were entertaining stories, it was interesting because they lack the guaranteed lightheartedness of his later works.  While they definitely aren’t downers by any definition, there are little things that made me realize just how careful Wodehouse was to keep his best works completely frothy and untouched by any sad realities!  While this may not be the best place to start if you are new to Wodehouse, they’re definitely worth visiting at some point.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

//published 1977//

It’s kind of weird, because I put books on my TBR and then forget about them for years, then my random number generator chooses my next book… and then it turns out that it’s becoming a movie??  This is the second time this has happened to me this year!  I had had Ready Player One on my TBR forever, and then after I read it I found out it was becoming a movie in less than a month.  (Side note: Still haven’t done a compare/contrast on book v. movie for that one even though I have been wanting to ever since I saw the movie!!)  The same thing happened here – I got this book out from the library (it’s been on the TBR since 2015), and then realized that I had seen a trailer for the upcoming movie.  So weird.

ANYWAY this book was a solid sci-fi read that I did mostly enjoy, but with kind of mixed feelings.  I think what it really came down to was that it was a sad book.  Everyone is so mean to Ender (“for the good of humanity”) and I never enjoy reading books where a character is just being consistently bullied and hurt.  There were also some random scenes of violence that seemed abrupt and disturbing to me.

I couldn’t quite get my head around the ages of these kids.  I realize that’s supposed to be part of the controversy, but seriously?  Six years old?  I just couldn’t buy it.  I think this story would have made a lot more sense if Ender had been more like ten when the story started.  I just can’t imagine even a mind-blowing genius six-year-old having the emotional capacity to make the decisions Ender was making.

All in all, this was a thoughtful book, with a lot to really chew on, but the tone was a bit too heavy/downer for my personal tastes, so even though I gave this book 4*, I decided not to continue with the series.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

//published 1998//

This was a childhood favorite that is still a delight.  If you’re looking for just a fun, fluffy little fairytale retelling, this one is a great afternoon read.  It’s a children’s book so it goes quickly, but despite its short(ish) length, there is still enough world-building to give the reader a solid glimpse into Ella’s life and home.  I hadn’t read this one in several years, and I was happy to see how well it has held up.

Ready Player One // by Ernest Cline

//published 2011//

Wade Watts is your typical high schooler.  He goes to school every day and attends classes, eats lunch, takes notes, and tries to avoid the bullies.  Except the year is 2044, and the school Wade attends is part of an online virtual reality called OASIS.

Basically everyone has an OASIS account and spends as much time there as possible, since the real world (of course) sucks.  I actually almost didn’t continue reading this book after having to sit through multiple pages of Wade explaining how God is a myth, people driving cars destroyed the entire earth, and Republicans ruined the economy.  Polemic much?  But I’m glad I stuck it out, because after we got done listening to Wade griping about how if only stupid conservatives had agreed to let the government force everyone to drive electric cars the world would be perfect, an actual story emerged and I was totally hooked.

The creator of OASIS, James Halliday, died five years before the story begins, and left behind his company and a ridiculous amount of money.  But instead of naming a specific person or entity to be his heir, he left behind a quest and a clue – and the person(s) to solve the quest would inherit everything.  Of course, this has led to all sorts of shenanigans and, among other things, created an entire huge group of people who do basically nothing except try to solve the first clue.  Wade is one of these people (“gunters”), albeit one who doesn’t feel like he has much chance of success.  He’s poor, which means he’s stuck on only a couple of the very basic planets in the OASIS with no opportunities to really get out and explore/hunt for the clue.

Halliday grew up in the 1980’s, and was obsessed with the stuff of his youth.  Many of his creations in OASIS reflect this, and most gunters believe that it’s super important to have a thorough working knowledge of all things 80’s culture.  This actually gave a really fun dimension to this book, with the futuristic virtual reality balanced with the retro 80’s tidbits.

Of course, it’s no real surprise when Wade has a bit break through in the quest, and things get crazy from there.  Although the quest is taking place in a virtual universe, there is a lot of real-life money on the line, and Wade soon finds himself a target to a big company that wants to win the quest so they can take over Halliday’s company, money, and OASIS.

One thing that was cracking me up when I was reading this was that Halliday grew up in Ohio, and eventually headquartered his company in our state capital, Columbus.  Hearing Columbus described as a “mecca of technology” totally made my day.

There were some things about this book that kept it from being perfect (beyond the preaching in the first chapter).  The pace definitely slowed in the middle, when a lot of the quest action was taking place separate from Wade (who is the narrator as well as the protagonist, so the story always stays with him) and Wade is busy dealing with romantic feelings (booooorrriinnnnggg).  The ending felt a little too simple/abrupt – an epilogue would have been really nice, to hear how some of the details got wrapped up.  Weirdly, I felt like the message wasn’t clear in this book.  I kind of assumed the Cline would be pointing out the importance of embracing real life, etc. – but that didn’t really come through.  In some ways, he seemed to act like a virtual future is the only bright one we have.

But all in all, this book was just a fun ride.  I was completely glued to the pages, and could hardly read fast enough in some places.  I really liked Wade a lot.  It seemed like although there tons of references to video games/movies/music/1980’s, it didn’t interfere with the plot, and didn’t deter me from enjoying the book even when it was something I had never heard of.  I felt like Wade did a good job describing what I needed to know in order to understand the next part of the story, but without slowing down the plot.  It was just a fun rollick of a read, and I intend both to add this one to my permanent collection, and to check out more of Cline’s work.  4/5 and recommended.

PS I originally read about this book many moons ago when Sophie reviewed it.  Check out her review here!

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.

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.

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

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

thehouseofthescorpion

//published 2002//

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

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

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

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

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

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//published 2013//

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

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

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

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

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