December Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  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.

Album of Horses by Marguerite Henry

//published 1951//

This is an easy 4/5 read, and a childhood favorite – it just isn’t very long, so I don’t have a lot to say about it.  It’s an oversized book full of gorgeous illustrations by my fave, Wesley Dennis.  Each chapter is about a different breed of horse.  I love how Henry usually manages to tell a little story or anecdote about each breed.  She even says in the afterword that writing this book inspired her to write several of her other stories, because the little mini-story she was writing in Album just got way too involved and interesting!  If you have a young horse lover in your life, this is a perfect gift book.  The illustrations are amazing, and it’s just the right amount of information to get them going.

I will say that, rereading as an adult, I was intrigued by how some of the chapters did actually feel dated.  Album was published in 1951, and she says things about various draft horses still being used to plow fields, which was in fact still happening in the 1940’s, but has disappeared pretty much completely almost 70 years later.  However, rather than detracting from the book, I felt that it gave it even more charm!

Bronco Charlie by Henry Larom

//published 1951//

This children’s book is about a boy who becomes the youngest rider ever for the Pony Express.  It seems like a completely improbable tale, but I looked it up, and most of it is actually true!  I picked this up at a booksale eons ago, but hadn’t read it in years.  Of course, I was attracted to it because of the illustrations…  by Wesley Dennis!  Have I mentioned that he was an artistic genius??  :-D  In all seriousness, his pencil drawings really do add so much to this story, and made me want to saddle up right along with Charlie.  This is an adorable story, and definitely deserves a slot on the children’s bookshelves here at my house.

A Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer

//published 1972//

Another 4/5 read – the perfect combination of fun, frothy, and witty that Heyer always presents, even if it is in a rather predictable pattern!

November 9 by Colleen Hoover

//published 2015//

I’ve never actually read a book by Hoover before, but Stephanie mentioned reading this one a while back, so I thought maybe it would be a good place to start.  In this story, Fallon meets Ben right before she moves from California to New York.  They have an instantaneous connection, but Fallon doesn’t want to start a relationship at that moment.  Instead, they agree to meet on November 9 for the next five years, but to have no contact with each other – not even through social media – in between.

This book has a fun concept and I did enjoy it for the most part, but it began to feel kind of same-y, since we only get the story on November 9 each year – nothing in between.  Fallon and Ben are super insta-love-y, which I would have been okay with, except it began to translate into the sexual, so now the November 9 dates not only don’t have a lot of story, they do have a decent amount of sex, which also felt kind of weird since they don’t actually know each other all that well.  There was also a decent amount of swearing, and there is nothing like a string of completely unnecessary f-bombs to put me off a book.

Part of the problem was that I never liked Ben, like not even a little. I thought he was obnoxious and pushy and kind of a creeper. And while I did think the twist was clever, it didn’t really make me like Ben even more. He’s still kind of a self-centered whiner.

I did like the ending and felt like things came together well, and I really did want to see how things turned out, but overall I felt pretty meh about the whole book, and not particularly inspired to look up more of Hoover’s works.

The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne

//published 2005//

This story is about a woman who opens an agency that helps men get their lives together – she’ll help them shop for the right clothes, purchase nice gifts for people, redecorate their apartments, etc.  She’ll also provide herself as a date to various events where a plus one is needed – basically, she’ll help you with girlfriend stuff – but “no laundry, no sex.”  I really liked this concept and thought that this book would be about Melissa having various misadventures helping befuddled bachelors.  But this book turned out to be surprisingly boring.  Melissa aggravated me to no end, with her complete lack of self-confidence and the way she always knuckled under to her dad.  Her relationship with her long-time friend/flatmate (who is a guy) seemed extremely weird and confusing to me, especially since she was supposedly falling in love with this other guy.  Her dad was so horrifically obnoxious that I could hardly stand reading the scenes where she had to deal with him.  I was also confused about how Melissa was supposedly starting her own business but seemed to have no concept of how much money she had/was making/was spending…  I feel like I keep better records for my small, part-time Etsy shop than Melissa was keeping for a business that is supposedly becoming her livelihood.

I will say that I appreciated the lack of sex in this book.  While there were some romantic scenes, there was no shagging, and Melissa doesn’t sleep with anyone for the entirety of the book!  This was so refreshing and made me frustrated that I didn’t enjoy the book more overall.

The biggest problem was that this book wasn’t remotely funny.  There weren’t any humorous scenes at all, and there was so much potential!  Instead, it was basically just listening to Melissa waffle around and be stressed, which got kind of old after a while.  The next biggest problem was that there was not a single happily married person in the entire story.  Everyone who was married was miserable.  And I honestly didn’t feel like Melissa’s guy was going to make her happy, either.  It really put a damper on the overall tone of the book.

In short, this book didn’t make me feel happy to read, which is the whole purpose of chick lit.  It honestly made me feel low-grade stressed because I disagreed with so many of Melissa’s decisions.  And without anything funny to leaven the story, it just sort of dragged on with an overall dark gray tone to life.  3/5 for being fairly readable, but not particularly recommend.  At least I can mark this series off the TBR without bothering to read the other two books.

The Man Upstairs & Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1914//

Honestly, this was my least-favorite collection of Wodehouse stories that I’ve read to date.  While they weren’t terrible, they really lacked that sparkle and wit that I think of as trademark Wodehouse.  If I hadn’t known that these were Wodehouse stories, I wouldn’t have guessed it.  They were just rather flat, several with abrupt endings.  Not terrible for a one-time read, but rather disappointing on the whole, as I’ve come to expect more from Wodehouse, even with his earlier works.

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The Burnaby Series // by Anne Emery

  • Senior Year
  • Going Steady
  • Sorority Girl
  • High Note, Low Note
  • Campus Melody

These are happy if somewhat unexciting books published back in the 1950’s by my old favorite Scholastic Book Service.  I can’t tell you how many of those 1950’s Scholastic paperbacks I have picked up for a dime at various book sales and garage sales, basically guaranteed to be good for at least one read.

And now I own even more because I only started with two of these books and ended up buying the other three on eBay.  :-D  (Because yes, my quest to read all of my own books sometimes involves needing to buy more books to accomplish this…)

//published 1949//

Senior Year focuses on Sally Burnaby, the oldest of five children, who is – you guessed it – a high school senior.  She’s excited about this final year of high school because she has a great life and figures that this grand finale will be even better.  She’s anticipating a year of fun and frolic, and also looking forward to going away to college – getting out of the house and away from the family for the first time.  Of course, not all is a bed of roses.  Sally’s best friend from childhood has received a special gift from an elderly relative and spending their senior year away at a boarding school, leaving Sally – who is something of a follower – feeling a bit adrift.  Her other best friend/long-time date/neighbor, Scotty, suddenly doesn’t seem as interested in escorting Sally on dates anymore, maybe because Sally has suddenly started thinking that going steady with Scotty might be nice.

I was honestly surprised at the casual way in which Emery approached some more difficult subjects.  Modern writers and readers frequently dismiss these older books as no longer relevant, because apparently everyone in the 50’s lived in a Leave It to Beaver sort of dream world.  But despite the fact that the Burnabys are a close-knit and happy family with two parents who love each other very much, and a mother who doesn’t work outside the home, the challenges and struggles that Sally face seemed quite modern to me.  She struggles with disagreeing with her parents on how she should be living her life and spending her time, struggling with that strange moment in time where you are still under your parents’ authority but are starting to become an adult, struggles with friends who are drinking and becoming more sexually involved than Sally was comfortable with (not in an explicit way, but being explicit isn’t actually necessary).  She struggles to find her true self, to understand what is really important in a friend, and learn whether it’s worth sacrificing standards just to avoid being single.

//published 1950//

In short, I really enjoyed watching Sally’s character develop and grow, which carried over in Going Steady.  In this book, Sally and Scotty decide to become a couple during the summer after they graduated from high school.  They have been good friends their entire lives, and this feels like the natural next step.  This book got a little too much about Scotty and felt repetitive at times, but still felt honest nonetheless.  I really loved one section of the book where one of Sally’s high school friends has gotten married right away, and then got pregnant right away.  At this point in time, Sally and Scotty are feeling rebellious because their families think they are moving too fast, and they have also decided to get married.  When they go to visit Sally’s newlywed friends, however, they recognize the wisdom of a lot of what their parents have had to say about the financial struggles of getting married so soon and other difficulties that really only work if you have a genuine foundation of lasting love – which Scotty and Sally are starting to realize they don’t actually have.

This was such an intriguing book to me because, in the end, the guy doesn’t get the girl – the girl gets single and realizes how happy she can be that way.  It wasn’t in this crazy feminist “a girl never needs a man” kind of way.  Instead, this book was really about how love works best when it happens at the right time instead of being rushed.  It wasn’t the right time for Sally and Scotty, and when they realized that, they were able to look to their futures in a more healthy, happy way.  Throughout the story, Sally had clung to her relationship with Scotty because being single seemed like such a terrible fate.  But int he end I love that she decides that it’s time “to be the kind of person who could have fun without a man.”  Not because relationships are inherently bad, but because being in one with the wrong person just so you aren’t alone is.

//published 1952//

The next three book focus on Sally’s sister, Jean, who is two years younger.  I was a little sad to leave Sally behind, but Jean is also a likable individual who had shown up quite a bit during the first two books.  Sorority Girl opens during Jean’s junior year of high school, right after the ending of Going Steady.  Sally is now attending their local college (where their father is a professor), so we do see her here and there, along with her new boyfriend, who is just adorable.  Throughout the first two books, Jean began hanging out with Jeff, who is her regular escort to various events, but not her official boyfriend.  They’re very close, though.  In the background of Sally’s books, Jean was finding her feet and becoming more outgoing, and is now thoroughly involved in high school activities with a close circle of friends.

I appreciated that Jean is really quite a different character from Sally.  Sally is quieter and follower who had to learn how to make her own way.  Jean is more outgoing and fun, and also more dependent on having people like her.  She’s very musical and is starting to think that she may be able to make a career of playing the piano.

However, things change when she is approached by the members of the high school sorority.  Technically, groups and clubs that “seeks to perpetuate itself by taking on its members on the basis of personal preference of its membership, rather than upon the stated qualifications for membership.”  But some allowances are made in a sort of “we pretend we don’t notice” kind of way, for two sororities and two fraternities.  Jeans adventures with becoming and joining the Nightingales were quite interesting to me.  Watching Jean get caught up in the “honor” of becoming part of an exclusive group, and then watching her realize that this mean also excluding people she likes and admires, was insightful.  There was a lot to learn from this book, and I appreciated that Jean didn’t just magically wake up perfect, but really wrestled – not just with figuring out what was the right thing to do, but then actually doing that right thing even after she knew what it was.

//published 1954//

High Note, Low Note follows Jean through her senior year.  She and Jeff are going steady, and both are looking to the future.  However, Jean feels uncomfortable because Jeff is a lot more serious about their future being together than she is.  This one was a little too much about boys to be as enjoyable as some of the others, but still read well.

//published 1955//

Finally, Campus Melody follows Jean to her freshman year at college, where she is attending on a music scholarship.  This was a good book about that initial adjustment to living away from home – away from that support system that you almost don’t even realize is guiding you throughout your teen years.  Jean makes some rather poor decisions and learns from them, especially involving a popular senior on campus who starts dating her.

I think the only thing that disappointed me in this book was the ending, which I felt like was a bit of a cop-out and didn’t actually fit with all the lessons Jean had been learning throughout the story.  However, it did mean that everything tied together neatly, so I was willing to forgive it a bit.

All in all, this review has been a lot longer and more rambly than I anticipated, but I really did enjoy this little series.  They weren’t ground-breaking books, but they were pleasant and engaging reads.  At my age, I think what I actually enjoyed the most were the parenting techniques of Mr. and Mrs. Burnaby, who were really fantastic background characters with a lot to offer.

One note – for some reason Goodreads does not have this series listed in the proper order.  Instead, they list Sorority Girl as book #5, when, by both publishing date and chronologically to the overall story, it is obviously #3.  Reading books in their proper order is extremely important to me, so I found that bit of misinformation to be quite aggravating.

Most of these books were a 3-4/5 for me, and I think the series as a whole is a 3.5/5.  While they aren’t ground-breaking literature, and could be a bit repetitive in parts, I think they have just as much to offer in terms of life-lessons and pleasurable reading as 85% of contemporary YA – and all without the sex, swearing, and divorce!

The Giver Quartet // by Lois Lowry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November Minireviews

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

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

//published 2016//

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

//published 2017//

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

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

Cinchfoot by Thomas Hinkle

//published 1938//

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

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater

//published 1979//

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

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

//published 1946//

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

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

//published 2017//

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

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

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

The Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner by Ann Larkin Hansen

//published 2017//

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

The Little Nugget by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1913//

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

The Jackaby Quartet // by William Ritter

//published 2017//

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

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

More thoughts below with mild spoilers…

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

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

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

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

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

The Night Circus // by Erin Morgenstern

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

//published 2011//

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soulfinders Trilogy // by Maria V. Snyder

  • Shadow Study
  • Night Study
  • Dawn Study

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

//published 2015//

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

//published 2016//

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

//published 2017//

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

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

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

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

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

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