Timeless Fairy Tale Series // by K.M. Shea

(Edit:  Apparently, I forgot to review one of the book when I initially posted this!  Whoops!)

This series of fairy tale retellings currently includes ten different titles.  I’m hoping that we get at least one more – while these books do read individually for the most part, there are definitely threads that weave through them all, and we didn’t quite get the conclusion to that big story that I was hoping for.  But Shea is still an active author, so there’s a good chance that another book is in the works.  Currently, the series runs as follows:

  • Beauty and the Beast (2013)
  • The Wild Swans (2014)
  • Cinderella and the Colonel (2014)
  • Rumpelstiltskin (2014)
  • The Little Selkie (2015)
  • Puss in Boots (2015)
  • Swan Lake (2016)
  • Sleeping Beauty (2016)
  • The Frog Prince (2017)
  • The Twelve Dancing Princesses (2018)

The series had a lot of ups and downs, but on the whole were basically 3-4* reads.  At their best, the books are funny with engaging characters and interesting interpretations of classic fairy tales.  At their worst, they’re unnecessarily complicated with characters who act unnaturally to forward the story.  One thing that I really loved about the series as a whole is that Shea has created an entire continent of countries where all of these stories are taking place, and most of them happen in a country that is somewhat similar to the country where the fairy tale originated.  This added another level to the interest of what was going on.

Below, some brief thoughts on each book –

Beauty and the Beast

3.5/5.  An enjoyable retelling with likable main characters.  The lack of backstory for Ellie made it difficult to get to know her or to understand her attitude.  There were also rather muddled motivations concerning why anyone would particularly want to kill the beast.  Still, I loved the relationship between Ellie and Severin, and the overall introduction into this world.

The Wild Swans

3/5.  Not a bad story, but a VERY bad love triangle that just got progressively worse before ending with a “pick your own” conclusion?!  This story had a lot going for it, but the love triangle aggravated me so much that I could barely give it 3*.

Cinderella and the Colonel

4/5.  Possibly my favorite out of the whole series.  I absolutely loved Cinderella and also loved the Colonel.  I loved their relationship and everything else that was going on.  There was a lot going on with the political situation in this story, which sounds boring but actually added a lot more depth.

Rumpelstiltskin

3.5/5.  I really loved Rumpelstiltskin himself, but Gemma got on my nerves.  Few things are as annoying as listening to someone go on and on and ON about how unworthy and unimportant they are – it got to a point where it basically sounded like she was bragging about how humble she was.  However, there was a lot about this story that I really liked, especially seeing some loose ends get tied up that were left behind from The Wild Swans.

The Little Selkie

3/5.  One of my least favorites from the series.  There was a lot of fun potential here by taking The Little Mermaid and making the main character a selkie instead.  But sadly, this story was just plain boring.  Absolutely nothing happened for huge swaths of time except for Dylan (which is definitely a boy’s name in my mind, which added to my low-grade annoyance throughout) wandering around eating.  Like 25% of this book was describing Dylan eating.  We get it.  She likes to eat.  Move on.  Also, Dylan is supposedly the captive of this other guy, but… he just leaves her to wander around loose?  And even though she can’t talk, she can write things down and communicate that way, so it seemed extremely strange that he just let her do whatever she wanted.  This was definitely a book where a lot of characters had to act weirdly in order to make the story work, and that always annoys me.  It meant that I felt like every single character of this book was a bit slow in the head.

Puss in Boots 

4/5.  This one was a little confusing because it went back in time (compared to the other books) and then forward in time.  But it was overall just a super fun story, and mostly got a 4* rating because Puss is hilarious and legit says all the things I would expect a cat to say the entire time.

Swan Lake

3.5/5.  There was a lot of fun with this one – I really liked Odette and her whole gang of people.  The whole top-secret thing she was smuggling definitely dragged on too long, but there were other fun bits to make up for it.

Sleeping Beauty

3/5.  Probably  my least favorite of the whole series, and almost a 2/5.  I literally wanted to strange the “hero” Isaia, who kept acting like his selfishness and self-centeredness was all about Briar and protecting her when it wasn’t, it was just about him and his poor little feelings.  A lot of what happened in this book felt extremely contrived so that it would fit into the overall timeline for the series, and it made the whole story awkward.  I just couldn’t understand how Isaia could go on and on about how he was “respecting Briar’s wishes” when she literally came to him and said, “I’m about to fall asleep; I love you; please come kiss me ASAP because the SAFETY OF THE WORLD LITERALLY DEPENDS ON IT.”  And then he just sits around FOR A YEAR bemoaning the fact that he has to sit around because he’s “protecting Briar.”  Give me a break.  I may have been able to get past it, but Briar also annoyed me a LOT.  Basically everyone in this story needed to take a class on basic interpersonal communications.  For instance, I had to listen to things like “Briar winced when her mother called her Rosalinda…” like fifty times, but Briar never says, “Mother, while Rosalinda is a beautiful name, it just doesn’t feel like my name.  Do you think you could call me Briar Rose as a compromise?”  Instead, she just expected everyone to magically know how she felt about everything, and then spent a lot of time bravely working through her hurt feelings when they didn’t.  Also, her grandpa made zero sense.

The Frog Prince

3.5/5.  This book definitely felt like it was more about the big series story than it was about the smaller book story.  The book story was okay, but the interesting part of this one was the series story progress.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses

3.5/5.  While there were several moments where it felt like Shea was making things unnecessarily complicated, I overall really liked this story a lot, mainly because I loved the elf king.  There were a lot of fun moments between the two main characters, and I totally shipped them more than almost any other pair (except maybe Cinderella and the Colonel).

*****

So all in all, a bit of a mixed bag.  At the end of the day, I do recommend these books if you are looking for some relaxing fairy tale retellings, but they lack the depth to make them genuinely magical reads.  It really felt like the entire series needed another round of strong editing to help make everything consistent throughout.  Still, there were plenty of fun and funny  moments and a lot of very likable characters.  I’ll definitely be watching to see if Shea finishes this series, as there are still some loose ends to tie up.

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The Perfectionists // The Good Girls // by Sara Shepard

//published 2014//

This was my first foray into Shepard’s writing, and also my first experience with this sort of evil YA girls that seems to be a theme nowadays.  But sometimes it’s fun to read something on the edges of where you’re comfortable, and that’s where The Perfectionists was for me.  Even a quarter of a way into the book I wasn’t completely sure that it was for me, despite the immediate action and intensity.  But the further I went, the more hooked I was, and by the end of The Perfectionists I was racing through the pages – and leaped into The Good Girls as soon as I could!

The first book starts with a murder, and the entire premise of the book is centered around the question of whether or not this group of girls killed their classmate, Nolan.  There were five main characters in this book:  Mackenzie, Ava, Caitlin, Julie, and Parker.  It seemed like it should have been confusing, but it really wasn’t, especially since the story was told in third person (past tense! Yay!), which I think always helps – nothing is more confusing than multiple first-person perspectives that all sound the same.  The third-person narrative means that we get to hear the girls’ thoughts and worries, and also get glimpses of other action taking place elsewhere.

The girls manage to be different without being too cliche.  They all attend a “rich kids” school in a Seattle suburb, so at some level are struggling with stereotypical first-world problems, like whether or not Mackenzie is going to get into Julliard and if Caitlin is going to land a soccer scholarship.  But as I got to know the girls better, they had other, deeper problems that were more relatable to not-rich people – one of the girls is struggling with the recent death of a close family member, another is unsure if her long-time boyfriend is still the right person for her, while one has a home life she is desperate to keep hidden from all of her classmates.  Slowly, motives and issues are revealed, and I genuinely had no idea whether or not the girls – or one of them – had killed Nolan.  I had my own personal idea that was proven wrong (and so was idea #2).  The twists never felt contrived, and the information was revealed at a nearly perfect pace.

The ending of The Perfectionists was such a cliffhanger that I honestly knocked it a bit on the rating because of it.  If The Good Girls hadn’t already been published and sitting on my shelf, I would have been pretty genuinely enraged.  Like many duologies, these aren’t two separate stories – they’re two volumes of one story, and I think that publishers need to make that more clear.  For instance, while the cover of The Good Girls says that it’s the sequel to The Perfectionists, I honestly don’t think it would even make sense if you hadn’t read the first book first.

However, I didn’t have to worry about any of that, because I had The Good Girls already checked out the library, thanks to my obsessive insistence on reading all series in order, and I was SO glad!  The Perfectionists ended with another murder, so just when I thought the girls were in the clear, they’re back on the hook for possibly both murders.  These books were kind of interesting because at no point do we get to see how the official investigation is going, or learn any of the clues being discovered and analyzed by the police.  The story focuses entirely on the girls, and I wasn’t completely sure that I could trust any of them!

When I initially read and rated The Perfectionists I only gave it 3.5 stars, partially because of the cliffhanger ending, and also partially because literally every male character in the book was a total jerk – like EVERY SINGLE ONE.  However, several of those characters were redeemed in the second book/had their actual actions and motivations revealed so it turns out they weren’t all jerks, and that was nice.  I was honestly a bit annoyed when I got to the end of The Perfectionists – like are there no decent males left in the world?!  But Shepard did a really good job bringing some of those stories back around to make sense of those secondary characters’ actions, and that helped a lot.

//published 2015//

The Good Girls was incredibly satisfying.  I couldn’t believe how well Shepard brought everything together, and I really, really appreciated the way that she wrapped up a lot of the storylines.  Not everyone got a neat and tidy ending, but they did at least get endings, which is what I want from my fiction.

Usually I don’t really care if I know spoilery kinds of things about books, but in this case I accidentally read a spoiler (my fault, it was clearly marked… I just thought it was going to be a spoiler for another part of the story…) that was for THE big twist in this story.  And while at some level it allowed my mind to be blown while reading the way Shepard was setting everything up, part of me is really sad that I couldn’t enjoy the shock at its full value.  So my advice is – don’t read the spoilers on this one.  For real.

Overall, 4/5 for this pair of books.  There were a few things that kept it from being a full 5* read – the biggest one was a teacher having sexual relationships with students.  And while it wasn’t presented as a positive thing at all, it was kind of presented as just “one of those things” that happen/no actual adults seemed to take it seriously.  I felt like if I was reading this as a young adult and was in a situation like this or knew someone who was, the way it was handled in this book would make me think that it was pointless to bother going to someone in authority about it, because at best nothing would happen and at worst I would be made fun of and not believed.  It felt like that could have been handled better, and it’s kind of a serious topic.

And I realize that this is a personal and nit-picky thing, but a big part of this book is that the girls watched And Then There Were None for their film class, and like that’s a huge part of this book’s plot, and yet Agatha Christie wasn’t mentioned a single time!  I realize they watched the movie and didn’t read the book, but it still felt like Christie should have at least have gotten a nod for creating that incredibly crafty plot, which, in a lot of ways, Shephard built on.

Still, I definitely recommend these books.  I first saw them reviewed over on Heart Full of Books (The Perfectionists and The Good Girls), and their biggest complaint was a similarity between the characters in these books and characters in Shepard’s other book, Pretty Little Liars.  I’ve never read PLL, so I didn’t have that issue, but it was a theme I saw echoed in some of the Goodreads reviews of these books as well.  So maybe these won’t be as good if you’ve read some of Shepard’s other books, but if you haven’t – these are definitely worth the read.

March Minireviews – Part 3

Still not feeling the whole blogging thing, so here are some more notes on recent reads.  Part 1 for March can be found here, and Part 2 can be found here.

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

//published 2012//

I honestly have a lot of mixed feelings about this book.  It was definitely more horror than fantasy, which I wasn’t exactly expecting.  However, it’s still a children’s book so while it was more gruesome than I personally prefer, I personally prefer the most minimal amount of gruesomeness possible, so I may not be an accurate judge.  I think part of my issue with this book was that the central theme seemed to be that the pursuit of perfection is inherently bad, but I’m not sure I agree with that.  If the pursuit of perfection is an obsession that causes you to be cruel or harsh to those around you, then it’s bad.  But I’m honestly a little distressed by a recent trend that I see of taking the “you are wonderful just as you are” to a level that turns it into “you are wonderful just as you are, so don’t bother trying to be better,” and I am not convinced that that’s healthy.

ANYWAY philosophical questions aside, the story itself was engaging from the beginning, although it was slow in spots and had an intriguingly ambiguous ending.  At the end of the day a 3.5/5, and still not completely sure if I would purposely seek out another book by Legrand or not…

I originally added this book thanks to a review by The Literary Sisters, so check their review out for a more overall positive vibe!

The Patmos Deception by Davis Bunn

//published 2014//

I read another of Bunn’s books not long ago and found it interesting enough that I thought I would give another of his titles a go.  However, The Patmos Deception ended up as an incredibly bland read to me.  The book was very slow in spots and had this strange love triangle that made almost no sense.  Everything fell into place exactly when and how it needed to, and consequently the ending felt unrealistically tidy.  The epilogue was completely pointless, leaving everything even more open-ended than before (including the love triangle).  The plot was disjointed and rather directionless, with smuggling, counterfeiters, stolen artifacts, and a potentially world-changing ancient scroll all muddled together with the economy crash in Greece.  While it earned a 3/5 from me for moments of interest, it definitely wasn’t a book that made me want to find another of Bunn’s works.

Uneasy Money by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1917//

I was completely in love with the simplehearted Bill, who just wanted everyone to get along.  This was an easy 4.5/5 – not quite as perfectly funny as some of Wodehouse’s other stories, but still an absolute delight.

Adorkable by Cookie O’Gorman

//published 2016//

This story was a lot of fun, and I always like a good fake relationship trope, especially since Sally and Becks have been friends for so long.  However, Sally’s mom and Sally’s best friend were so obsessed with Sally having a boyfriend that it honestly kind of weirded me out, and I found it really frustrating that they acted like there was something wrong with Sally because she didn’t really want a relationship right then.  Not having a significant other should never be portrayed as meaning you are a less valuable person, especially in high school where I think serious romantic relationships are basically a waste of time and energy anyway.  So even though the romance bit was adorable and fun, I never actually felt like things changed with Sally’s mom and best friend – like it still felt like every time Sally was single in her life, they were going to be hounding her about it, and that was aggravating.

There was also this weird thing about Sally’s dad – like I don’t even know why he was in the story??  She hates him and apparently he’s a jerk, but she never spends any time with him and her parents have been divorced since she was really little, so that felt kind of arbitrary, like the only version of her dad that she has is the one her (presumably somewhat bitter) mother has given her.  I just didn’t get why he was there, he would just pop up every once in a while so Sally could be angsty about him, and then he would leave, and it was kind of pointless.

Even though I’m complaining (like usual) I actually did overall enjoy this story.  While I don’t see myself going out and hunting down more books by O’Gorman, I wouldn’t mind reading one if it came my way.  I originally added this book because of a review by Stephanie, but I have to say that she also felt pretty lukewarm about Sally’s best friend!

Sing by Vivi Greene

//published 2016//

I got this book in a subscription box, and it was so fluffy and devoid of any deep thought that it almost gave me a cavity just reading it.  It wasn’t a bad book, but it definitely was another one that emphasized that necessity of romance in order to make life worth living.  Lily’s character just didn’t really grow or change, and the whole story felt kind of stagnant.  It did have it’s funny, sweet moments and I didn’t hate it, but it’s not one that I’m keeping for my permanent collection.

March MiniReviews – Part 2

Still not feeling the whole blogging thing, so here are some more notes on recent reads.  Part 1 for March can be found here.

The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

//published 1872 & 1883//

These are a pair of adorable little stories that follow the very traditional fairy tale format of the good being very good and the bad being very bad.  That said, I still quite enjoyed them, especially The Princess and the Goblin.  There is a lot of adventure here and some fun characters, even if the ending of the second book was a bit abrupt.

I also didn’t realize that these books were so old, because the edition I have is both stories in one volume, which was published around 1970.  But it turns out that the original stories are from the late 1800’s!

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

//published 2007//

This is technically a standalone novel, but I was quite excited to see my old friend Vincent Ruiz from the Joseph O’Laughlin series make an appearance.  Actually, Ruiz is what kept me reading a lot of this book as it didn’t always completely engross me.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get into the sense of urgency, and I didn’t really like Ali all that well.  Also, Ali has been dating a guy named Dave for quite some time when this book opens, and we continue to see a decent amount of him throughout the story.  But Ali tells us when we first meet him that his nickname is “New Boy” Dave (just like that, with quotations around “New Boy”)… and then proceeds to constantly refer to him as “New Boy” Dave for the entire rest of the book.  I can’t explain why this annoyed me, but it did.  Seriously, does Ali always think of this guy she is really serious about dating/is sleeping with/considering marrying as “New Boy” Dave??  It was SO annoying.   I decided to stop by and talk with “New Boy” Dave on my way home.  What.  Even.

Anyway, the story itself was fine.  I feel like it’s really difficult to write a book about immigrants/refugees without becoming somewhat polemic, and because it is such a complicated and nuanced topic, I don’t always appreciate reading books that turn it into something incredibly simplistic (e.g., all immigrants are precious innocents and if you don’t agree it’s because you are a money-grubbing fat cat), but this book handled the topic fairly well.  All in all, a decent read that I did enjoy, but not as much as some of Robotham’s other books.  3.5/5.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

//published 2001//

Velde introduces her slim volume of short stories by outlining what she perceives as the big issues with the classic fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin:  basically, it doesn’t make any sense.  But she then presents five alternative retellings that help make a nonsensical story feel at least slightly more plausible (at least in worlds with fairies and magic).  While nothing earth-shattering, they were fun stories and a quick, entertaining read.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

//published 1978//

This is an old favorite of mine that I have reread many times over the year.  It’s such a fun retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  A lot of reviewers complain that it’s too slow and that too much time is spent on Beauty’s life before she meets the Beast, but that’s actually the part of this story that I love.  In this version, Beauty’s family is so kind and happy that I would have been perfectly content to spend the entire story just hanging out with them while they adjusted to their new life.  My only real beef with this version is that Beauty spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how plain she is, how ugly, how physically unappealing, etc.  I get really tired of listening to her run herself down, when it’s quite obvious that she just isn’t as stunningly beautiful as her older sisters – probably because she is only fifteen when the book starts and they are in their early 20’s.  Other than that, though, this is a really fun and engaging story, and even if it isn’t action-packed, it has a lot of characters that I love.  4/5.

Rescue Dog of the High Pass by Jim Kjelgaard

//published 1958//

This is one of the rare Kjelgaard books that I didn’t devour as a child, probably because the library didn’t have it.  Recently I acquired it as a free Kindle book, and while it wasn’t my new favorite, it was still an interesting story about Kjelgaard’s theory of the origin of the St. Bernard dogs (an event that is actually lost in the mists of time), which of course involves a young hero and his faithful canine companion.  Nothing amazing here, but an enjoying and interesting little story that I would sometime like to land a hard copy of for my permanent collection.

March Minireviews – Part 1

I have had just zero inspiration for blogging lately.  These anti-blogging moods come on me from time to time, and no longer really fuss me, as I know the urge will return at some point.  In the meantime, I’ve still been reading aplenty, so I thought I would at least share a few notes on some of my recent reads…

Tulipomania by Mike Dash

//published 1999//

I love reading nonfiction on random topics, and doesn’t get much more random than the tulip boom (and bust) of the 1630’s.  Dash does an excellent job painting a picture of the times, and I was honestly intrigued by what was going to happen next.  I couldn’t get over how crazy the entire boom was, with people buying, selling, and trading bulbs – bulbs!  You can’t even tell if they are really what the seller says they are!  Can you imagine paying more than a year’s worth of wages for one??

This book definitely needed pictures – I had to keep stopping to look up different styles/types/varieties of tulips (most of which no longer exist).  Charts and graphs would have been awesome as well, and could have definitely bumped this book a half star.  Dash also had a tendency to sometimes go off onto rambling trails to Nowhereville, but on the whole usually brought it back around to something at least moderately relevant.  On the whole, a 4/5 for this one, and recommended.  It also made me want to plant some tulips.  I feel like I have really underappreciated them up to this point.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

//published 2011//

This was one of those books that I wanted to like more than I did.  While it was creative and not a bad story, it just didn’t have magic.  And despite all the adventuring in the middle bits, in the end it felt like everyone just ended up back where they started, instead of their being some kind of growth.  In the end, 3.5/5 for an alright but rather bland fairy tale.  However, I will say that I originally added to this to the TBR after reading a review over at Tales of the Marvelous, so be sure to check that out for a perspective that found this book more engaging than I did!

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

//published 2016//

This book totally had me glued to the pages when I was reading it, despite the fact that I found Zoe to be rather annoying, and Simon even more so.  (Maybe I found Zoe annoying because she was with Simon?  He just seemed like such a tool!  And her ex-husband was a sweetheart.  I was confused by the creation of a very nice character who is still in love with his ex-wife… but who cheated on her??  The pieces of Matt’s character didn’t always fit together for me.)  I enjoyed having a first-person narration and also a third-person narration instead of all first person, which I think can frequently start sounding very same-y.  I’m sticking with 4/5 for this one because I couldn’t 100% get behind the conclusion – it was like Mackintosh took the twists to one more level, and I couldn’t quite follow her there, so I felt like the conclusion was just barely in the plausible realm, although other people seem to disagree with me, so it’s possible that I just have a different perspective of human character haha Anyway, this one was definitely worth a read and I’m looking forward to reading some more of Mackintosh’s writing soon!

NB: I would 100% be behind another story with Kelly and Nick!

I feel like this book was reviewed by just about everyone when it was first published!  For some other great reviews, check out Stephanie’s Book Reviews, Reading, Writing and Riesling, Cleopatra Loves Books, Chrissi Reads, Bibliobeth, and Fictionophile!

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

//published 1877//

This is a definite childhood classic for me.  I was very much into horses as a girl, and still own multiple copies of Black Beauty, each with its own style of illustrations and binding.  My favorite for reading is still the small Scholastic Book Club paperback.  It’s illustrated with line drawings, but doesn’t say who drew them!  I’ve had this particular copy since I was about ten, and have read it many times.  However, it had been several years since I had pulled it out.  I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, although as a more pessimistic adult, I find the ending not as confidently positive as I did as a youngster – after multiple times a sudden change in the life of Beauty’s owners leading to his being reluctantly sold, I was necessarily confident that the same wouldn’t happen again in his retirement.  What a grump I’ve turned out to be!

Of course, the story is quite polemic in nature – Sewell’s entire goal was to expose many of the everyday cruelties endured by horses and other animals (and people) with no one to speak for them.  But everything is presented in such a gentle and loving way that it’s hard to take offense.  It’s just many little stories that collectively remind readers that the power to make the world a better place is within everyone’s grasp, if they are willing to step forward and do their small part.

Despite the fact that much of the tale is a bit out of date as far as societal issues go (I don’t really remember the last time I saw someone forcing a horse to draw a heavy load uphill while using the bearing rein), the overall lessons of kindness, generosity, and always looking out for those who are weaker than you are timeless.

This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills

//published 2016//

It’s really hard when I don’t feel like writing serious reviews, but then read a book that I really like a lot, and this one definitely falls into that category.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve read about a group of friends that I liked as well as I did Sloane and her group.  Despite the fact that there wasn’t this big urgent plot, this was the book I kept wanting to come back to, just so I could see what snarky adventures everyone was going to have next.  I realized when I was finished that one of the big reasons that I enjoyed this book so much is that it is way more about friendship and the importance of having a core group of good friends that you can really trust than it is about romance and falling in love.  The love story was really a small side issue to the main thrust of the story.

This wasn’t a perfect read for me.  It felt like it took way too long for Sloane to “get” that she part of the group, and what that meant she needed to do.  I really liked Sloane’s dad and her relationship with him, but I definitely needed more of Sloane’s mom – she only appears a few times, so she just kind of comes across as this weird grumpy person in the background.  I personally thought a lot of the things she was grumpy about were justifiable, but she never really gets an opportunity to explain her point of view of their family issues, so in the end the entire relationship between Sloane’s parent is still really ambiguous, which detracted from the overall story for me.

But I legit could read like five more books about this gang of friends.  I so enjoyed their banter and loyalty.  I also loved reading a story where one of the main characters is popular and beautiful and nice, as I am really tired of the trope where the girls who are into girly things are empty-headed back stabbers.  Emma Mills has definitely been added to my list of authors whose backlogs I need to find.  In the meantime, if you enjoy funny, engaging YA, I recommend This Adventure Ends.

This book first came to my attention thanks to Stephanie’s Book Reviews, so be sure to check out her thoughts as well!

Curse Workers Trilogy // by Holly Black

  • White Cat
  • Red Glove
  • Black Heart

//published 2010//

Uggghhh this was a series that was a little slow to start for me, but once it got me, it got me good.  I wanted it to last forever, and while I found the ending pretty satisfying, I could use about ten more books in this series.

Here’s the thing – it’s kind of hard for me to even explain what these books are about because the world building is so fantastic.  Black has created this alternate world where some people have an innate magic to do various things – to help people have better luck, or to have certain feelings, to have a different memory, to have a certain dream – or to kill: all with a single touch.  In this world, where the lightest tap of the fingers can “work” someone, everyone wears gloves and no one trusts anyone.

//published 2011//

The narrator, Cassel, has grown up in a worker family.  Because working people is now illegal, most workers (including Cassel’s family) have turned to crime.  There are now big crime families (think mafia-style) throughout the country, and many workers turn to them for protection and work.  A couple of Cassel’s older brothers do some work for one of the local crime bosses.  That crime boss used to have a daughter who was Cassel’s age – until Cassel killed her several years before the story opens.

Like I said, I thought the first book started a little slow, and I wasn’t even completely sure that I was going to finish it.  Part of it was that Black doesn’t really explain anything, and at first I was kind of confused about this AU world and why people were wearing gloves and what the heck was even going on.  But as things started to fall into place and I could see the bigger picture, I got totally hooked.  I also really liked Cassel a lot – he’s one of those characters who always seems to only have choices between something kind of terrible and something super terrible, yet he really wants to do the right thing.  He’s smart but not infallible, and by the third book there is a good established cast of characters and I liked them all, even Cassel’s awful brother.  (My favorite was definitely his grandpa, and I mostly kept wondering, especially in book #2, why he didn’t turn to his grandpa for advice!)

//published 2012//

These were books that definitely had some moments where I felt like the rug got pulled out from under me, but it was in a good way.  It was always something incredibly plausible – that I simply hadn’t considered.  I also absolutely loved the con work that Cassel pulls off throughout.  I have to clarify that in an objectively moral sense, these probably aren’t super great books since everyone is lying and pulling cons, but it makes for some incredibly entertaining and fast-paced reading.

By the third book, I just wanted things to keep going forever.  I found the ending satisfying, but also kind of an open door.  I like to think that Cassel and his girlfriend get married and change the way things are for workers, turning the entire crime family into a power for good.  And how fun would those stories be to read??

All in all, a 4/5 for this series.  I really enjoyed them, and definitely see myself looking for some of Black’s other books soon.

A special shout out to Stephanie, whose reviews first caused me to put this series on the list – you can read her review here!

 

February Minireviews – Part 3

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.

I seem to have a lot of these this month (plus, it’s just been a month of bad weather so lots of extra reading time!) – Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 can be found here.

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

//published 2016//

Honestly, it’s just been a while since I finished this book, and it isn’t super memorable to me.  It was a decent read that kept me interested, but even after I found out the answers I wasn’t convinced that the villain’s motives made a whole lot of sense.  Still, it was engaging while I was reading it, and while I’m not planning to hunt up more of Kubica’s books, I’m open to reading another one if someone has a recommendation.  For this one, 3.5/5 and kinda recommended.

NB: This book was originally added to the TBR thanks to two separate reviews – one from Cleopatra Loves Books and another from Reading, Writing and Riesling – be sure to check them out!

Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1915// or possibly 1911//

I’m attempting to read all of Wodehouse’s works in published order, but it’s made somewhat extra difficult by the fact that Wodehouse published both in the US and the UK, sometimes at the same time, or sometimes earlier in one place or the other.  Sometimes books have the same title in both countries and sometimes different titles.  And then to keep things really interesting, some books didn’t get published in other country at all, and instead Wodehouse would recycle part of a book from one country and incorporate it into a book that was only published in the other.  Of course now, a hundred years later, I can get all the books no matter where they originated, but pinning down an official and definitive “order of publication list” has been difficult, although I am doing my best.

All that to say that the original list I am working from listed The Prince and Betty as being published in 1912 and Psmith, Journalist being published in 1915.  Except a huge chunk of Betty is actually the entire plot of Psmith.  And it turns out that Psmith was actually published in the UK in 1911 (and in the US in 1915), while Betty wasn’t published there until some time later.  WHY.

But really, that’s all just rambling side notes.  The actual point is that Psmith, Journalist is one of my favorite Wodehouse titles.  I just love this story so much.  A lot of people find Psmith to be obnoxious, but he’s one of my favorites, and this entire story with Psmith helping another fellow run a newspaper makes me laugh every time I read it.  Definitely recommended – “Cosy Moments will not be muzzled!”

The Viking’s Chosen by Quinn Loftis

//published 2018//

This is a book I would never have picked up on my own, but because it came in a book subscription box, I thought I would give it a try.  It ended up being an engaging read that I overall enjoyed, but it ended on such a major cliffhanger that it basically felt like the book had just stopped in the middle of the book.  This probably wouldn’t annoy me quite so much if book #2 had already been published, but it HASN’T so I suppose I will just have to bide my time.

Still, overall an interesting story with decent characters, and a pleasantly not-full-of-sex-and-swearing plot.  3.5/5.

NB: This was published by Clean Teen Publishing, which I had never heard of.  What’s nice is that they actually have a content rating for the book, showing the level of swearing, violence, and sex you can expect in the book.  I honestly wish all books would do this!

The Mystery of the Empty Room by Augusta Huiell Seaman

//published 1953// I didn’t feel like this book had nearly as much drama or terror as the cover led me to believe //

This is an old Scholastic Book Club paperback that has been on my shelf for years.  I thought I had read it once, but reading it this time did not ring any bells, so it’s possible that either had never read it before, or found it completely unmemorable!  It’s not really a book that sticks with you, although it’s perfectly entertaining.  There was a lot of fun and intrigue, but I did feel like a lot of the story revolved around the fact that the characters weren’t actually communicating with one another, so everyone had a piece of the puzzle and things didn’t come together under everyone finally collaborated.  Still, an easy 3.5/5 for a somewhat dated but still pleasant story.

Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki

//published 1903//

I picked up this collection of 22 traditional Japanese fairy tales as a free Kindle book a while back.  I really enjoy reading fairy tales from different cultures, and was intrigued to see what kind of stories would emerge from an eastern culture.  Like all short story collections (and, let’s be honest, fairy tale collections), there were some stories that were stronger than others, but they were all interesting in their own right.  None of them emerged as stories I loved, but I could definitely see some of them turning into longer and more involved tales.

Like most western fairy tales, there were a lot of evil stepmothers (apparently they are universally hated) and a lot of random – and sometimes quite violent – deaths.  Also talking vegetables, children who arrive inside of various pieces of produce, evil badgers, and a dragon king who rules under the sea.

While I don’t see myself returning to these stories time and again, they were fun for a one-time read.

An Odd Situation by Sophie Lynbrook

//published 2018//

In this P&P retelling, Darcy is thrown from his horse on his way to Netherfield.  Because he has a head injury and is in a coma, he is moved to the closest house – Longbourn.  Despite the fact that he is an unknown stranger, the Bennetts take him in.  The doctor recommends that he not be left alone, and that people talk to him/in the same room as him because some studies have shown that people with these types of injuries respond well to outside stimulation.  The doctor also tells them that Darcy (at this point a John Doe) may or may not be able to hear what everyone is saying.

Of course, Darcy can hear what everyone is saying, and this story involves him listening to all of the many conversations that swirl around his sickbed.  Throughout, he comes to realize that he’s a bit of a snob, and also comes to value the various members of the Bennett family, even the obnoxious ones.

Overall, this was a pleasant and engaging retelling, although weirdly passive.  The entire story is from Darcy’s (third person) perspective, and since he’s in a coma most of the time, there isn’t a lot of action.  It would have been nice to get some idea of what Elizabeth is thinking/doing as well.  And while I liked the way Darcy has a lot of self-realizations and makes good resolutions to be a better person going forward, the implication is that Elizabeth is already perfect and has no lessons to learn.  In the original, it’s important for both of them to recognize their shortcomings, and a large part of what makes the story so excellent is seeing them both grow as people.  In this version, only Darcy has to change.

Still, a 4/5 for an enjoyable (and completely clean) variation, and recommended to others who may be addicted to these types of stories. :-D