Rearview Mirror // April 2018

Well another month has come and gone.  April both seemed to last forever and to also flash past (did anything even happen in April?!).  Here in Ohio the weather was very ICK for basically the entire month.  Usually we get a month of warm days and cold days mixed together, but this year it was just the cold, dreary (and even snowy!) days dragging by.  It’s finally warmed up this week, which helped me realize how much the lousy weather had been getting me down!  I’ve felt so much more energized with the warm sunshine coming through the open windows!

It hasn’t been that great of a month for blogging, either, as I’m still just not particularly feeling it.  So I’ve had another month comprised mostly of minireviews, and still have quite the backlog of books that need mentioned.  The lousy weather meant April was a pretty good month for reading, even if I haven’t felt much like reviewing!

Favorite April Read

I think I’m going to have to put The Runaways (by Elizabeth Goudge) in this slot.  This children’s book was just so precious and magical.  I loved every page and wanted it to go on forever.

Most Disappointing April Read

Probably Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright.  There was a lot of potential for this concept, but all the characters were just so flat and uninteresting.  The ending was weird, too.

Other April Reads

  • Adam Dalgliesh mysteries by P.D. James – I read the first 4 1/2 books… they just weren’t for me.
  • The Black Stallion by Walter Farley – 4/5 – a childhood favorite revisited.
  • The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillup – 3/5 – a decent story, but somehow not magical.
  • Come On, Seabiscuit by Ralph Moody – 4/5 – surprisingly engaging biography of an underdog racehorse.
  • Don’t Believe a Word by Patricia MacDonald – 3.5/5 – not bad but not amazing.
  • The Foundling by Georgette Heyer – 4/5 – how are all of her books so delightful??
  • The Good Girls by Sara Shephard – 4/5 – a crashing conclusion to a duology… still have no idea why there is an ice cream cone on the cover.
  • The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge – 5/5 – not sure it’s possibly to write a book that is more magical.
  • The Man Who Made Lists by Joshua Kendall – 4/5 – a decent biography of Peter Roget, but I wasn’t a total fan of Kendall’s writing.
  • The Perfectionists by Sara Shepard – 4/5 – a book that made me like it more than I wanted to.
  • The Princess by Lori Wick – 4.5/5 – an old favorite revisited.
  • Ride Like an Indian by Henry Larom – 3.5/5 – a cute children’s book, but nothing amazing.
  • Timeless Fairy Tales by K.M. Shea – a series of 10 books so far – decent retellings with some stories a lot stronger than others.

Last April…

I actually wrote the April 2017 Rearview in June!  The last two springs have been very busy with me working full time at the greenhouse.  This year, I’m not working there, so I’m at least a little more prompt getting this post done!  :-D  Interestingly enough, last April’s favorite read was also by Elizabeth Goudge – The Scent of Water went on to also become my favorite read of 2017.  I still can’t recommend it highly enough.

I also read my first (and last!) John Green book.  Paper Towns was just as overrated and pretentious as I anticipated it being, just as the author himself seems to be.  No surprises there, and with literally thousands of amazing books out there to read, I’m glad I don’t have to wade through any more of his twaddle.

TBR Update

For those of you who don’t know, I’m weirdly obsessive with organizing the TBR, and have it on a spreadsheet divided into five different tabs:

  • Standalones:  822 (up three)
  • Nonfiction:  79 (down two!)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  690 (down five!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  230 (holding steady)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 108 (down one)

While there haven’t been any dramatic changes, I do feel like I am very, very, very slowly whittling away…

Awaiting Review

I really thought I was going to get some more of these cleared out before the end of the month, but here we are!

  • I’ve  been rereading Gerald Morris’s Squire Tale books.  I’d forgotten just how funny and engaging these books are!  I have two left in the ten book series.  While I’ve read the earlier books several times, I’ve only read these last two once before, so I am looking forward to revisiting them again.  I can’t believe how long it’s been since I read these!
  • The next batch of five “Love Inspired” books have been read.  Spoiler alert: I have no idea why I keep reading these.  In memory of Aunt Darby, I guess.
  • My current mystery series is the Under Suspicion series by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke.  These have been SO good.  Only two books left, but I’m hoping maybe more are still in the future, as the most recent one was just published in 2016 or 2017, can’t remember which.
  • The World of Captain John Smith by Genevieve Foster – absolutely delightful children’s history book.
  • Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield – another long-ago favorite that has taken me a couple of decades to revisit, and I don’t know why – this book is PERFECT.
  • I’ve been reading the Royal Weddings series by Rachel Hauck, which has been overall solid.  One and a half books to go on that set.
  • The Girl With a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson – total throwback-noir vibe to this one that I weirdly enjoyed.

Current Reads

  • The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – a retelling of The Arabian Nights that I think I’m going to like but am not sure. Only about 80 pages in.
  • The Widow by Fiona Barton – just picked this one up today, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it around the blogosphere so I’m looking forward to it.
  • How to Catch a Prince by Rachel Hauck – the third book in the Royal Weddings series.
  • The Sleeping Beauty Killer by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke – the current Under Suspicion read – I’m only about 30 pages in and am already so hooked.

Approaching the Top of the Pile

The probably next five reads…

  • The Rose & the Dagger by Renne Ahdieh
  • Every Breath You Take by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke – last in the series
  • A Royal Christmas Wedding by Rachel Hauck – last in the series
  • Missing, Presumed by Susie Stiener
  • The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge

Happy May!!!

Advertisements

April Minireviews // Part 2

I keep thinking that I’m through my blogging funk and am ready to write some solid full reviews… and then I start to write and realize I just don’t wanna!  :-D  So here’s another batch of minireviews from this month…

Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

//published 2011//

Before I picked up this book and read the introduction I didn’t realize that it’s actually a book based on a movie.  I’m not completely sure I would have bothered checking it out of the library if I had known that before, as it’s not something I generally enjoy.  And, like other movies-to-books that I’ve read, this one felt a little flat.  There wasn’t a lot of character development, and the third person POV jumped around between characters in a manner that was very choppy and confusing.  There was a lot of potential with this story, but instead it just felt like it dragged on and on and created more questions than it answered.

Why have the villagers been offering sacrifices to the werewolf for years but now all of a sudden decide that it must die?  That was the biggest one for me.  These people have been living with this situation for decades, but all of a sudden it’s this huge emergency/crisis and everyone is flipping out about killing the wolf.  I hated the blend of religion/paranormal in this book, as the “good” guy, who is a bishop or something, is also a total jerk + arrogant + stupid, and goes around proclaiming how he is “working for the power of God” etc etc and it really felt like he could have been the same character minus the constant blathering about God and wouldn’t have been nearly as offensive.  The main character, Valerie, basically sucked and was completely passive and also inconsistent and we had to spend WAY too much time listening to her dither about which guy she should be with; she and everyone else just kind of ran around like a bunch of sheep, making every stupid decision possible.

THEN, the final kicker – there’s no last chapter!  The book just stops!  Apparently, the book came out just before the movie, so they didn’t want the ending spoiled and didn’t post the lats chapter until after the movie appeared.  Now you can go online and read it (and I did, and it genuinely was a terrible ending that STILL didn’t really make the story make sense), but it seems like a pretty obnoxious marketing device to not put the ending in a book.  All in all, a 2/5 for this one – I did want to see how things came out, so I feel like I can’t justify only 1*, but it’s close.

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer

//published 1948//

It had been way too long since I had indulged in the sheer joy and relaxation of a Heyer book, and I was excited to read this one for the first time.  I genuinely loved the main character, Gilly, and laughed out loud on more than one occasion at his ability to get tangled in some genuinely ridiculous situations.  It was funny to read a Heyer that was more about a guy than a girl, but Gilly was so completely likable that I really enjoyed it.  I wish there was a sequel to this book that was nothing except Gilly and his new wife and all of their adventures because I shipped them SO HARD.  4/5.

Ride Like an Indian by Henry Larom

//published 1958//

A while back I read the Mountain Pony series by Larom and really enjoyed it, so I checked to see if he had written anything else.  I found a copy of Ride Like an Indian on eBay and took the $5 splurge.  This was aimed at younger readers than the Mountain Pony books – it’s almost a picture book – but it was pretty adorable, even if it wasn’t very exciting.  I enjoyed the reading, but it wasn’t really an instant classic for me.  3.5/5.

The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillup

//published 1988//

I’ve had kind of mixed results from McKillup’s writing.  Everything I’ve read has been good but they have not all been magical.  That was the case with this book.  The story was a pleasant and engaging one, but didn’t have that magic that made me want to add it to my permanent collection.  3/5.

Don’t Believe a Word by Patricia MacDonald

//published 2016//

I read about this book over on Fictionophile’s blog a while back, and thought I would give it a whirl.  While I enjoyed reading it and definitely wanted to see how everything came together, it wasn’t a book that I loved, and it didn’t particularly inspire me to find more of MacDonald’s writing.  For some reason, this book just had a negative vibe for me, and I’m not even sure exactly why.  There is also this weird plot twist where it turns out that two of the characters are actually half-siblings and have been having an incestual relationship.  That was never really addressed as a negative thing and it made me kind of uncomfortable that the conclusion was just that it was basically their business and they should be able to do whatever they feel is right.  Still, that was a minor part of an otherwise decent story.  3.5/5.

April 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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me…

The Runaways by Elizabeth Goudge

//published 1964//

I really can’t believe that I never came across any of Goudge’s books as a child.  I had a very old-fashioned reading list, as my mom is an avid collector of old books (I come by it honestly), and I remember distinctly coming to a realization somewhere around middle school that nearly all of my favorite authors were long deceased.  This whole concept of finding an author who is still producing new things for me to read is kind of a crazy concept to me, actually.  :-D

Anyway, Goudge completely seems like someone my mother would love.  Her books are incredibly magical and perfect – gentle and kind.  There is no rush or slapdash action, but instead perfectly placed scenes and conversations, filled with characters one cannot help but love wholeheartedly.  I feel in love with every single person in The Runaways, even the bad guys.  This isn’t a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat, or leaves you frantically turning the pages at 1am, but it is definitely a book I see myself returning to time and again, to immerse myself in the gentle and beautiful world of the young Linnets.  4.5/5

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

//published 1946//

Read The Runaways made me want to reread this one.  I had only read it once, a couple of years ago, and it was my first introduction to Goudge’s work.  (Her second book for me was The Scent of Waterwhich is one of the few books that I genuinely felt changed me as a person when I read it.)  The Little White Horse was just as delightful the second time around, with a heroine who isn’t quite perfect, and just enough magic to keep you wondering if this could really happen. 5/5

The Princess by Lori Wick

//published 1999//

I’m not going to lie.  This is one of my go-to books when I am in need of something relaxing.  This is definitely a love story that has very strong Christian themes throughout, but the story itself is strong enough that I think that even if hearing about prayer/God’s plan/etc. isn’t your thing, you would still enjoy it.  I love stories where people get married first, and then fall in love, and this is an all-time fave. 4.5/5

Come On, Seabiscuit by Ralph Moody

//published 1963//

This is one of those random books I’ve had on my shelf forever, that I probably bought as a kid because it was about horses, especially since I went through a stage where I fascinated with racehorses in particular.  But somehow, I’ve only just gotten around to reading it – and it was actually a total win!  I was completely invested in Seabiscuit’s life. It’s hard to believe that Moody wasn’t just making things up, as this horse’s life was incredibly dramatic and full of excitement.  I had genuine tears in my eyes when Seabiscuit finally won the Santa Anita Handicap.  I know that just a few years ago someone else wrote a book about Seabiscuit that was made into a movie.  I never got around to either of those, but after reading this book – a somewhat brisk biography, since it was aimed at children – I think I’ll definitely find the newer book and see what other details there are to read.  Overall a surprisingly fun and fascinating read about a horse who overcame some amazing obstacles and the people who loved him.

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley

//published 1941//

Reading the book about Seabiscuit made me want to pick up this childhood classic right away.  The real-life build up of the race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral (grandson and son of Man O’War) reminded me a LOT of the race build-up between Sun Raider and Cyclone (and later the Black) in Farley’s tale.  Interestingly enough, the real race took place in 1938, while Farley’s book was published in 1941 – so it’s quite possible that the similarities between the two match races wasn’t just in my imagination!

The Black Stallion has always been a favorite of mine, for reasons that I can’t even fully explain.  The characters aren’t terribly well developed and the whole plot is rather ridiculous, but I still love this book.  I love Alec and I love Henry and I love the Black and I love Tony and I love Alec’s parents and this whole book just makes me happy from beginning to end.  I reread this entire series several years ago, back when I was still on Tumblr, and the books sadly got progressively worse as the series went on (culminating in The Black Stallion Legendwhich was unreasonably depressing), so I don’t see myself doing that again any time soon, but this original story is, and always will be, a definitely favorite.

Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries // by P.D. James

This was my first foray into the writing of P.D. James.  I’ve seen the Dalgliesh mysteries mentioned here and there around the interwebs, and decided to give them a try.  I ended up reading the first 4 1/2 books in the series, but it just wasn’t for me, so I decided not to finish.  I read:

  • Cover Her Face (1962)
  • A Mind to Murder (1963)
  • Unnatural Causes (1967)
  • Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
  • The Black Tower (partially) (1975)

Cover Her Face was a 3.5/5 read for me, and a decent, although not riveting, start to the series.  Dalgliesh himself is honestly a very minor player in this book – he doesn’t even appear until page 59, and most of the story is more about the murder victim’s family than it is about the detective.  Virtually everyone in the book was unlikable, even Dalgliesh’s potential love interest.  One of the characters in particular (Stephen) was just flat obnoxious, and I basically dreaded every time he appeared on the page.  Still, the story and mysteries were decent, and I was quite willing to give the next book a go.

I liked the second book a great deal more, and gave it a 4* rating.  While the initial cast of characters was a bit confusing, once I got everyone sorted, the mystery was quite engaging.  The pacing was very good and the red herrings excellent.

Unnatural Causes went a bit off the rails in my mind.  It was an incredibly depressing read, with yet another set of characters out of whom not a single one was pleasant.  Dalgliesh’s role in the entire thing was quite murky (since he was technically on holiday), and it made the whole book feel off-kilter.  James also used what is virtually one of my least-favorite writing techniques of all time: where the main character has a sudden revelation and magically knows everything that happened… but doesn’t let us know until multiple other characters have been told.  And in this case, there was (a) not really any way that I could have arrived (or jumped rather) to the conclusion Dalgliesh did, and (b) the information was obviously just being withheld so there would be this grand revelation in the end.  I don’t mind this  method as much if I’m following a character who’s a bit slow (say, Dr. Hastings in a Poirot tale), or when the author has at least given me ALL the clues so that I could have figured it out if I was clever enough – but neither of those things was true here, so it just felt awkward, with things like, “he explained everything to the detective, who shook his head in disbelief.”  That makes for aggravating, rather than interesting, reading.  And, like I said, the ending honestly felt like a cheat.  I just could NOT grasp how Dalgliesh could have POSSIBLY figured out how the murder was committed.  I had trouble understanding how the murderer thought of it to begin with!  It was absurdly complicated (and honestly rather disturbing, ugh).  All in all, this was a 2* read for me.

Book #4 was somewhat better (3.5/5), but still just weirdly depressing.  There were weird things that I guess were supposed to be red herrings, but ended up just feeling random and never really had a good explanation, like the way that one of the suspects was once engaged to a man who died, and then it turns out that another suspect is that man’s brother… and Suspect #1 had an affair with Suspect #2.  But…  why??  Why was there a connection between them??  I guess this is just supposed to throw me off??  But it seemed very out of character for Suspect #1 so I just felt confused.  In another chapter, one of Dalgliesh’s underlings has sex with one of the witnesses, and then spends the evening dancing with someone else he’s supposed to be questioning, and the entire chapter felt like a bad dream.  And of course, once again, I had to suffer through not getting to know what Dalgliesh knows, for not really any good reason:

“But I think I know how it was done.”  [said Dalgliesh.]

He described his theory.  Sergeant Masterson, cross with himself for having missed the obvious, said:  “Of course.  It must have been done that way.”

“Not must, Sergeant.  It was probably done that way.”

But Sergeant Masterson had seen an objection and voiced it.

Dalgliesh replied:  “But that wouldn’t apply to a woman.  A woman could do it easily.”

Do you see why this annoys me??  It’s not necessarily because I don’t get to know what Dalgliesh is thinking – it’s because there is an entire conversation going on about something that I don’t get to know.  And, for instance, I never find out what Masterson’s objection was, even after I find out what the heck they were talking about!  (Which, by the way, doesn’t happen for at least another hundred pages.)

Still, despite feeling a bit meh about everything so far, I picked up The Black Tower.  And I can’t explain exactly why I didn’t finish it.  I think because James had set up an entirely new cast of characters, all unlikable, all depressing, in a depressing setting, and I just found that I couldn’t face another 300 pages of Dalgliesh moping about his job (because he is a great one for being morose and withdrawn, constantly agonizing over some life decision, always on the verge of a crisis, etc.).  So I stopped.  And I sent the whole batch of books back to the library and moved on with my life.

While these weren’t bad books, they just weren’t for me.  I’m not fond of a dark and dreary brooding hero who is full of introspection.  I don’t like it when I feel like I wouldn’t care if someone came by and poisoned the entire cast of characters.  I hate it when authors withhold information just so their hero can appear even more clever later (even if it makes the writing awkward in the short term).  I don’t like finishing a book and feeling vaguely sad about life.  So while I can see why people enjoy these stories – because the writing is good and the mysteries are decent – I just couldn’t get into them myself.

The Man Who Made Lists // by Joshua Kendall

Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus

//published 2008//

I’ve always been passionate about words, and have had a fondness for Roget’s Thesaurus my entire life.  When I came across this biography mentioned in Slightly Foxed, I felt that I must give it a whirl.  While I enjoyed learning more about Roget’s life, the biography itself was mostly just alright.

Part of the problem was that Roget’s life wasn’t amazingly thrilling.  While he did have some adventures along the line, for the most part he was just an average guy who happened to be way, way into writing lists of things.  Kendall’s writing didn’t particularly lend itself towards making the everyday interesting, so there swaths of the book that were rather humdrum.  Kendall also spends what I considered to be a rather inordinate amount of time on the state of Roget’s mental/emotional health…  all well and good, except for the fact that it’s not as though Kendall was a close friend, so he’s basically just sort of making things up based on his own personal interpretation of Roget’s journals and letters:

Though Roget’s obsessions did help him cope with his stressful early life, they came at a cost.  Categorizing rather than experiencing the world has its limits.  Like his mother, Peter was incapable of looking inward.  Immersed in his own analytical observations, he was not particularly attuned to what others were feeling.

Just… if someone was to take an analysis of my personality based only on my journals, they would probably say that I am pretty unemotional as well, as much of my journaling is also lists and/or brief accounts of what is going on.  I don’t have a lot of spare time to sit down and pour out all of my feelings onto paper.  (And maybe, in fairness, I am unemotional?  I don’t have a lot of inner turmoil to sift through!)  Basically, in places Kendall came through as very judgy about Roget’s “lack of emotion,” which I felt was rather unfair over a century after he was alive.  Just because Roget didn’t dash all over the place proclaiming his feelings doesn’t mean that he didn’t have any.

On the other hand, Roget did once write a paper entitled “Description of Moving the Knight over Every Square of a Chess-Board Without Going Twice Over Any One,” so many Kendall was onto something after all…

Kendall was also incredibly dismissive of Roget’s religion/beliefs, basically just shoving them under the title of “Stupid Stuff People Used to Believe Because They Didn’t Know Any Better.”  Any and all of Roget’s claims that he pursued scientific research because of his interest in God and understanding the mechanics of God’s creation were quite belittled, Kendall even going so far as to suggest that if Roget were alive today he wouldn’t be bothered with such nonsense.

When recounting the death of Roget’s wife, Mary, Kendall says:

Roget also looked forward to “a heavenly reunion” with Mary – one of the major comforts that Christianity offered to the grief-stricken at the dawn of the Victorian era.  Spending eternity with departed loved ones was a common fantasy.

Excuse me??  That’s really an astounding amount of officious condescension to stuff into two sentences!  (1) Christians still exist, Kendall.  (2)  They still believe in eternal life.  (3)  Christianity isn’t the only religion that has beliefs about eternal life.  (4)  To call someone’s deeply-held personal beliefs a fantasy is just amazingly offensive.  …And that was basically Kendall’s attitude towards religion throughout.

Still, despite my annoyance at Kendall that surfaced from time to time (and since we’re apparently okay with deriving someone’s entire personality from their writing, I imagine Kendall to be rather a pompous ass), overall I enjoyed learning more about Roget.  I was particularly interested that the Thesaurus was actually one of his final contributions to the world.  He wrote many other scientific papers (mostly, unsurprisingly, involving sorting things into categories), and also expanded the basic slide rule into the tool that was widely used until the advent of the pocket calculator in the 1970’s.

Despite Kendall’s insistence that Roget was an emotionless and basically boring person, that wasn’t the impression that I got from Roget’s writing, inventions, and thoughts.  Instead, he seems to have been a man who held his cards close to his chest and enjoyed observing and understanding the world around him.  As someone passionate about words, lists, and general orderliness myself, I felt a strong connection to the man who wanted to make precise language accessible to the masses.

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.

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.