February Minireviews – Part 4

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

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan – 4*

//published 2005//

I’ve had the Percy Jackson series on my radar for literal years and finally picked up the first book in the series in February.  While this one didn’t become an instant classic for me, I could definitely see why it has appealed to so many people.  I found it it to be entertaining and enjoyable, even if it didn’t blow me away.  I loved the concept of moving the ancient Greek/Roman gods to modern-day America and found Percy to be a likable hero.  This book was definitely more about action than it was world-building, but it’s a middle grade read so I wasn’t really anticipating a lot of lengthy explanations, and it’s a book that is more enjoyable if you don’t scrutinize it too closely.  I saw a lot of reviews just absolutely slamming this book for being a Harry Potter knockoff, but that’s apparently because a lot of people think that Rowling invented things like the Chosen One trope, or the concept of having two boys and a girl have adventures together.  There are a few similarities between the two, but definitely not to a level where I felt like Riordan was trying to copy Rowling at all.  This book was published at the height of Harry Potter madness (this came out the same year as Half-Blood Prince) and I think HP fans were just weirdly obsessed with Rowling being the only person who could write a fantasy story.  ANYWAY all that to say that I found this book good entertainment and am continuing the series.  There wasn’t a lot of depth, and there was a lot more running around fighting monsters and getting through due to good luck than there was character-building, but sometimes that’s the kind of story that just hits the spot, and I can definitely see the high-action sequences appealing to its intended MG audience, especially for reluctant readers, where that faster pace can pull them along.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – 5*

//published 1850//

As part of my 2022 reading goal to tackle longer/more difficult books, I started David Copperfield on January 1 and read a chapter a day until it was finished. However, on the first of every month I add another book, so there is some overlap, depending on how long the books are. I finished this one at the end of February, and it was such a worthwhile journey.  I had read this one back in high school but couldn’t remember any of the details – just that Uriah Heep was SO creepy (spoiler: he’s SO creepy!!!)  Overall, I couldn’t believe how this book, published in 1850, contained so many people and situations that resonated with me completely. While a chapter a day doesn’t always work for me, it was kind of ideal for a book like this.  I think I may have been less patient with DIckens’s rambles if I had been trying to read this one straight through. As it was, 10-20 pages of Dickens a day was just about right. I fell in absolute love with so many of the characters here and found myself completely choked up on more than one occasion.  Is it a perfect book?  No, of course not.  But is it well worth the read?  Absolutely.

I thought I’d also include these photos of my edition – first off, so many of the chapter titles in this book absolutely cracked me up (did I mention that this book is funny?? Because it had me snorting with laughter on multiple occasions) and secondly, there isn’t a copyright date for my specific edition, but there is this notation on the flyleaf that it was owned by Ethel Chamberlin in 1900, which I just thought was absolutely the coolest thing.

Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon – 3.5*

//published 2020//

Modern/loose B&B retelling set a a private school for rich, almost-in-trouble kids in Colorado (the school, that is – the kids can be from all over the world lol).  This was a fun concept and I actually really liked the characters, but it was just glaringly obvious from almost the first chapter who the “bad guy” actually was, which meant that there wasn’t really any suspense and it was almost painful to watch Jaya be mad at the wrong person (even though it was not as obvious to Jaya so like she wasn’t stupid, really – the reader just has a lot more information than she does).  Usually I like have the perspective of both main characters, but hearing from Gray in this scenario just meant we know for 100% sure that he’s a good guy, which doesn’t leave us with a lot of bad guy options.  There were some fun moments and some interesting characters, but while I mostly enjoyed this one, I didn’t absolutely love it.

Of Princes and Promises by Sandhya Menon – 3*

//published 2021//

So for the first 75% of this book I actually enjoyed it more than the first book.  It’s a Frog Prince riff and was done so well.  I love how Menon gives us these situations where you can’t say with absolute certainty whether or not magic is real.  I really liked the characters here and there was a lot of good story about learning to embrace your true self and not be worried about what other people think about you, etc etc etc.  But THEN for literally no reason Menon decided to throw in a VILLAIN and just – the whole story went right off the rails, leaving me completely confused.  Suddenly, the entire book was about this other person and her backstory and what had happened to her – and like… I didn’t care??  She was a stranger??  She had nothing to do with the rest of the book?!  Why is she here??  What is the point of her??  It was very disorienting and made the entire ending of the book feel weird and awkward instead of satisfying.  It was a really bizarre decision on where to go with the conclusion of the book and quite aggravated me.  So overall it was a fun read, but the weird ending really brought down my overall rating.

A Tale of Two Cities // by Charles Dickens

I like to preface my reviews of “classic” books with a reminder:  I’m not a literary expert.  I just know what I like. So don’t expect this crazy, insightful post about this book: it’s probably going to be just as deep as any other review of mine.  I don’t really know a lot about Charles Dickens. I just happen to know that I really, really like this book.

Tale-of-Two-Cities-1859I hadn’t read A Tale of Two Cities since early high school, or maybe even junior high.  While I vaguely remembered thinking that it was a good book, many of the details escaped me.  Consequently, I was genuinely blown away by this story, which is way more readable than I remember it being (apparently my vocabulary/reading comprehension has improved in twenty-odd years, which is good), and just fantastic writing clear through.

Sure, Dickens tends to go off on these random descriptive paragraphs, and sometimes he takes the (very) long way around instead of just saying what he means, but on the whole this story is so strong that it would have taken some really bad writing to ruin it – and Dickens is a long, long way from bad writing.  Some of it, in fact, is so beautiful and so amazingly relevant almost 160 years after writing, that I would find myself stopping to reread a sentence several times over, just in an attempt to soak it in.

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.  A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

Or –

It was one of those dark nights that hold their breath by the hour together, and then heave a long low sigh, and hold their breath again.

The story itself, of heroism and courage, of true love and sacrifice, of loyalty and betrayal – absolutely fantastic.  And if Lucie is a bit ridiculously blonde and fluffy, I still believe there is a strong core of intelligence and bravery in her, as she is willing to forego many comforts, and even to risk her life, to protect and care for those she loves.

I love Dickens’s humor throughout, which adds just the right amount of seasoning to what could otherwise be a rather sad tale.

When they took a young man into Tellson’s London house [a bank], they hid him somewhere till he was old.  They kept him in a dark place, like a cheese, until he had the full Tellson flavour and blue-mould upon him.  Then only was he permitted to be seen, spectacularly poring over large books, and casting his breeches and gaiters into the general weight of the establishment.

I have read some places that Dickens didn’t “appreciate” women, but I didn’t really get that from this story at all.  Like I said, Lucie can be a bit too angelic for my taste (and Dickens does love to describe an angelic young woman at length), but there is nothing weak about her.  And as for Madam Defarge – geezy cow, what a fabulous character!  Strong, intelligent, driven – a fantastic leader with a strong sense of justice.  Madam Defarge is terrifying and amazing.

Dickens obviously thinks that Englishmen are superior to the French (but I’ve yet to meet an Englishman who doesn’t think that so), but I think that on the whole he does a fairly decent job of portraying the reasons and stories behind the terrors of the French Revolution, while still not justifying them.  Dickens writes mob mentality pretty brilliantly.

In all honesty, this is one of those books that stirred me so deeply that I find myself pretty bad at writing a review for it.  But I will say that all novels should do what this one does: inspire, hearten, and challenge their readers.

And for all the haters out there (and I read reviews by several of them) – I’d like to see you do better.

PS If you would like to read a far more coherent and intelligent review, I highly recommend popping over to check out what FictionFan has to say about this classic!