August Minireviews – Part 1 – #20BooksofSummer

Well, friends, I just got back from an AMAZING vacation to Wyoming, where the husband and I spent a week with minimal cell phone signal just hanging out in my aunt and uncle’s cabin.  We spent literal hours sitting on the porch reading, in between taking hikes in the mountains and going for drives up dirt forest service roads.  It was truly fantastic.

When I was deciding what books to read, I originally thought that I should take the rest of my #20BooksofSummer list, because otherwise I’m probably not going to achieve the goal.  But then I decided that was dumb, and I was going to take whatever I wanted, so instead of being productive, I spent the whole week reading ridiculous chick lit and lots of fluffy romance and it was delightful.  But now I’m wayyyyy behind on reviews, so there will probably be a couple of minireview batches!!

The first couple of minireviews in this post were written before I left.  I currently have 16 books to review…!!!!!  So here we go!

Mystery Over the Brick Wall by Helen Fuller Orton – 3*

//published 1951//

This is a random children’s book that I’ve had around for a while.  It was an alright read, but nothing particularly memorable.  While I enjoy many of the simpler children’s stories from the 1950’s, whose basic messages are about being kind and helpful, this one just didn’t stir the imagination.  However, it is #9 for my #20BooksofSummer, so at least I am making some minimal progress there!!

Chosen Child by Linda Huber – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This one was first brought to my attention by Cleopatra when she reviewed it back in February 2016.  While I enjoyed this domestic thriller, and found it to be very readable, it wasn’t a book that blew me away.  It was definitely in the category where you kind of more or less know how things are going to turn out, but you still can’t stop watching the train wreck.  Huber did a great job making everyone tangled up in the situation be likable and aggravating by turns – it didn’t exactly feel like there were good characters vs. bad ones.  However, I also found myself being overall annoyed – and somewhat horrified – at how all of the tragedy could have been avoided if two adults had actually honored their marriage vows instead of justifying themselves and seeking attention elsewhere.  So if nothing else, a book to read if you are thinking about embarking on an affair – this one SHOULD warn you off that dire path!

The Arm of the Starfish by Madeline L’Engle – 4*

//published 1965//

I’m still not completely convinced that I am going to try and read all of the entangled L’Engle books (see what I did there??), but this one was quite readable with a very thriller/spy novel tone to it.  I felt like some of the science was kind of weird (starfish can grow new limbs, so obviously horses can, too!  …????) but it was such a fun story that I just went with it.  (And it’s also possible that I’m the dumb one, because I don’t really know much about starfish or limb regeneration so.)  I have a huge pile of L’Engle’s books sitting next to my shelf and am trying to decide if I want to continue reading them or not.  I’ll probably at least give the next one a go just to see what happens.

When It’s Real by Erin Watt – 4*

//published 2017//

This book was added to the TBR over a year ago, thanks to a review by Stephanie.  Recently, the Kindle version was on sale for 99¢, so it seemed like a good time to give it a go!  And while Kindle books frequently languish for long periods of time before I get around to them, I was in just the right mood for this one when I bought it.

I really enjoy the fake relationship trope, and this one was done quite well.  The characters were really likable, and I especially enjoyed Vaughn’s family.  I thought that the way that the two main characters had to overcome their initial prejudices against each other was really realistic (well, as realistic as something this crazy can be haha), and the dialogue was good.  There was a little more swearing/sex than I like (which, just to be clear, Stephanie didn’t like either lol), but overall this one was definitely a great read if you are looking for something a bit more fluffy than thoughtful.  I’ll definitely be checking to see what else Watt has written.

Holiday Wishes by Nora Roberts – 3*

//published 1994//

Honestly, I can barely even remember the two short stories in this volume.  They were pretty bland romance tales, wherein the tension was created because the two main characters spent more time misjudging each other’s motives than they did actually conversing.  While I’ve enjoyed a lot of Roberts’s writing in the past, these stories were too short to really get into the characters, so everything felt a little flat.  While not bad, they definitely weren’t memorable.

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July Minireviews – Part 2 – #20BooksofSummer

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.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley – 3*

//published 2016//

I really struggled with rating this book.  There were a lot of things I liked about it, including the main characters (for the most part), the concept of the bookstore with its letter room, and the way the book explored grief and healing.  But I hated the way this book ended so much that I almost gave it zero stars.  It was never going to be a 5* read, but it definitely could have rated higher if the ending hadn’t been so incredibly cliched and stupid.  Plus, there was tons of swearing – it felt excessive for a YA book, especially since people are just, you know, hanging out having regular conversations.  Sorry, I don’t need f-bombs every three paragraphs.  Honestly, the further I get away from finishing this book, the more I can only remember the things that annoy me, and I’m already thinking about dropping my rating another star…

The Chance of a Lifetime by Grace Livingston Hill – 3.5*

//published 1931//

A lot of GLH’s books are way too preachy or saccharine, but every once in a while she writes one that’s just a nice story with characters whose faith is very central to their lives, and that’s where this one falls.  I actually really liked the people in this book, and felt that the central theme about what a “chance of a lifetime” really means was developed well.  While there were times that the plot was over-simplistic, on the whole it was really an enjoyable book.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – 3.5*

//published 1962//

I was going to wait and review this book after reading some more of L’Engle’s books, but I’m realizing that even though they are loosely connected, they aren’t all exactly a series in the traditional sense.  I’m reading all her books in their published order that have crisscrossing characters.  Which means I actually should have read Meet the Austins first, but didn’t realize until it was too late…

Anyway, I hadn’t read Wrinkle since probably junior high.  I remember having a vague feeling of not-liking it, but this is considered a classic, and I’ve heard so many people talk about how much they love this book, plus it’s a Newbery Award winner… so I thought I would give it another whirl.  At the end of the day, I just felt kind of ambivalent towards it.  It was a decent and interesting story with likable characters, but it didn’t really have that intensity that made me love it or feel like I urgently needed to keep reading.  I didn’t mind having a lot of “God talk” in the story, but the religious message felt a little vague to me, and it also seemed like the entire point of saving Earth from this “darkness” was really rather left open-ended.  Like, is Earth still under attack or….???

So all in all, not a bad read, but not one that I loved.  I still found it interesting enough to want to try some of L’Engle’s other books.  As for this one, a good read and also #5 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – 4*

//published 2008//

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve joined a “Traveling Book Club” where each member chose a book to mail out, and each month receives/mails the next book in the circle.  Eventually, I should get my original book back, complete with annotations from all of its travels.

Funnily enough, this month’s book was another Newbery Award winner.  I had only ever read one other Gaiman book before, quite a long while ago, so I was interested to pick up another of his stories.  I still hear so much about him around the book blogging world, and have several of his books on my list.  This one was quite enjoyable – an engaging story with a unique setting and memorable characters.  It didn’t capture me completely, but I still really enjoyed it, especially the gentle humor throughout (“he had died of consumption, he had told Bod, who had  mistakenly believed for several years that Fortinbras had been eaten by lions or bears, and was extremely disappointed to learn it was merely a disease”).

While I’m not racing to find my next Gaiman book, I’m still interested to read more of his works as I come across them.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – 4.5*

//published 2011//

I initially read this book back in October 2016, and was pretty excited when it came up on my random draw for my #20BooksofSummer list, as I’ve been wanting to reread it.  Honestly, this book was even funnier and more perfect than I remember it being.  Lincoln is such a wonderful character and I love the way that he doesn’t necessarily have to change himself, but change his perspective of himself in order to become more content and comfortable with his life.  You can read my old review for more details.  For here – a genuinely funny, happy, yet thoughtful read that I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting.

#8 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Midnight Kittens // by Dodie Smith

//published 1978//

Growing up, The Hundred and One Dalmatians was one of my very favorite books, and I read it so many times.  The amazing illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone still make me so happy and the story is just too perfect for words.  More recently, I discovered that there was actually a sequel!  And while The Starlight Barking was a little strange (and had actual magic), it was still a lot of fun.  Now for some reason, Goodreads has The Midnight Kittens listed as Book #3 in the Hundred and One Dalmatian series, so I decided to give it a go.  I found a secondhand copy on eBay, and was curious to see how it tied into the other two books.  The short answer?  It doesn’t.  So that was the first disappointment.

The next disappointment was that this book just wasn’t… interesting?  I’m not even sure what the word is that I’m looking for.  I’ve only read a couple of Smith’s books.  Most recently, I read I Capture the Castlewhich, while it wasn’t an instant classic for me (as it is for so many others), I still found incredibly readable – the writing itself was a delight, and the story very well-crafted.  But The Midnight Kittens lacked that.  The story was directionless and the characters not particularly interesting.  I just couldn’t get into it.

Basically, Tom and Pam are twins (around 12 years old) who have been going to school in London, but live with their Gram in Suffolk, as their parents died when the twins were quite young.  The story revolves around a long weekend that they spend visiting Gram.  Except… not much actually happens.  They stay up late to see if they can see some wild hedgehogs come to eat the milk and bread Gram has set out, and instead see four kittens.  Pam immediately decides that they are magic kittens (??).  Over the course of the weekend, they take a tour of a local house, a run-down mansion called Freke Hall.  The next day they go with Gram to visit a friend of hers in a nursing home, and staying in the same home is a very old lady who once lived in Freke Hall when she was a little girl.  She tells Tom and Pam about a secret room where she once hid a painting.  Tom and Pam sneak into the house when when they get home and find the secret room, and also meet some friendly squatters who are coming there to live (??).  Meanwhile, the kittens appear at midnight each night, exactly at midnight, to eat their milk and bread.  Tom is afraid to tell Gram about the kittens, because he isn’t sure if she will adopt them or have them put down (??).  Eventually, the twins tell this whole story to Gram (along with some other side adventures I haven’t bothered to include) and Gram doesn’t believe them, because Pam used to tell made-up stories, and suddenly they are all emotionally devastated by the broken trust and Tom and Pam go back to school heavily burdened by the fact that Gram doesn’t believe them (??).  But then Gram sees the kittens and calls them and tells them everything is fine and then everyone is happy la-de-da.  ??????

It was all just so rambling and pointless!  The kittens weren’t really that much of the story, it’s mostly Tom and Pam being obnoxious children – this book made me feel so old, because all I could do was roll my eyes at the way the twins were so annoying condescending towards their Gram the entire time – explaining to her how Tom is now agnostic and Pam is an atheist and how sad it is that people still believe in God (despite the fact that Gram does).  They’re always giving Gram advice about how she should be running her household and ways that she could be saving money and I don’t know, they just seemed so bratty the entire time, which is probably why I found this book so tedious.  They were SUCH know-it-alls.

The whole book was very disjointed and kind of read like a weird dream.  It was fairly short, for which I was thankful.  I was quite disappointed in this story, but at least I don’t have to worry about making room for The Midnight Kittens on my permanent bookshelves.

July Minireviews + #20BooksofSummer

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.

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine – 2*

//published 2006//

I recently reread Ella Enchantedwhich was a childhood favorite and is still a book that I love.  Full of delightful characters, fun world-building, and a really excellent story, I’ve read it many times and still enjoy it.  Somehow, I hadn’t realized that Levine had written another book set in the same world as Ella, although not a direct sequel.  Part of me wishes that I still didn’t know that, because Fairest was pretty terrible.  The main problem was the heroine, Ava, who was incredibly boring, and spent the entire book whining about how ugly she was.  I mean CONSTANTLY.  Every.  Page.  And it never really felt like a lesson came out of that, or if it did it was very muddled.  If the prince thought she was beautiful the first time he saw her… was she really not as ugly as she thought?  Because here’s the thing, ugly/plain people often DO become more beautiful in our eyes as we get to know and love them, but if you’re just sitting there and someone walks into a room – you don’t know anything about them, and literally just judge them on how they appear at that moment.  So the prince is either lying, has horrible taste, or Ava isn’t actually that ugly.  All of those answers annoyed me.

Anyway, the rest of the story was also very weak – I’m never a fan of a plot where the villain is actually NOT the villain but is being controlled by another, in-the-background villain.  This seems convoluted and confusing.  All in all, I skimmed large portions of Fairest, and had trouble focusing on the pages because I was so busy rolling my eyes at Ava’s endless whining about her appearances.

Frederica by Georgette Heyer – 4.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1965//

This was my third read for #20BooksofSummer (you can find my original post here), and a thoroughly enjoyable one it was.  While I had read Frederica quite a while ago (2012), it had been several years.  At the time of my initial reading, it was actually one of the first Heyer books I had read (somehow, I didn’t discover her until adulthood!), but even after reading several of Heyer’s other books since then, I still found this one to be adorable and fun.  I think that part of the reason I love this one so much is that Alverstoke, the unwilling hero, falls in love not just with Frederica, but with her whole family.  I just loved the way that he went from being a selfish, lonely Mr. Grumpy-pants to being part of a happy, loving family.  While Alverstoke was a smidge *too* selfish to really be my favorite Heyer hero, he was still quite nice.  Frederica is a typical, but nonetheless enjoyable, Heyer heroine, being independent and intelligent without being too sassy and obnoxious.  She doesn’t take any nonsense from Alverstoke (or anyone else) and is such a wonderful sister.  My only complaint about her was how she could possibly be blind to her sister’s preferred beau??

All in all, Frederica is a delightful read for anyone looking for a bit of relaxation.  I wasn’t feeling super great over the weekend, and this ended up being the perfect book to devour.

Scotty by Frances Pitt – 3.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1932//

I purchased this book years ago at a book sale somewhere, but somehow had never gotten around to reading it before.  This ended up  being a perfectly enjoyable, although not outstanding read about a Highland fox cub who is raised in captivity buy then escapes and adjusts to life in the wild.  It had a very Jim Kjelgaard-y vibe for me, and it was fun to read an outdoors book about an area of the world that is unfamiliar to me.  It was written between the Wars, so it was also an interesting, if somewhat limited, glance into life when things were starting to really undergo a big cultural change.  While I’m not convinced this will be a classic that I read time and again, it was still engaging – and also Book #4 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit – 4.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1907//

This book is so precious that I just wanted to eat it up.  Every time I thought the story couldn’t get more adorable, it did.  These are the kind of children’s books that I grew up with, and I can’t believe that I didn’t discover Nesbit until adulthood!  This wasn’t a story full of angst or the need for anyone to “discover” herself – just a roly-poly happy story about four children and some magical adventures.  I can’t wait to read more Nesbit!!!  #6 for #20BooksofSummer.

NB: #5 for the list is actually A Wrinkle in Time which I have already read but won’t be reviewing until I have finished some more books in the series.

June Minireviews – Part 3

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 Distance Between Us by Kasie West – 3*

//published 2013//

I’ve read a couple of Kasie West books, and I really like them.  They’re everything YA chick lit should be – fluffy, funny, a little bit ridiculous, and overall just happy.  They aren’t full of ridiculous amounts of angst or sexual dilemmas, just straightforward little stories with likable characters.  That said, this wasn’t really my favorite book, mainly because I got so tired of Cayman constantly assuming that she already knows what everyone is thinking/what their motivations are… and she’s wrong a LOT.  Consequently, all the misunderstandings seemed like they could have been avoided easily if Cayman would just USE HER WORDS and have some conversations.  Despite my aggravation with her at times, I still liked Cayman and basically everyone else as well.  Perfectly happy for a one-time read, and I really need to delve into some more of West’s back catalog.

Elizabeth Bennet’s Deception by Regina Jeffers – DNF (#20BooksofSummer)

//published 2015//

I don’t usually worry about updating you all on DNF books, but since this was on my original list for my #20BooksofSummer challenge, I thought I would let you know that it was SO terrible that I didn’t even bother finishing!  If you’re interested in the full rant, be sure to check it out on my P&P blog here.  Meanwhile, I’ve selected another book to finish out the 20 Book challenge!

The Holiday Swap by Zara Stoneley – 3*

//published 2016//

This was a free Kindle book that I got a while back.  This summer, when we’ve been taking the Zeppelin out for the weekend, I’ve been loading some super fluffy Kindle books so I have plenty of spares, and this one totally fit the bill.  Two friends have two bad romantic situations and decide to switch homes for a few weeks.  While I enjoyed this story while I was reading it, it didn’t really inspire me to find more of Stoneley’s books, and I don’t really see myself going back to this one.  It was a little too heavy on the “finding the right man fixes all your problems” (and I say this as someone who is happily married), and so it ended up feeling like neither of the women really grew that much – they just switched out their loser boyfriends for nice ones.  It also seemed like it ended kind of abruptly – this is definitely a book that would have benefited from a little epilogue from a few years later talking about how happy everyone is.

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle – 3*

//published 2013//

Yet another book that I really wanted to like more than I did.  While this was a perfectly pleasant sequel focusing on Mary, it was just rather unexciting.  Lydia shows up with a new scandal trailing behind her, but somehow the story just didn’t quite click together.  Many of the characters seemed rather stagnant, and I felt like Henry, in particular, was inconsistent.  I did like Mary and it wasn’t a terrible story, but not one that I particularly see myself returning to.

My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1919//

In my quest to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, this collection of short stories, many of which feature the Bertie/Jeeves combo, was next on the list.  While Jeeves and Bertie made their debut in another short story collection (The Man With Two Left Feet), it is here that they begin to genuinely become the individual characters that are so beloved.

Overall, this collection was much more up to classical Wodehouse levels.  While the Bertie tales were my favorites, there were some other solid little tales in this collection.  This was the first collection where it felt like Wodehouse genuinely decided that all of this worrying about being serious stuff was really nonsense, and instead just embraced the joy of happy chaos.

Swamp Cat by Jim Kjelgaard – 3.5*

//published 1957//

It had been a while since I picked up a Kjelgaard, and this was another one that I hadn’t read as a youth – so apparently our library didn’t have it!  From the title, I assumed that the story was going to be about a Florida panther or a bobcat or some other type of wild cat – but it was actually about a regular domestic cat!  Of course, Frosty isn’t really a REGULAR cat, as he learns to survive, and thrive, in the wilds.  He of course adopts a young man who lives off the land, and I quite enjoyed the parallel story of Andy and the beginnings of his muskrat farm (right??).  All in all, this was a surprisingly engaging tale.  I read it as a free Kindle book, but I would definitely like to add it to my hard-copy collection if I can find a copy.

June Minireviews – Part 1

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

The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

//published 2015//

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

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

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

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

//published 1917//

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

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

//published 1977//

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

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

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

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

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

//published 1998//

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

The Squire’s Tale Series // by Gerald Morris

  • The Squire’s Tale – 1998 – 5*
  • The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady – 1999 – 4*
  • The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf – 2000 – 4.5*
  • Parsifal’s Page – 2001 – 4*
  • The Ballad of Sir Dinadan – 2003 – 3.5*
  • The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight – 2004 – 4*
  • The Lioness and Her Knight – 2005 – 4*
  • The Quest of the Fair Unknown – 2006 – 3.5*
  • The Squire’s Quest – 2009 – 4*
  • The Legend of the King – 2010 – 4*

I first stumbled across these books somewhere circa 2000 when I was wandering around the library.  Where I live, we’re about 40 miles away from Columbus, the state capital.  So we have our own local library and whatnot, which is perfectly nice, but if you want to visit a LIBRARY you go to downtown Columbus and revel – it’s huge and magical.  Anyway, now we have interlibrary-loan connected between my local library and Columbus, so I rarely have to actually go there – I can still access the entire catalog and have it delivered to my own tiny branch a mere five miles from my house, which is pretty amazing.  But back in the day my whole family used to go to Columbus and spend literally an entire day at the library (and were sad when we had to leave… I legit could probably spend days and days and days there before getting remotely bored) just wandering around, reading, making lists of books to read later, and finding various comfy corners to hide away with a new book.  And all that to say – The Squire’s Tale was one of the books I found on one of those trips.

The series focuses on various knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, and Morris consistently provides afterwords where he talks about where he found the inspiration for that particular book (frequently Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, but sometimes other sources).  Morris obviously uses a great deal of poetical license in his interpretation of various characters, but I love the way that he consistently makes the overwhelming majority of them likable. I remember reading Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga a few years ago, and I couldn’t get over how basically all of her characters were not very pleasant people – the books were overwhelmingly depressing and I barely slogged through them.  Morris presents a perhaps less realistic but far more enjoyable portrayal of King Arthur and his knights.

The first book introduces us to the two characters who become the main focus of the series, although many of the books branch off to other individuals – Gawain and Terence.  Gawain is a famous character of whom many stories have been told historically, while Terence is entirely of Morris’s creation.  The first book focuses on Gawain becoming a knight and questing, while Terence comes along as his squire.  But when the pair of them cross from our world into the world of faerie, it becomes a lot less clear as to who is the higher ranking of the two.  The friendship that grows between these two characters is one of my favorite things about the entire series.  They are both characters that I love so much, and Morris does a fantastic job of letting us watch them grow and mature as individuals and friends.

Throughout the series, Arthur is portrayed as a wise and just king carrying a great burden.  Other knights are both good, mediocre, and evil.  There are faeries and witches and everything in between.  Justice, strength paired with kindness, generosity, and chivalry and concepts that are woven throughout.

I love the way that Morris presents strong and weak characters – I don’t mind when an air-headed woman appears on the pages because there are plenty of intelligent women to balance her out… and plenty of air-headed men as well!  Morris somehow manages to make even the silliest of characters somehow sympathetic in their own way.  There are definitely gentle lessons throughout the books, but they never come through as polemic or preachy.

My favorites of the series are the ones with more humor/sass.  The first book is my very favorite out of the series, and even if you don’t feel like tackling ten books, you should at least read that one.  It’s a quick, fun read.  The other books vary, but the series on the whole is a solid 4* if not 4.5.

The Ballad of Sir Dinadan is probably my least favorite, which is a shame because I really like Sir Dinadan himself, and a lot of what happens in the book is very good.  But a large chunk of the plot revolves around Dinadan’s brother, Sir Tristram, who falls in love with another man’s wife.  The whole point of the story is how very, very ridiculous the concept of “courtly love” (i.e. it’s only romantic to love someone you can’t have), but it’s really a rather downer of a tale.  Then, out of all the stories to repeat, we get another version of it in The Squire’s Quest, which greatly reduced my enjoyment of that book as well.

But on the whole, the books are funny yet thoughtful, and so enjoyable.  I whipped through them a couple at a time, trying to pace myself.

I had only read The Legend of the King once before – I reread the series every time a new book was published, but hadn’t read the series again after the publication of The Legend.  I only had vague memories of the ending being satisfying, but sad – and that’s exactly what it was.  While the ending wasn’t a bad one, it also wasn’t a happy one – mainly because the ending of the Arthurian legend isn’t really very happy.

Still, it was a solid conclusion, and overall I can’t recommend these books highly enough.