May 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!  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 Indiscretions of Archie by P.G. Wodehouse – 3.5*

//published 1921//

This was another early Wodehouse that I hadn’t read before, and while enjoyable (as all his books are), this wasn’t particularly one of my favorites.  This particular book was created when Wodehouse combined several short stories he had written that all centered around Archie, so while the end result is cohesive, it still feels rather episodic in nature.  Archie is a very likable character who starts off on the wrong foot with his father-in-law and continues to accidentally do random things that keep their relationship strained (at least on the father-in-law’s side – Archie is invariably good-humored), which I think was part of the reason that I didn’t enjoy this book as much – most of the humor was based on Archie trying to do something nice and then it all backfiring and ending up with the father-in-law dealing with the disaster.  In the end, everyone ends up happy together, but that also felt a little contrived.  Still, there were plenty of humorous moments in this one, and while it wasn’t my favorite Wodehouse, it was still an enjoyable read.

Holiday Havoc by Terri Reed & Stephanie Newton – 3.5*

//published 2010//

This book is actually two short stories, one by each author.  Both were similarly unremarkable, with some serious instalove, but entertaining nonetheless.  It’s another book off the Love Inspired pile, which is really whittling down since I took most of them to Goodwill without actually reading them haha

The Villa by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 2001//

Speaking of boxes of books, someone also gave me a box of Nora Roberts books at random a while back, so I’ve been sifting through those as well.  The Villa was definitely more novel than romance, a sweeping drama centered around two families who both own wineries.  I wasn’t completely sure it was going to be “my kind” of book, but I found myself drawn in almost against my will.  While I personally felt like this book could have done with more humor and less sex, it was still a very engaging story.  Despite the fact that there were a lot of characters, they felt like individuals.  The main female lead was a little too “strong independent woman” type for me (read: basically obnoxious but gets away with because she’s a woman), but I still ended up liking her.  This book followed one year of time, and the changing of the seasons was a big part of the story and really added to the overall epic feel.  Not a book I’ll ever reread, but surprisingly interesting for a one-time go.

Carousel of Hearts by Mary Jo Putney -3.5*

//published 1989//

This is yet another book from a box of books – a while ago I purchased a box of regency romances on eBay because the box included several Heyer titles I didn’t own.  Now I’m working my way through the non-Heyer titles, all of which, prior to this one, ended up being DNFs.  Carousel was an entertaining little read that was a bit strong on coincidence but was enjoyable nonetheless.  I really liked all four characters in this story, although they did need a stern talking-to.  It would honestly have been a 4*, except the ending got completely out of hand.  Still, this one ended up being a fun read.

The Legend of Luke by Brian Jacques – 4*

//published 1999//

The next installment in the Redwall series, Luke is really two stories in one.  The book begins with Martin and a few companions heading north to see if they can find out what happened to Martin’s father, who left on a quest when Martin was a child.  (As we learned in Martin the Warrior, Martin and the rest of his tribe were kidnapped and enslaved while Luke was gone.)  The first part of the book recounts Martin’s journey, which concludes when Martin finds several animals who knew Luke and know what happened.  The second part of the book is the story of Luke, pursuing vengeance on the high seas.  The third, and final, part of the book is Martin’s journey back to Redwall, which is still being constructed at this time (the Martin part of the story takes place chronologically after the events in Mossflower).

I actually enjoyed this book, which felt more focused than a lot of the other installments in this series.  It was also nice to have a story where the shrews aren’t just disposable extras!  And, thankfully, there weren’t that many scenes with the youngsters being obnoxious, which has been a theme in the last few books.  Overall, I’m still enjoying and planning to finish the series, but it’s working well to read them one at a time a bit spread out.

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March Minireviews – Part 2

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 Rose Bride by Nancy Holder – 3.5*

//published 2007//

This story started strong, but got rather muddled.  It also honestly seemed really lame to me because basically different mothers beg the gods (and goddesses) to show their children that they’re loved, and the way the goddesses complete this task is by killing off basically everyone in those children’s lives and making them suffer horrifically until they finally find each other…!??!  I’m just never a fan of stories where the main character is very Job-like in that they just keep getting hit with one tragedy after another.  It gets old and same-y after a while.

So while this one wasn’t bad for a one-time read, it wasn’t so amazing that I yearn to read it again and again.

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer – 3*

//published 2015//

This was one of those books where I honestly probably only got 2* of enjoyment out of it, but because it did keep me glued to the pages I feel like it deserves the added star.  This wasn’t a bad book, per se, but it incorporated a plot device that I always feel is cheating, because it means that the author doesn’t have to actually explain anything or even make any of it make sense.  So not a bad book, and I definitely wanted to find out what was going to happen, but in the end not really my type.

Compass American Guides:  Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by Brian Kevin – 4*

//published 2009//

So we are actually planning two big trips this year and I am super excited about both. In May we are heading south to Great Smoky National Park, and in September we are heading west to Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  In some ways, Yellowstone is kind of stressing me out because it is SO huge that I know there is absolutely no way that we can begin to see even a fraction of all there is to see, so I want to make the best of our time there, which, for me, means loads of research!  Luckily I have quite a bit of time to learn as much about these two gigantic, beautiful parks as I can.  (And yes, I’m the kind of person who actually reads travel guides cover-to-cover.  Not sure exactly what that says about me as a person haha)

This Compass guide was a fantastic place to start, and I’m super disappointed that there aren’t more of them for more parks (like Great Smoky for instance…).  It’s a great blend of a traditional travel guide with lots of photos, tips, and information.  The guide is divided into three main chapters, two for Yellowstone (one each for the south and north loops) and one for Grand Teton.  This book really helped me to get my head around the different areas of the parks and what they have to offer.  There was also a lot of information about places to stay and eat, which could be useful when we’re closer to the actual trip.  My one complaint about this book is that the maps are infrequent and not that great.  I’m very visual and way into maps, so that would have really helped increase my understanding of the parks.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park:  Adventure, Explore, Discover by Amy Graham – 3*

//published 2009//

One thing that I learned back when I was doing lots of different research projects and papers for various projects in college was that if there is a children’s book on the subject, it can be a great place to start to get a basic overview.  Nonfiction children’s books tend to strip a subject down to its basic essentials, which are then presented in layman’s terms.  I have found it to frequently be a great way to help me get a simple overview of a topic.

This book is part of a series that is obviously for children who are writing a report on a topic, as it focuses on providing a lot of other resources, like websites, throughout the book.  In and of itself it’s a pretty simple, rather unexciting, presentation of the park’s natural and social history.  I honestly felt like this book could have said a lot more about what the park is about today, as the chapters on the history make up the bulk of the book.  Still, as I had hoped, this book did provide a decent overview that helped me get my head around some of the basics of the most-visited national park in the country.

Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd – 3*

//published 2019//

This was an enjoyable middle-school read with a likable protagonist and an imaginative setting.  While I enjoyed this story, it didn’t really hit that MAGIC chord deep inside, although it was still a really fun story that I would recommend for middle readers.

March 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!  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.

A Duchess in Name by Amanda Weaver – 3*

//published 2016/

I picked this Kindle book up for free somewhere along the line because I’ll pretty much always pick up marriage of convenience tropes.  This one was pretty average.  I actually liked the story and the characters a great deal, but there was a lot of pretty explicit sex in this one, which always brings down my overall enjoyment of a story.  It also meant that even though this was the first in a series of four, I didn’t really feel like paying to read the rest.

Virtually Sleeping Beauty by K.M. Robinson – 2.5*

//published 2018//

Another Kindle freebie, and another book that I really wanted to like.  The premise is fun with a very Ready Player One vibe, with one character stuck inside a popular virtual reality game.  The narrator and his best friend go into the game to try and rescue her.  However, the execution of the story was incredibly flat.  It honestly felt more like an outline or rough draft than it did an actual book.  The plotting was choppy and cliché.  The characters were one-dimensional and rather insipid.  The ending was incredibly abrupt.  I didn’t remotely believe that the characters had become even basic friends, much less that they had fallen in love, especially considering the whole story takes place over a few hours.  It turns out that this was more of a short story than an actual book, so that’s why I ended up finishing it.  If the writing had been this poor for the full length of a novel, I wouldn’t have continued.  I do have a few other of Robinson’s books as free Kindle books, but reading this one hasn’t made me exactly eager to try the rest.

The Fox Busters by Dick King-Smith – 4*

//published 1978//

Although I’ve only reviewed a couple of King-Smith’s books here, his books were an absolute delight to me growing up, and The Fox Busters was the story that introduced me to the magical absurdity of his writing.  This isn’t really a book I would recommend to very small children, as there is, frankly, a decent amount of death, but I remember loving the military-like execution of events.  Basically, the chickens of Foxearth Farm have, through generations of natural selection (due to generations of farmers not really being bothered to take much care of said chickens), become almost like wild birds.  This means that generations of foxes around the farm have very rarely ever been able to experience the delights of a chicken dinner.  The events in The Fox Busters occur when a trio of especially intelligent pullets are hatched right around the time that a quartet of particularly clever foxes are growing up nearby.  This is the story of their battle.

So yes, it’s honestly a rather violent book.  A lot of chickens – and several foxes – die during the course of it.  But the sheer creativity is fantastically engaging.  King-Smith’s writing is brisk and to the point – he doesn’t tend to linger over descriptions or unneeded details.  Yet somehow that suits the overall military feel of the book.  There is a sly tongue-in-cheek humor throughout that I think I rather missed as a child, but found quite amusing as an adult.

While this isn’t a perfect book, it’s well worth a read if you’ve ever raised chickens, or if you’re just looking for a quick bit of British humor.

Show Lamb by Hildreth Wriston – 4*

//published 1953//

This is another book from my personal collection, one that I picked up at a book sale eons ago but never got around to reading.  It’s a shame, because this is a book I would have quite enjoyed as a child – a bit of historical fiction set in 1850 Vermont, focusing on 10-year-old Chad.  Chad, along with his parents, sister, and aunt, live together on a sheep farm, and Chad wants nothing more than to also be a sheep farmer like his father.  He feels that the best way to start on that path is to get to choose his own lamb to take to the fair that fall, but Chad’s father doesn’t think he’s old enough yet.  This story follows Chad from lambing season through the fair (he of course does choose his own lamb, secretly, which is part of the story) and is a delight the entire way.  One of the things I liked best about this book was that there were multiple times that Chad was strongly tempted to do the wrong thing, but for the most part he choose not to – and even if that behavior wasn’t rewarded immediately, it always paid off in the end.  This is a lesson sadly lacking in virtually all children’s literature these days, as modern authors seem to think it’s much better to tell children that their parents are the enemy and also rather stupid and inept.  In Show Lamb, Chad’s father is not at all perfect, but he is good and genuinely loves Chad, and this really comes through in the story.  We’re also shown a contrast in the lazy, no-good neighbor, which was also done well.

All in all, it seems a shame that literally no one else on Goodreads has ever come across this one (I added it myself), as I found it a delightful little piece of historical fiction with a lot to offer.

The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer – 3.5*

//published 1959//

I’m not sure if it’s because I had the large print version or what, but this was one of the few times where a Heyer book felt like it went on forever.  While the last third of the book picked up the pace and become much more engaging and humorous, the beginning and middle really dragged.  Without any insight into what Hugo was thinking, it was hard to recognize that he was pulling the collective leg of his relatives, because it’s hard to recognize, in writing, that he’s speaking in “broad Yorkshire,” beyond his saying “happen” instead of “perhaps.”  There were also moments where supposedly he accidentally forgot to use his Yorkshire accent, but again this was hard to pick up in writing, so a lot of the subtlety of humor was lost on me. It was a fun story with some likable characters and a lot of potential, but this one felt too directionless for too long, as though Heyer couldn’t quite decide where she was headed with this story.  It was (sadly) still better than a very large chunk of modern romances, but it wasn’t a Heyer I particularly felt I needed to add to my permanent collection.

Redwall Series: Books 1-10 // by Brian Jacques

About a month ago, for some reason I started thinking about the Redwall books.  I had only some hazy memories of reading and enjoying them as a youngster.  I’m not sure why I felt such an urge to read them again, but I found the first 16 of them for $20 on eBay, so I went for it.  Now that I’ve read the first ten books, I’m actually not sure how many of them I read back in the day.  Several of them seem vaguely familiar, but I don’t have clear memories of any of them except for the first book, Redwall.  However, I think it’s possible that I’ve discovered where my subconscious affection for badgers originated.

The Redwall books take place in a land inhabited solely by animals.  Most of the adventures center around an abbey called Redwall, a haven for peaceful creatures who desire to help others.  Most of the books are somewhat formulaic in that there is always a pack of bad animals (aka vermin) attacking the good animals who are forced into battle in self-defense, despite their normally peace-loving natures.

World-building is overall solid, although I’m still left with a few questions, mostly regarding things like size.  Do these creatures live in a completely alternate world where mice are like human-sized, and everything else (like trees and rocks) are based from there?  Or are they actually mouse-sized and trees are just humongous?  Questions like this pestered me a bit throughout my reading, mostly because of who I am as a person haha

There’s also the question of clothes, which the Redwall animals do wear.  I was honestly against this – mice wearing sandals?  This seems far more ridiculous than mice that talk, read, and write.  I ignored most of the references to clothing.  In my imagination, the animals were a bit more animal-y.

I was also left with some questions about carnivorous creatures.  Basically the good creatures are small herbivores – mice, squirrels, hedgehogs, moles, hares, etc.  The bad guys are larger creatures that are frequently carnivorous in real life – rats, ferrets, weasels, stoats, foxes, etc.  For some reason badgers, although they eat small rodents in real life, were added to the good column.  Birds are hit or miss.  In the beginning, there is an implication that owls, hawks, and other birds of prey are dangerous.  But in later books, there is a very casual attitude towards birds – in a couple of books, owls are just hanging out being friendly with everyone with no questions asked.  There wasn’t a lot of continuity with the whole who-eats-whom question.

But for the most part things hang together.  If you’re looking for books where bad guys get redeemed, these are not for you.  The bad creatures are invariably bad and the good creatures are invariably good.  These are the kind of stories where the bad guys get badder and the good guys get gooder – there is basically never any kind of crossover between the lines – in the almost 4000 pages of Redwall I read, only two bad creatures were somewhat redeemed.

These are books for somewhat younger readers – they’re usually in the children’s section, and I would put them probably middle grade – and they do tend to be rather formulaic, but for the most part it works.  I was still pretty invested in how Redwall would be saved this time around.  These books jump around a bit in the timeline, although the last nine books (there are 22 altogether) are all in order.  I’ve been reading them in published order, which is my normal default, although they would be interesting to reread in chronological order someday.  In the meantime, I found a timeline online to help me keep things straight!

Below are a few notes on each of the books individually.  I’m beginning to get a bit burned out on them, so I’m taking a break and doing some other reading for a while, but I do definitely want to finish the series soon.  I have to say that these books are also killing my reading goal on Goodreads!  I was three books ahead when I started, and now I’m three books behind!!  Time for some short and snappy fluff reads!

Redwall – 3.5* – published 1986

This is one of those books where it’s kind of obvious that the author wasn’t necessarily expecting to write 21 more books in the same world.  In that way, I allowed a decent amount of leniency when things didn’t exactly match up to some of the later books.  (I.e., at one point all the vermin are riding in a haycart pulled by a horse – which apparently doesn’t speak/isn’t intelligent – basically the only animal I’ve discovered to date that fits that description in this world.)  I think in some ways Jacques wasn’t sure whether or not this was happening in our human world, or in a separate world with no people.  The rest of the series seems pretty firmly set with no people.

Anyway, there was a lot to like about this book, although I did keep feeling a little confused that Matthias, who is supposed to be the warrior hero, never really seemed to be around when the actual battles were taking place!  Jacques isn’t afraid to kill characters off, and Redwall seemed filled with a lot of deaths just to keep things interesting.  I think I must have read this book more than once in the distant past, because it definitely seemed the most familiar out of all of them.

Mossflower – 3.5* – published 1988 

It’s possible that part of the reason I enjoy these books is because Jacques is really good at naming stuff.  The name Mossflower just makes me happy every time I see it.  The second book in the series is set far in the past from the original story.  In Redwall, we are introduced to the fact that one of the abbey’s founders was a warrior mouse named Martin, whose likeness and legend are embroidered into a tapestry in the Great Hall.  In Mossflower, Jacques takes us back in time to Martin’s arrival in Mossflower country and the events that led to the founding of Redwall.

Overall, this felt like a tighter, more cohesive story than Redwall.  The different strands wove together better, although there were definitely some slow spots.  The characters felt a little more individualized as well, instead of just being different kinds of animals.  There is also a lot more badger lore in this story, and the badgers are my favorites so hard.

Mattimeo – 4* – published 1990

In the third book, Jacques jumps back forward in time, setting this story as a chronological sequel to Redwall.  Here the story focuses on Matthias’s son, Mattimeo.  The story was much sharper and more connected here.  Jacques likes to have multiple stories taking place in multiple places, which sometimes works and sometimes just feels like two stories.  In this book, things actually worked together cohesively.  I liked the connections back to Redwall and some of those events.

Mariel of Redwall – 4* – published 1991

This story is set sometime well after the events of Mossflower but way, way before the events of Redwall.  Here, the abbey is completed for the most part, but has not yet received its beautiful bell that plays such an important role in Redwall.  The story focuses on a female character for the first time – Mariel is intense and determined, and I really found her to be a believable character.  While the overall pattern of this story was pretty predictable, there were some great characters in this story that kept it from being to repetitive.

Salamandastron – 4* – published 1992

Set sometime after the events of Mariel, but still well before Redwall, this story focuses on badgers and the great badger mountain of Salamandastron.  While I really enjoyed this one, and loved the badgers, it felt like Jacques cheated a little bit by never explaining how one of his main characters got from the introduction – parents murdered and left to die as a tiny baby – to living in Salamandastron.  I was really looking forward to getting Urthstripe’s story and then… I never did!

Martin the Warrior – 4* – published 1993

This story is set before Mossflower and basically the story of Martin’s early life.  I really, really liked this one a lot.  I knew that things were going to end badly for Martin and Rose, because in Mossflower Martin arrives alone and never mentions Rose, but I got genuinely choked up when she was killed, even knowing that it was coming.  A lot of times Jacques tends to get a bit lazy in his writing – various types of animals have a “type” rather than individual characters coming through individually.  But in Martin there were a lot more individuals instead of just species, an it really heightened the emotional involvement I felt in the story.

The Bellmaker – 4* – published 1994

For his seventh book, Jacques created a direct chronological sequel for Mariel.  At the end of that book, Mariel and Dandin set off questing, and they have been gone several seasons at the opening of The Bellmaker.  The Bellmaker himself, Joseph, is Mariel’s father.  Martin the Warrior, who throughout the series tends to appear to residents of Redwall in times of trouble via dreams and visions, visits Joseph in a dream and tells him that he needs to set off and find Mariel because she’s in trouble.  Meanwhile, Mariel and Dandin are far away, getting entangled in a battle against – you guessed it – a pack of vermin.

This is one of the very, very, VERY few instances where Jacques allows a vermin animal to become something more than just an evil puppet creature, and it was one of my favorite aspects of the story.  However, this was also a book where Jacques’s tendency to give characters some obnoxious speech pattern to separate them from the rest of the pack comes through strongly – Rosie the hare was completely annoying Mariel with her tendency to laugh (which Jacques constantly writes out along the lines of “WAHAHAHA HOO HAR!”), and she was just as annoying in The Bellmaker.  Like I get it, Rosie has a loud laugh.  Oh my gosh.

Outcast of Redwall – 4* – published 1995

I really had trouble rating this one.  The majority of the story is not, in fact, about the outcast (Veil), but rather about a badger named Sunflash.  I really, really enjoyed Sunflash’s journey, which is why I ended up with a 4* rating for this one.  However, I basically hated Veil’s story, which honestly wasn’t even necessary to the rest of the tale, and felt like an entire opportunity for Jacques to emphasize his pattern of nature over nurture – once a vermin, always a vermin.  Veil is never presented as a sympathetic creature even a little, which meant that Bryony’s love and defense of him felt completely strange.  Spoilers for the rest of this paragraph – in the end, Veil saves Bryony’s life at the sacrifice of his own, which is apparently somehow supposed to make him feel like a redemptive character.  However, since he had actually locked Bryony in a cave an left her to die like two chapters before, I found him hurling himself in front of her to take a spear for her to be simply unbelievable.  Throughout the story Veil always choose the selfish route and always blames everyone else for his problems.  He is full of hate, spite, and cruelty.  He murders two other creatures as an act of petty revenge!  His final act of saving Bryony’s life made absolutely zero sense with the character Jacques had created.

However, I enjoyed Sunflash and his story so much that it redeemed the rest of the book for me, so I still ended up with a 4* rating in the end, especially since Sunflash and his mother are reunited in the end – that just really made me so happy.

Pearls of Lutra – 3* – published 1996

This was definitely my least favorite out of the series so far.  The plot was incredibly choppy and dragged a great deal.  While there is some level of coincidences/convenient help from ghost-Martin in all the books, here it felt like the only way things moved forward was thanks to convenient coincidence or a helping hint from Martin’s spirit.  Half the book was spent chasing after some of the children of the abbey (seriously, I was so over everyone having to wandering around looking for these obnoxious little ones!), and it just never felt like the different stories came together.  Also, this is the ninth book.  In the previous eight books, all of the vermin warriors have been male, with the exception of a few crafty vixens, who were more seers/witch-type characters than actual warriors.  But suddenly, half the vermin fighters are female!  I’m not sure why this bothered me, other than it felt like it didn’t match everything else that Jacques had built in the previous books.  Chronologically, this book does take place after Mattimeo, so maybe the vermin culture is just becoming less patriarchal as time passes??

The Long Patrol – 3.5* – published 1997

I really should have stopped with Pearls, because I feel myself getting a little burned out on these, but I hated to stop with the book I had liked the least.  The Long Patrol was better than Pearls, but I’m not sure if it was genuinely not as good as some of the earlier books, or if it was just because I wasn’t feeling it!  While I did enjoy the hares, the story felt slow in this one.  It was also extremely strange to have a female badger with the Bloodwrath – again, something that throughout the earlier books was emphatically a male badger characteristic.  It may have felt more natural if we were given any kind of backstory for Lady Cregga, but we aren’t.  It also felt like a sudden geographical upheaval in the world, as previously the coastline has always been to the west, but in this story some vermin attacked Salamandastron on the west coast and then somehow ended up shipwrecked… on the east coast that didn’t even exist in earlier books??  I’m quite keen on maps, which Jacques includes in the front of each of his books, but the sudden appearance of an eastern sea confused me, especially since I thought there was a lake there in Salamandastron.  

Conclusion

I’ve greatly enjoyed the Redwall books so far (for the most part), but am ready for a break.  However, I definitely intend to finish the series in the future, although maybe not the next twelve books all in one go!

January 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!  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.

Followed by Frost by Charlie Holmberg – 4*

//published 2015//

This is one of my sister’s favorite books, so when she got a hard copy of it for Christmas, she generously gave it to me for the first read. I was a little leery because I read Holmberg’s Paper Magician books last year and was quite frustrated with them – the concept and world were fantastic; the characters and actual story were unbelievable and boring.

However, Followed by Frost was a much better read.  I absolutely loved the concept of this story and the way that it unwound.  Smitha’s character development is thoughtful and believable.  There were times when things dragged a little bit, and I would have liked a little more of Smitha’s life before the curse, to get the full impact of what a jerk she was, but overall a very solid read that, while following a basically traditional fairy tale pattern, did so in a creative and engaging way.

Wet Magic by E. Nesbit – 3.5*

//published 1913//

I really have a soft spot for Nesbit’s writing, but while this one was perfectly enjoyable, it wasn’t as magical as some of her other books.  Things bogged down a bit in the middle when the children got caught up in an underwater war, and there was this weird thing where the first time they met the mermaid she was super grumpy and unreasonable, and then she suddenly was actually really nice and wonderful and perfect, but I could never get over my initial feelings about her, so I spent the whole story being suspicious that she was going to turn out to be a bad guy after all.  All in all, while this was worth a one-time read, it’s not a new favorite.

Illusionarium by Heather Dixon – 3.5*

//published 2015//

I read a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses by this author a long time ago (pre-blog), so I thought I would give this book a try when I came across it.  Overall a solid read, but not one that really spoke to me.  The setting is interesting and the concept, of parallel worlds, is always one that engages me.  However, there were a few plot questions that left me feeling a little confused.  Dixon was also a little heavy-handed on the whole concept of having a “compass” inside of you that “points true north” (i.e. to the good) that everyone should follow.  A nice little thought, but kind of pointless if “true north” is just based on what you feel is the right thing.  The supposedly bad character in this story was also doing what she thought was best for her country and people, so I think an argument could be made that she was following her “true north” … which is why moral relativity doesn’t really work all that great in real life…  Ennywho, still a fun and imaginative read.

The Runaway Princess // The Runaway Dragon // by Katie Coombs

//published 2006//

I actually really enjoy children’s books and try to read some throughout the year.  They frequently can hold as much emotion and thought-provoking-ness as books aimed at older readers, and I am always on the lookout for new favorites.  Mom read these books last year and thought that I might enjoy them, as I’m always up for fairy tales (and dragons).

These books focus on a princess named Meg, who lives a very happy life with her parents (in a castle, of course) until she turns 15 and her father and the prime minister decide to hold a contest for her hand – the prince who can vanquish the bandits, kill the dragon, and get rid of the witch will be given the traditional half the kingdom and Meg’s hand in marriage.

The first problem is that Meg has no interest in sitting around in a tower waiting to be rescued.  The second problem is that she thinks the bandits, dragon, and witch don’t deserve to die since they pretty much mind their own business.  So while the princes gather around to try and rescue Meg, Meg escapes from her tower and sets out to rescue the threats from whom she is supposedly being rescued!

The Runaway Princess had a lot of fun moments and some really likable characters.  It sometimes got a little heavy-handed on the whole “rebellious girl” theme (you know what I would like?  A story about a girl who LIKES embroidering!), and I think these kinds of stories can actually do girls an injustice by crossing a line from “girls can do whatever they want” to “if girls like girly things then they’re just wasting their lives,” which isn’t a message that I find to be particularly healthy, either.  Yes, girls should be able to learn swordfighting.  But they also shouldn’t be ashamed to learn sewing.

But on the whole, the adventure managed to ramble on without getting too polemic, and the characters were so likable that I was willing to overlook the eye-rolling moments.

//published 2009//

In the sequel, the baby dragon Meg discovers in the first book becomes impatient with his lot in life and takes off.  Meg and her friends set off to find the dragon, becoming embroiled in many adventures along the way.  While you definitely could read this book on its own, it was more enjoyable to read it after the first book, as most of Meg’s friends return for round two.

There are some great scenes in this one – some of the group being held captive by giants is particularly exciting – and plenty of rollicking adventures along the way.

All in all, these were easy 3.5* reads for me.  They were enjoyable and entertaining with likable characters.  Although the (frankly) boring message about how girls should be FREE from feminine constraints reared its ugly head, on the whole Coombs managed to keep it from taking over the whole story.  And there was a dragon, which always raises a book’s value for me.

December Minireviews

The Other Wife by Michael Robotham – 4*

//published 2018//

I really enjoyed reading the Joseph O’Laughlin series last year.  Joe is a middle-aged psychologist who, at the beginning of the series, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  While the books can be read in any order or as stand-alones, they really work best if they are read in order, as you watch Joe and his life grow and change.  When I read the then-last-book in the series last July, I was excited to see that Robotham had another book in the series scheduled for late 2018.  Close Your Eyes had a rather weird ending, and I really wanted more for Joe, whom I actually really love.

The Other Wife was an addictive read that I was glad I picked up on a lazy Sunday, as I pretty much wanted to do nothing but read it.  Robotham easily reestablished me into Joe’s life and, per usual, jumped right into the action.  As always, Joe’s good friend Vincent Ruiz is one of my favorite characters, so I was glad to see him back.  It has also been fun to see Joe’s daughters grow older throughout the series, and in this book his oldest is at university and starting to make her own way in the world.

Reflecting later after I finished the book, I realized that Robotham honestly got a bit sloppy at the end.  One of the main characters (the “other wife”)  wasn’t really given any closure, which seemed quite important given the circumstances.  But I just couldn’t really justify knocking off a half star for that as the book had been so thoroughly engrossing while I was reading it.  I definitely need at least ten more books in this series, so hopefully Robotham is on it!

Early Candlelight by Maud Hart Lovelace – 3.5*

//published 1929//

Several years ago I read the Betsy-Tacy books by this author.  Despite being exactly the kind of books I would have loved growing up, I somehow didn’t get around to reading them until adulthood – and they were a complete delight!  Early Candlelight, however, is Lovelace’s historical fiction, a tale of love and survival set on the 1830’s Minnesota frontier.  While this book was an enjoyable read, and had an excellent sense of time and place, it was also a rather sad book on the whole (frontier life wasn’t super easy).  I also spent most of the book being a little confused because I couldn’t really get my head around the “class difference” between the main character, Dee, and her love interest, Jasper.  Jasper spends a lot of time dwelling on Dee’s unsuitability (and actually so does Dee), but I couldn’t understand why in the world an intelligent, educated, hardworking woman wouldn’t make him a good wife, especially considering that everyone in the area knew and respected Dee and thought she was a wonderful person??  Apparently the people in the fort were trying to cling to their class distinctions from back east, but I just didn’t get it, so it made parts of the story seem contrived to me, even though I’m sure that Lovelace was being historically accurate.

All in all, while this was a nice one-time read, it didn’t speak to me on the same level as the sweet and inspiring Betsy-Tacy books.

The Coming of Bill by P.G. Wodehouse – 3.5*

//published 1919//

This book is often mentioned as Wodehouse’s attempt at a “serious” novel, and it certainly lacks the lighthearted frivolity of most of Wodehouse’s works.  The main characters of this book are not, in fact, named Bill, but instead are Ruth and Kirk.  Ruth is a society girl with plenty of money.  Her mother passed away years ago, and she lives with her grumpy, busy father and her self-important brother, Bailey.  Ruth and Bailey have an aunt who is “famous” for writing books and articles about how people should really live.  The aunt is obsessed with self-improvement, with exercise, and with eugenics – she believes that it is the responsibility of every human to make themselves as fit as they can be, and to find the spouse who will be the ideal breeding partner so that the human race can be bettered through the generations.  When the aunt meets Kirk, a “fine specimen” who is also an artist living off a legacy, she decides he will be the perfect match for Ruth.  Luckily, Ruth and Kirk feel the same way.

If you’re looking for Wodehouse humor and froth, this book is a bit of a fail.  But if you’re just looking for a decent novel with interesting characters, it’s not a bad story.  Wodehouse is gently poking fun at several different things throughout, but at the heart of it all the story is about Kirk and Ruth growing up enough to take responsibility for their own lives, choices, and their child (the Bill of the title).  While this isn’t a book I would return to again and again, as a Wodehouse connoisseur it was interesting read just to see this stage of his writing.

Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien – 4*

//published 1949//

My local library always has a few shelves of discard books for a quarter, and if I’m feeling dangerous I take a moment to browse them when I go in.  A while back I found a very nice hardcover copy of this book and picked it up.  While this wasn’t a mind-blowing book or anything, it definitely was a fun and entertaining little children’s story about a rather pompous farmer and, more importantly, a dragon.  I can definitely see this being a fun read-aloud book – I think that kids would get a kick out of the drama.  Tolkien’s dry humor is in full force throughout and I found myself snickering on more than one occasion.  There isn’t a lot of depth to this one, but it was a fun little read nonetheless.