November Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The Voyage to Magical North and The Journey to Dragon Island by Claire Fayers

//published 2016//

I have to say that I actually really, really enjoyed these books, so the whole “meh” feeling doesn’t really apply here.  I gave them an easy 4/5 and completely enjoyed joining Brine on her unexpected pirate ship adventure.  Fayers did a great job with world-building – as an adult, I still found interesting and engaging, but I think that the target audience (middle school) would still easily be able to follow the simple yet involved rules of Brine’s world.

//published 2017//

Brine herself is a very fun heroine, and I felt like her character was balanced out well by Peter, and later Tom.  All in all, I enjoyed how the characters didn’t really fall into stereotypes, but also didn’t feel like they were trying to not fall into stereotypes.

I would definitely recommend these fun and magical little books, and will be looking out for further adventures of Brine & co. in the future.

Cinchfoot by Thomas Hinkle

//published 1938//

Another Famous Horse Story, I found this one to be a bit boring.  Cinchfoot just sort of meanders about but there isn’t a really strong plot or story that feels like it is pulling things along.  Not a bad read, but not one I see myself returning to again.  3/5.

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater

//published 1979//

While this wasn’t my favorite Pinkwater book ever, it still had some very funny moments.  I also think that Pinkwater’s thoughts/views on the educational system are brilliantly insightful and cutting.  I also loved the way that Lionel realized that if he wasn’t learning things, it was his own fault at some level.  Some of the adventures the boys have are quite ridiculous, but the ridiculous is exactly what Pinkwater writes so well.  3.5/5 and I do recommend it, but only if you’ve read some of Pinkwater’s stronger works first.

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

//published 1946//

This was a pretty adorable little Heyer tale.  I did find Carlyon a bit too overbearing at times, but Elinor was just too adorable, as was Carlyon’s younger brother.  I quite enjoyed the way that the love story was secondary to all the ridiculous spy tales.  Fun and frothy; classic Heyer.  4/5.

The Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

//published 2017//

So I purchased this edition because of the amazing illustrations by MinaLima.  My husband gave me some money for my birthday that he said was specifically for books, and, more specifically, I must purchase at least one book that I’ve been not purchasing because of its unreasonable expense!  This one fit the bill – but it was worth every penny, as the book itself is absolutely gorgeous. The illustrations are amazing – not just the big, fancy, interactive ones, but all the details on every page.

It was also interesting to read the original version of B&B – it’s a great deal more convoluted and involved than the traditional version we see these days, as Beauty has eleven (!!!) siblings, and there are multiple chapters devoted to a complicated backstory with fairy feuds.  It was still a very engaging story, although I can see why it has evolved the way that it has, getting rid of some of the extraneous characters and building more personality among those that are left.

Anyway, this was definitely a worthwhile purchase and read, and I can see myself returning to this gorgeous book many times in the future.

The Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner by Ann Larkin Hansen

//published 2017//

This is another Storey book, and another addition to their Backyard Homestead series.  While this book did have some interesting information, and I did like the format where things were laid out by season, it was definitely an outline type of a book.  There wasn’t really a lot of depth about anything, making this more of a starting-point reference rather than an end-all tome.  It makes a nice addition to my collection, but definitely wouldn’t be the book I would choose if I could only have one homesteading manual.  Still, excellent formatting and very nicely put together, as I’ve come to expect from Storey.

The Little Nugget by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1913//

This was a fun little tale of a very obnoxious little boy who is worth a great deal of money, and so has multiple people attempting to kidnap him for various reasons.  While there were several funny moments and it was overall an enjoyable tale, it wasn’t as developed as most of Wodehouse’s later works, and lacked that sort of bubbly perfection.  It was an easy 3/5 read and one that I do recommend, but not if it is your first foray into the world of Wodehouse.

Advertisements

The Great Shelby Holmes // by Elizabeth Eulberg

//published 2016//

This book sounded like it could be super cute and fun.  A kid named John Watson moves into a new apartment building and becomes friends with the girl next door, Shelby Holmes.  Shelby is incredibly observant and considers herself a detective.  Together, they solve a mystery of a missing dog.

I liked the concept of a kiddie version of Sherlock Holmes, in this world where the original Sherlock obviously doesn’t exist.  Young Watson was a pleasant narrator, settling into his new life (which of course involves a divorce, because we aren’t allowed to write about children with two parents any more, unless those parents are either incredibly weird or gay).  He isn’t really sure that he wants to be friends with Shelby, who is kind of strange, but he doesn’t have a lot of other options, and soon finds himself pulled into her adventures.

So, like, I think what Eulberg was trying to do was portray a socially awkward kid (Shelby) and then have Watson kind of show her how to be a friend.  But all that really happens is Shelby is so obnoxious and annoying that I couldn’t hardly stand to read about her.  She is just flat rude, way beyond just being awkward.  Is she supposed to be autistic and I’m supposed to have empathy for her or something?  I have no idea.  I just couldn’t believe what an obnoxious know-it-all jerk she was 100% of the time.

What really blew my mind was that she wasn’t just that way with other kids – she’s consistently rude and condescending to every adult she meets, too, including her own parents.  And like – all the adults just go with it?  They let her boss them around and ask rude questions and give in to all her demands.  It was quite strange.  If Shelby had showed up in my life, I would have told her where to get off.  And if I had ever talked to my parents the way she talked to hers, I would have been grounded for weeks.

I realize that the original Sherlock isn’t completely likable.  He is also rather condescending at times and not always polite.  But he’s also an adult, not a nine-year-old.  I basically got to the point where I realized that I wouldn’t recommend this book to any of the younger readers I know, because there is no way I would want them to look at Shelby as a role model.  Even though by the end Shelby is doing slightly  better at ‘being a friend,’ it’s not like she ever actually realizes what a boor she is, or apologizes for being obnoxious.

At one point, Watson and his mom go to Shelby’s house for dinner.  Throughout, Shelby talks back to her parents, makes rude comments under her breath, and is incredibly sulky and annoying.  When told to eat her green beans, she first off refuses, and then shoves them all in her mouth at once and chews with her mouth open.  When she is given a piece of pie, she takes a bite and then spits it out because it’s sugar free.  For some reason, her dad refers to her as ‘Shelly,’ to which Shelby responds, “It’s Shelby, Father.  How many times must I remind you of that, especially since you have given me that designation?”  …So apparently her dad forgets her name regularly…???  Or is Shelly a nickname that she doesn’t like???  Throughout the evening, her rude behavior is met with only mild remonstrance from her parents, who are of course portrayed as rather slow, dense, and ineffective.  And afterwards, does Watson’s mom say, “Wow, there is no way I want this kid to be your primary influence in your new home!” ??  No, of course not.  She’s just like, “Oh, wow, Shelby sure is interesting!  ::nervous laughter:: ”

I also found it really hard to believe that Watson and Shelby were allowed to just meander all over New York City without telling anyone where they were going or when they would be back.  Watson’s mother gives him strict rules about where he can go, but he doesn’t pay any attention to them since he’s just following Shelby around.  On multiple occasions he finds himself places where he is uncomfortable or doesn’t know how to get home.  None of these things seemed like actions I would want a younger reader finding acceptable.  And even when Watson’s mom finds out that he went places he wasn’t supposed to, she just sort of shrugs it off because she’s glad he’s ‘making friends.’

I had trouble deciding whether a 10-year-old would have found the mystery of the book challenging.  I found it almost embarrassingly obvious, to the point that I started to worry that maybe Watson needs some help if he can’t put together the clues that Shelby is handing him.  Again, I know it’s traditional for the sidekick to be a little dense, but seriously.  The culprit actually explains the motive behind the dognapping but Watson doesn’t notice…

As I was reading this book, I found myself thinking a lot about the child-genius-detective that I grew up with, Encyclopedia Brown.  I even pulled out a couple of my old EB books to see if he was more annoying than I remember.  But no, Encyclopedia manages to be unfailingly polite and helpful, has normal friends, does chores without complaining, and is respectful to his parents and other adults.  His dad is the chief of police, and often presents Encyclopedia with the facts of a case so EB can solve them, which he always does in a way that does not imply that his dad is stupid.

All in all, I was completely turned off by Shelby as a character, which meant I didn’t enjoy this book at all, and would never recommend it to any of the younger readers I know.  I would never want them to think that Shelby’s condescending, rude, obnoxious behavior is in any way as acceptable as it was consistently presented.  Shelby is a know-it-all jerk who spends all of her time rolling her eyes, pouting, and being dismissive of other people’s opinions and thoughts.  There wasn’t a single moment of this book where I found her to be sympathetic or likable.  2/5 and not recommended.

October Minireviews // Part 2

In an attempt to get you all caught up on all the reading I’ve done this month, I’m cramming all of my reviews into minireviews…

Thirty Days to Thirty by Courtney Psak

//published 2015//

This was a freebie Kindle book that sounded fun.  Jill, aged 29, is confident that her life is going the right direction.  On the verge of becoming a partner in the law firm where she’s been working, and confident that her live-in boyfriend is going to propose any minute, Jill considers her life ‘together.’  Unfortunately, instead of getting promoted, she gets fired.  And when she comes home early, she finds out that her boyfriend is actually having an affair.  So Jill moves back home to the small town where she grew up, back into her old bedroom at her parents’ house.  There, she comes across a list she wrote in high school of 30 items she wanted to have done by the time she was 30 years old – and she has only done a couple of them.  With the help of her long-time best friend and high school boyfriend, Jill starts getting things done on her list, and of course discovers who she truly is and true happiness along the way.

I was hoping for just a kind of happy little chick lit sort of vibe, but this book was just too ridiculous and poorly written to deliver even that.  The whole thing is first person present tense, so that was already quite aggravating, and the further into the book I got, the worse the story was.  Jill doesn’t read as 29-year-old at all, as she was just so immature and ridiculous at times.  There were really stupid scenes, like her walking in on her parents “doing it” and then I had to go through like an entire chapter of her being “so grossed out” – like yes, that’s extremely uncomfortable, but you’re an adult now, so I really feel like you should be able to move on – like how exactly do you think you arrived in the world….???

But the worst part was that one of things on Jill’s list was something along the lines of “learn to live without a boyfriend” or something like that – and it’s the one thing she never does!  She realizes how she was depending on her old boyfriend so much that she never really was herself, but she launches straight into a relationship with her old high school boyfriend.  So even though I liked that guy just fine, I was never able to really get behind their romance because at the end of the day Jill still just felt like she “needed” a man to live her life.  So 2/5 for being boring, pointless, and having an overall rather negative life message.

Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation by Harlow Giles Unger

//published 2010//

When I read a children’s biography of Patrick Henry a while back, I was really inspired to learn more about this particular founding father.  And while Lion of Liberty was interesting and had some more information about Henry, I overall felt more like I was reading a condensed history of the American Revolution/founding of Constitution, with a side focus on Henry rather than the other way around.  There is only one brief chapter on the first 24 years of Henry’s life, and throughout the rest of the book we are only given pieces of Henry’s personal life in very brief (and sometimes weirdly snide) asides.  Rather than making Henry more personable and accessible, Unger gives us a picture of a man’s accomplishments rather than the man himself.

In a weird way, I realized about halfway through the book that it just didn’t feel like Unger really liked Henry.  I felt rather like he was rolling his eyes at many of Henry’s dramatic speeches, and some of his comments about Henry’s personal life came across as downright uncomfortable.  E.g. – “…from then on, whenever Henry returned home he made certain that if his wife was not already pregnant from his last visit, she most certainly would be by the time he left.”   ???

Still, there was enough of Henry in this book to remind me why he was one of my childhood favorites.  His passion not just for freedom from Britain, but from big government in general, his love for everyday people and preserving their independence, his emphasis on the critical importance of strengthening small, localized governments – these are all themes that still resonate with me today.  I especially loved Henry’s passion for the Bill of Rights, and his strong stance against the Constitution without them.  Even more interesting is to see how so much of what Henry predicted has happened – in events that lead to the Civil War, and again today, with an ever-closing noose of interference and heavy taxation from a centralized government ever-distanced from the people it claims to serve.

For Lion, 3/5.  A decent read for the political overview of Henry, but I would still like to get a hold of a biography that focuses more on him as a person and less on him as a founding father, and preferably without the snide remarks about how much Henry liked his wife.

Indian Paint by Glenn Blach 

//published 1942//

In my effort to read/reread all the books I physically  own (and there are a lot), Indian Paint was next on the draw.  One of the Famous Horse Story series, this was a simple yet engaging tale of a young American Indian boy and the colt he has chosen for his own.  This wasn’t really a book that bowled me over with its intricate plotting, but I was surprised at how interested I became in the fate of Little Falcon and Shadow, especially since the fates seemed quite determined to keep them apart.  While there were points that were a bit overly dramatic, the story held together well and came to a satisfactory conclusion.  I have several of Balch’s books still on the shelf and am looking forward to tackling them at some point as well.

The Girl on the Train by Paul Hawkins

//published 2015//

So this is one of those books that I had heard SO much about that I actually braced myself for disappointment.  In the end, I was close to a 4/5, as it was a compulsively readable book that drew me in almost immediately.  I appreciated the fact that while Rachel wasn’t a reliable narrator, she was still likable.  I felt like the book was paced quite well.  Frequently, books that rely on date/time headings to let the reader know where we are quite annoy me, but it worked well in this instance, and I liked the way that we got the backstory from one narrator and the present story with another.  The ending came together well, leaving me overall satisfied.  While I didn’t find this to be an instantaneous classic that I would want to read again and again, I can still see why it has been a popular thriller since it was published.

I have read reviews of this book on multiple blogs that I follow (with a variety of views from “THIS WAS AMAZING!” to “eh”), including Reading, Writing & Riesling; The Literary Sisters; Rose Reads Novels; Chrissi Reads; Cleopatra Loves BooksBibliobeth; and probably others I’ve missed!

October Minireviews // Part 1

Well, here we are in the last week of October and not a single book review posted!  I’m going to try to catch up with some minireviews, but we will see what happens.  I’ve actually been reading some good books lately, but life has just been too busy to be conducive to review-writing!

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup

//published 2015//

This book was first brought to my attention by Cleopatra, and I was immediately attracted the combination of a nonfiction book on a rather random topic, and learning more about the science behind Agatha Christie’s murders.  This book did not disappoint.  It was informative and engaging, full of fascinating information without becoming too lecture-y.

The format of each chapter made each poison accessible.  Each starts with an incident of Christie using the poison in a story, followed by the history of the poison, a scientific explanation of how the poison actually kills someone, the antidote (if any!), famous real-life cases of the poison being used, and then tying back in to Christie’s use of the poison in her stories.  Throughout, I was consistently impressed with the overall accuracy of Christie’s use of poisons and descriptions of their symptoms.

Although reading this book made my husband nervous, Harkup is quite clear that (in most cases), science has advanced enough to make it difficult to get away with poisoning, although I was genuinely quite astonished at the fact that ricin, found in castor bean plants, is so very poisonous.  I’ve always heard the old saying that if you don’t like someone you can make them some castor-bean tea, but after reading this book it does seem that these plants should come with a more thorough warning, especially for families with small children who like to play in the garden!

Overall, this book was a surprisingly engaging read.  My only real complaint is that while Harkup did provide a interesting introduction, the book ended rather abruptly – a few closing comments would have been nice to sort of tie everything back together.  Still, with so much information presented in such an interesting manner, I really can’t complain too much.  Definitely recommended for people interested in bumping someone off or just learning more about the science behind Christie’s works.

Glass Trilogy by Maria V. Snyder

First off, I would have been quite annoyed if I had read these books in the order listed on Goodreads.  If you are interested in reading all of Snyder’s books set in Ixia/Sitia, read the three Poison Study books, then the Glass books, and then the Soulfinders books.  I’m in the middle of the second Soulfinder book, and think that I would have been rather confused if I hadn’t received all the background from both the Glass trilogy and also a short story available on Snyder’s website, that really should be included as a prologue to the first Soulfinder book, as it has a lot of critical information.

ANYWAY the Glass trilogy itself was really good, but the main character/narrator, Opal, was just not as likable to me as the main character/narrator of the Poison Study books (Yelena).  Opal always felt like she was three steps behind and more worried about herself than anything else.  But by far the worst part about the trilogy were the love triangles, yes, plural, because the players switched about between different books, and none of the options were good.

Overall, I would give these three books 3/5, maybe 3.5.  The stories weren’t bad, it was just that I found Opal so annoying and felt like she consistently made the wrong/selfish choice.  I also felt like the conclusion to the love triangles was kind of weird and made me uncomfortable – more in the next paragraph, so skip it if you are worried about spoilers!

SPOILER PARAGRAPH FOR REAL: Opal is kidnapped/tortured by a guy in the beginning, and in the end, that’s the one she ends up with!  He goes through this huge change of heart, etc., but Opal’s attraction to him began before the change and before she knew he had changed.  The way that it was presented made me very uncomfortable.  The whole thing was really weird.

Dot Journaling: How to Start and Keep the Planner, To-Do List, and Diary That’ll Actually Help You Get Your Life Together by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

//published 2017//

If you’re like me and like to have things explained to you (thoroughly), instead of that artsy ‘just follow your heart and do what looks right to you’ nonsense, this book may be for you.

I’ve been intrigued by the concept of Dot/Bullet Journaling, because I am way into lists and also into journaling and I also actually have started making notebook inserts and selling them on Etsy, and most people are using them for this type of thing. Miller does a really nice job of explaining the concept of dot journaling, and then laying out some basic guidelines and ideas. She does emphasize that the entire point of this method is its flexibility and convenience of being able to make it your own, but also gives actual real examples and ideas.

My only personal issue with this book is that a lot of times the pictures were the explanation, which was totally fine, except sometimes the pictures also crossed the middle of the book, which meant that important parts of the pictures were tucked down inside the binding and were not readable. This seemed like a really obvious flaw that could have been fixed before printing, as it occurred on multiple occasions. It does make the book look nice, having the pictures cross both sides of the book, but then maybe a different binding should have been chosen, as this really aggravated me.

Overall, though, this was a friendly and accessible book that made me feel like it is possible to use a dot journal without having to be a really creative and artsy person.

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

//published 2014//

This was my latest book from my Bethany Beach Box, which despite mostly 3/5 reads, I have been enjoying.  I actually really like children’s fiction, and it’s been interesting to see what books are considered worth promoting this way.  Turtle was another 3/5 read, honestly mostly because it was quite boring.  As an adult, it was rather obvious that Nye’s entire goal was to write a book that showed a Muslim family in a Muslim country in a positive light.  There is nothing wrong with that, but considering how people complain about books written in the 1950’s and how they’re “too sweet” and not at all “realistic”, it seems a little strange to turn around and praise a book that is basically sugar.

Aref and his parents are moving from Oman, a country in the Middle East, to Michigan, so that his parents can complete their doctorate degrees.  Aref isn’t happy about leaving, and most of the book are little adventures that he has with his grandpa as they visit all of their favorite places together.  I honestly ended the book feeling quite aggravated with Aref’s parents, who seemed to feel that their education and life was more important than Aref being close to his grandpa.

But what really  bogged this book down were the lists.  We’re told at the beginning that Aref and his family love learning new things, and then writing down what they have learned that day.  So throughout the book, whenever Nye wants her readers to learn something, we have to suffer through a list, in Aref’s handwriting, telling us about the habits of turtles or how awesome it is to live in Oman under the rule of a sultan, which really added to the boring factor in this tale.

I realize that I am not the target audience for this book, but even at the age of ten I don’t think that I would have enjoyed reading a bunch of lists.  All in all, this book came across as a book that practically screamed USE ME FOR A UNIT STUDY IN YOUR SECOND GRADE CLASSROOM, but in my mind didn’t have a lot to offer just simply as a story.

Summer of Lost and Found // by Rebecca Behrens

//published 2016//

I really wanted to like this children’s book (I mean, look at that gorgeous cover!), but in the end it was just a middling read for me, and not one that I’ll ever bother with again.

The story focuses on Nell, whose father is an author and whose mother is a botanist.  At the beginning of the tale, Nell’s father disappears – except he doesn’t really disappear; he’s left, and Nell’s mother is super cagey about where he is and when/if he is coming back.  So this means that instead of spending the summer at home in New York City, Nell has to go with her mom to do some research on Roanoke Island in North Carolina.  Nell isn’t super happy about giving up all the plans she had for hanging out with her best friend, but slowly finds herself drawn into the small town life on the island, as her mom researches some kind of really old grapevine that may possibly have been on the island at the time of the arrival of the original British colonists (the ones who disappeared).  Nell becomes intrigued by the missing colonists and begins trying to do some research with the aid of a boy, Ambrose, she met at one of the historical parks.  She also meets a girl about her own age whom she immediately dislikes, because the other girl, Lila, is super bossy and annoying.  Throughout the story there are also journal entries written by a boy from the lost colony.

Somehow, though, this book just wasn’t magical.  Children’s books especially have that potential (and it has nothing to do with whether or not there is actual magic in the story – its the essence of the story itself that is or isn’t magical), and this was just fell flat.  Part of it was the very muddy historical fiction aspect – for instance, in the end, Nell and her friends solve the mystery of the lost colony… except no one has ever really solved that, and it felt like if I was just a kid reading this book I would get to the end and assume that maybe that mystery had really been solved in real life?  I don’t know, it just felt strange that that was the way she decided to go, having a couple of kids solve a historical mystery that’s been around a couple centuries.

The whole situation with Nell’s dad felt extremely contrived, and it also seemed unnatural that Nell wouldn’t have actually confronted at least one of her parents way earlier in the story.  If Nell’s  mom felt like she needed to ‘take a break’ from Nell’s dad, what was the point of sending him away like two days before she’s leaving for the summer anyway?  It already felt like they were going to take a break, so the whole ‘disappearance’ was really just a way of making Nell have to go with her mom.

A lot of the story felt that way, like Behrens had an idea of where she wanted the story to go, but had to be rather heavy-handed in making it happen.

I appreciated that Behrens was trying to make Nell a sort of modern-day girl, and I didn’t mind the fact that some of the story was her texting or emailing people.  However, it seemed odd to have her texting during actual face-to-face conversations with other people.  Like when she meets Lila, they’re sitting in front of the bookstore talking, and Nell literally starts texting her best friend in the middle of the conversation, things like, “Met this girl in the bookstore – might be kind of cool” or “Nevermind.  The girl’s kind of full of herself.”  I think Behrens was trying to make sure we knew about Nell’s feelings towards Lila, but the texting felt like an extremely awkward way to express that.  Like, is she texting while Lila is still talking?  Does Lila pause the conversation so Nell can pull out her phone and send a message to someone else?  It was weird, and it happened on more than one occasion.

Finally, and this is a spoiler, so don’t read this paragraph if you want to read the book (or maybe do, because this was something that annoyed me throughout the whole book and I actually skipped to the end to find out if I was right, which is something I pretty much never do) – Ambrose is a ghost!?  And it’s just kind of like…  oh, okay, he’s a ghost!  So now everything makes sense.  It really, really felt like a cop-out, and I’m not really sure if like Behrens herself just believes in ghosts so presenting one as a reasonable solution is a sensible conclusion for her?  Because legit everyone, including adults, just say “Ohhhh, he’s a ghost!” and then that’s about it.  Also, I was hoping that there would be some good reason for why Nell can see/talk with Ambrose but other people can’t – like it would have made so much sense for it turn out that she’s a distant relative or something but… nothing.  No explanation.  Apparently Ambrose just liked the looks of her…???

Overall, there were just too many jumps/gaps in logic for me to get on board with this book.  I realize it’s children’s literature, but I think it’s just as important for children’s books to make sense (within their own world – I realize the rules of Narnia are different from the rules of The Secret Garden which are different from the rules in Babe: The Gallant Pig but each book still makes sense within its own context, and that’s the key) as it is for adult books, because having those rules flow together is what makes it easy to immerse oneself into the story.  There were way too many times that I felt jarred out of the story by a ?!??! moment.

A 3/5 for a pleasant read, but Summer of Lost and Found isn’t a book I’ll be rereading.

August Minireviews – Part 1

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The High Window by Raymond Chandler

//published 1942//

In this outing for PI Phillip Marlowe, the tough-talking-but-soft-hearted detective finds himself working for a rich but rather dreadful old widow.  Per usual, Marlowe is pulled into all sorts of shenanigans, most of which would seem unrelated to someone more optimistic than our hero.  The mystery in this one seemed stronger to me than the first few books, and I really enjoyed the story.  These books are pretty fast reads and I am finding them to be thoroughly engaging.  3.5/5.

Once Upon a Kiss by various authors

//published 2017//

This collection of short stories are all retellings of fairy tales by random YA authors.  I picked it up as a free Kindle book in hopes of maybe finding some new authors to check out.  However, none of the stories in this collection rated higher than a 3/5 for me, and some I didn’t even bother to finish.  To me, a short story should still have a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and end, and some kind of driving force for the protagonists, but a lot of these stories just came across as ‘sample’ writing – a few stories literally just stopped and were like, ‘If you want to find out more about what happens next, be sure to check out my book!’ which annoyed me so much that I won’t be checking out their books.

Overall, not a complete waste of time, but almost.

The Cat Sitter Mystery by Carol Adorjan

//published 1973//

This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I’ve had around for as long as I can remember.  I read this book when I was pretty little – it was possibly one of the first mysteries I ever read.  I was quite enthralled with the exciting and mysterious events surrounding Beth’s neighbor’s house!

Rereading as an adult, this story about a girl who moves into a new neighborhood and then ends up taking care of her eccentric neighbors’ cats, doesn’t really have a great deal of depth, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.  Adorjan does a really great job of making the whole story plausible, and also setting up reasonable explanations for all of the shenanigans.  The side story about Beth trying to settle into her new neighborhood in the middle of summer is also done well.

My edition is fabulously illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush, who illustrated several other childhood favorites, like Magic Elizabeth and Miracles on Maple Hill.  They are probably most famous for their work with the original editions of The Borrowers and their sequels.  The Krush’s line drawings are just perfect, especially of the cats.

All in all, a comfortable 4/5 for this short children’s book, an old favorite that held up quite well to an adult reread.

The Story of Amelia Earhart by Adele de Leeuw

//published 1955//

Back in the 1950’s, Grosset & Dunlap published a series of children’s biographies called ‘Signature’ books – each one has a copy of the famous person’s signature on the front, and an illustrated timeline of ‘Great Events in the Life of…’ inside the front cover.  I really enjoy history books that are aimed at the middle school range because they usually hit all the high points without getting bogged down with a lot of details and political opinions.  It’s a great way to get a basic introduction to a person or event.  I’ve collected a lot of these Signature books over the years – they have those delightful cloth covers from the era and are just a perfect size to read.

That said, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this one.  While it was a fine read, de Leeuw’s choices about what random vignettes from Earhart’s life to include seemed really random.  For instance, an entire chapter is devoted to a random event in Earhart’s life involving a neighbor who treats his horse cruelly – and in the end, Earhart and her sister don’t actually get to rescue the horse – instead, it escapes and then dies leaping over a creek?!  It just felt incredibly random and didn’t really add any information about Earhart – it never came back as this big influential event or anything.  There were several other, smaller stories like that throughout, like de Leeuw had collected tons of tales and then just pulled out of a hat which ones to include.  It was definitely much choppier than other Signature books that I’ve read.

Still, Earhart had an amazing and fascinating life.  I really loved how so much of what she did wasn’t amazing because she was the first woman to do it – but just the first person.  I love biographies that emphasize a woman’s abilities, intelligence, and skills as those of a person instead of those as a woman.  No one is going to believe that women are just as capable as men if we constantly act like being a woman was a weakness they had to overcome.

All in all, this was a fun and interesting book.  I’m not particularly into aviation, but apparently Earhart herself wrote a couple of books – I’m especially interesting to check out her book 20 Hrs., 40 Min. about flying over the Atlantic – I’m curious to see how it compares to Charles Lindbergh’s account, which I ended up really enjoying a lot.

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

//published 1943//

The fourth Phillip Marlowe felt a little darker than the first three.  Marlowe seems a little jaded, and while he still manages to make fun of many of the terrible people he meets (usually everyone he meets is pretty terrible), sometimes it felt a little serious, like Chandler genuinely was starting to think that everyone out there really is terrible.  There is also a rather gruesome scene when a body is found – not exactly graphic, but so well implied that it didn’t need to be in order to make me feel a little queasy (possibly because I was trying to eat a baloney sandwich at the time).

However, the mystery itself was, I felt, the strongest yet.  The reader has access to all the same information as Marlowe, and while I was able to connect some of the dots, I didn’t hit them all.  I really enjoyed watching everything come together, but the ending was just a bit too abrupt to feel completely satisfactory.

Still, a really great read, if a bit darker than the earlier fare.  3.5/5.

July Minireviews – Part 2

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

I had a lot of minireviews for July, so Part 1 can be found here.

Water Song by Suzanne Weyn

//published 2006//

This book was a retelling of The Frog Prince, but set in World War I Belgium without (much) magic.  I really, really liked the concept and setting for this story, but honestly the book was just too short for what was going on.  This ended up feeling more like an outline/draft for a story instead of a full story, which meant the characters were very flat and I couldn’t get behind the main love story because it felt so abrupt.  The ending felt rushed and a little strange, and after a big build up around the locket, the actual reveal was quite anticlimactic.

This was a book where I found myself wishing that Weyn had taken the time to turn it into a real, full-length novel.  There was so much potential in the story and characters, but this book barely skimmed across the surface.  3/5 for a decent read and a fantastic concept, but not a book that I would bother reading again.

#16 for #20BooksofSummer!

Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

//published 1940//

This is the second book starring hard-bitten private detective Phillip Marlowe.  As with the first book, The Big SleepMarlowe’s narrative is what makes this book worth reading.  While the story is fine, with a decent mystery and fair pacing, it’s Marlowe’s slang-ridden, dryly humorous observations that keep me turning the pages.

After a little while, I felt a little better, but very little.  I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country.  What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.  I put them on and went out of the room.

This book is, as with the first, very reflective of the ingrained prejudices of its time, and the easily offended will probably not make it past the first page, where ‘negro’ appears three times, but I found the story to be all the more engaging because of its unvarnished view of its time – so much more interesting to read the books written then, where these words and concepts flow naturally because it was just the way it was, rather than books set during that time but written now, that frequently try too hard to belabor the point that there were prejudices.  It was genuinely disturbing to see how no one really cared about the first murder in the story because the victim was ‘only a negro,’ and that the case was given to a man on the police force generally considered to not be important or skilled enough to deal with something ‘more worthwhile.’  In the end, when Marlowe mentions to the murderer that he may have been able to get away with killing ‘just a shade,’ he really won’t be able to get out of also killing a white woman.

So yes, a fun story with a lot of twists and a fairly satisfying (if somewhat hurried) ending; Marlowe’s voice is absolutely hilarious; and, to me, an absolutely fascinating look and reminder of how in the not-so-distant past, having separate ‘joints’ for blacks and whites was not only normal, but considered completely unlikely to ever change.  3.5/5, and I plan to continue reading more of Chandler’s works.

The Methods of Lady Walderhurst by Frances Hodgson Burnett

//published 1901//

This is the sequel to The Making of a Marchionesswhich I read earlier this month.  I found myself a bit ambivalent towards that read, and I actually enjoyed this one even less.  The story begins with the marriage of Emily and Walderhurst, but the majority of the book focuses on Emily’s relationship with Walderhurst’s current heir, Osborn, and his wife.  Osborne has spent his whole life anticipating becoming the next Lord Walderhurst, and is quite upset when Walderhurst marries a reasonably young and healthy wife.  The entire book is a bunch of melodramatic nonsense that would have been a good story if Emily’s devotion to Walderhurst (who is mostly absent in India for the book) actually made a bit more sense.

I would have been willing to go along with the whole thing if the ending hadn’t been so odd and abrupt.  Just – quite, quite strange.  All in all, I think that I’ll stick with The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, and leave Emily Fox-Seton on the shelf.  2/5.

#19 for #20BooksofSummer!

Martin’s Mice by Dick King-Smith

//published 1988//

I’m not sure whether or not I’ve rambled on about King-Smith on this blog before, so even if I have it’s been a while.  While he’s best known for his classic Babe: The Gallant PigKing-Smith was an incredibly prolific writer of children’s books.  While I don’t love all of them – some are really just too fast and shallow to be considered good reading, even for a children’s book – others have become lifelong favorites, like The Fox Busters and The Queen’s Nose.  

In this tale, we have the story of a farm kitten, Martin, who doesn’t like eating mice.  He thinks they are so beautiful and precious.  When he discovers that the farmer’s daughter keeps rabbits as pets, he is intrigued by the concept – and when he catches a mouse one day, he decides to keep her as a pet.  The rest of the story follows the adventure (especially when his long-lost dad finds out), and involves all sorts of funny critters, like an extremely intelligent hog, a crafty fox, and some quick-thinking mice.

While this isn’t a book that’s likely to win a lot of awards or to cause you to ponder your life, it’s still a very fun and witty story that would be a great read aloud or early reader book.  4/5.