December Minireviews – Part II

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, inspired by the way that Stephanie reviews the unreviewed every month, I think that some months (or maybe all of them!) will get a post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

This month I had quite a few, so Part I has already been published.

The Head of Kay’s by P.G. Wodehouse

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//published 1905//

Yet another school story from Wodehouse’s early days.  This one definitely had more plot than some of the others – it’s basically the story of how a couple of prefects work together to bring solidarity to their house, despite the interference and incompetency of their house head, Kay.  There is still quite a lot of cricket and footer, especially at the end (it really felt like the story ought to have ended with Kay’s resignation, rather than having it be 3/4 of the way through), but it was overall a breezy and engaging little story.

The Dead Sea Cipher by Elizabeth Peters

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//published 1970//

In this story, by the author of the Amelia Peabody books, our heroine (Dinah) is taking a little tour through the Holy Lands.  She overhears an argument in the next room one night, and the next morning a man in that room is found dead.  Suddenly, a lot of different strangers seem very interested in Dinah, despite her protestations that, because the argument was in Arabic, she understood nothing.

This book reminded me a lot of one of Agatha Christie’s spy novels.  It has that same we’re-all-just-here-for-the-ride attitude towards realism, and it was a fun little frolic if you were willing to forego any need to have the book make logical sense.  Dinah was a moderately interesting protagonist, although things did fall into place just a little too neatly.  And while I’ve loosely compared this story to one of Christie’s, this one definitely lacked Christie’s knack of making characters feel warm and natural.  This was a fairly enjoyable 3/5 read, but not a particularly noteworthy one.

Black Rainbow // by Barbara Michaels

Okay, so quite a while back I read (and loved) the Amelia Peabody series, written by Michaels, whose actual name is Barbara Mertz, who wrote the Peabody series as Elizabeth Peters.  (Why, people.  Why so many names.  Please stop.)  Anyway, I went on to read Peters/Mertz’s Vicky Bliss series, which was also enjoyable but lacked the magic that made me love the Peabody books so much.  (Or maybe they just lacked Amelia Peabody.  I really love Amelia Peabody.)

Mertz also wrote several stand-alone novels, most of which were written as Barbara Michaels (many of which have Elizabeth Peters emblazoned on them, as though giving me someone’s other fake name is going to somehow help me keep them straight).

Prior to Black Rainbow, the only Michaels book I had read was Houses of Stone.  I’m sure that you all remember my engaging review of that book.  My main complaint about it was that it was mostly a treatise on how horrible women have had it throughout all the years.  According to the main character in Houses of Stone, there has never been a single woman born who had it better than a man.  Or something like that.  Frankly, I got super bored with her rantings and explanations about how all Gothic novels were written were just a cry for help from women, who wrote about being imprisoned because they were imprisoned (by men, of course) – emotionally, physically, mentally, etc.

And, let’s be honest, I wasn’t completely surprised, because both the Peabody and Bliss series had a strong feminist line to them.  However, I felt like the main characters of those two series were reasonable.  They realized that they still had the brains and wherewithal to do something with the their lives, especially if they spent less time whining about their (hypothetical) disadvantages, and more time actually doing.  Still.  Houses of Stone was a downer, but I went in hoping for better from Black Rainbow.  Because I still liked the story in Houses (when Michaels deigned to pause the lecture and grace us with a bit of plot).  Plus, I know Michaels can write a solid, engaging tale when she wants to – there are nineteen Peabody books, and while I’m not going to say that they are all 5-star reads, they were, on the whole, pretty darn good.

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//published 1982//

Enough rambling.  On to Black Rainbow.  This novel is set in the 1800’s and is about a young woman who has been hired as a governess.  She is broke and all alone in the world.  We first meet Megan as she walks from the station to her new home, Grayhaven Manor.  Ominously, as the storm clouds part, a black rainbow appears over the estate.  Megan is seized with a superstitious fear, which she of course represses and continues on her way.

Megan, we find out, has been employed as a governess for the ward of a random fellow she met in London.  Megan has quite the crush on her employer, the young and handsome Edmund Mandeville, even though she knows basically nothing about him except he is young, handsome, and owns an estate called Grayhaven Manor. (Oh, and he has a ward.)  Megan’s obsession with Edmund, who doesn’t even appear for a few chapters, felt extremely weird, since Megan herself barely knows the guy.  Whatevs, as the kids say.

Heroine #2 is Jane, Edmund’s sister.  Jane has been running the estate in Edmund’s absence, as it turns out that he’s been away at war for a bit and while he was gone their dad kipped over, and Jane had to step up to the plate, running the estate and, more importantly, the mills that finance it.  Of course, this all works out because Jane is intelligent, kind, resourceful, decisive, far-seeing, a good listener, and any other quality you can think of that you wish your local mill owner had.

Edmund finally gets around to showing up, and he decides that because he is a MAN he should obviously be in charge, so poor Jane is stuck wandering aimlessly around the house wishing she had a job.  Edmund, who is a complete and total douche, struts around like a banty rooster, making all sorts of stupid decisions that adversely impact the lives of his employees and tenants.  He also decides to remodel the entire house, and he wants to sell the mill because real gentlemen aren’t involved in trade.  Edmund wants to come off as a real gentleman, because he is interested in winning the  hand of a real lady from a neighboring county.

Lady Georgina is obviously only interested in Edmund for his money.  She’s beautiful and an excellent horsewoman and is out of money.  She’s a total snob and all the servants hate her.  Basically, she’s Caroline Bingley.

The story went on and on and ON, and I use the word “story” loosely because there wasn’t much of one.  It was impossible for me to like Megan because anyone who is in love with Edmund is just plain stupid.  He has no redeeming qualities.  He’s a whiny, spoiled little twat who throws temper tantrums whenever things don’t go his way, and then acts all charming and flattery to win back people’s good opinions.  I couldn’t stand Edmund, and I couldn’t stand Megan for liking him.  Just.  Ugh.  No.  Please.  Edmund and Lady Georgina deserved each other.

Jane was much more likable, but she was really only there so Michaels could spend pages emphasizing how helpless Jane’s position was.  Poor Jane just has to do whatever Edmund says, because he’s a man and she’s a woman.  And, by the way, women are always the smart, kind ones, and men are always selfish jerks, so the reason that there are any problems in the world is because men make (bad, obviously) decisions and women just have to sit about wringing their hands.

Every now and then, something would happen to make the story pick up the pace a bit, and I would think Oh, good, a story!  except then it would just sort of fade away again.  The other problem to me was that the “mystery” aspect of the story wasn’t very mysterious, as it was quite obvious what was going on/what was going to go on, which added to the overall boredom of the read.

In the end, 2/5.  This was more or less readable, but I just didn’t like anybody.  The ending was solid(ish), but it just seemed completely and totally unreasonable to me that Megan would go through so much to win the affection of a total tool, and I got really tired of hearing how trapped and helpless Jane was, all due to her womanhood.  (Aside: Lady Georgina didn’t seem to have trouble with helplessness.  She went out and got shizznizz done.  She didn’t spend a whole lot of time hand wringing.)  The story was very predictable and not terribly exciting.  I’m still planning to check out more of Michaels’s work (actually, another of her books is on the TBR shelf as we speak), because I know she can write good ones!

Oh!  And that “black rainbow” thing?  Despite the fact that Michaels describes it as “palest silver-gray to a black deeper than the moonlit vault of the sky,” all I can seem to find is “moonbows,” which reflect from the light of the moon rather than the sun.  Still, they do use regular rainbow colors, just more muted than their daytime cousin.  I couldn’t find anything under black rainbow, but I am open to pictures/articles if anyone else has some??

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Here’s a picture from this article about moonbows.  In fairness, the author says that to the human eye, they usually appear white or silver, but a time lapse brings out the colors.  Of course, everyone takes the pictures with the time lapse, so I can’t seem to locate a picture of what it would look like to a normal, mid-1800’s governess strolling the the dripping darkness towards her new home…

Silhouette in Scarlet

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by Elizabeth Peters

Published 1983

In Vicky Bliss’s third appearance, she’s off to Stockholm at the invitation of the rascally “Sir” John Smythe.  We first met Smythe in Street of the Five Moonswhere he was involved in an art forgery scam.  Smythe is a lot like Peters’s character Sethos, whom we met regularly in the Amelia Peabody series, although Symthe was actually created first.  Truthfully, I think Peters improved on Smythe’s character when she invented Sethos, who is a stronger and somehow more admirable character than the very self-preserving Smythe.  Of course, I’ll freely admit that my old-fashioned morals are rather against Smythe as the main romantic character anyway, as I don’t have a strong appreciation for Vicky’s tendency to enjoy a few nights together here and there with absolutely zero commitment involved.  (Nothing graphic, mind you, which is something about Peters’s writing that I greatly appreciate.)

Still, even though I don’t like Vicky and Smythe as well as the Emerson clan, Silhouette in Scarlet was another fun romp.  These stories have  definite campy flavor, and the tongue-in-cheek attitude is perfectly delivered.  I’m also intrigued by the character of Schmidt, Vicky’s boss, who has gone from a rather ominous individual when we first met him in Borrower of the Night to:

Physically he’s a combination of the Wizard of Oz and Santa Claus – short, chubby, disgustingly cute.  Intellectually he ranks as one of the world’s greatest historians, respected by all his peers.  Emotionally…Ah, there’s the rub.  The non-professional parts of Schmidt’s brain are permanently frozen at fourteen years of age.  He thinks of himself as D’Artagnan, James Bond, Rudolf Rassendyll, Cline Eastwood, and Cyrano de Bergerac, all rolled into one.  This mental disability of Schmidt has been partially responsible for propelling me into a number of sticky situations.

And I must say that we mostly see the non-professional part of Schmidt’s character, making him appear rather goofy but lovable, although with the haunting question of whether he really is smart enough to be in charge of an entire famous museum.

Anyway, Vicky romps off to Stockholm, the city of her ancestors (“Roots!” she keeps exclaiming) and, of course, runs into all sorts of trouble, romantic and otherwise.

Peters writes first-person narrative perfectly, with just the right amount of inner dialogue (this sort of “What in the world have I done??” kind of attitude throughout) to make Vicky feel like a real person.  Per usual, I especially enjoy it when I understand a rather obscure reference:

The point of the dream was the chalice.  It had numerous mythic connotations – Arthurian legend, the Holy Grail, the chalice from the palace…No, that was from an old Danny Kaye movie.

As an aside, if you haven’t seen that old Danny Kaye movie, do yourself a favor and find it tonight. You won’t regret it.  And if you don’t feel like watching the whole thing, at least watch the best scene of the whole movie.  (Although Vicky is actually referring to this classic scene.)

Anyway, so far the Vicky Bliss books have been a win, although not as much of one as the Amelia Peabody series.  I’m halfway through, though, and looking forward to the rest.

Street of the Five Moons

by Elizabeth Peters

Published 1978

So I recently read the first book in the Vicky Bliss series, Borrower of the Night, as those of you who actually plowed through my ridiculously long entry of mini-reviews will have discovered.  Street of the Five Moons takes place nearly a year after the events of the first book.  Vicky is now working for a museum in Germany, but she’s ready for adventure when her boss, the rather absurd Professor Schmidt, sends her haring off after a possible forger of antiques.

Much of this story rang as vaguely familiar – a “master criminal” at work behind the scenes, an expert forger of crimes, and a dashing anti-hero were all elements that I recognized from the Amelia Peabody series.  However, here’s the trick – Street of the Five Moons was written before all of the Amelia books except the first (which, when written, was not intended to be a “first” but to simply be).  Looking forward, the rest of the Vicky books are written at the same time the Amelia books are being written, so who knows which ideas came first?

At any rate, Street of the Five Moons was a fun romp of a read.  While belief must be somewhat suspended to make it all come together, it’s still a fun story with sharp, witty dialogue.  While I don’t like Vicky as well as Amelia, she’s still an entertaining narrator.  These first two Vicky Bliss books have definitely been more campy (for lack of a better term) than the Amelia Peabody mysteries, a very tongue-in-cheek tale with cloak-and-dagger elements running strong.

I prefer my books to be a bit on the lighter side, so I enjoy Peters’s humor.  Street of the Five Moons is a 4/5 for sheer fun and entertainment, even if the criminal procedural side requires the acceptance of a few gaps in logic!

Mini Reviews & Updates

Well, friends, we are finally in our new house, and life is much, much  better.  It also seems to be returning to a more manageable level of chaos.  Yesterday was my first full day just at home working (or, as I call them, Hermit Days :-D) in ages and it was glorious.  While the house will be an ongoing (and going and going and going) project, every step just makes it a bit homier and happier.

So I’ve read a lot of books over the last two months or so since I last posted, and I thought I’d just give some brief thoughts on the ones that I remember.  (Usually, I write books down when I’m done with them, but I didn’t write them all down and now that little book is in a box somewhere so you’ll just have to rely on my memory – ha!)

  • The Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce – 4/5 – First Test; Page; Squire; Lady Knight

So I really wanted to write a lot about these books, but I read them at the end of May/beginning of June, and it’s just been too long ago for me to do them full justice.  I had never read anything by Tamora Pierce before, but I enjoyed these books enough to try some more of her stuff, even though there were a lot of things about these stories that irritated me as well.  I really, really liked the main character (Kel?  Right?  Too lazy to look it up, so we’re just going to go with it), who was intelligent, industrious, forthright, and humble.  I also enjoyed the stories themselves.  The battles were interesting without unnecessarily gory descriptions (usually).  The writing was excellent and the stories were well-paced.

As for dislikes, those always stick out in the memory more, right?  So I may list more of them than positives, but my overall feel for this series was good, so don’t be fooled lol.

First off, there is apparently a series that takes place about ten years before this series starts, and in that series a girl isn’t allowed to be a page/squire/knight, so this girl pretends to be a boy so she can be those things.  (I haven’t actually read this series; this is what I gleaned from reading the Protector of the Small series.)  Somewhere along the line everyone is like, What this chick is awesome!  So they change the law so that girls can be knights, too.  All well and good, right?  Except Protector of the Small is ten years later and in all that time not a single girl has signed up to be a page.  So when Kel does, everyone flips out.  I’m sorry, but first off, really?  In ten years, in the entire kingdom, no other girl was ever interested?  And secondly, in ten years you didn’t have time to adjust yourselves to the fact that a girl could, in fact, be a knight?  But no, everyone has to be all freaking out about this and it’s this huge deal and in fact the whole first book is about Kel’s first year as a page and she’s on probation just because she’s a girl (even though the law says she can be a page) etc etc etc.  To add to the nonsensicalness of this is the fact that loads of women are doing all sorts of other “non-traditional” things, including other types of soldiers, so everyone making a big deal about a girl studying to be a knight just doesn’t really seem to flow with the world-building, and left me feeling irritated (frequently) because all it did was (purposefully) lead to lots of opportunities for conversations about how Girls Can Do Whatever They Want Because They Are Mighty and whatever.  It wouldn’t have bothered me if this series had taken place say, two years after the law or something a bit more reasonable, or if women didn’t do anything other than sit and knit in this world, but neither of those things were true, and so the whole fuss just seemed out of proportion to what was going on.

The second big thing was that Kel is so young when it starts.  She’s ten and she knows all these awesome battle techniques?  The whole series would have made way more sense if Kel was 2-4 years older the entire way through.  Because she’s so young in the first book, she’s still really young when she becomes a squire and we’re suddenly having conversations about using protection if you decide you want to have sex even though you’re only fourteen but even though I’m your mother not a single part of my conversation with you is going to be about how sex is more than a physical act and there is plenty of time ahead of you for these things and oh hey if you get it wrong you end up with a baby so it’s okay that the message I’m giving to younger readers is that sex is 100% A-OK as long as you have protection of some kind have fun!  Excuse me!?

Third and final for this mini-review that is turning into a medium review (although I am talking about four books at once so) is that throughout the stories these various battles are going on against various people, and then there is an actual war going on, and then at the end of the fourth book there’s no real conclusion at all to the bigger picture of what’s going on in the world, and that was a little frustrating to me.  The series just kind of petered out without any real wrap-up.

There were other things, like unnecessary references to Kel’s having a period, some random deaths in Squire that seemed completely out of place, and some over-the-top bullying.  Even though I’ve spent way longer griping about these books than praising them, I really did enjoy them, and really do want to read more of Pierce’s work.  While they’re a bit humorless for me, they were still enjoyable and engaging reads.

  • The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick – 3/5

I totally watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries as they unfolded on YouTube, and was intrigued to check out the book (from the library, of course :-D).  Short story: if you enjoyed the series, you’ll probably enjoy the book.  It would be fun to read the book and watch the episodes in tandem, but I don’t have that kind of time.  I will say that (spoiler) in the book, we get more details about the Jane/Bing relationship, and it did seem quite out-of-character to me that Jane and Bing would be sleeping together after such a short friendship, and that did bother me a bit, but overall the book added some fun  background to what was appearing “publicly” on the videos, and that was a lot of fun.

  • Bachelors Anonymous by P.G. Wodehouse – 4/5

If you’re feeling stressed, you should read a Wodehouse.  There’s a quote from someone that appears quite frequently on the front cover of Wodehouse books that says something along the lines of “It’s impossible to feel sad while reading Wodehouse,” and that’s really close to true.  Even his weaker stories (like, honestly, this one) are absolutely hilarious.  In this story, the concept of a Bachelors Anonymous club that helps keep its various members out of entanglements with females, is enough to give the story its own flavor, even though all the usual Wodehouse ploys are in play.

  • Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters – 4/5

I enjoyed the Amelia Peabody series so much that I’ve had to make myself be patient and wait a bit before starting the Vicky Bliss series, just to prove that I have some semblance of self-control.  I have heard rumors that at some point in the Vicky Bliss series, reference is made to the Emersons, so I’m excited to see if that’s true.  Borrower of the Night was actually the first Elizabeth Peters book I ever read.  My aunt had a copy that I remember reading when I was probably 12 or 13, and honestly too young to really understand a lot of what was going on.  The story is told from Vicky’s first-person narrative, and she is, to say it bluntly, a tall and buxom woman of high intelligence, and I think that I was confused by a lot of her oblique references to her curves, powers of attraction, and sleeping with Tony.  As an adult, I understood the story (and oblique references) much better!  Vicky isn’t nearly as entertaining a narrator as Amelia, but she’s still quite believable, and Borrower of the Night is full of dark passageways, lost diaries, and seances, making it a great deal of fun.

One thing I love about Peters in general is her ability to not use a lot of foul language.  So many books in general and mysteries in particular that I read that are being currently published seem to substituted a lot of swearing in place of actual witty and useful dialogue.  Peters manages to without, leading to a cleaner narrative without losing the supposed “emotional impact” or “true to life language” that swearing is supposed to bring.  Take this brilliant sentence:

“It’s that Nolan,” said Tony, adding a few qualifying adjectives.  “Do you know what that rat said to me today?”

The phrase “a few qualifying adjectives” entertains me to no end.  Without actually writing any swear words at all, we know exactly what Tony is saying, and I love it.

Overall, this book was great fun, and I’m super excited about reading the rest of the series.  It’s not nearly as along as the Peabody/Emerson series – only six or seven titles – but it should be a good time.

  • Black and Blue Magic by Zilpha Keatley Snyder – 3/5

A while back, I reread The Velvet Room by the same author (the link takes you back to the old tumblr blog, by the way), one of my childhood favorites, and still a classic that I try to read every couple of years.  More recently, I was suddenly struck by the fact that I have quite a few books (like that one) wherein I loved them as as child, but have never bothered to find out what else the author wrote.  As an adult, with access to GoodReads and the library and Amazon, I find and devour every book written by every author I love, but some of those childhood favorites have yet to be explored.  Most recently, I’ve read The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg, who wrote my much-beloved childhood favorite The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and it was an instant hit. That inspired me, and I added the rest of Konigsburg’s books to my TBR, along with a few other childhood loves, including Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

All that to say (I really am a genius for taking an entire paragraph to add nothing of import to a review), Black and Blue Magic was my first Snyder book beyond The Velvet Room.  I really enjoyed it, but it lacked the depth and emotion that The Velvet Room always offers to me.  Still, this was one of those delightful stories where no one is a bad guy, where lessons are learned through relatively harmless mistakes, and where everyone ends as a better person than they were in the beginning.  Books like these are like warm, fluffy blankets, and they are the stories that kids ought to be reading in school.  Black and Blue Magic is about a somewhat-clumsy boy who, through an act of kindness to a stranger, is granted a special magic – wings.  (But only when he wants them!)  Harry is such a lovable kid – helpful and sweet, loves his  mother, and all while still sounding and acting like a real boy.

Actually, probably my biggest turn-off for this book was the illustrations.  I honestly try to avoid books with illustrations a lot because they mess up the pictures in my head and ruin them forever.  (The most tragic is the copy of Rose in Bloom that I read as a child – I know that Mac does not look at all like that picture, but he keeps showing up in my head that way, and it is so frustrating!)  The pen-and-ink drawings by Gene Holton make Mr. Mazeeck look like a strange alien and Harry not at all like someone whose last name is Marco.  Sometimes I wonder if illustrators really read the story…?????

Overall, though, this was a sweet and charming little story that would be an excellent read for 9-12 year-olds.

  • A Sudden, Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jones – 3/5

This is not a children’s or YA book, but most definitely adult.  Having only read Jones’s books for younger readers before, that was a bit of an adjustment.  Nothing explicit, but just the overall tone of the  book is grown-up, with grown up problems and drama.  While a good story, and one that felt like it actually had an ending (unlike many of her other books), there was nothing about this book that really captured me.  When I was reading it, I enjoyed it, but rarely yearned for it when I wasn’t reading, which is unusual for her books (they usually have this sort of addictive quality that I can’t explain).  I really felt like a lot of the characters were not well-developed, and I was frequently startled when a character would act the way it did – instead of creating characters, it felt almost like she was using puppets that she had do whatever she wanted whenever she needed them to do it.  This was probably exasperated by the fact that there were so many people in this story that it was hard to keep everyone straight, especially since she may refer to them by name at one point, and then by what the other group thought of them at another (e.g., by name of Zillah, but then as “the pretty one” from the POV of those who don’t know her name), which really added to the already-complicated list of characters.  In short, while not a terrible book, this was a pretty solid 3.

  • The rest of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries

There were about 5-6 titles that hadn’t been printed when I last read through the series, so it was a lot of fun to get to ones I hadn’t read.  Overall, the series was a lot of really happy cozy mysteries.  I love the main characters, Daisy and Alec, and enjoyed watching their little family grow and bond.  I was consistently entertained (as I always am when I read books set in that era) over how everyone has servants.  Even before she was married, Daisy and her flat-mate had a housekeeper who came to do the “heavy” cleaning for them – and they go on and on about how broke they were, living on sardines, etc.  But they still have a servant!  Anyway, the fact that Daisy, solidly middle-class, has a housekeeper, a cook, a maid, a nanny, and a nanny’s assistant, blows my mind.  No wonder she has time to gallivant about discovering dead bodies!

As with any series of this length (around 20 titles now, I think), there were some good and some weak.  For instance, I really enjoyed the characters and story of Anthem for Doomed Youth, especially the way that Alec’s mystery was running parallel to Daisy’s, but the (current) final title, Heirs of the Body, was really just a terrible mystery, one that I had solved from the outset, and one that delivered absolutely nothing in way of a twist.  Heirs of the Body is obviously freshest in my mind, so I’ll add that in that book I was confused by Alec’s behavior – he is usually respectful and patient of Daisy, but in this book he was frequently short-tempered and abrupt, dismissing and cutting her off in a way that seemed completely out of the character that’s been developed for him over the rest of the series, a trend that I found quite distressing, as I’m very fond of Alec.

Still, overall the series is fairly solid.  While they lack the depth of the Cadfael books (still my all-time favorite mysteries), and definitely aren’t as engaging as the Amelia Peabody books or even most of Hercule Poirot’s adventures, they’re fun and fluffy cozy mysteries.

  • Sophie’s Heart by Lori Wick – 3/5

Spontaneously purchased this second-hand the other day (because when one is in the midst of moving a thousand books, one feels the urge to add to said collection).  Wick wrote one of my favorite relaxation romances, The Princessbut overall her works are a mixed bag for me.  Her historical novels are, honestly, rather terrible, as they are completely modern language and action set in historical times wearing costumes, but her modern novels are sometimes good.  Sophie’s Heart was a pleasant and happy read, but ran tooooo long (another problem I frequently  have with Wick).  Still, I really liked Sophie and the Riley family, and while this book held absolutely zero surprises (young intelligent beautiful immigrant woman goes to work as a housekeeper for young widower with three children what in the world will happen next?!), everything moved along pleasantly and relaxingly (new word), making it a very nice oh-hey-I’m-actually-supposed-to-be-unpacking-but-I’ll-read-for-just-five-minutes kind of book.  Like all of Wick’s books, it’s rather long on religion, but her characters are honest and engaging, and the religious aspect feels honest and realistic instead of coming off as overtly preachy.

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Well, my friends, that went on way longer than I was expecting to – and I’m sure there are more that I’ve read recently but just aren’t coming to mind!  Hopefully, as I said, life will be settling back into some semblance of a new normalcy, and regular book reviewing can resume!  I’ve missed being more engaged in the book-reading community on WordPress and am excited about getting back into the groove!  :-D

The last of the Amelia Peabody mysteries…

Children of the Storm, The Serpent on the Crown, and Tomb of the Golden Bird

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by Elizabeth Peters

Published 2003, 2005, 2006

It’s possible (I have no idea, actually) that Peters intended for Children of the Storm to be the final book in the series chronologically.  The next book published was Guardian of the Horizonwhich is set earlier in the Emerson family timeline.  Children of the Storm does definitely wrap up some loose ends, especially concerning the enigmatic Sethos, but I am definitely glad that Peters went on to write The Serpent on the Crown and Tomb of the Golden Bird.  There is a definite sense of finality at the end of The Tomb of the Golden Bird that is satisfying.  While I wish Peters could have continued to write about the Emersons indefinitely, Amelia and Emerson have to be in their 60’s by the end of the series, so it makes sense to leave them still hearty and hale and doing what they love with the ones they love.

I really, really enjoyed this series.  The characters were so well developed throughout – I loved seeing how different characters and relationships grew and changed as the books went on.  While Emerson isn’t someone would like to be married to, the marriage between him and Amelia is great fun – a pair of people who recognize that “equality” does not necessarily mean “the same” – they work together as a team, but a team works best when each is accomplishing the task at which he is best.  The evolution of the character of Sethos was delightful as well, and I loved watching Ramses and Nefret fall more and more in love, even after the birth of their children.

This series covers over 30 years of time, and does it well.  The passage of time, especially throughout the war years, felt realistic.  Peters’s skillful interweaving of actual people and events makes her books very believable.  I actually saw a reference in another book to an event that had occurred in Egypt at this time, and found myself wondering if they were going to mention the Emersons…

All in all, I highly recommend this entire series.  I’m looking forward to reading more of Peters’s books in the future (I do believe that her Vicky Bliss series also involves Egypt, although in a more modern setting).  Good times reading these – I’m super sad to see them end!

“Lord of the Silent” and “The Golden One”

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Published 2001, 2002

!!!! I am nearing the end of the Amelia Peabody series, and I’m actually super sad about it.  The character progression in these books has been excellent, and I have grown quite attached to the Emerson family.  But with only three more volumes left, I am rapidly nearing the end of my time in early-20th-century Egypt with these eminent archaeologists/detectives.

For those who have been following along, the two books prior to these held some major plot twists.  With the background of World War I, and the reintroduction of Amelia’s truly diabolical nephew, Percy, the books were also a bit darker than the rest of the series.  With The Lord of the Silent, however, Peters returns to her somewhat lighterhearted stories.  With a startling revelation about arch-nemesis (and apparently impossible-to-kill) Sethos at the end of He Shall Thunder in the Sky, his involvement in these next books was even more entertaining, exciting, and intriguing.  

Ramses and Nefret are finally married.  As a side note, that was a love story that has gone on through multiple volumes, yet really didn’t seem to drag (except, possibly, in Guardian of the Horizonbut that could be because that book was not published until after the last volume chronologically; for that particular character-development line, Peters had already rather confined her characters).  Now that they are married, everything is perfect.  Peters writes about their love and about learning to  be married perfectly.  She also really develops the relationships between the two couples (Emerson + Amelia and Ramses + Nefret) as they all learn to relate together as adults – a lesson that was hard-learned in the previous two books.

Peters tells us that, after their marriage, Nefret assists Ramses in writing his third-person narrative (“Manuscript H”) which makes up a good portion of the books.  Previously, Nefret’s voice was heard through her letters to her cousin Lia; now both she and Ramses tell their part of the story through the Manuscript.  Especially in Lord of the Silent, the two couples actually spend a decent amount of time apart.  By using two voices, Peters is able to tell two separate stories that (of course) turn out to be one.

These books are great fun; despite their length, I have trouble putting them down.  I think that part of the reason I love them so much is because Amelia and Emerson are so devoted to each other and to their family.  In the introduction of one of these books (I can’t remember which, and they’ve already gone back to the library), Peters tells us that she is proud to present more material from “Amelia Peabody Emerson – Egyptologist, wife, and mother” (or something like that) and goes on to say that she believes that Amelia wouldn’t argue with the order.  However, I think that she would.  While the Emersons are completely committed to archaeology, and are ardent in their attempts to preserve and record Egyptian history, both Emerson and Amelia frequently show through their actions that nothing is more precious to them than their family, and that they are willing to make any sacrifice in order to keep them safe.

Throughout these two books, especially, they work together as a united front, with that sort of “one for all and all for one” spirit.  This family loyalty and love is a huge part of what  makes these books so very enjoyable – the laughter, tears, sorrows, and joys shared within this family are what make them so realistic.