November Minireviews // Part 1

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  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.

Still trying to catch up. Conveniently, November was a terrible reading month for me so it shouldn’t take as long to get through those books!! Part of my issue in November, besides being insanely busy and somewhat depressed, was that I was doing two buddy reads on Litsy – one of Northanger Abbey, which was a delight, and one of Moby-Dick, which was not. Moby-Dick especially interfered with my other reading time, as I was determined to read each day’s chapters from that book before picking up anything else to ensure that I actually got through it. My plan worked, but it definitely colored a lot of my other reading throughout the month!

Complete Home Landscaping by Catriona Tudor Erler – 4*

//published 2005//

This is one of those book that I got a book sale or Half-Priced Books or someplace like that eons ago but never actually picked up. While there wasn’t anything groundbreaking here, it was a well-organized and interesting book that broke down the concept of landscaping your entire property into bite-sized chunks. Sometimes I like to read books about gardening and landscaping because even when it goes over the same stuff as a different book, it just helps make it stick in my brain. This book was also full of really useful photographs and drawings that I really liked.

The Tea Dragon Tapestry by Katie O’Neill – 4*

//published 2020//

The latest in the Tea Dragon stories, these continue to be almost painfully adorable. I do wish that there was more emphasis on friendship instead of romantic relationships, which are almost entirely comprised of homosexual pairings, especially between the two main girls in the story – I feel like their relationship would have been so much more meaningful as friends instead of girlfriends. It’s not like this is all super explicit or anything, but the overall vibe of the book is that if you find someone who is a friend, you’re meant to be romantically involved, and it just feels somewhat awkward, especially in a story geared for younger readers.

However, the story itself is very enjoyable and the artwork is just amazing.

The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1931//

It’s been a few years since I’ve read this one (my 2016 review is here) so even though I kind of remembered who did it, I couldn’t remember how it was done or how some of the red herrings played out. The one is also known as The Murder at Hazelmoor which makes so much more sense since the murder actually takes place at Hazelmoor, not Sittaford, but whatever. Anyway, this is one of Christie’s standalone mysteries. The pacing is great and there are a few twists that I never seem to remember are coming. Great fun as always.

Entwined by Heather Dixon – 3.5*

//published 2011//

I read this one a long time ago (before WordPress days) and vaguely remembered liking it but not much more, so I chose it for my traveling book club book this time around. Unfortunately, November was just not a good reading month for me so I think that colored my enjoyment of this story as my reading opportunities were really choppy and difficult. Parts of this book just felt like they went on forever. The sisters in the story are mad at their father pretty much the entire time, and I’ll agree that he’s a jerk at first, but later he starts trying to make amends and they are mean to him for way too long. I did appreciate that the author did not give the sisters a bunch of names that sounded alike and even went so far as the alphabetize them, with the oldest starting with A and going down from there which really helped keep all the sisters straight. I had a few minor continuity issues with this one, especially with the supposed ages of a few of the sisters versus their actions/attitudes. Overall, I didn’t dislike this story but I also didn’t love it.

The Wild Path by Sarah Baughman – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I 100% picked up this book because of that gorgeous cover. This one is a middle grade story about a girl named Claire who lives with her parents in a rural area of Vermont. Claire’s older brother has recently been admitted to a full-time rehab clinic after having issues with a drug addiction formed when he started taking painkillers after an accident. Claire’s parents have announced that they are going to have to sell the family’s two horses in order to save money, but Claire is determined to find a way to save them. The story deals with Claire learning more about her brother’s situation and coming to grips with the way that some parts of our lives are out of our control, and that we can’t make other people “better.” It was actually a lovely story with likable characters, but it did feel a little preachy at times. Somehow, it just never kicked me in the emotions like it seemed like it should. However, this may be a good book for a younger person in a situation similar to Claire’s re: a family member with an addiction (especially if read together with a caring adult) as that was handled sensitively and in a way that felt approachable. In part, that was kind of why I didn’t connect with this story – in some ways it seemed like it was written to specifically be used as a discussion tool more than it was written to tell a story, if that makes sense.

The Enchanted Sonata // by Heather Dixon Wallwork

//published 2018//

First off, what do you do when an author gets married and changes her writing name??  Should I move her older books to “Wallwork, Heather Dixon”?  Or pretend like she didn’t put Wallwork at the end of her name for this one and still list it under Dixon, Heather??  Sigh.

Anyway, a little while back I read Illusionarium by this same author (minus the Wallwork).  While I found it interesting, I didn’t particularly find it Magical.  Emily from over at When Life Reminds You of a Book suggested that I try Dixon/Wallwork’s newest story, The Enchanted Sonata, and I am so glad that she did because I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story.

It’s a sort-of retelling of the The Nutcracker with a bit of Pied Piper mixed in.  As such, the story takes place in two different worlds.  Clara’s world – which we presume to be our own – is set in late 1800’s Russia (ish – maybe not Russia exactly but definitely that vibe).  At age 15, Clara’s passion is playing the piano.  Ever since her father died a couple of years ago, she has been extra determined to play for the Christmas concert, throwing herself into composing her own song for the occasion.  Her instructor has finally deemed her playing good enough, and now, on Christmas Eve, she is on the cusp of all of her dreams coming true.

In the other world, also Russia-like, but with more magic (and also giant, angry rats that roam the woods outside the walled cities seeking whom they may devour), Nikolai is fast approaching his majority and his coronation day.  He feels doubts, though, that he is worthy to rule his country.  Those doubts are solidified when the country is attacked by a magician who changes children and soldiers into toys, and mockingly challenges Nikolai to defeat him – if Nikolai is truly worth of the throne.

Okay, first off, this book had some really big weak points.  It was fairly predictable throughout, and there wasn’t a lot of character development/depth.  Wallwork is a fan of making a point with her books and sometimes hasn’t quite grasped the concept of subtlety.  While this one wasn’t as bad as the on and on droning about “true north” in Illusionarium, there is still way too much time spent on discussing metaphorical rats.

However, my biggest problem with this story was Clara’s age – at no point did she seem like she was 15.  Sometimes she acted far, far more childish than that, yet I’m also supposed to believe that she is ready to get married and become a queen?  I was also bothered by her obsessive crush on a fellow pianist in her real world, mostly because the implication is that he’s quite a bit older than her.  I already found Nikolai at 18 years old flirting with Clara at age 15 years old to be a bit bothersome.  Anyone older than 18 is DEFINITELY out of the running for flirting with a 15-year-old in my mind.  This whole aspect of the story would have sat much easier with me if Clara had been 17 or 18. It doesn’t seem like much of a difference but IT IS.

But now that the negatives are out of the way – the positives.  And there are many!  First off – THAT COVER!  I don’t understand why all covers aren’t this gorgeous.  It’s not like it’s this big complicated thing, and it’s so much more engaging than just having a bland picture of a girl in a cape, which seems to be so prevalent in YA fantasy these days.

The usage of musical language in this book was absolutely perfect.  This sounds corny, but the whole story somehow read like a symphony.  I could practically hear the background music the entire time I was reading it.  The sense of place was fantastic – it’s the kind of book that makes you feel the cold, the snow, the moonlight.

While Clara and Nikolai didn’t have as much depth as I wanted them to, they were still done well, and I could see their motivations and methods.  The magic made sense without being too complicated.  The story itself was done very well.  I loved the aspects of The Nutcracker – I really enjoy it when an author takes a classic story that kind of doesn’t exactly make sense and turns it into something approaching believable.  I also really liked the little side story with the candymakers – although again, it would have been nice to see that fleshed out a little more.

All in all, while The Enchanted Sonata wasn’t a perfect book, it was still a confident 4* read.  If you’re looking for a fairly quick, magical story, this is one I recommend.

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.


[excerpt from letter]: “If you won’t agree [to our marriage], I think I’ll break all the windows in the house and drown myself in a bucket.”

“He wants to marry Bramble!”

The King smiled. “Just so.”

“He’s around the twist,” said Azalea. “Breaking all the windows? He’s mad!”

“Ah, no,” said the King. “It’s only madness if you actually do it. If you *want* to break all the windows in the house and drown yourself in a bucket but don’t actually do it, well, that’s love.”

Entwined by Heather Dixon, 2011