March MiniReviews – Part 2

Still not feeling the whole blogging thing, so here are some more notes on recent reads.  Part 1 for March can be found here.

The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

//published 1872 & 1883//

These are a pair of adorable little stories that follow the very traditional fairy tale format of the good being very good and the bad being very bad.  That said, I still quite enjoyed them, especially The Princess and the Goblin.  There is a lot of adventure here and some fun characters, even if the ending of the second book was a bit abrupt.

I also didn’t realize that these books were so old, because the edition I have is both stories in one volume, which was published around 1970.  But it turns out that the original stories are from the late 1800’s!

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

//published 2007//

This is technically a standalone novel, but I was quite excited to see my old friend Vincent Ruiz from the Joseph O’Laughlin series make an appearance.  Actually, Ruiz is what kept me reading a lot of this book as it didn’t always completely engross me.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get into the sense of urgency, and I didn’t really like Ali all that well.  Also, Ali has been dating a guy named Dave for quite some time when this book opens, and we continue to see a decent amount of him throughout the story.  But Ali tells us when we first meet him that his nickname is “New Boy” Dave (just like that, with quotations around “New Boy”)… and then proceeds to constantly refer to him as “New Boy” Dave for the entire rest of the book.  I can’t explain why this annoyed me, but it did.  Seriously, does Ali always think of this guy she is really serious about dating/is sleeping with/considering marrying as “New Boy” Dave??  It was SO annoying.   I decided to stop by and talk with “New Boy” Dave on my way home.  What.  Even.

Anyway, the story itself was fine.  I feel like it’s really difficult to write a book about immigrants/refugees without becoming somewhat polemic, and because it is such a complicated and nuanced topic, I don’t always appreciate reading books that turn it into something incredibly simplistic (e.g., all immigrants are precious innocents and if you don’t agree it’s because you are a money-grubbing fat cat), but this book handled the topic fairly well.  All in all, a decent read that I did enjoy, but not as much as some of Robotham’s other books.  3.5/5.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

//published 2001//

Velde introduces her slim volume of short stories by outlining what she perceives as the big issues with the classic fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin:  basically, it doesn’t make any sense.  But she then presents five alternative retellings that help make a nonsensical story feel at least slightly more plausible (at least in worlds with fairies and magic).  While nothing earth-shattering, they were fun stories and a quick, entertaining read.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

//published 1978//

This is an old favorite of mine that I have reread many times over the year.  It’s such a fun retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  A lot of reviewers complain that it’s too slow and that too much time is spent on Beauty’s life before she meets the Beast, but that’s actually the part of this story that I love.  In this version, Beauty’s family is so kind and happy that I would have been perfectly content to spend the entire story just hanging out with them while they adjusted to their new life.  My only real beef with this version is that Beauty spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how plain she is, how ugly, how physically unappealing, etc.  I get really tired of listening to her run herself down, when it’s quite obvious that she just isn’t as stunningly beautiful as her older sisters – probably because she is only fifteen when the book starts and they are in their early 20’s.  Other than that, though, this is a really fun and engaging story, and even if it isn’t action-packed, it has a lot of characters that I love.  4/5.

Rescue Dog of the High Pass by Jim Kjelgaard

//published 1958//

This is one of the rare Kjelgaard books that I didn’t devour as a child, probably because the library didn’t have it.  Recently I acquired it as a free Kindle book, and while it wasn’t my new favorite, it was still an interesting story about Kjelgaard’s theory of the origin of the St. Bernard dogs (an event that is actually lost in the mists of time), which of course involves a young hero and his faithful canine companion.  Nothing amazing here, but an enjoying and interesting little story that I would sometime like to land a hard copy of for my permanent collection.

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Black Beauty’s Clan // Black Beauty’s Family // by Josephine, Diana, and Christine Pullein-Thompson

A while back someone commented on one of my Famous Horse Story reviews and said that she had been hunting for a while for a series of book that she had read back in her schooldays and she thought Famous Horse Stories may be the one.  But she mentioned that some of the books had been in first-person perspective from the horse, and that immediately rang a bell for me for a different book that had read as a child… but I couldn’t remember what it was…

//published 1975//

We’re a bit spoiled with the internet these days.  It seems like you can type in any old nebulous thought and the internet interprets it into exactly what you were trying to think of.  But I didn’t have too much luck with my vague search for first-person horse stories, especially since I couldn’t really remember anything other than that.  This nagged at me for two days while I intermittently attempted different unsuccessful internet searches.

Of course, Black Beauty always came up.  It has to be one of the most famous horse stories of all time (if not THE most famous), and it is in first-person perspective from the horse.  I knew Black Beauty wasn’t what I was thinking of, but one day inspiration struck – hadn’t those childhood books been Black Beauty sequels… or something??

The answer was the “or something” bit.  Three sisters – Josephine, Diana, and Christine Pullein-Thompson – had written six stories (two by each sister) and published them in two volumes.  Each short story was told by a different horse, and each horse was a relation of “the famous Black Beauty.”

My next challenge was finding copies of these books, which was actually more complicated than it should have been, since the stories have also been published each individually and then all six in one volume.  I really wanted the same two volumes that I had read as a child, and thanks to the power of eBay I made it happen.

All of that was an extremely long introduction for six short stories that really aren’t that amazing, although they are perfectly good horse stories that I quite enjoyed revisiting.

The horses in Black Beauty’s Clan are Black Beauty’s youngest brother (Black Ebony), and then multiple-greats nephew and niece (Black Princess and Black Velvet).  Each story takes place at a different period of time, and thus examines a different part of the working horse’s heritage.  Ebony lives in the 1880’s and 90’s.  One of his masters also operates a coal mine, so we get the perspective of the ponies who worked the mines, among other things.  Princess is alive during World War I, and is sent to France to fight there as part of her story.  Velvet’s tale takes place in the 1930’s, when motorcars have greatly eliminated the need for horses – his story is mostly focused on his life as a show jumper, and the decline in the horse’s role in the working world.

//published 1978//

I preferred the stories in Black Beauty’s Family, which focused on two of Black Beauty’s ancestors, and one niece just at the end of Black Beauty’s timeline, and thus were stories set earlier in history.  Nightshade is alive during the Napoleonic war, and part of his story involves carrying a highwayman.  Black Romany lives in the 1840’s and describes a cross-country adventure.  Blossom’s story was quite different from the others – one might think of the other stories as being about upper class horses, but Blossom’s father was a carthorse, so her story is one of more drudgery and difficulty in the late 1800’s.

There is a lot to enjoy and learn in these stories, although as short stories they all could have been fleshed out into something more involved.  Swaths of time are frequently skipped over, and there isn’t the character development that Sewell’s original had.  Velvet’s story especially ends on rather a down note, and I’m not sure any of these stories could be labeled as “happy” per se, as they take place during difficult times.  But each gives an interesting glimpse into a different time period, and is the type of historical fiction that I quite enjoyed as a child.

These books are definitely more story-oriented rather than lesson-oriented – Sewell’s book was strongly polemic, but Sewell also wrote her book as a direct response to the cruelty she saw around her.  The Pullein-Thompson sisters wrote in the 1970’s, and while animal cruelty is always an issue that needs to be discussed, they didn’t have the specific these-are-things-that-we-need-to-fix like Sewell did.  Instead, their stories are more of a record different periods of the past, rather than Sewell’s snapshot of Life Today.

While these aren’t my all-time favorite books, I’m quite happy to add them to my collection.  They don’t have the emotional depth or impact of the original Black Beauty, but still are decent and interesting stories that I greatly enjoyed revisiting.

February Minireviews – Part 1

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  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.

Last Christmas in Paris by Elizabeth Gaynor and Heather Webb

//published 2017//

This book is a collection of letters written between several different individuals during World War I.  The majority of the correspondence is between Tom and Evie – Evie is the younger sister of Tom’s best friend, Will.  It’s pretty obvious that Tom and Evie are going to end up together, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story.

I really loved this book for about the first 3/4 of the way.  The letters were delightful, the characters engaging, and the voices different enough to make it really feel like I was reading letters from and to different people.  Epistolary tales can be rather narrow, but because we have letters between people besides the two main characters, the story felt fairly well-rounded.  It definitely had a Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society vibe about it.  I really liked the upbeat sense to this book.  It was serious, yes, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom and there were no plot twists were someone turned out to be gay.

But then Evie goes to France also, and the story just kind of fell apart.  The correspondence became disjointed, and the characters no longer felt like they were being true to themselves.  There were also a few instances where I was uncertain of the continuity because of weirdly long gaps between letters.  It was very strange to me that for the first three years, they write letters all the time, then suddenly in 1917 and 1918, there are only a handful of letters, which I think added to the feeling of disjointedness.

In the end, a 3/5 read for a book that started very strong and then just sort of petered out.

Something Fresh (AKA Something Newby P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1915//

In my quest to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, I have waded through over a decade’s worth of school stories and short story collections.  While all of them have been readable and even enjoyable for a one-time read, there have only been glimpses of what I consider to be genuine Wodehouse magic.

But the title of this book is definitely appropriate, as this is the first book that really begins to collect all the bits of what will later be the Wodehouse formula. Plus, it introduces one of my all-time favorite Wodehouse characters, Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle.  While this book may still not be up to the standards of some of Wodehouse’s later works, it was still a delight from beginning to end.

After reading a collection of Wodehouse’s correspondence back in late 2016, I sometimes refer to A Life in Letters to see if Wodehouse himself had anything interesting to say about my current Wodehouse read.  I was intrigued to find that even he thought that Something Fresh was a new and better direction for his writing as well.  Was it because he found and married the love of his life a few months earlier?  I like to think so.

Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry

//published 1953//

As I’ve mentioned before, Henry was one of my favorite authors growing up, and I devoured all of her books.  I collected a lot of them in cheap paperback editions published by Scholastic, and although I’ve upgraded a lot of them through the years, I still have a few of those paperbacks with my name scrawled in painful 2nd-grade cursive on the flyleaf.

I could look at his illustrations all day!

It had been a really long time since I had revisited this title, and while it was a decent story (and the illustrations by Wesley Dennis were magical as always), it really wasn’t one of my favorites.  In some ways, the story feels very choppy.  It’s about a little wild burro who lives in the Grand Canyon at the turn of the century (Theodore Roosevelt is president, and is even in the story!).  The problem is that Henry tries to tell both the story of Brighty’s everyday life + how he helped make the Grand Canyon the park that it is today AND the story of an old prospector who was murdered and how Brighty helped bring the killer to justice.  Except… the murder part feels very strange in a children’s book, and it also takes like ten years to solve the mystery, which makes no sense because why is Jake still around after all this time???  The murder mystery was definitely the weak part of the tale.  If it had been jettisoned and more focus had been made just on Brighty’s life in the Canyon, I think the book would have read better.

In fairness, Henry was basing Brighty on a real burro, who, in real life, did discover a clue that lead to the capture of a murderer – but still.  Brighty had plenty of other adventures.  Still, a very readable little book, and the illustrations really do make it a joy.  3.5/5.

A Beautiful Blue Death // The September Society // by Charles Finch

//published 2007//

I remember reading a couple of the books from this series a very long time ago, back when there were only three or four in the series.  It’s one that I have meant to revisit for quite some time, especially since several books have been added to it since then.  However, in the end I reread these two books and found them rather bland, and so have decided not to fuss with the rest of the books after all.

The books center on Charles Lenox, a gentleman in 1860’s London, who works as a private detective.  He’s a rather odd character because he apparently has enough money of private means to just ‘be a gentleman’ but chooses to work as a detective as well.  We don’t meet up with him on his first big case, but are dropped into the middle of his career, seemingly at random.  He lives next door to a widow, Lady Jane, with whom he also grew up.  His older brother, Edward, serves in parliament, which is actually Lenox’s dream job (which makes sense, because he loves rambling on about random stuff all the time).

//published 2008//

The main problem I had with these books was Finch’s tendency to really pontificate about random things.  I don’t mind a bit of background on a character or a few lines of description to help with the setting, but in these books it feels like every time Lenox passes a historical building or London neighborhood, Finch finds it necessary to go on for at least a paragraph, explaining the history and significance of the location, as well as all of Lenox’s personal associations with the spot.  After a while, it really began to feel like it was interfering with the pace of the story.

For instance, in The September Society, Lenox passes through a park:

Green Park, a shamrock-colored rectangle that lay behind the Houses of Parliament, was warm and beautiful that afternoon.  The willow trees bent toward the lake, their lowest branches just brushing the water, and the park’s lone wanderers and couples alike walked more slowly than they had along the fast city blocks, stopping to watch for a while.  Lenox always liked to watch the swans gliding serenely, birds with just the mix of beauty and danger that humans like in wildlife – for a swan, of course, could break a man’s arm.

Okay, a bit prosy but alright.  Except the next paragraph, rather than getting on with the story, continues with the swans!

Another curious fact about them was that every swan in England belonged to Queen Victoria.  Not many people knew it, but poaching swans was an offense the crown could punish.  The official swan keeper to Her Majesty wrangled the birds in the third week of July every year, when they were served at the Queen’s table and a few others across the isles, in Cambridge, Oxford, York, Edinburgh.  The swans were mute, but at their deaths they found voice and sang, and the long line of wranglers always claimed to be haunted by the sound.  It was the origin of the term swan song.

???  Just… this has nothing to do with the story.  And if this was the only instance of this meandering fact-giving it would be find, but it happens multiple times per chapter, and it became very off-putting to me, as it started to feel that Finch felt that it was important to insert all of his research into the story whether it fit or not.  It really, really interfered with the pace of the story.

In A Beautiful Blue Death, I was put off almost immediately when Lenox and his friend, a doctor, determine almost immediately that the murder victim’s death was caused by a very rare poison.  However, we aren’t really told how the doctor arrives at this conclusion.  He just…  knows?  After that, the detective in charge of the investigation decides he doesn’t want Lenox around.  So the whole story feels rather strange, with Lenox sort of meandering around the edges of it.

It just felt like both books lacked any urgency.  Lenox is very dry as a main character, and always felt rather pompous to me, although part of that is definitely Finch’s narration.  However, I will say that my younger brother loved these books, and his favorite part were all the asides and odd facts, so maybe it’s just a reader-preference thing.

All in all, these were solid 3/5 reads for me.  They were fine stories that didn’t feel like a waste of time, but also didn’t really leave me with any desire to complete the series.  With 105 other mystery series on the TBR, I don’t necessarily feel like I need to read ones that don’t really do something for me.

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!

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.

March Minireviews – Part 1

Usually, I only post a group of minireviews for books that have just been sort of meh for me, leaving me with not a whole lot to say about the story.  But this month I’ve been super busy with work and other projects and just simply haven’t had time for reviews.  I really struggled through a reading slump the end of February and into March, but over the last couple of weeks have been back in the groove, which means I actually have quite the little pile of books waiting to be reviewed.  Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to really unpack all the ins and outs, so I’m going to try to just give each read a few paragraphs… hopefully I don’t get too carried away…

Dead End Close by Dominic Utton

//published 2017//

I actually started a whole long review of this book but then got really carried away.  I disliked this book so much that the whole review was turning into a rather incoherent rant, so maybe I can just summarize a briefer, coherent rant here.  I actually rather enjoyed Utton’s first book, Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Timeand I think that added to the disappointment that I felt about Dead End Close.  This book focuses on several households all on the same dead-end street in Oxford.  There’s a bit of mystery/thriller aspect, but at the end of the day this book was just overwhelmingly depressing.  No one has a happy life, no one has a happy ending.  All of my notes on this book end with “???” because I just didn’t get this book at all.  There’s this weird guy meandering through the story (and sometimes narrating it) with a clipboard, and we are given the impression that he’s a supernatural/angelic being of some kind (???), but apparently there for observation purposes only has he does diddly-squat to prevent anything from happening.  Throughout the story, all the lives that started pretty bad to begin with only get worse.

But the biggest reason that this book gets 0/5 stars for me is that a huge part of the plot centers around a trio of Oxford boys who are trying to get into a club, and the initiation process requires them to rape a girl, video it, and then get the video to go viral.  This whole part of the book literally made me ill to read, it was so disturbing and dark and gross.  And maybe I could have gotten around this if this book had had some kind of point, but it didn’t.  The whole story was just completely pointless.  It went no where, there was no character development, terrible things happened to everyone, people get raped and killed, and a heavy sense of hopelessness lingers on every page.

I think I was especially irked when I got to the end and Utton attempted to whitewash his entire story by acting like, somehow, there was a message of hope.  Like, “Oh wow, sometimes bad things happen, but there’s always hope!”  Yeah, that doesn’t really fly with me when the only “hope” part of your story is in the next-to-last paragraph of the entire book.

Dead End Close was given to me free of charge from the publishers, and this is my obviously very honest review.  I hated every word of this book and wouldn’t even recommend it to someone I didn’t like.  Weirdly, I would still read another of Utton’s books, though, because I enjoyed Harbottle, but this one was flat dreadful.

The Wreckage by Michael Robotham

//published 2011//

They say that a book can impact your mood.  I think this is true, but I also think that sometimes my mood impacts the book.  I picked up The Wreckage (the fifth in the Joseph O’Laughlin series) during the height of my reading slump and could not get into it.  And even though I eventually finished the book, it never really gripped me.  I can’t say for sure if that was the book’s fault or mine, but I definitely felt very meh towards this story the whole way through.

I think a large part of this was because it didn’t feel nearly as personal as the other books in this series.  The other books have dealt with tight, domestic-type crimes (kidnapping, murder, robbery, etc.), but this one was more political, following a storyline in Iraq, where a reporter believes that several bank robberies are connected; and London, where our old friend Vincent Ruiz finds himself entangled in a complicated web of disappearances, robberies, and embezzlement.

The story was done well, and the present-tense that Robotham insists on using made more sense as a third person narrative.  But my personal disinterest meant that I didn’t read this book very closely, and consequently it felt disjointed to me.  It left me with a 3/5 rating, but I think that it will be better when I read through this series again.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

//published 2017//

This was another ARC, but one that I thankfully enjoyed a great deal more than Dead End Close.  This story drifts back and forth in time, following the lives of three German women before, during, and after World War II.  While this wasn’t exactly a cheerful read, it was a very engaging one.  Shattuck handles the shifts in time perfectly, giving information about the lives of these women at just the right time.  It is not a mystery, but each of the women has her own secrets that are only gradually revealed.

It was quite fascinating to read a story about “everyday” Germans.  Marianne, passionate about the resistance; Benita, rather naive and sometimes willfully blind; Ania, caught up in the dream of a better life and failing to see how the promises were built on shifting sand.  The language is lovely and the characters are well-drawn, although I wish that we saw more of Marianne’s thoughts and actions.  She is weirdly both the center of the story and yet in the background of it.

While I don’t see myself returning to this book time and again, I would definitely read another of Shattuck’s books, and recommend this one to anyone who enjoys history from the perspective of ordinary people struggling to see what is right.  4/5.

The Fourth Wish by Lindsay Ribar

//published 2014//

This book is the sequel to a lighthearted YA novel that I read in February, The Art of Wishing.  While Wishing didn’t really blow my mind with its awesomeness, it was still an entertaining and pleasant read, and I was expecting more of the same from The Fourth Wish.  Unfortunately, it was overall pretty terrible.  In this book, Margo is struggling to adjust to her new life as a genie.  For some reason, Ribar decided that the overwhelming majority of people who get a hold of a genie would use their wishes to find some kind of sexual fulfillment.  Color me crazy, but if I had three wishes for anything, I really don’t think any of them would involve sex…???  Plus, we also have to spend a lot of time nattering on about how genies can be either male or female (I mean the same genie can be either), and how this doesn’t change who they are on the inside, and they can still love each other no matter their outward apperance, aw how romantic except why so boring and consequently not actually romantic at all.

I skimmed large portions of this book hoping to actually find a story, but there wasn’t one.  Margo was a total whiner in this book, spending most of  her time being a jealous girlfriend.  I don’t really have high hopes for her relationship with Oliver, especially since they are not both timeless, eternal beings.  Like I don’t think this relationship is going to last five months, much less five centuries.

In the end, 2/5 and nothing that inspired me to find out if Ribar has written anything else.