March Minireviews – Part 2

I realize that we are now several days into April, but I am trying to wrap up the backlog of March reads.  It always makes me sad when I have to reduce the pile this way, but life is just too busy to keep up on the blog, I’m afraid!

Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1910//

I actually love the Psmith books, although many people find him rather obnoxious (he is).  This book had a whole new level of interesting since I read Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith.  In those books, we discover the foundation of the friendship that is at the heart of Psmith in the City, so that added much more depth to the overall story.  In many ways, Mike is actually the central character, with Psmith playing a bold supporting role.  Mike is such a steady, stolid character, which contrasts all the better with the rather pompous Psmith.  I also love how whenever Wodehouse has Mike refer to Psmith in conversation, Mike always says “Smith.”  Wodehouse’s subtle decisions to keep or drop the P are cleverly done.

Another favorite thing of mine is discovering connections between different books and events, so it was great fun to find a reference to Three Men in a Boatwhich I read last fall.  All in all, Psmith in the City is a delightful 4/5 (on the Wodehouse scale, where a 1/5 is the same as a 4/5 for normal books) and definitely recommended – although you’ll enjoy it even more if you read the Mike books first.

From Italy With Love by Jules Wake

//published 2015//

This books is actually a DNF, so I’m not sure why I’m bothering to mention it, other than to see if someone else has actually finished it and thinks that I should totally keep reading because it gets better later on.

I really liked the premise, where an eccentric uncle leaves his niece a rare antique car, but in order to inherit it she has to drive across Italy, following a specific route which he has laid out for her.  As part of an inheritance for this other guy, the uncle says that the guy has to go, too.  I always kind of enjoy crazy old meddling old people who set up the young’uns, especially from beyond the grave, so I was all for it.  However, so much of this book just didn’t make any kind of sense.  The uncle promised the dude, Cam, that he could have this special car, so Cam has already told his brother that they can use this car for some fancy car show where they’re going to make tons of money except they had to spend tons of money to get ready for it.  Except how did Cam know that the uncle was going to die???  (Maybe he actually knocked him off and the book turns into a mystery later?!)  So Cam is obnoxious the whole time, which also makes no sense because what he is actually going to inherit from this drive across Italy is the first chance to buy the car from the niece (Laurie).  So wouldn’t it make more sense for him to be buttering her up and trying to get on her good side?

Meanwhile, Laurie is actually engaged to this other guy, and it’s obvious from literally the first page that this guy is a total tool, and as the first couple of chapters progress, it’s painfully obvious that the dude is trying to get in on all the cash he thinks Laurie is going to inherit, but Laurie seems basically oblivious to the whole thing, and it really bothered me that she went off on this trip (and is presumably going to fall in love with) some other guy while still being engaged to the first guy, even if the first guy is a jerk.  I found it 100% impossible to believe that Laurie would inherit this car and not do any kind of research on it, even something as basic as finding out how much it’s worth.  I mean, seriously?

And honestly, I could have overlooked a lot of this if the story had been remotely interesting, but it wasn’t!  To top everything off, it was boring me out of my mind.  Plus, while as of around 30% through the book Wake hadn’t dragged me through any sexy times, she still kept hinting around at stuff, so I had to keep listening to Laurie get “flushed” and “flustered” a whole lot, and, even worse, be repeatedly exposed to the word “nipples.”  Please.  “Nipples” is not a word that engenders romance, so I don’t want to hear about them, or hear what some guy thinks about them, or even to really think about them within the context of a romantic encounter.  Ugh.

So yeah, a rambling DNF on this book, but at least it’s one off the list!

Nettle King by Katherine Harbour

//published 2016//

This is the third and final book in the Night & Nothing series.  Thorn Jack was engaging, Briar Queen was engrossing, and Nettle King was a solid finish.  Part of the problem was that there was just too much of a gap for me between Queen and King, so I had trouble getting into the groove of this story.  But overall – I really liked this trilogy, and definitely see myself reading it again.  In many ways it reminded me of the Lynburn Legacy books by Sarah Rees Brennan.  These weren’t as funny as those, but it had a similar world-building in the sense that it all took place in a small, isolated community.

I also found myself comparing it a lot to The Fourth Wishwhich I had just finished.  In both stories, girls find themselves in love with guys who, due to magic, are basically eternal beings who have been around for centuries.  But where Wish felt ridiculous and contrived, I 100% shipped Jack and Finn.  Both characters are constantly seeking to put the other person’s safety and needs above their own.  Plus, they are a bit older (in college), and had a strong support system of other characters around them.  There was so much more depth to relationship between Jack and Finn than there was between Margo and Oliver.  I felt like Jack and Finn would be friends and lovers forever, but that Oliver and Margo would get completely bored of each other within months.

Anyway, the overall conclusion to the Night & Nothing series was quite satisfying.  I definitely want to read these books again within a tighter time frame, because I felt like I lost a lot of the intrigue by waiting so long between the second and third books.  A solid 4/5 for Nettle King and for the series as a whole.  Recommended.

Briar Queen // by Katherine Harbour

//published 2015//

Life continues to be quite busy, although I am feeling a bit more like reading these days, so we will see how that translates into blogging!  I’ve missed being active here, but sometimes real life interferes with my internet life!!

Quite a while back I reviewed the first book in the Night & Nothing Trilogy, Thorn Jack.  In that book, we met Finn, who had moved (with her dad) to her dad’s hometown in upstate New York.  However, the seemingly idyllic little college town of Fair Hollow is actually the home to a group of fairy-like creatures known as the Fata.  Finn falls in love with one of the Fata, Jack, who used to be human.  By the end of Thorn Jack, the love that Finn and Jack have for each other has made Jack human again.

Part of the reason that Finn and her father left San Francisco and moved to Fair Hollow was because they were recovering from the suicide of Finn’s sister, Lily Rose.  In Briar Queen, Finn learns that her sister isn’t actually dead – she has been taken by the Fata and is being held in the shadow-world that parallels the human one.  Soon, Finn, Jack, and Finn’s friends are all embroiled in an rescue attempt that leads to many terrifying and exciting adventures.

It’s been a while since I actually finished this book – almost a month, actually – so I don’t remember all the specific details.  However, I liked this book better than Thorn Jack, I think mostly because a lot of the first book was spent setting up the world and characters.  In the second book, we were able to jump right into some action after a brief recap.  Despite the fact that my notes for this book say, “Plot like a pinball machine,” overall this book seemed more cohesive than the first.  In the first book, I complained about the story feeling choppy and jerky, but Briar Queen flowed much better.  It was full of action and adventure, but still stayed focused and had a fairly cohesive plot.

All in all, this book was a 4/5 for me, and I’m rather excited to (someday) read the conclusion, Nettle King.

Thorn Jack // by Katherine Harbour

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//published 2014//

What with one thing and another I’ve had a bit of a gap between finishing the last series that I read (The Lynburn Legacy all the way back in December!) and starting a new one, mainly because I started and then didn’t finish a series that was really just too, too boring.

But Thorn Jack is the first in a trilogy, and since I count anything with more than two related books as a series, it qualifies!  All in all, despite the fact that I found this book to be, at times, needlessly complicated, it was still a decent read that I enjoyed, and I’m looking forward to seeing what direction Harbour goes with the next two books.

First off, the book itself – the physical book, I mean – is almost square in shape, which I found to be weirdly appealing.  It also meant that there was more text than one might expect from 300-odd pages, so while I moved through the story efficiently, it wasn’t a particularly fast read.  At the beginning of each chapter was a quote from a random (real life) source, followed by a quote from the journal of the main character’s sister.  The journal quotes were written in a fancy script font that my poor, tired eyes found a bit difficult to decipher as it was also rather tiny.  I fear, dear readers, that I am growing old.

The story centers on Finn Sullivan.  At 18, she and her father have moved back to her father’s hometown in New York (state, not city), and are living in her grandmother’s house.  (As an aside, Harbour is a bit vague as to what happened to the grandmother.  She says that she was “last seen” at a funeral, but no one says in so many words that she actually died.  After this mention on page six, we never really hear about or from her again, which seemed odd to me.)  One of the main reasons that they have moved here, from San Francisco, is because Finn’s older sister, Lily Rose, committed suicide almost a year before the book begins.  It is time for a change, they’ve decided, and so Finn’s dad has accepted a professorship at a small college near their new home in New York.

Finn is beginning college as well, although on a different campus than the one where her father teaches.  HallowHeart is a small school, and in some ways an odd one.  But then, as Finn begins to discover, the entire town of Fair Hollow is a bit odd.

Soon Finn befriends Christie and Sylvie, and the adventures really begin.  I quite liked the friendships between these three.  Christie and Sylvie have grown up together, but they accept Finn into their circle quite comfortably.  Christie is actually rather popular and a bit of a flirt, so it was kind of nice to have a situation where it wasn’t “the outcasts” against the world.  Instead, both Christie and Sylvie seem to be of average popularity.  Despite the one-boy-two-girl scenario, there isn’t any romancing between the three of them, which was also refreshing.

When Finn meets Jack Fata, the story really begins to roll, as it is rather obvious that there is something a bit odd about Jack as well.  While there is definitely a bit of insta-love between Jack and Finn, it honestly fits with the fairy tale-esq feel of the whole story.  I liked that Finn’s driving force behind her actions wasn’t just to save/protect Jack, but an overall sense of what is right and what is wrong, and a determination to protect several innocent victims caught in the mix.

This was one of those books where I felt, at times, that the author was taking the whole “show, don’t tell” thing a bit too far, as she leaves the reader to muddle about in confusion for quite some time.  I honestly might read the first several chapters of this book again now that I know that it ends – I think it will all make a great deal more sense.

The story is a bit on the dark side of my taste, but there is still a bit of humor throughout, and the complete and total lack of a love triangle boosted this book’s rating in my view quite a bit.  There are some deaths and moderately gruesome scenes, but overall the story manages to stay away from the overtly violent.

Overall, the biggest detraction for me was that this book felt choppy.  It didn’t flow very naturally, and I frequently felt a bit jerked about.  It also seemed completely unreasonable that Finn and her friends would be in denial of the whole “there is something possibly supernatural going on here” for as long as they were.  And even as they accepted the fact that there was something crazy happening, they didn’t follow basic rules of dealing with evil spirits (which they talked about and so obviously knew), like not giving your name to possibly evil beings, or inviting them into your home.

In the end, this is a 3/5 for me.  The book had a lot of potential, and did avoid several of the tropes that I find most annoying in YA fantasy, but it squared up completely with some of the others, and also felt like it could use a bit of ruthless editing to make the plot flow better.  I’m hopeful for improvement in the next installment, so we will see where things go.