January 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.

Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer – 4*

//published 1932//

Heyer didn’t tend to write sequels/connected books, so I was bit surprised when I read These Old Shades and then discovered that there was actually a sequel. Devil’s Cub is set a generation later – focusing on the son of the main couple from Shades. You don’t necessarily have to read Shades first, but it did add a level of fun, knowing more about the various characters. This wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was good, fluffy, Heyer fun with plenty of snappy dialogue, likable characters, and slightly-absurd adventures.

The Flip Side by James Bailey – 3.5*

//published 2020//

Most romcoms are written by women, and focus on the woman as the main character, but I genuinely appreciated Bailey’s story, which focuses on a guy, and puts that guy in the situation that so many female characters start with. Josh has arranged an incredibly romantic date with his girlfriend with the intention of proposing. Except not only does she turn him down – she confesses that she’s been cheating on him and no longer “feels the magic.” Within the first chapter, Josh is single, jobless, and back to living with his parents in the suburbs. As he looks at his life, he feels completely overwhelmed by all the choices he has to make, and all the choices he has made to get where he is – he feels like a failure and can’t see a way forward. And so, he decides to stop making decisions. Instead, he starts flipping a coin and letting fate decide what happens next. And as one might expect – shenanigans ensue.

There was a lot to enjoy about this story. There are fun and slightly-ridiculous scenarios, mostly likable characters, and a little bit of thoughtfulness about life choices and where they take us. On the other hand, a lot of the pacing felt stuttered, a few of the characters were extremely underdeveloped, and there’s this whole weird thing where Josh gets a ride with a taxi driver named Jesus, which leads to this whole conversation/scenario that felt kind of sacrilegious to me.

At the end of the day – an entertaining and overall enjoyable, but it isn’t one I see myself reading again and again.

The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer – 4.5*

//published 2004// Also, the cards are for another Litsy challenge haha //

These are the sequels to Sorcery and Cecelia, which I reread in December. Like the first book, they are fun and happy epistolary novels. In The Grand Tour, the two couples from Cecelia have just gotten married and are off on a joint honeymoon around the Continent, where they run into another magical mystery. The Mislaid Magician takes place about ten years later – both families now have several children, adding to the fun. This one is extra entertaining as there are letters between the husbands as well.

All in all, these are just such fun books with enjoyable characters and a very fun world-building concept – highly recommended.

Eyewitness Guides: Brazil4*

//published 2020//

Another challenge on Litsy this year is #FoodandLit – there’s a country each month, and participants try to read some books set in that country or written by authors from it, and we also share recipes, although I’m not particularly good at that aspect haha Because I’m really trying to keep my challenges focused on reading books already on my TBR, my goal is to read two books for each country – one nonfiction, most likely a travel guide of some sort – and one fiction, mostly based on what’s available at the library! These Eyewitness guides are great fun – super colorful, full of photographs and maps, and I learned all sorts of things about Brazil, which is actually a HUGE country. It was also fun to read this one before I read my fiction choice (next review) since I had a much better grasp on the geography of the country by the time I got to Ways to Disappear, in which the characters hop around the country quite a bit.

A fun way to armchair travel, especially to countries I’ll probably never visit in person.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This was a weird book that I would never have picked up if it wasn’t for the #FoodandLit challenge. The story is about Emma, who works as a translator. Her main focus for several years has been translating novels by a Brazilian author named Beatriz Yagoda. The story opens with Beatriz climbing up a tree with a suitcase – and that’s the last anyone sees of her. Emma, in snowy Pittsburgh, receives an email that she thinks is from someone connected to Beatriz’s publishing house, and spontaneously decides to go to Brazil to see if she can help locate Beatriz, a decision that makes Emma’s live-in boyfriend/almost fiance quite annoyed. In Brazil, everything is as opposite to Pittsburgh as it can be. It turns out that the email was actually from a mafia-like guy to whom Beatriz owes thousands of dollars in gambling debts. The story wanders through Brazil as Emma and Beatriz’s adult children try to find the missing author all while dodging the increasingly intense threats of the loan shark. The entire book has an almost dream-like quality to it, with an emphasis on the hot, sticky weather (in contrast to wintry Pittsburgh). Emma has an affair with Beatriz’s son, struggling with feeling conflicted about the marriage proposal she knows is coming from her boyfriend back home. Beatriz’s daughter, Beatriz’s opposite in almost every way, is frustrated that Emma is there at all, much less than Emma thinks she knows so much more about Beatriz than anyone else. The whole novel meanders around – it feels like, with the whole loan-shark-deadline-if-you-miss-it-we’re-going-to-kill-you thing, that there should be more of a sense of urgency, but there just isn’t. The ending is odd, but not necessarily out of character for the rest. A book I’m not exactly glad I read, but also not mad that I did, either. It was a fairly quick read, which helped, because I’m not sure how long I could have put up with the complete bizarreness of the whole thing.

Lyra Series // by Patricia C. Wrede

  • Shadow Magic (1982)
  • Daughter of Witches (1983)
  • The Harp of Imach Thyssel (1985)
  • Caught in Crystal (1987)
  • The Raven Ring (1994)

Although I haven’t reviewed them on this blog, Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles are serious favorites of mine.  They’re snarky, fun, and involve lots of dragons and cats – what’s not to love??  I also have a great fondness for the Cecily & Kate series that she co-wrote with Caroline Stevermer, and thoroughly enjoyed her Frontier Spirit series as well.  All that to say, I’ve been meaning to read the Lyra books for quite sometime.  As you can see, she wrote additions to the series over a long span of time, and there were plenty of books in between these, including the fourth Enchanted Forest book (Talking to Dragons), which was published several years before she wrote the first three (chronologically).

Shadow Magic is Wrede’s first book, and in the introduction to the Kindle edition that I had, Wrede talks about how she didn’t really know what she was doing when she wrote it, but someone bought it, which she found pretty exciting.  Later, she was scared to edit it too much, since the editor had purchased what she’d written after all.  Eventually, though, she did go through and eliminate some of the wordiness of her original edition, especially in the first few chapters of the story.  The introduction actually takes the reader through that first chapter paragraph by paragraph, showing what she changed and why, which was interesting, although a bit confusing as an introduction!  At any rate, while I was hoping to enjoy these books, I knew that they were mostly from earlier in her career, so I wasn’t sure if they were going to be as strong as her later books that I have enjoyed so much.

All in all, I think my expectations were about right on.  I definitely did enjoy these books, but they lacked a lot of the warmth and humor that are what make her later books so enjoyable.  The mechanics of good stories are there: interesting world building, likable characters, engaging plot – but they are, for the most part, fairly serious stories without a lot of lightheartedness.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not my personal preference.

The Lyra books aren’t so much a series as they are a set of stories that take place in the same world.  As such, I could have really, really used a map.  Lyra is the whole world/continent, and there are multiple countries within it.  The books take place at different points in history and in different countries around Lyra.  A map and a timeline would have really improved my enjoyment of these stories, as I am someone who likes to have the big picture.

The stories themselves weren’t stunning, but were solid.  Shadow Magic isn’t at all bad for a debut book – it’s a bit choppy, but the premise is well-developed, even if the love story isn’t.  Daughter of Witches was similar in technique, although the story was quite different.  This was when I first began wishing that I had a map, as there was no clear tie-in or connection between this story and Shadow Magic except for a few vague references.

The book showed a definite uptick in quality during The Harp of Imach Thyssel.  The story was much better focused, and consequently everything felt more driven.  While I was a bit ambivalent towards picking up the first two books when I wasn’t reading them, I found myself racing through The Harp.  

Caught in Crystal was a story that could have been greatly improved by a dose of Wrede’s humor.  The story itself is quite good, and I really like the main character who, unlike most fantasy heroines, is a 36-year-old widowed mother of two who has been retired from active service for over fifteen years.  However, the story was just so serious all the time.  It’s hard for me to connect with characters who never seem to smile.

The Raven Ring was my favorite of the batch, probably because it had some of the humor that was lacking in the earlier books.  The story is a bit more madcap as the main character dashes around the city trying to avoid getting knocked off, and it’s overall just a more enjoyable read.  It definitely could be read as a stand-alone, although you won’t get the full impact of the terror of the Shadow Born, or all the references to the other non-human races.

While I enjoyed this series and am glad to have read it, The Raven Ring is the only one I see myself rereading.  3.5* for the series as a whole, and 4* for the last two.

Also, Shadow Magic is read #6 for #20BooksofSummer!

Cecelia & Kate – Books 2-4 // by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

So when I decided to reread Sorcery & CeceliaI knew that I wanted to reread the other two books in the series as well – The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician.  However, I discovered that there was, in fact, another book – Magic Below Stairs, which is written by Caroline Stevermer alone.  I already owned The Grand Tour, but splurged and bought the other two used.  Because I obviously need more books in my life.


//published 2004// I really must get my hands on these editions! //

So in Sorcery & Cecelia, Cecelia and her cousin, Kate, correspond while Kate is having her first Season in London and Cecelia is still at home in the countryside: the book is comprised of their letters back and forth.  In The Grand Tour OR The Purloined Coronation Regalia (“Being a revelation of matters of High Confidentiality and Greatest Importance, including extracts from the intimate diary of a Noblewoman and the sworn testimony of a Lady of Quality”), Cecelia and Kate are together pretty much the whole time.  The book begins with their double wedding, and then follows the newlyweds as they meander about Europe for their wedding trip – and, of course, get entangled in a magical mystery along the way!

While it wouldn’t make sense for the book to be written in the same epistolary style as the first, the authors manage to recapture part of that essence by having Cecelia’s parts written as “The deposition of Mrs. James Tarelton to the Joint Representatives of the British Ministry of Magic, the War Office, and the Foreign Office,” while Kate’s are excerpts from her diary (“The Commonplace Book of the Most Honorable the Marchioness of Schofield”).

Overall, the first person perspective works well for moving the story along.  The voices of Cecelia and Kate are distinct (probably because they’re written by two different people, I suppose), and I quite enjoyed seeing how much they both enjoy being married.  The magical mystery gets a tad complicated but is mostly resolved in the end.  All in all, a very entertaining read – I do love the humor throughout.


//published 2006//

In the third book, a decade has passed.  Cecelia and Kate have settled contentedly into married life, which now involves several children.  They are still the best of friends – as are their husbands.  The Mislaid Magician OR Ten Years After (“Being the Private Correspondence between Two Prominent Families regarding a Scandal touching the Highest Levels of Government and the Security of the Realm”) revolves around letters once again.  Cecelia’s husband, who still sometimes works for the government, is asked to travel to Leeds in order to find a magician who has disappeared.  He and Cecelia leave their children (of course) with Kate and her husband.  I really enjoyed this book because not only does it include letters between Cecelia and Kate, but the husbands get to chime in of course.  (And I love the way that their letters are much shorter and more brisk!)

It had been quite some time since I had read this volume, and I had a vague feeling that I hadn’t liked it as well as the first two, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story.  The humor is spot-on, and the mystery engaging.  Per usual, things get a little hasty at the end, but on the whole it is a very fun addition to the series.


//published 2010//

Magic Below Stairs is written by Stevermer alone.  While it is set in the same world, the focus is on Frederick, an orphan who finds himself employed in the home of Thomas and Kate shortly after their marriage.  This book was a little weird to me just because it is obviously aimed at a much younger audience – readers who would not have read the other books or be interested in their characters.  The story was alright, but there wasn’t a lot to it.  It was fine for a one-time read, but I didn’t feel like it added a lot to the series, or that it was particularly brilliant as a stand-alone.

On the whole, I heartily recommend the series for anyone who enjoys lighthearted fantasy, magical regency stories, or just some good, all-around fun.

The Far West


by Patricia Wrede

Published: 2012

This book is the third in its series; the first two are Thirteenth Child and Across the Great Barrier.  Supposedly, this is the final book in a trilogy, but I will be very sad if this is true, because it feels as though Wrede is just getting into her stride with this particular world.

I greatly enjoyed this book, as I did the first two.  My only problem with it, really, is actually the same as I had with those other two books.  It feels as though the author spends the entire book building and building and then just abruptly concludes everything in the last chapter.  It’s the same sort of feeling that you get when you’re climbing and climbing and climbing in a rollercoaster, and then suddenly drop.  Except imagine that you dropped and then just stopped at the bottom and that’s the end of it.

Still, until the end, the story moves along well.  I like the characters; I like the world that has been created; I like the animals.  It’s all great fun.  I do get slightly irritated because these books are set in this sort of alternate reality of the post-Civil War west, and Wrede uses the names of large cities to mark where things are happening, but at the same time has changed the names of the continents and many countries.  For some reason, this seems confusing to me, but it’s probably just my brain being weird.

Overall, I definitely recommend these books.  The Far West  can be read as an individual story, but I would suggest reading the other two first to really get the full concept of what is going on in the final book.  I give this book a 4/5.