Riddle-Master trilogy // by Patricia McKillip

  • Riddle-Master of Hed (1976)
  • Heir of Sea and Fire (1977)
  • Harpist in the Wind (1979)

Somehow I landed a book that has all three books from the Riddle-Master trilogy in one volume.  While I’m not usually a fan of this method, as it means I have to lug around a giant brick of a book with me, in this case it worked – mainly because these definitely read as one long book with three parts, rather than three separate-yet-connected stories.

Overall, this was a 4* series for me.  The world building was excellent and the story was engaging.  I liked the characters and wanted to know what was going to happen.  The writing is lovely.

I’ve mostly enjoyed the McKillip books that I’ve read to date, but she has a habit of never explaining anything.  The reader just has to muddle along as best he can, hoping that things become more clear as the story continues.  At times, this makes the story intensely engaging.  At other times, it’s incredibly aggravating.  In this case, it was definitely a mixture.  While it sometimes added to the magic and natural flow to the story, it also frequently just made things feel more muddled and confusing.

The pacing for the entire trilogy was definitely on the slow side.  While I mostly didn’t mind the meandering pace, there were places where the story dragged quite a bit.  Combined with the way that the books didn’t remotely stand on their own, it really just felt like this whole trilogy should have been given a hard editing and combined into one book.

Still, I enjoyed it.  While some aspects of the story seemed really obvious to me, I still enjoyed the journey, and I liked the way that everything wrapped up.  While I’m not sure that this will be a classic series that I read time and again, I can see myself picking it up again somewhere down the line for a reread.

April Minireviews // Part 2

I keep thinking that I’m through my blogging funk and am ready to write some solid full reviews… and then I start to write and realize I just don’t wanna!  :-D  So here’s another batch of minireviews from this month…

Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

//published 2011//

Before I picked up this book and read the introduction I didn’t realize that it’s actually a book based on a movie.  I’m not completely sure I would have bothered checking it out of the library if I had known that before, as it’s not something I generally enjoy.  And, like other movies-to-books that I’ve read, this one felt a little flat.  There wasn’t a lot of character development, and the third person POV jumped around between characters in a manner that was very choppy and confusing.  There was a lot of potential with this story, but instead it just felt like it dragged on and on and created more questions than it answered.

Why have the villagers been offering sacrifices to the werewolf for years but now all of a sudden decide that it must die?  That was the biggest one for me.  These people have been living with this situation for decades, but all of a sudden it’s this huge emergency/crisis and everyone is flipping out about killing the wolf.  I hated the blend of religion/paranormal in this book, as the “good” guy, who is a bishop or something, is also a total jerk + arrogant + stupid, and goes around proclaiming how he is “working for the power of God” etc etc and it really felt like he could have been the same character minus the constant blathering about God and wouldn’t have been nearly as offensive.  The main character, Valerie, basically sucked and was completely passive and also inconsistent and we had to spend WAY too much time listening to her dither about which guy she should be with; she and everyone else just kind of ran around like a bunch of sheep, making every stupid decision possible.

THEN, the final kicker – there’s no last chapter!  The book just stops!  Apparently, the book came out just before the movie, so they didn’t want the ending spoiled and didn’t post the lats chapter until after the movie appeared.  Now you can go online and read it (and I did, and it genuinely was a terrible ending that STILL didn’t really make the story make sense), but it seems like a pretty obnoxious marketing device to not put the ending in a book.  All in all, a 2/5 for this one – I did want to see how things came out, so I feel like I can’t justify only 1*, but it’s close.

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer

//published 1948//

It had been way too long since I had indulged in the sheer joy and relaxation of a Heyer book, and I was excited to read this one for the first time.  I genuinely loved the main character, Gilly, and laughed out loud on more than one occasion at his ability to get tangled in some genuinely ridiculous situations.  It was funny to read a Heyer that was more about a guy than a girl, but Gilly was so completely likable that I really enjoyed it.  I wish there was a sequel to this book that was nothing except Gilly and his new wife and all of their adventures because I shipped them SO HARD.  4/5.

Ride Like an Indian by Henry Larom

//published 1958//

A while back I read the Mountain Pony series by Larom and really enjoyed it, so I checked to see if he had written anything else.  I found a copy of Ride Like an Indian on eBay and took the $5 splurge.  This was aimed at younger readers than the Mountain Pony books – it’s almost a picture book – but it was pretty adorable, even if it wasn’t very exciting.  I enjoyed the reading, but it wasn’t really an instant classic for me.  3.5/5.

The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillup

//published 1988//

I’ve had kind of mixed results from McKillup’s writing.  Everything I’ve read has been good but they have not all been magical.  That was the case with this book.  The story was a pleasant and engaging one, but didn’t have that magic that made me want to add it to my permanent collection.  3/5.

Don’t Believe a Word by Patricia MacDonald

//published 2016//

I read about this book over on Fictionophile’s blog a while back, and thought I would give it a whirl.  While I enjoyed reading it and definitely wanted to see how everything came together, it wasn’t a book that I loved, and it didn’t particularly inspire me to find more of MacDonald’s writing.  For some reason, this book just had a negative vibe for me, and I’m not even sure exactly why.  There is also this weird plot twist where it turns out that two of the characters are actually half-siblings and have been having an incestual relationship.  That was never really addressed as a negative thing and it made me kind of uncomfortable that the conclusion was just that it was basically their business and they should be able to do whatever they feel is right.  Still, that was a minor part of an otherwise decent story.  3.5/5.

September MiniReviews

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.  (And yes, I realize that that is what I’m supposed to be using GoodReads for, but I just can’t really get into GoodReads.  I just don’t have time to update fifteen different places with reviews/thoughts of the same book.  It’s a combination of reading a LOT of books and not having a great deal of spare time – since most of said spare time is spent reading – and it’s also part of the reason that I don’t really like reading ARCs all that much, because publishers expect reviews in multiple locations.  Anyway.  Where was I?  Oh yes, meh reads.)  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.

The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillup

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//published 2010//

This was a story set in this alternate Britain-like place, where magic is somewhat a thing, but there are already steam-engines and some technology of that sort.  The tale is in the capital city where the royal family lives, and where there is a school for bards.  One of the young bards, who is almost set to graduate, is writing his final paper on an ancient legend.  The book alternates chapters – one set in the current time, while the other chapter begins with a few paragraph’s from the young bard’s paper, followed by the rest of the chapter that tells what really happened back in the day.

There were a lot of things about The Bards that I really enjoyed.  McKillup weaves and engaging story with likable characters, and the tension between the two timelines was plotted really well.  The writing reminded me a lot of Diana Wynne Jones, where I had troubled putting the book down, despite the fact that I was confused a lot of the time.  I can’t tell if I genuinely am not clever enough to understand these kinds of books, or if it’s a case of Emperor’s New Clothes, where everyone pretends like there is a lot more to get out of them than there is so that they look clever.

At any rate, it was an enjoyable story, but not one that spoken to me at a deeper level, and one that still left me with some questions unanswered at the end.  I’ve already read a couple of McKillup’s books that I liked, and think I will still try to read some more.

The Heir and the Spare by Emily Albright

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//published 2016//

This is definitely a fluff book.  But I enjoy reading fluff from time to time, where things are romantic and impractical and everyone gets happy endings all around.  Evie’s mother died of cancer when Evie was a little girl.  Before she passed away, Evie’s mother wrote her letters, one for every birthday (although one wonders how far ahead Evie’s mother planned?  Did she write a letter for Evie’s 70th birthday, for instance??).  And during her senior year of high school, Evie received another letter from her mother, this one the first letter of a quest.  And the first step of the quest was for Evie to leave Seattle and go to school at Oxford.  That is where the book begins, Evie’s first day at university.

While parts of this book were enjoyable and entertaining, it overall made my eyes roll so hard that it was, at times, difficult to read.  It felt like the author really blurred the line of what was improbable and just plain ridiculous.  With these kinds of books, you basically already know the ending within the first couple of chapters, so if there isn’t a good story leading us to that end, the whole thing is pointless.  While I really liked Evie, I was genuinely annoyed by her relationship with Edmund.  Even though Edmund was a super nice guy, it came back to that whole USE YOUR WORDS thing, and there were just tooo  many misunderstandings that dragged on and on, when about three sentences of conversation could have straightened everything out.

All in all, an alright fluff read, but not one that left me feeling like Alrbight’s books are something I need to find more of in the future.

The Pothunters by P.G. Wodehouse

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//published 1902//

So I believe that I am going to start on a quest that I’ve been thinking about for a while – reading all of Wodehouse’s books in published order.  (!!!)  I realize that this means that I’ll have to wade through some of his earlier works that were basically school stories.  The Pothunters, Wodehouse’s first published novel, was not, if I’m honest, particularly engaging.  However, there are brief glimpses of things that will eventually become Wodehouse hallmarks – a butler “trying to look like a piece of furniture,” or, my personal favorite line of the whole book – “…an expression on his face [that was] a cross between a village idiot and an unintelligent egg.”

The story was originally a serial before it was a novel, as are many of Wodehouse’s early books, and it was intended to appeal to younger audiences.  The story’s heroes are all school-aged boys, and the entire plot revolves around various happenings at their school.  There is a lot (LOT) of cricket and other sports and slang and far too many characters, many of whom have multiple nick-names, making it quite difficult to track them all.

I’ll admit to skimming parts of this book as it just didn’t completely hold my interest as an actual story – I was reading it more for the background, and it was interesting to see where Wodehouse’s published works start.  Many of his earlier works are out of copyright now and are available for free as ebooks, which is how I read this one.  While this wasn’t a particularly engaging book (to me), there are definite glimpses of the droll humor that I know Wodehouse continued to develop throughout his writing career.

Misty’s Twilight by Marguerite Henry

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//published 1992//

This book isn’t really a sequel to the other Misty books, but I went ahead and read it after those first three, because it is about a descendant of Misty.  Unfortunately, this story wasn’t nearly as good as the other three.  Twilight was very disjointed and unfocused, without a clear story or goal, or even main character.  Part of the problem is that this story covers almost two decades of time, which is a lot of ground to go over in a children’s book.

In Twilight, Sandy Price has always dreamed of owning a Chincoteague pony, ever since she was a little girl and read Misty.  As an adult, she takes her two children – who are completely uninterested – and drives to Chincoteague where they attend Pony Penning Day and buy four ponies, including one of Misty’s granddaughters, Sunshine.  Back home in Florida, the ponies who were purchased are basically ignored in the story until Sunshine is bred and foals – Misty’s Twilight.  Twilight is trained for a few different things over her lifetime, but Sandy doesn’t really do any of the training, and much of the time Twilight is off having her own adventures – but the narration is stuck at home with Sandy who just receives letters or phone calls with updates on Twilight.  I think the story would have been much more interesting if we had focused on Twilight instead of Sandy.

Published in 1992, I think that in some ways this book was an effort to introduce a new generation of readers to the Misty books.  This was one of the last books that Henry ever wrote – she was 90 years old at the time.  By this time, Wesley Dennis, the illustrator of so many of Henry’s books, had already passed away, so I think this book also somewhat lacked in that area.  Dennis’s illustrations are so amazing, genuinely bringing so much of the story to life.  While Karen Haus Grandpre’s illustrations are standard, they lack the magic of Dennis’s.

All in all, a 2-star read, and not particularly recommended – just stick to the original three.