December 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.

So I had a pretty stressful fall for multiple reasons and was kind of over life by the time December rolled around haha I usually try to read a mix of books from my various TBRs, but I decided that for the entire month of December (or until I burned out on them) I was just going to read nothing but Christmas fluff! I found some at the library, some from a box of books on eBay (love typing in what I’m looking for and adding the word “lot” at the end – I got books for less $2/ea!), and a few from Kindle. I honestly thought I would get tired of them after a few because they are all quite samey, but it turned out that it was exactly the brain vacation I needed! I read around 4000 pages MORE in December than I did in November! Only a few of these are books I would ever revisit, but the flip side of that is that there were only a few I wished I hadn’t read at all!! And only one DNF for the month, which is pretty solid on the whole.

And so – here’s the first batch!!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – 4*

//published 2011//

Okay, so after all that big introduction, I kind of forgot that my first two books of the month weren’t actually fluff!! Cline’s sequel to this one, Ready Player Two, came in at the library right at the end of November, and was going to need to be returned pretty quickly since it’s a new book. So I reread RP1 first. I’d only read it once (and seen the movie once) so some parts of it I didn’t remember, but on the whole it was still just such a fun, readable story. The pacing is good and although the 80s references can get a little repetitive, Cline usually does a pretty good job of making his explanations about them feel organic to the tale. This one held up to the reread and I’ll probably visit it again in the future – and I’d also like the see the movie again sometime!

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline – 3*

//published 2020//

While this sequel – published 9 years after the original – wasn’t terrible, it also wasn’t great. Where various 80s/video game references felt organic in the original, they felt gimmicky here. The main character has to complete a series of quests, much like in the first story, but for some reason it felt more tedious in this story. The action bogged down a lot – for instance, there’s a torturous number of pages spent on the Prince planet, and another huge section on a planet inspired by the guy who directed (wrote?? I can’t remember) movies like Ferris Buehler’s Day Off and Breakfast Club – except I haven’t seen all those movies, so a lot of that didn’t make sense. I also haven’t really listened to Prince or paid any attention to any of the lore that surrounds him, so that was pretty boring, too. Somehow, the first book managed to keep things moving so even though I hadn’t played many of the video games referenced, I still enjoyed the story. But in the sequel, I found myself frequently bored as the characters spent time with media that I haven’t really listened to/watched/played. It felt like Cline had done a bunch of research on a few really specific things and then just regurgitated it all onto the page.

I don’t want to give away anything big, but there is also a huge opportunity in this book to explore what it really means to be human, what it is that makes us human, but Cline glosses over the whole thing. The story had a chance to be really meaningful or at least thoughtful, but instead just comes through as yet another gimmick. At the end of the day, I think a big part of it comes down to a huge gap in life philosophy between Cline and myself. Sometimes this doesn’t matter when I’m reading a book, but it mattered here. Cline obviously thinks that there is nothing after we die, that all of religion is a crutch to help people who can’t handle the real world (he makes several snide remarks to this effect, which is pretty bold for characters that literally spend their entire lives in a made-up world because the real world is too icky for them…), and that trying to make our world a better place is basically useless because everything already sucks too much. I disagree with all of those things, so a lot of this book’s commentary just really got on my nerves.

In the end, it was still a readable book and I wanted to see how things came out. Parts of it were still funny and engaging. But it wasn’t a good fit for me, and although I’ll probably reread RP1 again in the future, I think I’ll give this one a miss.

My Kind of Christmas by Janet Dailey – 3* (Christmas Tree Ranch)

//published 2018//

Okay NOW it’s time for Christmas fluff!! I kicked it off with a trilogy of books set at a ranch in Texas. Here in the first book, it’s the typical story of a rough-around-the-edges man forced to return to his hometown. Travis was born here but his mother left his alcoholic father while Travis was still pretty young. Most recently, Travis was working as a law enforcement officer and was involved in a shooting that led to him being imprisoned for a few years. Unable to return to his job because of his prison record, he’s come to stay at the old ranch that belonged to his mother’s family. Grumpy and disinterested in becoming a part of the community, he’s rather aggravated to find himself inheriting not just a pair of elderly draft horses and a hand-made sleigh, but the role of Santa Claus from his neighbor who is moving to Colorado to be with his kids. With the town’s sassy mayor unwilling to leave Travis alone, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a part of the community.

Biggest issue with this story? The part involve Travis and his dad, Hank, who has cleaned up his act and now owns a small store in town. As we learn more about the backstory between these two, Hank really was a total jerk to Travis back in the day, but literally everyone acts like Travis is being ridiculous for not immediately forgiving his dad and wanting to be all buddy-buddy with him. Hank never does apologize! Everyone else is just like, “Aw, Hank is such a great guy! Travis is such a jerk for not forgiving him!” It really got on my nerves. Just because Hank is a good guy now doesn’t erase him being a horrible person in the past, and Travis’s unwillingness to forgive/trust Hank didn’t feel unreasonable to me at all. Yes, I wanted Travis to eventually forgive Hank so that everyone could be one big happy family, but I wanted that to come from an honest conversation about the past wherein Hank admits that what he did and said was completely wrong, and that never happened.

HOWEVER overall it was fluffy and fun and since I already had the other two books from the library, I decided to give them a shot. My only other issue? This book clearly describes the dog as being a border collie mix that looks like a border collies and the dog on the cover does not remotely look like a border collie! What even!

It’s a Christmas Thing by Janet Dailey (Christmas Tree Ranch) – 3.5*

//published 2019//

So throughout the course of the first book, we end up with two other eligible bachelors living at Travis’s ranch, Rush (a veterinarian) and Conner (used to be a rodeo rider). This one focuses on Rush, who falls in love with a lovely lady who has recently ended up with a stray cat – who had kittens. There wasn’t anything crazy in this one, just some regular fluff with no surprises.

Cover complaint: The author specifically talks about how none of these guys can ride a horse and that the only two horses they have are the old draft horses that pull the sleigh. There’s also only one dog. Who designs these covers?!

Holding Out for Christmas by Janet Daily – 3.5* (Christmas Tree Ranch)

//published 2020//

Side note, I don’t know exactly where in Texas this place is, but they get a LOT of snow. It really seemed like this ranch should have been in like Nebraska or South Dakota or something. Anyway. Book three is of course about bachelor #3, Connor, who used to ride the rodeo circuit until a bad injury made him unable to ever ride a horse again. Connor’s the flirty one out of the three, so that’s his big drama. There weren’t any surprises here, but it was still a fun read.

Conclusion: I won’t ever reread this trilogy, but they were fun for a one-off read.

Cover complain: What’s on this cover? A pile of puppies?? Do you know how many puppies are in this book? ZERO! NO PUPPIES! ABSOLUTELY ZERO PUPPIES APPEAR IN THIS STORY!? WHAT KIND OF HORRIBLE PERSON PUTS PUPPIES ON THE COVER OF A STORY IN WHICH THERE ARE NO PUPPIES?!?!?!?!

November Minireviews // Part 2

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.

The Cats of the Louvre by Taiyo Matsumoto – 2*

//published 2017// Also originally published in Japan so it reads “backwards” for me… which the library apparently didn’t realize as they stuck the barcode directly over the title!! //

Lately, if I see a review of a graphic novel that I think looks interesting, I just check it out of the library right then. This was one of those cases, but here it was a complete fail as Cats ended up being way more bizarre than I had bargained for, although maybe I should have been forewarned since it was a book originally written in Japanese about a French museum and translated into English…

The story is supposedly about these cats that secretly live in the Louvre, which is what drew me in – doesn’t that sound fun?? But it turns out that these are like cat/human hybrid things?? Or maybe not and the artist just drew them that way to give them more personability?? Either way they completely weirded me out and made the whole story feel strange and creepy. Part of the story is also about a little girl who got sucked into a painting decades ago, and then one of the kitten children also gets sucked in… I can’t even describe it, the whole thing was just so weird. I did finish it because it’s a graphic novel so it goes really fast, but was left feeling like I’d had a incredibly bizarre dream. This one just wasn’t for me.

A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Perry – 3.5*

//published 2019//

This was another case of cover love for me. Based on the true story of a wolf who (we know through tracking devices) left his home range in northeast Oregon to end up in southwest Oregon in an area that had not previously had wolves (at least not in recent history). This was a decent middle grade read, although not one that I fell in love with, mainly because Perry somewhat romanticizes wolves. For example, at one point Wander is very judgy about another pair of wolves who have killed a cow – or maybe it was a sheep, can’t remember – because obviously their pack leader hadn’t taught them any sense of “honor”… I’m just not convinced that “honor” really comes into it, although wolves do tend to prefer to hunt whatever their parents taught them to hunt.

My only other bit of confusion is that the title of the story is A Wolf Called Wander, but she actually names the wolf Swift, which is his name for most of the story until he chooses to change it, and in real life the wolf’s nickname was actually Journey. It just felt like a lot of names for one wolf. And yes, it makes sense that a wolf wouldn’t have chosen the same name for himself as the humans did, but why wouldn’t you just name the wolf Journey anyway???

But overall minor complaints. On the whole I did enjoy this book and if you have a younger reader who is intrigued by wolves/wildlife, they would probably like this one as well.

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater – 2.5*

//published 2020//

Another graphic novel to add to the “didn’t work for me” pile – while I haven’t read all of Stiefvater’s books, I’ve read enough to know that she’s an author I generally enjoy, so I checked out her graphic novel (illustrated by Morgan Beem) and it just ended up being another story that didn’t jive with me.

Twin brothers – one introverted and obsessed with plants/biology, the other extroverted and easygoing – head out to the swamplands to stay with their honestly bizarre cousins in a “we’re in redneck country” way that made me a little uncomfortable and felt out of character for Stiefvater’s writing. Sciencey brother’s experiments start getting weird when they turn things into plants that are still able to think and move like the people/animals they were before they were changed, and it’s a little vague as to whether they’re just going to be plants forever or… The story was just odd and choppy and hard to follow. I’ll also admit that the artwork style wasn’t for me, either, and if you don’t like the artwork of a graphic novel, it makes the whole experience somewhat negative as well.

Definitely my least-favorite Stiefvater book I’ve read to date. I’m not sure if there is supposed to be a sequel at some point, but this one ended quite abruptly. I think it was also supposed to be somewhat based on the comic book creature Swamp Thing, but I know literally nothing about comic book stories/heroes/villains/etc so I can’t say whether or not it even vaguely resembled the original or not. This one wasn’t for me, but people who enjoy the horror vibe and also think everyone who lives in the south is a stupid redneck may enjoy this one more.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1932//

It had been quite a long time since I read this one, so I couldn’t remember exactly how it came out. The plotting was brilliant as always, and I have a soft spot for Hastings so I was glad to see him here in this one. Christie is pretty much always a win for me, and I’ve been enjoying revisiting some of her earlier books.

Two of a Kind by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

This book contained two stories, Impulse (published 1989) and The Best Mistake (published 1994) and were pretty typical Roberts fare for that era.

In Impulse, the heroine spontaneously sells everything she owns, quits her job, and goes to Europe to travel until her money runs out. It will come to no surprise that she finds an insanely rich Greek to marry. Predictable and a bit ridiculous, but all in good fun.

I really enjoy stories about women who “should” have gotten an abortion, but instead decided to keep their child, a reminder that women are strong enough to be successful and accomplish whatever they want to without having to sacrifice their offspring to get there. The heroine in The Best Mistake was a model on the fast-track to big money when she got pregnant. Now, several years later, she’s living a quieter but still successful life raising her child with no regrets for the career she left behind. She decides to take in a renter in her over-the-garage apartment, and readers will be shocked to discover that he’s both good-looking AND single!!! No one knows what will happen next!!

These weren’t stories I want to read again and again but they were fun as one-off reads.

August Minireviews – Part 2

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 reviewing August books in August… making progress!!  :-D

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – 4*

//published 2016//

Quite a long while ago Maggie Stiefvater – pretty much the only “famous” person I follow on social media – mentioned that she was reading this book.  It looked magical, and I’ve always thought winged horses would be the most amazing magical creatures, so I added it to the TBR.  And now, years later, I actually got around to reading it!  While somewhat bittersweet, this was a lovely read about a young girl who can see winged horses in the “mirror world” – i.e. she can only see them in mirrors.  She’s the only one who sees them (or is she??) and has learned to not talk about it much.  She’s staying in an old manor house in the English countryside.  The house has been turned into a tuberculosis hospital for children during World War II, so there is definitely a dark tone to the story, especially since it is set in winter – somehow, the entire book feels grey, which is actually a big part of the story.

There were a lot of things I liked about this story.  It was so imaginative and imagery was beautiful.  I really wish that it had been paired with better illustrations – there is so much in this story just begging for gorgeous pictures.  This is technically a middle grade book, but I wouldn’t just hand it over to a youngster without making sure that they’re ready for some of the serious themes presented here, like terminal illness, war, death, etc.  These things are handled sensitively and well, but to me this is more a book you would read with your child rather than one they would read on their own.

One small niggle for me was that the main character does steal several items throughout the story for a “good cause” – and this is never really addressed.  It’s just sort of implied that she was justified in her actions because she “needed” the items, which I’m not sure is actually that great of a life-lesson.  Still, on the whole I really enjoyed this atmospheric tale that gave me a lot of feelings.

Side note – once again, several of these pictures include my BookSpin Bingo board for my challenge on Litsy, because that’s where I originally posted the pictures!!

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull – 3.5*

//published 1938//

I see a lot of these mysteries that are being reprinted by the British Library Crime Classics, but this is the first one I’ve gotten around to picking up.  The main thing about this story that has kept it in the “classics” category is the way the mystery is presented.  The reader is placed in the middle of a murder trial from the get-go – except we don’t know who is on trial until much later in the book.  Hull weaves the murder, the courtroom scenes, and the background for the murder throughout the story in a way that seems like it should be muddled but which, for the most part, works.

While I did enjoy this one overall, it was definitely slow in spots, with a great deal of time being spent making sure that the reader doesn’t like the victim at all.  This is all part of the point (is one justified murdering someone who deserves to be murdered?  Murder, as it were, with “excellent intentions” in mind?) but did get old sometimes.  The story also runs out of steam at the end, with a long chapter devoted to the jury’s arguing back and forth about whether or not they should convict the accused.  But overall it was an enjoyable one-time read with a crafty mystery wherein the reader can slowly decide who is on trial as the story progresses.

Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1924//

As I continue to work my way through Wodehouse’s books in published order, Ukridge was next on the list.  Featuring a character who appeared in Love Among the Chickens, Ukridge is one of those people who is constantly broke, constantly coming up with a ridiculous scheme for making money (that doesn’t really involve work), and generally coming out alright (although usually still broke).  I think we’ve all met someone like this – I know I’ve definitely found myself in situations, wondering how I got there, pushed in by my family’s Ukridge.  (My second anniversary, spent huddled with my husband in a sopping wet one-man tent on the top of a 40* mountain in the rain, comes to mind.)  At any rate, this isn’t Wodehouse’s strongest work, but it was still enjoyable.  While Ukridge may be ridiculous, he’s never mean-spirited, and he genuinely believes that each of his schemes is going to pay off.  This probably isn’t where I would start if I were going to introduce someone to Wodehouse, but if you already love his writing, there’s a lot to enjoy here as well.

Blackbird by Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Lately I’ve been reading more graphic novels, and while I think this one is technically a comic (I’m still a little hazy on the differences), when I saw this gorgeous cover on a Litsy review, I knew I wanted to at least give it a try.  Overall, I really liked it, and the artwork is great fun.  The main character’s life changed when she was a child and an earthquake hit her city.  During that catastrophe, she was rescued by a huge magical creature that everyone else saw but no one else remembers.  Since then, she’s been the “weird kid,” obsessed with trying to find real magic that she’s convinced is out there.

While I really liked the concept and the magic in this story, it was told in a very choppy manner, making it a little difficult to put together the linear storyline.  There’s also this crazy twist that I did like but also didn’t really seem to fit with the other character’s character.  All in all, this volume felt more like a big set-up than it did its own story.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is going to be a sequel, and I haven’t been able to find much information.  (This volume included the first six issues as one.)  I would definitely read a sequel, but I’m not sure I would especially recommend this one just because the ending is so open-ended.

Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers – 4*

//published 2020//

If you’ve ever wished you had a scifi, gender-swapped Cinderella retelling centered around a royal matriarchy set on a distant planet, then this is the book for you.  It’s rare that I buy a book just for the cover, but that’s totally what happened here.  I just love it, and can’t even explain why!  I got this one for only $2 on BookOutlet, and ended up enjoying it way more than I was anticipating.

Princess Delia, heir to the throne, knows that she needs to marry a prince from a neighboring planet that will help save her own, and while she isn’t excited about it, she’s at least resigned to it… mostly.  But when a series of events leads to her meeting Aidan, a kitchen worker with his own reasons for needing to escape the planet (and who isn’t afraid to steal from those who can afford it to help him towards his goal), she’s introduced to parts of her kingdom she didn’t realize existed.  While this is someone Cinderella-y, it also has an Aladdin vibe as well, and I was totally here for it.  I really liked the characters, and while there were some jolts in the plot that felt chunky (and I had to make a cheat-sheet to keep all the prospective-groom princes straight), overall I quite enjoyed this one.  The setting was completely unique and the world-building was intriguing.  Overall recommended, especially if you’re looking for a unique fairy tale variation.

PS I will say that there are a lot of negative/meh reviews for this one, so there’s a strong possibility that I was just in the right mood for it??  I love the way different books are for different people, and sometimes for different versions of myself at different moments in time!

June Minireviews – Part 2

So, like I said, I read a lot of children’s books in June.  I was in the mood for some comforting rereads!!

The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink – 4*

//published 1959//

In this adorable book a family inherits a motel in Florida.  They go down over winter break to get things in order to sell it.  Of course, the children love it and want to stay, especially when they arrive and find that the motel is painted a bright, vibrant pink – which, in turn, seems to attract unusual residents, some of whom have been coming to stay there for years.  All the characters in this book are great fun, and there is just enough mystery to keep things moving.  This is an old favorite that I highly recommend.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – 4*

//published 1960//

I hadn’t read this book since high school, but it’s held up pretty well over the years.  I was always a sucker for books about people living on their own in the wilderness, and that’s the premise of Blue Dolphins as well.  This book covers a weirdly long amount of time (I realize it was based on a true story and the author was working within those parameters but still) so it somewhat lacks urgency, but was still an interesting and engaging story.

The Snarkout Boys & the Avocado of Death by Daniel Pinkwater – 4.5*

//published 1982//

Wow, I love this book so much.  Pinkwater is absolutely insane and his books are not for everyone, since they frequently read like a weird dream, but I honestly love every page of this book.  It had been a long time since I’d actually read it all the way through and it’s even more ridiculous than I remembered, but in a way that made me super happy.  If you’re looking for something that is complete and utter nonsense, look no further than Pinkwater. This book may also appeal to you if you: love avocados, have ever known a mad scientist, think high school is biggest waste of time ever, ever used to sneak out of the house, or wish you had a 24hr movie theater in your neighborhood.

The Snarkout Boys & the Baconburg Horror by Daniel Pinkwater – 4*

//published 1984//

If you enjoy Avocado of Death, you’ll enjoy Baconburg Horror as well.  This one is a little more scifi trope-y (it involves a werewolf), but the main reason I don’t enjoy it quite as much is because Avocado is a first-person narration and the narrator is a huge part of what makes that book entertaining.  The same kid is narrating in Baconburg, but he only narrates part of the book – other parts jump around to third person randomly, which makes the whole story feel a lot more choppy and not quite as fun.  Still, Baconburg is well worth the read if you enjoyed the first book, and this photo of Pinkwater’s “biography” in the back of the book may give you a small clue as to whether or not you will find him entertaining!

O the Red Rose Tree by Patricia Beatty – 3.5*

//published 1972//

Believe it or not, I’m still slowly working my way through all the books that I own, many of which I haven’t read since high school!  This is one of those books that I purchased back in the mid-90’s and hadn’t read since then.  This is a perfectly nice historical fiction about a group of friends who help an elderly neighbor complete a quilt she’s always dreamed of making. Set in Washington state in the 1890’s, the challenge to the girls is to find several different types of red cotton (that doesn’t bleed) at a time when that type of cloth was rare and expensive.  This leads to several entertaining adventures and a few life-lessons.  While I enjoyed this one just fine, I don’t really see myself rereading it – so it has headed off to a new home, giving me one more spot for a new book on my shelves!!

Jurassic Park & The Lost World // by Michael Crichton

//published 1990//

I have a lot of books under the heading of “classics I somehow haven’t gotten around to reading yet,” and until recently this pair was on that list.  It’s been literal decades since I watched the Jurassic Park movie, so I thought this would be a good time to pick these up, since I could only remember the basic gist of the story.

The basic gist, of course, is DINOSAURS!  I found myself wondering, through the first few chapters where there are tales of people coming across mysterious lizard-like creatures, what the advertising was like for this book when it was first published back in 1990.  Did readers  know that this was going to be a book about honest-to-goodness dinosaurs, or was there a real shock value when they found out what was happening?  Despite knowing that the mysterious lizard-like creatures were, in fact, dinosaurs, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jurassic Park.  It completely ruined my productivity for a day (three days, really, if you count The Lost World) because I really wanted to know what was happening.

These were the type of books that, while I was reading them, I could barely put them down, but when I finished and reflected back on what I had just read, I realized that I actually had a lot of issues.  The biggest one was the never-ending philosophizing by Ian Malcolm.  At one point, he’s been horrifically injured and is probably going to die (sadly, he doesn’t).  Outside, the velociraptors are literally nomming their way into his room.  And Malcom just lays there, explaining how science replaced religion and how life changes and adapts, etc. etc.  Um.  HELLO?  VELOCIRAPTORS?!  And everyone in the room is just sitting there nodding and listening, like Oh my how wise you are, Dr. Malcom!  Please tell us more, I guess this is distracting us from the fact that velociraptors are LITERALLY ABOVE OUR HEADS CHEWING THROUGH THE BARS AND WILL BE IN THIS ROOM RIPPING US TO SHREDS WITHIN MOMENTS.  I mean seriously.

//published 1995//

It was even worse in The Lost World.  Here they are on this beautiful island with this literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to SEE LIVE DINOSAURS and they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting around in their trailer listening to Malcom natter on about evolution and natural selection and scientific discoveries and the scientific method yadda yadda YADDA.  Oh my GOSH we could have easily lost 50 pages of Malcom lectures and the story would have been even better for it.

A few things that felt weird to me, especially reading the two books together.  At the end of Jurassic Park, after we’ve spent pretty much the entire book escaping from dinosaurs, and after we’ve spent a big chunk of the story explaining how velociraptors are incredibly dangerous and intelligent – for some reason they decide to go find the raptor hatching place?????????  Why?????  It’s never really explained.  The entire ending the book felt very tacked on and abrupt to me.  Guess we’ll sneak into a cave FULL of the dinosaurs we’ve been running away from for the last however many chapters?!  I was left feeling very confused.  There was also the fact that the beginning of the book is about people finding dinosaurs (albeit small ones) on the mainland – but it’s never really addressed in the end.

I think I liked the story/concept of The Lost World even better than Jurassic Park, but there was SO much lecturing by Malcom that it really brought down my overall enjoyment of the story.  I was especially confused by the fact that, as part of Malcom’s lectures, he explains that the raptors, and other dinosaurs, haven’t been able to form their real, natural society because they haven’t been taught – because the dinosaurs were created in a lab, they have been able to live from some instincts, but aren’t able to create the same kind of society as they would have back when dinosaurs were actually alive.  And that’s all well and good except… at the end of Jurassic Park, that entire weird tacked-on ending was about finding how the velociraptors were forming their own intricate society, with adults caring for and raising young ones, etc. etc. – all the things that suddenly they aren’t capable of doing in The Lost World – in fact, they find a raptor nesting site, and it’s a disaster, with broken eggs and dead younglings, and no effort from the adult dinosaurs to raise their broods.  It seemed weird.  Here are Malcom’s thoughts in The Lost World – 

But animals raised in isolation, without parents, without guidance, were not fully functional.  Zoo animals frequently could not care for their offspring, because they had never seen it done.  They would ignore their infants, or roll over and crush them, or simply become annoyed with them and kill them.

The velociraptors were among the most intelligent dinosaurs, and the most ferocious.  Both traits demanded behavioral control.  Millions of years ago, in the now-vanished Jurassic world, their behavior would have been socially determined, passed on from older to younger animals.  Genes controlled the capacity to make such patterns, but not the patterns themselves.  Adaptive behavior was a kind of morality; it was behavior that had evolved over many generations because it was found to succeed – behavior that allowed members of the species to cooperate, to live together, to hunt, to raise young.

But on this island, the velociraptors had been re-created in a genetics laboratory.  Although their physical bodies were genetically determined, their behavior was not.  These newly created raptors came into the world with no older animals to guide them, to show them proper raptor behavior.  They were on their own, and that was just how they behaved – in a society without structure, without rules, without cooperation.  They lived in an uncontrolled, every-creature-for-himself world where the meanest and the nastiest survived, and all the others died.

Now this does somewhat make sense, unless you happen to contrast it with the end of  Jurassic Park.  At this point, the characters have discovered the cave where the raptors are nesting, and are observing the behavior of the dinosaurs:

There were three nests, attended by three sets of parents.  The division of territory was centered roughly around the nests, although the offspring seemed to overlap, and run into different territories.  The adults were benign with the young ones, and tougher with the juveniles, occasionally snapping at the older animals when their play got too rough.

There was a female with a distinctive stripe along her head, and she was in the very center of the group as it ranged along the beach.  That same female had stayed in the center of the nesting area, too.  He guessed that, like certain monkey troops, the raptors were organized around a matriarchal pecking order, and that this striped animal was the alpha female of the colony.  The males, he saw, were arranged defensively a the perimeter of the group.

?!?!?!?!  Literally nothing like the nesting site in The Lost World, despite the fact that BOTH sets of dinosaurs were created in a lab…???  Sorry to ramble on about this, it just left me feeling mighty confused.  If any of you are Jurassic Park fans and have researched this seeming discrepancy more, do let me know.

One last thing that left me scratching my head:  at the beginning of  The Lost World, large animal bodies are being found dead on the beach.  Later, this is explained.  However, there are also reports of dinosaurs migrating/living in colonies in the jungles of Costa Rica… never addressed.  All in all, it almost felt like Crichton was planning to write another book and then just didn’t get around to it, because there are definitely some weird loose ends left.

I can see why these books were made into movies.  There is something about the enormity of the dinosaurs that is hard to imagine when reading.  It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen the films that I really can’t remember if they followed the books in any more than a basic sense or not, but I’m looking forward to rewatching them ASAP.

In the end, I really did thoroughly enjoy these stories.  When Malcom wasn’t lecturing, they were fast-paced and completely engaging.  The premise is genuinely brilliant.  I’m not sure I enjoyed them enough to find more of Crichton’s works, but these classics are definitely worth the read.

Off Balance // by Aileen Erin

//published 2020//

Off Balance is the sequel to Off Planet, which I read and reviewed last year, and if you really want to make sense of this review, you may want to read that one first.  This review will have some minor spoilers for  Off Planet.

I’m reverting to the old pros/cons list for the this review to help me sort out my thoughts, since there were a lot of things I really liked, and several things that annoyed me:

Cons:

  • Amihanna is just so, so self-absorbed for most of this story.  It’s all about her and  her feelings and how everyone is going to respond to  her if she decides to marry Lorne.  She spends a lot of time avoiding doing anything remotely ruler-like, yet also complains that she isn’t treated with respect/like a ruler.  I guess part of this is that I’m not someone who tends to agonize over decisions, even big ones.  Assess your choices and their probable trajectories, make the best decision you can, then don’t look back.  Consequently, I don’t have a great deal of patience for someone who spends a LOT of time havering.
  • Way too much time is spent in a gym/doing physical training of some kind.  We get it.  She’s incredibly physically fit.
  • Explicit sex scene that I was not expecting since no such thing has appeared in any of Erin’s other books that I’ve read (including the entire Alpha Girl series).  Also a few scenes that were more graphically violent than really seemed necessary.  Like a lot more.
  • Overall a bit of second-book syndrome.  A lot of this book is waiting for things to happen more than it is things actually happening.  It felt like we could have cut out some of the scenes of Amihanna doing the same thing over and over and OVER again in the first book, cut out some of the incessant training scenes in this book, and combined them into one book with more action.
  • While I’m griping about Ami in this review, I do actually like her as a person. I just feel like she spends a lot of time talking like she’s super badass, but hiding from her actual responsibilities/decisions.

Pros:

  • World-building is great.  There is a real sense of place and other-worldliness without being too crazy.  Loved the glimpses of the Aunare culture and would love to see more of it.
  • NO LOVE TRIANGLE!  Can’t tell you how excited I was about this!  The end of Off Planet seemed to feel like it was setting up for one, but that’s completely avoided in this book, and I am definitely here for that, as I think having a love triangle is the dumbest trope of all time.
  • Which ties into another pro – LORNE.  As a character, Lorne is definitely my favorite.  Why Amihanna would hesitate for even half a second is mind-boggling to me.  While not perfect, Lorne is incredibly patient, kind, thoughtful, and intelligent.  He is eager to help Ami learn more about the Aunare but never comes across as condescending.  I’m totally in love with this guy, and only wish we had gotten way more of his perspective, which was significantly more interesting than Ami’s whining about her (actually very comfortable) life.
  • While I didn’t like having an explicit sex scene in the story, I did appreciate that it didn’t feel like something the characters just rushed into.  It felt like a thoughtful, serious decision, and I liked that aspect.
  • The actual story is solid.  There are a lot of great characters, several directions the plot could reasonably take, and a lot of interesting things going on.

Conclusion:

3.5*, which is where I ended up with Off Planet, too.  A good sequel, a series I recommend if you like sci-fi on the lighter side of sci, and a series I definitely am interested to follow going forward.

NB: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  Receiving this book didn’t impact my review at all.  Special thanks to the publisher!!

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.

Almost done with December reviews!  :-D

The Martian by Andy Weir – 4*

//published 2011//

This one has been on my radar for a while, but I’m not usually into “space” books, so I wasn’t sure if I would really like this one.  Set in what appears to be the not-too-distant future, Mark is part of a NASA crew set to land on Mars and spend some time living there, studying the planet.  When an emergency forces the rest of the team to bail, thinking Mark is dead, he becomes the only man on Mars.  Determined to survive and to make it home, the book is a combination of Mark’s journal entries and third-person narration as to what is happening on earth as well.

Like I said, I didn’t particularly have high expectations for this one, and even assumed that it would be a DNF, especially since there were multiple F-bombs on the first page.  However, Mark’s wry sense of humor hooked me almost right away (and the swearing calmed down a lot, too).  I know a lot of reviews actually complain about how Mark is always making humorous remarks, but as someone who survives life by finding something to laugh about, I was here for it.  I did find his almost impossibly bad luck to be a little wearing after a while – every time he would start to get some momentum, something else tragic would happen and we’re back to square one.  I have no idea if any of the sciencey aspects check out, and I frankly skipped a lot of paragraphs that were numbers/explanations, because that ain’t me, but for pure storytelling fun, this one was an unexpected win.

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1933// More importantly – got these gorgeous Jonathan Cape editions from England!! I’m soooo excited!!! //

This is the fourth Swallows & Amazons book, and like the other three, was an absolute delight.  The children are back at the lake where their adventures started, during that awkward period of time after Christmas but before school starts again.  Another pair of children are introduced, so it was fun to see the original group from a slightly outside perspective.  The whole adventure was just so much fun, and really made me want a houseboat.  I can’t recommend these books highly enough.

Northern Lights by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2004//

First off, who names a child Ignatius?!

This was a typical Nora Roberts story – likable characters, engaging plot, too many sexy times.  Nate was a police officer in a big city (can’t remember which one) when his partner was killed, leaving Nate feeling guilty and depressed.  He accepts a position as sheriff in a very small town in Alaska, assuming that the most excitement he’ll face there is the occasional aggressive moose.  However, when a body is discovered in a mountain cave, a disappearance from years ago turns out to be a murder – and Nate believes the murderer is still living in town.

The mystery in this one was extremely well paced, with multiple potential murderers around.  As always, Roberts gives us an incredibly likable protagonist, and plenty of engaging secondary characters as well.  The setting of Alaska – remote, wild, beautiful, dangerous – is drawn very well.  I can’t imagine living somewhere with only a few hours of daylight in the winter!  I loved watching Nate begin to take interest in life again, although, ironically, I felt like the romance was the weaker part of this story overall, as not a lot of connection is built between the two of them before it’s suddenly FOREVER LOVE.  But since I liked both characters, I rolled with it.

Roberts books are always rated Mature, but if you don’t mind skipping a few sexy scenes, there is a lot of good story to go around.

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie – 5*

//published 1924//

On Litsy there is an informal group reading one Christie book per month in published order, and December’s book was this one (we have some discussion questions at the end of the month, which is great fun).  I’ve read all Christie’s books before, but this is a lovely way to revisit them yet again, because they really never get old to me.  The Man in the Brown Suit is honestly one of my very favorites.  It’s absolutely ridiculous, with spies and jewel thieves and tall, dark, mysterious men, but the whole thing is such a rollicking and humorous adventure that I just lap it all up.  I’ve read this one many, many times, but it’s lost none of its charm for me, and I’m still just a little bit in love with Sir Eustace.

Also, I’ve read this one before – here’s my review from 2016 with a smidge more information on the book!

The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle – 3.5*

//published 2018//

I’m sorry if I keep mentioning Litsy, but a lot of my reading activities are somewhat centered there now.  It’s just such a fun, warm community of readers!  Another Litten arranged a group she calls #NewYearWhoDis, where each participant lists out 3-10 of their top books of 2019.  The girl organizing the thing then took the time to sift through everyone’s lists and pair them together with like-minded readers.  The matches traded lists, agreeing to try at least one book from the other person’s list in January.  All that to say, I hadn’t heard of The Storm Keeper’s Island before I saw it on my match’s list.  It’s a middle grade fantasy read and was overall good fun, although there were some minor continuity problems (my favorite is where they’re outside in the middle of a horrific, rainy, windy storm yet somehow manage to light some candles with zero trouble…).  The main problem is that even though this book had a decent ending, there are a lot of lead-ins for the sequel, which my library doesn’t have!  So if any of you have some extra books in this series just lying about, I’d love to borrow them.  :-D

November 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.  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.

The Voyage to Magical North and The Journey to Dragon Island by Claire Fayers

//published 2016//

I have to say that I actually really, really enjoyed these books, so the whole “meh” feeling doesn’t really apply here.  I gave them an easy 4/5 and completely enjoyed joining Brine on her unexpected pirate ship adventure.  Fayers did a great job with world-building – as an adult, I still found interesting and engaging, but I think that the target audience (middle school) would still easily be able to follow the simple yet involved rules of Brine’s world.

//published 2017//

Brine herself is a very fun heroine, and I felt like her character was balanced out well by Peter, and later Tom.  All in all, I enjoyed how the characters didn’t really fall into stereotypes, but also didn’t feel like they were trying to not fall into stereotypes.

I would definitely recommend these fun and magical little books, and will be looking out for further adventures of Brine & co. in the future.

Cinchfoot by Thomas Hinkle

//published 1938//

Another Famous Horse Story, I found this one to be a bit boring.  Cinchfoot just sort of meanders about but there isn’t a really strong plot or story that feels like it is pulling things along.  Not a bad read, but not one I see myself returning to again.  3/5.

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater

//published 1979//

While this wasn’t my favorite Pinkwater book ever, it still had some very funny moments.  I also think that Pinkwater’s thoughts/views on the educational system are brilliantly insightful and cutting.  I also loved the way that Lionel realized that if he wasn’t learning things, it was his own fault at some level.  Some of the adventures the boys have are quite ridiculous, but the ridiculous is exactly what Pinkwater writes so well.  3.5/5 and I do recommend it, but only if you’ve read some of Pinkwater’s stronger works first.

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

//published 1946//

This was a pretty adorable little Heyer tale.  I did find Carlyon a bit too overbearing at times, but Elinor was just too adorable, as was Carlyon’s younger brother.  I quite enjoyed the way that the love story was secondary to all the ridiculous spy tales.  Fun and frothy; classic Heyer.  4/5.

The Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

//published 2017//

So I purchased this edition because of the amazing illustrations by MinaLima.  My husband gave me some money for my birthday that he said was specifically for books, and, more specifically, I must purchase at least one book that I’ve been not purchasing because of its unreasonable expense!  This one fit the bill – but it was worth every penny, as the book itself is absolutely gorgeous. The illustrations are amazing – not just the big, fancy, interactive ones, but all the details on every page.

It was also interesting to read the original version of B&B – it’s a great deal more convoluted and involved than the traditional version we see these days, as Beauty has eleven (!!!) siblings, and there are multiple chapters devoted to a complicated backstory with fairy feuds.  It was still a very engaging story, although I can see why it has evolved the way that it has, getting rid of some of the extraneous characters and building more personality among those that are left.

Anyway, this was definitely a worthwhile purchase and read, and I can see myself returning to this gorgeous book many times in the future.

The Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner by Ann Larkin Hansen

//published 2017//

This is another Storey book, and another addition to their Backyard Homestead series.  While this book did have some interesting information, and I did like the format where things were laid out by season, it was definitely an outline type of a book.  There wasn’t really a lot of depth about anything, making this more of a starting-point reference rather than an end-all tome.  It makes a nice addition to my collection, but definitely wouldn’t be the book I would choose if I could only have one homesteading manual.  Still, excellent formatting and very nicely put together, as I’ve come to expect from Storey.

The Little Nugget by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1913//

This was a fun little tale of a very obnoxious little boy who is worth a great deal of money, and so has multiple people attempting to kidnap him for various reasons.  While there were several funny moments and it was overall an enjoyable tale, it wasn’t as developed as most of Wodehouse’s later works, and lacked that sort of bubbly perfection.  It was an easy 3/5 read and one that I do recommend, but not if it is your first foray into the world of Wodehouse.