September 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 working on September reads – life continues to be crazy at the orchard. Apples everywhere!!!

Hunted by Megan Spooner – 3.5*

//published 2017//

This was a book that it seemed like I should have liked more than I did. A somewhat Beauty & the Beast retelling set in a Russia-ish country with lots of snow and atmosphere and a likable main character. But somehow I just didn’t find this book magic. I think part of it is because of this weird thing in the epilogue where the author is basically like, “Oh, they didn’t actually get married, they just like living together and why would they get married?” It was presented very strangely, and especially considering the time period/culture in which this story is set it came across as a very jarring and odd way to end the story.

My sister read this one as well, and when we were discussing it, she hit the nail on the head – throughout the story, the main character is looking for some sort of truth/purpose… and she never actually really finds it. As a Christian, I think that truth and purpose can be known, but Spooner’s conclusion seemed to basically be that the best we can hope for is to be somewhat happy (and apparently maybe find someone to live with that we mostly like). The entire background philosophy of this book just didn’t really jive with my personal philosophy, so I didn’t get along with this story the way I wanted to.

I’m making it sound pretty negative, but I actually did enjoy this book while I was reading it, and there’s a lot of good story here. If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, you’ll probably like this one, but for me it definitely didn’t fall into the “instant classic” category.

Secret Water by Arthur Ransome – 5*

//published 1939//

I love these books so hard, even if they are making me feel discontent with my own childhood, which I used to think was perfect. But was it really perfect?? MY parents never dropped me off on an island with my siblings and a pile of supplies and a sailboat, leaving us to explore our surroundings for a week! I mean, seriously. Did they even love me??

The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1930//

I thought I had read all of Christie’s mysteries, but this one didn’t seem even remotely familiar to me. A collection of short stories, the main character is really an elderly man named Mr. Satterthwaite. In each story, Mr. Quin appears (usually mysteriously) and helps Mr. Satterthwaite think through a situation and solve a mystery, sometimes a cold case. While these weren’t my favorite Christie stories by any means, they were still enjoyable and engaging to read. The reader is left with the impression that Mr. Quin may be some type of supernatural being, but I honestly appreciated the fact that Christie never addressed it or tried to explain him. Mr. Quin just was. While I wouldn’t start with this one if you’ve never read Christie, if you already enjoy her stories you’ll probably find these engaging as well.

Thorn by Intisar Khanani – 4*

//published 2020//

This book was a retelling of The Goose Girl, and was overall well done. The main character (who becomes known as Thorn) was a bit too passive for my taste – things tended to happen to her throughout the story. Also, if you’ve read the original fairytale you know the fate of Falada, yet I felt like I really got to know Falada in this story, so I kept hoping that fate wouldn’t occur… but it did. I was SO sad.

While this wasn’t one I see myself reading again and again, I enjoyed it as a one-off read and definitely recommend it, especially if you’re into fairytale variations like I am.

Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff – 2.5*

//published 1998//

This was one of my traveling book club books for September, and I somewhat struggled to get through it. The set-up is interesting: Claire is a being known as a Keeper – technically human (ish) but with, well, cosmic powers that enable them to keep the dark side from breaking through into our realm. (It’s been a few weeks since I finished this one, so that may not be exactly correct, but close enough.) Keepers are “summoned” simply by the draw of the need, so Claire finds herself in a small B&B in southern Ontario and ends up stuck there, guarding a literal portal to hell and trying to figure out how to close it again.

There were aspects of this book – like the talking cat – that I really enjoyed, but for a book that includes a portal to hell, it was puh-retty slow moving. Claire spends most of her time thinking about how amazing she is because she’s a Keeper, trying not to flirt with the guy who works as the B&B because he’s too young for her (he’s like 20 and she’s almost 30… again, something like that… and it really did feel uncomfortable, not because of the woman being older, but just because that’s a genuinely large age-gap at those ages, and Claire’s interest in this guy was almost purely physical, so it was all about her thinking how hot he was followed by “oh he’s too young for me” which really just emphasized how uncomfortable the entire thing was), and trying not to flirt with the other guy because he’s actually a ghost (except apparently Keepers literally can give ghosts a physical form for just a short period of time… just so they can have sex with them??? This also just came across as bizarre and uncomfortable rather than funny like it seemed like the author was trying to do). So not only was I stuck reading about a love triangle, I was stuck reading about a love triangle where all the people in it were extremely cringey and weird. Plus, I just never did end up liking Claire, who was really stuck on herself.

Way too many things were left unexplained or just didn’t make sense (sometimes Claire can just manipulate the physical world to do whatever she wants, but then things will happen and she’ll act like she can’t fix them or change them, and I just never could understand what the rules were, or even if there were rules), and the “romantic” interactions between Claire and the two guys were just ugh. While this wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, it most certainly did not inspire me to continue with the series.

Books of Bayern // by Shannon Hale


//published 2003//

I’ve read the first three books in this series multiple times, but the last time I read the series (back in 2013) was the first time I had read the final book, Forest Born, which was published a few years after the rest.  So I was excited to revisit the series as a whole, and especially Forest Born, which I found to be a very thoughtful and engaging read the first time around.

The series begins with The Goose Girl, and is a retelling of the fairy tale by the same name.  Growing up, I always found this fairy tale to be particularly intriguing – there are so many just plain weird elements: the blood-stained handkerchief, the talking horse head, the gruesome punishment of the villain.  Hale’s retelling is the only one I’ve read that incorporates all the weird elements and makes them into a story that makes sense.  It’s honestly one of the best fairy tale retellings I’ve read, period.  She does an amazing job fleshing out the original into a thoroughly engaging full-length story.

//published 2004//

It’s also a book that completely works on its own – and doesn’t feel like it is leading into a sequel at all, yet when I started Enna Burning, it was as though Hale had gone back and gently teased some threads loose from the first book so that the second could flow naturally from it.  Enna’s story takes us into more of the culture and magic of Bayern.

//published 2006//

River Secrets is the only book that focuses on a male protagonist, and since Razo is one of my favorite characters in the whole series, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There’s also a bit more of a mystery to this story.  And again, even though Enna felt complete in and of itself, the third book follows a natural flow and answers questions that I didn’t even know I had at the conclusion of Enna.

//published 2009//

The final book feels, in many ways, as though Hale is tying up the loose threads of her world-building almost as much as the threads of her characters.  Throughout the series, she has introduced the readers to a world where certain people are born “with a word on their tongue” that allows them to speak different languages – wind, water, fire – and people.  People-speaking is an inherent ability to be convincing, to persuade people to do whatever you want them to do, a seductive and corrupting power.  In Forest Born, Hale circles back around to people-speaking, and brings together a story about choosing to do what is right that is excellently told.

Throughout the entire series, the theme seems to be able balance.  If we allow ourselves too much power in any one direction, it can destroy us.  The key is finding balance and rhythm that allows us to live fully.  It’s a message that resonates with me, because I see a lot of people around me who are out of balance, or who are trying to live in a season that isn’t happening right now, instead of embracing who and where they are in life.  That kind of life of small discontent eats away at our happiness and peace.

While these aren’t perfect books, they are easy 4.5* reads for me.  If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, and fairy tale-esq stories, I definitely recommend these.

The Goose Girl


by Shannon Hale

Published 2003

So I read this book several years ago, and just checked it back out for a reread.  I usually enjoy Hale’s books, and I hadn’t read this series since she wrote the fourth book (Forest Born).  Also, The Goose Girl has always been a fairy tale that fascinated me, and I’m not sure why.  Something weirdly creepy about the dead horse’s talking head, and the fact that the villain was killed by being dragged around naked in a barrel spiked with nails.  The story is just so bizarre.

Hale does an excellent job in the retelling, making all of the weirdest parts make sense, and creating a very understandable and lovable heroine out of Isi.  The friends that she makes are also wonderful and happy.  Still, the story retains a little bit of that dark side of the original story, although I’m not sure I can lay a finger on exactly why or how.  It’s an intense story that is woven together wonderfully.

Overall, a 4/5, and a recommended read for anyone who enjoys fairy tales.