July Minireviews + #20BooksofSummer

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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine – 2*

//published 2006//

I recently reread Ella Enchantedwhich was a childhood favorite and is still a book that I love.  Full of delightful characters, fun world-building, and a really excellent story, I’ve read it many times and still enjoy it.  Somehow, I hadn’t realized that Levine had written another book set in the same world as Ella, although not a direct sequel.  Part of me wishes that I still didn’t know that, because Fairest was pretty terrible.  The main problem was the heroine, Ava, who was incredibly boring, and spent the entire book whining about how ugly she was.  I mean CONSTANTLY.  Every.  Page.  And it never really felt like a lesson came out of that, or if it did it was very muddled.  If the prince thought she was beautiful the first time he saw her… was she really not as ugly as she thought?  Because here’s the thing, ugly/plain people often DO become more beautiful in our eyes as we get to know and love them, but if you’re just sitting there and someone walks into a room – you don’t know anything about them, and literally just judge them on how they appear at that moment.  So the prince is either lying, has horrible taste, or Ava isn’t actually that ugly.  All of those answers annoyed me.

Anyway, the rest of the story was also very weak – I’m never a fan of a plot where the villain is actually NOT the villain but is being controlled by another, in-the-background villain.  This seems convoluted and confusing.  All in all, I skimmed large portions of Fairest, and had trouble focusing on the pages because I was so busy rolling my eyes at Ava’s endless whining about her appearances.

Frederica by Georgette Heyer – 4.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1965//

This was my third read for #20BooksofSummer (you can find my original post here), and a thoroughly enjoyable one it was.  While I had read Frederica quite a while ago (2012), it had been several years.  At the time of my initial reading, it was actually one of the first Heyer books I had read (somehow, I didn’t discover her until adulthood!), but even after reading several of Heyer’s other books since then, I still found this one to be adorable and fun.  I think that part of the reason I love this one so much is that Alverstoke, the unwilling hero, falls in love not just with Frederica, but with her whole family.  I just loved the way that he went from being a selfish, lonely Mr. Grumpy-pants to being part of a happy, loving family.  While Alverstoke was a smidge *too* selfish to really be my favorite Heyer hero, he was still quite nice.  Frederica is a typical, but nonetheless enjoyable, Heyer heroine, being independent and intelligent without being too sassy and obnoxious.  She doesn’t take any nonsense from Alverstoke (or anyone else) and is such a wonderful sister.  My only complaint about her was how she could possibly be blind to her sister’s preferred beau??

All in all, Frederica is a delightful read for anyone looking for a bit of relaxation.  I wasn’t feeling super great over the weekend, and this ended up being the perfect book to devour.

Scotty by Frances Pitt – 3.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1932//

I purchased this book years ago at a book sale somewhere, but somehow had never gotten around to reading it before.  This ended up  being a perfectly enjoyable, although not outstanding read about a Highland fox cub who is raised in captivity buy then escapes and adjusts to life in the wild.  It had a very Jim Kjelgaard-y vibe for me, and it was fun to read an outdoors book about an area of the world that is unfamiliar to me.  It was written between the Wars, so it was also an interesting, if somewhat limited, glance into life when things were starting to really undergo a big cultural change.  While I’m not convinced this will be a classic that I read time and again, it was still engaging – and also Book #4 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit – 4.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1907//

This book is so precious that I just wanted to eat it up.  Every time I thought the story couldn’t get more adorable, it did.  These are the kind of children’s books that I grew up with, and I can’t believe that I didn’t discover Nesbit until adulthood!  This wasn’t a story full of angst or the need for anyone to “discover” herself – just a roly-poly happy story about four children and some magical adventures.  I can’t wait to read more Nesbit!!!  #6 for #20BooksofSummer.

NB: #5 for the list is actually A Wrinkle in Time which I have already read but won’t be reviewing until I have finished some more books in the series.

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The Paper Magician series // by Charlie Holmberg

  • The Paper Magician (2014)
  • The Glass Magician (2014)
  • The Master Magician (2015)

NB: There is a spin-off book set in the same universe, The Plastic Magician, which I didn’t bother reading because I was over these books.

These books are set in an alternative universe (it feels like around 1900) wherein magic is a reality.  However, magic can’t be used all willy-nilly by just anyone.  People attend a school and are then apprenticed before becoming full-fledged magicians.  In school, students learn about the different types of magic – each kind adheres to a different material: glass, paper, plastic, metal, fire, etc.  When students become apprentices, they bond with a specific material.  Once the bonding spell has been cast, there is no going back – a magician can only work with his bonded material.  This isn’t because of a law or rule – it’s just the way the magic works.

loved this world concept.  This leaves room for so many different side trails of intrigue and interest, and I was way into it.  I found myself wondering how this would apply to a modern variation of this world, and I was really interested in how this applied to the everyday lives of non-magicians.  But I think this was a case where I allowed myself to get so interested in the concept that it took me a while to notice that the actual story was kind of terrible.  By halfway through the second book, I was getting incredibly bored, and I basically skimmed the entire third book just to make sure of how things were going to turn out – which wasn’t too hard to guess, as the entire storyline was absurdly predictable.

Part of the problem was the main character, Ceony.  I didn’t like her from the very beginning – and I kept not liking her through the rest of the series.  She annoyed me.  Ceony is one of those characters who ALWAYS knows what’s best and is constantly ignoring everyone around her and doing whatever she wants because she is SO CLEVER.  Clever and ANNOYING.

In the first book, we start with Ceony, on her first day as an apprentice, arriving at the home of her new mentor.  Ceony has been more or less forced to accept a position as a paper magician (a Folder) because there aren’t enough Folders.  She’s quite depressed at the prospect of bonding with what she considers to be the most boring of all the materials, but while students’ inclinations are taken into consideration, ultimately the board decides which apprentices bond with which material – so paper it is.  Because of the dearth of Folders, Ceony is being apprenticed a male magician, which isn’t exactly against the rules, but isn’t preferable.  Ceony is surprised to find that her new mentor is (conveniently) rather youngish and good looking.  Wow, I wonder what’s going to happen next.

What happens next is that Ceony falls in love with Emery immediately, to the point that when he is attacked she is willing to risk literally everything to save him.  And that’s where this book started to lose me already, because Ceony went from “I hate being here and I don’t want to be a Folder and everything about this sucks” to “omg I am so in love with Emery that I am willing to give up everything up to and including my own life just to save his *heart eyes* *kissy face*”  She then frolics off against everyone’s rules and manages to rescue Emery completely on her own, even though she’s only been an apprentice for like two weeks.  This ENTIRE book could have been made at least somewhat believable if Holmberg had just inserted a sentence or a paragraph indicating that at least a smidgen of time had passed.  Something like, “After a few weeks, Ceony had settled into her new life as a Folder. While still not exactly thrilled about it, she had at least come to appreciate some its finer subtleties.”  Or maybe, “As the days went by, Ceony found herself reluctantly drawn into the world of Folding, not least because she found Emery himself increasingly engaging.”  ANYTHING.  Instead, I’m supposed to buy that in a mere handful of days she knows a crapton of amazing Folding techniques, is desperately in love with Emery, and is able to take on – and defeat – an incredibly powerful magician.  Ummm.

The other weird thing is that somehow the story becomes all about Emery.  Ceony is learning about  his past life through his memories… so even though Ceony is the main character, it ends up being this weirdly passive story all about Emery.  It just read really strangely and left me feeling incredibly disconnected from the story.

Still. I wanted to give the second book a chance… but it was just as ridiculous.  By book three I was just over the whole thing.  What really made me just roll my eyes in disbelief is that the opening of the third book informs me that two years have passed (apprentices have to apprentice for at least that long before testing to be a magician).  During this time, Ceony and Emery are deeply in love.  They kiss and cuddle.  They live alone and unchaperoned.  And… that’s it.  Here’s the deal, folks – if you’re really desperately in love with someone, I do not believe that you’re capable of living alone with them for TWO YEARS without succumbing to temptation.  I’m not condoning that or saying that it’s a good thing.  I’m just saying that that’s reality.  Saying that they had lived together but not slept together despite being “madly in love” the entire time meant that I just didn’t believe that they were really all that in love.  It made their whole relationship feel unbelievable.

And that’s really what it came down to for this whole series.  Throughout the entire time Holmberg is trying to use this amazing romance between these two characters as the catalyst for all of Ceony’s behavior – and it just didn’t work.  Their relationship NEVER felt even remotely believable.  I had zero confidence in their ability to make it work long term, and there was absolutely NO chemistry between them.  And it just emphasized how uncomfortable their relationship was to me because Emery was in a position of authority over Ceony.  So despite the fact that “Ceony fell in love first” and Emery wasn’t “taking advantage” of their situation – just no.  If they were serious about not taking advantage of their situation, Ceony should have transferred to another Folder, and let Emery court her for those two years.  Instead, she goes, at the age of 19, straight from school into Emery’s house where she falls in love with him – her teacher and boss – and then that’s it.  It was just sooo uncomfortable to me.

I really wanted to like these books.  The concept is fantastic.  But Ceony was completely unlikable to me, and the relationship that is supposed to be the driving force for the whole series was unbelievable and forced.  That meant that the entire story dragged and never felt natural or particularly engaging.

These books have their fans, but they are not really for me – despite the fact that I love the cover art!

Judy Bolton Mysteries // Books 1-5 // by Margaret Sutton – #20BooksofSummer

  1. The Vanishing Shadow (1932)
  2. The Haunted Attic (1932)
  3. The Invisible Chimes (1932)
  4. Seven Strange Clues (1932)
  5. The Ghost Parade (1933)

Published in the 1930’s, the Judy Bolton mysteries focus on 15-year-old Judy, who lives in a small town somewhere in New England, presumably upstate New York.  The daughter of the town doctor, Judy is, in many ways, a typical teenager – but one with a knack for problem solving… and problems seem to come her way.

I first came across these books when I was about 15 myself.  I picked one up in an antique store, and enjoyed the lighthearted, semi-ridiculous plot.  After that, I began collecting them whenever I came across them, which is when I realized that, unlike many of the other mystery series from this era, Judy actually gets older throughout the series – by some of the later books, she’s married and setting up her own household!  Somewhere in my late teens I read all of the books that I owned at the time, but I haven’t reread them in years, and have actually collected quite a few more since then, so there are several – especially the later books – that I have never read.

There are 35 books in the series, published over a course of almost thirty years.  Since then, a few more have been added to the series – the most recent in 2012 – but I’m assuming that they weren’t written by the original author.  I don’t own all 35 of the original, but I own most of them, and have the first 24 in order.  At that point I’ll have to decide if it’s worth hunting up the rest, as the later books are rarer and more expensive.

The first five books have honestly been a hoot.  They are wildly impractical.  In The Vanishing Shadow Judy overhears a conversation between two dastardly villains, who then try to buy her silence.  When she refuses, they kidnap her… and hold her prisoner until she promises not to tell anyone – and then they let her go!  Then BEST part is… she doesn’t tell anyone!  She feels bound by the honor of her word and has to work around her vow.  Ah, for the days when people were so trustworthy!

The rest of the books are just as ridiculous.  In The Invisible Chimes, Judy and her friends try to stop some criminals by forming a human chain across the road, forcing the villains to either run them over or run off the road!  In The Ghost Parade, instead of waiting for a storm to pass, Judy and her friends race their boat through the islands in the midst of it!

But despite the fact that they’re a little absurd, these books are also great fun.  Judy isn’t a perfect character, and I really like that about her.  At times, she’s impatient, makes mistakes, and gets a little pouty.  She feels like a genuine character who grows and changes, instead of just being a paper-cutout of a teenage girl detective.  Her friends also have different back stories, although it always cracks me up when “regular” characters conveniently end up with a really rich friend, who in turn paves the way for everything to go smoothly.  Yes, Judy comes from a workingman’s background… but her friend’s brother owns an airplane??  Not quite as middle-class as everyone pretends to be.  ;-)

For the most part, these have been 3* and 3.5* reads.  Enjoyable, entertaining, engaging – but nothing magnificent.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest, though, and seeing how Judy’s life develops.

Also:  The Vanishing Shadow was book #1 for my #20BooksofSummer challenge!

June 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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Second Chance by Joana Starnes – 3*

//published 2014//

In this P&P variation, the characters from that classic also meet up with the characters from Sense and Sensibility.  This was a book that I really wanted to like, but just didn’t.  It was boring, there wasn’t really any kind of villain, Darcy spent way too much time wandering around being morose, and the whole book was just kind of choppy.  It wasn’t horrible, but it definitely wasn’t great.

For those who are interested, there is a more detailed review over on my P&P blog here.

Planting With Perennials by Richard Bird – 3*

//published 2002//

This is a really basic introduction to perennials.  If you literally aren’t even sure what a perennial is, this would be a great place to start.  However, if you’ve worked with them at all, you probably already know most of the information in this book.  There are a lot of photographs and some nice charts.  And since this book doesn’t claim to *be* anything other than an introduction to the topic, I can’t really fault it for being just that.

Ring of Truth by Jaclyn Weist – 3*

//published 2015//

I love a good fake-relationship trope, but I have to admit that this one wasn’t really very good!  While it would have made decent sense for these two people who just met to pretend they were dating, pretending that they were engaged made legit no sense and just created all sorts of unnecessary drama.  I was also confused about why they both acted like they couldn’t make their relationship real…  like… nothing to lose??  You were total strangers a week ago, so even if the other person thinks dating for real is stupid, oh well??  Finally, in the end, they go straight into being really engaged, even though they’ve only known each about three weeks!  What?!

The thing is, despite the fact that this book was thoroughly implausible, I completely enjoyed it!  It was just so innocent and happy.  No sex, no swearing, just purely relaxing and adorable.  I actually really liked the characters a lot, and would have been willing to forgive a lot of the story if they had just started dating in the end (and then an epilogue where they are happily married a year later or something), but leaping straight into being engaged felt ridiculous given the short time frame.

For now, I’m giving the rest of this series a miss, but if I find myself yearning for some quietly innocent romance, I may pick the next one up!

This is Book #2 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Child by Fiona Barton – 3.5*

//published 2017//

I recently read and enjoyed The Widow by the same author, so when I saw she had another book with some overlapping characters, I checked it out from the library.  I picked up this book coming off a bit of a slump wherein I basically was reading nothing but terrible P&P variations, so it took me a little bit to get into it, but once I did, I found it engaging but not electrifying.  While I wanted to find out how things were going to come together, there was never really any sense of urgency.  There were also some reveals that felt just painfully obvious but took forever to get to.  In many ways, it felt like it didn’t really matter if the mystery was ever solved or not.

The reporter from The Widow, Kate, is the main recurring character, and I liked her even better in this book.  And while it was fun to read this story with the background of The Widow in my mind, this could definitely be read as its own book with no trouble.  All in all, a 3.5* read.  It looks like Barton is going to publish a third book early next year, so I’ll probably pick that one up as well.  Hopefully it will have a little more zip.

The Possible by Tara Altebrando – 3*

//published 2017//

This was a book that came in a book box, so it was a totally random read for me.  I kind of like picking up the book box books, because they get me a little out of my comfort zone.  This one was engaging, but the story was a bit scattered at times, and there was some inconsistency with the characters.  (For instance, the lady doing the interviews is presented in the end as though she is a “good guy,” but at one point earlier in the story she had obviously manipulated what people had said to make things more dramatic/imply things that weren’t true… and that’s never addressed, she just goes back to being a good guy…)  The conclusion was decent, and I definitely was kept unsure throughout the story as to whether or not the ability to control things with the mind was a real possibility.  All in all, I didn’t mind reading this book, but it didn’t inspire to find out what else Atlebrando has written.

 

June 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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me…

The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

//published 2015//

I’ve seen this book pop up here and there on various lists and reviews.  A retelling of One Thousand and One Nights (ish), it’s set in a desert country where magic isn’t an impossibility, even if it isn’t terribly common.

I really wanted to like this book, but I honestly just found it rather boring.  The first half of the book is soooo slow.  Basically nothing happens except listening to Shahrzad have a lot of feelings.  She purposely becomes Khalid’s bride so she can get revenge on him because she hates him so much, but it takes her roughly .03 seconds to fall in love with him, and then we have PAGES of her agonizing about her feelings and wondering how she can have sympathy for this horrific monster.  I’m not a huge fan of instalove, but I can understand its sometimes necessity to make a story (kind of) work, but in this case it verged on the absurd.  I will say that what I did like was that eventually Shahrzad and Khalid have a REAL CONVERSATION where they both explain their back stories and are honest with each other, which I really, really appreciated because I HATE it when characters lie to this person they supposedly love more than life itself.  But that conversation happens way further down the line than it should have.

Initially I was still planning to read the second book just to see how everything comes out, but life interfered and it was a few days before I had an opportunity to pick it up.  That’s when I realized that I actually just didn’t care enough to plow through another 400 pages.  The Wrath & the Dawn wasn’t a bad book, and I think that if I had gone straight into the second book I would have probably enjoyed that at about that same middling level, but in the end I just wasn’t that intrigued.  There were things I liked about this book, but the overall incredibly slow pace combined with characters who pretty much do nothing but have a lot of feelings (we hear about Shahrzad’s the most, but they ALL have LOTS of feelings) meant that this was really only a 3/5 read for me.

The Man With Two Left Feet & Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1917//

Fun little collection of Wodehouse tales – and incidentally the first time that the Bertie/Jeeves duo makes an appearance.  While these were entertaining stories, it was interesting because they lack the guaranteed lightheartedness of his later works.  While they definitely aren’t downers by any definition, there are little things that made me realize just how careful Wodehouse was to keep his best works completely frothy and untouched by any sad realities!  While this may not be the best place to start if you are new to Wodehouse, they’re definitely worth visiting at some point.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

//published 1977//

It’s kind of weird, because I put books on my TBR and then forget about them for years, then my random number generator chooses my next book… and then it turns out that it’s becoming a movie??  This is the second time this has happened to me this year!  I had had Ready Player One on my TBR forever, and then after I read it I found out it was becoming a movie in less than a month.  (Side note: Still haven’t done a compare/contrast on book v. movie for that one even though I have been wanting to ever since I saw the movie!!)  The same thing happened here – I got this book out from the library (it’s been on the TBR since 2015), and then realized that I had seen a trailer for the upcoming movie.  So weird.

ANYWAY this book was a solid sci-fi read that I did mostly enjoy, but with kind of mixed feelings.  I think what it really came down to was that it was a sad book.  Everyone is so mean to Ender (“for the good of humanity”) and I never enjoy reading books where a character is just being consistently bullied and hurt.  There were also some random scenes of violence that seemed abrupt and disturbing to me.

I couldn’t quite get my head around the ages of these kids.  I realize that’s supposed to be part of the controversy, but seriously?  Six years old?  I just couldn’t buy it.  I think this story would have made a lot more sense if Ender had been more like ten when the story started.  I just can’t imagine even a mind-blowing genius six-year-old having the emotional capacity to make the decisions Ender was making.

All in all, this was a thoughtful book, with a lot to really chew on, but the tone was a bit too heavy/downer for my personal tastes, so even though I gave this book 4*, I decided not to continue with the series.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

//published 1998//

This was a childhood favorite that is still a delight.  If you’re looking for just a fun, fluffy little fairytale retelling, this one is a great afternoon read.  It’s a children’s book so it goes quickly, but despite its short(ish) length, there is still enough world-building to give the reader a solid glimpse into Ella’s life and home.  I hadn’t read this one in several years, and I was happy to see how well it has held up.

Playlist for the Dead // by Michelle Falkoff

//published 2015//

Do you ever spontaneously agree to do something, and then later realize that maybe it wasn’t your best idea?  A while back I started using tumblr again (so addictive, and I can’t explain why), and I’m following a few book blogs there.  One of them was organizing a Traveling Book Club, wherein each participant choose a book to share, and mails it to the next person on the list.  Every month, you mail the book you were sent on to the next person until the books have gone in a complete circle.  Participants are encouraged to annotate the books as they are reading them.  Sounds fun, right??  The problem is – and I didn’t really think about this until later – I’m kind of a super old person on tumblr.  So I’m pretty sure that what I’m going to get are a bunch of angsty YA novels, probably mostly about being gay and learning to follow your heart instead of growing up.

So I sent off The Squire’s Tale on the journey, and we will see if it ever makes its way back to me.  In the meantime, I’ve received and read one book – which completely fulfilled my dire predictions.  Playlist for the Dead had an interesting concept, but devolved into a thinly-veiled polemic explanation of why we need to love gay people.  Or something.

The narrator of our story is Sam.  And in the first chapter, he discovers his best friend, Hayden – dead.  Hayden has committed suicide, and his only explanation is a playlist that he’s left for Sam, along with a note telling Sam that he’ll understand if he listens.  But Sam doesn’t understand.  He’s plagued with guilt, because the night before, he and Hayden had gone to a party where things had gone very badly.  They ended with a big fight – and that’s the last time Sam ever saw Hayden alive.

There were actually a lot of things about this book that I liked.  I felt like the aspects of the story that dealt with the aftermath of Hayden’s death were done really well.  Sam and Hayden have been best friends for years, and because they’re both kind of social misfits, they have also basically been each other’s only friends.  As Sam delves more into Hayden’s life, trying to understand why Hayden did what he did, Sam discovers that even Hayden had layers that he had never shown to Sam. I really appreciated the way that the story slowly revealed multiple people who also felt guilty about Hayden’s death, and how part of what Sam had to come to realize was that while he – and everyone else in Hayden’s life – could definitely have done more to make Hayden feel loved and accepted, in the end, suicide was Hayden’s choice alone and wasn’t anyone else’s fault.

Where the book didn’t make much sense was when it suddenly turned into a treatise for gay rights.  It wasn’t even that what Falkoff was saying was wrong or offensive – it was just that it didn’t fit into the story at all.  Hayden wasn’t gay, and his suicide had nothing to do with homosexuality.  But because someone remotely connected to Hayden was gay, a whole long section of the story turns into all about this guy and his coming out and how that distracted the person who was supposed to be at the party and set off this whole chain of events blah blah blah.  At the end of the book, instead of the epilogue being about people becoming more aware of mental health issues, bullying, signs of depression, or anything else remotely connected to suicide, it’s all about how this group of friends started a special LGBQT (bunches of other letters that I can’t remember) club and everyone has rallied ’round the various sexual preferences…  sorry, what did that have to do with Hayden again??

It was like Falkoff was telling two stories.  One, about Hayden, his struggles, and his ultimate suicide, was done well.  The other, about gay rights, was okay, but definitely more preachy and felt very shoehorned into Hayden’s part.

The other thing about this book that started solid but then got weird dealt with the main bullies in Hayden’s life – his older brother and his brother’s two best friends.  They’ve made Hayden’s life hellish for years.  As Sam is trying to learn more about what led up to the events at Hayden’s final party, bad things happen to the two best friends.  So there is this strange revenge/karma thing going on, where Sam isn’t sure if it’s just coincidence, if he (Sam) is actually doing these things (as he is super sleep-deprived and various things going on meant he could have done it and not remembered), or even if it could be Hayden’s vengeful spirit.  At first, this was an interesting aspect of the story, but when the big reveal comes about what was going on, I was left just feeling… confused.  It seemed like an extremely strange way to take that part of the tale, because once again it wasn’t really about Hayden.  He was just a coincidence.

Of course Falkoff also had to make sure to emphasize that the most horrible of all the bullies was the one whose family was super “religious” and went to church, and the reason that this bully was such an extra terrible person was because he is also a closet gay who can’t come out because that would mean losing his church scholarship.  (???  I actually don’t even know any churches that give out scholarships, especially full-ride ones to prestigious art schools, so that honestly just felt weird anyway.)  It was so unnecessary.  There was literally zero reason to make this kid go to church.  It had nothing to do with the rest of the story, it was just a way to belittle religion with no effort whatsoever to understand the genuine nuances of Christianity and homosexuality.  Instead it’s just Christians = Bad Bullies Who Hate Gays And Are Hypocrites Because They Secretly Are Gay.  Way to be open-minded.

Honestly, it was mostly ironic.  The whole story is about how Hayden felt ignored and bypassed in life… and then Falkoff keeps ignoring and bypassing Hayden and his issues in order to fit in other aspects of the story that have no real connection to Hayden.

There were things about the book that I liked.  I enjoyed the playlist part, and the connections of the music to the story.  It also felt like it helped me understand Sam and Hayden’s friendship more as well.  I really liked the part where Sam eventually talks with Hayden’s brother, and while nothing could possibly justify the horrible way Hayden’s brother treated him, I appreciated that Sam is at least able to see that there was a flip side to what was going on in their home.

In the end, the parts dealing directly with Hayden, his suicide, and the aftermath of that event were done well and handled sensitively and thoughtfully.  The other bits felt extraneous and shoehorned, as though Falkoff either needed some padding, or wanted to make sure her book got some buzz by including gay-rights issues.  For me, this was a 2.5* read.  While I appreciated a lot of what Falkoff had to say, I felt like the story really fell apart at the end with the big reveal as to what was happening with the bullies.  Combined with a lot of preaching about inclusivity, while at the same time dismissing all Christians as bigots, this book wasn’t really my cup of tea.

The Squire’s Tale Series // by Gerald Morris

  • The Squire’s Tale – 1998 – 5*
  • The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady – 1999 – 4*
  • The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf – 2000 – 4.5*
  • Parsifal’s Page – 2001 – 4*
  • The Ballad of Sir Dinadan – 2003 – 3.5*
  • The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight – 2004 – 4*
  • The Lioness and Her Knight – 2005 – 4*
  • The Quest of the Fair Unknown – 2006 – 3.5*
  • The Squire’s Quest – 2009 – 4*
  • The Legend of the King – 2010 – 4*

I first stumbled across these books somewhere circa 2000 when I was wandering around the library.  Where I live, we’re about 40 miles away from Columbus, the state capital.  So we have our own local library and whatnot, which is perfectly nice, but if you want to visit a LIBRARY you go to downtown Columbus and revel – it’s huge and magical.  Anyway, now we have interlibrary-loan connected between my local library and Columbus, so I rarely have to actually go there – I can still access the entire catalog and have it delivered to my own tiny branch a mere five miles from my house, which is pretty amazing.  But back in the day my whole family used to go to Columbus and spend literally an entire day at the library (and were sad when we had to leave… I legit could probably spend days and days and days there before getting remotely bored) just wandering around, reading, making lists of books to read later, and finding various comfy corners to hide away with a new book.  And all that to say – The Squire’s Tale was one of the books I found on one of those trips.

The series focuses on various knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, and Morris consistently provides afterwords where he talks about where he found the inspiration for that particular book (frequently Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, but sometimes other sources).  Morris obviously uses a great deal of poetical license in his interpretation of various characters, but I love the way that he consistently makes the overwhelming majority of them likable. I remember reading Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga a few years ago, and I couldn’t get over how basically all of her characters were not very pleasant people – the books were overwhelmingly depressing and I barely slogged through them.  Morris presents a perhaps less realistic but far more enjoyable portrayal of King Arthur and his knights.

The first book introduces us to the two characters who become the main focus of the series, although many of the books branch off to other individuals – Gawain and Terence.  Gawain is a famous character of whom many stories have been told historically, while Terence is entirely of Morris’s creation.  The first book focuses on Gawain becoming a knight and questing, while Terence comes along as his squire.  But when the pair of them cross from our world into the world of faerie, it becomes a lot less clear as to who is the higher ranking of the two.  The friendship that grows between these two characters is one of my favorite things about the entire series.  They are both characters that I love so much, and Morris does a fantastic job of letting us watch them grow and mature as individuals and friends.

Throughout the series, Arthur is portrayed as a wise and just king carrying a great burden.  Other knights are both good, mediocre, and evil.  There are faeries and witches and everything in between.  Justice, strength paired with kindness, generosity, and chivalry and concepts that are woven throughout.

I love the way that Morris presents strong and weak characters – I don’t mind when an air-headed woman appears on the pages because there are plenty of intelligent women to balance her out… and plenty of air-headed men as well!  Morris somehow manages to make even the silliest of characters somehow sympathetic in their own way.  There are definitely gentle lessons throughout the books, but they never come through as polemic or preachy.

My favorites of the series are the ones with more humor/sass.  The first book is my very favorite out of the series, and even if you don’t feel like tackling ten books, you should at least read that one.  It’s a quick, fun read.  The other books vary, but the series on the whole is a solid 4* if not 4.5.

The Ballad of Sir Dinadan is probably my least favorite, which is a shame because I really like Sir Dinadan himself, and a lot of what happens in the book is very good.  But a large chunk of the plot revolves around Dinadan’s brother, Sir Tristram, who falls in love with another man’s wife.  The whole point of the story is how very, very ridiculous the concept of “courtly love” (i.e. it’s only romantic to love someone you can’t have), but it’s really a rather downer of a tale.  Then, out of all the stories to repeat, we get another version of it in The Squire’s Quest, which greatly reduced my enjoyment of that book as well.

But on the whole, the books are funny yet thoughtful, and so enjoyable.  I whipped through them a couple at a time, trying to pace myself.

I had only read The Legend of the King once before – I reread the series every time a new book was published, but hadn’t read the series again after the publication of The Legend.  I only had vague memories of the ending being satisfying, but sad – and that’s exactly what it was.  While the ending wasn’t a bad one, it also wasn’t a happy one – mainly because the ending of the Arthurian legend isn’t really very happy.

Still, it was a solid conclusion, and overall I can’t recommend these books highly enough.