The Night Circus // by Erin Morgenstern

Even though I finished The Night Circus two weeks ago, I still am having a lot of feelings, and I doubt that this review will be very comprehensive.  It’s one of those books that is just too magical for reviewing.

//published 2011//

I feel like this book has been on my TBR forever, and when it came in the mail last month, I was quite excited to finally read it!

Recently, I decided to subscribe to receive a monthly book from Mr. B.’s Emporium of Books, because I really do love receiving book boxes, but the truth is that I don’t really read by ‘genre’, and the overwhelming majority of book subscriptions make you choose that way. E.g., I do read a lot of YA, but I don’t usually care for contemporary, angsty YA – I prefer fantasy/sci-fi YA instead.  But subscribing to a YA book box means I end up with contemporary YA, which is alright, but not really something I seek out.  (It’s how I ended up reading that book with the one-armed black skater boy hero a while back.)  All that to say, with Mr. B’s you actually fill out a (lengthy) survey about the books you like (and don’t), and I thought it would be fun to see if they managed to send books I enjoy – and The Night Circus was the first one I received!

This book was… gah, it was just plain magical.  Despite the fact that it involved a lot of ingredients I don’t usually like, I was completely and totally engrossed and did not want to put this book down.  As a general rule, I do not like present-tense narratives and I do not like books that rely on a dated header to tell you where you are in the story (e.g., ‘Associates and Conspirators – London, February 1885’), but this book used both and it only added to the magic.

The descriptions in The Night Circus were amazing.  I absolutely loved hearing about the different displays/acts in the circus.  Morgenstern created a definitive sense of place – the circus became its own character in the story, and it was amazing.  The introduction chapters written in second person should have been annoying, but instead were brilliant.  I was drawn into the story immediately by this method, as I stood waiting in line for the circus to open.

Pacing was excellent – just enough back-and-forth in time to keep the story building in a specific direction without feeling the whiplash of jumping around in time.  I fell in love with all the characters, even the ones I didn’t like.  The story unfolded with the precision of a perfectly-executed song.

For a while, I was nervous about the ending, but I shouldn’t have been, as that was perfect, also.

There were a few annoyances.  A character dies and I didn’t want him to, and Morgenstern has an aggravating tendency to drop French words and phrases throughout without bothering to explain them, even when they are an important part of the story.  But these are minor issues with a book that overall captivated me.

I am quite excited to add this book to my collection, and anticipate rereading it again in the (probably near) future.  All in all, a 5/5 read for me, and one of those few books that possesses genuine magic on every page.

NB – several reviews caused me to add this book to my list, and I’m not sure I have them all but among them – Stephanie’s Book Reviews, The Literary Sisters, Tales of the Marvelous, and The Penniless Bookworm.

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Soulfinders Trilogy // by Maria V. Snyder

  • Shadow Study
  • Night Study
  • Dawn Study

For those of you who haven’t been following along, I’ve been reading Snyder’s ‘Study’ books, except they really should all be included under the Chronicles of Ixia title without multiple trilogies confusing everything.  Reading the three trilogies not in order would be quite confusing, so I’m not sure why they are listed separately at all.  At any rate, the first three books (Study series) focused on Yelena and had her as a narrator throughout.  The next three books (Glass trilogy) focused on Opal and had her as a narrator.  These final three books return to Yelena as a main character, and while she narrates large sections of them, Synder also gives us third person views from multiple other characters.

//published 2015//

I really enjoyed the earlier books (although I found Opal’s story to be much weaker than Yelena’s), but was blown away by , how fantastic these last three books were.  They really came together for some fantastic storytelling.  With the world-building well established, Snyder was able to weave all kinds of threads together, and I was on the edge of my seat throughout.

//published 2016//

At first, I was a little leery of the multiple perspectives.  While I was excited to hear from some of the other characters, I was concerned that it would bog down the pace, and did a bit, especially in Shadow Study.  Snyder really wanted to give the readers a lot of background on Valek, and did so by having Valek sort of travel down memory lane, so it would be something like, “Valek sat in his office, sifting through papers.  But his mind kept drifting back to the day of his first mission…” And then it would launch into the story of his first mission, which was fine, except Snyder did not do a very good job of differentiating between flashback time and real time.  Instead of inserting a paragraph break, it would just sort of muddle back into the real-time story and was always a bit of a jolt.  Plus, we obviously couldn’t have Valek mentally meandering back in time when he’s in the middle of doing something exciting, so the Valek sections were slow on action and long on background.  It worked fine, and it was important to truly understand things that had happened to him in the past in order for the actions in the next two books to have their full impact.

//published 2017//

In the last two books, the action turned up to about level ten and never looked back.   There were some great twists and I enjoyed every page.  I couldn’t  believe that Snyder was able to wrap everything up in Dawn Study, but she did.  And I really, really appreciated the fact that she didn’t feel a need to kill off a bunch of people in the final book just to prove how hardcore her story is.  (I don’t mind characters dying when it forwards the story, but it aggravates me when they are killed just so the story has more ‘grit’.)

I don’t really know if these books are considered ‘adult’ fantasy or YA, but while Yelena (and Opal) start out as teens, time actually does pass in this series, and everyone gets older.  Yelena is in her 30’s by the end, and Valek talks about being ‘too old’ at 41 for this type of thing.  I quite liked adults doing adult things for once.

While my understanding is that Snyder says she isn’t going to write any more about Valek and Yelena, she seems to have left the door open for revisiting the world they live in.  Another trilogy focusing on the next generation would be incredibly fun stuff.

If you’re interested in reading these books, I definitely recommend getting on Snyder’s website and reading the short stories that she has posted for free there.  Honestly, it was kind of annoying because I felt like some of those stories included some pretty crucial information, and really should have been included as prologues or something instead of ‘optional’ reads.

Also, I apparently lucked out, because Dawn Study was just published this year, so no waiting for me!

Final ratings:  4/5 for the Soulfinder trilogy; 5/5 for Dawn Study in particular; 4/5 for the Chronicles of Ixia as a whole.

October Minireviews // Part 1

Well, here we are in the last week of October and not a single book review posted!  I’m going to try to catch up with some minireviews, but we will see what happens.  I’ve actually been reading some good books lately, but life has just been too busy to be conducive to review-writing!

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup

//published 2015//

This book was first brought to my attention by Cleopatra, and I was immediately attracted the combination of a nonfiction book on a rather random topic, and learning more about the science behind Agatha Christie’s murders.  This book did not disappoint.  It was informative and engaging, full of fascinating information without becoming too lecture-y.

The format of each chapter made each poison accessible.  Each starts with an incident of Christie using the poison in a story, followed by the history of the poison, a scientific explanation of how the poison actually kills someone, the antidote (if any!), famous real-life cases of the poison being used, and then tying back in to Christie’s use of the poison in her stories.  Throughout, I was consistently impressed with the overall accuracy of Christie’s use of poisons and descriptions of their symptoms.

Although reading this book made my husband nervous, Harkup is quite clear that (in most cases), science has advanced enough to make it difficult to get away with poisoning, although I was genuinely quite astonished at the fact that ricin, found in castor bean plants, is so very poisonous.  I’ve always heard the old saying that if you don’t like someone you can make them some castor-bean tea, but after reading this book it does seem that these plants should come with a more thorough warning, especially for families with small children who like to play in the garden!

Overall, this book was a surprisingly engaging read.  My only real complaint is that while Harkup did provide a interesting introduction, the book ended rather abruptly – a few closing comments would have been nice to sort of tie everything back together.  Still, with so much information presented in such an interesting manner, I really can’t complain too much.  Definitely recommended for people interested in bumping someone off or just learning more about the science behind Christie’s works.

Glass Trilogy by Maria V. Snyder

First off, I would have been quite annoyed if I had read these books in the order listed on Goodreads.  If you are interested in reading all of Snyder’s books set in Ixia/Sitia, read the three Poison Study books, then the Glass books, and then the Soulfinders books.  I’m in the middle of the second Soulfinder book, and think that I would have been rather confused if I hadn’t received all the background from both the Glass trilogy and also a short story available on Snyder’s website, that really should be included as a prologue to the first Soulfinder book, as it has a lot of critical information.

ANYWAY the Glass trilogy itself was really good, but the main character/narrator, Opal, was just not as likable to me as the main character/narrator of the Poison Study books (Yelena).  Opal always felt like she was three steps behind and more worried about herself than anything else.  But by far the worst part about the trilogy were the love triangles, yes, plural, because the players switched about between different books, and none of the options were good.

Overall, I would give these three books 3/5, maybe 3.5.  The stories weren’t bad, it was just that I found Opal so annoying and felt like she consistently made the wrong/selfish choice.  I also felt like the conclusion to the love triangles was kind of weird and made me uncomfortable – more in the next paragraph, so skip it if you are worried about spoilers!

SPOILER PARAGRAPH FOR REAL: Opal is kidnapped/tortured by a guy in the beginning, and in the end, that’s the one she ends up with!  He goes through this huge change of heart, etc., but Opal’s attraction to him began before the change and before she knew he had changed.  The way that it was presented made me very uncomfortable.  The whole thing was really weird.

Dot Journaling: How to Start and Keep the Planner, To-Do List, and Diary That’ll Actually Help You Get Your Life Together by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

//published 2017//

If you’re like me and like to have things explained to you (thoroughly), instead of that artsy ‘just follow your heart and do what looks right to you’ nonsense, this book may be for you.

I’ve been intrigued by the concept of Dot/Bullet Journaling, because I am way into lists and also into journaling and I also actually have started making notebook inserts and selling them on Etsy, and most people are using them for this type of thing. Miller does a really nice job of explaining the concept of dot journaling, and then laying out some basic guidelines and ideas. She does emphasize that the entire point of this method is its flexibility and convenience of being able to make it your own, but also gives actual real examples and ideas.

My only personal issue with this book is that a lot of times the pictures were the explanation, which was totally fine, except sometimes the pictures also crossed the middle of the book, which meant that important parts of the pictures were tucked down inside the binding and were not readable. This seemed like a really obvious flaw that could have been fixed before printing, as it occurred on multiple occasions. It does make the book look nice, having the pictures cross both sides of the book, but then maybe a different binding should have been chosen, as this really aggravated me.

Overall, though, this was a friendly and accessible book that made me feel like it is possible to use a dot journal without having to be a really creative and artsy person.

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

//published 2014//

This was my latest book from my Bethany Beach Box, which despite mostly 3/5 reads, I have been enjoying.  I actually really like children’s fiction, and it’s been interesting to see what books are considered worth promoting this way.  Turtle was another 3/5 read, honestly mostly because it was quite boring.  As an adult, it was rather obvious that Nye’s entire goal was to write a book that showed a Muslim family in a Muslim country in a positive light.  There is nothing wrong with that, but considering how people complain about books written in the 1950’s and how they’re “too sweet” and not at all “realistic”, it seems a little strange to turn around and praise a book that is basically sugar.

Aref and his parents are moving from Oman, a country in the Middle East, to Michigan, so that his parents can complete their doctorate degrees.  Aref isn’t happy about leaving, and most of the book are little adventures that he has with his grandpa as they visit all of their favorite places together.  I honestly ended the book feeling quite aggravated with Aref’s parents, who seemed to feel that their education and life was more important than Aref being close to his grandpa.

But what really  bogged this book down were the lists.  We’re told at the beginning that Aref and his family love learning new things, and then writing down what they have learned that day.  So throughout the book, whenever Nye wants her readers to learn something, we have to suffer through a list, in Aref’s handwriting, telling us about the habits of turtles or how awesome it is to live in Oman under the rule of a sultan, which really added to the boring factor in this tale.

I realize that I am not the target audience for this book, but even at the age of ten I don’t think that I would have enjoyed reading a bunch of lists.  All in all, this book came across as a book that practically screamed USE ME FOR A UNIT STUDY IN YOUR SECOND GRADE CLASSROOM, but in my mind didn’t have a lot to offer just simply as a story.

Study Series // by Maria V. Snyder

I’m not really sure where I first heard about the Study series, but Poison Study came across my radar at some point and has been languishing on the the TBR for eons.  I finally got around to requesting it from the library.  I like to get the first book from a series, and if I like it, then I request the rest.  I reserved the rest of the series about three chapters into Poison Study.

According to Goodreads, this is a series of six books, followed by the Glass series, and there are several short stories interspersed throughout.  Since I decided to read the shorts, I happened to actually be on Snyder’s website, where I found out that Goodreads really has the order wrong: Snyder wrote the first three Study books, then the three Glass books, and finally the three Soulfinder books, which, because they have the same main character as the Study series, have now been lumped in with those first three books, despite the fact that the Glass books fall in between, both in publishing order and chronologically within the series.

Since one of my few obsessions in life is reading all the books in a series in the order they were meant to be read, I was pretty tickled that I discovered this after finishing the third of the Study books, allowing me to jump right into the Glass trilogy on schedule, even though it did mean that I had to check them out as Kindle books instead of getting the hard copies like I prefer.

This is a lot of digression.  The point is – I am really enjoying these books.  And what this post is SUPPOSED to be about is the first three Study books:  Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study.

//published 2007//

The trilogy focuses on Yelena, a young woman who, at the beginning of the tale, is in prison awaiting execution.  But she is presented with a choice: die as scheduled, or die… later.  In the meantime, if she chooses, she can become the Commander’s new food taster.  Yelena accepts the position, and soon is in training by the Commander’s second-in-command, Valek.

Snyder paces this book quite well, and does an excellent job with world-building.  I was completely drawn into the story, mostly because I actually really liked Yelena.  So often in YA, female protagonists (who are all the rage) are quite obnoxious.  I found Yelena to be refreshing.  She was intelligent and athletic, but not at the expense of being a girl.  Throughout Snyder’s world, women are in positions of power, and there is no real fuss made over it, which I really liked!  I’m quite tired of heavy-handed attempts to ‘rebel against the patriarchy’ within YA (especially fantasy), wherein authors create worlds in which women have no rights, and then spend the entire time complaining about.  I much, MUCH prefer this method, where a world has been created where women and men work equally, side by side, and individuals are chosen by whether they are best for the position, not whether they are male or female.  In the next two books, which take place mostly in the neighboring country where there is magic, there are multiple clans of people – but again, instead of creating a world with different races and lots of racism and then griping about it, Snyder has created a world with several clans of people (with different physical aspects, cultures, and skills) – who actually all work together and treat one another as equals.  Delightful!

//published 2007//

I also loved the complete absence of a love triangle!  Yelena falls in love in the first book, but is separated from her heart-mate (such a lovely term) in the second book.  Towards the beginning, she runs into this other guy, and I was super scared that he was going to become this other love interest, but in a refreshing twist, Yelena stays true to her original love and completely sees through the second guy’s act.  Fabulous.

//published 2008//

These books aren’t perfect.  At times they felt rushed and a bit chaotic, but overall I found the pacing to be good and the characters felt real and reasonable.  I’m kind of in love with Valek, and I’m sooo excited that Yelena and her brother start working together, because sibling teams are one of my favorite things.  I really liked watching Yelena grow, especially as she learns about her magical powers and how to wield them.  She was a bit obnoxiously independent at times, which got a little old, but on the other hand, I felt like it fit with her background.

I think these are probably considered YA, but Yelena is a bit older than the traditional YA protagonist, being around 19-22 throughout the course of the books.  I much preferred this and found everything far more believable at this age.  It also meant that even though there is some sex in these books (100% off-screen, hurrah!), while I wasn’t exactly okay with it, I was way more okay with it than I am when it’s a couple of 16-year-olds pledging their undying love.

However, I will say that I feel like Snyder really uses the whole kidnapping/rape scenario a bit too freely.  I kept remembering that viral video from a while back – ‘Hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife, cuz they rapin’ ever’body up in here!’  Legit, like how many people can get kidnapped and raped in a three-book period of time…???

My other big beef with these books is none of the covers are very good.  There’s so much potential for some really fabulous cover art with these, and they are all super bleh.

Overall, 4/5 for the trilogy. I’m almost done with the third Glass book – I haven’t liked that trilogy quite as well, but it’s been alright.  I’m looking forward to rejoining Yelena, though!

Also, I’m having a bit of a personal dilemma.  A couple of weeks ago, puppy Paisley rooted through my library book basket while I was gone and completely destroyed a paperback, so I had to pay for it and it was all quite embarrassing.  Now, would you believe that she swiped Poison Study OFF THE COUNTER while I was at work the other day, and destroyed that one, too!?  It is at least still readable (which was a good thing, because I wasn’t actually done reading it at the time), but I’m quite embarrassed to take it in and confess to yet ANOTHER dog fiasco!  I’m thinking about just continuing to renew it forever….

Nimona // by Noelle Stevenson

//published 2015//

I picked up this graphic novel to just sort of flip through it and see what the pictures were like, and before I knew it I was about a third of the way through and completely engrossed in the story.  Nimona was a surprisingly enjoyable read for me.  To date, I haven’t been much into graphic novels, but I’m starting to think that that’s just because I haven’t found any good ones before this.

Originally a webcomic, Nimona is about a villain, Ballister Blackheart, who, in the first chapter, is joined by a new sidekick: Nimona.  Ballister isn’t too excited about having a tagalong at first, but it turns out that Nimona is a shapeshifter, and soon the pair is working together to wreck havoc.

What I LOVED about this story was the fabulous world-building.  The setting for this story is sort of medieval, with knights and villages and dragnos and stuff, except with modern technology (and beyond), like video calls and tiny walkie-talkies.  So it’s actually kind of a sci-fi story, except with knights.  I was completely in love with the setting and was delighted with how well everything blended together even though it felt like it should have been ridiculous – like a science fair that actually looks like a medieval fair, or jousting knights who also have illegal laser guns.

The characters were also fantastic.  I fell in love with Ballister basically immediately.  He’s the perfect villain-who-isn’t, and his relationship with Nimona is a delight.  I totally wanted Ballister to be my uncle.  Nimona herself has a lot more layers than it appears at first, and honestly my biggest beef about this whole story is just that I want MORE NIMONA (and more everything if I’m honest… I need like three sequels at least).  Ambrosius Goldenloin is the other main character – the official hero/arch-nemesis of Ballister.  Of course, they were erstwhile friends, wrenched apart by a terrible tragedy, and now fight against each other.  I actually really felt like their relationship was done well, too – their being more than friends felt like a natural part of the story, not THE story.

Of course, the artwork is also amazing.  It’s colorful and engaging, and I really loved Stevenson’s style.  There are so many expressions, not just from the people, but from the various animals Nimona shifts into as well.  I feel like I could easily reread this story and get so much more out of the pictures now that I already know where the story is heading.

Overall, this story was an easy 4/5.  I felt like some aspects of the plot could have been tightened up, and I really wanted a more concrete ending for Nimona herself, but I couldn’t believe how this story completely sucked me in.  I enjoyed every page and wanted about five times more.

It also made me interested to read some more graphic novels, so if anyone has some good suggestions, do let me know!  Nimona came to my attention via an excellent review by ChrissiReads last year.

August Minireviews – Part 1

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 High Window by Raymond Chandler

//published 1942//

In this outing for PI Phillip Marlowe, the tough-talking-but-soft-hearted detective finds himself working for a rich but rather dreadful old widow.  Per usual, Marlowe is pulled into all sorts of shenanigans, most of which would seem unrelated to someone more optimistic than our hero.  The mystery in this one seemed stronger to me than the first few books, and I really enjoyed the story.  These books are pretty fast reads and I am finding them to be thoroughly engaging.  3.5/5.

Once Upon a Kiss by various authors

//published 2017//

This collection of short stories are all retellings of fairy tales by random YA authors.  I picked it up as a free Kindle book in hopes of maybe finding some new authors to check out.  However, none of the stories in this collection rated higher than a 3/5 for me, and some I didn’t even bother to finish.  To me, a short story should still have a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and end, and some kind of driving force for the protagonists, but a lot of these stories just came across as ‘sample’ writing – a few stories literally just stopped and were like, ‘If you want to find out more about what happens next, be sure to check out my book!’ which annoyed me so much that I won’t be checking out their books.

Overall, not a complete waste of time, but almost.

The Cat Sitter Mystery by Carol Adorjan

//published 1973//

This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I’ve had around for as long as I can remember.  I read this book when I was pretty little – it was possibly one of the first mysteries I ever read.  I was quite enthralled with the exciting and mysterious events surrounding Beth’s neighbor’s house!

Rereading as an adult, this story about a girl who moves into a new neighborhood and then ends up taking care of her eccentric neighbors’ cats, doesn’t really have a great deal of depth, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.  Adorjan does a really great job of making the whole story plausible, and also setting up reasonable explanations for all of the shenanigans.  The side story about Beth trying to settle into her new neighborhood in the middle of summer is also done well.

My edition is fabulously illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush, who illustrated several other childhood favorites, like Magic Elizabeth and Miracles on Maple Hill.  They are probably most famous for their work with the original editions of The Borrowers and their sequels.  The Krush’s line drawings are just perfect, especially of the cats.

All in all, a comfortable 4/5 for this short children’s book, an old favorite that held up quite well to an adult reread.

The Story of Amelia Earhart by Adele de Leeuw

//published 1955//

Back in the 1950’s, Grosset & Dunlap published a series of children’s biographies called ‘Signature’ books – each one has a copy of the famous person’s signature on the front, and an illustrated timeline of ‘Great Events in the Life of…’ inside the front cover.  I really enjoy history books that are aimed at the middle school range because they usually hit all the high points without getting bogged down with a lot of details and political opinions.  It’s a great way to get a basic introduction to a person or event.  I’ve collected a lot of these Signature books over the years – they have those delightful cloth covers from the era and are just a perfect size to read.

That said, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this one.  While it was a fine read, de Leeuw’s choices about what random vignettes from Earhart’s life to include seemed really random.  For instance, an entire chapter is devoted to a random event in Earhart’s life involving a neighbor who treats his horse cruelly – and in the end, Earhart and her sister don’t actually get to rescue the horse – instead, it escapes and then dies leaping over a creek?!  It just felt incredibly random and didn’t really add any information about Earhart – it never came back as this big influential event or anything.  There were several other, smaller stories like that throughout, like de Leeuw had collected tons of tales and then just pulled out of a hat which ones to include.  It was definitely much choppier than other Signature books that I’ve read.

Still, Earhart had an amazing and fascinating life.  I really loved how so much of what she did wasn’t amazing because she was the first woman to do it – but just the first person.  I love biographies that emphasize a woman’s abilities, intelligence, and skills as those of a person instead of those as a woman.  No one is going to believe that women are just as capable as men if we constantly act like being a woman was a weakness they had to overcome.

All in all, this was a fun and interesting book.  I’m not particularly into aviation, but apparently Earhart herself wrote a couple of books – I’m especially interesting to check out her book 20 Hrs., 40 Min. about flying over the Atlantic – I’m curious to see how it compares to Charles Lindbergh’s account, which I ended up really enjoying a lot.

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

//published 1943//

The fourth Phillip Marlowe felt a little darker than the first three.  Marlowe seems a little jaded, and while he still manages to make fun of many of the terrible people he meets (usually everyone he meets is pretty terrible), sometimes it felt a little serious, like Chandler genuinely was starting to think that everyone out there really is terrible.  There is also a rather gruesome scene when a body is found – not exactly graphic, but so well implied that it didn’t need to be in order to make me feel a little queasy (possibly because I was trying to eat a baloney sandwich at the time).

However, the mystery itself was, I felt, the strongest yet.  The reader has access to all the same information as Marlowe, and while I was able to connect some of the dots, I didn’t hit them all.  I really enjoyed watching everything come together, but the ending was just a bit too abrupt to feel completely satisfactory.

Still, a really great read, if a bit darker than the earlier fare.  3.5/5.

July Minireviews – Part 2

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.

I had a lot of minireviews for July, so Part 1 can be found here.

Water Song by Suzanne Weyn

//published 2006//

This book was a retelling of The Frog Prince, but set in World War I Belgium without (much) magic.  I really, really liked the concept and setting for this story, but honestly the book was just too short for what was going on.  This ended up feeling more like an outline/draft for a story instead of a full story, which meant the characters were very flat and I couldn’t get behind the main love story because it felt so abrupt.  The ending felt rushed and a little strange, and after a big build up around the locket, the actual reveal was quite anticlimactic.

This was a book where I found myself wishing that Weyn had taken the time to turn it into a real, full-length novel.  There was so much potential in the story and characters, but this book barely skimmed across the surface.  3/5 for a decent read and a fantastic concept, but not a book that I would bother reading again.

#16 for #20BooksofSummer!

Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

//published 1940//

This is the second book starring hard-bitten private detective Phillip Marlowe.  As with the first book, The Big SleepMarlowe’s narrative is what makes this book worth reading.  While the story is fine, with a decent mystery and fair pacing, it’s Marlowe’s slang-ridden, dryly humorous observations that keep me turning the pages.

After a little while, I felt a little better, but very little.  I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country.  What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.  I put them on and went out of the room.

This book is, as with the first, very reflective of the ingrained prejudices of its time, and the easily offended will probably not make it past the first page, where ‘negro’ appears three times, but I found the story to be all the more engaging because of its unvarnished view of its time – so much more interesting to read the books written then, where these words and concepts flow naturally because it was just the way it was, rather than books set during that time but written now, that frequently try too hard to belabor the point that there were prejudices.  It was genuinely disturbing to see how no one really cared about the first murder in the story because the victim was ‘only a negro,’ and that the case was given to a man on the police force generally considered to not be important or skilled enough to deal with something ‘more worthwhile.’  In the end, when Marlowe mentions to the murderer that he may have been able to get away with killing ‘just a shade,’ he really won’t be able to get out of also killing a white woman.

So yes, a fun story with a lot of twists and a fairly satisfying (if somewhat hurried) ending; Marlowe’s voice is absolutely hilarious; and, to me, an absolutely fascinating look and reminder of how in the not-so-distant past, having separate ‘joints’ for blacks and whites was not only normal, but considered completely unlikely to ever change.  3.5/5, and I plan to continue reading more of Chandler’s works.

The Methods of Lady Walderhurst by Frances Hodgson Burnett

//published 1901//

This is the sequel to The Making of a Marchionesswhich I read earlier this month.  I found myself a bit ambivalent towards that read, and I actually enjoyed this one even less.  The story begins with the marriage of Emily and Walderhurst, but the majority of the book focuses on Emily’s relationship with Walderhurst’s current heir, Osborn, and his wife.  Osborne has spent his whole life anticipating becoming the next Lord Walderhurst, and is quite upset when Walderhurst marries a reasonably young and healthy wife.  The entire book is a bunch of melodramatic nonsense that would have been a good story if Emily’s devotion to Walderhurst (who is mostly absent in India for the book) actually made a bit more sense.

I would have been willing to go along with the whole thing if the ending hadn’t been so odd and abrupt.  Just – quite, quite strange.  All in all, I think that I’ll stick with The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, and leave Emily Fox-Seton on the shelf.  2/5.

#19 for #20BooksofSummer!

Martin’s Mice by Dick King-Smith

//published 1988//

I’m not sure whether or not I’ve rambled on about King-Smith on this blog before, so even if I have it’s been a while.  While he’s best known for his classic Babe: The Gallant PigKing-Smith was an incredibly prolific writer of children’s books.  While I don’t love all of them – some are really just too fast and shallow to be considered good reading, even for a children’s book – others have become lifelong favorites, like The Fox Busters and The Queen’s Nose.  

In this tale, we have the story of a farm kitten, Martin, who doesn’t like eating mice.  He thinks they are so beautiful and precious.  When he discovers that the farmer’s daughter keeps rabbits as pets, he is intrigued by the concept – and when he catches a mouse one day, he decides to keep her as a pet.  The rest of the story follows the adventure (especially when his long-lost dad finds out), and involves all sorts of funny critters, like an extremely intelligent hog, a crafty fox, and some quick-thinking mice.

While this isn’t a book that’s likely to win a lot of awards or to cause you to ponder your life, it’s still a very fun and witty story that would be a great read aloud or early reader book.  4/5.