Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Book Review: The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Release Date: October 29, 2001
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Pages: 256
Received: Library
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page

Not what I thought it would be

I thought this book must have been made for me when I read the description, and while I did end up liking The Sherwood Ring, it wasn't as spectacular as I was hoping.

The blurb sounded very Gothic and it says the house is full of mysteries, so I was expecting, you know, Gothic mysteries. And, I guess there sort of is a mystery, but it wasn't all that twisty and it was more like Gothic lite.

Who, what

The main character is pretty much a generic stand-in for the reader. She doesn't have much personality and her own story seemed like a half-hearted attempt thrown together at the end to make the character passably interesting. Her resolution was kinda hokey and obvious.

But that's mostly ok, because the meat of the story isn't about her. The point of her character is pretty much to sit back and listen to each of the ghosts tell their story. I liked their story (a little action, a little romance, a touch of peril), and even though those characters were only slightly more fleshed out, I was entertained.

The Sherwood Ring really was a sweet, feel-good story, but it was almost too easy. The two men, while they were on opposing sides, really didn't seem to be combatants. Neither seemed particularly attached to their war causes (making the historical backdrop inconsequential) and the resolution seemed extremely convenient. The same can be said for the romances between the men and their respective sweethearts.

You're not even a tease

I love uncovering secrets in Gothic stories--discovering old letters, journals, or hidden away objects. But there needs to be a little frustration in the telling. The secrets can't come without some searching.

The secrets of The Sherwood Ring were divulged without Peggy ever even having to ask for them. The ghosts simply appeared, told their section of the tale, and then disappeared to make way for the appearance of the next ghost. This was disappointingly easy.

Bottom line

The Sherwood Ring wasn't the twisy Gothic tale I was expecting, but it was enjoyable, light, and fun. Even though it had large chapters and there wasn't a TON of action, I still flew through it. It just goes down smoothly, and the storytelling aspect made it extremely easy to sit back and let the tale wash over me.

Don't expect a Gothic tale with emotions running high, peril, death, tragedy, and terrible secrets kept across the generations. Expect a sweet story that leans a little more MG than YA, where everything resolves happily and easily.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Book Review: The Secret Bride by Diane Haeger

Received: Own
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Dear lord, is it that hard to Google??

I don't have too many good things to say about this book. The historical "accuracy" was pitiful. I know, I know, you may think, "But Small, it's historical fiction!" And, yes, I know.

But I don't like historical fiction that takes gigantic liberties with historical fact, especially when a quick trip to Wikipedia would set things straight.

And I'm not even talking about things like minor smushings of the timeline (which were definitely present— characters were walking around when they should have been dead years ago and others died too soon), but I can give a pass for when it makes for easier storytelling...which kinda sorta might have applied here?

I'm talking about stupid little things like getting Catherine of Aragon's hair color right (it's RED, not black!) or Anne Boleyn's birth order right (yes, there's contention, but modern opinion is she was the younger sister), or the number and birth order of Mary Tudor's sons right (none of her sons made it to the age of her book son, and, yeah, notice I'm using the plural, Ms. Haeger?).

Simple little things that don't require the author to be a master historian but do take enough effort to Google. And, really, I don't think I'm asking too much in that. I am not a super historian and my memory is awful and even I managed to pick up on these things.

You'd think an author who chooses to write in the genre would at least put in some minimal effort to get these things right. I mean, even the author's note was riddled with errors!  

Bonus points: It's poorly written! 

From a storytelling perspective, The Secret Bride was so, so boring. Nothing happened. Their "romance" plodded along with repetitive mentions of feelings but no actual showing of the development of said feelings. No reasons were given for why these two characters fell in love and would risk the wrath of the king.

Character development was inconsistent with history, but also super shallow. Mary and Charles don't feel like real people beyond the page. I couldn't muster up a care for their plight and the side characters were even less developed. Henry VIII's characterization was laughable.

Bottom line

The TV show was about a thousand times better in all major areas: storytelling, accuracy, and character development. And, yeah, I know all about the historical inaccuracies in that show.

I won't be wasting my time nor my shelf space on another book by this author.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Book Reviews: Mouse Scouts and Grimmtastic Girls

Mouse Scouts series by Sarah Dillard
Pages: 128
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Released: January 5, 2016
Received: Finished copies of books 1 and 2 from publisher

This book is on the lower age-range of what I usually review, but it was worth making an exception. Filled with sweet characters, an amusing lesson (gardening!), and cute illustrations, Mouse Scouts is the start to a new series early chapter book readers will definitely enjoy. Each book follows the characters as they earn a new scout badge, making this an addicting series as readers will want to collect all the badges along with their favorite characters. The badges and little lessons in the stories allow for easy classroom integration or family activities. Recommended.

Snow White Lucks Out by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
Series: #3 in the Grimmtastic Girls series
Pages: 192

Publisher: Scholastic
Released: June 24, 2014
Received: Library

Unlike the Goddess Girls series, the Grimmtastic Girls series has a story arc that carries over from one book to the next. That makes this series difficult to read out of order, but also provides a nice bridge from reading standalone shorter books to transitioning into reading larger series. The plot thickens in Snow White Lucks Out with the main characters wondering if they can trust one another. Snow White is never my favorite fairy tale character, and that held true here, too (I prefer Red). But, Snow has a lot of endearing qualities and her story will resonate with many readers, continuing on the strength of these stories in that there is a character for every reader. Definitely a series I will be sticking with and sharing with others.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Book Review: The Cat Who Came in off the Roof by Annie M. G. Schmidt

Pages: 160
Received: Finished copy for review from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book makes me want to use words like "delightful" and "charming." It's evocative of old-timey classics where stories were amusing to both adults and children because they're just good, solid, sweet stories. It makes me think of classic Disney.

(Point of note, the old-timeyness may come from the fact that this was originally published in 1970).

There's a lot of substance to this story, but it never felt cluttered or wandering. There's Miss Minou's troubling cat-to-human predicament, Tibble's imminent firing if he can't come up with non-cat news, and the dastardly Case of the Cruel Society Man.

Plus all the little side stories and characters like the Tatter Cat and her kittens and all of the cats and people around the neighborhood, each with their own darling attributes. And, of course, the messages, which are all feel-good but subtle enough not to feel like you're getting bashed over the head with messages.

This was a fun, sweet story and I am so happy to have read it. I will definitely be passing this one on to many children.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

2016 Challenge: Library Reading Challenge

Challenge Basics:  

Name: 2016 Snagged at the Library Challenge
Previous Hosts: Geeky Blogger's Book Blog
Starts: January 1, 2016
Ends: December 31, 2016
Eligible Books: Books from my libraries 

Why I'm Interested:  

Last year this challenge put in perspective the idea that, while yes I do have access too all these great libraries, there is a definite "use it or lose it" factor in play here. Libraries weed their shelves, I move. So, with that lesson in mind, I want to make an effort to consistently check out books from my libraries.

Books Completed:

Library S

2. Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery
1. Beauty by Robin McKinley

Library M


Library L

1. The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford

Books DNF'ed:

Library S


Library M

2. Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
1. Clean by Alex Hughes

Library L


2016 Challenge: The Re-Read Challenge

Challenge Basics: 

Name: The Re-Read Challenge
Hosts: Belle of the Literati 
Starts: January 1, 2016
Ends: December 31, 2016
Eligible Books: Books you've already read.

Why I'm Interested:  

I always feel guilty rereading books, but I also really enjoy rereading my old favorites. Especially when I'm feeling vulnerable to scared or sad or disoriented (which are all feelings that go along with Big New Changes, even when they're good). I also realized how much I like revisiting the books that made me happy. Also, I prefer listening to audiobooks of books I've already read.

So, I've been doing a little rereading last year, and I enjoyed it so much that I plan on continuing that this year.

Some books I'm considering:

My Special Shelf favorites, of course. Also, books I liked enough or am curious enough to re-listen to on audio.

Books Completed:

4. Dreams Made Flesh by Anne Bishop
3. Heir to the Shadows by Anne Bishop
2. Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
1. The Strangers on Montagu Street by Karen White (audio)

2016 Challenge: Read My Own Damn Books

4/15 books

Challenge Basics: 
Name: Read My Own Damn Books Challenge
Previous Hosts: Estella's Revenge
Starts: January 1, 2016
Ends: December 31, 2016
Eligible Books: Books you own prior to 2016.
Levels: I'm going to try to read and/or DNF and get rid of 15 books I own.

Why I'm Interested:  

I seriously have too many books and they keep sitting on my shelves unread. I did this challenge in 2015 and ended up getting rid of almost all the books I read for the challenge, which means I've carted around and found room for all those books that I didn't even end up liking. Before I move again, I need to reevaluate the books I'm bringing with me and make sure they're books I actually want.

Some books I'm considering: 

Anything on my Own-Unread shelf that I acquired prior to 2016. Also, with an extra focus on culling through those books I owned prior to 2015.

Books Completed:

4. Hidden Truth by Dawn Cook (2015)
3. The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
2. The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof by Annie M.G. Schmidt (2015)
1. The Lacemaker and the Princess by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2014)

Books DNF'ed:


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