Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book Review: A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh


Pages: 208
Published: 2009
Received: Library
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

*sigh* I was so hoping to love this one. I don't remember if I had added this to my TBR before or after reading Leah's review, but either way her review upped my expectations and excitement a lot. Hate turned love romance, historical setting, so much of this was calling my name.

Unfortunately, I read Lord Fenton's Folly before I read A Matter of Class and the former must have been heavily inspired by the latter. I felt like I was reading a rehash of a story I already read. That isn't a total dealbreaker (let's face it, I'm the type of reader that has no problem reading the same story over and over...as my Tudor, Arthurian, and Wars of the Roses reading list can attest), but the insubstantial characters did nothing to capture my interest.

It's kind of hard to get invested in a story when the only thing it has going for it is a romance with a plot I've already read and characters for which I can't muster up a care. The final blow was the fact that the book it so reminds me of is not one I particularly enjoyed, so my associated feelings were doing this story no favors.

My overall impression? A lukewarm meh.

It's a shame, because I feel like I probably would have enjoyed A Matter of Class much more had I not read Lord Fenton's Folly first. I don't think I ever would have loved it, but I probably would have liked it more. Oh well. It's funny how an experience with a book can be so affected by previous reading adventures.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith


Pages: 233
Published: 1998
Received: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

This series was super popular when I worked in my public library in New York (over five years ago! Time flies!) but I had always kind of shrugged it off as "not my thing." Which is funny, because I apparently had a completely inaccurate idea of what this book was even about (I thought it took place in England. Or America.)

That said, over five years ago this probably really wasn't my thing. My thing was mostly YA and middle grade, usually focused on fairy tale retelling, fantasy, and magic. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is none of those things. It's a book about an adult woman in Botswana, Africa and the narrative meanders through multiple little mysteries while providing a local flavor and sense of place.

Honestly, while my reading focus has definitely shifted lately, I'm still not sure if this subject is my thing. But this book? Definitely my thing. Main character Precious Ramotswe has such an appealing voice and I had such a nice, relaxing time following along with her as she went about her life and investigated different mysteries. Precious is adept at coming up with clever ways to ferret out the truth of a situation and I was continually amused by her approach. I even shared a few of the stories with my husband.

A significant part of the book focuses first on Precious's childhood and father, meandering through this time period without much focus. I normally would have been bored and frustrated, but I liked the writing style and characters enough that I was actually really into it. The characters all come alive and it's easy to love and hate them as appropriate. It was also fun getting a glimpse into a culture and country I don't often read about. Eventually it gets to the mysteries and these read like multiple short stories rather than one overarching mystery.

Everything was wrapped up at the end, so if you want to read it as a standalone that's totally fine. I haven't read the other books in the series yet, but I do plan on reading at least one or two more. I don't know that I'd read the entire series (it's really long!) but I can see myself picking up another one when I'm looking for something like and sweet. I picked this one up completely unplanned, much like a checkout line impulse buy, directly after reading Helen's review, and I'm very glad I did.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mini Reviews: Middle Grade Books


The Grave Robber's Apprentice by Allan Stratton 
3 out of 5 stars
 
Well, this has been on my TBR for quite some time, and I guess I'm glad to have finally read it. It's one of those books that as perfectly pleasant while I was reading it, but almost immediately upon finishing it I started struggling to remember what it as about. So, not really a lasting impression kind of book.

It did remind me of Joshua Khan's amazing series, which is both a positive and a negative. The positive is that's a pretty good association. The negative is that The Grave Robber's Apprentice falls flat in comparison.

But, all that aside, I did enjoy it. This is a fast-paced, short-chaptered middle grade story with stock but endearing characters and a story I was interested in following. Kids will probably love it. Overall, recommended.



Horton Halfpott by Tom Angleberger
4.5 out of 5 stars
 
This one was also short, short-chaptered (sometimes even a page!), super fast read, but unlike The Grave Robber's Apprentice, this one sparkled with creativity. The writing style was charming and funny, the characters, while stock, still leapt off the page. This is the kind of book that makes me want to use words like delightful. Very much recommended.



 The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld
2 out of 5 stars

Meh. I was fresh off the high of Horton Halfpott and hoping for more fast, fun middle grade levity but this one kind of put a damper on my streak. It wasn't bad, exactly, but it wasn't great either. Even though The Grave Robber's Apprentice wasn't blowing me away with originality, it still had a plot that was unique enough to be its own.  

The Perilous Princess Plot was just trite. Stereotypical princess (stupid, silly, pretty, focused on romance) gets herself into trouble and stereotypical anti-princess princess (smart, brave, doesn't need a man, amazing!) gets her out of trouble. It was all just dripping with cardboard girl power. And, because that really was the focus of the story, everything else in the book felt like it was only there to prop up the tired old feminist spiel. Which, really, does weaken the message.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Book Review: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith


Pages: 343
Published: 1943
Received: Library, Own
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

*sigh* I've had this book on my TBR for so long, and during that time I've had my expectations bar set all over the place. I don't think I really had a clear idea what type of book this even was for the longest while. At first I was expecting more modern (a quick glance at the publication date set me straight, eventually), then I thought more Austen-Keeping-the-Castle feel (it's not, though KtC definitely pays homage to ICtC), at some point I think I had a vibe of American Gatsby-ish something (closer, though still wrong country), until finally settling on reality, which is a coming of age story set in 1930s England.

Whew. Ok. So even after starting the book it took me until about halfway through to finally realize what I was getting and wasn't going to get. And, that's where my dissatisfaction comes in. It's a very nice story. I like the characters a lot. I love the setting (crumbly old castle!). But, I wanted something to happen and it didn't and while I get it, I'm still not happy about it. I know, very vague.

I also feel so old saying this, but the teenage melodramatics and hyper-hormonal puppy love was not really my thing. I liked Cassandra a lot in the first half of the book when she was all sweet, and then she went full on teenager and it was kind of painful to read about. It sucks being a teenager and while Dodie Smith totally captured that feeling perfectly, it's not really a comfortable feeling or one I'm really aching to revisit.

There were also some not quite kosher romantic things going on surrounding the adults and teenagers in the story and none of that sat very well with me.

Well, that makes it sound like I didn't enjoy this book very much at all, which isn't the case. It's beautifully, vividly written and I was completely transported into the story. The sister's romance was much more up my alley and I wish we had more of an insider's look into that part of the story. The scene with the bear was very funny and I'll likely not forget many of the scenes (I started listing them and then realized I was listing more than half the book). I also have to mention that castle again because I adore it. While everything didn't go exactly as I wanted it to go, I appreciate this book very much and I'm happy to have finally read it.







Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Book Review: The Corfu Trilogy and Three Singles to Adventure by Gerry Durrell


#1: My Family and Other Animals
#2: Birds, Beasts, and Relatives
#3: In the Garden of the Gods

5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
 Goodreads

 I first heard of Gerry Durrell's books through Helen's reviews of Three Singles to Adventure and Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons. My tastes tend to run similar to Helen's and the combination of her positive reviews, selected quotes from the books, and how it all reminded me of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series led me to impulsively grab the first Gerry Durrell books I could get my hands on, which was the Corfu trilogy.

I'm afraid I may have partially ruined myself for all future Gerry Durrell books (of which there are many) by reading the Corfu trilogy first. They're just so good that I don't know that the other books will be able to match that high bar. But, I loved them so much that I'll also read through all his other books in the hopes that I can recapture this magic again.

The trilogy is made up of loose short stories recounting the funny adventures and experiences Gerry and his family have during their stay in Corfu. The stories are hilarious (often, literally, laugh out loud funny) and the kind of stories where I'm still turning to my husband and saying "Remember the one with the turtle" and then we both burst into laughter.

But it's not just the humor that makes these books so special. That alone would do it, but it's also the wonder of childhood, the relaxed atmosphere of Corfu, and the intriguing and surprisingly informative aspects of the stories. All of these things come together to create something I can only describe as magical.


Three Singles to Adventure
3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Fresh off the euphoria of the Corfu trilogy I quickly put in a NetGalley request for the book that sparked my interest from Helen's review: Three Singles to Adventure. The name alone is captivating and full of promise. To say my expectations bar was set high is an understatement.

Alas, was it my high expectations or are the Gerry Durrell books from his adulthood just missing the spark of childhood wonder? I found myself yearning for that undefined something that was missing in this book and so abundant in the Corfu trilogy.

The stories were funny, but few were hilarious. I found myself missing Gerry's family, such vibrant characters in the Corfu trilogy and sadly absent in this adventure. The cast of characters we meet here were fine, but somewhat undefined, especially in contrast to the vivid Larry, Leslie, Margo, and Mother.

Still fun, still nice, still an enjoyable and quick read. But, just not the Corfu trilogy.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mini Review: Dream Magic by Joshua Khan

Review of Book 1: Shadow Magic
Goodreads

This is maybe a weird way to think about a book, but I feel such relief with this series. The books are just consistently good and I feel like I can trust Joshua Khan to give me exactly the story I want.

The characters are well-developed and I like them. I like spending time with them, I like what they say, I like what they do, I like their hopes, dreams, worries, and fears.

The world is interesting, multi-layered, and feels real. I guess maybe that's a good way of describing these books: they feel real. Genuine. Nothing feels half-thought-out or inconsistent or false. Joshua Khan paints such a vivid picture of everything that I feel like I'm completely immersed in this world.

The pacing is pretty swift, but it doesn't feel like it's intentionally trying to keep the pace up to retain interest.

I don't have much to say about the plot without giving spoilers. I will say that this is an underappreciated series that I wish more people were reading. I love it.  


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Series Partial Review: Saranormal 1-5 by Phoebe Rivers


Goodreads

I started reading this middle grade series toward the end of December and carried through February before starting to run out of steam in March. They're quick, they're enjoyable, and they're deeper than I was expecting. They remind me the Mediator series by Meg Cabot, but with a little more people-focus and a little less action. I do plan on reading the rest of this 11 book series, just maybe with a bit of a pause.

Sara is a shy, insecure girl, and that's the main reason I need a small break from her. She has a tendency to respond to every new development with a similar mix of fear and sadness, even when the event is positive (yay she has a boyfriend! Let's focus on her fear of losing him! yay she develops a new power! Let's focus on how it makes her anxious).

She's sweet and overall I like her, but her insecurity, nervousness, and tendency toward the sad is wearing after a while, especially if I'm feeling stressed myself.

This does also make Sara a very real character though. She feels far more developed than I would have expected in a middle grade series where the books clock in only around 150 pages each (and that's with BIG font). I feel like I know her, and while the other characters don't get quite as much depth since we're not in their head, they aren't cardboard cutouts either and they're surprisingly nuanced. My favorite secondary character is eccentric Lady Azura, the old fortune teller Sara and her father move in with. She is hilarious, sweet, and definitely someone who can have fun. I always enjoy her scenes.

The mysteries are nice, though none have really blown my mind either. That's ok though. They're more focused on character exploration than thrills as Sara slowly uncovers their histories and deaths, and helps them come to terms with whatever it is that is keeping them from moving on. This is another opportunity for Phoebe Rivers' ability to explore characters to shine, but it's also usually pretty sad considering they're dead and clinging onto an unresolved issue.

Phoebe Rivers does just as good a job with world building as she does with character development. Sara's old, haunted Victorian home is a perfect "old house" experience, and her school and ice cream parlor hang-out spot feel comfortably familiar. Even the weather comes alive off the page, especially when a swirling blizzard blows through.

Bottom line

I've had this series on my TBR for a while and it's definitely lived up to my own internal hype. I like Sara, and her world of friends, ice cream shops, haunted Victorian houses, and family is palpably developed. I wish the books were a little more upbeat, but overall I'm very happy and impressed with this series.






Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...