Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Book Review: Bright Burns the Night by Sara B. Larson


Pages: 307
Publisher: Scholastic
Released: May 29, 2018
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

So, technically this is book 2 in a duology and I have not read book 1. I don't think that really matters, and it's not the reason why I ended up dropping so many stars.

Up until about two thirds of the way through this was a solid 3.5 star read. Nothing amazing, but it had that something special with the characters that made me care about seeing what happened to them. The romance had all the right sparks (hate turned love) and there was enough treachery and menace to the world to keep my heart pounding.

Until it didn't. The final third of the book saw the characters leaving the slow-build safety of their castle and venturing out on a quest. Should be awesome, right? Except, no. It felt like the first two thirds were fully fleshed out and, if not well-written, at least written in a way that was engaging and fun. I felt nostalgic for the good old days of YA paranormal/fantasy romance.

That final third, though. It felt like the author ran up against a deadline and needed to wrap things up STAT. Everything went off the rails ridiculous, which I could have even tolerated, but it was all so thin. I felt like I was reading a framework of a story instead of the actual published book.

Bottom line

I would have enjoyed this so much more had the ending not rushed everything and fallen apart in the process. What a shame.



Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Book Review: The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Greece by Jonathan W. Stokes


Pages: 144
Publisher: Viking
Released: September 11, 2018
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

This marks the third edition in the Thrifty Guide series, with each book focusing on a different era in history. So far I'm 2/3 with this series (I didn't like the American Revolution one very much), which isn't too bad. I still don't care for the time travel gimmick, but this time I pretty much just skipped over reading any of those parts and I didn't miss anything.

The rest is pretty much straight non-fiction, exploring everything from famous people, aspects of culture, major achievements, and significant events. So many facts were crammed into this slim book, but it was never bogged down or boring. Each fact is broken up into bite-sized pieces and described in an easy-breezy way that made for light, fun reading. For all the time it took me to read the book (not much time at all) I learned or brushed up on a whole lot of information.

Recommended. I'm looking forward to the next installment: Medieval Times!


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Book Review: Her Highness, the Traitor by Susan Higginbotham


Pages: 323
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Released: June 1, 2012
Received: Own
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I enjoy Susan Higginbotham's novels. In this one, we get to see the events surrounding Edward VI's reign and death, Jane Grey's short-lived reign, and Mary I's rise to the throne. I've read about this period before, but never through the eyes of Jane Dudley and Frances Grey, the mothers of the ill-fated Guilford Dudley and Jane Grey. Chapters alternate between these perspectives, breathing new life into this period of history and definitely contributing to my enjoyment of the book.

Were they both as innocent of social climbing as Susan Higginbotham makes them out to be? Maybe. Their treatment by Mary seems to imply that they weren't the schemers many books make them out to be.

While both of the mothers were sympathetic, it was hard to like Jane Grey. I've seen her portrayed as an innocent victim and as a snooty religious fanatic, and her portrayal here is sort of a mix between the two. Her youth is frequently brought up and it is important to remember how she was still young and learning. But, she's still really annoying. Almost so annoying that when she died it was all I could do not to feel happy about that.

I also liked how Susan Higginbotham didn't cast either Mary or Elizabeth as a villain. Both women were made out to be good-hearted, if not always making the best choices. Elizabeth plays a very, very minor role, but Mary has several scenes and I found myself looking forward to reading them. I'd enjoy reading a Mary-focused book, if the author ever chose to write one.

What I like about the books like this that focus on a real person, but not one of the Major Players is that I tend to connect even more dots between historical figures. The relationships and social positions of the wives, their husbands, their rivals, and their children helped flesh out my understanding of how all of these people were connected and influenced events. I definitely feel like I've deepened my understanding of this time period.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Series Reviews: The Poor Relation & The Six Sisters

The Poor Relation Series
by M.C. Beaton (Marion Chesney)
5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
Goodreads

I adored every minute of this series! Each book focuses on a different poor relation giving the reader the opportunity to get to know the character in a deeper way while giving the character the opportunity to learn and grow. While there is a sweet and swoony romance in each book, the romance is not always the main character's romance, and this kept the stories fresh and interesting. Each story also has a mystery that is fun, inventive, and not wholly predictable. While many of the romantic leads were somewhat one-note (though, it was a pleasant note), the Poor Relations were all fully fleshed out and enjoyable to read about (particularly Miss Tonks and Sir Phillip). I also consider it a plus that each book is only about 200 pages long, so they're super fast reads.


The Six Sisters Series
By M. C. Beaton (Marion Chesney)
5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
Goodreads

While I'd rate this series below The Poor Relation series, it's only a teeny, tiny little bit lower. The romantic leads have a little bit more personality than in The Poor Relation series, but only some of them and only so much. That's fine, but after reading 12 books like that, I was starting to get a little over it. That aside, the romances were still enjoyable and the storylines were engaging. There are three side characters who make appearances throughout the series and each were charming and amusing in ways that I found myself looking forward to their almost comforting appearances.

Both of these series are total cozy comfort reads that are easy to breeze through and sink into at the same time. I love that the books are small as it allows each story to be told in just the right amount of time without getting tedious, but the overarching series allowed me to really get to know the characters and their worlds. I was surprised but super pleased at how the author seems to delight in inserting historical details throughout the stories. This added an extra layer of depth I wasn't expecting from cozy comfort reads by teaching me historical things I didn't know in a way that felt like I was geeking out with a fellow history lover.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Book Reviews: Two Pooh-ish Books


The Little Book of Pooh-isms 
Pages: 216
Publisher: Disney Press
Released: July 3, 2018
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads 

It's hard to go wrong with Pooh, and this book is no exception. Though, it didn't exactly go right either. It's just kind of there. The book is separated into sections with themes like "Honey," and "Weather" and then each section is filled with quotes that are somewhat related to the theme. The quotes are nice enough, though a number of them did make me wonder why, of all the possible quotes, they chose to include those particular quotes. A number of them didn't stand very well on their own without any context, though taken together and especially with the nice illustrations the whole book does have that sweet, calm, whimsical feeling that Winnie the Pooh often evokes. There are also little one line comments underneath most of the quotes that add a little more depth, but still nothing profound.

There's an appendix in the back that tells you the original source material for the quotes. About 80% of the quotes come from the new movie, so it's pretty clear that this book is mostly just a cash grab on the franchise and a not-so-subtle advertisement for the new movie. I'm not sure how children would respond to the book and if they'd find it interesting. For adults looking for inspiring quotes, they're likely not going to find profound wisdom or quotes to savor and meditate on. It's mostly just a nice but forgettable book that could have been better had Disney put more effort into selecting the quotes. The book itself is pretty.
 

A Walk in the Wood by Dr. Joseph Parent & Nancy Parent
Pages: 185
Publisher: Disney
Released: July 10, 2018
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Pooh is surprisingly well suited to mindfulness, though at times the book felt forced. The book is broken into chapters, with each chapter having two sections: a section about Pooh going through his daily activities with a mindfulness spin, and a section that gives advice on how you can follow Pooh's actions and apply mindfulness in your own life.

The Pooh parts were nice. I could easily picture Pooh going about his business and for the most part these sections were easy to become immersed in. They were calming and inspiring and the Pooh connection was used to good effect. The "real life" parts were less well done and I could have done without them entirely. They're especially jarring at times when you jump from reading the Pooh parts that feel timeless to reading the "real life" parts with advice on how to select your trail mix if you have nut allergies and other very modern things that didn't really fit in with the mindfulness theme (perhaps the author found their thoughts wandering and they need to gently bring their attention back to mindfulness).

I couldn't help but feel like this was another cash grab because mindfulness is "in" and there's a new Pooh movie coming out soon. But, it also kind of worked, so there's that. What it also did was make me appreciate the original Pooh books even more.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Book Review: The League of the Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant


Pages: 320
Released: April 28, 2017
Publisher: Random House
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: DNF at page 160 (50%)
Goodreads

Well, I really wanted to like this book. I'd convinced myself that I would like this book because the cover art and the title were just so darn charming. Color me disappointed when the first half of the book was almost charming and almost engaging, but never quite got there. The main character was a sketch of someone I could care about, and the aunts were sketches of people I could find menacing and creepy, and the house was something I could almost find intriguing, but none of these things went past the potential for greatness into actually achieving greatness.

And then.

Then supernatural elements were randomly introduced about halfway through and the plot took a turn and I just wasn't prepared to get on board with this new direction. Maybe if I was already invested, or if there had been more to prepare me for those twists, but none of that was the case. The twists also weren't the type of twists that surprise, but rather just a totally different direction. I don't know, maybe it's just me (I don't like it when Plans Change), but it all seemed to come out of nowhere which made it feel tacked on and not like a cohesive story.

Sadly, this one isn't for me. I had such high hopes.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Book Reviews: Cashelmara and Penmarric by Susan Howatch

Cashelmara by Susan Howatch
Pages: 720
Released:  1974
Received: Library, own
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Wow. Ok, so, on one level this book is set in the 1800s through 1900s and follows the de Salis family through three generations in both England and the United States. But, all of these characters and the events of their lives are a retelling of the lives of Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III. The surface level story is engaging, but what made me love this book was the historical parallel and seeing how Susan Howatch retold history in a way that created a full and original story but still stayed true to the events and characters of history.

Some scenes are searingly evocative (god, that starvation scene), but what really stood out to me were the characters. I felt for them, raged with them, despaired with them, and triumphed with them.  Historical events were reimagined in convincing and, while different, very similar ways. It almost felt like reincarnation where the events of the past are destined to replay themselves again and again.

This is a long book. The chapters are huge. Narration is first person, but the book is broken up into multiple sections and each section is narrated by a different character. The writing is, on the surface, just ok. But. I can't put my finger on exactly when or how, but all of a sudden I went from "This is nice and I'm interested in reading more" to "OHMYGOSH I'M INVESTED!" It's a slower build, but it does build into an all-encompassing powerhouse. Highly recommended.


Penmarric by Susan Howatch

Pages: 702
Released:  1971
Received: Library, own
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Most of everything I said about Cashelmara can be said about Penmarric. The writing is rich, the characters are real, and the parallels between the surface story and the history it retells are fascinating individually and together. Chapters again are large and narration again switches from one character to another.

Instead of the 1300s, the historical parallel here is Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their "devil's brood," including Richard the Lionheart and the evil King John. And, perhaps that was part of the problem for me. I entered this book with far more investment and knowledge of the historical time period than I did with Cashelmara. The characters here felt close to their historical counterparts, but less seamless. Janna as Eleanor was close, but not quite Eleanor. The nod to the Anarchy fell flat, as inheriting an estate after legal disputes just doesn't have the same level of flair and gravitas as fighting a civil war that tore apart England for over a decade has. Philip's obsession with his tin mines, while an interesting parallel, felt like a bit of a stretch from Richard's famous crusades. Events were also not quite as lockstep with history.

That said, I waver, because as much as I can't deny a sense of disappointment with all that, I still adored the book. As much as I might have felt disappointed with tin mines replacing crusades, I spent so much time pondering the historical nuances in the context of Susan Howatch's story that I gained an even greater appreciation for and understanding of those events in history. Her portrayal of John is, shockingly, one of the best and most humanizing portrayals of him I've ever read. He certainly wasn't likable, but finally he was no longer the two dimensional villain history usually portrays him to be (though Mark as Henry II felt far too villainous and without nuance or redeeming features).

So, again, it may not be quite right, but it did make me think about the real historical events and people with a greater depth. Even with my quibbles, I still thoroughly enjoyed Penmarric and highly recommend it.


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