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.






Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Book Review: The Virgin Widow by Anne O'Brien


Pages: 409
Publisher: NAL
Released: November 2, 2010
Received: Own
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I've been trying to read through more of the books I own, and I've owned The Virgin Widow for about four years. For such a large book (hey, for me 400 pages is large!), it was a pretty quick read.

It was also a pretty surface-level read. Which, isn't a bad thing, but it is a little disappointing. Anne O'Brien mostly focuses on events and throws in a few one-note emotions for flavor. Basically, Anne loves Richard. Anne doesn't like admitting that to Richard (this causes misunderstandings). Anne likes her mom. Anne pretty much dislikes everyone else. Her emotions are shared in a very surface-level way without much explanation or depth, but Anne O'Brien makes sure the reader gets it through a lot of repetition. This effectively sorts the characters into the "good guys" and the "bad guys" without much nuance or character development.

The closest O'Brien gets to the type of exploration I'd prefer is with Anne's changing relationship with her father. This was also pretty thinly explored, but at least it was explored and is one of the only instances of Anne actually growing or changing as a person.

I also hated the invented incestuous relationship between Margaret of Anjou and her son. And, really, their entire characterizations. They were clearly the Baddies and Anne O'Brien seemed to relish in making up evil actions for them to engage in. I'm surprised our heroine didn't walk in on the pair cackling evilly over a cauldron. This was embarrassingly awful, but once I accepted it, it was actually kind of fun in an absurd way.

I'm not sure whether to put this in as a good thing or a bad thing, but I couldn't help but picture all the characters as they appeared in the miniseries version of Philippa Gregory's The White Queen. The events follow so closely and the characters are more or less written the same (though, TWQ miniseries had a lot more character depth and development, and that's not saying much). Despite its flaws, I enjoyed the miniseries and was able to get on board with most of the casting, so the association actually enhanced my enjoyment of The Virgin Widow.

I also appreciated how lockstep the characterizations were between this book and the miniseries. I don't think we can actually know for certain how all of these people acted, thought, and felt, but consensus among authors gives the illusion of truth (or plagiarism. Or lack of originality. I'd rather just pretend it's evidence of truth).

As for events, the broad strokes are all pretty much true. There are some tweaks in timing, and don't look too closely at the details, but if you unfocus your eyes and look at the blurry structure of events, it's pretty spot on. You have all the major players and events represented, just with a little mixing, tweaking, and smushing going on. Yes, I realize how absurd that sounds.

Despite its numerous flaws, I couldn't help but enjoy The Virgin Widow. Anne is likable enough and I didn't mind the overly fluffy romance between her and Richard. The story ends before Edward IV dies, so everything is happiness and love for Anne and Richard when we leave them. It was nice.

Bottom line

If the story felt a little false, it was a nice, fluffy kind of false. Look at this more as a romantic novel with a dash of history rather than the reverse. I think I would have been bothered more by The Virgin Widow if I didn't already know enough about the Wars of the Roses to be able to spot the inaccuracies. As it was, I wasn't fooled into "learning" something about history that's wrong (the biggest reason I hate inaccurate historical fiction), and I could just enjoy the romantic spin on what is, to me, an undeniably exciting slice of history.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book Review: The Queen's Daughter by Susan Coventry


Pages: 373
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Released: June 8, 2010
Received: Own
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I don't know why I should feel such a deep sense of satisfaction for finally reading a book that has been sitting on my shelves unread for over 3 years and my TBR for almost 7 years, but I do. I don't even know if it helps or matters that I enjoyed the book, but I did enjoy it.

It's also funny how reading another book can enhance the current reading experience. That also happened here. My previous experience with Thomas B. Costain's hilarious, insightful, and well-plotted non-fiction account of Henry II and Richard the Lionheart's adventures helped deepen my enjoyment of The Queen's Daughter by providing a richer backstory and context with which to place Joan's experiences here.

The Queen's Daughter is divided up into three sections and follows Joan's life from early childhood, through her time with her first husband in Italy, on crusade with Richard, and then back home again. There's a lot of stuff happening, and most of it is either true or makes sense given what we know about history. There's one bit that has no historical basis though and felt unnecessarily sensational. But, it's not a deal-breaker for me.

I'm usually a little eye-rolly about the whole The Somebody's Somebody trend in naming historical fiction books. A quick glance at my shelves show a whole lot of queen's something or king's somebody and it all seems very uninspired. In this case though, I think it actually works well. Joan is a whole lot less known than her dynamic mother (Eleanor of Aquitaine) and much of her life was impacted by her mother's influence, both directly in the sense of "marry this person, partake in this political scheme, suffer the fallout of Eleanor's political scheme" and internally in the sense that you don't have a mom like Eleanor without it affecting your psychological development.

The latter part especially added an extra layer to the book that I appreciated, and also wish had been developed even further. I wonder if this lack of development is because of the YA format, which, side note, this book also made me again question the line between YA and adult when it comes to historical fiction (all the "adult" situations and the way age doesn't line up with modern YA/adult milestones). The romantic ending also feels like it fits better in adult fiction and reminded me a lot of Anne O'Brien's style. This could have easily been classified as an adult book, and I think it might have been a better fit there and would have reached more readers.

Back to Joan, it felt like Susan Coventry had more to say and explore with Joan's thoughts and emotions, but held back, again, possibly because of the YA format. I would have loved a hundred or so more pages to really dig deeper into Joan's thoughts and relationships with the dynamic people in her life (her father Henry II, Richard, and the other men in her life). As it is, it felt toe-dippy, and just as things are getting good, we pull back and jump to the next event. Still, I appreciate what I did get.

Joan is, basically, mentally scarred by her mother's messed up way of dealing with people and much of this book follows Joan as she comes to terms with this and develops into her own person. Eleanor taught Joan not to trust people, not to fall in love, and to use people to get what you want. While this is all totally conjecture (and the author states that in her historical notes), I can buy it given what we do know about Eleanor, the people in Joan's life, and the historical mark (or lack of mark) Joan made herself.

Bottom line

I didn't realize I had so much to say about The Queen's Daughter. Clearly, it made an impact on me. Joan was an interesting, sympathetic person to follow and her perspective provided further depth to the more forceful players of the time (Henry II, Eleanor, Richard). I wish Susan Coventry would write more, as I'd definitely read another historical offering from her. Recommended for fans of Anne O'Brien.



Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 
 
http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2014/05/book-review-queen-of-last-hopes-by.htmlhttp://smallreview.blogspot.com/2015/12/book-review-kings-rose-by-alisa-m-libby.html


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Series Review: October Daye by Seanan McGuire


I mini-reviewed the first four books in the series during my 2016 recap, so I thought I'd continue in that vein. I've tried to avoid spoilers in every mini-review, so you can read through all of them to get an impression of my feelings on the series without spoiling events. 

One Salt Sea (# 5) by Seanan McGuire

I picked this one up in December, got about halfway through, but then put it on hold during most of winter break. I don't know, I was still enjoying the series, but something about the plot of this one didn't really do it for me. More missing kids? It felt a little ho-hum. What should have felt thrilling (impending war!) just...didn't. I picked it up again after winter break and polished the second half off in about two days ending on a solid Good note. The ending could be considered game changing, but it just didn't impact me like I think it was supposed to.


Ashes of Honor (# 6) by Seanan McGuire

Ok, this one was more episodic. The stakes aren't so high and, yeah, there's another missing teen Toby needs to track down. But, for some reason, this one worked for me. Everything felt engaging and fun, and even if it didn't seem new, it felt familiar like old friends. I also liked getting to see different realms of Faerie. I could definitely see myself picking this one up again for a reread when I want to revisit October's world.



Chimes at Midnight (# 7) by Seanan McGuire

Yes! Chimes combined the fun of Ashes but also brought in some bigger events. I'm definitely, solidly, into this series again. The librarian in me loved the time we got to spend in the traveling library and the romantic in me was so happy that things are finally going how I want them to go. October's powers are growing, and while she skirts the line of "too powerful," I'm still on board and having fun learning what she can now do. There's also a scene at the end of this one that brought back some of the emotional depth I had been missing lately.




The Winter Long (# 8) by Seanan McGuire

FINALLY more secrets revealed! And, oh boy, there were a lot of secrets revealed. So much backstory was revealed and every answer was satisfying in its own way. We got to see shady characters from the past and learn a whole lot more about their motives, history, and ties to October. Of course, this also brought up just as many questions, and I'm still very interested in learning the answers to those questions now.






A Red-Rose Chain (# 9) by Seanan McGuire

Ugh, but I won't be finding them here. This book was awful. October became a super-human parody of herself, Tybalt became a love-sick sop randomly spouting Shakespearian tripe, all of the once-charming side characters became hollow props, and the author went off on a poorly inserted political rant. What a hot mess.




Once Broken Faith (# 10) by Seanan McGuire

I was ready to give up on the entire series after the abomination that is A Red-Rose Chain, but I figured with just one book left (published, there are still several more planned) that I might as well give it a shot. I'm glad I did. While Once Broken Faith isn't as good as the other books in the series, it's far from awful.

October is still too super-human and shallow, Tybalt is still too hollow (which, sidebar, it's such a shame to see his once-vibrant character turned into a cardboard cutout who only lives as a romantic caricature), and I didn't really get any answers to the overarching mysteries.

But, it also felt like everything was shifted a little closer to the good side of things. So it was comforting and my positive memories of the other books could carry the framework of this one well enough. I'm glad I read it, and now I will pick up the next book when it's released.


A note on the short stories:

There are a ton of short stories that can be read as companion pieces between the various novels. For the most part, I didn't like them. The ones I (tried to) read felt like fan-fiction in both writing and how much they diverged from cannon. Many are written from the POV of other characters and their voices just felt strange.

I don't think anything is missed by not reading these stories, and I wish I hadn't looked into them myself. The only one I did enjoy is Dreams and Slumbers, which comes right after Once Broken Faith. This one is also included in the published copy of that book, so I wonder if my enjoyment of it has something to do with the fact that it went through the publisher process (as opposed to all the other ones I read that were freebies).


Bottom line

Though the series is starting to wear a little thin, I'm still really glad I picked it up. I've had so much fun in October's world and am glad to have spent time with the characters I've met along this journey. I'm looking forward to reading more and I'm sad that I have to wait to continue on with October and this world. Despite the few rocky points, I'd still recommend this series. I just hope Seanan McGuire can recapture the magic in the final books. Now I need to find another paranormal series to fill the void.





 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Book Review: Mariana by Susana Kearsley


Pages: 382
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Released: 1994
Received: Library, now own
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I picked this one up on a total impulse. Melissa from Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf was reading this and I saw one of her updates on Goodreads. Something about the book grabbed my attention, and I downloaded it right then and there from the library. Thank you, Overdrive!

I started reading and I was immediately sucked into the story. Something about Susanna Kearsley's writing felt familiar, comfortable, and almost Daphne du Maurier-ish.

Much like a du Maurier book, Mariana moseys through the plot. Nothing is rushed, but at the same time nothing feels slow or dragging. It's all just a relaxing meander through old ruins, large historical houses, laid back visits to the local pub, and languid trips back through time. I enjoyed all of the characters, and while none really stood out, they all felt like familiar old friends. 

This is one of those heroine gets mentally sucked into the past type books where we slowly learn about a past history. I tend to like those kinds of stories, and Mariana can now be counted among my favorites. There's a little explanation given as to how all the time-slipping works and it's good enough for me to accept.

There's a twist at the end that I wish had been foreshadowed better. As it was, I accept it, and actually like it, but it was a little too about-face for my taste. Or maybe I'm just a very blind reader!

This was a great book to escape into and let the real world drift away. It's my first by Susanna Kearsley, but I'm now looking forward to making my way through her other works. The only challenge will be deciding where to begin!







Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Book Review: The Conquering Family by Thomas B. Costain


Pages: 291
Released: 1949
Received: Library, now own
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I really can't praise this book highly enough. I've been toe-dipping into non-fiction lately, but that doesn't mean I have any more tolerance for slow, dry books. I'm still an impatient reader and I still hate long digressions into primary source excerpts. So the fact that I've been enjoying some non-fiction doesn't mean I've really changed as a reader. It just means I've found some non-fiction that reads like fiction.

This book follows English history from the days of the Norman Conquest and the beginnings of the Plantagenet family, through Stephen and Matilda's civil war, Henry II's rise and rule, Richard's crusading escapades, and closing with John's bitter demise.

To say there's a lot of information packed in here is an understatement. The book is actually pretty short all things considered (just under 300 pages), and Costain manages to balance giving just the right amount of detail, avoiding the dreaded "too much glossing over" that makes a book worthless to read and the equally tiresome "too much detail" that may be good in theory but can make for an overly long and intimidating read.

Even better, Costain brings the historical figures to life. This, above anything else, is why I think I've remembered so much of what I read in his book. My only complaint is that he spent less time on the ladies of history and so they didn't come alive as much as some of the men.

Costain's opinions of these people are also very, very clear, and that does color the way he describes them and the impression I get of them. Normally I would count this as a negative, but for some reason it actually enhanced my enjoyment. Maybe because I tend to agree with his opinions? Whatever it is, his enthusiastic scorn for the "bad" characters, his unbridled admiration for the "good" characters, and his blunt appraisal of those in between characters made this an almost gleeful delight to read. You can tell he loves what he's writing about.

This is part one of four books making up "A History of the Plantagenets" but since it's history you really can pick them up in any order and stop at the end of any book. I haven't picked up the second book yet, mostly because the entire book covers just one monarch and he's not, at least as far as I know, as interesting to me. So, basically, I'm afraid that the book will be boring. I may skip it and instead jump in with The Three Edwards. I imagine Costain's snark will be laid on thick with that group of people.


Bottom line


Highly, highly recommended for anyone interested in the rise of the Plantagenets and all the crazy fighting they embroiled themselves in. It's a little hard to find these days, but it's well worth the effort to track down a copy.








Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Book Review: The Guests on South Battery by Karen White


#5 in the Tradd Street series
Pages: 352
Publisher: Berkley
Released: January 10, 2017
Rating: 4.5 out of 5, Special Shelf
Goodreads

Ok, so here's some backstory. I adore this series. Favorite ever, reread a bizillion times, re-listen on audio, feel like the characters are real, adore. The series wrapped up perfectly with book four and then there was a break between book four and book five and I was so worried that the series was going to get stretched beyond its natural ending and things would go downhill.

So. I saved this book for winter break so I could get the full distraction-free experience. And it was both more and less than I was expecting it to be.

Let's get the bad out of the way first? So, yes, the series maybe should have ended with book four. This did seem a little dragged out and we did a lot of retread over things that had been established in the previous four books rather than creating new. It did feel like this book was propped up more by the past than it was standing on its own two feet.

The mystery was good, but also disappointing. I don't pride myself on being a super-sleuth and figuring out mysteries long before they're revealed. The mysteries of the first four books did, well, take me by surprise maybe isn't the right phrase, but they slowly unfolded over the course of the story.

Not so with book five. Here I pretty much figured out all of the Big Reveals as soon as the first clue was dropped. That was disappointing, since half of the fun of these books has been unraveling the mystery. I also always thought the mysteries were clever, and while I do still like these mysteries, the delivery left something to be desired. The connections to Mellie's life also felt forced and unbelievable. How many secrets and ghostly connections can one family have?

And then there was that whole thing with Jack. The whole thing was treated as if it were a growth moment for Mellie, but I don't think she was wrong. I do think Jack was wrong, but it wasn't presented like that. The whole thing made me think less of him, and I really don't want to think less of Jack.

Ok, deep breath. Now that that's all out of the way, on to the good! The book still gets high marks from me because despite all my quibbles, this is still very much a Tradd Street book.

I still adore all the characters, I still love spending time in the old houses, I still love being transported back to Charleston, and I still love the ghostly mysteries. There's also the addition now of Mellie's children and I never thought I'd find fictional babies adorable and wonderful, but Karen White has me (semi) convinced that I want some of my own now.

Bottom line

Yeah, this could have been better. And, yes, it's definitely showing signs of a series that has run its course. But, the ending strongly suggests that we're in for at least one more book, and that's good because despite everything, I'm not ready to let go yet.







Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book Review: Beauty and the Beast retellings


Beauty by Robin McKinley
Pages: 256
Rating: 3 our of 5 stars
Goodreads

I've always thought of this as one of those classics I "should" have read a long time ago. It felt like one of those Important Books that I somehow missed out on during my childhood. It also very like a very 1990s book (this cover was from the 1993 edition and the one I most associate as the "real" version), but I was surprised to realize that it was actually first published in 1978. To me, that's "old" and make more sense why I've associated it with a classic or standard version.

Unfortunately, I didn't read it in the 1990s. I read it in 2016, and I read it six years after I'd read Cameron Dokey's version Belle (part of the excellent Once Upon a Time series). Considering McKinley's version came out long before Dokey's did, I have things kind of reversed in my mind, which isn't entirely fair to McKinley but it is what it is. Since I read the Dokey version first, to me that's the "original" and McKinley's is the copy.

Belle by Cameron Dokey
Pages: 224
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Both versions are so similar that I don't know that my opinion of them wouldn't just be reversed had I read them in the opposite order. They're both written in that superficial way that works really well for fairy tale retellings. What I mean is that the characters don't have depth, the romance is very undeveloped, and the plot doesn't always make perfect sense, but none of that is a bad thing because it's supposed to be that way in a fairy tale.

Both versions stick closely to the bones of the fairy tale: family of sisters lose a mother and fortune, father has an incident with the beast and a rose (a man whose appearance and estate are cursed because his personality is beastly), girl takes place of father in a bargain with the beast, girl and beast find love, enchantment is broken, happily ever afters abound.

There isn't really much to either story beyond that, and nothing more is needed. Both stories are pleasant, slightly beautiful, forgettable in the details, but remembered fondly in the broad strokes. I'd recommend them both equally, but I personally lean toward Dokey because we met first (also, her book has the more beautiful cover. Even the reprints).

I enjoy these types of fairy tale retellings and I think it's somewhat unfair to compare them to the types of retellings where the author takes the bones of the fairy tale and then fleshes them out with their own unique story. Both approaches have their value and I enjoy them both. But, the latter has the ability to stick in my mind more, grip my heart more, and just feel more

Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
Pages: 402
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
Goodreads

Juliette Marillier's version is the more kind of retelling. It's a Beauty and the Beast retelling, yes, but it's also it's ok unique story. The bones of the original tale are used as a framework that Marillier then weaves her story around. The original becomes almost more inspiration, loosely alluded to and there enough to guide the story but not enough to dictate it or make what happens next wholly predictable.

What sticks in my mind is less the traditional tale and more a mix of ghosts, wintry chill, and peril. An old, isolated castle with cold stones, exploration, and hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. And by treasures, I don't mean gold, but things like libraries, hidden historical clues, stories lost to time, curses, magical artifacts, and secret rooms.

This is the kind of book where things are uncovered. My joy in reading came from following main character Caitrin as she explores the castle, meets the mysterious, friendly, and frightening denizens, uncovers the past, and pieces together the curse. The romance itself was ok. I wasn't a huge fan of the beast because he's, surprisingly, kind of weak. But that's ok, because everything else more than made up for this.

This is the type of book that makes me think of the word storytelling all italicized and underlined. This was a book to be savored, even though I flew through it, utterly absorbed. This is a book to be reread. It reminded me of books like Uprooted and The Thirteenth Tale and holds a place on my Special Shelf.



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden


Pages: 336
Publisher: Del Rey
Released: January 10, 2017
Received: ARC from publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I kept hearing all sorts of things about how beautiful and lyrical this book was and that usually means I'm equally intrigued and worried about being bored. I like beautiful books. I also know that waxing poetic about how beautifully written a sentence is can also be code for "dull."

Lucky for me, this was the kind of beautiful that is also absorbing and captivating. The chapters are on the longish side and usually that's a bad thing for me, but it didn't bother me in this book. Mostly because I was so, well, absorbed.

The book starts out in one direction and then slowly winds toward the main thread of the story. It first introduces side characters and background characters and normally this would really frustrate me because I hate books that take forever to get going, but in this case it worked for me. Again, chalk it up to the absorbing writing? Probably. It was almost like little fairy tales building on one another to create a bigger fairy tale.

And, yes, this is definitely one of those fairy tale type books. The characters have the depth and nuance of fairy tale characters, which somehow manages to be both shallow and deep at the same time. Sometimes things happen in illogical ways but it works because it's a fairy tale story and sometimes you just need to go with things in these types of stories. The plot winds together slowly and sometimes disconnected, but always methodically and building inexorably toward the final showdown between good and evil.

Bottom line

Beautiful, absorbing, captivating, atmospheric. This recalls childhood stories with all of the magic a good storytelling can impart.


Recommended for readers who enjoyed: 

http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2011/07/book-review-plain-kate-by-erin-bow.html
http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2011/06/spotlight-list-fairy-tale-retellings.htmlhttp://smallreview.blogspot.com/2016/03/book-review-uprooted-by-naomi-novik.html 






Friday, January 6, 2017

2017 Library Reading Challenge



Challenge Basics:  

Name: 2017 Snagged at the Library Challenge
Previous Hosts: Geeky Blogger's Book Blog (in 2016)
Starts: January 1, 2017
Ends: December 31, 2017
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 library.



Books Completed:

5.
4.
3.
2.
1.



Books DNF'ed:

1.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

2017 Read My Own Books Challenge


20/12 books


Challenge Basics: 
Name: Read My Own Damn Books Challenge
Previous Hosts: Estella's Revenge
Starts: January 1, 2017
Ends: December 31, 2017
Eligible Books: Books you own prior to 2017.
Levels: I'm going to try to read and/or DNF and get rid of 12 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 2017.

At the start of 2017, here's where I stand as far as what books I own and what percentage of them I've read:

31% Acquired in 2016
17% Acquired in 2015
32% Acquired in 2014
50% Acquired in 2013
39% Acquired in 2012
75% Acquired in 2010-2011
83% Acquired in 2008-2009
85% Acquired in 2003-2007
96% Acquired in 2002 and earlier


Books Completed:

20. Sinner by Amanda Stevens (2016)
19. Catherine of Aragon by Alison Prince (2015)
18. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (2012)
17. The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian (2003-2007)
16. A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh (2016)
15. The Grave Robber's Apprentice by Allan Stratton (2016)
14. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (2016)
13. The Surgeon's Mate by Patrick O'Brian (2003-2007)
12. The Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick (2013)
11. The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian (2003-2007)
10. Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian (2003-2007)
9. The Virgin Widow by Anne O'Brien (2013)
8. Moment of Truth by Phoebe Rivers (2016)
7. The Queen's Daughter by Susan Coventry (2013)
6. Spirits of the Season by Phoebe Rivers (2016)
5. One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire (2016)
4. Mischief Night by Phoebe Rivers (2016)
3. Mariana by Susanna Kearsley (2016)
2. Haunted Memories by Phoebe Rivers (2016)
1.The Guests on South Battery by Karen White (2016)


Books DNF'ed:

1.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2017 Historical Fiction Challenge



17/15 books

Challenge Basics:  

Name: 2017 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
Hosts: Passages to the Past
Starts: January 1, 2017
Ends: December 31, 2017
Eligible Books: YA and adult historical fiction books. Non-fiction included.
Levels: I am going to try for 15 books

Why I'm Interested:  

Historical Bio: These are the weightier, meatier books that I want to make top priority. They go into detail about actual people and events and I'll learn the most from them. I've thrown in the non-fiction books onto this shelf, too. I've been toe-dipping into non-fiction, and I'd like to continue that toe-dip.

Historical Fantasy: These vary as far as actual historical learning goes. Some have a ton of historical detail, but most just use a historical setting. Some of my favorite books come from this shelf and I don't want to neglect them just because they're not heavy historical fiction.

Historical Lite: These are a lot like the books on my Historical Fantasy shelf, just without the fantasy elements. Usually they're mysteries or romances set with a historical backdrop of varying degrees of detail. They're often easy breezy, fun books and I want to make sure I read them as well.

I also went on a buying spree and brought home a whole bunch of historical fiction books that I don't want to leave unread for years. So, extra points if I read those.


Books Completed:

Historical Non-Fiction

3.
2. Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
1. The Tudor Tutor by Barb Alexander

Historical Bio (fiction):

9.
8.
7. Kristina by Carolyn Meyer
6. The Lost King by Alison Prince
5. Catherine of Aragon by Alison Prince
4. Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
3. The Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick
2. The Virgin Widow by Anne O'Brien
1. The Queen's Daughter by Susan Coventry

Historical Fantasy:

3.
2.
1. Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

Historical Lite:

7. Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart
6. The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian
5. A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh
4. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
3. The Surgeon's Mate by Patrick O'Brian
2. The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian
1. Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian


DNF:

1.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017 Re-Read Challenge




Challenge Basics: 

Name: The Re-Read Challenge
Hosts: Belle of the Literati (in 2016)
Starts: January 1, 2017
Ends: December 31, 2017
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:

10.
9.
8.
7.
6.
5. The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery
4. The Conjurer Princess by Vivian Vande Velde
3. The Changeling Prince by Vivian Vande Velde
2. Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George
1. The Initiation by L. J. Smith



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...