I've discovered that posting only two times a week (rather than four) means that I don't post very many reviews (like, pretty much none). In a way, I'm okay with that, because who really has time to write all these reviews? But on the other hand, I love having that record of my reading and my opinion to look back on. So I thought I would write a few two sentence reviews of books I've recently read.
The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Story Thieves by James Riley
Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein
This is the sequel to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, which is one of my all-time favorite middle grade novels. Kyle Keeley and several of his classmates are locked in the brand-new library for the night, and they have to solve clues to escape. The first one out becomes the new face of the Lemoncello game company. In Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics, other middle school book lovers have demanded a rematch and a chance to participate. There are new characters from across the country, new games and clues to solve, and of course, more utter wackiness from Mr. Lemoncello. It's just as much fun as the first book in the series, as Kyle and his friends race to win the Library Olympics - and to save the library as well.
Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
What if the Great Library of Alexandria never burned down? And what if it now controls the dissemination of information to the entire world? What if real, paper-and-ink books are only found on the black market? Jess' family's business is exactly that - black market trading of books. But his family wants him on the inside, so he is sent to be trained to work for the Library. It turns out working for the Library is a lot more dangerous and full of secrets than you would ever expect. Rachel Caine has created an interesting alternate history, full of mystery and suspense. My only complaint is that it seems too much like a set-up for the rest of the series. It suffers from "second book of a trilogy"-itis, except it's only the first book. Despite this, I was definitely drawn into the world she created, and I'm glad the second book was just published so I can continue to follow Jess' story!
The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch
Have you ever dreamed of owning a bookstore? I most certainly have! So did Wendy Welch and her husband Jack. When they moved to Big Stone Gap, Virginia, they found a beautiful house that would work perfectly for a bookstore, and they dived in with both feet. They soon discovered they were a little in over their heads, but that didn't stop them from giving everything they had to keep their little bookstore going. This is a delightful book. It is chock-full of funny anecdotes and book love and crazy customers. It also is an ode to the power of both books and community, as Jack and Wendy slowly find their place in a small town. Read this book curled up in a comfy chair, sipping a mug of tea, and prepare to fall in love with the little bookstore of Big Stone Gap.
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander was one of my favorite series as a kid. I read it several times, but that was all long ago. I had never reread it as an adult, so I decided this year to reread one book a month. I was hoping that it would live up to the rosy glow of my childhood view. And it did!
Now I just need to enumerate all of the many reasons why you should read (or reread) it, too.
1. It's an epic fantasy, the ultimate battle between good and evil.
2. As an epic fantasy, it has the great and glorious hero (Prince Gwydion), but he really takes a back seat to the true hero of the books - Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper.
3. If you couldn't tell from a hero like that, these books are funny. Not rolling-on-the-floor, telling-jokes funny. Just humorous in a light-hearted way. And you will definitely laugh out loud.
4. The characters grow throughout the five-book series. Taran has a lot of maturing to do from his beginning as a hapless Assistant Pig-Keeper, and he does it very believably as the series continues.
5. There are creatures of all sorts, from a fortune-telling pig to a giant cat to a hairy creature of undetermined nature (Gurgi. He's one of my favorites.).
6. Prydain is loosely modeled on Wales, and takes some of its inspiration from Welsh folklore. It's just as magical a place to escape into as Narnia or Middle-Earth.
In short, you will enjoy these books if you are a fan of:
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Goal: Fifteen pages per day
Number of days it took to read War and Peace: 91
Number of times I missed my goal and had to make it up the next day: Two (I'm pretty proud of this.)
Number of pages read: 1,361
Number of years since my first attempt at reading War and Peace: 18
Number of times I had to refer to the list of characters: A lot
Favorite character: Lively Natasha, before the melodramatic love affairs
Random thing I learned by reading War and Peace: Russia didn't adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1918, so the list of dates at the beginning of each section had an "old date" (what Russia followed) and a "new date" (ten days later, which the rest of the Western world followed).
Number of times I fell asleep while reading: I have to be honest here. It did happen a few times.
Number of times I wanted to keep reading beyond my daily 15 pages: I'll be honest here, too. This also happened several times. It was occasionally hard to put down.
Which sections did I like better - the war-focused ones or the peace-focused ones? Peace, for sure. The peace sections focused on several aristocratic families and their social lives. The Jane Austen lover in me preferred stories of love and social engagements to the sometimes confusing descriptions of battles. I've never been one for war books, so my preference really isn't that surprising.
Am I glad I read it? Absolutely! I've been trying for so long, and I am very proud of myself for accomplishing this goal.
Will I read it again someday? Um, no. I'm quite satisfied with once.
Would I recommend it? It depends on what kind of reader you are. If you love classics or Russian/Napoleonic history, you would probably enjoy this book. I did learn a lot about this time period of Russian history, and it's always fun to learn as you read. It's definitely a time commitment (although reading it little by little worked surprisingly well). And it's not a book for everyone, although I did find it a much easier and less dense read than I expected. Would I recommend it? Hey, if you're interested, give it a try. Why not?
This book is a most interesting mix. It is part medieval history, part murder mystery, and part theological debate. William of Baskerville and his young scribe Adso arrive at an abbey in the mountains of Italy. They have two tasks to complete - solve the mystery of a monk who had been murdered (or had he?) the day before their arrival, and mediate a discussion between supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor and supporters of the Avignon Pope. Of course, it doesn't stay that simple for long (as if that were simple) when each progressive day, another monk turns up brutally murdered.
With an increasing number of murders, you would think the theological aspect would get totally swallowed up by the mystery. But that's really not the case. Many pages are devoted to explaining heresies of the day, as well as recording debates between the monks about the nature of God and the devil. These parts of the book can be rather confusing (especially trying to keep track of all the different heretics), but they don't get in the way of the overarching narration. The most annoying thing I found was that the monks kept throwing entire sentences in Latin into their dialogue - with no translation! I understood what was going on anyway, but it got a bit on my nerves by the end.
This was not a short book, but it was a surprisingly fast read. The mystery kept the plot on track, and it was very difficult to put down in the last few chapters. If you get the right edition, there is a postscript from the author at the end explaining some of his thoughts as he wrote this book. In my opinion, here's the best line in the whole book:
"I began writing in March of 1978, prodded by a seminal idea: I felt like poisoning a monk."
I guess the pages of fiction provide the safest way to go about doing that, and it certainly made for an entertaining read!
I'm not even going to try to give this book a typical review. I just finished it this morning, so I haven't had time to process it all. Even with time, I'm not sure I could come up with a coherent opinion. So instead, here are a list of some thoughts I had about this book:
Overall, I really did enjoy this book. I didn't love it, but I did enjoy it. And I respect it for its accurate portrayal of a gritty life in Naples. Was I intrigued enough by Lila and Elena to read the three other books in the series? Someday, for sure. Do I need to run out right now and devour them? No, but I do look forward to entering their world so completely again sometime down the road.
Julie of the Wolves is the February book for the Reading Together book club. I hadn't read this one in many, many years, so I didn't remember much about it. (The only reason that I know I must have read it as a kid is that it has my name in the title!) Julie is her English name; Miyax is her Eskimo name. In order to escape a bad arranged marriage, she sets off on a journey across the Arctic tundra. Becoming lost along the way, she befriends a wolf pack who help her survive.
I loved the glimpses of Eskimo culture and life scattered throughout the book. I was impressed with Miyax's resourcefulness as she fought to survive. I don't think I could bring myself to eat some of the things that she not only ate, but savored as a delicacy. I loved the way the wolf pack adopted her as one of their own, although I'm guessing it's not very likely to happen in real life. Surely wolves are smart enough to tell that you are only a human pretending to be a wolf, as you whine and grovel on all fours. But once Miyax was adopted by the pack, I enjoyed their protective and playful relationship. Wolves are fascinating creatures, and this book clearly portrays a way of life and a love of nature that is all too rapidly vanishing in today's day and age.
Little House on the Prairie will be my one and only reread for the Little House Read-Along. I read it back in 2014 and shared my thoughts on it then, so I won't write too much more this time around. When I read it the first time, I didn't even realize that it wasn't the first book in the series. I appreciated it much more this time around because I had actually read Little House in the Big Woods. I had already gotten to know the main characters, and I had some perspective on the Ingalls family and their background. When I read it this time, what stuck out to me was their willingness to get up and move. They had spent only one year on the prairie, and had just planted a garden. But Pa had no problem moving onto somewhere new (of course, the reason he decides to move is really his own fault, since he wasn't supposed to be living on that land in the first place). Would I be that willing to pack up the few things I could take with me, and leave my house and everything else behind? That would be hard enough nowadays, but they had to build an entirely new house wherever they decided to move to! I guess I'm too much of a homebody to have that sort of adventuresome, hard-working spirit. Just another reason to be impressed with the pioneers of that time!
Every January, I like to revisit one of my favorite authors - L.M. Montgomery. This was originally inspired by Reading to Know's L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge. This year, though, I didn't officially participate because I wasn't sure if I would be able to fit in any Montgomery books. But I'm very pleased to say that I read three! Here are some quick thoughts about my reads:
I have read the Anne of Green Gables series so many times. Now I'm working my way through a reread of them all a little bit slower - one every January. This year, it was the turn of Anne of Windy Poplars. This book follows Anne through three years as a principal at Summerside. She has her challenges and her highlights, but she remains the same Anne through it all. In fact, she often steps aside as the main character to let someone else shine in the spotlight. I guess L.M. Montgomery was so full of these little stories of unique characters that she even had enough to fill an Anne book. As many times as I had read this book, I just learned this year that Anne of Windy Poplars was written nearly 20 years after the other Anne books. That may explain its slightly different style. What matters, though, is the magical atmosphere of Prince Edward Island, and that still abounds in this book.
As much as I love L.M. Montgomery, I had surprisingly never read a biography of her. Maud by Harry Bruce is a great introduction to her life. It's a very fast read, and it focuses mostly on her childhood and early adulthood, up to her marriage to Ewen Macdonald. I loved seeing what she was like as a child, and how many characteristics she shares with the lovable Anne and Emily. Her life was not always easy, but she knew she could find magic in nature and an escape in writing. I'm so glad she combined those passions of hers to produce the many books she did. If you are looking for a quick view of Montgomery's life and the opportunity to get to know her a little bit better, this would be a great book to read.
Akin to Anne is a collection of short stories written by L.M. Montgomery and originally published in several different newspapers. The subtitle is "Tales of Other Orphans" (hence the connection with Anne in the title). Most of the stories were just a few pages long, and while they were all enjoyable, they did get a little repetitive. It may have worked better if these stories were not grouped together, since they all had very similar plots (poor orphan gets miraculously discovered by a relative). Even so, it was fun to read some of Montgomery's short stories, since I hadn't really done that before.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is one of those books that everyone knows the plot of, whether they've read it or not. Its premise has been recreated in various movies, from A Muppet Christmas Carol to Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. It's so embedded in our popular culture that calling someone a "scrooge" has meaning even if you have no idea that it's referring to a character in a book.
I am one of those people who, until recently, could summarize this book for you without ever having read it. I don't know how I missed reading it when I was younger, but somehow I did. I finally decided to rectify that this Christmas season.
It's strange to read a book for the first time whose story you already know. Nothing was a surprise to me, except some of the details. I enjoyed getting to know more about Scrooge's childhood and why he may have turned out the way he did. I enjoyed the descriptions of Victorian London and the feasts and parties that Scrooge viewed. I even laughed out loud a couple of times, which I honestly didn't expect from Dickens.
This is a sweet little story, with a very important moral - give generously, help and love those around you. But I couldn't help but notice that the motivation for such behaviors was never really mentioned. We should give and help and love others because God first gave and helped and loved us. Living life with the "Christmas spirit" should really be living life filled with the Holy Spirit. I don't know what Charles Dickens' views on religion were, but I feel that this story would have only been made stronger and more powerful if God had been brought into it.
This is a great book to read at this time of year, with a cold wind howling outside and a house full of Christmas decorations. I'm sure I'll revisit it during future Christmases. I just won't let it replace the real Reason for the season.
The Moonstone is a mystery. Depending on who you ask, it's possibly the first detective novel written. The moonstone is a very large diamond stolen from India. It's given to Rachel Verinder on her eighteenth birthday, and inexplicably disappears in the middle of the night. Renowned Sergeant Cuff from London is called in to solve the case, but even he runs into dead ends as he attempts to figure out what happened that night.
I love the way this story is told. It is divided into nine sections, each told by a different narrator. Franklin Blake, Rachel's cousin and the deliverer of the moonstone, has asked the major witnesses to record their recollections and experiences involving the diamond. The first large section of the book is told by Gabriel Betteredge, the Verinders' steward. He is a wonderful character to get to know, just the sort of English butler you would suppose - except he finds inspiration and wisdom in Robinson Crusoe. Each new section is told by a character with a distinct voice and personality. The variety of narrators is part of what makes this book so enjoyable.
The mystery will also keep you guessing to the very end. It's very different than today's mystery novels, which often owe more to action and violence than clues and investigative work. This is not an action-packed book. Yet for all that, it is difficult to put down as each narrator adds their piece of the puzzle.
The Moonstone is not a short book, yet it is a surprisingly fast read. The mystery and the characters combine to draw you into the story completely. This is one detective novel that you won't be sorry that you read!
My name is Julie, and I own a lot of books. As in, they are stacked on the floor because I've run out of room on the shelves. And those shelves? There are so many books on them that they smile -- not sag; smile. This blog will cover book reviews and all manner of other bookish things.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.