Book Review: Islands and Enemies

Islands and Enemies
The Imagination Station #28
by Marianne Hering

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical children’s fiction, Christian

After cousins Beth and Patrick have an argument about loyalty and betrayal, Whit sends them on an adventure in the Imagination Station. They arrive in 1521 and become part of Magellan’s expedition to circumnavigate the globe for a few days and along the way learn a little something about loyalty and betrayal.

I like the idea of the Imagination Station so much more when it’s more like a holodeck adventure. Since it’s apparently meant to be actual time travel in this series, some of the things that happen are just a bit too unbelievable to me. Still, I like the way it brings moments of history to life for young readers, and this one was no exception. Some of the details shared by Beth (who may know more than makes sense for her age, even after having just done a report about one of Magellan’s ships) were interesting to learn about.

The time travel aspect and historical characters aside, the actual characters of Beth and Patrick took a hit in this story, in my opinion. While it certainly makes sense that they wouldn’t be perfect kids and would even sometimes get into fights with each other, Beth did not know when to keep her mouth shut, and Patrick was just a little jerk at times. Overall, though, it’s a fun look at historical accounts, written for kids, from a Christian viewpoint.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Publication date: April 5, 2022

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Book Review: The Carnivorous Carnival

The Carnivorous Carnival
A Series of Unfortunate Events #9
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Hostile Hospital.

The three Baudelaire orphans continue to strike out on their own, arriving at the Caligari Carnival by stowing away in the trunk of Count Olaf’s car. Disguising themselves using Olaf’s own materials, can they keep their true identities secret? Can they uncover the truth behind the initials V.F.D. and whether or not one of their parents survived the fire?

There were some decent moments in this book, for example a humorous play on the phrase “deja vu.” It was interesting that Olaf and his acting troupe were out in the open this time, while the Baudelaires were the ones spying. It was also nice to finally get at least one answer to a series-long mystery. And there were some decent moments in this book, for example a humorous play on the phrase “deja vu.”

On the other hand, this book had whole new, over-the-top annoyances for me. The “freaks” whined constantly about their “deformities” which would have made more sense if one of them wasn’t simply ambidextrous. I’m sure it was some kind of humor that I just do not get, but the fact that both of Kevin’s legs are equally strong is something I really could have done without being reminded about all through the story. And the guests to the carnival were ridiculously blood-thirsty. But at least there’s Tim Curry. Slim consolation prize at this point.

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Book Review: The Flatshare

The Flatshare
by Beth O’Leary

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Romance

To solve their individual money problems, Tiffy and Leon enter into an agreement to share his 1-bedroom flat, sharing even the bed. Leon works nights and Tiffy days, so they will each have the flat to themselves (Leon plans to be completely gone on weekends). What starts as a simple note about leftovers turns into a friendship between these two people who have never met, yet know details about each other due to sharing a bedroom.

Oh, my goodness, I’m not quite sure how to start this review. When I decided to read this book, I knew the premise was pretty outlandish, but I was ready to suspend my disbelief for a fun, light story. That’s not really what this is, but that isn’t even the issue, really. For one thing, there’s just too much going on in this book. Besides the developing relationship between the two MCs and their everyday lives they have to deal with, Leon has a brother trying to appeal a conviction, a personal quest to help one of the patients at the hospice where he works, and a girlfriend. And Tiffy has a stalker ex-boyfriend and the trauma from emotion abuse he inflicted on her to deal with. Though I appreciated parts of how Tiffy’s storyline went—first identifying the abuse and then trying to move on from it—I think the author didn’t really have room to treat something that serious as well as one would hope to.

Several of the pet peeves I’ve recently begun to identify in fiction reared their ugly heads in this story. The main one is when someone can mouth an entire sentence, and it’s perfectly understood by whoever they’re mouthing it too. Honestly, how easy is it, really, to understand if someone mouths more than “thank you” or “I love you”? And this happened at least 2-3 times. Another is the amazing ability a character has to know exactly what someone else is thinking, simply based on micro expressions on their face. We’re not talking two people who’ve known each other since childhood, but work friends. Both of these things, to me, are just lazy writing. And don’t even get me started on the fact that Leon is in a fairly serious-seeming relationship at the beginning of this book. I have never cared for that kind of scenario in romance.

Now for my last major gripe (and a warning to those who don’t like a lot of physical contact in books they read): The descriptions in this book, while not graphic by most standards, went way too far for my preference more than once. Besides, to me, a relationship does not need lots of physical interaction to be romantic. In fact, I prefer as little of it as possible, because then the author has to make sure that there is romance and chemistry in other ways, which are much more impactful, in my opinion. Nothing spoils a nicely budding romance in any medium of fiction for me than the couple jumping into bed as soon as they feel that it’s socially acceptable.

In the end, if only one of the side plots had been focused on, I might have enjoyed the overall story more, though it would still have been far from a 5-star read for me. I, personally, would not recommend this book to anyone, and I think this book effectively ends my desire to ever read a contemporary romance again.

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Notebook Collection, part 11

It’s been over a year since I last posted about most recently acquired notebooks for my collection. However, that’s not because I haven’t gained any; I’ve simply put off posting about them. Nine new notebooks since the last post isn’t too bad for over a year, but it’s definitely time to start sharing them.

Past posts about the collection I have so far: Post #1  |  Post #2  |  Post #3  |  Post #4  |  Post #5  |  Post #6  |  Post #7  |  Post #8  |  Post #9 | Post #10

There are only a few thrift stores that my husband and I frequent where I even bother to look to see what kind of notebooks are there, since used notebooks have obvious issues. However, I did find this on a shelf at one store. I’m a little disappointed in myself that it took me a (fairly long) moment to recognize what it was, but having watched Annie a lot in my life, I snatched it up quickly once I did. Other than a layer of the cover being ripped off across the top where it looks like someone might have ripped off a sticker (seriously, why do retailers put stickers directly on books and notebooks?!), it’s in really good shape.

Because Meijer has surprised me several times by having notebooks that I really like, my husband now insists I check out that aisle every time we go. That’s where I found this notebook, which looks better in person than it does in the picture, with silver outlines throughout the artwork and some texture as well. Plus, purple is my favorite color.

One of many notebooks that my husband’s brought home for me, this was an unusual one. He found it at Walgreens in the post-Valentine’s Day section. He probably wasn’t sure how much I’d like it but knew I always like a good deal on a notebook. I also do think it’s cute, though; the decal on the front is like an iron-on badge.

I don’t have a lot to say about this one. I think I found it at Walmart and simply liked the cover.

These days, it’s not very often that I buy a notebook with a specific purpose for it in mind. However, when my husband and I volunteered to take over the planning of our church’s VBS program in the near future, I quickly realized a dedicated notebook would be helpful. The logical side of me tried to find a notebook I already own that would work for the situation, but none quite fit. So when we went to a bargain store that I’ve bought notebooks at before, one that I knew often has notebooks with Bible verses on it, I found one that seemed perfect.

I’ll save the rest of my new notebooks for another post. I may even have another one by the time I write it up, since I can’t seem to help myself.

Do you collect anything related to reading or writing? Feel free to share!

Book Review: Journal 29

Journal 29
created by Dimitris Chassapakis

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Puzzle book

I was given this book as a Christmas gift by the owners of the escape room company I used to work for. They thought it would be right up my alley, and my husband and I were excited to go through it, thinking it would be like an escape room in a book. It was not, but to be fair, I don’t see anywhere that the book is actually stated to be like an escape room. However, even leaving that aside, there were some issues that made the book less enjoyable than it could have been.

The book starts with the beginning of a story, the same paragraph that is shown in the synopsis. But that story literally never came up again, never came to fruition, was simply forgotten about. There was no reason to include it, though I guess it gave a little starting point for the aesthetic and theming contained throughout the book. And I did like the look of the pages overall; a lot of things that seemed like pointless artwork even ended up being not so pointless by the end. I liked the way not every page was a self-contained puzzle.

The puzzles themselves, though, left a lot to be desired. There were some interesting ones that were fun to solve, some that took a little noodling and led to a thrilling “aha!” moment. However, far too many of them were just huge leaps in logic that you can only get if you happen to think like the puzzle creator. Or get help (more on that later). Many required outside knowledge, a lot of things we had to look up online, and sometimes we didn’t even know what to look up. And there were no official hints. It wouldn’t have been difficult to include at least some starter hints, help to get started, on the website where answers were entered, but instead, we had to find a forum online where other players were giving their own suggestions and hints.

I think, overall, the book needed further testing. As someone who has built a few escape rooms in the past and now builds another type of puzzle game for a living, I know that every puzzle I make needs to be tested and reviewed. I need to hear if it’s way too hard, too confusing, too big of a logic leap, or has mistakes (and yes, there was at least one puzzle in this book that had a mistake that made it harder to solve). And while I don’t want to imply that the rest of the world needs to cater to Americans, if we’d at least known from the start the creator wasn’t from the US, it might have helped us think a little differently for some of the puzzles (if you do decide to go through this book, just know that commas are used where we would put a decimal point in a number; that’s just the simpler one to explain). Again, it would have been simple to have a brief explanation of things like that on the web page for that puzzle.

I think the book was an interesting concept, and if you enjoy straight puzzles, you might want to check it out. If you’re looking for something more like an escape room, I’d suggest one of the many tabletop escape games instead.

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Book Review: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
read by Sean Astin

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Classic literature

I read this book in high school and did not like it. I remember telling my teacher that I was disappointed she would condone the lifestyle presented therein. She was offended. Now that I’ve read it again, I can see that misinterpreted the story. However, I also think that my teacher should have been a little more forgiving of a high schooler’s difficulty in fully understanding this book. Even now, I had to go read a few sections over again, and even look up ideas from other people online, to fully follow along.

Though I can see now that the book is not exactly advocating the way of life of the characters within, I can understand why I thought that way. And I didn’t like the book any more now than I did in high school. I did appreciate the vivid and beautiful writing and the immersion in the 1920s, but the story itself was simply unpleasant overall. Whatever commentary it’s trying to make on greed, power, social mores, etc., there’s nothing here but sad, depraved, depressing, unhappy people and lives. Nothing good comes about at all (which may well be exactly the point, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it).

I’m not sure exactly who, if anyone, I’m meant to feel for along the way. The narrator himself is the only one who seems remotely down to earth, though he has his own issues. Tom is the very definition of a misogynist. Gatsby is controlling and unable to handle being anything other than the primary focus of the affections of the woman he desires. And Daisy made some bad choices, but that doesn’t excuse the men in her life from treating her completely terribly. Whatever merit fans of the book, those who study classics and literature, and high school/college English teachers may see in this book, I personally don’t see it as the Great American Novel, nor would I call it a must-read.

I listened to the audiobook read by Sean Astin, and while he’s a great actor and did some of the dialog really well, he wasn’t so great with the narration at times. And overall, he didn’t vary his voice with the characters, the main ones especially, nearly as much as I would have liked.

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February in Review

I read 12 books last month, the third month in a row with that number, and almost the exact same amount of pages as last month too. I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately, which is pretty much the only reason I’m sustaining a slightly higher-than-average number of books per month lately.

Here are the books I read in February:

In Search of a Prince by Toni Shiloh (3.5 / 5)
Things We Couldn’t Say by Diet Eman with James Schaap (5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (4.5 / 5)
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne (4.5 / 5)
The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket (3.5 / 5)
The Canyon Quest by Jim Ware (3 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (4 / 5)
Already Gone by Ken Ham & Britt Beemer with Todd Hillard (5 / 5)
Swept into the Sea by Chris Brack & Sheila Seifert (3 / 5)
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (4.5 / 5)
The Hostile Hospital by Lemony Snicket (3.5 / 5)
The Mayflower Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse (2 / 5)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 4 re-reads. My favorite (fiction, since nonfiction can’t really be compared) book from February was Crocodile on the Sandbank. I started 2 series, continued 3 series, and finished (or caught up on) 1 series. My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.