Book Review: The Pirate Bride

The Pirate Bride
The Daughters of the Mayflower
#2

by Kathleen Y’Barbo

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Twelve-year-old Maribel Cordova, daughter of a Spaniard with a questionable background, is brought by her father on a voyage across the ocean. When their ship is accosted by a privateer ship helmed by the infamous captain Jean Beaumont, Maribel decides she wants to be a privateer too. But Beaumont’s ship is not destined to remain unhindered, and Maribel is left with only her memories of her time on the ship until years later, when a series of events lead to a chance encounter between Maribel and the captain.

There was a lot going on in this book, which proved to be its downfall. I was really into the first part. Maribel reminded me of Anne from Anne of Green Gables, and I appreciated the friendships she so quickly cultivated. Several of the smaller side characters I really liked all the way through the story. However, it was difficult to see the captain in a sort of fatherly capacity to her, knowing that this is a romance story, and that based on the (just utterly terrible and confusing) synopsis of the book, this 12-year-old girl and the 20-something captain are going to end up falling in love by the end of the book.

Still, the captain was interesting, and I was curious to see how it would all play out. But then in part 2, we have developments in the captain’s life and developments in Maribel’s life that sort of coincide, but not really, and that end up bloating the story far too much. I think the book would have been better overall if the captain’s side of things was the focus. Add to that the lackluster development of romantic feelings between the two main characters, and the feeling I was left with at the end of this book was…”meh.” I did like it more than the previous one in the series, but I’m still hoping for better in the books to come.

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Book Review: The Penultimate Peril

The Slippery Slope
A Series of Unfortunate Events #12
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The Baudelaires have reached the Hotel Denouement, where they will take their places as volunteers and try to distinguish friend from foe. Old acquaintances, both friend and foe, appear at the hotel, and the Baudelaires have to make some (hopefully) tough decisions.

I can’t say this is exactly what I would have wanted from the second-to-last book in such a long series, but on the other hand, it’s pretty much what I should have expected from this particular series. The hotel is laid out in a way that is probably supposed to be clever, but I only found it silly. I did appreciate that Sunny kept being the one who figured things out and that it so often went unnoticed by others, or at least unmentioned. It added humor to what otherwise, for me, comes across as the author trying too hard to be funny.

I started listening to this series for only one reason: Tim Curry. Though I had to live with a different narration for 3 books earlier in the series, Tim Curry has been wonderful, even given some of the crazy things he’s had to say or do for the sake of the narration. I’m not particularly excited about the conclusion of the series and, Tim Curry or not, I know I’ll never re-read it.

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game

Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library prequel
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

Long before Kyle Keeley and his friends played their first Lemoncello game, Luigi Lemoncello was the 6th child in a family of 10 kids, struggling to stand out from the rest in some way. At thirteen, Luigi already loves games and puzzles (maybe a little too much, according to some people), and in this book, we get to read about his “origin story.” From his first and worst idea for a game to the one that started it all, Luigi gets inspiration from his family, his friends, and a unique carnival barker, whom Luigi emulates as he begins to let his own colorful personality shine through.

First of all, it’s strange to think of Mr. Lemoncello as “Luigi.” But that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying this book! It was a lot of fun and a fresh entry into a series that I overall enjoy but does tend to be formulaic. There are puzzles just like the other books in the series have—nothing groundbreaking, but it’s fun to solve them alongside the characters. I particularly enjoyed the puzzle box storyline, though, especially inspiration that the professor/uncle got from Luigi, which I picked up on way faster than the kids, but I think readers of the age group this book is meant for might see it as a twist.

I loved seeing elements of the older Mr. Lemoncello from the rest of the series getting their start in this book, and at least one other character from the series also appears in this book (though I didn’t connect it until I went back and scanned through Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race to remind myself of what was said there about how he got his start). One thing that bothers me a little is that there is a major character in this book who, by all appearances, seems to be connected to a major character in the main series, but I can’t see any hint of that connection in any of the books. But it’s too much of a coincidence for there to not be any connection, so I would have just liked to somehow know the relationship there. Overall, though, solid entry to the series. I wasn’t sold on it when I first saw it announced, but that’s mostly just because I would rather see a continuation of the main series, given how book #5 left off. Hopefully that’s still coming, but in the meantime, I very much recommend this book for kids and those who are kids at heart!

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Children’s Books for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: The Story of the Trapp Family Singers

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers
by Maria Augusta von Trapp

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Though many know the story told in the popular musical & movie The Sound of Music, most probably don’t know the true story behind it. This is the book that inspired Rodgers and Hammerstein to write the musical, and there are some similarities, but also some large differences. The book also goes on to cover the Trapp Family’s lives in America after they fled Europe, an event which takes place within the first 40% of the book.

Overall, I found it fascinating to read about the true story behind a movie I watched so very many times all through my childhood, and plenty since then, too, even leading my own daughter to fall in love with it. It is very easy to read and follow what is going on. I enjoyed the times the author tells about her halting English in a way that seems very real, even while the entire book is in English. I love the way the family works together in all things, not just their singing career, each one using their talents where they can be most useful. I also appreciate the author’s instinct to attribute everything to the will of God, doing quite a few things she didn’t really want to do, because she had good reason to believe God wanted her to. I should add that I don’t agree with, and at times even understand the need for, some of the theology the author believes in, but the foundational beliefs of trusting in God for every aspect of one’s life is important.

We can find a word of caution for our own lives in these pages, as the family watched Hitler come to power and take over their country years before WWII started. The children were told at school that their parents were “nice, old-fashioned people who don’t understand the new Party,” and that they shouldn’t tell their parents what they learned at school. This is beginning to happen to some degree today as well, with some areas wanting to cut parents completely out of the decision-making for what goes on at schools. Once they start trying to keep what the kids are learning at school secret from the parents, it should be a huge red flag!

The book did feel like it dragged a bit in the 2nd half, though I can’t quite put my finger on why. It may have simply been that the story of how the family’s concert career grew and they bought their farm wasn’t as interesting to me as the rest. Overall, though, I’m glad I read this book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the movie and wants to know the true story or anyone interested in memoirs about life during and after WWII (especially from those who are from countries directly affected by the war).

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Book Review: Secret of the Forbidden City

Secret of the Forbidden City
Treasure Hunters Book #3
by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein
read by Brian Kennedy

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, starting with Treasure Hunters.

The Kidd kids didn’t get the ending they were hoping for after recovering priceless vases in Africa, but their mom’s kidnappers just want a little more, and then they’ll free her…honest. So what can they do but keep going, looking for a mysterious treasure that the smelly German villain wants them to find?

If my synopsis above sounds a bit ridiculous, that’s because the story is a bit ridiculous. The Kidds just get yanked from one country to another, while their parents’ freedom and safety is dangled in front of them. But since they can’t decide from one chapter to the next whether they believe their parents are even alive (all except Bick, the narrator, who has never wavered in his certainty that they’re both alive), I’m not sure what, exactly, they’re really chasing after. This series continues to be both enjoyable and annoying. The Twin Tirades continue to be obnoxious (#488 was the stupidest one yet—utterly pointless). And there continues to be little details that the authors don’t quite get right, like this time attributing the memory of a melody to Storm’s photographic memory.

I really don’t get what’s going on with “Aunt” Bella. Is she good? Is she bad? If “Uncle” Timothy really sent an assassin after her in the previous book, why is it still up in the air whether he is good or bad? Did I miss something, or did the book? Still, there’s something energetic about the book, and I found the treasure being hunted for the most interesting one of the series so far (though I certainly am biased). And it was a fun coincidence that there was a Sound of Music reference, when I happened to be reading The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria August von Trapp at the same time. Considering that the series is now up to 8 books, I’m relieved that this book brought the main plots of the series so far to an end. I assume the series will consist of multiple, shorter arcs and am hopeful that the next book will bring something fresh to the story of the Kidd family.

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Book Review: The Grim Grotto

The Grim Grotto
A Series of Unfortunate Events #11
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, starting with The Bad Beginning.

We find the 3 Baudelaire orphans where we left them—in a toboggan, rushing down a stream, helpless to save themselves. As they try to unravel the mystery of V.F.D. and stay out of the clutches of Count Olaf, they’ll have to navigate dark waters and even darker intentions.

There were some things I actually enjoyed about this book, starting with Tim Curry’s portrayal of Captain Widdershins. I’m pretty sure I would have rolled my eyes at his particular way of speaking, especially when first introduced, if I was reading it for myself, so that’s all the more reason I’m glad I’m listening to this series instead. On the other hand, if I’d been reading instead of listening, I could have skipped entire pages of repetition that I guess Snicket thought would be clever, but only made me question my own sanity. Sunny’s dialog continues to be the only source of humor in the entire series, and I did appreciate a Chekov’s “gum” moment.

I’m a little baffled by the way Snicket is hammering us with this whole, “nobody is completely evil or completely noble; everyone is shades of both” or whatever he’s trying to say, yet one character in this book is practically vilified by the main characters because of a very difficult decision that didn’t go the way the main characters thought it should, even while that character still showed shades of nobility. There were a couple of surprises near the end, though one of them left me scratching my head. Maybe we’ll learn more about that in the next two books…though the way people talk about the end of this series, I kind of doubt it. Guess I’ll find out for myself soon enough.

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Book Review: The Windy City

The Windy City
I, Q #5
by Roland Smith & Michael P. Spradlin

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s spy thriller

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, starting with Independence Hall.

New step-siblings Q (short for Quest) and Angela continue to trail a ghost terrorist cell along with SOS, a team made up mostly of retired operatives from the CIA and other organizations. Angela’s mother is climbing her way toward the top of the ghost cell, but the danger is getting higher all the time. Meanwhile, Boone may not be the only one with a mysterious ability, and there seems to be a mole on the SOS team or amongst their allies.

Here we have part 5 of the series-long story, the kind of series that you really need to start from the beginning. A lot more happened in this book than in the previous, which I’m glad for, because the previous wasn’t as interesting as the earlier books in the series had been. I was concerned the second half of the series would end up being a let-down compared to the first half. I can’t say that we get much in the way of answers in this book, but there were certainly some revelations. And the story really moved forward, with action comparable to what we see in the rest of the series.

One thing I’ve begun to notice in this book is that Q, as the main character, isn’t the stereotype we might expect in a book like this—an action-loving kid who has taken to all of this adventure and danger. He’s anxious and jumpy and will probably need some therapy in the future. It makes for a much more realistic story, even while there are some unrealistic things happening as well. I do wish the author had had the foresight to realize he might want to include some scenes from the POV of someone other than Q later in the series, though, and not started it in 1st person. I’m not a fan of changing between 1st and 3rd. Overall, though, I’m really interested to see how this series ends.

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Book Review: The Giver

The Giver
Book #1
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s dystopian

When 12-year-old Jonas is given his life assignment as Receiver of Memory for his entire community, he doesn’t know what to expect, or even what that means. But the more the Giver reveals to him, the more Jonas knows that he can’t continue to live in the emotionless, colorless world of conformity and blandness.

This book had me hooked from the start. The way Lowry builds the world slowly, while showing everyday life in the lead-up to Jonas’s assignment ceremony, is well done. Though I could guess at some of the revelations, others were definitely a surprise to me. And while, from our perspective in real life, it seems impossible for someone to go through what Jonas does and not want to make changes, it’s clear that these people are just that brainwashed, as they go along with the way life has been presented to them.

Unlike so many who read this book for a school assignment, this is my first time reading it. I’ve heard of it over the years, but it really wasn’t on my radar until my sister gave it to me for Christmas (along with the blu-ray of the movie, so I can compare them, which I’ll do soon). Not for the first time, I am so thankful for her recommendation, and while I can see that the next book isn’t exactly a continuation of this one, I’m very curious to see what else Lowry wrote about this world. It’s a great young-audience dystopian novel written before that became a trend.

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June in Review

I read 9 books last month, which is starting to become a normal amount for me. It’s not enough to keep up with my Goodreads challenge, though, and it bugs me when the site tells me I’m 2 books behind. I need to dedicate some serious reading time this month—that or read a lot of short books.

Here are the books I read in June:

Legend of the Desert Bigfoot by Jake & Luke Thoene (4 / 5)
The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters (4.5 / 5)
Caleb’s Story by Patricia MacLachlan (4 / 5)
Treasure Hunters: Down the Nile by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein (3.5 / 5)
The Apostle’s Sister by Angela Hunt (3.5 / 5)
Distant Stars by Kassandra Garrison (3 / 5)
Night by Elie Wiesel (5 / 5)
The Men We Need by Brant Hansen (5 / 5)
The Giver by Lois Lowry (review pending)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 2 re-reads. My favorite (fiction, since nonfiction can’t really be compared) book from June was The Giver. I started 1 series, continued 3 series, and finished (or caught up on) 2 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.

*This includes a series I didn’t reach the end of, but decided not to continue reading, after being at least 2 books into the series.

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.