Book Review: Farmer Boy

Little House in the Big Woods
Little House #2
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
read by Cherry Jones

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

Continuing my first ever read-through of this series, I enjoyed this book even more than the first one in the series. Almanzo is an endearing, hard-working boy, and I love how badly he wants to be just like his dad. I find Laura Ingalls Wilder’s focus on how much food the Wilders had, as well as the variety of food, to be interesting, considering that her family in the previous book had just enough. The Wilders still worked hard for their food but this was clearly a comparatively wealthy family. And the ending, involving Almanzo deciding what to do with his sudden windfall, made me tear up. That thread of story culminating in such a great moment at the end is what elevated this book to be a new favorite for me!

My enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by the audiobook narrator. I’m still really loving Cherry Jones’s performance in this series, as well as the fiddle music now and then, though it’s not as prevalent was it was in the previous book. I highly recommend this book and series so far, for adults and kids alike.

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Book Review: Son

The Giver series #4
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s dystopian, fantasy

As a teenage Birthmother, Claire produces her first child of the three that are expected of her. But there are complications, and she is unceremoniously ejected from the job she’d been assigned. She begins to long for her son and will stop at nothing to find him again after he is taken from the community by Jonas, the recently appointed Receiver.

Well…what a strange, uncertain journey it has been through this series. In some ways, it seems like Son decently ties up the three books that come before it. In other ways, it seems like Lowry had no idea where she was going and took a rambling route to the end. I tend to assume that Lowry wrote The Giver without intending any follow-up. Then, considering how many years passed between each successive sequel that came out, I wonder if she had an ultimate plan in mind for this series, or if she just wrote each book as it came to her and tried to build on the previous. It would make more sense to me if the latter were true. Either way, though, I do appreciate being able to see more of the escapees from the first book. On the other hand, the existence of innate magical powers in quite a few people, in a series that started more as sci-fi than fantasy, is rather confusing.

I felt there were some weak areas in the book, even outside of the broader questions of simply what on earth is going on in this world. For example, I have a difficult time believing that Einar could really memorize so well the climb up the cliff that he had done only once, and an even more difficult time believing that the path up had not changed since the years before that Einar climbed it (plants should have grown, rocks might have crumbled, etc.). For that matter, since Claire’s reason for not leaving the seaside town by boat was her fear of the water, what was Einar’s? Why would he not just sail away, rather than attempt such a long, arduous, dangerous climb?

While I appreciate the storylines that Lowry does tie up in this book, I really wonder if we would have been better off left with The Giver as a standalone novel. On the other hand, many people like the series overall. It seems like the kind of thing you either love or hate. Though I’m personally in the middle somewhere, so maybe not. My final recommendation, though, is to read The Giver, if you haven’t already, and maybe just leave it at that, unless you’re really curious.

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Book Review: The Sisters of Sea View

The Sisters of Sea View
On Devonshire Shores #1
by Julie Klassen

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

Sisters Sarah, Emily, Viola, and Georgiana Summers agree (some more reluctantly than others) to turn their seaside home into a guest house to provide income for the family. They originally came to Devonshire in the hopes of curing their ailing mother, and then their father died. Now it is up to them to care for their mother and keep the family together.

I have mixed feelings about this book. After reading and enjoying the Tales from Ivy Hill trilogy by the same author, I was looking forward to another series of books with a sort of ensemble set of main characters. I did expect some romance, but there was a lot more in this book than I thought there would be. Then again, there are four women that need to find love, so it makes sense that one would find it in this book. However, I would have preferred a little more time spent developing the relationship. I also felt a little uncomfortable at the amount of skin shown in this book. Various male characters were without some or possibly all clothes multiple times when the women (or at least the one that would have any interest in that man) were there to see it. There’s a lot of blushing and thinking about broad shoulders and bare chests. That is not needed for romance, and for me, at least, it’s not welcome.

While the main characters were decently interesting, I think the side characters were the real gems in this book. The guests staying at Sea View, mainly, but also the elderly woman that Viola reads to, Major Hutton’s friend and brother—all of these people I hope to be able to see more of in the future books. Viola is the most dynamic character in this book, and I appreciated seeing the development to her own personality as well as her relationship with her family. Major Hutton, I felt, was weakly drawn. His friend and family members talk a lot about how gruff and ill-tempered he is, but I found him to be just a little unhappy (which is understandable, given his current circumstances) until suddenly he’s randomly an outright jerk for weird reasons. I get what the author was trying to show us about him, but it felt inconsistent.

Overall, I felt this was a rocky start to the series, but I have enjoyed the other books I’ve read by this author. And I definitely have interest in the world Klassen has set up in this book, so I’m looking forward to continuing the series in the future. Based on past experience, I have good reason to believe that most fans of Regency-era Christian romance will enjoy this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: December 6, 2022

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Book Review: Little House in the Big Woods

Little House in the Big Woods
Little House #1
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
read by Cherry Jones

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

I have never read this series, though I did watch the show when I was younger. I think I always assumed it would be boring to read, though. I can’t say for sure it wouldn’t have been when I was younger, but I completely enjoyed it now. This in-depth look at life for an American pioneer family through the eyes of a little girl is full of heart, teaching the reader about how pioneers had to work almost constantly in order to have enough to eat throughout the year, a place to live, and warmth in the winter, forget toys and luxuries. I appreciate how, even when the kids are punished, their parents clearly still love them and make sure they know it. Despite the hardships and all of the work they had to do, it was a simpler time that, in some ways, we’re all the worse for losing.

My enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by the audiobook narrator. Cherry Jones did a fantastic job, and I am so happy to know that I can stay with her through the whole series. On top of that, whenever Pa played the fiddle in the book, we get to hear it! And Cherry Jones sings along when the lyrics are in the book, making for a beautiful listening experience! If you’ve ever considered reading this book, or have already read it and have occasion to listen to the audiobook, I say do it!

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Book Review: The Prisoner of Cell 25

The Prisoner of Cell 25
Michael Vey #1
by Richard Paul Evans

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA sci-fi adventure

Michael Vey isn’t exactly an ordinary kid. For one thing, he has Tourette syndrome. For another, he produces electricity like a taser. In the space of a few days, Michael discovers that he’s not the only one with powers and that there are sinister forces that are looking for him. When his mom is kidnapped, Michael has to go on the offensive while figuring out what his powers can do.

I enjoyed this story overall. The writing was nothing special, but the story is interesting. I think I liked Michael’s powerless friend, Ostin, most. I kept imagining him as Ned from the more recent Spider-Man movies. Hatch is a sufficiently interesting bad guy, who I assume majored in psychology, because he really knows how to manipulate people. Though I do think he makes some obvious errors when trying to break one of the characters, so that was a little off-putting. It might just show how completely deranged he is though.

For as atypical as Michael is supposed to be, he sure seems to bring a lot of tropes and cliches to the book. For example, he has a crush on the cheerleader and can’t talk right around her. He’s also scrawny and victim to some intense bullying, yet is able to understand their motivation super quickly and easily, which is definitely not likely to happen in a situation like this. But while most of the characters don’t get a lot of development and there’s an amazing coincidence involving two kids with powers that happen to go to the same school that is never explained, the story overall moves along quickly and kept my attention. The climax may have been a little on the easy side, but I don’t mind that, especially in a book for a younger audience. The story this first book sets up is intriguing, so I’ll definitely be continuing the series.

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Book Review: The Librarians and the Pot of Gold

The Librarians and the Pot of Gold
The Librarians #3
by Greg Cox
read by Therese Plummer

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Fantasy adventure

The Librarians and their guardian are put on the trail of a member of the Serpent Brotherhood, who is trying to track down a pot of gold that went missing in Ireland in the 5th century, right about the time that St. Patrick banished all of the snakes from Ireland. Can they outwit a serpent, a banshee, and some leprechauns to save a life and solve a centuries-old mystery?

Let me start by saying again, as I did for the previous books in the series, that I love The Librarians. I think the show is better than it has any right to be, and a large part of that is due to the great casting. The movies were good as well, but I think the show really took the overall story world to a new level. I’m glad to be able to read these books, though I wish they were a little more clear about where they fit into the series. This one pretty clearly happens after the end of season 3, though beyond that, I can’t say for sure. And while the book does attempt to give some basic understanding of the overall setting and backstory of the Library and the Librarians, I think this book is best read by someone who has seen at least the TV show. Knowledge of the movies isn’t really necessary for this book.

Now to the story itself. I liked that the Librarians mostly worked together in this book; the way they play off each other is a big part of why the show is so good. I didn’t care for the first chunk of the book that dealt with the end of an ongoing case. While that kind of thing is common in an episodic format like this, it seemed to drag on way too long. I just wanted to get onto the main story. Something I noticed more in this book is that the characters aren’t coming through all that well. I think the reason I thought they were before was simply because I’d watched the show recently and could apply the recent memories of their personalities to the book. But the further I get from watching the show, the more I realize that, absent of knowledge of the show, the characters are fairly 2-dimensional. Add to that the way that the audiobook narrator tends to make everyone sound like they’re almost always scared or unhappy in some way, and it just wasn’t a very enjoyable read. In the end, the next time I go back through the Librarians movies and series, I’ll probably read through these books again along the way; however, I’ll most likely read them myself, instead of listening to the audiobooks. Though the books aren’t as good as the show overall, I do think that fans of the show who are sad it’s over might enjoy having the extra “episodes” from these books.

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Book Review: Lightning

by Dean Koontz

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Science fiction thriller

Laura Shane’s life has been marked throughout by lightning events, both figurative and literal. During some of the hard times she’s experienced, a mysterious man has shown up to help her in some way—her guardian angel. As she gets older, though, her guardian slips into myth in her mind. When he appears again, it’s on the worst day of her life, and Laura’s life becomes one of fear and paranoia. Even as she begins to understand the depth to which her guardian has been involved in her life, she wonders if she’ll ever be safe again.

I never cared about Koontz when I was younger, probably thinking he was all horror, and I have never cared for horror. My husband (maybe my boyfriend at the time, I don’t recall…it was around 20 years ago) recommended this book, and I remember being pleasantly surprised. I’ve never read another Koontz since, but that just left this to keep a special place in my heart. I don’t know why it took me so long to read it again, but I’m so glad I did! The suspense is really high at certain points in the book. Laura’s guardian, Stefan, is a sympathetic hero, especially when you learn more about him and where he comes from. And though Laura herself isn’t my favorite main character, I can appreciate the way that the various difficulties in her life shape her into the person she becomes as an adult.

Time travel isn’t exactly original, but not everyone does as good a job as Koontz did here. The things that could and could not be affected, the way there are natural limitations to avoid paradoxes, it all makes sense. And what is done by characters to try to get around that can be a little mind-twisty, but it makes for a great read! I know there were a few points when I wondered if it was really necessary to see so much of Laura’s life that don’t really relate to the grander story. I think it was mostly there to build up our connection with Laura. Whatever the reason, it never made me bored. As a stand-alone sci-fi thriller, Lightning definitely worth reading! I know I’ll re-read it again in the future.

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Book Review: Fool Moon

Fool Moon
The Dresden Files #2
by Jim Butcher
read by James Marsters

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Paranormal mystery

Harry Dresden is the only professional wizard available for hire in Chicago and is sometimes called on by the police to help solve crimes where magic is involved. So when a series of murders that happen around the full moon show other signs of involving werewolves, Harry is on the case. But will it prove to be too much for him to handle?

I was not as big a fan of this second book as I was the first in the series. I’ve read that the series gets better after you get into it (though how far into it varies widely), but while this one started off similarly enough to the first, it did not have as much of interest to me. It wasn’t so much a mystery as it was police procedural, and even after the case was basically solved, there was a lot of book left, which turned out to be mostly fighting. It doesn’t help that I usually find werewolves boring in any iteration. I did appreciate that there were various types of werewolves, but since I was listening to the audiobook and couldn’t easily go back to remind myself of which was which, it mostly confused me.

I’m finding some formula in the series that I really hope Butcher steers away from soon enough—like how Murphy keeps believing Dresden to be a bad guy (not that he helps the situation by not telling her the full truth, but she can’t manage to be understanding of how his hands are tied) or how Harry just gets beat up…so…much. Still, I enjoyed some humorous moments and lines, and there was a bit of a twist at the end involving one of the werewolves. Overall, the book just felt like it dragged on, but I’m still looking forward to continuing the series. I can’t pretend that I’d recommend this book in general, but it shouldn’t be enough to dissuade anyone from trying the series, especially if you’re a fan of mystery and detective noir novels, and enjoy or at least can tolerate the addition of supernatural elements (and the content warning below). In particular, if you like to listen to audiobooks, I recommend the narration by James Marsters.

One final note, something that was worse in this book than in the previous—there is quite a bit of sexual content. After my husband finished the audiobook, he commented on how, with the couple of female werewolves, every time they were in a scene, whether they were fully clothed or not (one of them was naked in at least 75% of her human-form page time), the narrator felt the need to remind us that they had certain female parts. And he was right…they were referenced often. I really hope this doesn’t remain at this level. There’s also some language, but not actually as much as I anticipated. And there’s certainly some violence, much more than the previous book (werewolves are beasts). My tolerance on things like these is fairly low, especially compared to the average reader, and while I do plan to continue, I really hope the level of sexual content, at least, doesn’t stay this high.

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Book Review: The Magician’s Nephew

The Magician’s Nephew
The Chronicles of Narnia #6 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

While I appreciate the origins of Narnia shown in this book, it’s my least favorite of the series. I think part of that is my own fault, as I’m still watching for the theological parallels to God, and this one threw me off a lot. I wonder if I’m just not the right kind of person to read this and see it the way others do. To me, at least, as a parallel to God creating the universe, it fell flat in many ways. Maybe that’s because God did it perfectly, and anything besides that just seems like a poor comparison. Of course, from a fiction (and fantasy) standpoint, just having it done the same way as God did it would be kinda weird. But even seeing it more as an allegory than a parallel (which is probably more how it’s meant anyway), I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I did others in the series. Taking it as its own story with no connection to the Bible, it felt a little disjointed.

This series is one of those that I feel like I’m never going to enjoy like so many others do. I didn’t read them as a kid, so that might make some difference. Still, I sometimes think I just don’t have enough sense of wonder or whimsy to make these books more enjoyable. Not that I haven’t enjoyed any of the series by any means, but I don’t know that I’ll ever re-read it. On the other hand, it’s possible that reading the series again some time in the future might give me a different insight into it, and this book in particular.

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October in Review

I read 11 books last month, 1 book higher than my monthly average this year. I’m still a little behind in progress towards my Goodreads goal for the year, due to expecting to read a lot more particularly short children’s books than I’ve gotten to this year. I’ll have to be sure to insert more of those in the next two months.

Here are the books I read in October:

I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn (5 / 5)
Storm Front by Jim Butcher (4 / 5)
The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau (3 / 5)
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (5 / 5)
Quest for the King’s Crown by Robert Vernon (4 / 5)
The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts by Lilian Jackson Braun (4.5 / 5)
The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox (4 / 5)
The Captured Bride by Michelle Griep (3 / 5)
Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline (1 / 5)
The Cat Who Lived High by Lilian Jackson Braun (3.5 / 5)
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis (review pending)

This list includes 1 ARC and 3 re-reads. My favorite book from October was Jurassic Park. I started 2 series, continued 4 series, and finished (or caught up on) 3 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.