Book Review: The Sword Thief

The Sword Thief
The 39 Clues #3
by Peter Lerangis

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s mystery, adventure

When their next clue leads them to Japan, siblings Amy and Dan Cahill may have no choice but to team up with their uncle Alistair Oh. They can’t really trust anyone in their family, since they all want the final reward from the 39 clues for themselves, but sometimes an alliance is necessary…right?

I felt like the different-author-for-each-book aspect posed an issue for me this time. Because we have a new mind behind this book, I wasn’t sure if the fact that it seemed like so many personalities set up in the first two books were reversed in this one was the author wanting to do his own thing or was a natural part of the flow of the story. But somehow, Alistair is suddenly not such a bad guy, as confirmed by a scene from his own point of view. Amy suddenly isn’t so awkward around Ian Kabra, even letting down her guard quite a bit. Those aren’t the only examples, and in the end, much of what seemed to be reversed in this book was…unreversed? But on the other hand, some of it is left muddy. Anyway, it all distracted me enough from the rest of the story that I can’t really say how much I liked it. I do think it fell a little short of the first two in the series, but I hold out hope that the next author will get back to the intrigue and history I enjoyed in those first two.

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Book Review: Little Town on the Prairie

Little Town on the Prairie
Little House #7
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
read by Cherry Jones

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

Though the Ingalls family lived in town during the long winter of the previous book, this one really brought out the character of the young town. Moving there for the winter again, just in case it were to turn out as harsh as the previous, Laura and Carrie deal with a school teacher who maybe needed a little training to know how to deal with kids (good, bad, any kind, really—she wasn’t great with kids), the townspeople come up with a variety of ways to entertain themselves through the winter, and Laura catches the eye of a certain farmer boy. Though there is still some focus on the Ingalls homestead and their work there, the book takes a turn as winter comes on, and it’s quite the change of pace after that. Also, thanks to much work and sacrifice by her loved ones, Mary goes off to college partway through this book, which adds to the different dynamic. It’s a good reminder that life keeps moving on and things change, sometimes for the worse, but even when it’s for the better, it can be bittersweet.

As before, my enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by the audiobook narrator, Cherry Jones, who does a fantastic job. If you’ve ever considered reading this series, or have already read it and have occasion to listen to the audiobooks, I say do it!

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Book Review: The Cat Who Said Cheese

The Cat Who Said Cheese
Book #18
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

As Pickax gears up for the Great Food Explo, a murder rocks the town 400 miles north of everywhere, where they believe crime only happens Down Below, even though they’ve had their fair share of murders…especially since former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran came to live there. Fortunately, he also plays a large role in solving those murders.

The more engaging books in this series tend to be the ones with a more eventful backdrop to the mystery, and I found the Explo to be one of the more enjoyable backdrops. The opening of some new restaurants in a county and with a main character that really like their food, as well as the other food-related events surrounding that, were all enough to keep me interested throughout. The focus on cheese was particularly compelling for me, as I love cheese, especially uncommon cheese varieties that I don’t get often. Sometimes it seems that Qwilleran less solves the mysteries and more stumbles into the answer, but then you realize that it’s the subtle work Qwilleran has been doing throughout the story that brings the answer to him in a way that seems out of his hands. I do think I prefer that to the more modern cozy mysteries I’ve read where the amateur sleuth blunders their way through a much more obvious investigation.

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Book Review: My Man Jeeves

My Man Jeeves
by P.G. Wodehouse
Read by Kevin Theis

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic British humor

I thought it was difficult to figure out a good order in which to read the Sherlock stories/books, but man, this seems more complicated. I had read in advance that some of the stories in this collection would have a completely different protagonist, but that didn’t make it less confusing when a story far into the collection was indeed focused on Reggie Pepper instead of Bertie Wooster. Perhaps the publisher could put in some kind of warning note, especially considering that it’s not clear that the narrator is different until a few pages into the story. Pepper is sort of like a combination of Wooster and Jeeves, yet not half as clever. He comes up with schemes himself, unlike Wooster, who relies on Jeeves, but Pepper’s schemes seem to fail more often than not. It was quite a return to the “old familiar” when I got to the last story, which brings us back to Wooster. 

Another comparison I can make to the Sherlock stories—it really might be wiser to read Wodehouse’s short story collections over a period of time, rather than all the way through, as they can start to all sound really similar. There is a sort of narrative thread running through the different stories in the other book I read (The Inimitable Jeeves), and there may have been a bit of that here too, but it certainly doesn’t help that it was broken up by the unrelated stories. Of course, I don’t follow my own advice and continue to read each Sherlock short story collection all in one go, so I’ll probably end up doing the same here. Maybe on a future read (of these, not the Sherlock books) I’ll spread it out more, because I do think I’ve enjoyed them enough to want to come back to them in the future. On the other hand, by the time I’ve read all there is to read, maybe I’ll have had my fill. Either way, I plan to continue with the Kevin Theis narrations if possible, as I read more about Jeeves and Wooster.

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Book Review: Pride and Prejudice (adapted for younger readers)

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen, adapted by Fern Siegel

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic children’s, romance

It’s difficult to know whether to rate books like this based on the story or on the adaptation. I gave the original book 4 stars and liked some aspects of this book better. It does a great job of cutting through the old-fashioned language and getting to the heart of the story. In this case, “telling” instead of “showing” both shortens the length of the story and explains what might otherwise be difficult for younger readers to comprehend or follow.

However, I had some issues with feeling like the book left something out now and then. A couple of times, the text seemed to refer to something that hadn’t been explained in the first place. I could remember it, if vaguely, from my reading of the original book, but it seemed to have been missing from the adaptation. For that reason, I gave the adaptation 4 stars. Overall, I like the idea of this story, but it just seems a little too…I don’t know, maybe bloated? for me. Still, I do think this adaptation more than adequately makes the classic accessible and would recommend this book for children around 8-12, with the extra note that with younger kids, it might be helpful (and enjoyable) to read it with a parent or older sibling/friend.

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Audiobook Review: The Hobbit

The Hobbit
by J.R.R. Tolkien
Read by Andy Serkis

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic fantasy

I read The Hobbit for the first time 2 1/2 years ago and reviewed it then. I have not listened to the audiobook narrated by Rob Inglis, but I did listen to his narration of the LotR books. As I prepared to go through the series a 2nd time, I decided to try out Andy Serkis’s version, and I am so glad I did!

There are a couple of points that I want to make. It’s no surprise that Andy Serkis does a great job with the different voices for different characters. Though I’ve only seen the movies based on this book a small handful of times, it seemed to me that some of his characters sounded similar to how they did in those movies. It may have been a coincidence (excepting, of course, for his portrayal of Gollum, which is just how you would expect), but Thorin sure did sound like Richard Armitage. Considering that this audiobook came out several years after the movies, I did go into it wondering how much from the movies might seep into it, and since my favorite thing about the movies (which were otherwise just kinda okay, to me) is the music, I was thrilled to hear a few familiar melodies in Serkis’s narration.

I know Inglis’s version has long been a classic narration for some, and I don’t feel qualified to compare them, but I will say that Andy Serkis has done this book justice. It’s well worth listening to, whether you’re an old fan of Tolkein or a newcomer (or somewhere in between).

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Book Review: The Ferryman

The Ferryman
by Justin Cronin

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi

Proctor Bennett is a ferryman on the somewhat utopian island of Prospera; his job is to guide people through retirement when their digital monitor says it’s time. But when his own number starts to dip, he knows he’s not ready. Worse yet, he’s started to have some strange dreams, though dreaming shouldn’t be possible. Then he’s tasked with retiring his own father, who says some cryptic things on the way to and at the ferry. Meanwhile, some of the less privileged citizens of Prospera begin to express their dislike for their forced place in society. When all of this comes to a head, the island will never be the same.

I quite enjoyed this book overall. I’ll admit it developed slowly, but there was enough intrigue to keep me curious and coming back to it often. I had my theories, but since I tended to switch from one theory to another, I can’t really claim to have been completely correct in my guesses by the end. The conclusion was tied up pretty well, with a full explanation given, but at times along the way, I found myself seriously lost. The overall feel and style of the book reminded me a lot of Fahrenheit 451. Proctor was mostly a sympathetic hero, but I don’t think there was a whole lot of substance to him through most of the book. 

The book starts out in present tense, then switches between present and past throughout the book. I never did figure out if there was a pattern to that, so I really don’t understand the decision to write it that way. And by the end, though I said it was tied up pretty well, there were a few things, somewhat large but not glaring, that were left unexplained. I wasn’t left with the feeling other books of the type, where the reader isn’t meant to even understand what is going on with the world until part way through the book, have left me with, the feeling that I can’t wait to read it again knowing the truth, to see how things fit together. Maybe that means my guesses were actually close enough that I didn’t feel completely thrown when the truth was revealed. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the ride. If you enjoy cryptic sci-fi stories of vaguely dystopian futures with something of a twist, you’ll probably like this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Battle of the Ampere

Battle of the Ampere
Michael Vey #3
by Richard Paul Evans

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA sci-fi adventure

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, starting with The Prisoner of Cell 25.

Michael Vey is separated from the rest of the Electroclan after the destruction of the Starxource plant in Peru. While the electric teens and their normal friends attempt to escape and regroup, the Elgen are licking their wounds and dealing with a change in management—a change that Michael and his friends are determined to reverse.

I think that part of the issue with this book is that the title doesn’t really come into play until the last quarter (or less) of the book. This is similar to the first in the series, The Prisoner of Cell 25, where Cell 25 is a really minor part of the book. But at least there, we have the initial world building, the introduction of the main character and him learning about the Elgen and the other electric teens. Here, the bulk of the book is the Electroclan trying to get free of the jungle and their pursuers, then a little bit of a battle, as promised in the title, at the end. Maybe that’s the reason that the book came down half a star for me, compared to the first two. I still enjoyed it, but I think it didn’t really deliver on what it promised.

I did like the introduction of a new character and that, though a love triangle seemed to be in the offing, Evans went a different way. I also appreciate that Hatch is more of a background villain this time, rather than being a big part of the story. I felt he was a little over the top in the previous book, but fortunately his extreme villainy then allows both the electric teens and the reader to be fully aware of how dangerous he is without needing it pushed on us so much.

Something that really didn’t sit right with me in this book is the emotional maturity displayed by these teenagers. Various difficult situations happen, even some serious tragedy, and I feel like the characters handle these things in ways that don’t seem realistic for their age (around 15), and they display empathy that many adults haven’t mastered. Saying more would give spoilers, and it’s not necessarily a major flaw in the book, but it did strike me as strange. Overall, though I liked this book just a little less than the first two, I still read it quickly and look forward to the next.

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Book Review: The Not-So-Great Escape

The Not-So-Great Escape
McGee and Me! #3
by Bill Myers & Ken C. Johnson

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

Most of us who grew up in a Christian home know all too well the feeling when our friends were allowed to do something that we weren’t allowed to do, whether that be going somewhere, watching something, listening to certain music, etc. Most of us didn’t set up a Ferris Beuller-like contraption to try to fool our parents, but that’s the charm of the main character in this series. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have a friend who goaded me quite like Louis does with Nick, but of course the lesson to learn here is that Nick still should have said no. It’s a good short story overall, though McGee, Nick’s animated friend, isn’t as enjoyable on the page as he is on the screen. These books may not be easy to find anymore, but if you do have the chance to read this book or procure it for an 8-10-year-old child, I recommend it.

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Book Review: Evil Genius

Evil Genius
The Smartest Kid in the Universe #3
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

12-year-old Jake and his scientifically enhanced, super-smart brain may have a rival when the latest batch of ingestible knowledge jelly beans are stolen. And if that isn’t bad enough, Jake has reason to believe that his artificial knowledge could wear off at any moment. Can Jake and his friends outsmart both new and old foes and recover a treasure that’s been lost for centuries?

Poor Jake is really put through it in this installment. He used to be a fun-loving kid who had no real worries. Now, not only does he have to deal with dark-side counterparts, but he’s devastated over the possibility of losing his intelligence. This book has a few more plot lines than previous ones do, so there’s kind of a lot going on for not a very long book. Because of that, I feel like Jake’s friends don’t get as much “screen time” in this book. On the other hand, at least that means I didn’t have to deal with as much of Kojo’s Kojak references. But the multiple plot lines also provide two different main villains (and several smaller ones), and there is a lot of anti-climax involved. Still, in the end, the book was fun. I’m getting to like Jake more and more with each book, and I hope there’s more to come. For the first time in this series, I cannot tell you what my daughter thought of the book, because she hasn’t read it yet. I’m very interested to hear what she thinks, but in the meantime, I’m confident recommending this book and series for kids around 8-12 years old.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Children’s Books for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: May 16, 2023

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