Book Review: Summer Knight

Summer Knight
The Dresden Files #4
by Jim Butcher
read by James Marsters

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Paranormal mystery

Professional wizard Harry Dresden is recruited by the Winter Queen of Faerie to solve a murder, which ends up having bigger consequences than he originally imagined.

This book had all of the good of the previous ones in the series with almost none of the not-so-good. The stakes are high, Harry seems stronger and less generally unlucky, and the side characters are interesting and different. I like the way Billy and the werewolves sort of act as disciples of Harry’s, but also come in really handy when he needs help. And the humor…it was one of the things that first interested me in this series, and it seemed doubled in this installment. I chuckled quite a few times, and there was one particular moment during the climax that I had to back up and hear again. It’s one moment that I can say for certain would not have been as funny if I’d read it, rather than listening to it. James Marsters is a great narrator, and that moment in particular was brilliant.

There was a lot less sexual content in this book than previous ones, which I appreciated, though it still seems like most of the women characters, large or small, are just there to be leered at in text. If you’re interested in the series, I highly recommend the narration by James Marsters.

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Book Review: Keep Moving

Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths about Aging
by Dick Van Dyke
Read by the author

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Part memoir, part book of advice, I chose to listen to the audiobook, which Dick Van Dyke reads himself. Though I’m a few years younger than the book’s primary audience, I still enjoyed the advice, humor, and sections about Van Dyke’s life. As can often happen when you don’t already know much (if anything) about an actor’s real self and tend to conflate his/her on-screen appearances with real life, it was a bit jarring to hear some of the things about his life. However, I’ve read reviews for the full memoir he wrote a few years before this, and it sounds like this is pretty tame in comparison. I had planned to read that too, but I think I’ll leave it at this.

Some of my favorite parts involved Van Dyke’s brother Jerry Van Dyke, who seems to have a considerably different (and quite humorous) outlook on getting older. I was particularly surprised to learn that Van Dyke has never had any formal dance training; I am one, apparently of many, who always assumed he had. I appreciate parts of his outlook on life, while some of his take on politics and religion left me shaking my head. When he basically says that no one can really know the truth about God, I think to myself, “Is that the truth?” It’s an age-old argument that probably never solves anything, though. In the end, I mostly enjoyed this book, and if you plan to read it, I highly recommend the audiobook.

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Book Review: The Greatest Gift

The Greatest Gift: A Christmas Tale
Philip Van Doren Stern
Read by Edward Herrmann

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Classic Christmas fiction

When I found out that the short story that inspired the movie It’s a Wonderful Life was narrated by the late, great Edward Herrmann, I tracked it down immediately to give it a listen. It’s difficult to give a rating and review that is unbiased and not compare the original story to the movie. The basic idea that Stern was going for came across easily enough—a single person affects more than they think in the lives of those around them. Not knowing what has George contemplating suicide and thinking the world would be better if he hadn’t been born, or even really knowing what kind of man he is, it’s a little difficult to be as connected to him as I would have wanted to be in a story like this. And in the end, while he is certainly affected by more than the loss of his wife to a rival, it could just as easily be missing her presence in his life and leads him to want his life back, rather than deciding his life is worth living after all. So bringing it back around to the movie, the extended version of this story does a much better job of first laying out the problem and then getting to the change of mind and heart. But the original story is so short, it might still be worth a quick read. The actual story part of the audiobook was about 25 minutes long, with an afterword that doubled the length, and Edward Herrmann an unsurprisingly great job with the narration.

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Book Review: Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie
Little House #3
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
read by Cherry Jones

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

What a change of scenery from the previous book with the Ingalls family, from the woods of Wisconsin to the wide-open prairie. I don’t recall reading the reason for the move, and while I can imagine that Laura never knew the reason as a child, I wonder if she learned it later in life. I suppose it might be due to the woods becoming overcrowded, since, as they’re building their house, Pa says that he’d be content to stay there the rest of his life, even as the area gets more settled, because the area is so wide open, it could never feel crowded. Considering what happens here, it seems a shame that he wasn’t content where he was, but I suppose that’s a mindset most of us these days can’t fully understand (though I know some people who would).

The story continues to be charming, and while there are some unfortunate mindsets that I wish would not have been so common in that day, I appreciate that Pa mostly has a different attitude. My daughter has recently started reading the first book in the series, and I don’t know if she’ll continue to this one, but if she does, I’ll be intrigued to hear her thoughts on the matter.

As before, my enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by the audiobook narrator, Cherry Jones, who does a fantastic job, and being able to hear Pa’s fiddle, thanks to Paul Woodiel. 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: Grave Peril

Grave Peril
The Dresden Files #3
by Jim Butcher
read by James Marsters

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Paranormal mystery

Professional wizard Harry Dresden teams up with a knight named Michael to attempt to figure out what has the spirit world so worked up. But they may get more than they bargained for, and Harry stands to lose more than his life in the end.

My favorite thing about this book is definitely Harry and Michael—their friendship, how they work together, and how they contrast each other. Some really funny moments came out of their interactions. The mystery of the Nightmare is engaging, as is the introduction of Harry’s godmother, which is sort of just dropped in like we should have already known about it, Butcher’s signature way of world-building.

I did like this book more than the previous, though I still hope for some improvement as the series continues. The formula I was concerned about becoming part of the series after the first two books was all but shattered in this one, which is good. Though I can’t say I’m a big fan of the super long-battle scenes that seem to be part of every book. I found it strange that every vampire seems to purr when they talk—actually, not just the vampire, but all of the bad guys. Dresden seems to use that verb a bit too heavily.  And if you ask me, there was too much Susan and not enough Murphy in this book. I still wish there was less content of a sexual nature, but it wasn’t as bad in this book as it was in the previous. And I definitely recommend the narration by James Marsters.

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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 historical 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: 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 historical 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 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: 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: Ready Player Two

Ready Player Two
Book #2
by Ernest Cline
read by Wil Wheaton

My rating: 1 / 5
Genre: Science fiction, dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous book, Ready Player One.

As it turns out, Halliday didn’t leave just one contest behind in the Oasis when he died. He left a second one, which wouldn’t be triggered unless his heir found and decided to release a controversial, highly-advanced, game-changing technology to the world and the world then went crazy for it. And since, of course, that’s exactly what happens after the first contest is over, Oasis users are sent on another impossible quest that involves having unlikely knowledge of every single thing someone they never met loved and obsessed over. If it isn’t clear from my rating and from that synopsis I wrote, I did not like this book. To be fair, I didn’t expect to like it, and really didn’t plan to ever read it. But curiosity got the better of me.

To start with, I’ll state that I didn’t love Ready Player One. It was okay, but since I wasn’t won over by all of the 80s nostalgia, I was left with just the plot and characters, which were mediocre overall. So when the sequel was even more 80s trivia and even less plot and characters, it was destined to fail to thrill me. I think the nostalgia has to be the only reason that anyone really likes this book, since it’s otherwise poorly done. Though to be honest, I don’t even know how the pop culture references could be all that enjoyable for anyone, since they’re so shallow. I thought the same when reading RP1, but it seemed even moreso this time. It feels like Cline just really wants to showcase his pop culture knowledge in these books, except half of what we get is something that anyone with an internet connection could easily include in a story.

As for the story itself, there’s a ridiculous amount of exposition, usually dumped in huge piles, and often right when something exciting is about to happen. Seriously, when we’re told the first item for the contest has (finally) been found, we stop for a whole bunch of explanation before actually moving on to the item. And worse yet, sometimes the exposition is repeated. Cline wants so badly for us to know how certain aspects of this make-believe world within a make-believe world work that he tells us twice!

Wade, the MC, is a terrible human being masquerading as a compassionate guy who just doesn’t know how to deal with people. We went through a depressing time with him in the first book, when he pushed all of his friends away and became depressed, but at least we got a good ending out of it. But we have almost a repeat of that in this book, and it’s even more clear now that he’s simply a terrible person. I just can’t bring myself to root for him anymore. I didn’t care if he and Samantha got back together or not, and I really didn’t care about their conflicting views of how to best “save” humanity.

And then there’s the ending…I could not believe what I was hearing when I got to the last chapter. It’s astounding to me that anyone can truly think that the decisions that are made by this group of characters are a good idea. That they’re even remotely okay. That they solve anything! I guess it’s supposed to be a happy ending, but it sounds terrifying and depressing to me. I need to stop now, before the review gets any longer, but suffice it to say that I do not recommend this book to anyone, fans of 80s culture or not. If you really like John Hughes movies or Prince, you might be in heaven for 3-4 chapters of this book. For anyone else…read at your own risk.

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