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: The Last Battle

The Last Battle
The Chronicles of Narnia #7 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

From the creation of Narnia to the destruction of it. This book seems to be pretty polarizing, and it’s the same in my mind. I appreciate Lewis’s vision of the afterlife, eternity for the world he’s created and the characters in it. I’m a little uncertain about why everyone had to die at the same time to get there. But that’s Lewis’s choice to make. I also like Lewis’s view of God, shown through his writing of Aslan—His love, mercy, and righteousness. I noted that the dwarves that couldn’t see the beauty around them is a pretty clear representation of casting pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). I don’t fully agree with all of the theology presented within the story, but since it’s allegorical, it’s difficult to say for sure what Lewis is saying with certain aspects.

This wraps up my first reading of this series. I wish I could say I liked some of the books more than I did, but others I really enjoyed. I am certain there’s more to get out of the books than I did, though, so I do plan to re-read the series someday.

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Book Review: The Mouse and the Motorcycle

The Mouse and the Motorcycle
Ralph S. Mouse #1
by Beverly Cleary

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

Ralph is full of adventure, and I am full of nostalgia for my younger days. I don’t actually remember if I read this book, but I definitely saw the ABC Weekend Special episode based on the book, probably a few times. This book is fun and exciting, and while it is full of things that modern kids wouldn’t necessarily understand, I think that just makes it all the more of a classic. It’s a great chance to explain about how things used to be, though this book even predates parents of the kids that are the right age for the story. It’s a book I wish I’d read to my kids when they were younger; they would have loved hearing me make the sounds of the motorcycle and ambulance and maybe even an attempted mouse voice. There’s nothing profound here, but it’s a fun adventure for kids.

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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: Son

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 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: 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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Book Review: The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase

The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase
The Librarians #2
by Greg Cox
read by Therese Plummer

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Fantasy adventure

When the Mother Goose Treaty of 1918 appears to have been broken, nursery rhymes come to life, and they’re anything but whimsical. The Librarians and their guardian are sent in different directions to investigate these nursery rhymes, while Flynn Carson is nowhere to be found.

Let me start by saying again, as I did for the previous book 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 it’s frustrating to me that they’re so vague about where they fit in the series. This one seems to take place after season 3, but while there are plenty of references to Prospero (and a spoiler for the end of season 2) and definitely to Dulaque (from season 1), there aren’t any references to Apep from season 3. Plus, a major development for Cassandra that took place at the end of season 3 definitely doesn’t come into play in this book, so it seems it can’t have happened. Maybe it’s just supposed to be vague, but I would have preferred to be able to read it at the right time while watching the show. 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 may not be necessary.

Now to the story itself. Overall it was decent. I didn’t mind the Librarians being separated as much as others did, partly because they still each had a counterpart of sorts to work with. I thought some of the story was weak, for example the nursery rhyme connection to the man in Florida was a major stretch, and for a while, I kept expecting someone to say they were wrong about which nursery rhyme they’d associated it with. The stakes were as high as they get, and there was a bit of a twist that I only figured out a moment before Baird did. In the end, there things I liked more about it than the previous book, and things I like less about it. This book had all the campy fun of the show, and I like that the characters’ personalities come through on the page like they do on the small screen. I still don’t care for the narrator’s breathy tendencies, and if I do re-read this series in the future, I’ll probably skip the audiobooks. Still, I’m enjoying this extension of the show.

Fact check: Jenkins explains that “Mother Goose” is more of a title, passed down through generations, the bearer of which is meant to guard the spells that end up being written down and distributed as nursery rhymes. Elizabeth Goose was her generation’s Mother Goose, and a real-life person, however her maiden name was Elizabeth Foster, and she married the Goose name, so it’s weird she was coincidentally that generation’s Mother Goose (and that this isn’t brought up in the book). Also, Jenkins says that “tourists in Boston flock to what’s claimed to be the grave of the ‘real’ Mother Goose, blithely unaware that she was actually only one in a long line of Mother Gooses, carrying on an ancient tradition.” But the grave in Boston that has become a tourist attraction is actually the grave of MARY Goose, unrelated to the woman whose rhymes prompted the publishing. Mary Goose was actually the first, late wife of Elizabeth’s husband.

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Book Review: Storm Front

Storm Front
The Dresden Files #1
by Jim Butcher
read by James Marsters

My rating: 4 / 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. He also takes other cases, and when he’s asked to track down a missing person while also working on a murder case for the local PD, Harry is relieved that he might just be able to pay his rent this month. However, tracking down someone who kills with magic, which is not just illegal but also forbidden in the magical realm, requires more than a little investigating. And the missing person’s case turns out to be more involved than he’d thought or hoped, too. Suddenly, Harry has a lot more to be worried about than whether or not he’ll be evicted.

I am so glad I finally decided to give this book series a chance. I enjoyed so much about it and was interested from start to finish. The author drops the reader right into the middle of this magical world, which feels very real, due to the way Butcher mostly explains some of the magical mechanics almost off-handedly, rather than as a big info dump. It almost felt like I’d jumped into the middle of an ongoing series, even though this is book #1, but not in a bad way that made me feel like I was struggling to understand. I did have some confusion early on, but not enough to lessen my enjoyment.

The mystery/detective side of the story was interesting in its own right, but add in the vampires, fairies, and demons, and it was more of a thrill ride. I also really appreciated the wit throughout the story, which I picked up on in the first few chapters. And I have a feeling that Bob could become a favorite of mine.

I knew what I was getting into, as far as content goes, but for anyone who doesn’t really know—there is quite a bit of sexual content, though nothing gratuitous. Even when Dresden spends a decent stretch of time naked, the reader isn’t reminded of it constantly, and in fact, I forgot a few times that he was naked. There’s also some language, but not actually as much as I anticipated. And there’s certainly some violence, but again, it’s not gratuitous. All of these content issues together aren’t enough to discourage me from continuing the series (and my tolerance is fairly low, especially compared to the average reader).

I listened to the audiobook narrated by James Marsters, which I’ll admit went a long way to pushing me to finally start this series. I highly recommend the book in general, and his narration specifically. 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 I gave), you should give this book a read.

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