Book Review: The Conference of the Birds

The Conference of the Birds
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #5
by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series.

Find V. Keep Noor safe. Avoid war between American peculiar clans. Of course, Jacob can’t do all of this alone, so it’s a good thing his friends are willing to overlook his stupidity and bring him back into the fold. But then the prophecy rears its ugly head, almost literally, and Jacob may not have what it takes to save the future of peculiardom.

This was my least favorite book of the series so far, though the story itself was good overall, about as good as the rest, to me. But I feel like either Ransom Riggs is getting more lazy or I’m just noticing it more. The most glaringly obvious is Noor. I was never a fan of Emma and Jacob’s relationship, so I don’t care that Jacob has a new romantic interest. However, Noor herself, and the development of their relationship, is like a rinse and repeat of Emma. Riggs seems to have no imagination for major female characters, especially those of the love-interest variety. And in this book, Jacob remarks that his relationship with Emma was “chaste,” to which I respond, “Compared to what?!” This is quite a ret-con of the earlier books, during which Jacob and Emma were definitely fairly physical. I really don’t understand the author’s thoughts in all of this.

This is not the only example, though, as a prophecy that was written in many different languages and cobbled together into English just happens to rhyme in English (and this happens again later with a shorter text). A loop that is locked just happens to let 2 people in, but keep all others out (nothing nefarious or planned, simply no explanation given). And the climax seems like it should be impossible (not saying more to avoid spoilers), but no explanation is given to make it more believable.

I think Riggs has done something decent here with this series, though I do wonder if he should have stopped at the first trilogy. Or perhaps made the second trilogy more of a removal from the first. A lot of people don’t really care for the villain in this 2nd half, and while it doesn’t really bother me, I get the frustration. I don’t know if he plans to continue with more books or not, but even though this book was less fun for me, I’m still looking forward to reading the culmination of this 3-book arc, and possibly of the entire series.

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Book Review: Islands and Enemies

Islands and Enemies
The Imagination Station #28
by Marianne Hering

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical children’s fiction, Christian

After cousins Beth and Patrick have an argument about loyalty and betrayal, Whit sends them on an adventure in the Imagination Station. They arrive in 1521 and become part of Magellan’s expedition to circumnavigate the globe for a few days and along the way learn a little something about loyalty and betrayal.

I like the idea of the Imagination Station so much more when it’s more like a holodeck adventure. Since it’s apparently meant to be actual time travel in this series, some of the things that happen are just a bit too unbelievable to me. Still, I like the way it brings moments of history to life for young readers, and this one was no exception. Some of the details shared by Beth (who may know more than makes sense for her age, even after having just done a report about one of Magellan’s ships) were interesting to learn about.

The time travel aspect and historical characters aside, the actual characters of Beth and Patrick took a hit in this story, in my opinion. While it certainly makes sense that they wouldn’t be perfect kids and would even sometimes get into fights with each other, Beth did not know when to keep her mouth shut, and Patrick was just a little jerk at times. Overall, though, it’s a fun look at historical accounts, written for kids, from a Christian viewpoint.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Publication date: April 5, 2022

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Book Review: The Carnivorous Carnival

The Carnivorous Carnival
A Series of Unfortunate Events #9
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Hostile Hospital.

The three Baudelaire orphans continue to strike out on their own, arriving at the Caligari Carnival by stowing away in the trunk of Count Olaf’s car. Disguising themselves using Olaf’s own materials, can they keep their true identities secret? Can they uncover the truth behind the initials V.F.D. and whether or not one of their parents survived the fire?

There were some decent moments in this book, for example a humorous play on the phrase “deja vu.” It was interesting that Olaf and his acting troupe were out in the open this time, while the Baudelaires were the ones spying. It was also nice to finally get at least one answer to a series-long mystery. And there were some decent moments in this book, for example a humorous play on the phrase “deja vu.”

On the other hand, this book had whole new, over-the-top annoyances for me. The “freaks” whined constantly about their “deformities” which would have made more sense if one of them wasn’t simply ambidextrous. I’m sure it was some kind of humor that I just do not get, but the fact that both of Kevin’s legs are equally strong is something I really could have done without being reminded about all through the story. And the guests to the carnival were ridiculously blood-thirsty. But at least there’s Tim Curry. Slim consolation prize at this point.

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Book Review: The Flatshare

The Flatshare
by Beth O’Leary

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Romance

To solve their individual money problems, Tiffy and Leon enter into an agreement to share his 1-bedroom flat, sharing even the bed. Leon works nights and Tiffy days, so they will each have the flat to themselves (Leon plans to be completely gone on weekends). What starts as a simple note about leftovers turns into a friendship between these two people who have never met, yet know details about each other due to sharing a bedroom.

Oh, my goodness, I’m not quite sure how to start this review. When I decided to read this book, I knew the premise was pretty outlandish, but I was ready to suspend my disbelief for a fun, light story. That’s not really what this is, but that isn’t even the issue, really. For one thing, there’s just too much going on in this book. Besides the developing relationship between the two MCs and their everyday lives they have to deal with, Leon has a brother trying to appeal a conviction, a personal quest to help one of the patients at the hospice where he works, and a girlfriend. And Tiffy has a stalker ex-boyfriend and the trauma from emotion abuse he inflicted on her to deal with. Though I appreciated parts of how Tiffy’s storyline went—first identifying the abuse and then trying to move on from it—I think the author didn’t really have room to treat something that serious as well as one would hope to.

Several of the pet peeves I’ve recently begun to identify in fiction reared their ugly heads in this story. The main one is when someone can mouth an entire sentence, and it’s perfectly understood by whoever they’re mouthing it too. Honestly, how easy is it, really, to understand if someone mouths more than “thank you” or “I love you”? And this happened at least 2-3 times. Another is the amazing ability a character has to know exactly what someone else is thinking, simply based on micro expressions on their face. We’re not talking two people who’ve known each other since childhood, but work friends. Both of these things, to me, are just lazy writing. And don’t even get me started on the fact that Leon is in a fairly serious-seeming relationship at the beginning of this book. I have never cared for that kind of scenario in romance.

Now for my last major gripe (and a warning to those who don’t like a lot of physical contact in books they read): The descriptions in this book, while not graphic by most standards, went way too far for my preference more than once. Besides, to me, a relationship does not need lots of physical interaction to be romantic. In fact, I prefer as little of it as possible, because then the author has to make sure that there is romance and chemistry in other ways, which are much more impactful, in my opinion. Nothing spoils a nicely budding romance in any medium of fiction for me than the couple jumping into bed as soon as they feel that it’s socially acceptable.

In the end, if only one of the side plots had been focused on, I might have enjoyed the overall story more, though it would still have been far from a 5-star read for me. I, personally, would not recommend this book to anyone, and I think this book effectively ends my desire to ever read a contemporary romance again.

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Book Review: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
read by Sean Astin

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Classic literature

I read this book in high school and did not like it. I remember telling my teacher that I was disappointed she would condone the lifestyle presented therein. She was offended. Now that I’ve read it again, I can see that misinterpreted the story. However, I also think that my teacher should have been a little more forgiving of a high schooler’s difficulty in fully understanding this book. Even now, I had to go read a few sections over again, and even look up ideas from other people online, to fully follow along.

Though I can see now that the book is not exactly advocating the way of life of the characters within, I can understand why I thought that way. And I didn’t like the book any more now than I did in high school. I did appreciate the vivid and beautiful writing and the immersion in the 1920s, but the story itself was simply unpleasant overall. Whatever commentary it’s trying to make on greed, power, social mores, etc., there’s nothing here but sad, depraved, depressing, unhappy people and lives. Nothing good comes about at all (which may well be exactly the point, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it).

I’m not sure exactly who, if anyone, I’m meant to feel for along the way. The narrator himself is the only one who seems remotely down to earth, though he has his own issues. Tom is the very definition of a misogynist. Gatsby is controlling and unable to handle being anything other than the primary focus of the affections of the woman he desires. And Daisy made some bad choices, but that doesn’t excuse the men in her life from treating her completely terribly. Whatever merit fans of the book, those who study classics and literature, and high school/college English teachers may see in this book, I personally don’t see it as the Great American Novel, nor would I call it a must-read.

I listened to the audiobook read by Sean Astin, and while he’s a great actor and did some of the dialog really well, he wasn’t so great with the narration at times. And overall, he didn’t vary his voice with the characters, the main ones especially, nearly as much as I would have liked.

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February in Review

I read 12 books last month, the third month in a row with that number, and almost the exact same amount of pages as last month too. I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately, which is pretty much the only reason I’m sustaining a slightly higher-than-average number of books per month lately.

Here are the books I read in February:

In Search of a Prince by Toni Shiloh (3.5 / 5)
Things We Couldn’t Say by Diet Eman with James Schaap (5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (4.5 / 5)
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne (4.5 / 5)
The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket (3.5 / 5)
The Canyon Quest by Jim Ware (3 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (4 / 5)
Already Gone by Ken Ham & Britt Beemer with Todd Hillard (5 / 5)
Swept into the Sea by Chris Brack & Sheila Seifert (3 / 5)
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (4.5 / 5)
The Hostile Hospital by Lemony Snicket (3.5 / 5)
The Mayflower Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse (2 / 5)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 4 re-reads. My favorite (fiction, since nonfiction can’t really be compared) book from February was Crocodile on the Sandbank. I started 2 series, continued 3 series, and finished (or caught up on) 1 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.

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.

Book Review: The Mayflower Bride

The Mayflower Bride
by Kimberley Woodhouse

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Mary Elizabeth Chapman, along with her father, younger brother, and other Separatists, prepare to sail to the New World aboard the Speedwell, companion ship to the Mayflower. On the latter ship, William Lytton is a carpenter looking for a new life in the New World, but before departure, he’s hired to keep an eye on the colonists and report back to the company that is financing the journey. When the two ships are funneled onto one, Mary Elizabeth and William have a chance to get to know each other, but the trip across the ocean will be long and difficult. And reaching the New World is just the beginning.

There was a lot going on in this book that never quite seemed to mesh into a coherent, interesting story. The main female character got on my nerves right away because even though her dad and brother, as well as her best friend and family, were going on the journey as well, she was unhappy and lonely. She’d somewhat recently lost her mother, which I get would affect her, but it was leaned into a little too much, given what she did have, and she spends a lot of time moping. Plus, later in the story, she made some stupid decisions that I really doubt a woman in her position would have made given the circumstances. Then when we meet the main male character, his story starts off ambiguously. The whole side plot about him “spying” for the Company was weak, and that was clear from the moment it started. I don’t understand the inclusion of that arc at all, nor the fact that the POV switched to a “villain” now and then that was part of that arc. The POV also switched to Mary Elizabeth’s little brother a few times, which also seemed unnecessary to me.

While the historical details of the voyage were interesting, most of the plot involving the trip to the New World and attempts to find a place to start their colony seemed fairly shallow. They were often viewed through the lens of the budding relationship between the two MCs, which I felt was portrayed in a way that was not likely very accurate to how it would have been for two people in their time period, especially with one of them being part of a religious congregation like Mary Elizabeth was. Personally, I don’t need the author to interject unlikely physical contact to add to the romance; for me, the mental aspect of a developing romance is much more important anyway. But their initial attraction was mostly physical, considering they were both instantly drawn to one another after an interaction that involved no real conversation.

As the book that kicks off a series of historical romance novels set in different time periods, I had hoped for a stronger start. This book, unfortunately, did not whet my appetite for the rest of the series. However, since the series has various authors, I still plan to continue on to see what the next one holds.

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Book Review: The Hostile Hospital

The Hostile Hospital
A Series of Unfortunate Events #8
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

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

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Vile Village.

The three Baudelaire orphans are on their own now, but that doesn’t make them safe. In fact, now they have to be wary of anyone who’s ever read the newspaper, which is just about everyone. Fortunately, they’re able to hide in a group of volunteers who don’t read the paper and whose organization initials happen to be V.F.D. This leads them to a hospital, where they encounter Count Olaf and his associates in full force.

As we continue to progress away from the tired formula that the first half of the series followed, I find the overall story a little more interesting. I still don’t get most of the humor that others seem to like, but I’ll admit I found some of Sunny’s dialog to be funny in this book (I even laughed out loud one time). The V.F.D. mystery is gaining interest for me, and the ending was such a departure that it felt like a breath of fresh air.

In some ways, though, outside of the stand-out things mentioned above, this was still the same old story. Still, I liked it more than most of the previous ones, and Tim Curry singing the V.F.D. song throughout the book was a lot more fun than it probably should have been. (This book is brought to you by the word “spurious.”)

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Book Review: Crocodile on the Sandbank (take 2)

Crocodile on the Sandbank
Amelia Peabody #1
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Barbara Rosenblat

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

As a female during the Victorian era in England, Amelia Peabody is ahead of her time. Unmarried and independently wealthy, she has no need for a man or most of societal conventions. With a passion for Egyptology and a thirst for adventure, she decides to journey to less-traveled parts of Egypt, taking into her company along the way a young woman whose reputation has been tarnished. Amelia gets the adventure she’s looking for, and more, when a missing mummy begins to terrorize the women.

I listened to this book a year ago with a different narrator and did not care for it (see original review here, which I will refer to as I compare the two versions in this review). My sister, who recommended the book in the first place, convinced me to try again with a different narrator, and it really did make a huge difference. Things that irritated me about the main character weren’t nearly as pronounced, and I think that’s simply due to the sound of the two different narrators’ voices. Yes, Amelia is still arrogant and aggressive, and Rosenblat certainly did put that into her inflection, but it didn’t seem as over the top this time. It might have helped, too, that Rosenblat’s Amelia actually had a British accent. Even Amelia’s companion, Evelyn, I realized while listening this time, felt less breathy and weak in this version. I hadn’t even realized how much that had bothered me with the other version. Emerson was the one character I liked the first time around, and I was more able to enjoy the humor he and his interactions with Amelia bring to the book on this second listen. Also, Rosenblat’s voice for Lucas, Evelyn’s cousin who follows her to Egypt, is perfect.

Overall, I was able to enjoy the story more, and frankly, I think I paid closer attention, as I remember my attention wandering more the first time around. Now that I’ve given it another chance, I’m looking forward to continuing on to the next book with this narrator. I’m also glad to be able to recommend this book to people who like cozy mysteries or Egyptology. But if you’re considering listening to the audiobook, I highly suggest finding Barbara Rosenblat’s version, if you can.

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Book Review: Swept into the Sea

Swept into the Sea
The Imagination Station #26
by Chris Brack & Sheila Seifert

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Biblical children’s fiction

In this second of a 3-part story arc, cousins Beth and Patrick are tasked with finding a mystery liquid for the Imagination Station as they’re thrown onto a ship during a storm at sea. The ship is carrying the apostle Paul, as he’s on his way to stand trial in Rome. Besides the storm, the cousins will have to face angry sailors and Roman soldiers if they hope to get back to their time.

I actually read part 3 of this story arc (which, in turn, is part of a much larger series) first, then decided to go back and read the preceding stories. This is my least favorite of the 3 books in this trilogy of stories. All 3 show some snapshot of history, but this is the only one that is an account from the Bible. While the authors added some fictional characters for the two (also fictional) main characters to interact with, and I assume some of that was meant to provide extra excitement and human connection, overall, I felt like they added little to the story. All of these books are quite short, but this is the only one that felt so light and shallow. I didn’t feel any kind of connection to the story or characters.

On its own, I don’t know that I could recommend this book to readers, though kids 12 and younger, the age group that it’s meant for, might enjoy it more than I did. The other books in the series I’ve read so far were good, but I honestly don’t think much would be missed by skipping this one.

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