May in Review

I read 11 books last month, which I’d love to see as a sign that my desire to read has come back in force. However, it probably has as much to do with listening to several audiobooks while I worked to prep various items for VBS at my church, for which my husband and I are first-time directors this year. Still, it’s the first time I’ve been this high since before my mom died at the beginning of February, so whatever the reason, I’ll take it.

Here are the books I read in May:

Evil Genius by Chris Grabenstein (4 / 5)
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (5 / 5)
Battle of the Ampere by Richard Paul Evans (3.5 / 5)
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, adapted for younger readers by Fern Siegel (4 / 5)
The Ferryman by Justin Cronin (4 / 5)
My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (4 / 5)
The Cat Who Said Cheese by Lilian Jackson Braun (4.5 / 5)
Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (5 / 5)
The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis (3 / 5)
Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary (5 / 5)
The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (3 / 5)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from May was Ramona the Brave. I started 0 series, continued 7 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 Return of Sherlock Holmes

The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes
by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Classic mystery

I wasn’t all that impressed by this collection of stories. Some of it just felt like it had been done before, others seemed like a bit of a stretch to get to the end. At least one was almost too obvious. I’m not a fan of the cavalier response to the murder of a man in one of the stories, criminal though he may have been. I didn’t even realize why Mary Watson was suddenly gone in this book until I read some other reviews (I thought maybe Holmes’s “death” and return must simply have taken place before Watson was married, since I’ve never really paid much attention to the dates), because it was so vaguely alluded to. I would really have hoped for at least a little more consideration for the loss of the woman whose relationship with Watson came about in a previous book. But I guess the weak ending to the relationship mirrors the weakly shown beginning to it. I’ve come this far, so I’m determined to finish out the entirety of these stories, but I hope to see a return to some of the more interesting and inventive stories of the earlier books.

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Book Review: Ramona the Brave

Ramona the Brave
Ramona Quimby #3
by Beverly Cleary
Read by Stockard Channing

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

Oh my goodness, the things this little girl does…I don’t know if Beverly Clearly followed a kid around for weeks, observed her own children, or remembered her own childhood for these books, but man, I’m constantly amazed by the real insight she puts into these stories. Ramona has such a rough time in first grade, I almost wish she was a real kid that I could put my arms around and tell that she is seen and she is understood. The owl episode, especially, made me wish for her sake that she could really explain her thoughts and decisions. I knew the moment that new room was announced, it would be a source of contention between sisters as to who would get it—it’s 100% accurate. And then Ramona’s unhappiness building up until she just had to get it out has hilarious, and then very touching, consequences.

Stockard Channing’s narration is pretty great, too, and I recommend it for anyone who might be interested, young or old.

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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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