Book Review: Rise of the Elgen

Rise of the Elgen
Michael Vey #2
by Richard Paul Evans

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA sci-fi adventure

Michael Vey isn’t exactly an ordinary kid. For one thing, he has Tourette syndrome. For another, he produces electricity like a taser. And he’s not the only one with electric abilities. Together with some of the other teens like him, and some without powers, Michael sets out to rescue his mom from Dr. Hatch and the Elgen.

I both enjoyed and was annoyed by this book. For plot and intrigue, I give it a thumbs up. For characterization and writing style, I give it a thumbs down. The story itself kept me interested, and I sped through it. Evans has some interesting ideas involving the electric powers and how they can be used by both sides (though there are some aspects I’m not sure are completely thought out—for example, if Zeus’s electric powers are sapped, wouldn’t water not affect him so much? How does Ian’s echolocation allow him to read printed text?).

However, the group of hero teens generally fall into two categories—the boys are strong, alpha males who just want to flirt and smash. The girls are silly creatures that think fluffy animals are cute (except for the rats). The only exceptions to these stereotypes are Michael himself and his best friend Ostin. And then there’s the bad guy, who makes me feel like Evans did a study in how to do one better on the evils of Nazi Germany. The things they do are just over the top evil, it’s disturbing. As for the writing, I hate to say it, but it made me feel like I was reading my own early attempts at writing as a 12-year-old. I rolled my eyes several times at the immaturity. I know this is written for a younger audience, but that doesn’t mean it has to be quite so silly.

In the end, though I wrote down several notes of things that bothered me, I look back and mostly see an exciting, fast-paced book (which might be interesting, since I’ve read several reviews that say this book was slower than the first). While the downsides are the kind of thing that I don’t expect to get any better in future books, as long as the good parts are still there, I look forward to seeing where the story goes from here.

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Book Review: The Lost World

The Lost World
Jurassic Park #2
by Michael Crichton

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Science fiction thriller

Up front, I will say that I’ve seen the Jurassic Park movies (original 3) many, many times, so if you’re looking for an unbiased opinion, you may want to go elsewhere. Jurassic Park is one of my top 3 favorite movie franchises, if not the top. I did read this book once, back in high school, most likely because of how much I already liked the first couple of movies then. However, unlike the first book, which I couldn’t help but compare to the movie as I read, this one is so different from the movie that very early on, I had to try to push the movie out of my mind. And in doing that, I am probably able to review it more for itself than based on my love of the movies. Though I can’t pretend that love didn’t still possibly make me enjoy this more than I might have otherwise.

I didn’t love this book quite as much as the first, but I did enjoy it, and it kept my attention throughout. Malcolm’s arrogance and loquaciousness takes a back seat to a new character, Richard Levine, though we do get almost a repeat of an injured, drugged Malcolm rambling on that also happened in the previous book. I don’t know why Crichton insists on putting kids in harms way in these books, but I did like the kids in this one more than the two in the first book (it was mostly Lex that was annoying in the first book). One of my biggest frustrations while reading is probably fair enough for Crichton to have included, but it frustrates me to have an intelligent character say that evolution may not tell the entire story of existence up to now, that there may be more that modern scientists haven’t uncovered, yet without a doubt, creationism is just wrong. To be so absolutely sure that one model is wrong, though there is plenty to confirm it, even while saying we may not know all the answers smacks of willful ignorance. Sadly, this is absolutely the world we live in.

Though, as I said, I didn’t compare the book to the movie as much this time around, one thing that I realized is that Sarah Harding is quite the strong, courageous woman. She’s mostly portrayed that way in the movie too, but I don’t understand why the movie makers decided to flip the script when the trailers are being pushed over the side of the cliff. In the book, Sarah does the saving, while in the movie, she has to be saved by Malcolm. I’m not a feminist, but that seems fairly deliberate to me. Though, I suppose, it could have just been more about giving Jeff Goldblum the save than anything to do with gender roles. Overall, I do think that fans of the first book and/or the movie franchise will enjoy this book.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Wasn’t There

The Cat Who Wasn’t There
Book #14
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When a group trip to Scotland ends in tragedy, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran begins to suspect that the death may not have been natural. Can he piece together the clues, including those from his perceptive Siamese, to solve the mystery?

Koko’s back to licking photographs, but while he does his best to communicate the clues to his food-provider (or is just coincidence?), Qwilleran is busy dodging an old girlfriend who wants to be a new wife. Qwilleran has definitely changed over the course of this series, in ways that even he is still discovering. It keeps the series from getting stale, as do the location changes now and then. While I have grumbled in the past about books that take us away from Pickax, this book still spends plenty of time there, while the death happens far away.

I’m not a Shakespeare aficionado in any way and have never read Macbeth, but it makes a great backdrop to the story. The author does a pretty good job of giving a reader without knowledge of the play, which the local theater club is staging, enough information to appreciate the connections made. I don’t know if a reader more knowledgeable about Macbeth would enjoy it more or less than I did. Though I had suspicions about who was involved in the crime, I didn’t put together the hows and whys before I was told. But to be fair, Braun wrote these books before “cozy mystery” became a formula. In the end, I enjoyed the book a little more than I did the previous.

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Book Review: The Diamond of Darkhold

The Diamond of Darkhold
Book of Ember #4
by Jeanne DuPrau

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, The City of Ember.

The people of Sparks are suffering through winter without enough food for everyone and with many sicknesses and injuries. When Doon discovers a book that seems to hold a secret for the people of Ember, he and Lina make a plan to uncover that secret and hopefully help their town.

After liking the first book and being a little disappointed with the second, I enjoyed this one, which I felt brought back the adventure and intrigue of the first book. It helped me to realize that one of the things missing from the 2nd book is Lina and Doon working together, rather than both having their own quests. I also liked the return to Ember, even though much had changed, and how things played out there. The secret of the diamond was underwhelming at first, but as I came to understand it better, I appreciated it more.

The ending was a little strange to me, partly because it leaps forward and then backward at least once, and I had to reread some spots to make sure I wasn’t confused. And the reference to the third book in the series, which I skipped in favor of the next book in sequence (the third book is a prequel) was weird and made me less inclined to even read the third one (though I still will). However, the ending only detracted a little, hence the half point down from 5 in my rating. Overall, it was a satisfying conclusion to a series that I’m glad I read.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Reads from 2022

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl, which I haven’t done in a while now. The topic today is a look back at our favorite books from the past year. Since I already pick out my favorite book at the end of each month of reading, it wasn’t too hard to narrow the books from the year down to 10. Here they are, listed in the order in which I read them throughout the year.

1. Until Leaves Fall in Paris by Sarah Sundin
A beautiful story written by an author who is becoming one of my favorites. See my full review here.

2. I Can Only Imagine by Bart Millard with Robert Noland
I have recently discovered that I like listening to autobiographies or memoirs read by the author, especially when the author is someone of whom I am a fan already. This did not disappoint. See my full review here.

3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
I didn’t like the rest of the series as much, but the first book was great! See my full review here.

4. Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game by Chris Grabenstein
I didn’t expect to like this book all that much, but I gave it a chance because I’ve overall enjoyed the series for which it is a prequel. I ended up loving it! See my full review here.

5. The Debutante’s Code by Erica Vetsch
The beginning of a mystery series that I have fully enjoyed so far. It helps that it is set in the same world as another trilogy that I loved! See my full review here.

6. The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
I haven’t finished the series yet, though I’m actually currently reading the that is technically #4, but #3 in the sequence of the actual story. I’m enjoying this one more than I did the 2nd, but I loved the first one. See my full review here.

7. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Jurassic Park is one of my top 3 favorite movie franchises, if not the top, even though I can certainly admit that there are some duds in there. I just don’t care; I love them anyway. I did read this book once, back in high school, most likely because of how much I already liked the first couple of movies then. This is the first time I’ve read it in 20+ years, and I loved it all over again. See my full review here.

8. Lightning by Dean Koontz
I also read this book back when I was in high school, or maybe just after. It took me a long time to re-read it, but I’m so glad I did! See my full review here.

9. Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Just one in a long list of books or series that are classics or at least have been around a long time, but I’ve never read them. I’ve only read 3 of this series yet, but I’ve enjoyed them all. This one was my favorite. See my full review here.

10. Ruth by Ellen Gunderson Traylor
Ruth is my favorite book in the Bible, and the account of Ruth and Boaz has long held a kind of romance for me, so I have been picky about fictionalized versions of it. I’d almost given up on reading any more and finding one that I really liked, but this one was just what I was looking for! See my full review here.

Have you read any of these? What were some of your favorite reads this year?

Book Review: The Cat Who Moved a Mountain

The Cat Who Moved a Mountain
Book #13
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When his 5-year requirement to live in the small, northern town of Pickax ends, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran has a big decision in front of him. To help him make it, he decides to get away to a mountain retreat. But his plans for a quiet getaway are quickly spoiled when he gets caught up in local prejudices and politics and a murder investigation that might have convicted the wrong man.

I guess it makes sense to move the action away from the same small town/northern county now and then, so it doesn’t become a place full of murders, but sadly, the change of locale often means I won’t like the book as much. Still, this one wasn’t too bad. I liked the way Qwilleran sees both sides of an ongoing battle, meeting and talking talking to people with both points of view. The mystery was decent, though not quite as interesting as others in this series have been. Koko’s antics that inspired the title aren’t exactly new, though I did appreciate the play on words.

I recently read a mystery novel with a main character who had been a gangster in the past but was forced to change due to circumstances beyond his control. In that book, the MC’s new life involved things he never would have done or cared about in the past, but it felt really forced to me. That made me notice all the more the way Qwilleran’s changes in lifestyle and personality throughout the series have been a lot smoother and more subtle. He’s certainly still himself, but also quite different from the man that used to live in the big city and write about urban crime. Overall, this was a good addition to the series.

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Book Review: The Maze of Bones

The Maze of Bones
The 39 Clues #1
by Rick Riordan

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

When Amy and Dan’s grandmother dies, her will reading sets off a hunt for treasure that no one in the vast, powerful Cahill family can fully comprehend. The vague prize will make the finder or finder’s team the most powerful members of the Cahill family, which has had some pretty powerful members in the past. Amy and Dan have nothing to lose as they do their best to outsmart and outrace the wealthier, older, and deadlier members of their families.

This book reminded me a lot of some other series I’ve read recently—unrealistic, over-the-top action, characters that know everything they need to know to progress, and one can never be quite sure who to trust. And yet, I enjoyed it more than I feel like I should have. By the time I got to the end, I was invested. I don’t normally enjoy a book where you can’t trust anyone, because characters are betraying each other left and right, but I still couldn’t help but start to trust a couple of the potentially treacherous side characters by the end. And now I want badly to know how it will turn out with those characters. I also can’t help but want to know what the big prize is, even though I suspect it will either be ridiculous or a letdown.

I’ve heard of this series for a long time and considered reading the books years ago, but never have until now. I wonder if I might not have been ready for the style and tone of the book until now, since I’ve read a few other series with the same kind of wildly unlikely storylines—at least one of which I liked and one of which I really didn’t. Now, I’m more able to let some of the things that might have bothered me in the past go and enjoy the story for what it is. I’m not sure how I’ll like the change of authors throughout the series, but I’m definitely going to keep going.

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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: Addie McCormick and the Mystery of the Missing Scrapbook

Addie McCormick and the Mystery of the Missing Scrapbook
Addie McCormick Adventures #2
by Leanne Lucas

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

When Addie and Nick meet elderly Miss T’s new live-in companion Amy, a Japanese-American whose family spent time in an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, they begin to uncover a secret that Amy wants to keep hidden, but someone else is out to expose.

The first book in the series was good, but this one was on a different level. These aren’t simple, predictable kids’ mysteries. I really appreciated the little bit of history about how Japanese-Americans were treated in America during WWII, as well as a touch on Japanese culture. This book introduces a few new kid characters, one of which I particularly liked. While I don’t know how realistic it is for a pre-teen kid to be as self-assured as Brian is, I suppose given the right circumstances, it would be possible. And since he was my favorite, after all, it clearly didn’t bother me. The conclusion was satisfying, and in the end, I liked this one more than the previous. I’m just sad that I won’t be able to read the rest of the series (except #7), because they’re hard to find. Still, if you do have the chance to read this book or procure it for a 10-12-year-old child, I recommend it.

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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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