A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, was published in 1962 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Rating: 3/5 (2/5??)
A Wrinkle in Time has always been That Book for me. Not That Book that you really enjoy, or That Book that knocked you off your feet, but That Book that everyone talked about and referenced as a fantastic book, that you grew up hearing about, that you read a long time ago, that your friends all mention, that is always upheld as a great example of x genre. And with such a towering reputation, it’s always difficult to admit that you don’t actually like That Book.
I left my rating the way I typed it when first thinking about how to review this book because it really illustrates my conflict here. On the one hand, I didn’t like it: hence, the 2/5. On the other hand, I acknowledge its significance and reputation: hence, the 3/5. But 3/5 has turned into my lazy rating, my “it was average, but not terrible, but not great” rating, so I want to be bold and say 2/5. Yet, I think my dislike of it has to do with my personal taste in books, so I want to be fair and say 3/5.
So, I kept both ratings there because I couldn’t decide.
I always feared going into reading this book that I wouldn’t like it. See, the thing is, I simply don’t like science fiction. I struggle to enjoy even children’s books of that genre. So I knew that my thoughts about A Wrinkle in Time might be negative simply from that standpoint.
But I also didn’t think the book was that great…
I mean, the theme is great. Love wins over evil—fantastic. But the way everything is delivered, the way everything happens, is clunky, and not developed enough, and way too quickly paced. The explanation in this book is scant; we’re swept along just like Meg and Charles Wallace and Calvin are, except there’s the feeling that the characters know more than the reader. There’s two kids who are special—somehow, with no explanation as to how or why they’re like that—and their father is missing, then BOOM! they get taken away by these three strange angel ladies to rescues their father, then BOOM! they go to the planet where their father is and one special kid gets overtaken by the evil, then BOOM! stuff happens, they rescue their father, one kid goes back to rescue the other, she stares at him and thinks about love, then BOOM! he’s back, they’re back, everyone’s back, and everyone’s happy.
But how is Charles Wallace different, and why is he different? Why do Meg and Charles Wallace and Calvin seem to instinctively know how to combat IT, despite never knowing about him before? How does staring at Charles Wallace and thinking about love break ITs hold on him? Why do these kids just go with the flow and not freak out? Why is everything so pat and quick and why do the kids seem to know what to do despite also not knowing what to do?
Maybe I’m missing the point? Like this is supposed to be one giant allegory, even more than the one that’s abundantly obvious already, and that’s why everything is the way it is. I like the good/evil allegory/symbolism, but I didn’t think it was written all that well, to be honest!
So, those are my thoughts on A Wrinkle in Time. I’m now a pariah among my friends, I know, but I just found the whole book strange and poorly explained.
…and now Miguel is a bit of a ponderous, slow read, due to Miguel’s long inner monologues and descriptions, but ultimately the book is a heartwarming tale of a boy trying to show his family that he is grown up. There’s a bit more to it than that, especially at the end, but mostly the book is about Miguel’s journey, both literally and figuratively, to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The book is also about sheep, as Miguel’s family are sheep farmers, and boy, did I learn a lot more about sheep than I ever thought I wanted to know. Miguel explains a lot about sheep and the raising and tending of them, but of course it’s filtered through his desire to be useful to his family and to be seen as capable and grown in their eyes. There’s a great humor underlying some of the dialogue and the descriptions that might be a little hard to catch, but helped make some of the ponderous scenes a little more bearable.
I think I would have liked …and now Miguel better if it hadn’t been so unevenly balanced in tone and pace. There’s some parts at the end that are perfect, but spoiled by being dwelt on for far too long. There’s some great stuff having to do with wishes, and change, and why things work out the way they do. Miguel is left both pleased that he gets to go to the mountains at last, but also sad that it is at the expense of his brother being sent off to war. There are some great lessons to learn from this book, but it might take a while to get to them. I didn’t really enjoy reading the book due to the length and the way everything felt it was taking forever to get to the point, but I enjoyed the message behind the story and the way it communicated change in the end.
World War II remains my absolute favorite setting for historical fiction. There’s so much courage and heroism and patriotism present, even among the terrible things happenings, that’s really uplifting. I mean, it’s “The Greatest Generation” for a reason.
My Family for the War is about Ziska, a Protestant with Jewish ancestry, who leaves Germany on a kindertransport right before the outbreak of WWII and stays with a Jewish family in London, who quickly become her family. The novel chronicles the entire length of the war, separated into three sections. It’s definitely a story about family, but it’s also a story about being adrift in the world, separated from your family, your culture, and your religion, and the things people do that help you reconcile all that change.
Since this is a translated book (it was originally published in German in 2007), some of the writing is a bit clunky, a bit more like reading a report or an essay on someone’s life than an immersive novel. I am blaming the translation for this, since I have nothing else to go on. Besides the writing, my one other complaint is that the book is way too long. It starts off really interesting, but towards the middle, things start dragging on and on, and it doesn’t start picking up again until towards the end of the novel. To be honest, both the writing and the length combine to make this book 3/5 rather than 4/5, as the strength of the story was not enough to overcome those.
However, this really is a great book, and it’s an especially good WWII children’s book. It pulls no punches in the German treatment of Jews—even people who do not even claim Judaism as their religion—and Ziska’s exploration of her heritage while staying with the Shepard family is well done. I really just wish the writing had been a bit more fluid, and that things hadn’t started dragging in the middle. It would have caused My Family for the War to be more cohesive and more powerful, and less like reading a report.
The last two Charlotte Years books are the most interesting, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s because Charlotte is of a more relatable, readable age—8 and 11, respectively—and so the problems and lessons of the book are more directly related to her, as opposed to simply something she observes. The Road from Roxbury is still not a great book, but it’s at least better than On Tide Mill Lane.
The Road from Roxbury deals with new babies, new schoolteachers, new technology, new friends, and new responsibilities. Each chapter is still more “slice of life” than anything else, but there are some plot threads running throughout to unite them. My favorite is perhaps the schoolmaster plot arc, though the plot arc that deals with jealousy, sullenness, and a near-death scare is also quite good. The rest is typical Wiley and typical Charlotte Years—vaguely interesting, but ultimately lacking in charm. It ends on the cheesy sort of note that Wiley is fond of striking—grand pronouncements and dreams that seem to come out of nowhere and are triggered by the most random things.
Having an older Charlotte makes the books more relatable and less observational, but there’s still something lacking from the Charlotte Years that I can’t quite pin down. Charm, or quality, or depth, or something. The Road from Roxbury is an improvement on the first two books, but it’s still a far cry from a good, solid, timeless children’s book.
Broken Things, by Lauren Oliver, was published in 2018 by HarperCollins.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Lauren Oliver and her books. Some, I liked. Some, I hated. I enjoy her writing a lot, but occasionally her plots leave a lot to be desired. Panic was a jumbled mess of unrealistic garbage. Vanishing Girls was interesting and compelling.
Luckily, Broken Things is more like Vanishing Girls. The plot, which may have been inspired (but I’m just guessing) by the real-life Slender Man murder, is intriguing and a fairly decent suspense novel. The characters are interesting, too, if generic and too teenager-y for me. I liked the inclusion of the Narnia-esque fantasy book and the nod to fanfiction, though I’m not a fan of the “end a book mid-sentence” aspect.
I was ultimately going to give this book a 4 out of 5, but when I figured things out a hundred pages before the characters did, and when I realized how much of the book was clues and how much was just Brynn and Mia thinking about how terrible Summer was to them, I knocked its rating down. I mean, they really should have figured things out with the wildly obvious clue that was mentioned and then immediately forgotten because Oliver didn’t want her characters to figure it out for another two hundred pages, so she had them deliberately bypass it.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be a superfan, or even a fan, of Lauren Oliver. Her writing is beautiful, but her books never appeal to me beyond the interesting plots that they sometimes have. There’s always something about her books that set my teeth on edge, that make me want to hurry up and finish so I can be done with the teenage angst and the attitudes and the catty behavior. Broken Things has a decent, compelling plot, marred by the actions of the characters, but it’s character-driven and I’m not that big of a fan of character-driven books, especially when the characters are forced to forget things in order that they don’t figure things out too quickly.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: LGBTQ themes, sexual situations, swearing, drinking, drug abuse.
Sounder is an interesting book. It’s cast as a dog book, in the vein of Old Yeller or Shiloh or something, but it’s really much more about the boy than it is about the dog. However, it’s probably significant that the dog is the only thing in the book that has a name—there’s the boy, his siblings, his mother, his father, and the teacher, and the dog is the only thing with a name. And it’s probably significant that the dog’s name is “Sounder,” and that he only “sounds” when the family is whole and together. He remains silent when the boy’s father is gone.
This book isn’t happy, but it’s not quite sad, either. There’s a certain tragedy about it, yes, but the sad events are told so matter-of-factly that it creates a distance. And the book seems much more concerned with the growth of the boy than of lingering on injustice. The book is really about the day-to-day that takes place amidst injustice, and how families try and go about their daily lives even though things have changed inexplicably. Time is a bit hard to grasp, but the book, which is barely over 100 pages, takes place over years of the boy’s life, years spent waiting and searching for his father’s return, years where Sounder does not sound.
I’m honestly quite hard-pressed to find a clear-cut message in this book. Instead, the book is really focused on metaphor and symbolism, unless I’m really taking the Sounder and names thing too far, and much less concerned with getting some sort of idea across. That makes Sounder unique for a Newbery Medal book, but not as immediately or clearly relevant as, say, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, or even M. C. Higgins, the Great. It’s also not too great a sell as a profound dog book, either. Sounder is unique and somewhat interesting, but I think most young readers will find it difficult to grasp and enjoy.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Warnings: Racial slurs, descriptions of bad wounds, violent thoughts.
After devouring Sharon Shinn and Kate Constable, I immediately went on the hunt for more 2000s fantasy and found Alison Croggon’s Book of Pellinor quartet. I’ve actually read this series before, something I realized once I started, but it was long enough ago that I only remember bits and pieces. And I don’t quite remember if I actually finished reading the series, though I think I did. Anyway, the whole book seemed hauntingly familiar, though I barely remembered anything of the plot. To be honest, the thing that I most remembered was the “let’s pretend this book was an actual historical document that’s been translated” gimmick.
Anyway, on the back cover, Tamora Pierce describes The Naming as Tolkienesque, and that is definitely apparent in the book. Of course, it’s not nearly as vast or extensive as Tolkien made the Lord of the Rings. Though much having to do with the politics and culture of the world is ignored, Croggon has developed the Bard part of the world well, with its own language and customs, and the whole legend of the world is also done well, if a bit trope-y. There’s the standard Light and Dark concept, with the standard Evil Villain. The magic is unexplained and described only as “the Gift,” with very little to show how it works or what it does. However, the world was much better developed than many similar fantasies I’ve read, and I could tell Croggon put a lot of thought into it.
The one thing that held me back from complete enjoyment of the book was the writing style, which was too old-fashioned. That’s probably not even the right word to use, but that’s the only thing I can think of to describe it. I was not a huge fan of the way characters spoke, and I especially didn’t like how differently Maerad spoke than other characters. It’s like every character is formal and speaks in a bit of antiquated syntax, and then Maerad speaks normally. Perhaps that’s to contrast her with the other Bards, but I didn’t enjoy it.
Also, I had trouble reconciling the fact that traveling seems to take no time at all, or at least seems to take no time at all, but then Maerad is consistently mentioning her period. So, Croggon is apparently trying to say, “It’s been three months since she left Gilman’s Cot!” when the way time has been tracked before then makes it seem as if it’s only been one month, if not two. There needs to be a better way for the readers to follow the time then for a character to think, “Oh, time for that monthly thing!”
The Naming has some promising worldbuilding, though there’s not much explanation for many of the concepts, and there’s very little sense of the world beyond Bards, Hulls, and some semblance of a Bardic ruling system. The fact that I’ve read this book is both a blessing and a curse, since I can’t wait to get to the parts I do remember liking, but am dreading the parts I remember not liking (which, to be honest, isn’t anything in specific—I just remember being let down by the ending. If I even finished the books, which I think I did).
Series: The London League Genre: Adult, Regency, Romance Publisher: Phase Publishing Publication date: February 1, 2019
With Cap in hand…
Malcolm Colerain, Earl of Montgomery, needs a wife. He has four children, a peerage, and a demanding secret occupation as a member of the London League; all of which give him a fulfilling life, so a proper marriage of convenience is all he seeks. But when he meets Elizabeth Owens, things begin to change. Distance becomes difficult, convenience becomes rather inconvenient, and his exciting life as a spy turns on its head.
…Love comes to call…
Beth Owens seizes the chance to marry the handsome and striking Earl of Montgomery, marriage of convenience or not. Her heart is his for the taking, and she is determined that he eventually will. But the more she learns about her husband, the more he puzzles her. He has secrets, she is well aware, but just how many and how deeply do they run? And when she finds a few secrets of her own, will they ever have a chance at love?
Rebecca Connolly writes romances, both period and contemporary, because she absolutely loves a good love story. She has been creating stories since childhood, and there are home videos to prove it! She started writing them down in elementary school and has never looked back. She currently lives in the Midwest, spends every spare moment away from her day job absorbed in her writing, and is a hot cocoa addict.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy from the author. All opinions are my own.
My rating: 3/5
A Tip of the Cap is the third book in the London League series by Rebecca Connolly. Having never read the first two (and not having the time to do so), I was worried that I wouldn’t understand what was going on. Luckily, though clearly characters, relationships, and references would be more clearly understood with the first two books having been read, I was able to understand and follow the mostly stand-alone plot of this book.
The “theme” of the series is the London League, a spy organization tasked with protecting the Crown and the Crown’s secrets. Each book is about one member, referenced in the title, and this book is about Cap, otherwise known as Malcolm, Lord Montgomery. Now, I will say that I felt the London League aspect of the book was the weakest part. Perhaps that’s because I hadn’t read the first two and so had no clue who Gent and Rogue and Rook were, but I found all the spy stuff hard to follow. For example, Rook and Rogue get into a fight for some reason at a ball, but it’s never clearly explained why—to throw someone off the scent? But why would a fight change that?—and I found it hard to believe that Malcolm and Gent would then have a conversation, in the ballroom, where they toss around Rook and Rogue’s code names casually, as if no one was around to hear them. I also had no clear idea about the nameless, faceless “enemy” they were facing, though there are mentions of France. Also, if they are spies and no one knows their true identities, why do they all work at the same office building (why have an office building at all??)?
However, besides my confusion with those points, I did enjoy the action and tension that the spy plot gave, as it lended itself well as a break from the more heavily romantic areas of the book. Because the book is, of course, a historical romance, featuring an arranged marriage of a sort and all the romantic angst and atmosphere that one might expect. I thought it was really well done, for the most part, if a bit predictable in some places and too fast-paced in others, and Beth was fairly adorable (though I found her speech at the ball when she broke up Rook and Rogue’s “fight” to be way too over-the-top and cheesy). Both her’s and Malcolm’s motivations and thoughts felt realistic, and their interactions and the development of their relationship were believable, as well as sweet and heartwarming in the right places. But I think my favorite romance of the book was the one between Lily Granger and her husband, even though most of that develops “off-page” and is resolved rather quickly.
A Tip of the Cap was much better than I thought it would be. Though I found a lot of the London League stuff confusing, and its explanation clunky, the main story was interesting, the romance was sweet, and the spy arc helped break up all that sugary stuff and injected some tension and drama that went beyond the normal romantic variety.
Genre: Historical Fiction
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The Dream-Maker’s Magic is my least favorite of Shinn’s Safe-Keeper trilogy, though it’s still a delightful read. Kellen, whose mother has always insisted that she was a boy, learns to find her own way in life with the help of her friends, especially Gryffin, the lame boy she befriends in school. Along the way, several (unsurprising) plot twists occur, faces from the previous two books appear, and several happy endings occur.
While this last book is about the Dream-Maker, that really takes a backseat to Kellen’s story. Shinn is fond of the long, slow development, something I noticed in The Truth-Teller’s Tale. She likes to build the characters up before doing much of the plot, so the book is much more character-driven than story-driven. I didn’t quite like the romance as much in this one, but Kellen’s journey is delightful, though predictable. Shinn has a knack for really making small-town life come alive with its own unique characters and dramas. As an added bonus, while she does include several things that are darker, her fantasies are, overall, light and fluffy, which is nice. Sometimes I want to sit down and read some Finnikin of the Rock, but sometimes I want to sit down and read Sharon Shinn, who I know will deliver me plot, character, and the light-heartedness I crave.
Overall, I’m very pleased with my discovery of Shinn. Though I’d probably not reread The Dream-Maker’s Magic, as it was a bit too slow and plodding for me, with an underwhelming romance and plot, I would definitely go back and reread the first two books, as well as, of course, discover her other books.
In the Coils of the Snake concludes the Hollow Kingdom trilogy, with Marak, the dry, witty, best character in the first two books dying, and his son, Catspaw, taking his place. The book mainly deals with the marriage/romantic woes of Catspaw and Miranda, who were betrothed to be married when the arrival of an elf lord ruins everyone’s plans.
In the Coils of the Snake is probably my least favorite of the Hollow Kingdom trilogy. Much like Close Kin, where the focus of the book switched halfway through, the perspective switches back and forth between Miranda, Nir, and Catspaw, with the latter two being the more interesting. Miranda is a phlegmatic protagonist. At the beginning, she seems like a good character, very similar to Kate of the first book, but halfway through the book, she turns into a limpid, bemoaning character who mopes around the elf camp and barely does anything to contribute to the story beyond being a plot device.
Catspaw and Nir embody the goblin/elf conflict and the differences between the two races. We don’t get much from the perspective of Nir, but what we do get is suitably mysterious. Despite this being my least favorite book, Dunkle does do some good plotting—there is lots of foreshadowing and a big plot reveal at the end. The majority of it I managed to guess, but it was nice to see everything buildup to the big revelation.
My two favorite characters were Tattoo and Hunter, whose scenes together were my favorites in the book. They managed to pull up an overall disappointing book a little with their bonding as friends. Hollow Kingdom remains my favorite of the trilogy. I liked how in each book we got to see more of the world, but I wish the characterization and some of the overall mechanics had been better.