Monday, March 7, 2016

Mini Reviews // A Mixed Bag

Status: Yesterday, on the way home from church, I came upon a random peacock hanging out in the middle of the road. In the list of strange animal crossings I've experienced, this was just about as amusing as the time we almost hit a yak on the way to summer camp. Obviously I had to tell you about it. 

Since I’ve read a bunch of books lately, and I haven’t reviewed even half of them yet, I’ve decided it’s time to start catching up. This will go more quickly if I cheat a little from time to time (I’m not really cheating, but I just like saying that). Which is why I have three mini reviews to share with you today. (In the interest of brevity, I haven’t included summaries of the books, but if you’re curious, you can simply click the cover photos for the Goodreads descriptions.) 


Rating: Two stars—Meh

There was nothing hugely wrong with this one. It just wasn’t for me. From start to finish, I struggled to pay attention and remain interested, and I felt completely disconnected from the characters. My mind kept wandering, which meant I missed important details, but I couldn’t even bring myself to go back and reread the stuff I’d missed. I just wanted to finish it and move on to other stories. Unfortunately I had already quit reading THE DUFF before that, and I wanted to make progress on my book count, so I stuck with it. Since I was already going through a reading slump during this time, this was probably not the wisest decision. It was a relatively thin book (only 307 pages), but it took me forever, and the more bored I felt, the slower I read. 

I certainly liked elements of the story. I liked the paranormal aspects, and I am a sucker for steampunk. To top that off, I was actually rather fond of Bumbersnoot, Sophrania’s pet mechanical dog. Overall, the world building was clever and detailed, and I think maybe younger me would have appreciated it more. But on the whole, the plot felt cobbled together, and it lacked tension. I may eventually pick up the sequel, CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES, because it’s possible the rest of the series won’t seem as mind-numbingly boring. We’ll see. It’s never encouraging to come away from a story feeling ambivalent. 

Also, I do have to say that, since I grew up loving The Gallagher Girls series, I came into ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE worried that it would be a bit of a copycat. This might have subconsciously effected my reading experience. Of course, I can’t say whether E&E turned out similar or not because I couldn’t bring myself to care enough to pay attention. *hangs head* That being said, this book might be perfect for other people, and if you love it, more power to you. It just wasn’t my cup of coffee. 


Rating: Three stars—Good

First off, I won a hardcover copy of this from Literary Rambles. Thank you, Natalie and Gregory!

This was a cute story, and I’m glad I read it. In some ways, it reminded me of Stefan Bachmann’s writing, which is always a plus. I loved all the characters (especially Mack, the talking pocket watch) and the mood of the story. I loved the sense of discovery and magic, paired with secrecy and dread. As far as children’s stories go, this one was really good. 

It only had a few potential weaknesses. Since I had figured out the big reveal long before it arrived, I wasn’t wowed by it, and the overall stakes weren’t high enough to keep me in suspense. There was also a dialogue infodump nearer the beginning as well as some repeated information throughout the story. 

In the end, I guess my biggest problem with ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODDITORIUM was that it was a little young, and I am a hard sell when it comes to Middle Grade. When I was a small thing, I probably would have fallen head-over-heels for this story, and the action would probably have felt 100% more engaging. But as a curmudgeonly old person (haha, I’m not actually that old), I’m quicker to find fault with books aimed at prepubescent humans. Although I actually want to like Middle Grade, I’m rather persnickety. 

That being said, I do plan to get my hands on the sequel, ALISTAIR GRIM'S ODD AQUATICUM, eventually (hopefully sooner rather than later). 


Rating: Two stars—Meh

I spent the majority of this book feeling really grumpy—really, really grumpy. I couldn’t relate to Quinn (the main character) at all. If I were in her place, I would not take such an enormous amount of universal mistreatment over a secret that’s not even mine (which, in case you were distracted with your coffee and didn’t catch that, is what happens in this book). I understand why she wants to keep this secret and protect her ex-boyfriend, Carey, and I understand why Carey asks her to keep it in the first place. But I also genuinely hated that she has to take the fall for him, in more ways than one, and that the culture in her town further shames her into hiding the truth that could entirely vindicate her. I got so angry at the way her father and former friends treat her. She literally only has one friend now, an old man in the veteran’s hospital (I loved him a whole ton). Aside from him, everyone hates her, and they make it a point to bully her ALL. THE. TIME. No one addresses that bullying. The teachers seem to blame her for it. And I just wanted to claw everyone’s eyes out. 

I guess what bothers me the most is that the secret is something that genuinely hurts her in the first place. And, to add insult to injury, she has to pretend she is still dating Carey, even though this means she will have to suspend her love life for the entire duration of Carey’s deployment (or until he can work up the guts to share that secret himself). And I understand that it’s a hard secret to share (it’s also a predictable one), but Quinn should never have been asked to keep it in the first place. That bothered me so much. In my mind at least, it would have been so much easier for Carey to break up with her, explain why, and then give her another reason to share with everyone so she doesn’t get slut-shamed for “cheating on him” when she is caught kissing another guy. I mean, if Carey doesn’t want her anymore and he’s too scared to tell people the real reason, fine. But that doesn’t mean she should suffer for it in any way. What sort of jerk asks this of another person? 

It also irked me that, as the reader, I felt I was supposed to avoid blaming Carey for this because it’s a hard secret to share and there would be scary consequences if it got out and Carey wasn’t to know all the flack Quinn would take. Those reasons are all fair, to a point. But his initial decision, motivated by fear and sadness, is incredibly selfish and damaging and effectively ruins Quinn’s life. So no, I’m not going to sit back and play the “Oh, poor Carey card”. There were so many other ways he could have handled this predicament without dragging Quinn’s name though the mud, and this was not one of them. 

I’ve probably stressed this too much already, and I’m not sure how coherent my rant has been, but the injustice of this set-up drives me nuts, and I would have been tempted to burn this book with the fire of a thousand angry suns if it hadn’t been from the library. This story just left me feeling enormously yucky and cranky (I bet you couldn’t tell). I literally only gave this book two stars instead of one because I really liked Quinn’s elderly friend and her relationship with him. That was it. *stalks off*

Well, that was rather negative. Maybe this puppy will help.

What about you, little coffee beans? Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts? Have you read anything recently that left you seriously grumpy? Which do you think is worse: a book that leaves you ambivalent, or a book that leaves you angry? 


  1. I think I'd like to read Alistair Grim's Odditorium because I occasionally enjoy middle grade and I'm really into those books where there's a giant house/forest/store/castle/whatever filled with crazy treasures and shifting rooms and weird characters where nothing makes sense but it's wonderful anyways. (Just like that previous run-on sentence.) I haven't found a lot of those kinds of books, but The Museum of Thieves is one, and I suppose you could call Doctor Who another (particularly the TARDIS). I guess that's why I like Neverland and Wonderland so much, too. (And if you have any book suggestions for those types of things, I'm all ears.)

    If I Lie sounds incredibly stupid. Just, ergh, the injustice! Those books really frustrate me.

    1. If you love middle grade stories of that sort, then I'm sure Alistair Grim's Odditorium will be right up your alley. :D I tend to go for those from time to time, and this one definitely has a lot of the magical feel. You're right, Doctor Who is one. *nods* And it is brilliant. The TARDIS is my baby. I will have to check out The Museum of Thieves at some point. I don't have any current suggestions off the top of my head (sorry :( ), but I will definitely keep it in mind because it might be nice to round up a bunch of books of that ilk and do a post on them. *nods*

      It really is. I wanted to tear it up, make the pages into paper airplanes, and through them at the sun.

      Thanks for commenting! :)

  2. The puppy DID definitely help *nods* So cute. So cuddly. I WANT ONE. (Wait, I have a puppy...although he bites, but whatever, you can't have everything in life.) AHEM. So this sounds like an extremely suckish stream of books you've had lately. D: That's the worst. Actually March hasn't been treating me very well for books...I think that's because I'm in a mood because the one book I REALLY want to read hasn't arrived in the mail yet? And was DELAYED???? So now I'm just grumpy and nothing else is good enough. Ahem.
    But least to say I wouldn't touch any of these. XD The last one sounds AWFUL and I'm not really a fan of MG unless it's more timeless? And I didn't even love Gallagher Girls (shhh, I'm sorry) so the Espionage one doesn't sound for me either. :P

    1. You're welcome. *hugs puppy*
      It certainly was a run of not-so-wonderful books. I totally understand though. If one book is delayed, they all must suffer. This is just a bookish law of nature.
      If I Lie was spectacularly awful. It made me want to build a building-sized replica of the book just so I could burn it and laugh maniacally as I stared at the inferno.
      I got a run of good books last month, so yay! I really loved The Raven Boys. So much love! :)

      Thanks for commenting! :)

  3. I read Etiquette & Espionage and I disliked it as well. I've never been a huge paranormal fan and here it seemed a bit ridiculous. The steampunk element was cool, but I really read it because I love history! And in that, this book disappointed me. Also, like you said, the story did not feel coherent; it didn't flow.
    I might pick up Alistair Grim's Odditorium-I am still young enough that a mediocre MG novel can entrance me. And that last book just sounds terrible. My condolences (and organic coffee) for your suffering, and I hope the rant helped release some of your hate.
    Personally, I would rather a book leave me angry over ambivalent. At least when I get out of my rage period, I can pinpoint exactly what caused my rage. Stories that leave me confused bother me. I cannot sort through all the opposing feelings and opinions I have! It drives me mad.

    1. I am not alone in my misery. *stares at the landscape dramatically* The paranormal elements really did come across as ridiculous, and that frustrated me because I do tend to like paranormal, if it's done well. *sniffs*
      Go for it! I hope you enjoy it. :) Ooh. Organic coffee! I am now sufficiently distracted from my rage. *slurps coffee* *eyes go glazed over*
      I think I would have to say the same, and for similar reasons. I also don't like the idea of being so unaffected over a book that I feel nothing toward it. For one, it's inconvenient to try to explain that while I didn't dislike it, I didn't like it either. But for another, I think literature is always more powerful when it makes us feel something, even if it's something negative. *nods sagely* *drinks more coffee*

      Thanks for commenting! :)

  4. Parts of Etiquette and Espionage were fun, but the writing felt a little dumbed down, in a strange way. The concept was good.
    These other two are books I've never seen before. (And I don't think I want to ever see the last one again, after reading about it).
    I'm not sure if I'd rather be angry or ambivalent - it depends on the book. I have so many books to read that I rarely finish either kind now. As a former chronic book-finisher, this is a huge deal for me. But I just don't have time for books I don't get something out of!
    Best wishes for better books!

    1. Yeah, there were a few parts that I found amusing. But yeah, it felt muffled and odd, like I couldn't follow it because there wasn't enough there, so my brain kept wandering off to do other things. :P I wish she had done more with the concept, because it really was good.
      I'm a chronic book finisher. :P I've only DNFed one book so far this year, and it bugged me for a couple months. But I am more likely to consider not finishing a book that makes me feeling nothing than one that makes me feel hate fires. :P
      Thank you! And thanks for commenting! :)

  5. Honestly, all I can think is... "You almost hit a yak?????"


    1. *dies laughing* I knew someone was going to get caught at that. Yes, we did indeed almost hit a yak. And when I got out of the car to let the owners know their yak was loose, I was really nervous because yaks can be aggressive. I just, you know, always expected to have a more glorious death than simply "killed by a yak". Now, maybe it would be okay if I died saving a small child from a yak, but still.
      That got morbid. You're welcome. :P
      Thanks for commenting! :)