Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Northanger Abbey~Jane Austen | Review

Title: Northanger Abbey and the History of England
Author: Jane Austen
Genre: British Classics
Length: 9.5 hours audio
Release: February 2017 (first published 1817)

I received an audio copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Northanger Abbey is one of those books that I was unsure of reading. It tends to be one of Austen's more overlooked novels and I think I heard some negative comments. That put me off reading it for a long time, which may have been a good thing. By the time I read it, I was ready to read it with an open mind. And I loved it.

This audiobook was the second time through the book for me, the first time being several years ago. While Austen's writing improved as she wrote, this is an excellent book. Catherine Morland, our heroine, is every bit the over imaginative fangirl, letting her love of Gothic novels carry her away. She's young and out in society for the first time, learning and growing as her imagination runs wild.

Henry Tilney is probably my favorite of all of Austen's male leads. He's flirty, talkative, intelligent, and just plain fun. He was voiced really well in this audio and I think I fell a little more in love with him. The relationship between him and Catherine is really nice and different to most of Austen's other romantic entanglements since Catherine was so attached to Henry from the beginning. And he was rather fond of her as well, which made it even better. There was no dislike between them, former lovers hanging on, or other love interests getting in the way. And it was perfect.

Catherine's character progression from beginning to end is wonderful. She starts out young and naive and, though not completely changed by the end (which is a good thing), she has learned that not everything or everyone is always what it seems. She always believes the best of people and this positive outlook stays with her--with a hint of caution now in the mix.

The Thorpe family, Isabella and John specifically, irritate me so much. It really shows how innocent Catherine and James are, not to be able to spot the issues early in their relationships with this family.

Northanger Abbey is full of Austen's charm and wit that makes her later novels so loved. And it might possibly be my favorite of the bunch. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Order of the Phoenix~J K Rowling | Review

Title: The Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter #5)
Author: J K Rowling
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Length: 870 Pages (Hardcover)
Release: June 2003

In November 2016 I started my reread of the Harry Potter series. This is the first time I have read any of the books since reading the seventh one twice within two months of its release, so it's been a while.

The Order of the Phoenix has always been one of my two favorites, normally ranking just beneath The Prisoner of Azkaban. Reading these as an adult, I think it has now surpassed that loved installment to become my favorite.

This fifth installment is much more developed than any of the previous four books, with a more detailed plot and higher stakes. It succeeds where The Goblet of Fire fell flat for me in that everything seems connected from beginning to end. It didn't really feel like it was long just to be long, but because there was legitimately enough story to fill that many pages, which is where that last installment was a bit of a letdown.

There are many things in this book that I don't like. Harry, for one, becomes more and more annoying as the series goes on. I have never really been a fan of his character and find him to be rather selfish. It's understandable that he has problems, after the way he was treated by the Dursley's, but I don't like the direction he took after getting out from under them. I have some similar issues with Ron, but not to the same extent. Hermione is a pretty stellar friend.

The story gets darker and grittier in this installment. You learn more of the history of Voldemort rising to power years ago and what was done to stop him. There are revelations made about certain characters and their families that are not altogether expected. And even Hogwarts is not safe for Harry this time, with the Ministry taking more control. Umbridge is one of the most genuinely evil characters in the entire series.

Just like with previous installments, one of the highlights here is definitely Fred and George. Their characters are absolutely amazing. They are genuinely good people who truly care about their friends and family. They make mistakes, but they aren't cruel. They play jokes but no when to pull back. These two will forever be the highlight of the series for me.

A lot of new and exciting characters are introduced including Luna and Tonks, who are both excellent additions to the cast. We see some of our old favorites. Lots of stupid choices are made, brave things done. The ending isn't is rather bleak, as the previous book was, but there is hope.

I do have to say, while I think that Rowling's writing is good I am not blown away by it. The main characters are hard for me to connect with and I think that has a lot to do with the writing style. It also seems a lot clunkier than I remember when I was younger, probably due to changed perceptions as I've read more widely. I do, however, feel that her writing and story telling improved with each book.

I am not sure when I will be reading book six, but I look forward to delving into the next chapter of Harry's life and seeing what it has to offer. There are many things that I have forgotten through the years and it's nice to revisit some of those old memories.  

Friday, May 26, 2017

The King of Average~Gary Schwartz | Review

Title: The King of Average
Author: Gary Schwartz
Genre: Middle Grade Coming of Age
Length: 228 Pages (~6 hours on audio)
Release: October 2015

I received an audio copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

It's always fun for me when I hear that an author has narrated their own book. I don't know why, exactly, I just think that it adds more to the experience if you hear the words from the person who penned them. 

But onto the actual reason for this post: the book. This story follows James, a child who receives no love from his mother and was abandoned by his father. He does well enough, but no better. And thus begins his quest to become the most average person that ever lived. It is at this point that he is transported to a world where Average is a kingdom in search of a king. 

In the beginning this was a little bit of a hard listen for me. James is only a child and has to hear from his mother how he caused her so many problems and only made his life worse. Some of my own family have had similar experiences, so this was difficult to hear about in a story. It's very sad, but a reality for too many children these days. 

Once James was transported to Average, things became more optimistic. There are plenty of lessons to be learned and James makes a lot of friends along the way. There is a French Optimist and his companion the Pessimist. A talking goat. And, eventually, other children. These characters help James learn about himself and what it means to really be average. 

The idea behind this story is an intriguing one and I found it very clever. The names of the various kingdoms and the peoples that inhabit them were always so nicely devised. There were places like the Flatter Lands, where everyone was constantly flattering you. And then there were other darker lands, where paranoia seemed to rule all. The concepts were all fascinating and I found myself intrigued as each new place was introduced. 

Overall I thought this was an enjoyable book to listen to. The narration was nicely done and the story a lot of fun. I did find certain parts repetitive and thought the ending wrapped up a little too quickly without enough closure, but I overall really enjoyed it. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ghostly Echoes~William Ritter | Review

Title: Ghostly Echoes (Jackaby #2)
Author: William Ritter
Genre: Paranormal/Historical/Mystery
Length: 352 Pages
Release: August 2016

This third installment in the Jackaby series was just as well written as the two previous novels and had its own mystery to be solved. Most of what we learn here is really just a set up for the final volume (which releases in August 2017). There are finally some answers about Jenny and Jackaby, who have been shrouded in mystery from the beginning. 

All of the favorite characters from the first two books reappear here, with some new additions that are not always pleasant. This volume focuses more on the supernatural element (well, more might be a bit of a stretch, since that's what these books are) with mention of the underworld, vampires, and other mythological creatures roaming the world. 

The events of all three novels are brought together as our detectives realize that everything has been connected from the beginning. There may even be connections of which we are not yet aware. This makes for some interesting exploration and some hilarious Jackaby moments. 

Interactions between Jackaby and Abigail are some of the highlights of this series. They have great banter and there friendship is really fun to watch. It's not always easy, but it's interesting. And of course Jenny and Charlie are great to have around. And then there is the question of Douglas and where his story will lead. Will he use the information that Jackaby found to take by his old life? Or will be remain in his fowl form? Hopefully The Dire King will answer this and many other questions. 

I will be eagerly awaiting the release of the final book in the series. It has been a very fun ride. Matthew Ritter has an excellent way with words and I hope he continues to produce more fun and imaginative stories.  

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Scythe~Neal Shusterman | Review

Title: Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1)
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: YA Sci-fi/dystopia
Length: 435 Pages
Release: November 2016

This was my ninth novel by Neal Shusterman and he still manages to amaze me. I have yet to be disappointed by him. His world building is absolutely stunning.

Scythe follows two teens who live in a futuristic world where death by natural causes has been eradicated. In order to keep the population manageable (since people continue having children) Scythes "glean" a certain number of people each year. Our two leads, Citra and Rowan, are chosen to be apprentices by an honorable Scythe who is impressed with their moral character. But not everyone is as upstanding as Scythe Faraday and things take a rather dark turn.

Rowan and Faraday were by far my favorite characters in the story. I found them much easier to connect with than any of the other characters and really hope that we see more from both of them in the sequel. There were points throughout the novel where I felt rather detached from the characters and their concerns, but I always found it interesting.

The chapters are separated by entries from the Scythes journals, where they contemplate the things they have done. Some of these were dark, some of them sad, but all of them interesting. Again, this really shows Shusterman's skill with world building, as this made it all that much more real.

If you enjoy good young adult science fiction with dystopia elements, this is definitely a series to try. If you have enjoyed other works by Shusterman, I think you will not be disappointed with this. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Beastly Bones~William Ritter | Review

Title: Beastly Bones (Jackaby #2)
Author: William Ritter
Genre: Historical Paranormal
Length: 295 Pages
Release: September 2015

William Ritter really has a way with words. With Jackaby I was immediately sucked into the story by the clever writing and Beastly Bones was exactly the same. 

This series blends historical fiction and paranormal occult occurrences together so well and is filled with likable characters. The story is narrated by Abigail Rook who became the assistant to R F Jacakby, a detective who can see paranormal phenomena. Abigail has always sought adventure, and with Jackaby she found it. There are ghosts, shapeshifters, vampires, dragons, and any other creature you can think of. 

This second installment really sets up the main story that we will follow for the two later installments. Because everything is connected, of course. And you finally start to learn how and a little bit of why. 

The characters in this series are so much fun. Jackaby is excellent on his own, always with a witty remark. The banter between him and Abigail is one of the highlights. Their developing friendship is a really nice one and I like that this series highlights the fact that you can be close to someone without having a romantic relationship. Charlie and Jenny are back for this installment, each adding their own flare to the story. 

While I find Ritter's writing fantastic and the stories engaging and fun, I do find them somewhat lacking. They aren't the kind of books that leave me with questions, contemplating them long after I've finished reading. That doesn't make them any less brilliant, they just aren't as memorable as I would like for them to be to boost them into my favorite books category. 

This is a series that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys mystery, paranormal elements, historical fiction, and wants to see those all blended together. They also have some great laugh out loud moments and likable characters.