Review: The Cat in the Hat

The Cat in the Hat
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Book #33 for 2016
Habitica’s Legendary Book Club Modest Reading Challenge Task: A book chosen for you by your partner minion, sibling, or BFF
Old Firehouse Books Summer Bingo Square: A book “everyone” but you has read
Read Harder Task: Read a book out loud to someone else

My minion knows of my disdain for Dr Seuss, so when I wondered aloud what I could read that “everyone” but me has already read, he immediately suggested some Seuss books. This is one that I knew hadn’t been forced upon me at some point.

Many eyes were rolled in the reading of this book. This is what passes for entertainment in the preschool set? Ugh. Just to amuse myself, I ended each page by adding, “I have a bad feeling about this.” The mom and/or the kids were too stupid to live, the rhymes were pretty weak, and the chaos wasn’t even interesting. It’s a sad day when chaos is boring. And then the chaos just went away. Seriously, no dip on the chandelier? Pfffft. You disappoint me, Cat in the Hat. ::smdh::

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Review: The Diabolical Miss Hyde

The Diabolical Miss Hyde
The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #32 of 2016
Old Firehouse Books Summer Bingo Square: A book you would have picked up as a teenager
Personal Challenge Categories:
– A book featuring a prisoner
– A book with horse-drawn carriages
– A book with a fictional treatment of a real person
Read Harder Task: Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900

I simply adored the unholy heck out of this steampunk lit-fantasy romp! Even when I was spending way too much mental energy trying to sort out the anachronisms and fix Dr Jekyll and Miss Hyde in a specific part of the 19th century. I have a similar propensity to play fast and loose with the historical timeline, so I certainly can’t blame the author for my disorientation. I finally just let go of it, went along for the ride, and enjoyed the mash-up. I loved the literary winks — a Mr Todd who’s handy with a razor (and whose relationship with Eliza brings to mind a certain urbane cannibal); a Bedlam inmate named Lucy who has a thirst for blood; a doctor named Victor who has some strange ideas; and even a Judge Turpin. I have to wonder how many sweet little allusions I missed!

I’ll admit, I’m still a little confused about Ophelia’s hands, and there were a few things here and there that had me scratching my head. Possibly they referred back to something I missed earlier, or maybe the original comment got lost somewhere in the editing process. Some of the transition scenes were much smoother than others, and I can’t tell if that was intentional on Carr’s part. But I totally nailed the killer! (view spoiler)

One of the things I really appreciated about this book is that it characterized a lot of different gender- and sex-related power dynamics. Some were super obvious, of course, but others were developed much more subtly. And all the while these were playing out, the reader was never allowed to forget that the real power struggle lay within Eliza/Lizzie herself. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what happens with that in the next book.

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Review: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #31 for 2016
Read Harder Task: Read a middle grade novel
Old Firehouse Books Summer Bingo Square: A book with an animal on the cover

This was Emily’s pick for the LHR Society. Everybody else discussed the poignancy of this tale of learning how to love and be loved, and Caitlin even wrote an entire essay on the metaphor of death. I was like, “Sweet story. I cried a lot. ::sniffle::” Tina, of course, did not cry. But that’s because Tina is dead inside.

Beautiful illustrations, but the copy I borrowed was in b/w. I’d love to see the color version someday.

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Review: My Real Children

My Real Children
My Real Children by Jo Walton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #30 for 2016
Old Firehouse Books Summer Bingo Square: An award-winning book

I think I was expecting something a lot more out-there, stylistically. But what I got — the roughly parallel character study of a woman who remembers two realities of her adult life — is certainly nothing to complain about. With my personal and family history, I found much of the content difficult to get through, but I think that speaks well to the quality of Walton’s writing and her ability to bring characters to life. It’s interesting that this story is simultaneously high-concept and muted-concept, which makes it a little weird to process, but it made it easier in my mind to liken it to Time and the Conways.

I can’t decide, though, if there is too much “butterfly effect,” or if part of Walton’s point is that everybody, historically “significant” or not, contributes infinitely to a sort of echo chamber of causality. This would mean that we all have infinite alternate realities, but perhaps Patricia’s confused brain seized on these two realities in particular due to what she perceived as the ultimate maternal choice in her life. It’s kind of sad that it boiled down to one decision forced by one man, but it is an unfortunately accurate reflection of women’s lives in that era. Hell, it’s not all that inaccurate in this era. Like I said earlier, I can relate to much of the story all too well, and I’m not even a mother.

This book is quietly thought-provoking on a number of levels, and it’s an excellent choice for discussion. That final line will have your brain going in circles for quite a while. I’d rate this at 4.5 stars, and I’m rounding down simply because it was too quiet for my tastes.

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Review: The Doorknob Society

The Doorknob Society
The Doorknob Society by M.J. Fletcher
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Book #28 for 2016

I was in the mood to read something with a skeleton key on the cover. Yes, I have oddly specific moods. This was actually my second attempt. I first tried The Legacy of the Key, but it was so relentlessly stupid that I ditched it at the 3% mark. So this book at least beat that benchmark of quality. I was a little worried that it was trying to be a YA/steampunk Neverwhere, and the volume of errors did not bode well, but there were enough intriguing elements that it held my attention long enough for me to decide that I might as well finish it. Because skeleton key cover.

As it happens, my original worry was ungrounded. There was not enough depth or texture or sophistication to the tale for it to be more than momentarily compared to anything from Neil Gaiman’s fertile imagination. It is tempting to call it an attempt at a steampunk Harry Potter, because the amount that Fletcher borrowed from Rowling is insulting, but that implies a certain level of effort that I highly doubt was put forth. The characters were flat, the internal dialogue was emotionally tone-deaf, the pacing was bogged down in banal exchanges and re-hashes, and the action scenes were choppy and poorly blocked.

And then there are the errors. Look, I get that not all writers are strong with the mechanics of the language. Even some of the big names rely heavily on their editors, and even the major publishing houses get a little sloppy now and then. I rarely find a book without at least one typo. But if you need help with homophones and apostrophes and basic sentence structure and such, then GET HELP! And do it before you even think about hitting that publish button on whatever vanity press site you’ve chosen. And if your beta readers are not informing you that you clearly don’t have even the vaguest understanding of how punctuation works, you need new beta readers.

Despite the fact that the protagonist read like a poorly educated 12-year-old boy impersonating a somewhat dense 15-year-old girl he can’t figure out, she did come up with a few clever ideas here and there in the story. And when Fletcher bothered to provide any worthwhile detail, some of the steampunky visuals were kind of cool. It was all just interesting enough to keep me reading to the (dissatisfying) end, so I’d give it 1.5 stars for being almost okay. But I look at how many young readers are reviewing this book under the serious misapprehension that it is a quality publication, and I have to take a stand and round down to 1 star. They can do so much better.

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Review: The Mystery of the Blue Train

The Mystery of the Blue Train
The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #27 for 2016
PopSugar Challenge Category: A book set in Europe

Apparently Dame Agatha herself considered this one of her weakest efforts. My guess is that she felt like she was cheating a bit by up-cycling “The Plymouth Express,” a short story published in 1923, when she needed some quick cash. Okay, so maybe it’s no masterpiece, but I can’t bring myself to judge this book harshly. While “The Plymouth Express” was a little on the predictable side, it was clever in its own way, and Christie took this opportunity to let that bud of a plot bloom into a novel with enough intertwining subplots that there was room for some nice red herrings. Had I not already read the short story, I’m not entirely certain I would have been able to figure this one out.

I liked the Lenox character, and I really enjoyed the Riviera high-society scenes. Not because the lifestyle appeals to me, because I’m sure I’d hate it. But because it’s so visually rich and colorful. Sort of like Vegas, but classier. And it’s always interesting to get Christie’s contemporary perspective on that way of life. I have to admit, though, that some of the ethnic references, while I doubt they were intended as slurs, were off-putting.

I’m also not sure what to make of Miss Grey hailing from St-Mary-Mead in Kent. (Miss Marple’s St-Mary-Mead is not in Kent.) My guess is that Christie was working on Miss Marple’s world-building but hadn’t really gotten to that level of detail yet and thus did not really pay much attention to it. But there are various other explanations as well.

I wouldn’t recommend this as a starting point for reading Christie, but all the same, I don’t think it’s a bad starting point. Just not ideal. And if you are already a Christie reader, you’ll have to determine for yourself if first reading “The Plymouth Express” is a good idea. It does spoiler the novel pretty thoroughly, but it’s also interesting to compare as you go. Only you know which approach you’ll like better.

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