February’s unreviewed round-up

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce | 1958

When his brother is stricken with measles, Tom’s parents send him to spend a week with his aunt and uncle…in their boring flat where there aren’t any other kids to play with – they don’t even have a garden! The night he arrives, however, he discovers something completely unexpected: a magical other-world full of people who seem to live in the house, yet aren’t there during the morning, where carpeting appears on the floor (and it certainly wasn’t there when Tom arrived!) and, best of all, a gorgeous garden. Each night from then on, Tom not-so-patiently waits to hear the large grandfather clock downstairs chime thirteen, that curious hour when his real world seems to melt away and he can visit Hatty once again.

This book was gorgeous. When I’m sick I love a good comfort read and nothing screams comfort like a good old-fashioned (literally – this one is from the 50s!) fantasy full of magic and ghosts and everything about it was just perfect. Surprisingly heartbreaking too – for Tom only a day has passed when he returns to the garden, but for Hatty it’s months and as she grows older Tom appears less and less solid until the day she can hardly see him.

Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa | March 1, 2016 (Thank you, Revell!)

The first in a new series, Annabel Lee is a clearly Poe-inspired thriller where an investigator and her ex-husband must team up once again (they used to run their own PI business until Samuel 1. reveals he’s actually a top secret government agent and 2. he had an affair with a woman in the Middle East and fathered a child with her) to save a little girl. Annabel doesn’t question Uncle Truck when he tells her to hide in his oddly-sophisticated bunker, though she’s extremely hesitant to be locked down there with his German Shepherd (she’s heard he eats fingers.) She’s not to open the door for anyone unless they know the secret code. Little does she know just how valuable she is – and how many people will stop at nothing to get to her.

Yay, Poe! I would have been so on board with this one were it not for Nappa’s horrible characterization of his main character – and only woman, Trudi. I understand her anger toward “the pig” Samuel is, but she instantly hates every other female she sees. She has nothing but rude, snarky comments to say (or think) about them, from a random waitress to her own receptionist. Trudi is the only character whose clothing is described – and in great detail – including her size (a 6.) She’s understandably still hurt and feeling betrayed by Samuel, yet she changes her tune and thinks about sliding into bed with him after he buys her diamond earrings, a “red bodycon dress,” and “sassy” suede boots. She also says gurl multiple times throughout the book.

It’s such a shame because I actually enjoyed the plot (apart from the Dan Brown-esque reveal at the end) but the way Trudi was portrayed completely rubbed me the wrong way.

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket | September 30, 1999

Summarizing this series would be like summarizing Harry Potter: who hasn’t heard of these books?? Three children become orphaned and are sent to live with the awful Count Olaf.

I originally read this one years and years ago (is this series really 15 years old?!) and didn’t care for it at all. I recently became interested in going back to revisit books and see if my feelings have changed any and this one was at the very top of my list. While I own the hardback, I saw my library had the audio narrated by Tim Curry and I was sold!

While I’m still not completely in love with this one, I liked it far, far more than I did the first time around! It’s deliciously dark and gory and it’s easy to see why it’s still such a popular series (and I’ve very excited for the netflix remake!) I’m for sure continuing on with the second book, something I refused to do last time, so it’ll be interesting to see where the story goes from here!

Snow White, Red-Handed by Maia Chance | November 4, 2014

This cozy series sounds like one written for me: a Victorian actress, Germany’s Black Forest, ancient folk lore, a cottage said to have belonged to Snow White, a discovered skeleton, and murder. While I definitely loved the idea of the story, this wasn’t the cozy I expected it to be. I love multiple narratives, but here it was just odd and, sadly, I couldn’t get into the story. My mind wavered numerous times and I found I had to read (and reread) paragraphs over again.

I walked away at page 80, though I still really love the idea and perhaps I’ll come back to it someday when I’m not in the mood for a tried-and-true cozy.

The Witches of Cambridge by Menna van Praag | February 9, 2016 (Thank you, Ballantine Books!)

Oh, Menna. Where, WHERE did we go wrong? The House at the End of Hope Street is one of my all-time favorite books and one I’ve pushed on so many friends, family members, and co-workers. Her follow-up, The Dress Shop of Dreams, lost some of Hope Street‘s magic, and by some I mean it didn’t feel like it was written by the same author. Unfortunately, The Witches of Cambridge makes me think she’s a one-hit wonder and I’m calling it quits.

Far too many unnecessary characters and storylines, the subtle magical realism aspect falls into straight up fantasy territory here with a full cast of witches, and it seemed like everyone’s husband was either having an affair, got another woman pregnant, or was dead. The worst was the way the story would jump to another character. I normally LOVE multiple POVs, but this book would literally change views within a paragraph. The entire book (at least what I read) was sloppy and I hate to say it, but I called it quits on page 100. This can’t possibly be the same author of Hope Street.

Conversion by Katherine Howe | July 1, 2014

Another author of a favorite novel (The House of Velvet and Glass) another novel I had to walk away from. SO many adult authors are trying to make the jump to YA and, in this instance, it failed miserably. I wanted a story about witches, instead I got a bunch of whiny, privileged teens angsting over which Ivy League college they’ll attend. Despite coming from an elite private school, one character’s reasoning for aiming for Harvard was because it’s “super old” and their secret society hands out cars.

What really did it for me, though, was when a character was described a being not shaved-head bald but cancer-patient bald. I knew my time was quickly coming to an end after that, although I listened to the audio which was done by the GOD AWFUL narrator of the Laini Taylor books, so I didn’t need much of a reason to quit. Her Valley Girl way of speaking ruined any enjoyment I might have found here, so perhaps this is a book to revisit in print? Sad.


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