BagEndBooks

Doctor Zhivago - Boris Pasternak

Dull. Good basic plotline. Convoluted. Atmospheric. Drags out. Too wordy. Beautiful phrases placed like pearls in the middle of long, boring paragraphs. I can't say that I found any of the characters all that likeable either. Last third or quarter of the book was good, but I am so glad to be done with this book.

I went into this book expecting to love it. Shostakovich is wonderful and he and Pasternak were living in the same time and place, and Shosty wrote the music to the 1971 version of King Lear, and Pasternak translated the Shakespeare to Russian, but Shosty's music is beautiful, and full of meaning, where as Pasternak's writing is full of meaning, but the beauty comes from far and few between as beautiful diamonds of quotes that get your hopes up that the writing will get better, only to have the next twenty or forty pages be as dull as the last twenty or forty that came before.

And on another note, I am very frustrated by the Wikipedia description of Lara and Komarovsky's relationship as 'an affair.' That they were relieved that Lara's mother hadn't learned of their 'affair.' Komarovsky was Lara's mother's boyfriend. If such a relationship happened in todays society it would be called sexual abuse, and I feel that in descriptions and analysis of the book it should be called that as well.

But Daddy!

But Daddy! - Tom Buck This was a fast and funny read, which was just what I needed after Doctor Zhivago.

The good: This was a hilarious book about the difficulties of having a large family. It was told from the point of view of the father, and it was hilarious. I felt like it could have been longer and included more misadventures for the family, but I did find the book to be a fantastically funny adventure.

The bad: I got frustrated every time Tom or Pat would pray for the pope to come to a "practical decision on the pill." Right and wrong isn't always practical, and, even though I doubt very much it was intended that way, the fact that the timing of the prayers always happened as chaos was erupting almost seems to imply that they would have liked less children, which makes it sound like they are wishing away some of their children. Again, I doubt that it was intended that way, but I still found these prayers to be frustrating. Also, we don't find out what happened in the end. The book is subtitled "How Pat and Tom Buck raised 11 children-and survived." Surely if they'd had another baby that would have found its way into the subtitle? There is also a picture of the family on the cover flap and there are eleven children, the youngest, Adrian I assume, appears to be between the ages of 3-5, so if they had had another child at the end of the book then the child would likely have appeared in this picture. I feel this book could use a sequel, and that it could have some of the kids' points of view as well as the father's.

The ugly: "Although it might appear to the contrary, it is not intended to make a case for the canonization of Margaret Sanger." Okay, this book was published in 1967 and Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, so the author couldn't have known what a plague Sanger's organization would be on society, but even in jest, 'canonization of Margaret Sanger' is not a phrase that I have ever wanted to hear or see or even contemplate anywhere, ever. And even now, Margaret Sanger's racist ideas and arguments for eugenics and forced sterilization are well hidden from the public, so how could they have known that Sanger was a sick racist who wanted to eliminate minorities only one year after the woman's death. But I still never wanted to see or hear those words strung together in that manner. I wish that the book could be re-released (along with a sequel) with those words eliminated from the introduction so that more people can enjoy this book again, and without having to have the idea of Margaret Sanger being anywhere within one-hundred-thousand miles of canonization put in their head.
SPOILER ALERT!

Heartless

Heartless - Marissa Meyer

2 1/2 stars

This book started off beautifully. I loved the food, and the characters, and the strangeness of the world. It went downhill from the time of the mockturtle. I found that I couldn't understand how Cath, sweet, irritating and indecisive as she was, could turn so far as to become the nasty Queen of Hearts. Not without the man she loved--Jest--betraying her, which he did not. While at the end she certainly did act like the Queen of Hearts, there was far too much of a gap between the two personalities, without seeing her character growth (shrinking) into that role. I still am a fan of Marissa Meyer, but this wasn't as good as I was hoping it would be.

The School for Good and Evil

The School for Good and Evil - Soman Chainani

1/2 stars. Doesn't even deserve that.

I seriously considered not adding this book, it was that bad, but I guess that people deserve to see the bad reviews so that they can decide if they want to read it.

The premise for this book was very good, but the execution was a fail.

I kept thinking of the characters as being sixteen at least, Sophie is obsessed with looks and frequently wears what is described to be extremely immodest clothing--not something that I think is particularly appropriate in a middle grade novel, especially since the characters are somewhere between the ages of eleven and fourteen. And all of the girls in the 'good' side are obsessed with boys. Not just normal middle school crushes, but ready-to-get-married-and-have-sex obsessed. This review by Becky, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/826608690?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1 has a lot of good points to it that I didn't notice, or didn't quite catch as serious as they were, especially at the problems Becky points out at the end of her review.

Here are a few other problems I had.

This level of creepiness does not belong in the kid's section. I liked a lot of the super creepy points like that if they failed the characters would be turned into objects or animals, but that is beyond creepy for kids ages 9-12.

The stereotypes could have been played for further. Some of the best villains are the most beautiful. That is something that I thought the author could have played very well with Sophie, but he chose not to. Either the characters are chosen purely by look or purely by personality. If it was by look than Sophie would have been put in the school for good with all of the catty annoying girls, and Agatha would have gone into the school for evil with the people endeavoring to be the worst people they could be. If it was based on personality only, than the girls were put in the right schools (Sophie is vain and selfish, and perfectly poised to become an evil queen, while Agatha is humble and kind, and always sees the best in others, even her dreadful friend and a gargoyle that tried to kill her,) while all (or almost all) of the other characters were put in the wrong schools. Either way there was a big plot hole in this regard. I also felt that, with the schools the way they were, Snow White and Beauty and the Beast (both tales were mentioned) would have had to have been stories of failure, and here's why. The Evil Queen is beautiful, so with the way that this book as organized, she should have been good, which means that she could have gone through the school for good, but then become evil, so, because she didn't do what she was supposed to do, the Snow White fairy tale should have been hidden from the students at the school. The same goes for Beauty and the Beast. The beast is ugly, hideous, which means, by the rules that this book set up, he should have been evil. But I imagined that when he and Beauty fell in love, what ever mogrifying enchantment that the school put on him would have come off, showing that he was good all along, and therefore putting shame on the school. Honestly, I think that the story of Beauty and the Beast from this perspective could have been far more interesting than what the author gave us. Can someone please write that? I'd enjoy a book like that if they also didn't include the inappropriate stuff that Becky's review discussed.

The ending was a huge mess. I'm willing to buy that either the birds put Sophie and Agatha in the wrong schools and then didn't want to admit to making a mistake, or that the story dude decided to give a beautiful villain a try to try and even the odds, but even so, the ending was a mess. We were fed this idea that Sophie was going to become evil, and that was what I wanted, but the whole idea that the good must be physically beautiful did not work at all. If evil is physically ugly, that how could Sophie be so evil? (Which she appears to have been, since she killed a wolf and destroyed a magic goose because the goose didn't want to grant her selfish wish to force Agatha into the evil school, though that really should have been better explained.) Then Sophie became physically ugly, and felt a desire to return to good, that didn't make any sense. What I wanted was for Sophie to give into her bad intentions and her jealousy, and to embrace evil in the end. What I wanted was for Agatha to become good, and become a strong leader so that Tedros fell in love with her strength, and her ability to see good in everyone and everything, and the fact that she didn't fall at his feet because he was handsome. What we got was this weird waffling from Sophie, and Tedros and Agatha falling in love for literally no reason. And Sophie and Agatha apparently becoming lovers? I know there are a lot of people who will celebrate this book just because it had an apparent homosexual pairing, but while I enjoyed their friendship (or rather, Agatha's being a friend to Sophie while Sophie takes advantage of Agatha in every way) I honestly didn't buy them being 'in love.' And because the premise appears to be good, I feel that Christians deserve some warning for that ending. I honestly didn't know what was going on from the moment Sophie turned ugly and Agatha was seen as beautiful. Suddenly Agatha and Tedros were in love, when they hated each other before, and yes, Agatha's exposing her cheating with Sophie to save his life could have helped to warm him to her, but she suddenly found herself inarticulate in his presence, and he suddenly decided that he loved her, with absolutely no middle ground, and all of a sudden, Agatha stopped wanting to go home. The whole point of the book was that Agatha didn't want to be there, as Sophie should have grown more evil, Agatha should have grown (slowly) more enigmatic so that people were willing to follow her. And what had previously been a very simple, fairly well-built world came crashing down. Suddenly there were no rules and the action didn't make sense.

The other thing that didn't make sense was that, the wolves were supposed to be failed good students and the fairies were supposed to be failed evil students, but, while I could buy the fairies, the only one that did anything of any importance was the one that was from Sophie and Agatha's village and bit pretty girls, the wolves are another matter. As Becky's review pointed out, one forced Sophie into the uniform, implying that he stripped her and put on the proper outfit. That is sick and evil. One was the torturer who took pleasure in hurting people in the most unimaginable ways. That is sick and evil. But while those two things can be argued away as that the wolves, being properly good, would enjoy hurting those who were in training to become properly bad, the one thing that cannot be explained away was that, when Agatha came to the evil school to try to get Sophie so that they could escape, she was chased by a wolf, and climbed onto the roof to escape it. The wolf then told her that there were worse things than wolves and left her to be, he assumed, eaten by the gargoyles. If the wolves were really good, then you'd think it would have helped Agatha back into the castle and then forced her back to the school for good. I just don't buy what the author was trying to sell. Plus, there is one male fairy and a bunch of female ones, but there only appear to be male wolves, and I find the uneven gender fail-rate to be rather unbelievable, and sort of sexist against men, because it implies that a lot more men cannot control their propensity for bad. Given that more men then women are in jail for serious crimes, I would find an imbalance believable if it were not so extreme.

My final complaint, and I'm sure I have missed things that I initially had a problem with because I waited so long to write this review, is that the book, through it's characters repeatedly tells us that all children are either good or bad, and ignores the fact that all children have both good and bad in them, but usually learn to do evil as they get older, from the adults in their lives. I actually was okay with the characters saying this, because I thought that the first book would be about Sophie becoming evil and Agatha becoming more confident, the second book would be about Agatha and Sophie fighting until Agatha managed to win Sophie and the other 'evil' children's love and respect, and bring them back to good, and I thought the third book would be about them trying to defeat the school master and end the school. But the ending of this book was so jumbled and confusing that it didn't really have an end, and the premise of the next book honestly sounds boring, and I have no intention of continuing with the series. And while my idea for the layout of the series may have been predictable, I honestly would have really enjoyed seeing it happen, but this book was an utter failure with the ending, and I don't see why the ending that we got needed to have a sequel.

So, in conclusion, the premise was a very good one, and Agatha was a wonderful character, but the plot from just about the half-way point is awful and confusing, and the book has some extremely creepy/disgusting implications (as pointed out in the review that I linked above,) and I find myself wondering why the heck the publishers would publish this as a kids book. Heck, why would they publish this at all? I would love to see someone with a better sense of plot, morality, and the knowledge that sometimes making characters be naked is inappropriate and can become creepy and sick, redo this book, preferably with the predictable plot-line that I laid out, but any attempt to fix this mess of a book would probably infringe on copyright, so I guess we're stuck with this terrible garbage where a wonderful story could have been.

City of Fallen Angels

City of Fallen Angels - Cassandra Clare Honestly, Clary, Simon and Jace have just been getting less likeable as the book has gone on, quite the opposite of what is supposed to happen with character growth. Add to that that the story wasn't as interesting as the first books in the series, and I was quite let down. The first two and a half books dealt with legends and folk-tales, but now that the angels are interacting with the humans every other month, the inaccurate angelology is bothering me. What was with the stupid claim that Adam had a first wife who wouldn't obey him? If Eve couldn't even obey God to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, how can Cassandra Clare expect us to believe that Eve would obey Adam? The story of Genesis is interpretable as a parable, but I honestly don't know how it could be interpreted the way it was in this book. I will probably finish this series because I enjoyed the first two books so much, and I will probably give to new series a try since everyone on booktube seems to be raving about it, but if I don't start to leave these books feeling satisfied, then I will probably stop forcing myself to read them. Even via audiobook, this book felt long.

The Princess Troll

The Princess Troll - Leah R. Cutter 3 1/2 stars

I received an early reviewer’s ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review. (Sorry it took so long for me to finish it.)

This review contains spoilers.

I had no idea this was a sequel. I probably would not have requested it had I realized. None the less, I enjoyed this story. I was not very impressed by the first third or so of the book. I was confused. I kept thinking that it must be a sequel, but there was no point in the first pages of the book that stated what the series was, nor did it say on Goodreads or the LibraryThing giveaway that it was a sequel. It wasn’t until the end papers (if they can be called that in an ebook) that I finally found where it said it was a sequel. The part that confused me most was Christine’s and Tina’s parents. I was so confused when I was told that Christine didn’t trust Tina’s parents, and then a few pages later, that she got along well with her parents. Because Christine was adopted by Tina’s biological parents, and I was told that Tina’s parents (without mention that they were her adopted parents) had switched Tina with Christine to distract the demons. I was honestly thinking that the author had carelessly left two different versions of Christine’s relationship with her parents in the book, and I didn’t understand why, since Christine and Tina had learned of their switching, Tina didn’t come to the family dinner. I didn’t realize that whenever Tina’s parents were mentioned it was referring to her adopted parents (or, the people who stole her from her biological parents since Christine’s parents didn’t willingly part with her) and whenever it mentioned Christine’s parents it was referring to Tina’s biological parents, Christine’s adopted parents. I still don’t know why Tina doesn’t hang out with Christine’s family since they are technically her family too, and her adopted family kidnapped her from her biological parents, and should be in jail for that. The other part that confused me was Patrick the Ogre. He’s mentioned several times, but we never are told who he is, other than that he’s an ogre.

The book felt like a middle grade book at times. Not because it would be appropriate for middle grade (the content isn’t terrible, but there are references to sex and mild cussing,) but because the pacing was very fast. Almost too fast, which is how I often feel while reading middle-grade novels.

I thought it was kind of weird that Christine’s water elemental was not sentient, the fire was like a wild animal that had to be tamed, the wind was sentient and had to be bargained with, and the earth was practically another being that could have lived on its own without Christine.

I was convinced that the old troll was Christine’s grandfather. I was mildly disappointed that he was her uncle. I was also curious as to why Christine’s father was in jail because the king thought he’d kidnapped her, but the king has no heirs. I don’t remember the book saying this, but it seems as though Christine’s mother was the king’s sister? And so her father wouldn’t be an heir to the throne? I wasn’t sure.

I liked Christine a lot. I really liked Christine’s brother. I wish we would have seen more of him. I didn’t really like Joe from the moment he was mentioned. I’m glad he and Christine broke up. Christine’s parents seemed nice, but we didn’t get to know them very well. We heard a lot about Tina, but we barely saw her, so I’m still not sure how I feel about her. The wooden man (I forget his name) seemed interesting, but we didn’t get to know him very well. The demon seemed interesting. As a villain, he may have had some interesting motives, though we still don’t know what all of his motives were.

I don’t like to read books with angels as characters. They always mess up their angelology. Why couldn’t the angels be fairies or elves?

There were a few mild typos, but I assume that is because this was an early reviewer’s copy.

Because I was having so much trouble understanding the world I really didn’t get into the book until I was about a third in, and then, middle-grade-type pacing or not, the story really got interesting. I wish that the story would have concluded in this book, but I’m sure the third book will be good as well. I am sure that if you have read the first book in the series, this book will be excellent. As someone who came in to the series with this book, it was enjoyable, but mildly confusing.

52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol

52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol - Bob Welch This book really didn't have anything exceptional in it. I have read A Christmas Carol every year for the past... um, more than five years (I forget when I started this annual reading.) I was really hoping for something that could get into the core of Dickens's tale and help me to see lessons that I hadn't found myself before. This did not give me that. Every lesson the author found was something that I could have found myself. Most which I already was aware of. Don't get me wrong, it was good for me to see some of the lessons in the book rearticulated in a different way, but I didn't feel this book had enough depth to be worth the time it took me to read it. I was also disappointed by the fact that the author couldn't even find 52 lessons in Dickens's book, but had to rely on some of the movies (and missing one or two lessons he could have found in the book.) While bringing in some of the lessons from movies might not have been bad, I really wanted the focus on the book, and if, in the midst of explaining a lesson the author drew examples from the films I wouldn't have minded at all, but there are lessons dedicated only to parts of the movies that were not originally in the book.

What's worse, is that the author probably should have re-read (and re-watched) his material. There were at least two errors that I caught. The first mistake was in Lessons 16 Life Is Best Lived When You're Awake. 'I never noticed that. --Scrooge, in the 1984 movie version, after the Ghost of Christmas Past points out that Belle "resembled your sister."' There is, in fact, no part in that movie where the ghost tells Scrooge that Belle resembles his sister. I suppose one could argue that the actresses do indeed resemble each other, and in the story, the two women are filled with joy, love and Christmas spirit, but the ghost never compares the two. Instead, it tells Scrooge that Fred, his nephew, resembles Fan (Fred's mother.) The author easily could have corrected this without effecting his lesson. The second error that I caught was in Lesson 44 Don't Give Expecting to Receive. In the chapter, the author states that "Scrooge's calling a cab for the little boy because the turkey would be too heavy for the lad to carry may well have been the man's first expression of empathy." I was never, in any of my readings of the book, under the impression that the little boy carried the turkey to the Cratchit's house. The book says that Scrooge told the boy to "Go and buy it, and tell 'em to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it." He told the boy he'd give him a shilling (or half-a-crown if he was quick) to bring the turkey to him, but it never said that he gave him the money to buy the turkey. It says that "the chuckle with which he paid for the Turkey, and the chuckle with which he paid for the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried." In other words, he paid for the turkey, and recompensed the boy separately. So he bought the turkey himself, and recompensed the boy for the time and effort it took him to go and fetch it, along with the man who carried it. None of the movies were ever under the impression that the boy was the one to carry the turkey to Bob Cratchit's either. Some show the man who delivered the turkey as having his own cart, and some show Scrooge paying for the cab as it says in the book, but none show the little boy carrying it. As with the other mistake, the lesson would not have been effected very much by the correction of the mistake.

I probably would have been more forgiving of these mistakes had I felt that I learned much from the book, but it was a very touchy-feely book that, while sweet, didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know, and thus, I was already frustrated by it by the time I found these mistakes.
Busy Dizzy (Inspirational bedtime story for kids ages 4-8) - Orly Katz

I received this book for free via a LibraryThing giveaway, in exchange for an honest review.

 

It's difficult to review a picture book as an adult, but I did enjoy this one. I read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield last year, and am currently reading Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly. Both discuss ways of fighting Resistance. This seems like a child's book for how to combat Resistance. It has cute art and good rhymes. Growing up I always liked books that rhymed. I thought it was odd that the order the children were introduced (David, Sophie and Joe) was not the order that we got the details of their Dizzies (Sophie, David and Joe.) I'm not sure if this is something that would significantly bother young children, but I noticed it.

 

The only thing that I think could be potentially problematic is the lack of specification between when Dizzies tell you not to do something good (not cry, play with your friends, give a teacher an answer you know) and when you want something bad, and your conscience tells you not to. The teacher describes Dizzies as a voice that tells you not to do something that you want to do, but there will be times when you want to do something bad and your conscience tells you not to.

 

So in the end, this is a good book to discuss with a child the strange Resistance that we sometimes have to doing something good, but be careful that they don't confuse Dizzies (Resistance) with their conscience.

Children's Books ages 4-8: The Princess Who Wanted a Friend

Children's Books ages 4-8: The Princess Who Wanted a Friend - Dr. Orly Katz I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review.

4 1/2 stars

I really enjoyed this little book. I loved the rhyming, the story and the little lesson at the end. The book, overall was excellent. The illustrations were a disappointment. They were boring, and unexceptional, some of them were repeated, and they actually distracted me from the story. The story and rhyming were so good that I feel this story deserved some wonderful illustrations to go with it (I think that some beautiful watercolor paintings would fit this book well.)

So, I liked this book a lot. The story was cute, the rhyming was good, and the lesson was wonderful, but the pictures were not good.

O Pioneers!

O Pioneers! - Willa Cather Alexandra is incredible. She was strong, and suffered at the hands of all of her brothers. The story was beautiful, even in it's sadness. The writing was poetic and kept me reading.

I loved the ending. The scene where Alexandra realizes it was Jesus who she had been dreaming about for much of her life. I loved it. I was still happy when Carl came back and they agreed to get married, but I also liked the idea of Alexandra becoming a nun (it was implied that was what she was considering this.)

The one thing that I didn't like was the victim blaming. Frank Shabata hurt his wife, not physically, but emotionally, for years and years. It was wrong of her and Emil to commit adultry, but two wrongs make more wrong, and I didn't like that first Frank, and then Alexandra essentially blamed Emil and Marie for Frank's murdering them. Besides the fact that this action was a mortal sin for Frank, it also prevented the two of them from repenting their own. Whether he had a temper or not, Frank should not have kept saying that it was her fault for letting him catch them. It was his fault for letting himself become bitter and suspicious. It was his fault for trying to make Marie as bitter as he. It was his fault for taking the gun with him to the orchard when he did not truly think that there were any intruders. And it was his fault for raising the gun to his shoulder and firing. The murder may not have been premeditated, but it was murder none the less. Ivar believes that the Emil and Marie are in Hell for their actions. I don't know whether they are (or whether non-fictional people in their place would be,) but they didn't deserve to die so quickly and without the chance to ask for God's forgiveness.

So, basically I really enjoyed the book, but I didn't like the fact that Marie and Emil were blamed for their own murders. They were to blame for the sins they committed, yes, but not for the sins Frank committed. I do think I will be reading more Willa Cather in the future.

Second Fiddle: Or How to Tell a Blackbird from a Sausage

Second Fiddle: Or How to Tell a Blackbird from a Sausage - Siobhán Parkinson The main characters of this book, Mags and Gillian were both very quirky and odd. There were times when I found them frustrating, but they were more likeable than unlikeable. The narration of the book was mostly from Mags with Gillian interjection occasionally. In Mags, the author captured the voice of a twelve-year-old. Sure, the run-on sentences got annoying, but it felt the way a twelve-year-old would really write. Overall it was a good book.
SPOILER ALERT!

Full Cycle

Full Cycle - Christopher Blunt 4 1/2 stars.

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

When I first started reading this book I was thinking I'd give it 3 or 3 1/2 stars. To my surprise, by the time I finished it I'd become so invested that I feel it deserves a solid 4 1/2 stars.

I loved the character development from both Alex and Rob. Alex started as a timid boy who was overcome with guilt for something stupid he did as a child that had longstanding repercussions for himself and his family, and over the course of the book , it seemed like he finally forgave himself, and allowed himself to move on. There was never a point in the book where he put that into words, which might have been nice, but it worked this way too because it worked with Alex's personality. Rob was somewhat selfish in the beginning of the book. He spent a lot of time in front of the television, and he didn't seem terribly disciplined. Training for STP helped him fix his discipline problems, and realizing that his reasons for not letting Alex ride with him were mostly selfish helped him to become more selfless.

Plot wise the book was pretty solid. The STP section was fairly short, but I think the climax of the story was Alex's quest to ride STP, so his training, and Rob overcoming his reservations about letting Alex ride. There were only a few places that I have to comment on. The first is that, somehow, I got it in my head that Alex's accident and Rob's reason for hanging up his bike were related. I'm not sure if that was my fault or if it was implied somewhere in the book. I wouldn't have minded more details about why Meg and Rob couldn't have more kids, but (I think) this book was written so that 10 and up could read it, and details like that might have made it less kid friendly (Hermes's mother's inability to have more kids may have been one of the smallest reasons for Rapunzel Let Down being for older readers, but its affect on Hermes's character was still something that could be upsetting for younger kids.) And finally, I wanted to know if anyone saw the number on the person who caused Alex and Rob's STP crash. One of the other riders asked if anyone saw his number or if he was still there, but that question was never answered.

A lot of the side characters were well developed as well. I really liked the relationship that was set up between Alex and Ronnie, and I found myself wanting to see Ronnie more. I also liked both of the Jacobs, and, though I disliked them, I appreciated the bullies characters, because kids can be really mean. I am somewhat conflicted on Connor. I liked his character at first, but his behavior at the birthday party was quite nasty, and I do think that it might have developed Alex's character more had Connor either not apologized, or otherwise if their friendship had ended. And I liked the fact that he apologized because sometimes we accidently do something mean and feel bad about it later, so it was realistic that he their friendship survived, but I did think it could have developed Alex even more if he had felt abandoned.

I have a few more comments that had little effect on the plot that I still want to bring up. In general when a Veronica goes by a nickname, it's spelled Ronni, not Ronnie. This spelling wasn't terribly distracting, but I think it's worth mentioning. There were a few technically correct, but awkward feeling sentences in the beginning of the book, and one or two grammatically problematic sentences. The only grammar problem that I saw consistently was the dropping of pronouns. I understand that this is how many people talk, including me at times, but seeing it consistently in print bothers me for some reason. At times the words 'cuddling' and 'cuddled' were a bit overused in the chapters where Rob and Meg are talking. I didn't see it at first, but in chapter eleven it was used four times in less than two pages, and after that every time it was used I noticed it. This happens a lot in books, I read one where the word the author overused was 'appendages' of all words (and that book wasn't very good, so it bothered me even more,) and even in The Lord of the Rings I started counting the number of times Legolas or Aragorn 'sprang' somewhere. They never jumped or leaped, they always sprang.

My final negative comments have to do with Alex's music. I am not an organ player, but the descriptions of the organ seemed very accurate from what I do know about the instrument, but I am a music major, and I thought it seemed a bit short for Alex, a eleven to twelve-year-old who was extremely serious about his music to still be having only a half-hour lesson a week. He probably should have had at least a forty-five minute lesson by then. Then again, like I said, I don't play organ, so maybe you don't need as long of lessons for organ as you do for violin and piano. I can't imagine a teacher asking a student to perform for the first time as an accompanist, especially if they were nervous about performing, because if the choir messed up then you have to be able to follow them if they skip or repeat a verse, or if they messed up the tempo. Or if the accompanist messed up then it could completely throw off the choir. I have never liked performing. My first violin teacher forced all of her students to participate in two recitals a year whether we were prepared or not. My second teacher said that we had to be prepared to perform in at least one of her two recitals a year, but she was far more likely to push being prepared than performing. I also found myself frustrated by Rob's comment that Alex needed a sport. The only time I had a sport (ballet) at the same time as music was in the first few years with violin. Just long enough to get the five-year trophy that the dance studio gave out (yeah, I started ballet when I was way too young, but my older sister was doing it so I wanted to dance too,) but it came down to violin or ballet and we chose violin. We had friends who chose ballet, or some who chose Westernaires instead of music. I agree with Rob that Alex needed exercise (this coming from someone who gets out of breath walking a couple of blocks uphill to get from the music building to the church,) and I'm glad that Alex discovered a sport that he loved, but I still found it frustrating that Rob insisted Alex needed a sport.

This is one reason I don't like writing reviews. In my attempt to give authors feedback my reviews always end up sounding negative even when I really enjoyed the book. I used to ride on the trail-a-bike with my dad, although we called it the tag-a-long. This book made me really want to do two things that are quite impractical right now. I want to ride my bike more. I haven't ridden very much for years. I only got a bike that fit me after growing out of my last bike this past summer, and I have too much homework to do much riding now, and I want to write a piece for organ, but I don't think there is anyone at school who plays the organ. I don't think we even have an organ performance program, and I don't understand the organ enough to write a piece for it without talking to someone who plays the organ, especially since Adler's [b: The Study of Orchestration|333298|The Study of Orchestration|Samuel Adler|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1348391643s/333298.jpg|323829] only has three pages about the organ.

In conclusion, overall I really enjoyed this book, and I think the author has a lot of potential.
SPOILER ALERT!

The Uprising

The Uprising - Kachi Ugo I received an e-copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

I am sorry, but I hated this book. It took me months to finish what should have been a day to read. The world building was very poorly done. The book was only 86 pages and around page 70 or so a new concept was introduced to the world, and the world itself wasn't interesting enough for me to forgive such late information dumps. There was a goose trail laid down where Sarah thought that her husband had betrayed her, and then suddenly he's swooping in to save her. Plus, we have the added aspect of going back and forth in time, and knowing that Daniel was the reason the baby was kidnapped, and that for some reason he was also responsible for the guy who kidnapped the baby in the first place taking him back.

I hated all of the characters. I thought I would like Sarah in the first scene when her child was stolen, but in the next scene she was presented as a ruthless leader who was using people by telling them she was fighting for them, when she was only looking for her son. She knew when she sent all of those people into battle, that her attack was not the surprise she thought it would be, but she sent them in anyway. Then the author spent the rest of the book trying to make her seem more sympathetic with her self blame, as though she didn't know that all of those people would die if she sent them into battle, but did so anyway because she wanted to get her child back (that's understandable) and was willing to do anything, to kill anyone, in order to achieve her goal (that is despicable.)

There were also grammar errors and awkward sentences throughout the book.
SPOILER ALERT!

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress - Ina Rilke, Sijie Dai 2 1/2 stars

I liked a lot about this book, and the main character, and it's premise of reading forbidden western books in communist China, but I was filled with dismay by the approach the author took to the abortion. I understand that in communist China, the Little Seamstress would have felt that she had no choice but to get an abortion, but the way the abortion was presented too lightly. The ending of the book was not very satisfying either, I couldn't believe Luo would burn the books for anything less than avoiding discovery, and even then... I was also confused by the sudden character POV switch near the end.

There were scenes I liked. At the beginning when Luo and the main character (whose name, if we were ever told it, I can't remember) saved the MC's violin by saying that he had played a concerto called "Mozart Loves Chairman Mao." That was interesting and served to show what a weird environment they were living in that claiming such an outrageous title for a Mozart piece could save a violin. I liked it when they stole the books from Four-Eyes, and I really liked the scene when they were fixing the village chairman's cavity, but given my high expectations for the book, I was quite disappointed.

The Hammer of Thor

The Hammer of Thor - Rick Riordan

This book was better than the first one. I was surprised to find myself enjoying the sarcasm of the characters, especially Jack. I liked the crossovers between the Greek/Roman universe and the Norse one. I liked Sam and Amir, though I'm not certain that Riordan had treated the Muslim religion with respect. Both Magnus and the story itself felt like a repeat of Percy Jackson. The characters were likeable, and, quite honestly, what made the story for me. Besides Jack, my favorites were Hearth and Blitz.

 

Edit 3/5/17

My review was incomplete. The reason for that, quite frankly, is that I've seen people attacking other reviewers for simply disliking a book that most people liked. Given the ugly state of our politics I was afraid to talk about Alex, but if I'm going to try to be a good Catholic book reviewer I guess I need to risk the people who attack anyone who disagrees with them.

I liked Alex against my will. She (she considered herself a girl for most of the book so I'm going to refer to her as she) was feisty, and funny, and with Magnus, surprisingly vulnerable. One could argue that her genderfluidism was because her godly parent Loki had turned himself into a female at the time of her conception and birth, making it not necessarily the type of social justice warrior argument that Riordan hoped it would be. As a Catholic I was discomforted by the inclusion of such a story line, but I still liked Alex's character except for her sex changing, which felt like it was intended to try and force more of the 'social justice' agenda on people who had previously enjoyed these stories. Overall I still think that Magnus Chase has been weaker than Riordan's other stories, and the inclusion of LGBT agenda will make some support it even if they wouldn't have otherwise, and more religious people stay away from Riordan's future books.

This Savage Song

This Savage Song - Victoria Schwab 4 1/2 stars

Given my current disillusionment with YA literature, I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this one.

I know that Victoria Schwab said that there was no romance in this book, and that was part of the reason I gave it a chance, but it seemed to me that Kate and August had potential for romance later in life. Don't get me wrong, I am tired of romance in YA books, but for some reason, the books that contain romance tend to be the ones that I think have the best relationships, and have the most potential for real romantic relationships later.

Kate was strong, but not in the way that she portrayed herself. She acted tough, and she was strong in her own way, but she wasn't the kind of strong that she showed to the world. I found her frustrating. She was trying to be like her father, and if she had become like her father, then she would have polluted her own soul. Her type of character is one that I don't usually like, but she fit in with the world that the author had built.

I liked August more than Kate. I liked his innocence and fear of himself. His hate of himself because he is a monster. It made him into a wonderfully, heartbreakingly tortured character. I loved his love of music, and his love and fear of his music. I liked that he was trying to protect Kate, even when she was mean to him. Even after she had killed, and he could have taken her. I didn't like the way the story ended for his character. I know that his excepting who he is was a very strong action, but I worry that he might become more like his brother, and the separation of his caution and dislike of killing (even if they were killers) from his need to kill to survive makes me nervous that he will lose some of his goodness.

The world the story is set in is very interesting, but also very confusing. It was a very dark world, and I think that the plot would have benefitted from some humor or something to break up the dark, frightening and starkness of this place filled with monsters who are human, and monsters who exist because of the actions of humans. I loved the idea of music being the source of a power, and while I don't think of music as a killing power, people often say that it speaks to the soul, or that it feeds the soul, so I suppose it could fit that it brings the guilt, shame or sadness to the surface of their minds, and their souls to the edge of their bodies.

I enjoyed this book a great deal, it was unique, and far better than most of the secular YA books I have read recently.