from Meg’s Reading Challenge – follow her on Goodreads here.
Here are the first 5 books I’ve gotten through so far this year in my 40 book reading challenge – and whether or not I’d recommend them (note: they are not all 5-star).
The Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley
3-STARS – This one’s been sitting in my kindle for a while, barely started – so let’s start by finishing! Part of my motivation for reading this was that I LOVED the BBC Robin Hood series (circa 2009); and the other part is that I love McKinley’s Beauty – I read it annually. (Also see AB’s take here.) This version takes a unique twist in that Robin is not quite the archer/hero most tales make him – he’s not that great with a bow (Marian is much better – go woman power!), and his leadership is kind of “thrust upon him.” A fun alternative for sure, esp. for those who aren’t born wanting to blaze the trail. But by focusing more on the outlaws as a whole, I felt like the story dragged on a bit, lacked compelling character development, and by the end, was wrapped up much too tidily. It’s not a bad book (boys who love all things Robin Hood may love it)- just definitely not my favorite of hers.
Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
3-STARS – As the former deputy chief of staff for President Obama, Alyssa, one of the youngest White House executives (and also a female), provides not just insight working for the Obama administration but some of the funniest personal experiences I’ve read to date. Natalie told me about this book when she heard a preview of it, especially some of Alyssa’s unfortunate “happenings” at the worst of times (picture desperate need for a bathroom because of some “bad food” while just about to meet the Pope – and there are no bathrooms ANYWHERE at the Vatican…). Unfortunately the book lost its cohesion early on and I felt like I was listening to the random storytelling of a teenager. Also, Mastromonaco can’t seem to share a story without frequent strong language – something that just seemed to lessen her writing ability (and thinking skills) in my mind. I wish she’d had a better editor.
Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk
5-STARS – I’ve had this on my “to read” list ever since I saw Lauren Wolk had another new book out – I was haunted by her debut novel, Wolf Hollow. And Beyond the Bright Sea follows in the same vein of moving storylines, probing insights, and simply beautiful writing. The truly amazing thing about this book is how Wolk is able to journey Crow (the young female protagonist) through her questions of identity while still keeping the novel accessible to upper-elementary kids (I think Wolf Hollow is more appropriate as a YA novel). Those who have ever wrestled with questions of identity (particularly those who’ve been adopted) may find much that resonates with them in Bright Sea. Adults can obviously enjoy this just as much as I hope many children will.
A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael, by Elisabeth Elliot
4-STARS – This is probably a book that would definitely be worth reading, but it hasn’t been my favorite book so far (I struggle with straight-out biographies). Elliot is a good writer, but she’s very dry and straight-forward – no humor or “twinkling anecdotes” to brighten up her writing. What she did do well, though, was present Amy Carmichael, the human being. She’s not a “missions superhero” – she was a strong personality who, by insisting that things be done Her Way, burned a lot of bridges with many other Christians (she could be rather forceful and snarky at times). But I appreciated seeing how powerfully God used someone like her, in spite of herself. I just wish that, for as long as the book was, it had been written a little more interestingly. My preference. 🙂
The Girl in the Tower, by Katherine Arden
3.5-STARS – This is Arden’s sequel to the exquisite The Bear and the Nightingale, which the three of us discussed last year. Once again, Arden’s storytelling is captivating and paints a stark but enthralling portrait of 14th century Russia. She continues the tale of Vasya and the Frost King – and certainly successfully has you pulling for the two of them in their rather eccentric relationship. However, I had a couple of cons from this novel (things that made me grimace and shake my head). The first was Vasya’s increasing “genderlessness” – she was a wild but strong girl/woman in the first novel. But now she’s almost stealing the Mulan plotline without retaining any of her wonderful feminine qualities. In view of the story, I just didn’t think it did anything to develop her character. Also, since this is a fairy/folk tale, I understand the presence of seemingly magical spirits/creatures that Vasya sees and talks to. But when one is fading and Vasya decides that having the spirit “suck some of her own blood to help it grow stronger” will help – well, that was not only rather demonic to me, but just flat-out gross. I’m not sure if I will finish her trilogy at this point. Disappointing aspects over all, despite vivid writing.