Book Review – Tales of Arilland

TITLE: Tales of Arilland
AUTHOR: Alethea Kontis
FORMAT: Audio Book
READ BY: Gabrielle Baker
PUBLISHED: 2017?

This review is, unfortunately, going to be as much about my feelings on audio books as it will be on Alethea’s words.

I liked the idea of an audio book.  I’ve been spending a lot of time in the car, taking my fiancee to work, and if I can listen to a book instead of the same music over and over and over again, then that’s a good thing, right?  I mean, it counts towards the books I read and it counts towards the books that I get to share with you guys, and you can still pick it up in print or ebook even though I’ve reviewed the audio.

I’ve heard good things about this series from a friend of mine (search our blog for Alethea Kontis, and you’ll find reviews of most of her books on this site), and I figured that a group of short stories was totally a good way to jump into the world.  The series is all fairy tale retellings, so I thought I’d have enough of  a familiarity with them that I could jump in easy peasy.

Yeah.  Notsomuch.

Right off the bat, I had a few issues with the audio book.  I’d heard amazing things about Gabrielle Baker, and I was really looking forward to this, but her reading for the first story was a little flatter than I would have liked – not enough (if any) difference in dialog to necessarily know that you’re switching people or dealing with dialog.

The other issue that I had was that I couldn’t always tell when a story ended and another one started.  I wish there had been something really obvious for it.  When you’re in the car, driving, you don’t always have 100% attention on the audio.  So something would have been helpful – maybe a chime when the story was over or her making it clear that she was reading story titles.  Because they kinda blended in.

The other problem that I had was that it was hard to keep enough attention on the book to not miss something here and there, you know?  Driving in a town you’re not that familiar with and trying to find your turn?  Oops, haven’t heard what’s being said for the last five minutes.  Sleeping toddler wakes up and starts talking?  Nope, no idea what that paragraph was.  And if I’m going to stay hands free, I don’t have the luxury to rewind it or whatever.  Lose focus in a print book, and you just read the page again.

Oh, and I don’t know why, but all I get for titles in my audible thing is “Chapter 1” instead of a story name, so I couldn’t even go and look it up later.  Boo.

That said, the point of listening to this was so that I could get more book in my limited amount of time.  So as for the actual stories:

I’m not going to break down each story because, well, I can’t even if I wanted to (and I actually did want to).  I searched the internet ad nauseum for a table of contents for this book and I just couldn’t find one no matter how hard I tried.  I have never in my life seen a book so inaccessible to the online masses.  Like, seriously, the online links bring me to Amazon in every country ever, but no reviews or anything that I could glean that information from.  And again, Gabrielle’s reading didn’t always make it clear – although credit to her, after the first couple stories, the readings got So. Much. Better.

Let’s just say there are some stories that I’ve already forgotten and I’m okay with that.  Others, though, were fabulous.

The mermaid story was beautiful.  It was dark and gritty and omg, and I loved it and was so sad when it was over.  I also loved the siren story.  I don’t know that much about siren lore, but I just loved how it was presented.  The characters were beautifully done and the siren herself was heartwrenching.  Ironically, the most human character in the whole story.

The bulk – okay, probably half – of the 6ish hours is taken up by her Woodcutter series and a story about Sunday and Rumboldt.  (Or maybe it’s two stories?  Again, I’m really unsure here…) I really like how her characters are developed and there are some beautiful lines that I wish I could have written down.  Unfortunately, common sense decided against trying to do that at 70 miles per hour while operating the car.  Alethea really does have a good way with words.

 

In all, it was a pleasant experience.  I know that there’s going to be some give and take with the audio format – especially when you’re listening in the car in a big city – but the stories themselves were beautiful and Gabrielle really did read the story well – especially as this progressed.

 

I’ll give the format itself a 3.  It doesn’t even come close to being as amazing as a print book could be, but it was nice to be able to listen to a book on the go

The book itself, though, is better.  There were a few that I didn’t care for, but the ones that were good were really good.  In all, I’ll give this a 4/5.

 

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Book Review – The Anti-Bride

TITLE: Anti-Bride Etiquette Guide: The rules and how to bend them
AUthoR: Carolyn Guerin
Format: Paperback
Published; 2004

I got engaged on January 1, so of course the first thing I did when I made the next trip to the library was to find the wedding section and get a couple books.  I started reading this one right away and was done in a  very short amount of time.
The purpose of the book is pretty much to make brides relax a bit.  Just because your mother talks lovingly about wearing her mother’s wedding dress or your sister shared her special day with 18 attendants in matching head to toe ensembles doesn’t mean that you have to continue those traditions.

The initial format of the book is pretty nice.  She’s arranged chapters by thing, and they’re pretty much chronological.  There’s definitely nothing complicated about this.  Each chapter starts by telling you the history of whatever it is, and then expands in to a Q&A/FAQ type format where it talks about ‘do you have to’ or what ifs or whatever.  [note: the wedding cake history isn’t entirely right]

It’s not bad.  It’s nice to know why we do the things we do, and the author wants you to understand things before you decide to do them differently. There are charts to show expectations of things like what to wear and when.  It’s also nice to know that there are silly fuddy-duddy things that don’t need done anymore.  (And have people say it’s okay – there are so many details a bride has to think of that I’m sure there are plenty that are afraid to go off script.)

That said, I had some issues.  For starters, the author likes ridiculous examples of things and doesn’t offer real world solutions nearly as often as she could.  Also a lot of the things she brings up are a little clichee – like dyeable shoes – but that could also be a product of the fact that the book is 10 years old.

Unfortunately, the bottom line is that I didn’t learn hardly anything from this book (I did learn that “honor of your presence” should only be used if the wedding is in a church), and a lot of the scenario/answer things were pretty common sense or out there. “My mother’s been telling her yoga class.  Help!”  Well, so what?  Is your wedding a government secret??  And some of it wasn’t even thorough.  “I didn’t get a present, I feel slighted!” should have had the “hello, they have a year!” reminder in addition to her actual advice of don’t keep score.
I didn’t gain anything whatsoever from this book and I think it fell very short where it could have been fabulous.  Also, updating things would make a lot of these answers so much better.  I mean, the book is over a decade old, so it barely mentions the internet’s existence.  (And really, if it were done today, there’d be a total ETSY RULES!! chapter.) I think the book had potential, but I think it fell completely short of where it should have been.  If you’re new at this and don’t have a clue, it may be helpful.  But I can sum the book up as “it’s okay to relax tradition” and you can skip it, too.

Also, the book is in two font colors – black and pink.  Which maybe would be okay with the right font, but the font is a skinny little thing and it made reading really difficult at times.  So there’s that.  I want to be generous and all and give it a better rating, but in my heart, I know this needs to be a 2/5.

Book Review – Y is for Yesterday

Note:  I was very saddened just after Christmas to find out that Sue Grafton had passed on.  (Eff Cancer).  I, along with a lot of readers, learned my alphabet on her covers.  I think I’m more upset with the world that there was just one book left than I would have been had it ended part way through.  I had finished this just before the news was released.  At the publishing of this post, it will have been about a month.  I’m still shocked and saddened by the loss of Sue. 

 

TITLE: Y is for Yesterday
AUTHOR: Sue Grafton
FORMAT: Hardback and EBook (I had both)
PUBLISHED: 2017

Y is for Yesterday is the 25th installment in the alphabet series of cozy-ish mysteries starring Kinsey Millhone (rhymes with Bone) and her cast of characters (ie her friends).

In this book, we flip between two story lines.  Several years in the past, there’s some extraordinary teenage angst happening at the school, somebody steals a test and then somebody else dies.  Oh, and somebody makes a sex tape.  In the current time line, there are two story lines – the same cast of characters as the past, and Kinsey’s.  Because the guy who went to jail for Sloan’s murder has just been released from juvie, and, well, he’s being blackmailed.  They have the tape, he has the money, and maybe just maybe they could swap.

Oh, and while all this is going on, a jackass from *kinsey’s* past is around.  And he’s trying to kill her.  Ned is a total piece of crap, and nobody’s safe while he’s on the lam.

 

So, as soon as I got the book, I immediately texted my mother to tell her I had it already and did she.  Then several updates as I read the book.  We’ve both read the series together for years.  It’s one of the things I liked so much about the series – it’s not one demographic.  It appeals to so many.   At Christmas, I stopped in to visit my Mom’s aunt, and she had it sitting in her coffee table.

Which is why what I’m about to say pissed me off so much.  When you read a series like this, you expect something.  I mean, we’ve done TWENTY FOUR other books with Sue, and when you do that, your readers gravitate towards your books because you expect them to work a certain way.  Longtime readers to the blog will remember that I’m the one that did the review of 50 Shades of Grey.  I say that because I want you to really appreciate me saying this:  *I AM SO FRIGGIN PISSED* that in the first third of the book she *graphically described the sex tape*.  I mean we know what got stuck where and I don’t always mean body parts.    It probably wouldn’t have upset me to find that in another book by somebody else.  But again, Sue’s been writing a certain way most of my life, and I’ve been reading her for over 20 years.  I expect a certain something and that isn’t it.

And for Sue’s *readers* that isn’t it.  I remember way back when her message board was a thing somebody complaining because Kinsey said bad words.  Now you’re going to tell us where to stick something?

In Kinsey’s normal cast of characters, we of course have Henry, her wonderful elderly landlord (I always thought the series would end with his death, not Sue’s…), and a couple transients that he’s picked up.  Homeless people who pitched a tent in the dirt patch that was his back yard.  One of them is fat.  Really fat.  Apparently so fat that I have forgotten her name but remember her plumptness because she was friggin’ fat shamed for most of the begining of the book.  I can’t tell you anything else whatsoever about her.  Not her eye color or hair color or anything.  Just her fatness.  Because Sue talked about how we had to shoehorn her into her clothes, etc.  She hardly talks about any other character’s body type, so this was a bit over-the-top ridiculous, too.

With that said, once you get through about a third of the book, it’s a huge sudden shift.  I know that the family has said that Sue was adamant that she wouldn’t have co-writers or ghost writers or anything else, but I’m serious when I say that the first third of the book sounds and feels like a totally different person wrote it.  I don’t know if there was a different editor or she set it down and came back to it months later or what happened, but it was definitely a very different book from that point on.

Oh, and at some point (I don’t remember where) there’s some unfortunateness involving Ned and Henry’s cat.  That I legitimately wanted to punch Sue for.  The cat comes through okay, but there’s not a lot I don’t ever want to read in a book, and animal abuse – even potential animal abuse – is way high on the list of shit you just don’t.

The last two-thirds of the book are something that I would expect from picking up a Sue Grafton book.  There’s a fantastic scene with Pearl and Ned, some really classically Sue stuff happens involving Fitz (the one getting blackmailed), and it was balanced nicely with Kinsey’s family stuff.

 

So rating this book is hard.  The first third as a Sue book gets about a 1/5, but a much higher rating if I had just stumbled upon it elsewhere.  The second and third third (that sounds funny, lol!) get at least a 4/5.  But combining them together…?  I’ll give the book a solid 3/5 overall.  If you can overlook the first third of the book, you can bump it up to a 4/5, but if you’re expecting a typical Kinsey Millhone read all the way through, you’ll be disappointed.

Review: A Queen from the North

Title: A Queen from the North (A Royal Roses Book)

Authors: Erin McRae & Racheline Maltese

Published: 2017

Format: Ebook

Set in an alternate universe where the Wars of the Roses (between the Houses of York and Lancaster) never truly ended, the Unified Kingdom of England, Scotland, and Wales is still caught in the aftermath of the conflict. Arthur, the widowed Prince of Wales, needs to marry again to provide heirs to the throne, but is Lady Amelia Brockett, the daughter of a Yorkist earl and nearly twenty years his junior, the right woman to be the next Queen?

While this is, ostensibly, a romance novel, the romance isn’t the only plot worth following. The novel is as much political drama concerning the history (and the present) between the north (York) and south (London) of England, as well as the Commonwealth, as it is about the two people trying to navigate through courtship and engagement in the eyes of not only their family and friends, but also the public and the press.

Admittedly, for me, the political drama could be more intriguing than the romance, but that might just be my inner history nerd trying to parse together the differences between this novel’s universe and the English history we are all familiar with. While the Battle of Bosworth Field happened (ending the reign of Richard III and the Yorkist camp), history is altered from there. And while it would be easy to make comparisons between things happening in the novel and events happening today, they are still grounded in the history of the world the authors created, making them fit into the novel as organic events, not thinly veiled commentary on our world.

As for the main couple, Prince Arthur and Lady Amelia, they were believable as well. Well rounded, flaws and all, the authors made them human enough that the reader became invested in their lives and their world. And it appears there may be more books to come in this series, which has me excited. And maybe hoping to get a little more of the history of the world, if only for my inner history nerd’s happiness.

I give it 5 pages.

Book Review POWER AND EMPIRE by Marc Cameron

Title: Tom Clancy’s Power and Empire

Author:  Marc Cameron

Publication Date: 2017

Format: Kindle

 

Since Tom Clancy’s untimely death, the family has chosen three or four different writers to continue his legacy. This is the latest installment in the Jack Ryan series, and the first I’ve read by this author.  It involves both the Jack Ryan and Jack Ryan, Jr. storylines.

 

China starts flexing its muscle, wanted to expand control of the South China Sea. They do not believe President Ryan has the support or backbone to contest their claims. There is more to the story, as a traffic stop in Texas leads to a link to a Chinese spy who may have information on a larger plan going on. That information leads to the involvement of The Campus, bringing Jack Jr., John Clark, Ding Chavez and others into the picture. I feel Cameron captured Clancy’s style and intent, for the most part. He is not quite as wordy as Clancy was. That is good or bad depending on your preference. I did not mind the length of Clancy’s novels, but I’m sure some would have preferred them to be a bit shorter.

Overall, the book moves quickly, and is far from predictable. Cameron writes well, and I look forward to seeing more from him in the future. The plot is perfectly plausible, as are the characters’ reactions to events. No unbelievable heroics or dramatic actions that make you want to walk away from the story. I give it 4 our of 5 pages.

Book Review: “The Christmas Widow” by Jillian Eaton

TITLE: The Christmas Widow

AUTHOR: Jillian Eaton

PUBLISHED: 2014

FORMAT: E-Book

Lady Beatrice Tumbley hasn’t gone outside since her husband was killed two years before, earning her the sobriquet “Mad Lady Bea”. Jack Emerson appears on her doorstep one night, bleeding from a gunshot wound. Can she let go of her past and let love prevail?

I read a lot of romance novels, and while most of them don’t set my teeth on edge, there is one trope that irritates me to no end and makes it hard for me to read a book – and sometimes even finish it. That’s the one where the hero decides that he knows what is best for the heroine to deal with [insert problem here] and doesn’t bother to listen to her or just run roughshod over her feelings/concerns/etc. And of course the heroine eventually falls for him, because He Was Right! (I think I just sprained something rolling my eyes).

Unfortunately, that’s the main plot at work here. Jack knows how to get Beatrice out of her grief and runs roughshod over her coping mechanisms and her feelings. Because he loves her (after knowing her for several days) and she figures out she loves him too.

This was a novella, so there’s not enough to really get to know the characters. We don’t anything from Jack’s point of view until Chapter 8, and by that point, he had already annoyed me to the point where I didn’t care about him or why he’d been shot (or how he was able to miraculously recover) or, well, anything else. Which is a shame because I’ve read other books by this author and enjoyed them. This one was just too rushed, too reliant on a tired trope that needs to go away (in my opinion), and too thin on character development for me to enjoy it.

I give it 1 page.

Readers Wanted

Did you know that Book In The Bag has been read on almost every continent?  (I don’t think Penguins read books?  We should work on Antarctica…)

We’re in need of more readers who want to write reviews.  There’s no need to be discouraged, and it’s not that hard – really, I don’t ask that much of my bloggers.

  1. Reviews must be written in English.  You’re welcome to read books written in any language, of course.
  2. The reviews need to be PG-13 or better, even if the book isn’t.  Let’s face it, there are lots of books out there full of swearing and sex and violence, but a book review should let potential readers know if they want – or don’t want – to read a book, and with a group of diverse bloggers, we’re going to get a group of diverse blog readers, too.
  3. Have fun.

 

Before you ask, this is a non-paying gig.  We do it because we like to and really, it’s hard to stay objective when you’re getting cold hard cash for the review.  You’re welcome to get books in any legal means you’d like, and you’ can review just about anything.

Think you’ve got what it takes?  Leave a comment telling us why you should be a part of the book in the bag team.

 

 

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