April was an extremely productive reading month for me. I don't know whether it was my Goodreads challenge saying I was [gasp] one book behind schedule after spending a month on Les Mis, or the fact that some of these are short stories, but at the end of it I had too many reads to fit into one blog graphic. The five on the picture above are only the full-length novels I read. In addition to Messenger, North and South, Son, Little Women, and The Electrical Menagerie, I also read Arbrook Huxley and the Star-Crossed Lovers, and The Lady of Thorns, both of which being short stories, are available for free by signing up for their authors' respective newsletters.
My rating: ★★★★
Odd as it is, I feel like Messenger did a better job of hearkening back to The Giver than Gathering Blue, merely by putting us inside the head of another likeable male protagonist. Matty, (Matt, in the previous book), is almost all grown up now, but beginning to discover something about himself that frightens him. Something that he doesn’t understand—something that could potentially effect great change in his world.
Other than that, Messenger’s plot follows an entirely different trajectory than that of its predecessors. In the previous two books things were bad, and things that seemed good were not really very good at all. There’s a growing sense of unease—a dull horror that things are not what they seem—building up to a better ending. With Messenger, things start out just the way they should. Life is good in the Village. People share, and don’t discriminate between others just because they’re disabled in some way or another. From there, it gradually travels downhill. The mysterious Trade Mart has people trading away their inner selves and becoming selfish, and only receiving silly stuff in return, like velvet-covered furniture, an improved complexion, or an old slot machine that spits out candy. But what can be done about it? Trades are forever. That's where Matty comes in.
Matty is like Jonas in a lot of ways. He’s just beginning to grow up, and realize that there is more to the world than meets the eye. He’s good-hearted, and willing to sacrifice himself for others if necessary. He’s even beginning to experience the stirring of new power within himself, just like Jonas—Jonas could “see beyond,” The Giver could “hear beyond,” and Matty—well, he can fix a frog. (His words, not mine, folks.) He can heal things just by touch. His old friend Kira has the almost supernatural gift for weaving, and Thomas for carving. Matty can heal.
That healing power makes the climax of this book spectacular, and I’ll leave it at that. I noticed that it is a little brief this read-through, but it utterly wrecked me the first time I read it. Prepare yourself for feels—that’s all I have to say. :P
If you liked The Giver, I think you'll like Messenger. As always, Lowry builds the suspense until the very end, and leaves me wanting more.
Arbrook Huxley and the Star-Crossed Lovers
Mollie E. Reeder
My rating: ★★★★★
Arbrook Huxley and the Star-Crossed Lovers is a hilarious, witty, absurd steampunk adventure, filled with vibrant, likeable characters that fall into unfortunately awkward circumstances. I don’t remember the last time I was so close to laughing out loud—repeatedly—while reading a book. Reeder’s dry sense of humor is reminiscent of Dickens’s, but with a modern twist, and none of his rambling. :P
Agatha Pleasant: I loved this girl. She reminded me a lot of Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey. She’s bookish, likes to read “invigorating” stories, (much to the chagrin of her straitlaced aunt, who’s the epitome of such characters in classic fiction), and a romantic at heart. What’s not to love?
Arbrook Huxley: This man was the victim of a Series of Unfortunate Events, which I won’t spoil for sake of… well… spoilers. But it involves self-replicating mechanical doves, good intentions, misunderstandings, and running a mile and looking like it too. I liked him a lot. The poor guy had a really terrible day. :P
Perhaps the only thing I didn’t like about the book was how the ending felt a bit rushed, and everything wrapped up a little too perfectly (for Agatha at least). And there were mentions of “groping,” “voyeurs,” and being violated. (All of which were immensely exaggerated—a man touched a woman’s knee completely by accident, and a long-time friend was seen looking into a window.)
But these are small critiques. Arbrook Huxley and the Star-Crossed Lovers is a wild ride into a realm that I can’t wait to reenter. I have to say that I was genuinely disappointed when I realized that the first book in the series wasn’t for sale yet! I will definitely be looking out for more by Reeder. In the meantime, however, take my advice and read this short story. ;) It's a whole lot of fun.
North and South
My rating: ★★★★
[Some spoilers ahead!]
If you’re wondering what North and South is about, think Pride and Prejudice, minus Mr. Collins and four out of five Bennet sisters, plus a Wickham that isn’t really so bad at all, and set in the thick of a smoky, dirty, industrial manufacturing town called Milton.
Margaret Hale and Mr. Thornton have a very Lizzie Bennett/Mr. Darcy vibe to them, which I love. Margaret is one of the strongest female characters that I’ve seen in classic fiction, (albeit with one or two fainting fits to prove she’s not invincible xD), and Mr. Thornton is a misunderstood cinnamon roll. Margaret also isn’t afraid to cry—even if she does it in secret—because neither of her parents could bear the full strain of the problems Gaskell dumped into their poor, fictional, laps. She grew up very quickly—something that reminded me a little of Jane Eyre.
Although North and South can be compared to Pride and Prejudice, the resemblance to anything Jane Austen ceased, however, the moment the second person died. The death count in this book is astonishing, for what it is—a familiar, sweet romance that’s a touch melodramatic—but that just adds to it’s old-fashioned charm. I counted seven deaths total, but I’ll spare you the details. I thought that I was a little bloodthirsty as an author, but Gaskell must have aspired to be Victor Hugo. xD
Probably the only thing I didn’t like was the pacing. It felt really uneven—dragging on at a moderate pace for a while and then zipping forward hours or even days in the space of one paragraph, before lurching to a stop again. [Spoilers!] Because of that, Mr. Thornton and Margaret were not reconciled until the last few pages, and that was it. It was over. The book was done. One of my frequent complaints with Jane Austen is her abrupt endings, but Gaskell took them to a whole new level. Another small gripe I have is that North and South was a little vague at times. I never really figured out why Margaret's father left the church? Also: the politics. I am not a particularly political-minded individual, so I’m sure a lot of it went over my head, and can’t speak for what others may think. What I did like, however, was how the book looked at both sides of the industrial equation—both from the factory masters’ view at the top of the totem pole, and from that of the poor “hands’”—the workers in those factories.
In short, North and South delivers the same tried-and-true brand of vintage romance that satisfies—without sacrificing cleanliness—while taking a hard look at the industrial age at the same time. I’d been wanting to read it for a while, and now that I have, I’m glad I did.
The Lady of Thorns
Kyle Robert Shultz
My rating: ★★★★★
“You blithering idiot!”
In The Lady of Thorns we are introduced to another parallel reality in the Afterverse—one in which many things are the same—except for the fact that all of the characters we’ve come to know and love are gender-swapped. That said, the above quote was when I realized that Nicola was still very much Nick, and when Cordell whipped out his chalk I knew that Cordelia was definitely still in the story.
It’s a hilarious romp, hailing mostly from The Beast of Talesend days, and I laughed out loud more than once. There are many Easter eggs for those who have read the previous books, and reimagining the storyline and group dynamics surrounding our favorite Beaumonts and Beasleys was a lot of fun. (Also, can we just take a moment to appreciate the constable, who wins the Biggest Underreaction award? The man needs an entire short story dedicated to himself.) xD
Once again, Shultz does not disappoint. If you’ve enjoyed any of the previous books, then what are you waiting for?? Go read it!
My rating: ★★★★★
Son tells the story of a mother’s love for her child, and a determination to continue loving him, even when her whole society tells her she shouldn’t.
When I first read this book, for some reason it never really clicked. Given the subject matter (Claire’s assignment as Birthmother in the community Jonas is from), and her subsequent love for the son she gave birth to, there are a lot of births in this book. Maybe too many? However, that fact never lets us stray far from the end goal: for Claire to be reunited with her son. Everywhere she goes she’s reminded of him, and nothing can stop her from getting there.
As always Lowry’s writing style is extremely streamlined, but it seems to pack more of a raw punch in Son. Her descriptions of Claire’s joyful pain as she held her son and looked down on him—watched him smile and laugh, even while she knew no one could ever know that she was his mother—was achingly well-written. Motherhood can be one of life’s greatest joys, but losing a child is one of life’s deepest sorrows. Lowry got at both of these points with the experience of someone who knows exactly what both feel like.
Another thing I loved was that we get to see a little more of some of our old friends from The Giver. That in itself is worth a whole star in my book! :P
One of the few things I didn’t like this read-through was that the ending was a little abrupt, and even though I’m a lot more tolerant of all the babies being born this round than I was last, there still seems to be enough births for at least four books, not just one. (I mean really.) And as far as content goes, Claire was impregnated by artificial insemination, (as are all Birthmothers), there’s a few passing mentions of “coupling,” and “making love,” and asking “where babies come from.” (The latter being a question no one thinks to ask in the community where Claire grew up.) There’s also one solitary “b----y.”
That said, I upped the rating from four stars to five after reading it again, because I was able to connect with Claire. I find it really hard to get engaged in a book without connecting to the characters in it, and Claire gave me that connection when I slowed down and began to appreciate her complexities. The final verdict? Son is a masterful end to a wonderful series.
Louisa May Alcott
My rating: ★★★★★
[Some spoilers ahead!]
When I first read Little Women, I was eleven—and every inch Jo March, including the fact that I was allergic to “lovering” in all forms, even in books. I found reading about the Marches to be insufferably boring, and the only thing I really remember approving of was Jo’s scandalized outburst when Meg and Mr. Brooke got engaged: “Oh, do somebody go down quick! John Brooke is acting dreadfully, and Meg likes it!”
However, along about sixteen or seventeen I’d undergone an expansion in the openness of my mind towards such things, and decided to give it another shot. Well, I’m glad I did. I discovered Little Women to be a touching, sweet story of family, friendship, growing up, and trusting God even through the hard times, and even when our “besetting sin” seems never to get any easier to bear. Most of all, I felt as if all of the Marches and Brookes, Laurences and Bhaers were old friends by the end of it, and that’s something few books can replicate.
Now fast forward to the present, and after finishing round three, I love Little Women even more. The beautiful messages are still there. The March girls are each unique in their own way. It’s a quiet tale of growing up, and learning to bear our burdens, like Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress. There’s no loud or dashing adventures here—just a simple story of family love throughout the storms of life.
Also, can we just talks about the characters for a minute? Jo March always has and always will be my favorite of the sisters... from her tomboyish inclinations and burning to write, I find her to be a refreshing change. Meg is sweet, Beth absolutely beautiful in every way, and Amy a little conceited but learning to “sail her ship,” just like Jo. Laurie is an immensely likeable character, (and his and Jo’s friendship dynamic is one of my favorite things), Mr. Brooke a quiet but strong man, and Mr. Bhaer too good for this world.
There’s really nothing bad I can say about Little Women, except for the fact that perhaps the March girls would have been better served by daily Bible reading instead of daily Pilgrim’s Progress reading—but their motives were pure. This time I even found it hard to be mad that Jo turned Laurie down. I better understand the why of it now (although they’re hard not to ship), and I think that added a layer of realism to Little Women that few other books with romance delve into.
The characters are all varied and different, the prose insightful, the theme of growing up relatable, and the dialogue witty and heartfelt. In short, Little Women is a book everyone should read at least once. It’s one that will stick with me the rest of my life.
The Electrical Menagerie
Mollie E. Reeder
My rating: ★★★★★
~ I received a free advance review copy of The Electrical Menagerie, therefore all of the following opinions are my own ~
This book is absolutely magical in every way. This is the kind of book that swallows you up so thoroughly, you can’t stop thinking about it, even when you’re not reading. It’s heartfelt, imaginative, and filled with characters that I connected with from the very beginning. I knew after reading Arbrook Huxley and the Star-Crossed Lovers that I was in for a treat, but The Electrical Menagerie delivered—and then some.
Sylvester Carthage: This man is one of the most complex and well-developed characters I’ve seen in a while. There were a lot of times while reading his POV that I had to sit back and think, “Wow. That’s exactly what [that] feels like.” Even feelings I’d never consciously thought about. Reeder enabled me to connect with him from page one, and my sister will be the first to tell you that I got more than a little animated while telling her about him. He was strong in an extremely understated way—without even knowing it himself—and grew tremendously throughout the course of the book.
Arbrook Huxley: Huxley provided an effective foil for Carthage, who was a very morally upright character. Although he was a "good person" over all, Huxley was not averse to using underhand means to achieve desired ends from time to time. He’s also rather foulmouthed (in a made-up way), something that drives Carthage nuts—but over the course of the story, Huxley grew a lot, and learned to appreciate his quiet business partner by the end of the book. They both had something to teach the other, and I love that.
As for the world itself, I was constantly blown away by how well thought-out it was. I never had to scramble for a mental image, because Reeder always painted the picture in glowing colors. (And, unlike Tolkien, did not spend five pages lecturing on the state of the hills from all four points of the compass.) The murder-mystery side of the story had me constantly guessing, but there were enough personal battles to keep me engaged in that direction as well. I believed in Carthage and Huxley from the very beginning... even if they didn’t always believe in each other. Also, can I just say that Reeder got me attached to a robot? I mean really. The poor guy deserved better!
And now we come to the part of the review where I gripe at nitpicky things—except—I have nothing to gripe about. Maybe some of the tricks could have been explained a little better, and perhaps the first show in the book could have been elaborated on just a tad bit more, but other than that, I have nothing. All of the plot points were wrapped up in a neat little bow at the end, and nothing was left hanging. As for a content warning, there is quite a bit of drinking, and one character ends up rather drunk… but that only makes him incredibly sarcastic. Huxley’s habit of cursing doesn’t even count against the book, because every oath was made up!
In closing, I feel extremely privileged to have been able to enter the realm of The Electrical Menagerie. Thank you, Reeder, for providing me with an ARC of this marvelous book. I am looking forward to seeing more of Carthage and Huxley in the future!
Welcome to Katelyn Buxton Books! I'm a Christian author and blogger, with a passion for writing stories that are not just enjoyable, but also lead people closer to Jesus. Feel free to look around, and enjoy your stay!