Book Reviews: January 2022

It’s an interesting month of reading. I’ve been thinking of doing more themed reading since I had so much fun with it last October, but then I decided the stress of deciding which theme to read for which month would take the enjoyment out of it, so I just went with my random approach as usual.

Queen Lucia and Miss Mapp by E. F. Benson:

I stumbled across these after reading the Merry Hall trilogy by Beverley Nichols last year – they’re basically the fictional version of Nichols’ stories about life of the upper-middle class in quaint and quintessential English villages. There is very little plot, but then again, you don’t read these for the plot. You read them for the descriptions of tea parties, dinner parties, bridge parties (basically, all sorts of parties) and all the spying, scheming, and social rivalry between the characters. It’s exceedingly frivolous, and it would’ve been a lot funnier if the writing was a little dryer, a bit more sarcastic – like Nichols’ writing, it’s old-fashioned and fussy, but it doesn’t have the beautiful descriptions of nature like Nichols’ to justify the purple prose. Still, the characters are fun (albeit in a bitchy, snobby way) and I enjoy laughing at them. 3.5/5

The Magic Summer (aka The Growing Summer) by Noel Streatfeild:

It’s been a while since I read a children’s book, and when I came across this old book about four siblings spending a summer at the house of their eccentric great-aunt in Ireland, I jumped at it – it sounds exactly like the kind of book I would enjoy. And I did. It’s charming and idyllic, the kids are not cloyingly precocious, their sibling squabbles are realistic, and the adults are never patronizing and all kind in their own way. Plus, it’s just refreshing to read something so quick and uncomplicated. 5/5

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher:

I went from one kid’s book to the next – this one caught my attention due to the fun title. It’s about a 14-year-old girl with a talent of working magic into dough – bread, cookies, pastries, etc. – who is unwittingly called into defending her city when all wizards in the city are killed or driven away. It’s fun and charming, though the first half is a little slow, there is a bit of incongruity between the quirky premise and the epic final battle, and the characters are a little bland. I know it’s a kid’s book and sometimes the characters are deliberately bland so the readers can better see themselves in the characters, but it doesn’t have to be that way (see: the Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett). 3/5

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud:

I realize the reason I stopped reading YA fantasy books altogether is because I got tired of the Chose One/love triangle tropes. However, this book, which is about a ghost-hunting agency run by three teenagers (in this world, where ghosts and hauntings are endemic, children are most susceptible to paranormal activities and thus make up most of the ghostbusters), is refreshingly free of all the usual clichés. The world-building is interesting, the characters is believable (if nothing unique), and the story is nicely spooky. I’ll keep this series in mind for my Halloween read. 4/5

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