Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Crocodile on the Sandbank

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A wholly original idea: a modern-written Victorian mystery with a woman at its center. Crocodile on a Sandbank took me a few pages to get into, but once I settled into the Victorian-esque prose (and spellings! and cultural norms!), it felt as cozy as a carriage ride. And the mystery totally fooled me!

Amelia Peabody is a self-possessed woman of means out to see the world. She’s Jane Eyre with money and a backbone. She finds herself a traveling companion (whose own backstory is too juicy to spoil) who more accurately reflects the damsel trope but who herself is also more than she seems. Together, they explore first Rome, then Egypt, following the real-world trend of Victorians gaining an interest in antiquities. They discover not only a pair of archeologists working on a newly-found tomb, but also a devilish mystery!

The book is charming, and very fun. It’s escapism that is happily nestled in reality, and while Amelia Peabody is fictional, the real history packed around the story is obviously well-researched and considered. It’s a thoughtful book that will make you thirst for adventure, carefully balancing modern culture with Victorian concepts. I look forward to reading more!



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Review: Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was wading through another book, trying to ignore the pandemic in fiction, and the next thing I knew, I was in a bubble bath and rereading Neverwhere. I’m not sure how it happened; I just know it was right.

Neverwhere is a modern fairytale. Not a retelling or modernization of a fairytale, which has gotten very common, but an actual, real fairytale of the modern era. It is something you utterly new that also feels as roomy as a well-worn coat.

It also may be the best book for these uncertain times.

Neverwhere follows Richard Mayhew, a man who is remarkable only for the utter ordinariness of his life. But he is kind, and helps a stranger in need. Doing so, however, tips him out of the London he knows and into the bizarre and untamed London Below, a place for those who fall through the cracks. He finds himself on a quest, and there are evil henchmen, angels, a wizened earl and his court, temptresses, giants, and more. Everything is tinged with a feeling of not-quite-unease; it’s like what you know, but something is off, a popcorn kernel stuck under the gum, something to worry at. It’s engrossing, and the prose is peak Gaiman cleverness.

I found it reassuring, because no matter how bad it got — and woof, it got bad — I felt Gaiman tugging me along to the ending, and trusted that everything would turn out okay. When the real world feels so uncertain, it was lovely to be swept away to a magical world and to be so assured that it would be all right in the end. It’s a brain break, but not the drunk-on-a-beach kind of brain vacation. It’s more a thoughtful-conversations-in-a-pub sort. The kind you don’t always realize you desperately need.



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Review: Baby’s First Books

We invited baby shower guests to bring books to help us build baby’s first library, and we got a varied selection–with a wide variety in quality. Since I’ve been reading these to the baby, I’ve formed some…strong opinions. In the interest of aiding future baby-book-buyers, here are my reviews.

Baby’s first book collection
  • Where the Wild Things Are – I’ve never been particularly fond of this story, even though it’s a classic. It just feels so aggressive. The art is wonderful, and it deserves its place of honor.
  • Pat the Bunny (Deluxe Edition) – A charming book for littlest readers. I like all the “interactive” features. However the deluxe oversized edition is a little much. The little version is better!
  • There’s a Dragon in My Book! – An absolute delight! Gotta watch out for those dragons hiding in your books!
  • Dinosnores – Even dinosaurs go to sleep, little one. Take their example.
  • Ordinary People Change the World (series) – I don’t have a complete set yet, and that’s the only downside. I LOVE these books. They provide such beautiful context and history for children, and such a good foundation for future learning. They touch my heart. And the art is such a dream. Buy all of them for the children in your life!
  • Peek-a-Who? – Whoo ever could it be? Very cute board book.
  • The Going to Bed Book – This is the book that inspired this list. I hate it. HATE it. Who exercises after putting on their pajamas? This book is ridiculous.
  • Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed – Cute, but do you really need a book version of this? Plus, is it a good idea to teach kids to jump on the bed in a sanctioned format?
  • Where’s My Bellybutton? – Answers to the age-old question. Luckily we also learn where our noses are and where our toeses are. I wasn’t sure until I got to the riveting conclusion. (This is another interactive book, and I like that it’s got squishy “pages”.)
  • Narnia softbook – This is not actually a book. There is nothing to read. It’s basically a toy. That’s fine, but I’m kicking it off the bookshelf.
  • Goodnight Blessings for My Child – Overly schmaltzy and kinda boring. And a little disappointing if you expect it to be full of prayers. It’s just sort of a loose collection of sentimental codswallop.
  • I Am Special – A sweet ratification that everyone has something nice to contribute, and we shouldn’t let people’s judgements of us get us down.
  • Are You My Mother? – I thought I remembered this story fondly, but on rereading it, it just felt ridiculous. The baby bird talks to a construction machine? I guess we’re lucky the construction workers knew where the baby bird came from and returned him.
  • The Velveteen Rabbit – Positively lovely. It’s also a great way to start the conversation about vaccines and why we are all grateful scarlet fever is basically not a problem anymore, at least not one that requires us to burn all of our toys. We love the rabbit, and we also love antibiotics.
  • Make Way For Ducklings (Box Set) – I love this story and I love the ducklings. I don’t think anyone needs the 75th anniversary set; it comes with a map of Boston and a CD. But the book alone is fantastic.
  • An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales – I got this as a gift when the baby was just a twinkle. It’s a lovely illustrated fairytale book!
  • The Essential Calvin and Hobbes – Essential. Enough said.
  • The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend – Hugely disappointing. The art is really nice, but the story is basically nonexistent. It’s actually hard to read, there is so little story. It was clearly just sold as a marketing ploy to sell the (shapeless) stuffed animal it came with.
  • Mouse Finds a Friend – Don’t we all need a friend?
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Love it! The caterpillar eats all the lovely things. It has quite the appetite!
  • Goodnight Moon – I’m kind of meh on the moon. I don’t really get it, to be honest. How does the mouse not get eaten, or at least the house cleaned up enough that there is no mouse in the house at all? Why must we say goodnight to the mush?
  • Your Baby’s First Word Will Be Dada – This is Jimmy Fallon’s book, and it’s also not much of a book. Every page features a farm animal and the word “dada.” That’s it. No story. It’s hard to read as a bedtime story, and it’s mildly obnxious.
  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom – A classic, and one I don’t really understand. Learning letters is good! But this story is pretty nonsensical.
  • The Night Before Christmas (revised) – Why would someone change the Night Before Christmas? It’s not even wildly different, just different enough to trip you up when you are nearly reading it from memory. Don’t buy this one, just get the real thing.
  • There’s a Wocket in My Pocket! – Yay Seuss! Lots of rhymes with unreal words. May need a professional to let me know if all these nonsense words are going to damage my kid.
  • Down by the Bay – The story is lovely, but it’s a little disturbing when you consider the art. Does this kid have a terrible homelife? What’s the subtext here?
  • At the Zoo – Animals make noises. The end.
  • Lots of Love Little One – Very sappy.
  • If I Were a Moose – I do not understand this series at all. It’s a touch-and-feel book. Who needs one about a moose?
  • If I Were a Calf – And why would there need to be a sequel about a calf? It’s a dumb series.
  • I Like Myself – Absolutely charming! I love the art, I love the message, it’s just a great story.
  • Giraffes Can’t Dance – In which we learn that the moon is a hip dance partner, and that giraffes can indeed boogie. (I must protest, however, the setting: giraffes do not live in the JUNGLE. This is some colonialist bullshit.)
  • Guess How Much I Love You – A lovely story with sweet illustrations. I wonder how many kids know what a hare is, though?
  • I Am Caring (Jane Goodall) and I Am Brave (Martin Luther King, Jr.) – LOVE these books! These are the board book versions of the Ordinary People Change the World series, which is excellent, because the full books are too long for an infant. These are sized down in number of words but not in heart.
  • I’ll Love You Always – Clearly just copying off of Guess How Much I Love You, and not doing it half as well anyway.
  • This Little Baby – This isn’t really a kids’ book; it’s an Anne Geddy photo essay. It’s going in the donate pile immediately.
  • Go The F*ck To Sleep – Shockingly good, actually. I assumed it was popular only because of the name, but the rhyme scheme has good rhythm, and the art is fantastic. It’s genuinely a good read as a story and as a parental frustration outlet. I guess we’ll have to hide it when he can actually read. For now, though, it’s in rotation.

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Review: The Twisted Ones

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The Twisted Ones is spooky. For a horror novel, that’s just expected. But it’s also funny as heck, and the author’s voice is so crystal clear, it feels like you are eavesdropping on someone’s conversation on the bus. And you are enthralled!

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a book so accurately capture the relationship between a dog and their owner. The dog/human relationship here captures all the love, yes, but also all the derpiness and ridiculous habits and sheer force of will owning a dog can require. I love Bongo as much as the narrator. (Don’t worry, Bongo makes it out.)

I am not enough of a horror reader to know this was an update of an earlier story, but I can tell you it feels so fresh and brilliant. It’s a zippy read, not least because you will be afraid to put it down. Make a point to pick it up—lest the holler people get you when next you wander the woods.



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Review: I See You

I See You by Mary Burton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This crime mystery with a romantic subplot was…just okay. I had to push myself to finish it, and I guessed the baddie pretty early on, and yet still found the ending unsatisfying. It’s mostly well-written in a “Law & Order: SUV” kind of way. I don’t like the way the reporter’s subplot is handled; I doubt the author has ever met a reporter.



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Review: Kiss of Steel

Kiss of Steel by Bec McMaster

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Billed as a steampunk adventure, Kiss of Steel is really a vampire romance. And that’s great if it is what you are into! But it just didn’t grab me.

Another issue was the heroine’s name: Honoria. I believe it is supposed to be “On-or-ee-a”, but I first rhymed it with a venereal disease. It’s not great for a romance heroine to be reminiscent of gonorrhea, sorry.

I also think there were some editing issues. It felt like chapters had been rearranged (sometimes referencing information a character didn’t yet know), and the story beats were predictable.

Inventive in concept, just not quite my cup of tea.



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Review: How to Party With an Infant

How to Party with an Infant by Kaui Hart Hemmings

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I should have been more wary of a book jacket claiming the contents were “hilarious.” As is so often true with literary fiction, most of the book felt more sad than funny to me; that said, the prose is obviously dripping with wit. It’s clever, sometimes annoyingly so.
Mele is a single, stay-at-home mom in San Francisco who hangs out with the other mom-group misfits. The book is nominally Mele’s contest entry to write a cookbook for the overall mom group; her plan is to interweave stories from each of the parents in her mom group with a recipe that corresponds to that story. It’s a charming format and the mom stories are varied and have distinct voices. They are alarmingly believable.

I maybe shouldn’t have picked this book up to read on maternity leave. Now I’m moderately disheartened about this whole parenting thing. I came for the hope for positive mom-friendships, but I’m leaving with a sadness about the loneliness and thanklessness of being a mom.



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