Grave Expectations by Sherri Browning Erwin

Do you remember having to read Great Expectations in school? How you muddled through it, having already decided that you wouldn’t like it? Or maybe that was just me. Either way, I wish this book had existed then; to read it after reading Great Expectations would have made me appreciate the original more (I suggest going into Great Expectations with an open mind, unlike me. When I reread it later in life, I ended up really liking it).

This is a supernatural parody of Great Expectations, written around the same time as Pride and Prejudice And Zombies. One clever thing about this book is that, while there are werewolves, zombies, and vampires aplenty, you can plainly see the spirit of Great Expectations underneath. Sherri Browning Erwin somehow managed a fun twist on a classic that keeps the story fresh and acts almost as a guide through some of the slower-moving parts of the original book.

I actually enjoyed this much more than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, possibly because I like Great Expectations, while not being a fan of Pride and Prejudice. I think that reading Great Expectations for the first time, followed by Grave Expectations would make for a cool compare and contrast. In fact, I might have my oldest- whom I homeschool- do that next year.

It’s not the most amazing reworking of a classic that I’ve ever read, but it is a solid, fun book. It’s also a quick read, one that’s perfect when you only have time to read in bits and spurts.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

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Right before Christmas, I was walking through the bookstore, when I noticed something that completely threw me:  a beautiful copy of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, written by Alexander Dumas! I had no idea that the author of The Three Musketeers wrote the version of The Nutcracker that the famous ballet is based on.

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Since seeing it, I’ve been thinking about well known authors, and their less than famous works. I haven’t read Dumas’  Nutcracker yet, but here are some other books that have surprised me over the years:

*Louisa May Alcott: Not only the author of Little Women, there are also two sequels: Little Men, and Jo’s Boys. Of the three, my favorite is actually Jo’s Boys. I find Little Women to be a bit heavy-handed on the life lessons.

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*A.A. Milne: He’s famous for his Winnie the Pooh stories, and most people know about his poetry (Now We Are Six was included in my Pooh stories boxed set). In 2018, I read an adult mystery written by A.A. Milne. I didn’t know before then that he’d written for adults! I read The Red House Mystery, which was entertaining, though not fantastic.

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* Richard Adams: He’s most well known for Watership Down, but I learned a while ago that there’s also Tales From Watership Down, a collection of short stories written about El-ahrairah, the hero of the folk tales in Watership Down. It’s a very weird book. However, if you think about it, Watership Down is weird too. Good, but weird.

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: He’s the author of the amazing Sherlock Holmes stories, which I love, love, love. He also wrote several other books, including some horror. I read The Parasite, a book about a nefarious woman who uses hypnotism to attract men, since she can’t seem to do it on her own. It was a truly terrible book.  I was very disappointed.

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*Anne McCaffrey: she’s most famous for Dragonriders of Pern (which I highly recommend, by the way), but I absolutely love A Diversity of Dragons. Co-authored by Richard Woods, this is a book about dragons in different cultures throughout history, as well as the evolution of the dragon in literature. With art by John Howe, this book is incredible. I’ve had a copy for years, and if I have my way, I always will have one.

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Have you read any of these? Maybe they’re more well known than I thought, and I just miss a lot. What are some other books whose authors might surprise me?

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle

I have a feeling that I’m going to contradict myself several times during this post. For those who don’t know, Eric Idle is one of the writers and members of Monty Python, so maybe being odd and contradictory is the best way to review this book. Sure, let’s go with that.

I found myself laughing uproariously several times during this book, of course. Eric Idle has the gift of stating the saddest things in a way that neither diminishes what happened, or dwells on it. Kind of a like a “Yeah, that sucked, but it’s life” attitude (you’ll see what I mean when you read about what happened to his dad). He’s well aware of his talents, but equally well aware of his faults and finds humor in them.

This book both needed to be longer, but could have been condensed. See what I mean about being contradictory? At less than three hundred pages, there’s really not much to the book length-wise, so being longer wouldn’t have been bad IF there was more that could be said. Of course, I also found myself thinking that parts dragged. Some of it read like sitting with someone who suddenly switches from telling you a story to muttering to themselves about it.

Eric Idle would be the perfect person to hang out with at Thanksgiving, or during a family reunion: he has the most interesting reminiscences. However, some of that was lost in the writing.  I really liked his stories of the random weirdness he got into. Because of that, I wish there was also a book with memories written in collaboration with all the members of Monty Python. That would be epic. Of course, Graham Chapman would have to come back from the dead for that, and who would cheat death just to argue with editors?

All in all, the funny parts were hilarious, the little-known tidbits were fascinating, and the rest was just there. Would I recommend it? Ummmm…maybe? It wasn’t a bad way to ring in a new year of reading, but it wasn’t incredible.

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Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

Five years ago, when they were thirteen, Brynn and Mia’s best friend was murdered. Everyone thinks they did it, obsessed over a fictional world called Lovelorn. The thing is, they didn’t. In this book, Mia and Brynn decide to “go back to Lovelorn”, face their past, and try to discover what really happened.

This isn’t the sort of book I normally read. I have a very vivid imagination which means that thrillers can easily get to be too much for me. However, this was done in such a way that I was able to handle it. Not only that, but I was hooked. It’s much more than a who dunnit; it’s a study of human nature, and an examination of the many different facets of a person that the world doesn’t see.

I loved the way reality and a made-up world collided in the book as Mia, Brynn, and a few other characters tried to figure out the mystery. I was on the edge of  my seat, wondering whether the author would actually choose to divulge the answer, or leave me forever wondering.

The writing was skillful, weaving a story that was more about the survivors and how their lives were affected than about the murder in and of itself. That being said, there were a few difficult parts that I had to rush through: mainly, brief mentions of self-harm in two separate places, and a vague allusion to harassment.

I liked that the main reason the girls were suspects (aside from being the best friends) was that the murder matched one that they had described in a fan fiction they’d written; a fan fiction that no one else had read. I also thought the final few sentences in the book were flat-out brilliant.

All in all, while this isn’t a book I’ll reread, I did find it engrossing. I suggest it, but with the caveat that it does deal with some sensitive material. If you enjoy psychological thrillers, this is right up your alley.

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Queen of Air and Darkness: a Rant

                            ****SPOILER ALERT! MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!****

Buckle up, I’m about to annoy a lot of die-hard fans: I thought this book was a disaster. I was so disappointed, because I’d been looking forward to reading this book for so long. My sweet husband gave it to me the day it released. I smiled, opened the book and was treated to 912 pages of blah.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. But the good was overshadowed by how bad the bad was. Let me start by saying that my lack of enjoyment in this book is at least partly my fault: I am one of the few people who don’t read these books for the romance, so the fact that this installment had so much of that in it didn’t interest me. That’s a point against me, not the writing.

I think the best way to express my thoughts on QoAaD would be to use pro and con bullet points. So, here goes:

*Pro: The family these books follow (the Blackthorns) have varied, unique personalities, all of which are interesting in their own way. Ty, in particular, is my favorite.

*Con: The cast of characters seemed almost too big for Cassandra Clare to write well, and they all began to blur into fuzzy pictures of their previous selves. It felt as though she’d lost confidence in her ability to write these characters well, instead choosing to shoehorn in characters from the Mortal Instruments.

*Pro: The demons in this book, as in all of them, are unlike any I’ve read elsewhere in description. Ms. Clare is also skilled at describing battle scenes that make them easy to picture in my mind.

*Con: There was much more time spent on who should be in love with who, instead of the battle scenes I enjoy. Also, certain constants from throughout the other books seemed to ebb and flow, an example of that being the naming of the seraph blades. Sometimes they were named, sometimes not.

*Pro: The Fae are done very well, borrowing from classic faery tropes, while having an original spin on them. The Unseelie vs. Seelie drama brewing had the potential to turn into something truly exciting.

*Con: Sebastian. Again???

Despite what I see as an excruciatingly bad book, I’m still planning to read Cassandra Clare’s next book. That’s the thing. A misstep doesn’t necessarily become a deal breaker for me, as far as reading more by a certain author. I’m just going to go into it with more caution, and less excitement.

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In the Shadows by Kiersten White and Jim Di Bartolo

I thought I knew what I was getting with this book. I was so very, very wrong; and it was perfect!

First mistake: This is a fun, lighthearted story. This book tends more toward horror than any other genre. The atmosphere is tense and creepy throughout the entire book, and the illustrations (more on those in a bit) only add to the mysterious goings-on.

Second mistake: The illustrations are just beautiful additions to the storyline. The illustrations- done in a graphic novel style- tell their own story. Basically, there are two separate stories being told, but they compliment each other and end up meeting up for the culmination of the book.

Third mistake: This book is intended for a young audience. While, reading-level wise, my ten year old could easily read this book in a week, the subject matter and the way it’s written would scare the snot out of him.

The characters were well-developed, the graphic story only served to add to the deliciously creepy vibe Kiersten White achieved, and the writing was incredibly detailed. I highly recommend this book for a spooky evening.

Coming Soon

I tend toward pessimism, so I always assume the new year will bring doom and gloom, with a side order of disaster. However, this next year is looking pretty darn good as far as new releases go. Here are a few (only a few) of the books that I can’t wait to get my hands on in 2019.

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer- available January 15th:

Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart after her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf—the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an offer: for her to come and live with him for a year. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.

In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, Echo discovers centuries-old secrets, a magical library full of books-turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up—otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever. (taken from Goodreads)

This has a Beauty and the Beast feel to me, but only as a jumping off point. I hope it’s as mysterious and beautiful as it sounds.

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The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Choski- available January 15th.

Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.

Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive. (taken from Goodreads).

There’s been a lot of buzz about this book, hopefully deserved. The description makes this book sound incredibly unique, and I don’t want to miss it.

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A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison- available Feb. 7th

Three sisters trapped by an ancient curse.

Three magical objects with the power to change their fate.

Will they be enough to break the curse?

Or will they lead the sisters even deeper into danger? … (taken from Goodreads)

This book just looks fun and lighthearted, just the sort of book to read in February (for some reason, February is always incredibly busy and I read less). It might be one that my ten-year-old would like too.

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The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare- available April 2nd

All Magnus Bane wanted was a vacation—a lavish trip across Europe with Alec Lightwood, the Shadowhunter who against all odds is finally his boyfriend. But as soon as the pair settles in Paris, an old friend arrives with news about a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand that is bent on causing chaos around the world. A cult that was apparently founded by Magnus himself. Years ago. As a joke.

Now Magnus and Alec must race across Europe to track down the Crimson Hand and its elusive new leader before the cult can cause any more damage. As if it wasn’t bad enough that their romantic getaway has been sidetracked, demons are now dogging their every step, and it is becoming harder to tell friend from foe. As their quest for answers becomes increasingly dire, Magnus and Alec will have to trust each other more than ever—even if it means revealing the secrets they’ve both been keeping. (taken from Goodreads)

To be honest, I thought Queen of Air and Darkness was a disaster. I’m not going to go into that here, but it was excruciating to read. However, I adore Magnus, and Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter universe is fun to explore. If Magnus and Alec are the main characters, I’d say this book has major potential.

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Oddmire # 1: Changling by William Ritter- available July 16th

Magic is fading from the Wild Wood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind—a newborn changeling. But when the fateful night arrives to trade a human baby for a goblin one, something goes terribly wrong. After laying the changeling in a human infant’s crib, the goblin Kull is briefly distracted from his task. By the time he turns back, the changeling has already perfectly mimicked the human child. Too perfectly: Kull cannot tell them apart. Not knowing which to bring back, he leaves both babies behind.

Tinn and Cole are raised as human twins, neither knowing what secrets may be buried deep inside one of them. Then when they are twelve years old, a mysterious message arrives, calling the brothers to be heroes and protectors of magic. The boys must leave behind their sleepy town of Endsborough and risk their lives in the Wild Wood, crossing the perilous Oddmire swamp and journeying through the Deep Dark to reach the goblin horde and discover who they truly are. (taken from Goodreads) 

I read William Ritter’s Jackaby series this past year and loved it so much that it made my list of best books of the year. Add the fact that there are changelings involved (Changelings are great!), and I can’t wait to read this one! It’s also another one that my oldest might really enjoy.

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The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern- Available Nov. 5th

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a strange book hidden in the library stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues — a bee, a key, and a sword — that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to a subterranean library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians — it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose — in both the mysterious book and in his own life. (taken from Goodreads)

Back in 2011, I read a book called The Night Circus, written by a new author named Erin Morgenstern. I fell completely in love with it. It’s in my list of top five books that I’ve ever read and I’ve read it at least twice every year since then. So to find out that, eight years later, Morgenstern has a new book coming out, is beyond exciting to me. I can’t wait to delve back into the magic that is her writing! This is the book that I’m most exited to read in 2019 and I’ll make sure to get my copy the second it’s available.

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There you have it. While there are many other books that I’m excited for in 2019, I’ve decided to stop myself here before the glazed look in my readers’ eyes becomes a nodding off. What books are you excited to read in 2019? I’ve noticed there are no nonfiction in this list: what are some nonfiction books are being released that I need to keep an eye out for?