Tag Archives: book review

Reading Challenge 11: A Book You Started But Never Finished

When I posted my reading challenge, I had one friend comment and say that this was the hardest one, because he apparently has never left a book unfinished. I, on the other hand, had an abundance of possible books to use here. Because I have a horrible habit of starting a book, then putting it aside and picking up something else instead. By the time the library due date is upon me, I’ve barely made any progress at all.

However, at the beginning of the year I started Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, and midway through the year a friend did a project on it and was aghast when I mentioned I hadn’t finished the book. She insisted I simply had to make sure to finish reading. So, in order to keep my word to her, I decided to make this my choice.

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This classic novel follows the story of an impoverished girl named Tess Durbeyfield whose father hears a rumor that they may be connected to an old family known as the D’Urbervilles. Hoping to gain some fortune, her family sends her off to meet with her cousin Alec, who ends up being more horrible than Tess could have anticipated. She leaves his home with a dark and terrible secret, one she has to decide if she will later reveal to the man she loves.

It’s hard to tell the plot without giving spoilers, but that was my best attempt. My over all impression of it is that it’s well-deserving of its famed status. It has good (although certainly old-fashioned) writing, and the story is definitely an interesting and complex one. It deals with women’s roles of the time and questions issues with the church and religion in general, so thematically it has some strong ideas to it too. It definitely took more work than some of the other books I’ve read lately, but sometimes it’s good to challenge oneself a little. There were definitely some plot points that surprised me though, and I’ll give the warning that the story is pretty sad. But if you’ve liked other 19th century novels, I’d try this one and see what you think.

Who else has a problem finishing books you’ve started? Please tell me I’m not the only one with this bad habit. Do you enjoy reading classics? Or do you have the same problems I do?

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Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Previous Posts:

1. A Book You Own But Haven’t Read

2. A Book that was Made into a Movie

3. A Book You Pick Solely for the Cover

4. A Book Your Friend Loves

5. A Book Published this Year

7. A Book by an Author You Love

9. A Book with a Color in the Title

10. A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit

12. A Book with a Lion, a Witch, or a Wardrobe

15. A Book of Poems

17. A Book that Will Make You Smarter

20. A Book EVERYONE but You Has Read

21. A Book with a Great First Line

22. A Book with Pictures

24. A Book You Loved…Read it Again!

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Reading Challenge 20: A Book “EVERYONE” But You Has Read

Out of all the challenges, I believe this one was the one that baffled me the most in terms of finding a suitable candidate. How does one determine what has been read by “everyone”? Who is everyone? So in an effort to find answers, I put the question on Facebook. I might have misjudged how much more confusing that would make it.

The responses strongly varied, especially depending on the person. I’ve made a complete list below and all the reasons I didn’t choose each one, but you can at least see what other people thought “everyone” had read. The responses were so many that I ended up being almost overwhelmed by them. And to add on to that there’s this unfortunate problem I have where I’m horribly stubborn.

I refused to read Harry Potter for years. Mostly because of the fact that everyone was reading it. For some reason, all of my life I’ve had a problem where if something is insanely popular, I almost always want to shy away from it. My friends will tell you that I still haven’t watched Doctor Who even though I’d probably love it, mostly because I just have this block where the more I’m pressured and the more I sense other people are loving something, the more I seem to resist. Silly, I know, but it’s the truth. So in my list of excuses you’ll definitely see some book options where it was simply a matter of my stubbornness getting the better of me.

To resolve my issue of not knowing where to start, I went simple. I went to the bestseller lists…the most sold copies through all time. And from there, I picked the only book I had heard of before (I don’t know how I haven’t heard of some of them, but I haven’t) that I hadn’t read and didn’t mind reading. So here was my selection: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

Best-selling books

Here’s the wikipedia page with the things I’ve read crossed off, and green text next to two I’d never heard of. I also refuse to read 50 shades. Feel free to talk to me about it, but it’s a personal choice. So that leaves The Da Vinci Code as my best option!

Now, like some of the suggestions from my friends, this one might have been a little outdated in terms of everyone reading it. It’s not currently as big of a phenomenon as it was at the time of its release, but I still can’t argue with the fact that it had a huge amount of sales, and to me, it seemed like the best option for a book everyone had read but me.

For any who don’t know, the basic premise is about a symbologist named Robert Langdon who gets caught up in the murder of a museum curator at the Louvre. His discoveries there send him on a sort of treasure hunt with cryptologist Sophie Neveu, looking for answers on a secret society and the information they’ve been protecting. These puzzles all seem to connect to a deadly secret the church has been covering up for years.

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I want to begin my own personal section of review with a preface. I will admit upfront that I am severely biased against this book. For that reason, I won’t spend as much time talking about it as I would like to, simply because of that. I do not believe my judgement is clear enough to give you a good picture of this book, so I’ll give a little snippet of my thoughts, but feel free to just stop reading at this point. I always hate reading negative reviews, so I’ll try to keep it short.

I’m a Christian. I don’t talk about my faith  much on this site, since I dedicate it more to my life of reading and writing, but this is a part of me that influences my views on certain things, especially books like this. That’s not to say I didn’t think The Da Vinci Code was interesting or anything of the sort, but it does mean I came in with a different understanding than some people who aren’t religious would. I could dedicate an entire post to the religious ideas in the text, but I won’t.

So I’ll keep it at this, while I don’t think this book is bad, I think it is overrated. I don’t believe the writing is particularly fantastic and thought that it felt a bit confused in terms of genre, sort of straddling an intellectual line while still trying to be something of a thriller. It was interesting though, and had I not seen the movie before I’m sure I would have found the puzzles more intriguing and been more absorbed in the plot as a whole. Brown definitely seemed to know a lot about art and symbols, which was interesting to learn a little more about. And while I might not agree with everything Brown has to say on faith, I can at least agree that there are elements of the church that I too find troubling, from its treatment of women throughout time and even today, to the forbearance of asking questions in the name of faith. I’m hoping to read Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans in a few weeks, which is about questioning faith and the church, and you’ll see my review when I’m done. So in those respects, yes, Brown struck true to me, but there is a lot of other material that disagree with, but I would take too long to criticize so I won’t.

Everyone has a difference of opinions when it comes to books. I know I’ve had novels on here I’ve described my love for and yet had fellow readers disagree. So I would not be at all surprised if there are readers who follow me who loved this book. No worries, I will not judge your taste. That’s one of the amazing things about literature, the fact that each book touches people differently and that no two readers see it in exactly the same light.

What books do you think “everyone” has read? Any popular books you just couldn’t stand? Do you tend to stay with the crowd on your reading list or deviate into your own unique choices?

Here are the many options I was given by my facebook and the reason I didn’t choose each one.

  • Twilight- I’m sorry but I passed this one as a teen and my desire to read it is even lower now than it was then.
  • Divergent- already read
  • Ender’s Game-already read the first one at least and didn’t feel like the others were as common
  • Percy Jackson- already read the first series and didn’t like the second as much.
  • The Fault in our Stars-the movie made me bawl my eyes out so I said no. I’ve since avoided John Green books like the plague. Maybe someday I’ll actually try one, but for now I’m being stubborn.
  • Atlas Shrugged-maybe someday, but definitely not for this challenge since it’s way too long and it holds some negative associations for me that I need to get over first before I can even think about enjoying it.
  • The Bible-I have at least read parts of that and again it’s a little long
  • All the Light We Cannot See-I read this for another challenge
  • Jurassic Park-perhaps in its day but I wasn’t sure it fit now
  • Shogun– again, probably in its time, but I was thinking more last ten years or a classic
  • Clan of the Cave Bears– same as last two
  • The Mortal Instruments– somehow missed this teen series. I probably should read it at some point, but I was looking for more of a single book to read.
  • The Maze Runner– already read
  • Peter Pan– already read
  • The Jungle Book- good contender, I did consider. On my reading list for the future!
  • Swiss Family Robinson- I suppose this is a classic, but I do feel like there are maybe some that are more read than this one.
  • Dracula- On my to read list, but I think i might use it for another challenge
  • Frankenstein– already read, and one of my favorites!
  • Maximum Ride- probably another good one, again wasn’t sure if it was an “everyone” book, but good possibility for sure.
  • The Inheritance Cycle– already read all four.
  • The Kite Runner– on my list and was a top contender.
Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Previous Posts:

1. A Book You Own But Haven’t Read

2. A Book that was Made into a Movie

3. A Book You Pick Solely for the Cover

4. A Book Your Friend Loves

5. A Book Published this Year

7. A Book by an Author You Love

9. A Book with a Color in the Title

10. A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit

12. A Book with a Lion, a Witch, or a Wardrobe

15. A Book of Poems

17. A Book that Will Make You Smarter

21. A Book with a Great First Line

22. A Book with Pictures

24. A Book You Loved…Read it Again!

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Reading Challenge 10: A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit

Books are a means of traveling. Pretty cheap traveling, especially if you have a library card. They’re a way to visit lands you’d never be able to, or go back in time, or see magical realms of another person’s invention. As an indebted college student, I very much appreciate the joy of being able to see new worlds in books since traveling just isn’t in the budget at the moment. I suppose that’s why I really liked this challenge.

I chose a book that had already been on my reading list for a while, but one I knew had some fantastic locations I wouldn’t mind visiting if I had the chance. As someone who’s already covered a lot of ground in the United States and western Europe, my next goals for traveling are to see some of the east and of course to get to the land down under. So for my pick I read A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute.

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This novel covers the journey of Jean Paget, a young English woman living in Malaya during WWII who ends up being captured by the Japanese and taken on a death march. Her life and the lives of several other women and children are saved thanks to the efforts of a brave Australian soldier. Thanks to him, she and the others end up living in a small village for the remainder of the war cultivating rice. A few years later, having come into some money, Jean returns from England to the village to provide them with a well. In the process she learns that her rescuer is still alive and she heads on a journey into the Australian outback to try to find him.

My travel map where I pin the places I've visited and the ones I want to visit!

My travel map where I pin the places I’ve visited and the ones I want to visit!

This story surprised me in being really interesting at the start. I had seen it on a few reading challenge lists and picked it up due to that, but I ended up really enjoying the read, especially to fit this challenge with all of the traveling and adventures. Although the book has some issues of racism due to when it was written, I thought that the ideas about women seemed more progressive than I would have expected. Jean is a pretty strong character, and she accomplishes impressive goals throughout the narrative. There are parts that are a bit cheesy, and I felt like the story did drag some in places, especially towards the end. However, most of it was quite interesting, and I enjoyed the story overall. I would definitely recommend this as a well done novel that is worth trying!

I don’t know that I really want to see Alice Springs specifically, but I’d love to visit Australia some day (the reason I picked this book), and I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to seeing some of Malaya, though hopefully in better circumstances than Jean. Regardless, I loved being able to see some of the world through a book from my library, imagining places in the world that I might not get to for a few more years at least.

Where are your favorite places you’ve traveled through reading? Do you have any books you’d recommend to use in exploring this world or other ones? What places would you love to explore more in real life?

Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Previous Posts:

1. A Book You Own But Haven’t Read

2. A Book that was Made into a Movie

3. A Book You Pick Solely for the Cover

4. A Book Your Friend Loves

5. A Book Published this Year

7. A Book by an Author You Love

9. A Book with a Color in the Title

12. A Book with a Lion, a Witch, or a Wardrobe

15. A Book of Poems

17. A Book that Will Make You Smarter

21. A Book with a Great First Line

22. A Book with Pictures

24. A Book You Loved…Read it Again!

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Reading Challenge 15: A Book of Poems

I had been dubiously eyeing number 15 from the time I started the reading challenge.The little dilemma is, I really don’t care much for poetry.

I know, gasp! I’m a horrible English major. But to be honest there are so many other forms of writing I would much rather spend time consuming. So when it came to choosing a book of poems, all I could think was that I didn’t know where to start. Until one day I discovered Goodreads has a reader’s choice award. And that these awards are given in categories, which made me curious to see what other people would recommend as good poetry.

Poetry nominees

I initially thought I’d read Lullabies, or another book by this same writer, but promptly discovered my library doesn’t carry it. Which caused me to turn to the runner up, Poisoned Apples: Poems For You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann

Again, I started the book dubiously, thankfully only it seemed small and had short poems and plenty of pictures. But I soon found I liked it more than I would have initially thought. I suppose a large amount of that had to do with its content.

As someone who has devoured Grimm’s fairy tales and feminist literature, this was the perfect fusion of my interests. Heppermann’s poetry is a fusion of these old stories with modern ideas about beauty and relationships and women. It focuses largely on the problems of beauty standards such as eating disorders and an obsession with perfection. On a whole I felt there was a lot of value in these poems, even if they didn’t strike me as perfectly crafted (but what would I know as someone who doesn’t read poetry for fun?).

Heppermann also pointed out that while Grimm and Perrault and other males have been famed for the legacy of fairy tales, it was often women who first told them, and she believes that shapes these stories and their overall messages. I’d never thought of that before, but it makes sense. Certainly there might have been men who told these tales, but I do usually picture a mother sitting with her children telling them old folklore passed down by her mother. It was a beautiful thought to think of modernizing some of these, blending old women’s messages into new ones. So I’m very glad this challenge made me pick up a book I wouldn’t normally have. I think that’s one of the great things about this challenge is being forced outside my comfort zone and actually finding new materials I can enjoy.

Do you enjoy poetry? Any good recommendations?

Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

1. A Book You Own But Haven’t Read

2. A Book that was Made into a Movie

3. A Book You Pick Soley for the Cover

4. A Book Your Friend Loves

5. A Book Published this Year

9. A Book with a Color in the Title

17. A Book that Will Make You Smarter

22. A Book with Pictures

24. A Book You Loved…Read it Again!

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Book Challenge 22: A Book With Pictures

All right, well if you’re going to pick a book with pictures that isn’t truly a “picture book” where do you start? Nonfiction works maybe? An old illustrated edition of Dickens? A graphic novel?

There are plenty of interpretations to the challenge, but this book was already on my reading list. And besides, what better pick for a book with pictures, than a book whose entire concept was framed around pictures?

You heard me right. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs was essentially put together with pictures first, and then a story. In other words, Riggs gathered up a variety of old peculiar black and white photos and then created a story based on them. The resulting story is quite interesting.

Jacob is sixteen when his grandfather dies under mysterious circumstances. Though everyone tries to tell him he’s insane, Jacob is certain that the odd death must be related to his grandfather Abe’s old stories of a children’s home in Wales. Though he too once thought these stories of strange and unusual children were fiction, Jacob is still determined to try to find the truth by setting out to find this mysterious orphanage hoping to figure out the mysteries of his family’s past.

I’ll leave it at that to avoid giving too much away. My own feedback on this book is that the story is really interesting. It’s a young adult book, so as often is the case it’s a fast read which is sometimes a nice change of pace. I didn’t think the writing was anything special, or even that the themes were really well-developed. But I nonetheless enjoyed this story, especially due to the intriguing pictures that guide the plot.

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At times it did feel a bit disjointed due to the pictures. As though they were the focus rather than the actual story itself. But I enjoyed seeing these old real images that are sort of fascinatingly creepy without being disturbing. It was a fun read for Halloween, engaging a sense of strangeness and suspense and mystery without being a real horror story of any kind. Definitely hope others will consider picking it up. If nothing else, look at the pictures. Those are interesting enough by themselves!

Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Other entries:

1. A Book I Own But Haven’t Read

2. A Book that was Made into a Movie

3. A Book You Pick Soley for the Cover

4. A Book Your Friend Loves

5. A Book Published This Year

9. A book with a color in the title

17. A book that will make you smarter

24. A book you loved…read it again!

17 Comments

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Book Challenge 4: A Book Your Friend Loves

So for this challenge, I put a post on Facebook asking what my “friends” loved that they’d read. I had such a wide variety of answers! Here are a few: The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The King of Trees by William D. Burt, Follow the River by James Alexander Thorn, Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi, The Shack by Paul Young, Peace Like a River by Leif Engle, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown, and Between Two Worlds by Roxana Saberi.

However, one book had four recommendations, which meant I simply couldn’t ignore it. And while many of the suggestions had been from old high school classmates, or distant relatives, this one came from a close friend, my mother, my grandmother, and a beloved elementary school teacher! So, how could I pass up on such a great candidate with so many people telling me it was worth reading.

The book was, of course, this year’s Pulitzer Prize Winner: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

The book centers on two different protagonists. Marie-Laure is a young French girl living in Paris where her father works at the Museum of Natural History. When she was six she became blind, and she has lived her life trying to overcome this disability, memorizing a wooden city map her father has made for her, learning different parts of science through touch and smell and sound instead of sight. But when the Germans invade, she and her father must flee to Saint-Malo, a seaport town where Marie-Laure collects shells and dreams of the day they can return to Paris while her father searches for a way to hide the most precious and dangerous item from the museum.

In the meantime, Werner, a German orphan who loves math and science, struggles to find his place in society. When he is accepted into a school for Hitler Youth, he takes the opportunity hoping only to continue using his skills for his country. It isn’t until much later he begins to become aware how much his dreams might cost him, and how difficult it can be to figure out what is right and wrong in a time of war. He eventually travels to Saint-Malo where Marie-Laure’s story meets his own.

Me and my mom and brother on the beach at Saint-Malo. It's a beautiful town!

Me and my mom and brother on the beach at Saint-Malo. It’s a beautiful town!

The awards this book had won seemed obvious to me within a few pages. Just barely having started the story, I could already see the expert craftsmanship. The writing is simply beautiful. However, unlike some books I’ve read, it’s not overbearing or pretentious. The descriptions are intricate but not overwhelming. They are simply as much as is needed to paint a picture of the circumstances of the times.

I recently read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, also set during World War II in France. It’s also a good read, but I would say it doesn’t measure up in terms of writing. It’s much more clunky at times, much less beautiful. However, one thing I would say is that The Nightingale snagged my attention just a bit earlier. All the Light We Cannot See starts out a tiny bit slower. It takes a bit to figure out what’s going on. Like Nightingale it flashes between past and present, building time into an intricate matrix of narrative. The sections are also all quite short, jumping between events in Germany and France, Werner and Marie-Laure.

At first I wasn’t sure about the shortness of the sections, but I began to like it after a while. It established a very fast rhythm and helped me keep interested in both stories. After becoming used to it, it gave the story a lot of ease in reading. I’m definitely keeping this technique in mind for my own writing.

i highly recommend this book. It was a good read, and I’m glad I don’t have to go back to my friends and tell them I didn’t like their recommendations. So thank you friends for picking such a good read for me!

Do you and your friends have similar tastes? What books would you recommend to a good friend?

Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Other entries:

1. A Book I Own But Haven’t Read

2. A Book that was Made into a Movie

3. A Book You Pick Soley for the Cover

5. A Book Published This Year

9. A book with a color in the title

17. A book that will make you smarter

24. A book you loved…read it again!

21 Comments

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Book Challenge: 2. A Book That Was Made Into A Movie

So for my selection for book 2 (technically the third book I’ve read for the challenge) I chose to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery which has been made into a French film titled Le Hérisson (The Hedgehog). I’d seen the movie for French class before and had found it enjoyable, so I decided to give the novel a go as well. (especially since I usually do try to read a book before watching a movie).

The plot revolves around two protagonists. The first is Renée who is a concierge in a fancy building in Paris. She tries to act the typical part of someone who works in a concierge’s position, being grumpy and unrefined, fat and ugly. However, her secret is that she is actually quite cultured and enjoys reading all manner of books, listens to fine music, and tries to learn as much as she can about Japanese culture. In the meantime there is also Paloma, a confused preteen who feels that life is purposeless and has decided to kill herself and set her apartment on fire. However, these two characters who both usually hide their true selves from others find a friend in the mysterious Mr. Ozu, a Japanese man who moves into one of the empty apartments.

I’m sad to say I actually think I enjoy the film version a lot more than the written one. The book has lovely sections of writing, and I still found the characters interesting, but for me the plot simply dragged far too much in novel form. Barbery had sections where she spent a lot of time on philosophy. And to be honest I’ve never been much of a fan of philosophy in the first place. But if such a subject is going to be applied in a novel, it needs to be in a section that interests me and moves the plot forward, not a lengthy couple of paragraphs just expounding on basic thoughts about life.

I found I actually liked Paloma in the book a bit more than in the movie. She was more interesting to me and less annoying. But I thought it was interesting that the movie focuses more on her suicide plans, while the book seemed to only throw in a rare mention of it, which to me really removed much of the tension of that whole part of the story. Renée on the other hand I think I liked more in the movie, partly because she was the one in the book more likely to drone on about particular books or philosophical ideas for pages and pages.

Anyhow, I think the story idea of this book is interesting, and I do love some of the ideas of people just looking for belonging and feeling like they don’t fit in, or critiquing the shallowness of people like Paloma’s snobby family. But I think there was a lot in here that just needed to be cut or adapted to be more essential to the plot. I recently read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and it reminded me a bit of this in terms of having quite a bit of philosophy and protagonists very interested in questioning life. But Stein managed to apply this in a way that made feel interested int he story. He added humor and didn’t use quite the extensive vocabulary that Barbery makes use of, making it a bit easier to read. I guess my point is I think there are ways to do what Barbery did without losing the audience (or at least me).

Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Well on to my next read. Until next time!

Previous book challenge reads:

1. A Book I Own But Haven’t Read

5. A Book Published This Year

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Book Challenge: 1. A Book I Own But Haven’t Read

Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source. http://burns-familyblog.blogspot.com/2014/12/26-books-in-2015.html

So I’ve decided to motivate myself to read more and decided to do a book challenge I had posted a few months ago. I’ll be working my way through it, and I’d like to think I’ll be done by the end of the year, though that might be wishful thinking.

For my first book I decided to read King Arthur and his Knights by Maude Radford Warren. I collect two things: antique books, and books about Arthurian legend. Hence why this one was sitting on my shelf alongside an old copy of Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson and some version of Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory.

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I picked this book because I was taking it on a trip and it’s fairly small unlike say Les Miserables or some of my other large hardback books I own and haven’t read. Honestly, I do need to do a better job of reading the books actually on my bookshelf rather than going to the library. But sometimes I honestly forget about them.

This version of the King Arthur stories turned out to be pretty simplistic. It sounds fairy tale-like when read, but it was interesting. I always enjoy seeing how different authors interpret the different myths, and the illustrations are very pleasing to the eye.

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My little book nook that I always seem to forget about for some reason.

First book done, I’m excited to move on to my next one! Be on the look out for my future posts on the challenge. And if anyone else decides to do this please let me know so I can follow your progress too!

What’s one book you own but haven’t read? Are you a person who refuses to buy a book unless you’ve already read it? What makes you decide to purchase a book?

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