May 2021 Book Reviews: Six of Crows, Hope Was Here, The House at Pooh Corner, Before & After


As part of my plan to study story-creation in the next few months and beyond, I’ve been researching Booktube, specifically: TBR games. (More on that in future articles). Which is what inspired me to start a To-Be-Read project of my own.

For the first couple months of this Project, I’ve been using a simple “spin the wheel” style game to pick books to read each month. (You can watch the videos in the free Brilliant Writer app — see link below to find out how to get it)

But that will be changing in June (as you Brilliant Writers will see — check your emails!)

Okay, without further ado, here’s how I did on my reading list for May…

May 2021 Booklist

In May, I selected 9 books, and had to finish at least 4 of them. These are the original 9:

F = Fiction. N = Nonfiction.

  1. Emma by Jane Austen (F): A young woman who determines not to marry tries her hand at matchmaking, with disastrous results.
    How I did: Halfway through, still plan to finish, but not this month. I already know the basic story, so I’m reading for the details, to see Austen’s execution of the story.
  2. Tweet Cute by Emma Lord (F): The daughter of a fast food chain mogul and son of a small deli owner get into a Twitter war — but they don’t know that they are actually classmates.
    How I did: Read about half. Don’t plan to finish. A very basic YA rom-com that doesn’t stand out.
  3. Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen (F): A time traveling secret agent gets stuck in the 1990s and builds a life for himself until his rescue team arrives 18 years too late.
    How I did: Read the introduction, lost interest. Probably won’t finish.
  4. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (F; re-read): A marine biologist becomes the prisoner of Captain Nemo who lives in a technologically advanced ship that everyone thinks is a monster.
    How I did: Haven’t even started. This is going back on the bookshelf for another time.
  5. House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne (F): Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh and his animal friends in the Hundred Acre Woods.
    How I did: Finished.
  6. Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer (F, re-read): A girl who is a waitress and her cook aunt/adopted mother are forced to move to a small town in Wisconsin where they get embroiled in a local political corruption case.
    How I did: Finished.
  7. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (F): A band of misfits go on a heist to steal a scientist with dangerous knowledge from the most highly-guarded castle in the land.
    How I did: Finished.
  8. Before and After by Judy Christie and Lisa Wingate (N): Interviews with victims of a Tennessee woman who stole children to sell them into adoption. Their stories were novelized in the novel, Before We Were Yours.
    How I did: Finished.
  9. Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale (N): The autobiography of one of the greatest con men in modern American history.
    How I did: Didn’t even start. Going back on the bookshelf to try again some other time.

Personal Ratings & Review

I use 2 criteria to rate every book on a scale of 1–5:

  1. Content: the ideas in this book are interesting, edifying, and worth learning.
  2. Craftsmanship: the work is polished, skillful, and well-written.

Thoughts on Books Read

Warning: Light spoilers ahead! They will be marked with a [SPOILER] sign.

Six of Crows (F)

  1. ★★
  2. ★★

I decided to pick up Six of Crows because I heard it was a popular heist book, and I like stories that feature strong puzzles and adventures with clever tricks. Unfortunately, this book didn’t have very many of those.

[SPOILER] The most prominent “clever” idea I can think of is how the group of thieves disguise themselves as slaves to infiltrate the castle. That’s it.

I also couldn’t connect to any of the characters. Not the “injured and afraid to love” leader of the group, Kaz, his quiet sidekick Inej, the hate-to-lovers Matthias and Nina, the rich-boy-runaway Wyland or the joker, Jesper. All you need to know about the characters are basically summed up in those descriptors.

Even worse are the relationships. I don’t believe that these people are real friends, or that Nina and Matthias supposedly love each other underneath the surface hatred. Hence, the rating.

House at Pooh Corner (F)

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★

Some children’s books are written for kids, but adults can enjoy them, too, even if they have to read them over and over again (The Giving Tree, Doctor Doolittle, most of Dr. Seuss’ books, etc).

In fact, one reason I love reading children’s books (anywhere from elementary to MG and sometimes YA) is because they often have more profundity, and are written to be more appealing than modern adult books.

But House at Pooh Corner doesn’t quite do any of that. There are moments of brilliance (like when Pooh makes up poems), and some of the lessons taught in the stories are fundamental life principles worth remembering:

[SPOILER] (I’m thinking of the story where Rabbit proposes “losing” Tigger in the woods to cure him of his “bounciness”…and then Rabbit ends up getting lost, himself)

…But overall, this book isn’t one that I would voluntarily pick up again, although I’m glad to have read something from the Winnie-the-Pooh canon at least once, so I know what it’s all about 😉

Hope Was Here (F)

  1. ★★★★★
  2. ★★★★★

Hope Was Here has always been one of my favorite books, and it still is. As an adult, I don’t think I love it with the same fierce love that I did as a child, but I think I will always warmly appreciate this book.

A side note: It’s interesting how, when you love something, you become fond of its secondary characteristics as well. For example, I loved Hope Was Here for the way the eponymous main character navigated life and parental failure and political strife, but I also found myself inexplicably interested also in cooking and waitressing and the state of Wisconsin (to the point where I even deliberately traveled there some years ago, just because).

That’s a good thing for writers to think about: When you write a powerful story, your readers can easily become familiar with and fond of other elements from that story as well!

Before & After (N)

  1. ★★★★
  2. ★★★★

Before & After discusses a fascinating historical crime that I’ve never heard of before now. One that has changed and continues to change the lives of generations of children descended from the original stolen ones.

I’ve long been interested in the foster/adoption world, and like to learn more about it whenever I can. So I knew that there have been some international adoption abuses as well as issues with foster care, but I never knew that in recent American history, people actually stole children from their families to “sell” them into adoption.

Reading the interviews with actual victims of Georgia Tann and her group was fascinating and sad. It brings home the importance of the biological family to children, and how unresolved familial scars can echo across generations.

Summary

My favorite reads this month were Before & After and Hope Was Here. Mostly because both have such a strong focus on family, what happens when family hurts you, and how to heal from those wounds. Topics that are very close to my heart.

So that’s it for May. For June, I’ve redesigned my TBR game (choosing the books for my To-Be-Read list using a popular single-player game). You are more than welcome to play along! I’ll be uploading the video to our Brilliant Writer app (join our Merry Band using the link below and find out how to get access to the free app).

Keep an eye out!

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