The Song of Glory and Ghost by N. D. Wilson

Information

Goodreads: The Song of Glory and Ghost
Series: The Outlaws of Time #2
Source: Giveaway hosted by Shannon at It Starts at Midnight
Published: April 2017

Summary

Sam Miracle failed to kill the Vulture when he had the chance.  Now he and the Lost Boys are stuck in time while Peter Eagle attempts to learn the skills that will one day make him Father Tiempo.  But when Peter is injured, Sam’s best friend Glory will be the one who has to learn to wield the sands of time and help Sam take down the Vulture for good.

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Review

“Take up the life that is yours.  Walk the lonely winding roads to the deaths that are yours.  Live with open hands.”

I admit I am a little confused that this book wrapped up the Vulture arc.  Book One left me with the impression that Sam and his friends were about to embark on a Horcrux-like quest to find one of the Vulture’s six other gardens so that they could defeat him.  I assumed that this would take several books.  Instead, I found that this book moves from focusing on Sam to focusing on Glory and has the duo end the Vulture without their having to find another time garden at all.  This was all very unexpected and my state throughout reading was largely one of bafflement.

I have seen other readers remark that they find N. D. Wilson’s fantasies challenging and do not understand them.  I find N. D. Wilson’s works sophisticated and believe that they possess more depth than many middle-grade books being written today.  However, I have never been confused by Wilson’s work until now.  Perhaps I was reading too fast, but I really felt that I did not understand the dynamics of time travel or the ways in which the characters were manipulating time to slow down, speed up, hide, and so forth.  I just decided to take it on faith that it all made sense and followed the action without trying to figure out how it was all working.

This book really focuses on Glory, and that is a relief.  Wilson has always impressed me with his remarkable diversity of female characters.  They are strong, all in different ways.  But that did not come across for me in Book One.  Here, however, we get two lovely depictions of womanhood: Millie, who loves to cook and rule over her household domain, and Glory, who loves to adventure and fight.  They are very different, but both valuable and valued.  And Glory?  She is way cooler than Sam, whose main ability is as a sharpshooter, but only because he has snakes attached to his arms.  That is, Sam does not really possess skills; he is merely magically enhanced.  Glory earns her skills.

(As an aside, there is a third female character whose name I forget.  And I cannot figure out why she is included in this book.  Her main function is to follow the heroes around and get in the way because she thinks they are cool.  Typically characters appear in MG and YA books to forward the plot in some way, so I am not sure what is happening here.  Is her presence some sort of statement?  An indication that “ordinary” people can be in stories, too?  An experiment to see what will happen if random characters show up and do nothing?  I have no idea, but am welcome to hear other interpretations.)

The main attraction of this book, however, is really the prose.  Wilson has a talent for writing breathtaking and provocative lines.  Take this example from Empire of Bones: “Cowards live for the sake of living, but for heroes, life is a weapon, a thing to be spent, a gift to be given to the weak and the lost and the weary, even to the foolish and the cowardly.”  Wilson writes stories that encourage readers to be good people.  He is inspirational.  And that is a rare and precious thing.

I really did not like enjoy the first book in this trilogy, The Legend of Sam Miracle.  I thought Sam was a boring protagonist and Glory all but a nonentity.  I did not initially plan to read the sequel.  However, the writing in this book, along with Glory’s glorious transformation, makes me hopeful that the third installment will be worth reading.

3 Stars

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How to Read Books Online Free and Legally

Determining if a Work is in the Public Domain in the u.S.

Determining whether the copyright of a work has expired, making it free and legal to read online is admittedly a convoluted task.  However, to clear things up from the start, let me say this: if the author of the work you want to read is still alive, the work is almost certainly not in the public domain.  Searching for “read X free” is only going to land you on a sketchy website that has illegally uploaded your favorite author’s work.  Your favorite author gets no money from any books read or downloaded from that site.  No money earned for a book or series could mean that an author will have more difficulty publishing in the future.  It could even mean that an author will not be able to finish publishing a series in progress.  So if you want to support the authors you love, you need to buy their books or use the library (more on how to get books not carried by your library below).

Though copyright law can be confusing, you can fairly safely assume that any work published recently (as in, about the past four decades) is not in the public domain and should be not distributed freely online by random websites.  In the United States, works published after 1977 are typically protected by copyright for 70 years after the death of the author. If the work was created by a company, it remains under copyright for 95 years after publication or until 120 years after creation–whichever expires first.  Generally, a work in the U.S. is only out of copyright if published prior to 1923 (though possible exemptions exist for foreign texts published before 1923 but made compliant with U.S. copyright law later ). 

You should research the copyright of any work you wish to read online free.  However, this step becomes especially important for works published after 1922.  Do not assume that a text is in the public domain simply because you see people distributing it online or even posting poems or excerpts on their blogs.  You should also note that a single author may have some works in the public domain and some still under copyright.  There is no easy shortcut to determining copyright periods.

Copyright law in the U.S. becomes very complicated very quickly, with various rules determining the status of works published in various years based on where and when they were published, whether the author was dead or alive at the time and whether the copyright was renewed at the appropriate times.  You can attempt to use an online guide to figure out the copyright status of a work.  However, your safest option may be to contact the potential copyright holder directly.

You should also note that disclaimers such as “This work may be under copyright” or “This work belongs to someone else” do not give anyone the legal right to distribute a work that is not in the public domain.  Think about it this way.  If someone steals a physical book from a bookstore and then offers it to you free with the disclaimer “I do not own this book,” they obviously have no legal right to give it to you.  They are cheating the author and publisher out of the money they would have earned had you bought the book from someone legally allowed to sell it.  The same thing happens when pirating websites steal books and upload them.  No reputable website will try to confuse readers with sketchy disclaimers like this.

When searching for books online, you can also use some common sense.  Most authors do not make a lot of money from writingIf an author could make money from their hard work by selling their intellectual property, why would they let other people distribute it online free?  If you spent months or years working on an idea or a project, would you want people to take it and give it away free?  If a deal looks to good to be true, it often is.  Fortunately for readers, however, there are recognized reputable sources for reading books free and legally.  For your convenience, some are listed below.

*If you want to learn more about following copyright law when quoting texts or using images, click here.

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What to Do if Your Library Does Not Carry the Books You Want

Before we get into the online resources, however, I wanted to address a common complaint–that one’s local library does not buy the books they want to read.  In this case, many library users in the U.S. actually still have access to those books.  Here’s a list of legal options to pursue (though nominal charges may apply to some services at some libraries.)  There are also some suggestions for individuals who find it difficult to travel to their local library.

See if your library partners with other local libraries.

In this case, you should be able to place a hold on a library book from a nearby city and have it delivered to your home library.  You can return the book to your home library as well.  Note that some libraries may charge a nominal fee for this service.

Request an Interlibrary Loan.

Even avid library users often misunderstand what an ILL is.  An ILL is not a book from a library with which yours partners and you will not be able to request one as a “hold” through the catalog.  Instead, you will have to email, call, show up in person, or fill out an online form.  Then the ILL librarian will find the library from anywhere in the country and have it mailed to your home library for you to borrow.  So if you live in California, you can read a book from a library in Maine.  That’s rightMost library users in the U.S. have access to just about any book available at any public or academic library anywhere in the country.  (Unfortunately, libraries might not loan out rare or older books, but you should be able to get your hands legally on that YA book you wanted.)  Note, however, that some libraries may charge a nominal fee for this service.

Check the e-book catalog.

Libraries typically separate their e-book catalog from their physical book catalog.  Check your library’s website to see if the title you want is available online as an ebook or audiobook.  You do not need to own an e-reader to read these books.  Most libraries offer Kindle books or books that can be read in-browser.  The Kindle app is free to download on tablets, smartphones, and laptops.

See if you are eligible for a card at another library.

Most libraries in your home state will allow you to get a card if you show the proper identification as well as a card from your home library.  You can then check out e-books from other libraries at your leisure.  You can also check our list here to see if you are eligible to get a card online from another library in your state.

Submit a purchase request.

You can ask your library if they are able to buy the book you want to read.  Note that some libraries may only purchase recently published titles and that some libraries may face budget restraints that mean that they cannot order every title requested.

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What to Do if You Cannot Travel to the Library

See if you can apply for a card online and check out e-books.

Some libraries allow individuals to apply for a card online, though you may have to show up in person to activate the card fully or check out physical books.  You can check here to see if you are eligible to apply for an online card for a library in your state–even if you do not reside in the city in which the library is located.  Be sure to check the library’s website for all updated information.

Check to see if you have a local branch or a bookmobile.

If you are able to leave home, but find that the library is too far, check your library’s website to see what other options may be available.  Many patrons remain unaware that their library has branches serving local neighborhoods.

See if your library offers homebound services.

Libraries have experimented with mailing books and having volunteers deliver requested titles to those who cannot leave home.  You can call or check your library’s website to see if such a program is available for you.

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free and legal resources to read books online

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg provides access to thousands of public domain texts, including some in languages other than English.  This remains a favorite site for students, but readers looking for classic works will also find much to enjoy.  Readers from outside the U.S. are advised to check their own copyright laws before downloading.

Riveted

Simon and Schuster rotates a selection of their YA titles that can be read online free and legally.

Open Library

Open Library provides access both the works in the public domain and to more recent texts made available for loan by various libraries.

Kindle

Kindle has free apps for smartphones, tablets, and laptops, so you do not need to own an e-reader to access legal e-books.  Simply download the app and then search the Kindle store.

(Amazon is admittedly not my favorite company to patronize.  However, I recognize that many people prefer Kindle books over other formats.  I also believe it is preferable for people to download books legally rather than illegally.)

Nook

Like Amazon, Barnes and Noble offers a free app for various devices so you do not need to purchase a Nook to read free, legal e-books.  You can download the app onto your phone or tablet and then search the Nook store for free books.

The Library

If your library does not carry the e-book titles you want, you can check to see if you are eligible for an online card from another library in your state.  You can also show up in person to a local library in your state and, by showing  your home library card and ID, you can receive a card from that library and access their e-book titles.  You are not necessarily limited only to the e-books carried by your home library.

Libraries often partner with apps like Overdrive or Libby.  You can download e-books through these apps, read the book in your browser, or download a Kindle book from the library.  Kindle has free apps available for tablets, smartphones, and laptops, so you do not need an e-reader to download legal e-books.

Nook also has a free app available, though most libraries seem to partner with Amazon rather than with Barnes and Noble.  You can check out the free Nook book options through the Barnes and Noble website, however.

Mini Reviews (8)

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

The third and final installment in the Grishaverse trilogy brings back all the action and excitement of the first two books.  I did find myself confused by Alina’s motivations and her belief that she has to make a political alliance, as this seems to have sprung from nowhere considering her attitude in the previous two books.  Still, even though I found the ending surprisingly pat, I enjoyed the story and stayed up late at night to find out how it would wrap up.  (Source: Library) Four Stars.

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

The second installment of the Grishaverse trilogy is even more gripping than the first.  Leigh Bardugo expands upon her worldbuilding, introduces a couple of compelling new characters, and raises the stakes of the political game Alina finds herself enmeshed in.  As a bonus, the love triangle, fortunately, begins to fade.  Alina’s longing for the Darkling makes sense if one considers that she feels the struggle of being in an unequal relationship, one where she holds greater power and a higher social status.  But readers understand that her attraction to the Darkling is simply a symptom of her unease and a little bit of lust–she does not seriously consider herself as choosing between a man of integrity and a mass murderer.  If only we could have more YA books with no love triangles.  (Source: Library)  Four Stars.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

This is a debut!  In Nevermoor, Jessica Townsend introduces readers to a magical world where giant cats act as housekeepers, brave individuals ride dragons (or sometimes rhinoceroses), and shadows seem to come to life.  Morrigan Crow, treated as an outcast in her own world, where the community believes her cursed, longs to stay, but there is only one catch–she must pass four trials to become a member of the legendary Wundrous Society, or be sent back to die in her birth land.  Thus begins a marvelous, magical adventure where nothing is what it seems, everything is larger than life, and the characters grip readers’ heart from the start.  Add in Townsend’s laugh-out-loud sense of humor and perfect comedic timing and you have the perfect recipe for one of the most delightful middle grade fantasies on the market.  (Source: Library)  Five Stars.

Katana at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee

I had not planned on reading any more installments in the DC Super Hero Girls series after being put off by the first novel, which focuses on an annoyingly odd Wonder Woman.  Fortunately, the characterization seems to have improved.  Katana is not defined by one strange trait, as if she has no other facets.  Instead, she is allowed to be strong and confident, but sometimes unsure.  The plot is kind of random and I am not sure it really makes sense, but I do not think the younger readers this series is aimed at will care.  (Source:  Library)  Three Stars.

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

The Great American Read is an eight-part television series celebrating and discussing America’s top 100 novels as chosen by a survey of approximately 7,200 people.  Americans can vote on their favorite book once a day until the winner is revealed on October 23.  Here at Pages Unbound, we’ll be joining the fun by reading, reviewing, and discussing some of the nominees!

Information

Goodreads: Bless Me, Ultima
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1972

Summary

One of the most celebrated books in the Chicano literary canon, Bless Me, Ultima follows Antonio as he grows up on the edge of the llano.  Torn between his mother’s love for the earth and his father’s love of freedom, his belief in the Catholic church and the miracles he has seen performed by Ultima the curandera, Antonio struggles to find his place in the world.

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Review

“The smallest bit of good can stand against all the powers of evil in the world and it will emerge triumphant.”

Bless Me, Ultima feels more like an experience than a story.  The rich words of the text wash over readers with the seeming wisdom of the llano or the river.  Antonia may be confused about his beliefs, desperate to know which religion to accept and which career to follow.  But the words, soft and reassuring, always bring comfort.

Readers accustomed to the plot-driven stories of YA may initially find themselves adrift.  Bless Me, Ultima has no clear goal it is aiming for, nor does the story ever really feel conclusive.  It is, after all, merely some chapters in the life of a boy growing up, perhaps too soon, into a man.  And life seldom has conclusions.  We simply hear what life is like for Tony, torn between his parents’ dreams, desperate to know the real God, wondering why there is so much darkness in the world.  Tony has questions that he cannot answer, not for himself and certainly not for the readers.

Though some have found the content of the book offensive, Bless Me, Ultima is not designed to promote one view over another.  Its importance lies in its willingness to depict Antonio as someone who has doubts and as someone who is struggling to find good in the world when he has witnessed so much violence and deception.  This does not mean that the book or the author is insulting Catholicism or glorying in graphic content.  It simply means that Antonio is a person.  And, like many people, he is uncertain.  Sometimes he feels God has failed him.  Sometimes he wants a god who is more immediate and more conversational.  And sometimes he just wants to cry because everything seems so bleak.  If depicting something so realistic is offensive, we are all in trouble.

Bless Me, Ultima is undoubtedly worth a read for its honest, probing look at one boy’s coming-of-age story.  Though some may find it slow-paced, that it is part of its magic.  The prose sinks deep into the reader, inviting them to journey with Antonio through his childhood to the edge of adulthood.  It is a journey worth taking.

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About the Author

Born in 1937 in New Mexico, Rudolfo Anaya has published over 40 books, including Bless Me, Ultima, which has become one of the leading books in the Chicano literary canon.  He worked as a high school English teacher and later taught at the University of New Mexico until he retired in 1993.

Sources

Previous posts on the Great American Read

Take the quiz to see how many of the Great American Read nominees you have already read!

4 stars

Keeper of the Lost Cities Raises Some Interesting Questions

If you have read our blog in the past year,  you probably know that I am obsessed with Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities series.  It follows twelve-year-old Sophie Foster as she discovers her heritage as an elf, develops her telepathic abilities at a magical school, and fights to learn how she is linked to a mysterious rebel group known as the Black Swan.  Full of non-stop action, fabulous cities, and plenty of humor, the series also raises some intriguing questions about an elven society meant to be perfect.

Should individuals give up privacy for safety?

All elves wear tracking devices around their necks.  No one really explains why, especially as elves supposedly rarely break the law and surveillance should therefore be unnecessary.  I suppose if one’s child did not arrive home on time, one could ask for their location to be tracked, but wearing the equivalent of a dog collar hardly seems like it should be required in a world where death almost never occurs.  Even more interesting, however, is that Sophie welcomes her tracking device and feels safer with it.  Not once does she or anyone else question why the government needs to track everyone.  They seem to believe entirely in the integrity of their government.  And perhaps they assume people with nothing to hide have no reason to protest being tracked?  The book really does not dwell on these questions, so it is unclear if the book is truly suggesting that tracking is a positive good or if this is simply a world-building element meant to illustrate how a crimeless society would function.

Would equal incomes mean an equal society?

All elves begin at birth with enough money to last their entire lifetimes (even though no one has yet died of old age) and all elves therefore are able to live in mansions built of crystal with anything from swimming pool-sized baths to aquarium-lined walls.  However, their world is talent-based, so individuals with no special talent (telepathy, phasing, inflicting, etc.) have to wear working-class clothes and work in specially-built working-class cities.  And the nobility (recognizable by their capes) look down on them.  The books seems to suggest that people will always find a way to have the few rule over the many.

What is guilt and how does it affect people?

Supposedly elves are very sensitive to guilt and go mad when they do something wrong, so this is why crime rarely happens.  And  yet there are rebels kidnapping children, creating fires, etc.  And the government routinely exiles people including children and does things like commit memory breaks to read the minds of lawbreakers and find out their secrets.  Memory breaks cause people to go mad.  Apparently elves equate  “legal” or “sanctioned by the government for the safety of society” as “morally right” and so can do terrible things if assigned those actions by their council.  So my sense here is that “guilt” is relative.  If an elf can justify their actions or perceive a wrongdoing as minor, their minds are safe (just as humans silence their consciences with justifications for their behavior).  Again, the books do not really go into details here to ferret out why elves feel they ought to rebel against the government sometimes but other times see the government as defining moral law.  But there is much to think about here in regards to the relationship of the individual to the government and civil disobedience.

How does a “perfect” people see themselves in relation to others?

One of the most obnoxious things about the elves is that they see themselves as perfect because nonviolent and so they look down on other species, including the goblins that serve as their bodyguards.  They even refuse to help dying  humans because humans simply are not worth anything to them.  In other words, this is yet another way elf utopia has failed to eradicate problems such as pride and the prejudice that results from it.

Have you read Keeper of the Lost Cities?  How do you think Messenger handles these questions?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Cover

Information

Goodreads: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Series: Blade Runner #1
Source: Library Summer Reading Program Prize
Published: 1968

Official Summary

It was January 2021, and Rick Deckard had a license to kill.
Somewhere among the hordes of humans out there, lurked several rogue androids. Deckard’s assignment–find them and then…”retire” them. Trouble was, the androids all looked exactly like humans, and they didn’t want to be found!

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Review

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is one of those books that feels dated and cliche partially because so many books have been written on the same premise after its publication. Basically, I’ve read enough books that ask “Are androids basically human and deserving of the same rights? How can we tell the difference between AI and real life?” that I wasn’t particularly enthralled here. Marissa Meyer’s graphic novel Wire and Nerves is just the latest I’ve read that tackled this issue, and while I do think Dick addresses the issue in more detail, most of these books do come down to some version of “Can androids feel emotion?” Dick may  have been first, but I didn’t read him first, so I’ve seen both the question and the answer before.

The book also just feels dated in the way much classic sci-fi does, in that the imagined future (here, 2021) is so clearly imagined from the 1960s. First, there’s the idea that the future involves androids performing household chores like Rosie on The Jetsons, instead of the idea (which writers today would predict) that household appliances would just be “smart” and run themselves. Second, however, is the obviously dated role of women. Dick imagines that in 2021, women are housewives, secretaries, or perhaps celebrities like actresses and singers.  I read a lot of older books (much older than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), so a book being old isn’t automatically an issue for me; I think this one has the strong dated sense because Dick was trying to predict the future and so obviously missed the mark on a lot of things.

The plot is fine but not remarkable. Both the plot and the world building come across as primarily mechanisms for the question of android vs. human rights. (Though I was intrigued that the setting is both futuristic and post-apocalyptic, so there are “cool” things like hovercars, but also Earth and everything on it is dying.)

The focus on empathy as something that humans possess that androids cannot is interesting, and I actually find it convincing that this would be the distinguishing factor between humans and machines. Other books seem to focus on “love,” but love is more abstract; empathy has a more specific definition.  The tie-in with religion is also interesting, though it takes a while, and I spent a lot of the book confused about why Dick was harping on his invented religion of Mercerism.

Overall, the book is worth reading if you’re into classic sci-fi or classic literature in general. I wouldn’t say it’s gripping from a plot perspective or offering much new if you read a lot about androids in general, but I’m glad I read it.

2 star review Briana

A Room with a View by E. M. Forster

Room with a View

Information

Goodreads: A Room with a View
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1908

Official Summary

“But you do,” he went on, not waiting for contradiction. “You love the boy body and soul, plainly, directly, as he loves you, and no other word expresses it …”

Lucy has her rigid, middle-class life mapped out for her until she visits Florence with her uptight cousin Charlotte, and finds her neatly ordered existence thrown off balance. Her eyes are opened by the unconventional characters she meets at the Pension Bertolini: flamboyant romantic novelist Eleanor Lavish, the Cockney Signora, curious Mr Emerson and, most of all, his passionate son George.

Lucy finds herself torn between the intensity of life in Italy and the repressed morals of Edwardian England, personified in her terminally dull fiancé Cecil Vyse. Will she ever learn to follow her own heart?

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Review

I admit I had no idea what this book was about going in; I only knew it’s a classic and I owned a copy I’d never read before. Diving in, my immediate impression was that the book is social commentary, interested in analyzing the differences between people who are “proper” and people who are not–not because they are actually rude but because they don’t do quite what social mores dictate.  I was immensely surprised to check out the Goodreads page and find out that a lot of people consider A Room with a View to be a romance, a “charming”, “sweet,” and “optimistic” one!

I enjoyed reading Forster’s descriptions of the various characters in the novel, ranging from the protagonist Lucy Honeychurch to her prim, self-flogging cousin Charlotte to her stuffy fiance to the “unsuitable” George Emerson and his father. The book delights in the portraits of each character and in discussing what sets each apart from the authors. Lucy is young and innocent and sometimes wonder if doing “indecent” things (such as offering something to someone who wants it, when you don’t want it) doesn’t make life more beautiful. George and Mr. Emerson agree with her.  Her cousin Charlotte does not, nor do most of the “proper” people in the book. They are continually at odds, just under the surface, as actually quarreling probably isn’t quite the proper thing to do either.

The novel also explores the differences between classes, between the various people living in the country, between people who live in the country and people who live in the city, etc. Overall, I thought the emphasis on social commentary and the dips into pondering human nature were reminiscent of Jane Austen (though I say that as someone who has seen a lot of Jane Austen movies but has only read half of Pride and Prejudice).

…But I never thought the book was a romance. There is certainly a romance in it, and ostensibly the plot revolves around Lucy’s decision to marry the proper and rich Cyril or flaunt all social mores and profess her love for the unconventional George Emerson.  Yet, plot-wise, a lot of this isn’t actually conveyed in the book.  The onset of the love between Lucy and George is barely explained; then, it just is, except they never speak of it. [Spoilers ahead.] Then, when Lucy finally admits to herself she loves George and wants to break things off with Cyril, the actual romantic part is entirely off-page. Readers end one Part of the book with Lucy admitting her feelings to Mr. Emerson (George’s father). The next part opens with George and Lucy already married.  If you’re into actually seeing a romance grow or seeing people say romantic things to each other, this is not the book for you.

I did think it was interesting, however, and I’m glad I read it. (It’s short anyway and on my list of 20 classics under 200 pages.) Am I so in love that I want to rush out and read more E. M. Forster? Not really, but I will keep his future works in mind.

4 stars Briana