Book Thoughts: “The House in the Pines” by Ana Reyes

Goodreads Rating: 3.2/5 

Mine: 3/5 (What I read)  

I did not finish this book. 

I made it to the halfway point before deciding not to continue, even though part of me wished I could. The book had great promise: a series of strange deaths, a protagonist of mixed descent finally ready to face her bogeyman, a father’s secret work, and a mysterious house in the woods tied to a murderer.  

However, Maya, was just not likable. At least, not to me. I couldn’t connect with the main character on any level (even the mixed heritage point). The chapters where the book touches on her Guatemalan blood (from her dad’s side) seemed shallow, though I truly wish the author would have fleshed this aspect of Maya out more. I enjoyed the mystery behind discovering her father’s book, and really wanted a hint to the secrets it held earlier in the story. However, this aspect was often overshadowed by flashbacks about other aspects of Maya’s life, that I almost forgot about the book altogether.  

I felt like there were many missed opportunities. Fleshing out Aubrey (and her possibly toxic friendship) earlier on rather than spending time on Dan, who pretty much disappears after the first few chapters. Also, fleshing out Maya’s connection with her grandmother, whose funeral she insisted on attending. Though, the reader didn’t get to meet the grandmother even in death. She remained an abstract. Perhaps it was an active choice not to show the grandmother during her funeral, and keep her as an abstract presence, but, it would have made death more concrete for Maya to have engaged with her grandmother’s body. It’s how we say goodbye, and gives things finality. That said, I enjoyed the description of the funeral procession through the graveyard. For some reason, graveyards in Latin America have a slumbering tranquility to them that I haven’t felt here in the US.

Also, there were large blocks of unnecessary backstory that slugged down the pace and took space away from the other competing themes.  

However, despite the points I mentioned, Reyes succeeded in creating a character in Frank that was both creepy and manipulative. Dude was slimy as all heck, and I felt my heart race during the chapters where he interacted with young Maya. Teenage girls are vulnerable, and he played on her need for validation and acceptance so well that you didn’t realize it was manipulation until several encounters later.  

Overall, The House in the Pines was not a book for me, but it was ambitious and created a villain that was believable in his sliminess. I look forward to reading Reyes’ future work.  

Book Thoughts: Elizabeth Kerner’s “The Lesser Kindred”  

Hello All!  

Second book of 2023 down.  

If you’re an old-school fantasy lover, this trilogy is for you.

Published in 2001, The Lesser Kindred is the second of the Tales of Kolmar Trilogy. Tor is one of my favorite fantasy publishers, so I often have high hopes for their books. Then again, my thoughts are a tad more biased because the first book of the series, Song in the Silence, also happens to be one of my absolute favorite books of all time. It’s one I pick up every few years and reread, seeing the characters with different eyes each time.  

In Song in the Silence, we meet a young Lanen Kaelar, who was left by her mother as a baby and raised by her adopted father, a horse breeder. In her early twenties, Lanen is filled with wanderlust and eager to leave home and explore the lands of Kolmar. And maybe, if she’s lucky, find the legendary dragons she’s always dreamed about.  

She finally gets her chance when her adopted father dies and she learns the circumstances behind her birth, and her mother’s departure, from her closest friend and truer father, Jamie. Mainly, she’s at the center of an old prophesy predicting the end of the world as they know it, and that she was promised to demons even before she was born. Together, Lanen and Jamie set out from their old home and Lanen is able to gain passage on a boat bound for the Dragon Isle, where she meets the creatures of her dreams and even falls in love with none other than the Dragon King. It’s this sense dreaming and fulfillment that draws me back to Song in the Silence time after time.  

However, The Lesser Kindred is another story. I tried reading it before, when I was in my teens, and can honestly say that I understand it more now, in my thirties, than I did at fifteen. I can’t even remember if I finished it the first time, though it has lingered in the back of my mind for well over a decade and a half. In the second book, Lanen is more mature due to the struggles she, and her new husband Varien, have faced. Meanwhile the danger to her life is ever more present as the two set off to escape the demon master looking for them and fulfill a promise to Varien’s people. Not only this, but Lanen finds herself pregnant and facing an internal battle that further puts her life in jeopardy. Will her children be monsters? Will she really bring about the end of the world?  

Definitely heavier themes to digest. Along with the themes of displacement from one’s home, human greed, and human resilience in the face of adversity. I can more relate to Lanen’s fear of an unknown future, and her frustration at others daring to try and control the course of her life. Motherhood is a great, often rewarding, thing. But how many mothers have wondered what kind of people their children would become? How many people have wondered if their actions would bring more evil than good?  

In all, I really enjoyed picking The Lesser Kindred back up, and revisiting beloved characters (like old friends). The final book, Redeeming the Lost, is already on my bookshelf, waiting. I don’t think I’ll pick it up immediately because I am still digesting the rest of the second book. But once I do, I will take my time with it because I hate endings and especially endings of beloved stories. It’s only taken me about twenty-or-so years to read all three, so what’s a few more months, right?  

Anyway, if you’re a lover of classic fantasy, I highly recommend the Tales of Kolmar trilogy. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you’ve ever felt a longing for magic and adventure.  

The Last Bookstore

Hello All,

I hope this finds you well and enjoying a restful weekend. As you know, one of my reading goals for the year is to support more local bookshops over large retailers like B&N and Amazon. And, this February, I was given just the opportunity!

I am most thankful to my friends for supporting my book habit, and for accompanying me to Downtown LA’s very own “The Last Bookstore”. This was only our second time ever exploring LA (and tackling it’s own unique kind of traffic), so we did hit a few bumps along the road – and a farmer’s market – before locating the establishment on the corner of South Spring Street.

I’d been wanting to visit this place for a long time and it did not disappoint! Not only did it have two huge floors, but it also housed several themed rooms, art installations, and shops!

I took in the magic of each section one step at a time, starting off with Fiction, Classics, and Young Adults. I allowed books to jump out, letting them choose me instead of me choosing them. (I eventually walked away with P. Schonstein’s A Time of Angels: A Novel, M. Tokuda-Hall’s The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, and an annotated copy of Frankenstein geared toward scientists and creatives of all types.)

On the second floor, I discovered not only a lovely Carroll-esque art installation (among several others) but also a wonderfully witchy little shop selling tarot cards, crystals, jewelry, and art by Liz Huston. I bought a few postcards to use as bookmarks there before heading out to find the book labyrinth. (Yes, they have a book labyrinth!)

It’s really an all-day kind of visit, but we were strapped for time as the drive back to the Central Valley was long. Before “re-entering the real world”, however, I made sure to leave well stocked in books and, of course, a hoodie.

Do you guys know of any bookshops in Northern California that I should visit?