The Harper Hall Trilogy


by Anne McCaffrey

Published – Dragonsong:  1976; Dragonsinger:  1977; Dragondrums:  1979

So my book-blogging friend Sophie gave me a list of authors/titles to read a while back, and McCaffrey’s Harper Hall Trilogy is where I chose to start!  But first things first:  Is the cover picture for Dragondrums the creepiest thing you’ve ever seen or what!?  It’s even worse in real life – the dude is giving you this super creeper ‘sup look.  ::shudders::

But anyway.  The first two books in this series focus on Menolly, a young woman with a gift for music.  Unfortunately, in her home town, being a harper (which, in this culture, involves teaching customs, history, new lessons, and school) is a task reserved only for men, and Menolly’s father, the leader of their town, punishes her for pursuing her dreams of writing and playing music.  Eventually, Menolly runs away from home.  In the wilderness, her whole life changes when she saves a nest of fire lizards.

The trilogy is set in a fantastic world.  McCaffrey does a wonderful job of creating a place that is very different from our own world, yet still relatable and easy to follow.  It was a little hard for me to get into the groove of these books, but once I did, I found them to be very good reading.  However, for  me, the strange part about these books is that there really wasn’t much of a story – there was no villain, no one to rescue, no quest.  It’s just the story of Menolly’s life, which happens to be in this totally different and intriguing world with fire lizards and stuff.  The second weird thing was that these  books weren’t really all that much about dragons.  Dragons were there, hanging out in the edges, but most of Menolly’s interaction is with the small fire lizards, not with dragons.

I really liked Menolly herself.  She’s not a whiner, which I loved.  She’s also not all obnoxious about being a girl.  In the second book, when Menolly is training to become a harper, I think McCaffrey dealt very realistically with Menolly’s fears and struggles, without over-dramatizing them.

The third book focuses more on Piemur, a younger friend of Menolly’s we met in the second book.  I really enjoyed Piemur’s adventures, especially when he finds himself living on his own in the wilderness.  But once again, I kept expecting there to be some overarching point to the book – some enemy to overcome, some quest to venture on, but the story just sort of tooled along.

Throughout the series, various people raise/bond with fire lizards.  These small, intelligent animals form a close rapport with their human friends, and are somewhat able to communicate, especially strong emotions and feelings.  However, this led to what has to be the most bizarre love scene I’ve about ever encountered (although I’ll freely admit that I don’t usually seek out books with strange love scenes so).  Menolly and her friend, Sebell, are traveling together on a small boat to look for Piemur.  Sebell’s fire lizard comes into whatever the equivalent of “heat” is for fire lizards, and since Menolly’s fire lizards are the only ones around, one of them mates with Sebell’s lizard.  But because the emotions of the fire lizards are so strong, Sebell and Menolly sleep together because they’re apparently overwhelmed by fire lizard lust?????  Of course, it’s all good because they’ve actually been in love with each other for a while, but it was just completely random, out of no where, and left me with a LOT of questions – like what if Menolly and Sebell aren’t around each other the next time one of their fire lizards wants to mate?  Will they just shag whoever happens to be handy??  It was completely out of left field and I was SO confused.

But overall, these books were interesting reads.   I think they could have done with a little more direction, and maybe a little more humor (I think that’s what I liked Dragondrums the best – Piemur entertains me), but the world building was excellent, the characters solid, and the conversations interesting.  A solid trilogy for those who enjoy fantasy, and some more McCaffrey titles have found their way to the TBR.  :-)



by Randy Alcorn

Published 2007

While Deadline and Dominion were published back-to-back in the mid-90’s, Alcorn waited ten years to follow up with a third novel.  Deception centers around Detective Ollie Chandler, and was by far and away my favorite out of the trilogy, and just an all-around fun, entertaining, and challenging book.

Like Dominion, Deception makes more sense if you’ve read the previous books, but is very readable as a stand-alone.  (Actually, I recommend it that way, especially if you’re not terribly interested in Alcorn’s theology.)  Chandler is the narrator of the book, and while I’m not usually a huge fan of first-person narratives, Chandler’s voice is what makes this story so much fun.  His dry humor had me laughing out loud on multiple occasions.  Chandler, a detective himself, has a great love for the classics, and there are so many references to Sherlock, Poirot, and many others.  I loved it.

After the tone, leave your name, number, and the location of the money.  I’ll get back to you as soon as it’s safe for you to come out of hiding.

How can you not like a guy who has that as his voicemail message??  (And after all, this is the same guy who got written up for answering phone calls at Christmas time, “Ho-ho-ho-homicide!”)

As with many thrillers, Deception starts with a murder.  But as the story unwinds, it appears that no one is as they appear, and even Ollie isn’t sure that he has an alibi.  While this book is too humorous to be a serious thriller, it definitely walks that line much stronger than the previous two books.  While no serious procedural, the mystery element is much stronger and drives the story well.

The only problem with reading this book on its own is that you miss a lot of Ollie’s background from the other books.  In Dominion, Ollie was the one helping Clarence solve the mystery of the murder of Clarence’s sister and daughter.  In that book, which focused so much on race, we learned a great deal about Ollie, who was almost fired over false accusations of beating a man because he was black.  While that’s a long way in the past at the point of this book, it’s still a part of Ollie’s life that shaped, and in many ways embittered, him.

A widower, Ollie speaks frequently and fondly of his wife, whom he misses.  Since her death, he’s found himself drinking more and more.  Unlike many other detective novels, however, Ollie’s alcoholism is never treated as something normal or good or even as that “edgy” background for the hero – it’s destructive and he knows it, and it’s interesting to watch him begin to work through it.

The dialogue is great, and Alcorn introduces some fantastic one-off characters, too.  Throughout the story, Clarence is following Ollie around during his investigation as part of a “good PR” policy put in place by the chief of police (whom Ollie cordially hates).  At one point, Ollie and Clarence stop to visit a witness who may have seen someone entering the victim’s home.  The whole thing reads like an Abbott and Costello sketch, including a man who, according to the uncooperative witness, was “short, mostly bald, pudgy, and looked like Abraham Lincoln.”

In Deadline, Jake became a Christian towards the beginning of the story.  In Dominion, Clarence was a long-time Christian wrestling with a sort of mid-life-faith crisis.  In Deception, Ollie is unabashedly unreligious and completely skeptical.  Although Jake and Clarence are two of his best friends, Ollie thinks their whole God-thing is a bunch of hogwash, and doesn’t hesitate to say so.  The conversations about religion are natural and well-written.

“This guy Frederick getting killed,” I said.  “It’s another example of why I don’t believe in God.”

“You believe in free choice?”  Jake asked.


“Doesn’t free choice demand the freedom to choose evil?”

“Not if it causes this much suffering.”

“How much suffering is acceptable?  Can you have real choices without consequences, both good and bad?”

I shrugged.

“Isn’t it inconsistent,” Clarence piped in, “to say it’s good for God to give us free choice, but then say He shouldn’t allow evil consequences from evil choices?”

Whether you agree or not, the conversations are still thought-provoking, and scattered enough that they aren’t the main premise of the book.  The friendship between the three men is good to see, and the themes of truth and deception are woven throughout in a very readable way.

As the story unfolds, Ollie becomes more and more certain that the killer is someone in the detective department, which doesn’t do a whole lot to make him popular around the office.  Despite his personal problems, Ollie is a solid thinker and good at his job.  The book concludes satisfyingly (if slightly randomly) and, interestingly, with Ollie still undecided about the whole Christianity question.

This book was a super fun read, and, unlike the other two, I could hardly put it down.  Ollie was the most fun voice I’ve read in a long time, and I totally wanted to adopt him as my uncle or something.  If you’re in the mood for a not-too-serious thriller, this one is definitely a good time.

The Princess


by Lori Wick

Published 1999

Gah, I am SO BEHIND ON BOOK REVIEWS.  The tragic part is that I don’t even review every book I read – somehow, no matter how busy life gets, it never gets to busy to actually read (yet the TBR list grows incessantly nonetheless), even when I’m too lazy to write about them.  Ah well.  After last night’s post, I realized that I actually had even more books that I’d teased you with!  Ridiculous!

But the hubby’s working late tonight, so I’m reverting to my bachelorette days by hanging out on the computer in my pajamas, eating canned ravioli, and pretending that I’m somehow being productive.  :-D

Okay, so The Princess.  

Sometimes I get in a mood where I just want to read a fluffy, happy, romantic little story.  The Princess is a classic feel-good read for me, and one of my few “favorites” that I don’t actually own (I really need to remedy that!).  Set in a small, imaginary, European country (think Genovia from Princess Diaries) named Pendaran, this is the story of Prince Nikolai, who doesn’t want to get married.

In the Land of Pendaran, Shelby Parker lives a humble but good life. Her special qualities are eventually noticed by the king and queen of the House of Markham, who seek a new wife for their widowed son, Prince Nikolai.

To uphold the tradition of their country, Shelby and Nikolai agree to an arranged marriage. But while Nikolai is a perfect gentleman in public, he remains distant at home, leaving Shelby to wonder what is in his heart. Will the prince ever love her as he did his first wife? Can the faith they share overcome the barriers between them?  (via Goodreads)

So I’m a huge sucker for books where people fall in love after they get married.  I’m not sure why that’s the ultimate romantic for me, but it is.  I think it’s because there’s no tension there, no wondering whether they’ve gone too far – every step forward is a good step.  I love the reminder of how marriage is commitment, even when love/feelings ebb and flow.

Shelby is really great character.  She’s not perfect by any means, but she is someone who has really embraced the season of singleness in her life.  Part of the reason that the king and queen are drawn to her as a bride for their son (who has asked them to find him a suitable bride as he is still struggling with emotions from the death of his first wife, even though she’s been dead several years) is because Shelby is living life.  She’s doing work that she finds fulfilling, she is volunteering and serving those around her, she spends time with her family, and she just in general is industrious, intelligent, and thoughtful.

Nikolai is nice hero, too.  He’s the dark, brooding type, but with good reason.  While he isn’t thrilled with remarrying, he accepts it as part of his role, and begins to work at knowing, and eventually loving, his wife.

This is definitely an unapologetically Christian book, but it really works with this story.  Shelby and Nikolai agree to marry in part because they believe that it is God’s will for their lives, and their faith helps them to overcome many of the obstacles in their relationship.  Wick does a good job of weaving faith throughout this story.  While it may be a bit much for those who don’t embrace the tenants of Christianity, I think that the overall story is strong, and that the faith part flows naturally, instead of feeling as though it’s been stuffed in as an afterthought as in so much Christian fiction these days.

One of the things that I really love about this story is that it’s set in modern times (well, in the 90’s, anyway) – so fun to read a princess story with cars and telephones!  Pendaran still retains a sort of old-fashioned feel – sort of Mayberry-esq.

It’s a love story, and it’s a beautiful one, and definitely a favorite that I highly recommend if you’re looking for something completely relaxing and very likely to spawn “Awwwwwws” throughout.  ;-)

Ah, life

So things continue crazy around here, but tomorrow is  day off (hurrah!) and I am hoping to tackle the stack of to-be-reviewed books, which is growing daily!

What do you have to anticipate??

•The latest from Dee Henderson – Undetected is a bit of romantic fluff that was fun and easy reading.
•I’m rereading The Chronicles of Narnia, and everything is beautiful.  I LOVE THESE BOOKS.
•I read my first Tamora Pierce book!
•More Daisy Dalrymple!!
•The Harper Hall series by Anne McCaffrey – the first of her books I’ve read, but definitely not the last!
•Graphic novel version of Beauty and the Beast that I apparently wasn’t artsy enough to understand.
•Bill Bryson’s brilliant book, One Summer: America 1927. Loved this book, and am definitely adding more Bryson to the nonfiction TBR!

SO I don’t really know when I’ll get around to blogging, but I thought I’d reassure my faithful readers that I’m alive and well (and buying a house!) and still reading at a rather ridiculous rate for someone as busy as myself! :-D

Hope all is well in book-blogger land – hopefully I can catch up on my reader tomorrow as well!

Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries

So I’ve still been reading my way through the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries.  I read several on vacation, and several since then, and I’m still really, really enjoying them.  For those of you who don’t remember, these charming cozy mysteries are set in England in the early 1920’s.  The heroine is the Honorable Daisy Dalrymple, who, despite her background, is working for a living as a writer, mostly of magazine articles.  (Her brother died in the War, and her father in the ‘flu epidemic, leaving a cousin to inherit the title and family estate.)

While some of the mysteries have been unnecessarily complicated (Dead in the Water), full of far too many secondary-characters-who-could-also-be-the-murderer (Rattle His Bones), or just completely impractical (The Case of the Murdered Muckraker), on the whole, these mysteries are just good, clean fun.  They’re super relaxing and quick reads, and Daisy and Alec are a favorite pair of mine.  (I’ve explained why I think Alec is such a perfect hero before here.)  I love the fact that their relationship actually progresses (I apparently was quite scarred by Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys; even though almost every mystery series I’ve read since then has progression of time, I’m consistently surprised and pleased to find it!); the happy couple is married just before To Davy Jones Below, and I’ve realized that watching Daisy settle into her role as wife and mother is a huge part of the reason I keep reading these books.

These are definitely cozy mysteries, and one must keep the ‘cozy’ part in mind – these are not procedurals or thrillers or anything of that sort.  Sometimes disbelief must be a bit suspended (seriously, The Case of the Murdered Muckraker – what even?!), but Dunn generally does a good job of killing off an unlikable person and giving us a limited field of suspects from which to chose.  I also like the way that, while the books are in the third person, she shifts sometimes from Daisy’s to Alec’s perspective and back, giving the reader a bigger picture of what’s happening with the  mystery, as well as some insight into the motives of both the main characters.  I also like it that while Daisy is hardworking, good at her job, spunky, and courageous, she still doesn’t like the sight of blood and sometimes gets queasy when thinking of/seeing the victim – far more realistic than having her be completely nonchalant and tough.

Overall, I definitely recommend the series, and am excited about reading through the rest – I just finished Mistletoe and Murder, so I’m only about halfway through!



by Randy Alcorn

Published 1996

Dominion is a loose sequel to Deadline, in that it shares several of the same characters.  In Deadline, the main protagonist was journalist/columnist Jake; in Dominion we follow the story of his friend and coworker, Clarence Abernathy.  Clarence is an African American, and the main topic of this book is race, a subject that (I felt) Alcorn handles deftly.

If you’ll remember, my main complaint about Deadline was that it was all over the place.  Alcorn seemed to be using his novel as an attempt to touch on every single sensitive, controversial social topic around.  Thankfully, his focus is much better in Dominion, leading to a stronger story, and a more palatable message.  The mystery/thriller aspect of this story was also much better than Deadline’s, again, I think, because Alcorn was more focused.

Clarence is a successful, comfortable, middle-aged man, with a wife and children, living in the suburbs of Portland.  He’s worked hard throughout his life, and dreams of doing even better – and of some day leaving the city behind entirely and moving to the country.  His sister still lives in a poorer section of town, and Clarence is constantly trying to get her to move.  She insists that she loves her neighborhood and the sense of community, despite the crime and gangs in the area.  When Clarence’s sister and her daughter are murdered during a drive-by shooting, Clarence is determined that this apparent gang-crime isn’t just going to end up in an “Unsolved” file.  Teaming up with Jake’s detective friend, Ollie, Clarence begins to try to find justice for his family.

I’m going to start by saying that Alcorn is white.  So you can look at his story one of two ways: you can look at it and say, “Wow, this white dude doesn’t know what it’s really like to be black, so I don’t care what he has to say,” or you can say, “Wow, here’s a white dude at least trying to understand what’s going on, so let’s listen to what he’s got going on.”  Race is a topic of great sensitivity, and I’m not going to presume to judge  his writing as a black person would be able to.  But from  my middle-class white-girl perspective, I think that Alcorn did a decent job of challenging his readers to not just blow off the topic of race, but to be willing to reach out and work together towards healing and progress.

In Deadline, Jake became a Christian and began to study what that meant.  In Dominion, Clarence has been a Christian for years, but, with the brutal death of his sister and niece, he is struggling through a crisis of faith.  When circumstances force him and his family to move into his sister’s old house, right in the middle of the neighborhood he spent most of his life trying to escape, Clarence has to face many of the demons he kept successfully at bay.  Through conversations with Jake, who genuinely wants to understand what Clarence’s race struggles are, and with Ollie, who’s a fantastically honest and hilarious character (and, thankfully, the main protagonist of the third and final book of the series – Ollie is by far and away my favorite!), we’re able to start to understand Clarence’s difficulties. For instance, he talks a lot about how, because he has become a successful professional, he sometimes feels distanced and judged by his family.  During a conversation with Jake he says:

“It’s darned if you do, darned if you don’t.  I hear the pleas to ‘give back’ to my community.  By living in the suburbs I’ve supposedly lost touch with my people and my cultural roots.  Right.  Like all blacks are supposed to live in constant danger in drug-infested, crime-infested neighborhoods, and both whites and blacks resent it when they don’t.  Any white person who lives in poverty and a crime area, when he earns enough money, what does he do?”

“Usually he moves out,” Jake said.

“Obviously, and that’s perfectly fine with most people.  But when I moved out, it was like a betrayal, like I wasn’t being black.  Hey, I was just being human.  I want my kids to grow up safe and have a good education.  What’s wrong with that?”

I think that Alcorn also does an admirable job of balancing Clarence’s legitimate issues with his perceived ones.  For instance, a couple from somewhere in Asia (I feel so racist not remembering where!  I believe it was Vietnam) opened a convenience store in his neighborhood, and Clarence is offended by the way that they never hand him his change – they set it on the counter and let him pick it up.  Later, he finds out that this is a cultural thing for them, and they do it as a sign of respect for their customers no matter their race; he was over sensitized because he was expecting an insult.  However, at another point, Clarence points out to Jake that the girl who works the counter at one of their favorite cafes treats the two men completely differently – while bright and perky with everyone else, she’s subdued and avoids eye contact with Clarence.

At one point in the book there is a brilliant conversation that I somehow failed to mark.  But basically Jake tells Clarence that he really appreciates the sharing that Clarence has been doing, because Jake has never really realized that race was still such a big issue.  He tells Clarence that he’s never really thought about it before.  Clarence responds by saying that he thinks about it all the time.  Jake says that maybe if people like himself thought about race a little more, than people like Clarence wouldn’t have think about it all the time.  That’s really the conclusion Alcorn draws on the whole topic.  The road to healing on this incredibly divisive and emotional issue is for whites to think about race a little more so non-whites can think about it a little less.

The rest of the story is actually really good, too.  Like I said, the “thriller” part of the story works a lot better in this book than it did in Deadline, and consequently the book doesn’t bog down nearly as much as the previous novel.  I will say that this book was published in 1996, and Deadline was published in 1994, and even though it gives me a pang to say it, these books do feel a little dated.  (I mean Deadline is all about a newspaper – how 90s is that?)  There are several conversations in this book about the O.J. Simpson trial, which was hot news at the time, but I had to actually do a bit of reading to refresh the story in my mind (since I was like 12 at the time).  I kept finding myself wondering what Clarence’s opinion would be about the whole Trayvon Martin scenario instead.

Overall, while I would say Deadline was a 3, Dominion is a comfortable 4, and definitely quite readable on its own.  While you may understand more of the  back story for Jake by reading Deadline first, each novel reads strongly as an individual.