All the Weyrs of Pern // by Anne McCaffrey

//published 1991//

//published 1991//

Well, after The Renegades of Pern ended in a bit of a cliffhanger, I was quite ready to dive back into Pern with this latest installment.  And, much to my contentment, Weyrs picks up literally on the same day that Renegades ends.  Weyrs was basically non-stop excitement as everyone begins to work together towards the common goal of eradicating Thread forever.

At the end of Renegades, the people of Pern had discovered the original settlement of their ancestors (who came from a different plant – presumably ours, actually).  And, most importantly, a computer was discovered – operated by solar power, and thus still able to work.  The Aivas (Artificial Intelligence Voice-Address System) responded to its rediscovery by sharing the origins of Pern with Pern’s current residence.  Not only that, Aivas had a great deal of scientific information to share and teach.  Throughout the story, Aivas is basically a separate entity.  While technically a computer, it (he?) has a distinct personality and voice.  Aivas also withholds information until he believes the time is right for it to be shared, portraying an almost human capability for reasoning, planning, and acting.

Throughout the story, as Aivas trains the people in tasks they will need to perfect in order to destroy Thread at its source, there are those who embrace Aivas and all he has to teach, and there are those who believe that he is an abomination and terror.  Now, to me, it made perfect sense that not everyone would understand Aivas, and that even from among those who understand what he is some would disagree with blindly following his instructions.  However, McCaffrey presented anyone and everyone who disagreed with Aivas as being stodgy, close-minded, bull-headed, and, frankly, a bit stupid.  All – every single one – of our previous characters/heroes immediately jump onto Aivas’s bandwagon without hesitation or a second thought, despite the fact that Aivas refuses to explain his plan in full, but instead dolls out small doses of information as it is needed.

Am I missing something??  I feel like if I had never heard of or even imaged something like a giant computer (much less one that chats it up exactly like a person), I would be a bit freaked out by it and not necessarily inclined to immediately take it at its word when it says that if I just do these crazy things, my life will suddenly improve.  So I guess I found it just a bit irritating that McCaffrey didn’t give us any intelligent dissenters.

Here’s the thing (minirant only moderately connected to the story coming on) – I don’t believe that all change is always good.  And I get tired of fiction consistently portraying people opposed to change as being close-minded, stubborn, stupid, backward, etc.  Just because it’s change doesn’t mean that it’s awesome.  Being open-minded doesn’t mean that you have to embrace every change that comes down the pike.  It means that you are willing to assess every change that comes down the pike and make an intelligent and objective decision as to whether or not that change is positive or negative.  Thus, it is possible to be open-minded but still object to something new, not because it is new, but because the new genuinely isn’t better than the old.  Is this making any sense??

And I’m maybe a bit sensitive to it because I have received a great deal of flack over the years for embracing my parents’ conservative viewpoints as my own.  I have basically been told on multiple occasions that I’m a parrot who has never learned to think for myself (despite my 33 years, thank you).  People never seem to consider it possible that I have, in fact, explored other avenues of beliefs and values and, at the end of the day, determined that my parents’ value system is the one I believe to be the best – not because they forced me to, or because I’ve never considered any other way, but because that’s just what I believe for myself, personally.

All that to say, it seemed unfair to me that McCaffrey chose her least likable characters and made them the only ones who disagreed with Aivas.  The intelligent (and kind, generous, thoughtful) people of course realize that Aivas is 100% good and perfect and trustworthy, because they aren’t stupid and backward and determined to keep everyone tied to the old ways, ugh.

Anyway (rant over), other than that nagging irritation, the story really moved.  It covered several years and sometimes jumped forward in time without a lot of explanation, but otherwise was engaging.  McCaffrey is a little weak in writing convincing romantic relationships, so I had to use my imagination a bit, but still.  The ending was also brilliant.  I actually got a bit misty-eyed if I’m honest.  It was perfect.  Honestly, it wouldn’t be a bad place to have ended the series.  I haven’t started the next book yet, so I’m curious to see where McCaffrey goes from here.  I think most of the rest of the books go backwards in Pern history to fill in gaps there.

For now, Weyrs was another solid outing that I thoroughly enjoy and highly recommend.

The Searcher // by Simon Toyne


//published 2015//

I was quite excited to win this book from the publisher in a drawing, and even more when it arrived as a delightful hardcover edition.  Many thanks!  Naturally, my review is not impacted at all, other than a nagging feeling of guilt that it’s taken me so long to get around to writing it!

From the jacket cover:

On a windy hilltop in the town of Redemption, Arizona, people have gathered at an old cemetery to bury a local man who died in a tragic accident.  But the occasion is suddenly disrupted by a thunderous explosion several miles away.  A plane has crashed, pouring a pillar of black smoke into the air.

As Sheriff Garth Morgan speeds toward the accident, he nearly hits a man running down the road, with no shoes on his feet and no memory of who he is or how he got there.  The only clues to his identity are a label in his jacket and a book that’s been inscribed to him, both giving the name Solomon Creed.  Solomon knows only that he’s here for a reason – to save a  man he has never met…a man who was buried that very morning.

Miles away, three men scan the skies for a plane carrying an important package.  Spotting the black cloud in the distance, they suspect something has gone wrong, and that the man who has sent them will demand a heavy price if the package has been lost.

To uncover his real identity, Solomon must expose Redemption’s secrets and the truth behind the death of the man he is there to save.  But there are those who will do anything to stop him, men prepared to call on the darkest forces to prevent Solomon from succeeding.  The Searcher delves into history, murder, criminal revenge, and personal betrayal while also exploring bravery, love, sacrifice, and renewal – all underpinned by a truly frightening and deadly mystery.

So.  Apologies first.  It has taken me far too long to get around to writing this review.  Life has been busy the last couple of months, but you’ll have that.  Hopefully things are calming down.  (Hopefully I’m not going to be working as much in January???)

The Searcher was a thoroughly engrossing read.  Despite its bulk (almost 500 pages), I flew through the story.  It has short, snappy chapters, which are always a hook for me.  Solomon was a likable and mysterious protagonist, even if he did seem a lot less concerned about his personal identity that I think I would have been in his situation. (“Hmm, I have no idea who I am.  Oh well!  Guess I’ll just jump right into this crazy situation and start trying to solve a murder mystery!!”)  Having his entire background be a blank made him more of a wildcard.  The mysteries of his identity were definitely left wide open for the sequel, but not in a completely obnoxious way, so I was alright with it.  I did find it moderately annoying when Solomon would just magically know how to do everything that needed to be done.  (“I know how to ride a horse!  Shoot a gun!  Read and speak foreign languages!  So convenient that I know how to do everything at exactly the moment it would be handy to know how to do the thing!”) Sometimes it felt like a bit of a cop-out – like there was no situation in which Solomon would truly lose.

I liked a lot of the secondary characters as well, and also appreciated the fact that the story was told in past tense.  Thank you for not tormenting me with present tense!!

The plot was just a shade too busy.  There was the historical story, told from extracts of an old journal.  There was the murder mystery.  There was the evil???-sheriff story.  There were the drug cartels (multiple stories).  There was the almost-drug-cartel-but-wishes-he-could-escape story.  There was the mystery of Solomon.  There was the plane crash.  While Toyne did a decent job of pulling everything together in the end, it also kind of felt like he had too many characters, and the last quarter of the book virtually turned into a blood bath as he killed off everyone whose storyline had no other good way to wrap up.  There were a few torture scenes that I didn’t like either, as I’m rather easily squeamish and they felt unnecessary to me (especially the almost-rape scene towards the end… Ramon’s little explanation of what will happen if she doesn’t comply… ugh).

I was also a little weirded out by the strange “religious” aspect of the book, mostly found in the historical story of Redemption’s founder, who received signs through torn pages from an old Bible and builds a church, etc.  To me, that was the weakest bit, attempting to bring together this ancient tale from the town’s foundation and make it relevant to the current events.  Like, I understand what he was doing and it somewhat worked, but I think the whole book could have read cleaner without it, especially the random ghosts who seemed to do nothing other than wander about and add nothing to the actual story.  However, I’ll cut some slack here since it’s possible that Solomon is some kind of immortal doomed to wander about lifting curses.

My last beef with this book is one I stumble across not irregularly:  a simple lack of research.  And if it’s something basic enough that >>I<< notice, then an editor really should have caught it.  The big one that cropped up not just once, but several times, was the fact that Toyne kept referring to ‘palominos’ as though they were a breed of horse, when they are actually a specific coloration.  The Palomino Horse Breeders of America, for instance, recognize multiple breeds as registered palominos as long as the horse meets with the correct color specifications – in brief, “approximately the color of a United States gold coin.”  Consequently, statements like this one really annoyed me: “He picked out a black palomino, the color chosen to blend in better with the night…”  Huh??

As an aside, I feel like authors in general try too hard with horses (and frequently with cars – for instance, why would a random modern small town in Arizona still have a Lincoln Mark V when they were a relatively uncommon car only made for two years in the 1970’s?).  Like, I don’t need to be impressed with your knowledge of horses.  Please stop using the word “stallion” (since people rarely have them just hanging about waiting to be ridden: if it’s not for breeding, it’s probably going to be gelded), and stop just choosing random breeds of horses and inserting them into the story as though they are interchangeable.  You wouldn’t say someone drove off in a Porsche if they’re heading up a 4×4 dirt road; they probably aren’t going to ride off into the sunset on a pure white American Saddlebred stallion that they just happened to find at a rundown Arizona ranch, either.  ANYWAY.

All this is fairly nitpicky, though.  On the whole, I really enjoyed this book, and am definitely planning to read the sequel when it makes an appearance.  While I feel like the plot (and the fact-checking) could have been cleaned up a bit, the story still barreled along and kept me completely involved.  4/5.  I’ll be watching for Book #2, and in the meantime may give Toyne’s Sanctus Trilogy a whirl.

PS For my non-American readers – Goodreads seems to indicate that the book was published as Solomon Creed in the UK rather than The Searcher.  Why do publishers do this????




‘Snow Dog’ and ‘Wild Trek’ // by Jim Kjelgaard

Well, in my rereading of all the Kjelgaard books on my shelf, I saved my two favorites for last.  Wild Trek is possibly the first Kjelgaard book I ever read – either this one or Lion Houndboth of which were at my grandma’s house when I was a little girl.  While Lion Hound had my dad’s name scrawled on the frontispiece, my hardcover of Wild Trek (that Grandma gave me) is a Scholastic Book Club edition with “Cedar Heights School” stamped inside: my grandma’s mother was a schoolteacher at Cedar Heights, and this was one of her books.

As a girl, Wild Trek completely enamored me.  Later, though, I discovered that it was actually a sequel!  Snow Dog is the first in this duology starring Link Stevens and his half-wild dog, Cheri.  Snow Dog opens with the introduction of a huge black wolf.

As large as a Great Dane, the wolf was in his battle-scarred prime.  His ears were ripped and torn from a thousand fights.  A ragged scar that ran from the base of his left ear to his left shoulder had grown in to pure white hair.

//published 1948// Cheri and the black wolf fight to the death on the cover of the 'Famous Dog Stories' edition!

//published 1948// Cheri and the black wolf fight to the death on the cover of the ‘Famous Dog Stories’ edition! //

Kjelgaard goes on to tell us the scar was earned when a man shot at the wolf and almost killed him.  That shot granted the wolf a deep hatred of men and their dogs, and when opportunity presented itself – the wolf killed a man.  Now the leader of a pack, the black wolf still hates men, and though he sees few of them in his wilderness, he knows that he would kill again if he had the chance.

Our next scene is of Link traipsing to his winter cabin in the wilderness (presumably in Canada somewhere) with his five pack dogs.  The newest addition to his team, Queen, is a large dog – “a hundred-pound female whose outlines suggested a strong dash of both Husky and Irish wolfhound,” and she is due to give birth to a litter of puppies any day.  Link, a young man who makes his living by running traplines, is determined to win Queen’s confidence and affection, but she is still aloof and wary, thanks to a long history of harsh masters, one of whom killed her last litter of puppies.  Of course, Link doesn’t know the details of Queen’s past, but he has every intention of helping her raise her pups, as he believes that they can become valuable trail dogs as well.  However, deciding that she cannot trust him, Queen runs away that night, while Link is asleep.  She gives birth to her three puppies under a windfall far off the trail, and although Link searches for her, he is unable to find her and is forced to continue down the trail to his winter cabin.

As the story unwinds, we follow the birth and life of one of Queen’s puppies.  Eventually, when he is introduced into Link’s life, he is given the name Cheri, after the man Cherikov – the man the black wolf killed.  As a puppy, the black wolf kills Cheri’s mother and brothers, but Cheri is able to escape.  Throughout the tale, we know that Cheri and the wolf will someday face each other – and that only one will live.

Kjelgaard weaves an excellent wilderness story – in my mind, one of his very best.  Link is one of Kjelgaard’s most personable characters.  I didn’t want to marry Link when I was a girl – I wanted to be Link.  I was so jealous of his wilderness life!

Cheri’s story is fantastic, as he grows and learns to survive in the wilderness on his own.  When he finally gives his allegiance to Link, it’s beautiful.  The story is engrossing and intriguing.  Unlike many of his books, Kjelgaard manages to avoid rambling at length about the importance of wilderness preservation, instead letting the actions of his characters speak for themselves.  Snow Dog is a story all the way through, with minimal dialogue. Kjelgaard never gives speech or human motives to his animal characters.  While intelligent, neither Cheri nor the black wolf are capable of using human logic, and neither possesses human emotions.  Both act and react as animals, which makes for an excellent wilderness story.

//published 1950// please ignore the 'look inside'// I really wanted to post the same cover as the one I have and that was the only image I could find! //

//published 1950// please ignore the ‘look inside’// I really wanted to post the same cover as the one I have and that was the only image I could find! //

Wild Trek opens shortly after the end of Snow Dog.  A ranger appears in the wilderness, riding up to Link’s cabin.  He has a broken arm, as he was thrown from his horse along the way, but he is determined to continue on his assignment.  A plane has gone down even deeper in the wilderness than Link travels, in a region known as the Caribous.  Fly-overs have been unable to locate the plane’s wreckage or signs of survivors, but every opportunity for rescue must be given to the two men aboard the plane, which means that this ranger has been sent to see if he can find them – dead or alive.

Since the ranger can’t really continue on his way with his broken arm, Link insists on going in his place.  Link takes Cheri along – wilderness-wise, Cheri is intelligent and can hunt for himself if necessary.  Link loads up a pack for himself and one for Cheri and heads into the Caribous.

Like I said, Wild Trek was my first Kjelgaard book, and I can’t even tell you how many times I read it as a kid.  I was completely enraptured by this tale of survival.  When Link finds the survivors, the pilot, Garridge, has a head injury that has left him somewhat a few screws loose, while Trigg Antray, his passenger, has injured his back in someway that makes it difficult for him to climb or walk for long distances.  When Garridge goes completely off the deep and steals the supplies and Link’s rifle, Link, Antray, and Cheri have to work together to try and survive much as “primitive” man must have done.

Antray is an entertaining character, quick-witted and intelligent, and provides a counter-balance for Link’s more steady and practical outlook on their situation.  This story is a little more human-based as the two men have to work together to survive and escape from the Caribous.  With crazy Garridge lurking about with a rifle, the story is more intense than many Kjelgaard’s adventures, and is a thoroughly readable story.  I enjoyed it just as much as an adult as I ever did in my youth.  Even when Link and Antray are fighting for their very lives, Kjelgaard manages to paint the wilderness as a beautiful and wonderful place – a place where your survival and success is based on your intelligence and adaptability.

I highly recommend both Snow Dog and Wild Trek as quick and easy reads that are full of adventure – intelligently written and engaging stories that make for excellent reading.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves // by Karen Joy Fowler


//published 2013//

This book was first brought to my attention by Carol’s review over on Reading, Writing & Riesling, so many thanks!!

This unique story centers on Rosemary – who is also our narrator (past tense, thank goodness!) – and her family.  Rosemary tells us in her introduction that she is going to start from the middle of her story and work out from there, and the ploy works brilliantly, pulling the reader into her life as she gives us gentle teasers of her past in a way that is thoroughly engaging.

This is a book that is nearly impossible to review, I think, without spoilers.  Suffice to say here that while I found the story engrossing, I was conflicted about the “message” that story told.  One of the foundational premises is one that does not sit completely comfortably with me.  So while I recommend the story, I am not sure I can recommend the book, if that makes any sense.

Still, the writing was strong, and although the ending was bittersweet (and a bit open-ended), I found that my genuine affection for Rosemary and my interest in her life carried me through the book to its conclusion, and left me determined to find more of Fowler’s books.

For spoiler-filled thoughts, see  below!



Okay, short version:  In the beginning of the story, we find out that Rosemary  had a sister during her childhood, and as things unfold we know that Fern disappeared/was taken/is missing.  Later, we find that Fern was not, in fact, human, but was a chimpanzee who was raised alongside of Rosemary as part of a social experiment to raise a chimp as/concurrently with a human child.  However, I don’t think chimpanzees are human, and I don’t think that we should treat them as humans.  This doesn’t mean that I believe they should be used and abused in experiments and random testing, but I was never comfortable with Rosemary’s assertion that Fern was her sister, or the concept that her parents could have loved a chimp as much as their own human daughter.  While the story was poignant and had a great deal of depth, the ending really just turned into a weird cry for “justice” for chimpanzees, as well as a sweeping statement against all animal testing, all large farms, and basically anything else that keeps animals in captivity.  It got a little extreme for me.  I have grown up in a farming community and don’t really appreciate the misrepresentation that construes all farms as evil places that squeeze animals into tiny stalls and never let them see grass or sunshine.  While true in some instances, it just isn’t the way that most agriculture happens.

I don’t believe in evolution and don’t believe that we are descendants of apes and don’t believe that chimps are our “brethren” or any other such nonsense.  The idea that Rosemary’s family could love Fern and treat her the same way that would have an adopted human baby is just weird and creepy to me.

The importance of eliminating animal cruelty and bizarre animal testing is not lost on me.  I would never condone the purposeful mistreatment of animals.  However, animals are not human, and I do not believe that animals should be granted the same exact rights and protections that we give humans.  Rosemary’s horror that Fern could be owned and sold (and her mental equating of that to owning and selling humans) was a bit over the top for me.

Still.  A good story and an emotional one that definitely kept me turning the pages.  While I may not have agreed with its core value, the book did an excellent job of raising questions and conversation – I can see this being a great book for a book club or other situation where people are reading and discussing together.

Sleepyhead // by Mark Billingham


//published 2001//

This is the first installment of Billingham’s Tom Thorne series, and also the first of Billingham’s books I’ve had the pleasure to read.  I quite enjoyed this intense, focused thriller – mostly because I really liked Thorne himself.

This series was brought to my attention by reviews of Time of Death, Billingham’s most recent Tom Thorne novel.  The reviews, of course, were from three of my favorite mystery-book-reviewing blogs:  Reading, Writing & Riesling, FictionFan, and Cleopatra Loves Books.  Two out of three recommended Time of Death, but, being myself, I can’t just jump into the middle of a series.  I like to read series from beginning to end.  In some ways, I think of series as one big, long book, and just like I wouldn’t jump into a book at chapter five, I can’t plunge into the middle of a series, either.  It’s a weakness, I admit.

Anyway, this means that I began with Thorne’s first appearance, and I am quite glad that I did.  Sleepyhead was fabulously creepy, and while there was sometimes a bit too much gruesome for me – there is a scene where we are actually with the murderer while he kills someone – it was still overall a very solid read, one that had me reading as fast as I possibly could.

While Thorne is an alcoholic, he overall avoids the dreadful maverick gimmick, which I greatly appreciated.  I really liked his assistant, Holland, who developed throughout and could definitely become a better character in later books.  Thorne’s love interest was intelligent and engaging in her own right, not a mere puppet, which was also nice.  While the book definitely had some weakness a few minor plot holes, Billingham managed to keep the tension ratcheted tightly enough that I was willing to let the small inconsistencies slide in favor of racing to the finish.

This has been a pretty busy month, which means a lot of fluff reading, so I haven’t had a chance to delve into the second book, Scaredy Cat, yet, but am definitely looking forward to the experience.

The Renegades of Pern // by Anne McCaffrey



//published 1989//

After so thoroughly and completely enjoying DragonsdawnI was actually really excited to pick up the next book, Renegades of Pern.  Dragonsdawn had taken us back to the very founding of Pern – and actually introduced some legit sci-fi aspects into the books (finally) – SPACESHIPS!  SCIENCE!  GENETIC ENGINEERING!  DID I MENTION SPACESHIPS!?  It was a great time, and I could hardly put Dragonsdawn down for the entirety of it’s 300-odd pages.

Renegades jumps ahead about 2500 years, back to where the series itself began.  Renegades actually covers a pretty decent chunk of time – it more or less runs parallel to the first six books McCaffrey wrote.  In some ways, I think this was McCaffrey’s way of providing us with some background information and tying up loose ends.  There were definitely a LOT of stories going on.  Since there were three pretty long books since we last met with our original crew, it took me a little bit of time to catch up on things, especially since McCaffrey’s prologue introduces ELEVEN “meanwhile, in another part of Pern…” storylines!  ELEVEN!  In the first 17 pages!  So yes, it was a lot to try to take in and get straight.  However, once the story got rolling, it was a lot of fun.  Like I’ve said  before, I rather enjoy parallel books, so it was fun to see Renegades weaving in and out of the first six books.

The bulk of the tale takes place during the events of The White Dragonand the book ends just after the ending of that book – the leaders of Pern have discovered the remains of an ancient settlement.  As the reader, we know that this is the original landing site (creatively called “Landing”) of the Pernese settlers (from SPACESHIPS!).  At the very end of the book, they discover an actual computer – AIVAS:  Artificial Intelligence Voice Address System.  Of course, Aivas is more or less like magic to the current Pernese people, but as the solar panels for the computer are uncovered, it is able to boot up and tell the people all about their history – and, Aivas says, its primary assignment entered 2500 years ago?  To find a way of destroying Thread forever – and Aivas thinks it has done it.  (DUH DUH DUHNNNNNNN)


by Michael Whelan, who actually did a lot of the original covers. According to the website, he read McCaffrey’s books before drawing the cover. This was one of his concepts for this book’s cover.

While Renegades had its moments of weakness (especially the story involving Jayge and Aramina – why does Jayge suddenly feel like his only purpose in life is protecting Aramina, who is basically a stranger…???  If I’m honest, McCaffrey does not do love stories well at all), but was still just so much fun that I didn’t really care.  It also kind of ended on a cliffhanger, with everyone listening to Aivas tell their history for the first time, and I was pretty excited to find that, when I started All the Weyrs of Pern (my current read), it literally begins the same day that Renegades ends!

I also came across this brilliant little chart on the interwebs that shows roughly how the books line up!  It’s actually fabulous and if you are trying to read these books, I highly recommend checking it out.  Even though I’m not trying to read in chronological order (this time around), it’s nice to pick up a book and then see where it belongs, since McCaffrey does tend to jump around in time a bit without a whole of explanation other than “during the eighth interval” or some such nonsense, like it’s really going to help me when I don’t remember what interval or pass the last book was during!

One thing that I have to say is that I love how the ancestors of the current Pernese people were actually more advanced than the current generation.  In real life, people are so insistent that evolution is the only way, which means (conveniently) that we are way smarter than all the past generations of humans ever!  It’s refreshing and fun to read a story where actually the ancestors were the intelligent and advanced ones.  We think we’re so clever all the time because of computers and spaceships, but what if we found out that our origins were actually a species even more advanced and intelligent than we are?  Love it.

All in all, these more recent books have been great reads, and way more sci-fi-y than the earlier books.  I’m still really glad that I am reading the books in published order, though, as I really think that this makes the most sense.  I’m almost through the next book (All the Weyrs of Pern), which is also super exciting.  Amazingly, I am only about a half or two-thirds of the way through the series as a whole, so don’t worry – more Pern will continue to come your way!

Rearview Mirror: November 2015

Greetings, friends!

Well, November has been an exciting month!  Things went a little crazy at work, and I am working a lot more hours (again).  Unfortunately, my job involves a lot of computer time, so when I get home in the evenings, staring at a screen even more has been pretty low on my priorities.  So, between that and a couple of major projects around the house, plus Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday of the year!!), November was basically a wash in the blogging department.  My only posts were two from the archive that were already queued!

Of course, what this also means is that I have a HUGE stack of books that need to be reviewed –  because if I’m not looking at a computer, I’m probably reading instead!  I even started a post reviewing the next Pern book, but only got halfway before I was interrupted, and never came back (and that was over two weeks ago so).

Anyway.  Today may or may not end up being a little quieter, so I am going to try and do some catch up.  We put down new flooring throughout our house and this weekend we have been polyurethaning it.  Now we are at that quiet bit in the middle where we can walk in it (gently) with socks, but no high traffic or furniture moving until tomorrow evening…  which sounds like a perfect excuse for catching up on some blogging!  The house blog is also woefully behind, as is my photo organization project, so I am hoping to divide today between those three projects – which probably means I’ll get nowhere on any of them!!  :-D  (Actually, what will probably happen is that Tom, who is theoretically working on projects in the barn, will come up to the house because he has realized that he has to go in town for something, and then we will go run errands and somehow the whole day will slip away!)

Of course, it’s also a perfect afternoon to curl up in bed and read away, so there’s always that possibility as well.

Hopefully all is going well with everyone!  I’ve been trying to keep up reading reviews, but still have a lot of unread emails in my inbox, and even more emails that have been read and marked with the star that means they have information that needs to be moved onto the TBR…  yet another project that’s fallen a bit behind!

Anyway, I miss all of you and am hoping to do some posting…  stay in touch!!

From the Archive: Enchanted

Sometimes I think I should give this book another chance.  Maybe I was too harsh??  But then I read my review again and think, NO.

Originally posted 17 September 2012.

download (3)by Alethea Kontis

published 2012

This story starts well, with young Sunday making friends with a talking frog by a magical well and you think, Oh, this could be interesting.  But there are TOO MANY STORIES GOING ON IN THIS BOOK.  Every single sibling (and there are lots) has a story; the parents have a story; a couple of aunts have a story; the frog has a story; the king has a story.  The book is super confusing.  By the end of two chapters, we’ve heard about Sunday’s brother who got turned into a dog, her sister who danced TO DEATH, another sister who ran off with a pirate king and is busy robbing people and then sending gifts to her family, another sister who had to take refuge in a stranger’s cabin and then the stranger turned out to be royalty so she got married, and a whole passel of other relatives with complicated stories.

It’s really frustrating because there are so many good elements there, they just don’t come together cohesively.  AT ALL.

Plus: Sunday knows this frog for THREE DAYS and he’s the best friend she’s ever had and she doesn’t know how she’s going to live without him and his disappearance is enough to send her plummeting into depression.  Really?

EVERY SINGLE FAIRY TALE EVER WRITTEN was referenced in this book, and the main character of said fairy tale was probably closely related to Sunday.  This just added to the general chaos of the plot, as the story constantly hares off after some other random tale that has absolutely nothing to do with (what little there is of) the main plot.

This book is also randomly gruesome (the king apparently has been living for hundreds of years by marrying young women and then turning them into geese and EATING THEM!?) and just pointless, pointless, pointless.  It was dreadful; please do not waste your time.  I simply could not make heads or tales out of this book.

In the end, Sunday is upset  because the prince has been lying to her by not telling her that he was the frog so she runs away (and turns into a tree and he picks a branch from the tree not knowing that it’s her and then later the branch turns into her shoe and he’s all like, Haha good thing I only picked a small branch! Could have been awkward there!) and meanwhile, the prince is realizing that his dad is a cannibalistic magic-thief so blah blah blah he turns the king into a giant and the giant chased the prince across the clouds and they climb down the beanstalk that Sunday’s brother who is actually a fairy who has been adopted by their family when he was a baby planted with the beans he got in exchange for their last cow when Sunday was supposed to be watching him but she let him go to the marketplace by himself so she could go chat with her frog ANYWAY the prince climbs down the beanstalk and THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED by this giant and one of the fairy godmothers and Sunday is POUTING because the prince hasn’t come back to apologize!?

Trix rejoined her [Sunday] at the base of the tree with bow and arrows in hand and the rest of the family in tow, all in dressing gowns, save Aunt Joy, who must have been the one keeping the fire in the kitchen company with her confounded tea.  Mama and Friday were both swaddled in blankets.  Sunday should have been cold in  her ancient nightgown and bare feet, but she felt nothing.  She looked up at the beanstalk, at the resolute face of the man whose dreams she shared, and she felt nothing.  He had come, as she hadn’t dared hoped he would.

He had come, but he hadn’t come for her.


Then there’s more about the giant trying to get to the prince and wanting to eat all of them.  Then,

The prince looked as if he’d been beaten and then dragged a few miles down the road.  She yearned to ask him questions, but  now was not the time. She ached to tuck herself under his weary arm and give him comfort, but he stood apart from them and did not meet her eyes.  He had not come for her.

Maybe because the giant is on the beanstalk yelling down to his son, “I CAN TASTE YOUR BONES!” ????

I can’t even go on.  This book was so dreadful.  Sunday was shallow, selfish, and vain.  The prince was stupid and uninteresting.  The king was disgusting and bizarre.  The rest of Sunday’s family was complicated and very, very bad at communication.

DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.  If anything, my review is simpler and easier to understand than the actual book.  Seriously.

From the Archive: Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime

The only nonfiction book that I loved so much that I actually wrote to the author to tell him that his writing really impacted my life…  and he wrote back!  Ha!  Originally posted on tumblr 27 August 2012.


by Richard Pipes

published 1994

If you had told me three months ago that when I finally finished reading all 500+ pages of this book about the Bolshevik rise to power, I would actually be sad that it was over, I would not have believed you.  But, it’s true.  I really, really, really liked this book.  So much so that I found the author’s address so I can write him a letter, and I’m planning to actually purchase this book.  Seriously.

Where to even begin?  I read Mr. Pipes’s book The Three Whys of the Russian Revolution first; it was assigned reading for Tapestry.  I was really impressed by the author’s ability to write about complicated situations and theories with clarity. I am no expert on Russia or her history, yet Pipes kept my interest throughout the entire book.  More, he intrigued me and caused me to think about and reassess many of my views of Communism and Russia.

The book was brilliant all the way through.  The beginning is a little rough, as he is describing Russia’s civil war between the Reds and Whites.  There are a lot of names of people and places, and since they all look like Tzagoragphy, it gets a little complicated for English-speaking folks like myself.  But once I got through that bit, things settled out with the main players and places, and it was much easier to follow.

Pipes doesn’t really limit himself to just the history of what was happening in Russia.  My favorite chapter actually looks at the concept of totalitarianism: what it is and where it has existed in recent history.  Throughout the chapter, Pipes compares and contrasts the regimes in Russia, Germany, and Italy.  This is especially intriguing because Germany and Italy are always classified as fascist and put at one end of the political spectrum, while Russia is labeled communist and placed at the other.  Yet Pipes argues that these “governments” had far more in common than most people credit, and he argues the point very well.

In that chapter, too, Pipes talks a great deal simply about the steps to totalitarianism, and how Lenin, Hitler, and Mussolini all worked within and through their legal political systems to gain control.  Fear, Pipes tells us, is the totalitarian’s best friend.  Each of those three regimes chose a scapegoat (capitalists or Jews for example) and then built up fear of that group, until the population was willing to do whatever it took to protect themselves from this threat.  Except there wasn’t really a threat and there wasn’t really a need for protection–but that realization came too late; power had already been given up by the people.

So I don’t know, it was just a lot of food for thought, looking at our government and the many wolves to which they point.  Are the wolves real, or are they merely shadows being used as excuses to take more and more control of our lives?

Anyway, I couldn’t believe how easily this book read.  So many books of this weight are written specifically for people who are already neck-deep in studying the topic, and thus are almost impossible for a newbie to the situation to understand.  Example: I also checked out a book on Mussolini’s Italy.  I gave it up after the first four or five chapters.  The author assumed that I already understood exactly what was going on in Italy and who was in charge and why and how they got there.  Pipes, on the other hand, manages to explain the background thoroughly but not overly, making the rest of what he has to say meaningful, relevant, and interesting.

If you ever have to do any studying of Russia from the point of the Revolution to Lenin’s death, I strongly recommend this book.  If you don’t feel like reading all 512 pages, at least read chapter five, on totalitarianism, and the last chapter, which is a summary of the rest of the book.

This is one of the few non-fiction books that I’ve read lately that I see myself reading again in the future.

Rearview Mirror: October 2015


Mountwood Park east of Parkersburg, WV – absolutely delightful place to hike!

October is always a busy month.  There’s the county fair (which was especially important during my 4-H years!) and my birthday, plus the usual fall activities of tucking in the garden and battening down the hatches in preparation for the long (long long long) winter months that plague Ohio.  We also spent a few days in West Virginia, hiking and exploring.  Always plenty of adventures to be had!

But there is always time for reading!  I am still plowing my way through Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books, which I’m actually enjoying more as the series progresses.  Dragonsdawn was especially engaging.  I also love the way that McCaffrey will write more than one book that covers the same time period.  I actually love hearing the same story from multiple perspectives.

For some reason, I’ve been first in line on the library hold list for the next of Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti series for almost a month, but still haven’t received it??  So I will actually be starting a new mystery series in November, and if the next Brunetti books ever makes an appearance, I’ll jump back into those.  I’m just not enamored with them enough to buy the next book, which I sometimes do on those rare occasions that the library lets me down.

I only have one Jim Kjlegaard book left to read from my personal collection, although I have added some of his other books, not currently owned by me, to the TBR, so they may crop up later.  I’m still working my way through all the books that I own (this will take a few years); we have a few Konigsburg books coming up, and then will hit some Dick King-Smith.  His books are short, humorous, and intelligent, so I’m really looking forward to blazing through those.


Bayern books – so much love!

My birthday was this month, too!  My sister purchased all four of Shannon Hale’s Bayern books (used) in my favorite edition – SO HAPPY!  Now I’m trying to decide what to do with my birthday money – buy a few nice sweaters for work or…  books!?  (Guess which one it’s going to be…)

Favorite October Read

//published 2013//

Really, really loved this read!

I think I’m going to go with The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness.  Even though I didn’t completely understand that book, it has really stuck with me, and has left me wanting to read it again.

Most Disappointing October Read

Probably Houses of Stone by Barbara Michaels.  I was really looking forward to reading this book because I have enjoyed some of her other mysteries so much (especially the Amelia Peabody mysteries, which she wrote as Elizabeth Peters), but this book felt just a little too ranty for me to really enjoy it.

Other October Reads:

  • A Noble Radiance by Donna Leon (Commissario Guido Brunetti #7) – solid outing, and enough to make me want to give the next book a try, if the library ever decides I can have it.
  • How NOT to Spend Your Senior Year by Cameron Dokey – a bit silly, but still a lot of fun.  This book also made me laugh out loud on multiple occasions, so that is always a bonus.
  • A Nose for Trouble by Jim Kjelgaard – a decent read, but not my favorite Kjelgaard.
  • Nerilka’s Story by Anne McCaffrey – much shorter than her other novels so far, and super fun to get a different perspective on the major events from Moreta.  
  • Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey – I love reading background for stories (am I weird?!), and was completely enamored with this trip back to the beginning of Pern’s history.  This book was actually probably my second-favorite read for the month.
  • The Luck of the Bodkins by P.G. Wodehouse – while not my favorite Wodehouse, this one still had some classic moments and plenty of humor.

Other October Posts:

So for some reason I was inspired to tool through my original book blog, which I started over on tumblr at the end of 2011.  Most of my early reviews were kind of pathetic, like maybe a paragraph or two (have I gotten better at reviewing, or just more rambly??), but it’s always fun to take a trip down memory lane.  Looking through my older posts inspired me to add some books to the TBR as rereads, and also to post some reviews from the archive.  I have a few more archive posts queued up, but because so many of my older reviews weren’t that great, there are only a few left to go!  At some point, I may start reposting a few reviews from this blog now and then as well.

This month, I posted five archival posts:

  • George, Nicolas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter – this was my first-ever online book review, and still one of my all-time favorite nonfiction reads. If you are looking for a big picture look at how things came together to lead up to World War I, this book is highly recommended.  Completely engaging, organized, intelligent but easy to understand, it is an all-around brilliant book.  I absolutely loved discovering how all the important political players were connected to one another, and there was definitely a period of time where I was so immersed in this book that I felt almost like this was the current news!
  • Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse – My first Wodehouse review ever, back on February 7, 2012, is just as incoherently in love with Wodehouse as any of my current ones.  This particular review was actually more of an excuse to post an entire passage of Wodehouse’s foreword on the importance of early 20th century authors possessing three long names!
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell – A lot of so-called “classics” aren’t at all my style, but Orwell’s writing in this book is absolutely brilliant, and eerily applicable.
  • A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson – It was a little awkward, because after I queued this post, someone else recommend Ibbotson’s works to me.  I actually hated A Company of Swans, and this was one of my first really ranty reviews.  But maybe I should give her another try??
  • Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh – When I was really studying the early 1900’s, I read Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of Saint Louis, which was strangely engaging reading (but apparently I never reviewed it??  I’m positive I did!  I just can’t find it!).  This book, written by his wife, is much (MUCH) shorter, and I loved every page.  This is gentle, calming, inspiring writing that, for  me, captures beautifully the importance of femininity, strength, solitude, and balance.

My first edition copy of this book gives me an unreasonable amount of joy.

When I was looking for all those archives, I also found a bunch of quotes.  My favorite is probably from Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster:

It isn’t the big troubles in life that require character. Anybody can rise to a crisis and face a crushing tragedy with courage, but to meet the petty hazards of the day with a laugh–I think that requires spirit.

Random Fun:

  • 19367226

    This book isn’t by Agatha Christie! Why is Agatha Christie’s name prominently displayed at the top!? So that Sophie Hannah can trick people into buying her book! BOO HISS!

    Rant first:  I stumbled again across a copy of The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah, and felt myself again being filled with rage that she would dare – DARE – to put Agatha Christie’s name in huge letters across the top of the cover.  Just because you’ve stolen someone’s main character doesn’t give you the right to act as though one of the greatest mystery writers of all time wrote YOUR book!  Honestly.  The nerve!  I was also pretty confident that I remembered FictionFan ranting about this book when she reviewed it – and I was right!

  • Speaking of FictionFan – she published the first chapter of her new domestic noir novel on her blog – I believe it is going to be absolutely brilliant – that type of gritty book that exposes the daily drudgery of the modern woman for what it really is.
  • I loved Gemma’s thoughts on buying books, and what the books we own say about us.  Her statement that her “to-buy” list is “almost an attempt to solidify the experience of reading that book, of enjoying that book. It’s a symbol that I love this book”  – is spot on for me as well.  I also do almost all of my reading from library books. But the ones I love go on the wishlist and get purchased when the funds appear!
  • Nicole had a similar conversation as well, and about how the temptation to purchase ebooks instead of physical ones is high, because ebooks are such a bargain – and take up less space! – despite the fact that they just aren’t the same as actual physical book.
  • I completely agreed with FictionFan (again…  really, I do disagree with her sometimes!) about the ridiculousness of editing chunks out of modern reprints of classic books – especially without any indication that you are reading an edited version and not what the author actually wrote!
  • Sophie compared book titles to baby names, and admitted that she judges books by their titles!

Added to the TBR:

Well, I added nothing to the TBR this month!


Seriously, per usual, I added way more than I possibly have room to mention, but here are a few that I added thanks to fabulous book reviews around WordPress!

  • Bibliobeth said that Night Film was thoroughly engrossing despite its length – I love really involved mysteries, actually, so I’m pretty stoked.
  • Reading, Writing and Riesling usually adds about 79 books to my TBR every month.  This month, I was especially drawn to her description of Night Owls – how am I supposed to resist a book that is “Beautifully written; engaging prose, loveable characters that speak to the principals of acceptance, diversity and individuality and a narrative that is engaging, that flows effortlessly” !??!?!  Answer:  I can’t!
  • Both Sophie and The Literary Sisters recommended the lengthily titled The Girl Who Circumnavigated the World in a Ship of Her Own Making, a book I’ve had my eye on anyway.  I love children’s fantasy, and also love the name September!
  • Another double recommendation was The Girl With No Past, which both CleopatraLovesBooks and ChrissiReads felt was a strong psychological thriller.  I haven’t had any good thrillers pop up lately, so hopefully adding more to the TBR will increase the odds!
  • Cleo also recommended 24 Hours as a page-turner that kept her completely engaged.
  • Cheryl at Tales of the Marvelous recommended Tom’s Midnight Garden as a “very British, very charming classic fantasy.” Her description put me in mind of E. Nesbit, a beloved favorite, so I think I will have to give this one a try.
  • Sometimes I like to mix it up with what kids are (or at least should be) reading these days, and Lynette’s description of North of Nowhere sounds like a great middle school read.
  • Since Anna over at Books for the Trees started her review of The Night Clock with a lot of capital letters and feels, it sounded like the fantasy read should go on the list!

Hope everyone else had a lovely October and are ready for November.  We’re getting back into the cozy reading months, so I’m pretty stoked about that.  Happy reading!!