Rearview Mirror: March 2015

!!!  Okay, so March went really, really fast!  I have no idea why, but I cannot believe it is already April!  I am totally ready for spring, though.  Tom and I have been planning out gardens and ordering plants.  SO MUCH SPRING LOVE!  Spring is the only time of year that I’m totally confident that I can be an awesome gardener.  (This confidence is shown to be false by about the end of June.  :-D)

March was another really busy reading month.  Still trying to stay on top of those reviews!!!

Favorite March Read:

Gaaaahh actually a really hard choice.  I read three five-star books this  month, and several four-stars.  It was actually a really good month!!  But I think I’m going to go with The Blackhouse by Peter May.  This was a brilliant thriller.  I’ve just finished the second in the trilogy (also fantastic) and am super excited about reading the third (except it means I’m done with Fin!).  Fabulous read.

Most Disappointing March Read:

A toss-up between Wild Goose Chase (a just dreadful “cozy” mystery) and Cold Spella mediocre fairy tale retelling.  Both were 2/5 and just MEH.

Other March Reviews:

  • Pollyanna’s JewelsPollyanna’s Debt of Honor,  and Pollyanna’s Western Adventure by Harriet Lummis Smith – 4/5 – continuations of the Glad books, and just as adorable as their predecessors.
  • Mr. Darcy’s Promise by Jeanna Ellsworth – 4/5 – an actually decent retelling of Pride & Prejudice that was adorable and nice, even if the cover was completely bizarre.
  • Deep Secret and The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones – 4/5 and 5/5.  The Merlin Conspiracy was a close runner-up for favorite March read.  These two loosely connected stories were absolutely delightful in every way.  They were fantasy (and DWJ) at its best.
  • Nemesis and Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie – 4/5 for both – wrapped up the Miss Marple books.  Nemesis was the last chronologically and Sleeping Murder was the last in published order (even though Sleeping Murder was written first…?!?!)
  • Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer – 4/5 – a fun and happy read with a bit more depth than I usually find in Heyer’s writing.
  • Lion Hound by Jim Kjelgaard – 5/5 – another runner-up for the favorite read of the month.  Totally enjoyed rereading this childhood classic.
  • Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman – 4/5 – a surprisingly enjoyable little fluff story.

Added to the TBR:

Per usual, SO MUCH TEMPTATION OH MY GOSH.  And do I give in to it every time?  You bet I do!  Plus, I started following several  more book blogs…  even more temptation!!

  • Stephanie intrigued me with her review of Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White.  I’m a sucker for YA fantasy, and the cover is fantastic!
  • Cleopatra Loves Books was on a total roll with her thriller recommendations…  she added THREE to list!  Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes, The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson, and Stranger Child by Rachel Abbott.
  • Lady Fancifull was responsible for three additions – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (sci-fi time-traveling thriller??  Yes!) and Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans (still have a problem with wanting to read every WWII home front story I can find), as well as a Golden-age mystery (always up for those), The Expendable Man by Dorothy Hughes.
  • From Reading, Writing, and Riesling I added Captured by Neil Cross (for some reason I really like thrillers where the crime is a bit from the past??) and The Chimes by Anna Smaill, which just sounds fantastically intriguing.
  • One of my new book blog follows, Rose Reads Novels, was responsible for adding Close Your Eyes. Hold Hands. by Chris Bohjalian, a sort of post-apocalypse novel which, she assures me, doesn’t have a ridiculous twist.  Love it.  Thanks to RRN, I also added Time and Time Again by Ben Elton – I do love a good time-traveling novel!
  • FictionFan rarely lets me off the hook, even though we frequently read wildly different types of books.  This month, she hooked me with Money Tree by Gordon Ferris, which sounds like a great thriller AND she promises a Lone Ranger reference…!!!!  Plus, FF gets special kudos this month for introducing me to the world of Peter May/Fin Macleod!
  • Another new book blog for me, Bibliobeth, hooked me with another thriller recommendation – The Murder Bag by Tony Parsons.
  • Finally, Sophie got me to add what she promises is a feel-good read, Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof.  Sophie said this book made her feel like she “was floating on a piece of fluffy cloud, just drifting across the sky and looking down yonder on the mountains and the forests and with little birds flying around me.”  How can I not want to read a book that inspires those kinds of feelings?!?

So let’s see, I read/reviewed 13 books and added 14…  that sounds perfectly reasonable, right??  :-D

Here’s to more happy reading in April!!

Cold Spell

//by Jackson Pearce//published 2013//

16039122This is a fairy tale retelling, and one that I didn’t particularly enjoy.  For me, it was a book that felt a little disjointed and difficult to follow at times.  I never really felt a lot of empathy for the heroine, and the friendships she made along the way seemed to go from zero to “wow I completely trust you with my life” within about five minutes.  Combined with more or less no explanations on the how the rules of this world work, Cold Spell was ultimately a 2/5 for me.

HOWEVER I will caveat that, once again, it appears that this book is part of a series.  It is, in fact, the fourth of a series that currently has four titles.  Even though reading the synopses for the other titles doesn’t make it sound as though they flow together, it is possible that there were overlapping characters/concepts from earlier titles that would have made Cold Spell a little more readable.

But the truth of the matter is that if a book is part of a series, and it needs to be read within the context of that series, FREAKING PUT IT SOMEWHERE ON THE COVER.  Or maybe a page around the title page.  I don’t care where, but SOMEWHERE make it obvious that there are other books I need to read first.  I am running into this problem more and more often and it is SO. AGGRAVATING.

Anyway.  Okay, so this is supposedly a retelling of the “The Snow Queen,” but it isn’t really, because it really isn’t anything like “The Snow Queen,” except a woman with a lot of power over snow kidnaps a young and handsome man.  Kai, the victim, has been Ginny’s (the heroine) best friend since they were very small.   Kai is a very talented musician from a fairly wealthy family, while Ginny is an average girl from an average family.  Kai lives with his grandma in an apartment building that his grandma owns; Ginny and her mother live in the building as well.  Kai’s grandmother disapproves of Kai’s friendship with Ginny.  Ginny and Kai don’t care, and, now that they are in their senior year of high school, they are planning to move to New York together so Kai can study music and they can be together!  Forever!  True love!

Then Kai’s grandma dies really abruptly and in swoops Mora, an incredibly beautiful and rich young woman, who bespells Kai and sweeps him away.  Ginny is determined that something is wrong with the whole situation, so she sets off in pursuit and engages in many adventures before finally catching up with Mona and Kai for the final showdown.

Here’s the thing: I never really liked Ginny.  I didn’t dislike her, either.  She just…  was.  Even though she is the narrator, and I have access to her feelings and thoughts, she still felt like a sort of stiff character.  Even though she theoretically grows and becomes stronger as she learns to be her own person, instead of someone co-dependent on Kai, it felt more like that change was external more than internal, if that makes sense.  Like, she was doing the things, but I never felt like she really got it on the inside, even though Pearce had her think/say all the right things.

The other thing that really annoyed me was how Ginny would just so happen to run into people, and those people would just so happen to be the perfect people to help her and even though Ginny is super suspicious and running for her life she would just so happen decide that they were worth trusting after all and then it would just so happen that they are actually perfect people!  Wow!  Imagine!  Like the one couple Ginny runs into and they hang out for like a day or maybe two and then she is thinking about just continuing to live with them indefinitely??!  What?!

The world building was a huge problem for me, and, like I said, may have been better if I had read the other three books that I DIDN’T KNOW EXISTED SINCE THEY AREN’T LISTED ANYWHERE ON OR IN THE BOOK, but as far as my reading went, it was terrible.  We get little snippets of Mona and her story/motivation, but it’s never really fully explained.  (Werewolves? They want her back?  She becomes one?  She kind of is one?  Not sure?)  Ginny meets up with these gypsy people, and we don’t really ever get a story about them, either.  There werewolf-hunting brothers just randomly show up with minimal back story, too.

Despite all of that, I’ve definitely read worse.  While I wasn’t hungry to return to Cold Spell when I wasn’t reading, I didn’t dread it, either.  And I did want to find out what happened to Ginny.  (And I kept kind of hoping that I was going to get some answers.)  There were even a few decent conversations, if you could get yourself to ignore the fact that they were happening between to virtual strangers who apparently found it completely natural to confide in each other.

“What do you do?”

“I…” I trail off.  …  “I don’t really do anything.”

“Don’t do anything,” Ella asks, drumming her fingers on the sofa, “or don’t do anything yet?”

I smile.  “Is there a difference?”

“Huge difference,” she says.  “People who don’t do anything annoy me.  People who don’t do anything yet excite me, because they can potentially do everything.”

But in the end, even a few good conversational snippets weren’t enough to pull Cold Spell out of it’s below-average rating.  So a 2/5, and maybe that’ll teach ’em to not mention that a book is part of a series!

The Blackhouse

//by Peter May//published 2012//

BlackhouseCoverOh, wow, I don’t even know where to start!!  I picked up this book because of FictionFan’s review of the third in the trilogy, and her review of The Blackhouse can be found here.  I am super glad that her enthusiasm won me over, because The Blackhouse was a thoroughly gripping tale, and I can hardly wait to read the other two in the series.  Also, you should totally read her review either way, since she has a knack of being significantly more coherent than I am when I’m reviewing books I really liked.  :-D

Our protagonist is Fin Macleod, a detective in Edinburgh whose personal life is going through a bit of a rough patch.  When a murder occurs on the Isle of Lewis, where Fin grew up, his superiors send him off to see if there is any connection between the Lewis murder and one that occurred in Edinburgh a few months earlier, as the initial MO seems to be the same.  Fin is reluctant to return to Lewis, but as he reconnects with the people and places of his childhood, he begins to see that this murder and his life may be more entwined than he first believed.

First things first:  I really, really like Fin.  He’s just a solid, steady sort of fellow, with a quietly snarky sense of humor and a strong sense of justice.  While he has a lot of problems, he’s working through them like a man, not wallowing in them like a whiny baby.  Fin isn’t afraid to admit when he’s done something wrong (although he doesn’t mind taking the credit when he’s right, either :-D).  I just really, really liked Fin, and that made this whole story work for me.  I wanted to know more about him and his childhood and his life.  I really wanted things to work out for Fin.

Okay, so, this story starts out in third person, but then, chapter two, suddenly switches to first person – Fin, recalling an episode from his childhood.  At first, I was a bit confused.  It seemed weird.  But it only took a few pages of the first person narrative to make me realize that I liked Fin even more, and I found myself flipping through the rest of the book to see if the narrative alternated back and forth – and was pleased when I found that it did.  Present day events in third person, past events from Fin’s POV.  It sounds like it ought to be disjointed and choppy, but it’s actually brilliant.  May manages to insert Fin’s recollections at very natural points in the present-day narrative.  The first time occurs when Fin is on the plane getting ready to land on Lewis.  I felt that I was reading Fin’s thoughts/memories from that exact moment – the memories that would naturally come to him as he returned to the island for the first time in nearly twenty years.  And it stays that way throughout.  May never makes a stated connection (e.g., “As Fin drove across the countryside, his thoughts drifted to the day  he first met her….  I met her on a rainy day…”), but every time Fin’s recollections take place, it’s at a natural gap in the present-day narrative, at a point where learning more about Fin’s past is exactly what ought to happen.

The secondary characters in this book are very well drawn, as well.  As we meet people from Fin’s past, May does an excellent job of contrasting them, via Fin’s memories, with their youth and where they are now.  Somehow, this made the present-day narrative much more emotional and engaging, as we slowly see what events shaped the people into who they are now.

In a weird way, the mystery is almost to the story of Fin as a person.  It’s almost as though the mystery is here simply as a catalyst for Fin to discover things about himself.  I felt the story was far more about Fin than it was about who murdered the victim.

One thing, however, I did not like about this book was a rather unnecessarily lengthy and detailed explanation of the autopsy of the murdered victim.  It was bad enough to have to listen to descriptions of this brutal death (I especially found the continued emphasis on how fat the victim was, and how his rolls of fat where hanging down, etc. to be quite off-putting, simply because they didn’t feel particularly necessary??)  But ten pages of chopping this guy up seemed a bit much (maybe especially because I happened to be trying to eat dinner during that chapter??).  However, I resorted to an old trick of mine – I skimmed through and only read where there was conversation.  In third-person narratives of this sort, most important information will be imparted through conversation, not the description.  Worked like a charm.  ;-)

Of course, I also wasn’t a huge fan of the way in which May presents religion:  a dark, dank, dated drug that sucks the joy out of everyone’s lives and forces them into a slavery of tradition, judgment, and gloom.  The only even somewhat-happy people are the ones who are, either secretly or opening, defying the church and living life free of those horribly shackling rules.  Anyone who is a “genuine” believer is a hypocritical, angry grouch.  I guess I wouldn’t mind so much if it wasn’t (per usual) that 100% of church people are horrid, and the only way they can be not-horrid is by leaving behind that ridiculous fairy tale of a religion that they know, deep inside, really isn’t true.  It is frankly insulting.  (Imagine if I wrote a book in which an entire group – take your pick – a certain race or gender or virtually any religion other than Christianity – was 100% portrayed as confused, cruel, ignorant, arrogant, angry fools??  How well would that go over? Yet it seems to be expected of any time the Christian church is involved in a story.)  Ah well.

In many ways, this story is a bleak one.  The whole story felt like it was written in black and white.  It is a book of stark contrasts, of people who have survived, but who have survived at a cost.  Life on the Outer Hebrides is not for the weak of heart.  May does a masterful job of writing of Fin’s slow realization that as much as he wanted to escape from Lewis, he still feels that pull toward home – even though he has no family left there – that calls us all back to the place we were born, the place that somehow helped to make us.

This book was definitely a 5/5 read and highly recommended.  It is gritty, intense, and thoroughly engaging.

Pollyanna’s Western Adventure

//by Harriet Lummis Smith//published 1929//

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The next Glad book opens a few years after the close of Pollyanna’s Debt of Honor.  Leaving behind the security and modern conveniences of their Boston suburb, the Pendelton family heads to the wild west, where Jimmy has taken on the supervision of the building of a dam.  Many adventures ensue as the family meets their new neighbors and work through the romantic drama of their new governess, Dorothy.  Through it all, of course, lessons in contentment and thankfulness are learned, and everyone ends up better people than they were in the beginning.  (Guys, I actually love the simplicity of these books.)

The first thing that really struck me about Pollyanna’s Western Adventure is that it is set less than a hundred years ago, yet they move into a house without running water.  One of the huge events of the story is when they get a radio.  It’s just mind boggling to me how much has changed in the last hundred years.  We take so many of our everyday conveniences for granted!

One of the big parts of this story is that Pollyanna starts a lending library.  I love the way that everyday drudgery of the lives of these poor mountain people is lifted when their worlds are able to be expanded through reading.  It’s amazing to me how learning about the world beyond our own changes our perspective on our everyday life.  Smith really catches this throughout her story.

Dorothy’s tale is a bit melodramatic, as she is caught in a love triangle of her own making, and there is a completely bizarre scene in which she is kidnapped by a crazy old mountain woman, but overall this story is similar to the others – just wholesome, happy entertainment.

This is the last Pollyanna book by Smith.  I’ve just started reading Pollyanna in Hollywood, which is Elizabeth Borton’s first installment, so we’ll see how the transition goes.  I’m having a lot of trouble finding the last couple of books, so we may be reaching the end of this little series soon.  The Western Adventure is an easy 4/5, and another delightful addition to the series.

Enthusiasm

//by Polly Shulman//published 2006//

Enthusiasm.pgFrom jacket cover:

Julie’s best friend, Ashleigh, is an enthusiast.  Julie never knows what new obsession will catch Ashleigh’s fancy, but she does know she’s likely to be drawn into the madness.

Ashleigh’s latest craze is Julie’s own passion, Pride and Prejudice.  But Ashleigh can’t just appreciate it as a great read; she insists on emulating the novel’s nineteenth-century heroines, in speech, dress, and most important of all – their quest for True Love.

There’s more on the jacket cover, but that’s really the basic gist.  Julie is the narrator of this story, and she and Ashleigh have been best friends – and next-door neighbors – for pretty much their entire lives.  Ashleigh has dragged Julie along into more crazy obsessions than Julie can count.

I think that most of us have an Ashleigh in our lives (or maybe you are the Ashleigh!) – someone who throws themselves so completely into whatever they’re doing that they don’t really care if everyone else thinks they’re weird or over-the-top.  My  brother Timmy is an Enthusiast – from rock climbing to making balloon animals to tying knots to creating origami, we never know what Timmy is going to do next.  And even though Timmy never became obsessed with Pride and Prejudice and tried to talk me into sneaking into an all-boys’ school to find True Love…  well, it’s not something I would completely dismiss as a possibility. :-D

Overall, I found Enthusiasm to be a surprisingly enjoyable read.  Shulman did an excellent job with the characters of both Julie and Ashleigh.  Ashleigh’s enthusiasm is portrayed as lovable, endearing, and delightful – never obnoxious or pushy.  While Julie is quieter and more shy, she never comes across as thinking that either she or Ashleigh is “better” – from Julie’s narrative we gather that she finds both perspectives – Ashleigh’s full-throttled joy and Julie’s reserved step-by-step approach – completely valid.  Ashleigh respect’s Julie as well.  The friendship between these two girls is the heart of the book, and it comes across beautifully.  These two are really, really good friends, and I loved that.

The love story is, of course, a bit cheesy and a little predictable, but that didn’t diminish the fun.  Both the guys that Julie and Ashleigh meet are super nice – and, like the two girls, in completely different, but still good, ways.  I honestly couldn’t decide which of the guys I liked better!

I really appreciated that even though Julie’s parents are divorced and she has weird family dynamics stemming from that, that Shulman also presented us with other family situations – Ashleigh’s parents are very happily married, for instance.  It was super nice to read a YA story where divorce wasn’t presented as the 100%-of-the-time norm/something we just have to be resigned to because it always happens.  I felt that Shulman handled Julie’s family difficulties deftly, allowing Julie to work through some different things without bogging down the story with a lot of angst.

The story definitely wasn’t perfect (there’s this really weird scene where one of the dudes ends up climbing a tree and staying the night with Julie in a not-sexual way but was still super random and strange???), and was, at times, incredibly predictable, but overall it was a really fun, lighthearted read.  4/5.

Wild Goose Chase

//by Terri Thayer//published 2008//

1033658So I’m always on the lookout for a new cozy mystery series.  Cozy mysteries are kind of my favorites… just enough thinking for my reading.  :-D  So when Wild Goose Chase came up on my library website as “recommended”, I thought I would give it a whirl.  Unfortunately, a choppy story, whiny heroine, predictable conclusion, and overall annoying cast of characters left this book at a 2/5, and left me with no particular desire to read any further in the series.

Our story opens at a quilting convention in California.  Our heroine, Dewey, (also the narrator) has recently inherited her mother’s quilting shop, and is now facing her first convention as the shop owner.  Since Dewey’s mother died very suddenly in a car accident, Dewey is still working through a lot of emotion surrounding her mother’s death (a LOT of emotion).   Dewey’s never really been into the whole quilting thing – she works with computers – and isn’t sure if the store is something she wants to carry on, despite the fact that it has been in her family for generations (although it wasn’t originally a quilting store, just a regular store).

Okay, first off, this story was just, honestly, boring.  So much of it was about Dewey’s feelings – and she has a lot of feelings.  Like, it’s totally understandable that she’s stressed about her mother’s sudden death, and that she thinks about her mother a lot, but her constant angsting about whether or not she should sell the store, whether or not her mother wanted her to carry on with the store, etc., was annoying.

She also has a lot of feelings about the love interest, Buster.  Buster is apparently an old family friend, but he drops into the story out of absolutely no where, and then all of a sudden they’re having sex.  Like…  okay?  Even though Dewey explains that they’ve known each other for years and the “sudden” part was just realizing that they want to be more than friends, I, as the reader,  had virtually no opportunity to connect them as a couple before they’re already shagging, and it felt sudden and weird, not to mention completely pointless as to the rest of the story.  Buster is also a policeman and is connected to the investigation, and the next day, when another murder occurs, suddenly he’s ignoring Dewey and blaming her because he decided to skive off and shag instead of hanging around the quilting show (?????)

The murder itself is completely random, and Dewey is only connected to it by chance, and there’s absolutely no reason for her to care about this murder at all, but she just keeps going along.  She has zero connection to the actual investigation, so the whole pursuit of the mystery angle feels awkward – we’re only getting Dewey’s incredibly amateurish view of the whole situation, and have no idea what’s actually going on.  The murder only really gets solved because the murderer virtually confesses to Dewey the whole thing – not because Dewey has made any brilliant deductions.

Dewey’s sister-in-law is just a dreadful person, and we have to listen to her and Dewey bicker for the entire book, plus listen to Dewey’s internal monologue on the subject.  So boring.

Dewey decides almost immediately that she wants to sell the shop, so she spends most of the book trying to find someone to buy it, then, suddenly, in the end is all like, “No, actually, I love it!  I’m going with it!”  Nothing about Dewey’s ownership of the store felt natural or made any sense, and her shift from wanting nothing to do with the shop to completely embracing it felt forced and weird.

Okay, I’m concluding with a SERIOUS SPOILER LIKE I AM TELLING YOU WHO THE MURDERER IS so if my amazing review has made you want to dash out and read this book STOP READING NOW OR YOU WILL KNOW THE ANSWER although I figured out the answer pretty early on because it’s painfully obvious, except I kept thinking, That can’t really be it because there are so many reasons that it doesn’t actually make sense for this person to be the murderer.  I genuinely rolled my eyes in pain when the murderer was revealed.  Here’s the deal:  Dewey is going to visit the murder victim in her hotel room.  In the hallway, Dewey meets the murder victim’s friend/coworker, Myra.  Myra is bringing the victim lunch.  Myra doesn’t want Dewey to bother the victim; Dewey basically forces her way into the room, and they find the victim dead.  Myra is overwrought.  She drops the tray.  She throws up.  She sits in the bathroom and is sick while they’re waiting for the police.  Myra is also the murderer.  If Myra is the murderer, why is she coming back to the hotel room with a tray all alone?  Why would she want to be the person to “discover” the murder if she is the one who committed it?  This makes no sense to me.  You would think she’d be thrilled to have Dewey along as a witness to the fact that the victim was already dead.  If Myra committed the murder, why does the sight of it suddenly make her violently ill?  And those are just the reasons from the actual scene of the crime that made it not make sense.  Basically, Myra’s entire motivation makes no sense.

So yeah.  This book had its moments where the dialogue was good, and the writing was fine, but overall I was not impressed.  I didn’t really like anyone, and their motivations seemed completely arbitrary to me.  Dewey and Buster’s relationship made no sense. Buster’s complete abandonment of Dewey and blaming her for his slackery made me feel like he was a total jerk, not someone I wanted to see the heroine with.  Dewey’s family is scattered and unsupportive, and her sister-in-law – gah!  I really wanted to like Wild Goose Chase, because cozy mysteries can be so much fun, but it just didn’t do anything for me.  2/5.

Lion Hound

//by Jim Kjelgaard//published 1955//

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When I was probably 11 or 12, I found some old books in a closet at my grandma’s house.  The books had belong to my dad and his sister.  Those books were my introduction to Marguerite Henry (Misty of Chincoteague), Jean Craighead George (My Side of the Mountain), and, perhaps most importantly, Jim Kjelgaard.  Two of his books were in that closet – Lion Hound and Wild Trek.  They were older copies, hardcover, from the Scholastic Book Club, and had originally belonged to Grandma’s mom, who was a school teacher.  While I eventually ended up with Wild Trek (and My Side of the Mountain), I have no idea whatever happened to Lion Hound.  And then, the other day, I realized that I really, really wanted to read it again.  Thanks to the power of the internet, I had no trouble finding a copy, although the Bantam-Skylark paperback version isn’t the same as the old hardcover Scholastic – even the cover picture was more exciting on the hardcover!

61u9QVXXtZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_But no matter.  The important part is that I found it again and 100% enjoyed my trip down memory lane.

Jim Kjelgaard has been weirdly influential in my life.  His books encouraged me to cherish and enjoy the outdoors, to learn as much about wildlife as I could, to appreciate the balance that responsible hunters and trappers provide, and to realize that dogs are far superior to cats in almost every way (sorry, Mary Rose).

 But I didn’t realize, the first time that I read Lion Hound, that I was reading a book that would stick with me for the rest of my life, and would cause me to snap up every Jim Kjelgaard book I came across.  I just knew that I enjoyed the story.

Johnny lives out in the mountains somewhere west.  He lives with his grandpa, who used to be a bounty hunter (for animals, not people…  hunters would get paid for killing livestock-eating animals, like mountains lions and coyotes).  Johnny has grown up loving the outdoors, but recognizes that the day of the bounty hunter is drawing to a close.  He is planning to attend college and work in the forest service.

But for now, in high school, he is an average student who enjoys spending his weekends, whenever possible, hunting with Jake Kane.  Jake, an older man (but not elderly like Grand Pop), is a bachelor who lives with his hounds a little ways from Johnny and Grand Pop.  Jake is the last  bounty hunter of the region, and knows the wilderness like the back of his hand.  Although the area is more populated than it used to be, mountain lions are not uncommon, and Jake spends a great deal of the winter hunting them.

At the beginning of our story, a big lion has come into the neighborhood.  Kjelgaard tells us what the humans in the story never know – the lion’s back-story, and why he has an extra dose of hatred for men and dogs.  At the beginning of the story we also meet Jake’s new litter of hound puppies, including a little red one, Buck.  Johnny is very impressed by Buck and wishes he could have a dog just like him, but Buck is a one-man dog, and that man is Jake Kane.

 I’m not sure I can explain why I love this story so much.  As an adult, I realize that it is really a rather strange story in many ways.  We never find out why Johnny lives with his grandpa, or what happened to his parents.  We don’t know exactly where he lives, or really very much about him at all.  The same is true with Jake.  How did he become the bounty hunter that he is?  When did he start raising hounds?  Why is Sallie his favorite one?  It is, really,  a rather sparse story.  We know more about the lion’s childhood than Johnny’s.

However, that seems to fit what Kjelgaard is doing.  He is writing a story about straightforward, hardworking men and their dogs, who live in a sparse, rugged country doing difficult, dangerous work.  And the story works.  I didn’t wonder about any questions of background or character backstory.  Kjelgaard told what needed to be told in order to tell the story.  And despite the fact that I don’t know anything about Johnny’s parents, Kjelgaard manages to paint a vivid character study of Johnny himself, and the two men in his life.

There aren’t really any females in Lion Hound.  Most of Kjelgaard’s stories are about boys and dogs and their adventures.  Somehow, despite the lack of female role models in the stories, though, I devoured them as a child.  I read constantly nowadays about how critical it is that girls read stories about girls doing amazing things, otherwise girls won’t be able to realize that they, too, can do these amazing things.  And while I have nothing against female protagonist, I don’t really understand this kind of reasoning.  Even though Kjelgaard’s stories were about boys, I never doubted that I could do everything they did.  I knew that I was just as intelligent as they were, and that I could learn to do anything any boy could learn how to do.  I daydreamed and wrote stories about living in the wilderness, and had an imaginary pack of dogs at my heels every time I played outside.  I climbed trees and built forts and dams, and learned about birds, animals, trees, and edible plants.  Even though there weren’t any girls doing those things in Kjelgaard’s stories, even as a child I had no doubts that Kjelgaard wrote about boys because he was a boy, but that I was a girl and could anything any boy could, if I cared to try.  I didn’t need a female protagonist to take me by the hand and reassure me, and I don’t think most girls do.  It seems rather insulting, really, to say that girls will only realize that they can do things if they read/see/hear about other girls doing them, as though they are too stupid to make the connection otherwise.

But I digress.  The point is, Kjelgaard’s books are a delight to me.  Some I loved more than others, but I’m getting ready to binge by reading every Kjelgaard book I own, so you’ll be hearing about those in due time.

 Lion Hound was a childhood favorite, but it was well worth the read as an adult.  A simple, rugged story of a boy, a dog, and an enemy, with quiet lessons about hard work, loyalty, and integrity.  5/5.

Cousin Kate

//by Georgette Heyer//published 1968//

CousinKate  So this little regency gem by one of my favorite authors was quite a bit different from the other Heyer works I’ve read.  While still engaging and interesting, full of delightful dialogue and likable characters, Cousin Kate was a more melodramatic work, with an underlying tension that was actually quite exciting.

Our story opens with the heroine, Kate, arriving at the home of her childhood nurse, Sarah (excellent name, that).  Kate, an orphan, was left penniless a year (a few years?  a few months?  not exactly sure how long) earlier and has been attempting to earn her living as a governess.  Dismissed from that position thanks to the unwelcome attentions of the son of the master of the house, Kate has come back to Sarah’s to regroup and decide what to do next with her life.

 Of course, as we know, job opportunities for gently bred young women in the Regency era were not numerous.  Sarah, determined that Kate should have the “good” things in life, which Sarah believes Kate deserves, goes behind Kate’s back and contacts one of Kate’s only living relatives (her mother was disowned by her mother’s people when her mother married Kate’s father), Kate’s father’s half-sister.  Much to everyone’s surprise, Aunt Minerva immediately dashes up to London and (figuratively) sweeps Kate into her arms and insists that Kate comes to live with her at Aunt Minerva’s country manor, Staplewood.  Here, Aunt Minerva lives with her (much older) husband, Sir Timothy, and their son (a few years younger than Kate), Torquil, who is also invalidish – he has never really gone anywhere beyond the immediate environs of Staplewood, being too delicate to go away to school or to enjoy a Season in London.

At first, Kate enjoys the pleasure and rest of Staplewood, but, being an intelligent, sociable, industrious young woman, the inactivity and lack of companionship begins to wear on Kate.  Also, the relationships between her three relatives seem…  odd.  When Sir Timothy’s nephew, Phillip, arrives for a visit, things become even more strained.

Overall, I really enjoyed Cousin Kate.  Although in some ways the story was slow, it rarely felt as though it dragged.  Heyer manages to slowly reveal several characters to be more sinister than they first appear, and Kate’s realization that all is not well is completely natural and oddly creepy.  Throughout, there is a sense of unease, and uncertainty of whom one can actually trust to be the person they claim to be.

However, there are so rather lengthy monologues that aren’t terribly interesting, especially as several times one person would tell Kate what they thought about another (at length) and then a few pages later, Kate would have to listen to the previously-discussed person explain why they were, in fact, exactly as the other had thought they were …  in other words, it was almost the same monologue twice in the same chapter, which was a bit monotonous at times.

The ending also felt rather abrupt.  While not necessarily dissatisfying, it was sudden (can you have a sudden ending on page 318?  Yes, yes you can), leaving me not 100% convinced of Kate’s future happiness (although I would say I was left 95% sure, which, on the whole, probably isn’t too bad).

Kate is a strong protagonist, someone I really liked and was definitely rooting for.  She is kind, industrious, intelligent, funny, and brave.  She tries to find the best in people and situations, but faces up to trouble when it meets her.  Even though her life had thrown her plenty of difficulties, she was still determined to make her own way on her own terms.

Cousin Kate was an excellent read.  While different from the more lighthearted Heyer novels I’ve enjoyed in the past, the more “gothic” aspect of the story was actually a fun change of pace.  4/5 – definitely recommended, especially for other Heyer fans.

Sleeping Murder

//by Agatha Christie//published 1976//

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So I do believe that this is my favorite Miss Marple tale to date.  Sleeping Murder was a delightfully creepy, well-paced story.

First, though, let’s talk about something that really confused me.  I’ve been reading the Miss Marple stories in their published order, as I did last year with Hercule Poirot.  And, thus far, the stories have also been in chronological order (the Poirot mysteries did the same).  However, Sleeping Murder is definitely set earlier in Miss Marple’s timeline than the book before this one (Nemesis).   While still elderly, Miss Marple is much more active, and, throughout the story is found gardening and weeding, activities she has vocally mentioned in earlier books as being too strenuous for her, per her doctor’s orders.

And so, I did something that I rarely do for this book blog (because, as I have mentioned in the past, I am a super lazy blogger) – I actually did a smidge of research on this book.  And by that, I mean I read the Wikipedia article.  And now I will summarize the publishing information from said article for you, so you can be a lazy blog reader and not click through to the link.  (Besides, if you click through to a Wikipedia link, you’ll never end up back here.  You’ll get swept up in a series of Wikipedia links, and before you know it, it’s already after 18:00 and you’re supposed to have supper on the table but you’re busy reading about the communication methods of honey bees.)

Okay, so, apparently, earlier in her career, Christie wrote the last Poirot novel and the last Marple novel. Then she put those novels in a vault, and went on to write many other novels, including lots that involved these two characters.  After she published Postern of Fatethe actual last novel she ever wrote, in 1973, Christie authorized the publication of Poirot’s final appearance, Curtain.  Sleeping Murder followed in 1976, although Christie passed away before it was actually published.  While Curtain is most definitely the end of Poirot, Sleeping Murder is, in fact, set earlier in Miss Marple’s lifetime (so I wasn’t crazy).  Sleeping Murder wasn’t as powerful of a mystery as Curtain, but I was unsurprised to find that it had been written earlier in Christie’s career – I really think that her earlier works are much stronger than her later ones.

This story starts with a young woman, from New Zealand, who has arrived in England to pick out a home.  Her husband is to follow shortly (he is traveling on business), but she gets the pleasure and the challenge of finding the perfect home for their new life together.  Whilst driving through the countryside, Gwenda finds a beautiful little house – she loves it at first sight.  She feels as though she has come home at least – it is as though she instinctively already knows about this house, all its secrets.  She purchases it happily, and wires her husband Giles to tell him the wonderful news.

As Gwenda settles in, though, she continually has feelings of unease.  That feeling of “knowing” the house takes on a more ominous tone as various  remodeling projects she puts into action turn out to be, in fact, restoration – clearing bushes leading down to the sea reveals that there used to be stairs there.  Putting a doorway between the den and the dining room – except there was already a door there, plastered over.  Separately, these little incidences would feel inconsequential, but as more and more of them occur, Gwenda becomes more and more frightened.

I cannot begin to describe how creepy Christie makes all of this sound.  I really don’t want to give any more of this away because you definitely need to read it yourself.  It sounds so dumb, but it is positively eerie.

Much like Curtain, Sleeping Murder is a book that you simply have to read.  I can’t describe much more for fear of giving it away.  The story unwinds with perfect pacing, hurling the reader into a very satisfactory ending.  A 4/5 for Miss Marple’s final entrance, and an excellent way to end her series.

Pollyanna’s Debt of Honor

//by Harriet Lummis Smith//published 1927//

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The fifth Glad Book picks up a few years after the conclusion of Pollyanna’s Jewels.  The Pendletons are still living in a Boston suburb, and although the children are all a little older, things seem to be more or less the same.  However, the neighborhood is intrigued when new neighbors move into the house across the street from Pollyanna and her family.  A father and daughter, the young woman is strangely shy, claiming to be to invalidish to have company, but seen walking briskly in and out of her house and heading off on drives in a way that doesn’t seem to be sickly at all.  Pollyanna soon manages to meet and befriend Lorraine, and is determined to help her overcome her troubles.

As those of you who have read my other Glad book reviews know, I am thoroughly enjoying this series.  The characters, while old-fashioned, are endearing.  Pollyanna has transformed from a bubbly, happy child to a kind, thoughtful adult.  Her determined optimism is a foundation of her character, but isn’t overdone or pushy.  At the same time, Pollyanna has firm morals and beliefs and is unafraid to stand up for them when the need arises.  She is no milk-and-water miss, as the saying goes.  While modern feminists would look down on her, I actually believe that Pollyanna is an excellent representative of true femininity – strong, independent, intelligent, and well-informed, while at the same time thoughtful, kind, intuitive, and gentle.  Pollyanna would never say that she was better than her husband, or that he was better than her – she completely understands that they are simply different, and that it is, in fact, this very difference that enables them to be such a wonderful match, as their strengths and weaknesses complement and bolster each other.

These are not stories full of high drama.  They don’t have a strong, driving plot that will keep you awake at nights.  However, there is a pleasant simplicity to the stories.  The dialogue is natural and engaging, and the characters face problems that somehow transcend the nearly hundred years since the book’s publication date, and become oddly applicable to modern life.

One thing that I love about Pollyanna is her fearlessness in defending what she believes to be right and true, even if it means standing up to people she loves and respects.  In this story, their old friend James Carew, now a famous author, writes a book that Pollyanna disagrees with.  James has followed what Pollyanna believes to be the deplorableness of  modern times by writing what his publishers tell him will sell – a story of loose morals, where those who do wrong are rewarded, and those who try to say otherwise are portrayed as narrow-minded and ridiculous.  An altercation comes to a head when James’s secretary, an impressionable young woman, nearly runs away with a married man.  Pollyanna confronts James:

“Pollyanna, you can’t be serious.  You can’t mean you hold James responsible because a crazy girl decided to follow the example of one of his characters” [James’s wife, Sadie, said].

“I  hold him responsible for making respectability seem tame and cowardly, and immorality romantic and beautiful.  Here’s a young girl who naturally respects James and his opinions.  Day after day she is saturated with ideas that are upsetting to anybody so inexperienced.  Aren’t the people in ‘Growing Pains’ [James’s book] who are shocked when Mrs. Rutledge leaves her husband for her lover, the meanest characters in the book, narrow and small and Pharisaical?”

She looked James in the eye and waited until he answered slowly, “Why, yes, I suppose they are.”

“All the nice people practically condone her conduct.  At least it doesn’t make any difference in their attitude towards her, does it?”

Pollyanna’s perspective is one that is probably a bit startling for the modern reader.  We’re now multiple generations into the attitude that says that people should do whatever they want, whatever makes them happy, and that they should be able to do so completely free of judgment.  But I think that Pollyanna has an important point.  We’ve somehow gotten to this place where if anyone dares to say they don’t believe something is “moral” or “right,” then that person is immediately labeled as “intolerant” and “narrow-minded” and “prejudiced.”  Pollyanna’s character may have strong views on the sacredness of marriage vows, but that doesn’t make her intolerant, narrow-minded, or prejudiced.  Instead, she is kind, generous, and giving.  She welcomes all sorts of people into her circle, reaching out to those in need.  But she doesn’t do it by patting them on the head and telling them that every decision they’ve ever made was the right one.  She does it by helping them to see that when one makes wrong, selfish decisions, one has hard consequences to face.  But if one faces them and tries to make things square, life has a way of straightening itself back out.

Another conversation in this story that really struck me was one wherein Pollyanna and speaking with Lorraine.  Lorraine was in a car accident and her face was severely scarred.  Hence, she doesn’t wish to be seen/speak with anyone, and it is slowly embittering and destroying her life.  Throughout the story, Pollyanna tries to help her to see that beauty is not the cornerstone of a woman’s worth.

“I’m going to tell you something surprising.  I’m really glad not to be a beauty ….  A woman who is loved for her beauty and nothing else, must be almost afraid to look in the mirror every morning, for when her beauty goes, everything goes with it.  But hundreds of thousands of women like me know we are loved for something independent of our looks as our bodies are independent of the clothes we wear.  I don’t mean to get wrinkled or lose my teeth any sooner than I must, but Jimmy wouldn’t stop loving me on that account any more than he’d stop loving me if I put on an unbecoming dress.”

These are not perfect books.  Sometimes I roll my eyes at a plot line, and sometimes there are too many little “funny” children’s anecdotes, but overall, these books are of a type similar to Louisa May Alcott.  They are strong, sturdy little books that know exactly where they stand and are unafraid to be there.  They emphasize family values, marital fidelity, and clean fun.  They remind the reader that these are things within the grasp of every person, no matter where they live, how much money they have, or any other physical circumstance.  We all have the ability to find the good in every situation, and to live every day glad to be living, and glad to  be living with those we love.