Home » Mini-Reviews » Rearview Mirror: April 2015 (+ Minireviews)

Rearview Mirror: April 2015 (+ Minireviews)

Yeah, so, as you read in my last post, I’ve been going through a major spring reading slump!!  It’s a combination of just being outside, of reading a lot more reference/nonfiction than usual, and not really reading any fiction that spoke to my heart.  I only actually reviewed three books in April!  (Who am I!?!?)

However, I did read a lot of other books, some of which I enjoyed and wanted to review, and several about which I felt super MEH.

The other weird thing that happens when I’m not reading a lot is that I don’t really feel like adding books to the TBR.  When I’m reading a lot, literally any review that looks remotely interesting pretty much ends up on the list.  But when my reading slows down, I automatically get a lot more finicky, so I only added a very few books to the TBR in April.

  • FictionFan added The Defence by Steve Cavanaugh – I love thrillers, and actually have a soft-spot for ones that are a bit over-the-top, ones that you would never believe if you stopped to think about them, but, in the midst of reading, convince you that all these coincidences are completely plausible!
  • Cleopatra Loves Books added two reads – how could I resist one she says will make her Top 10 of 2015??  So obviously Disclaimer by Renee Knight had to go on.  She also managed to intrigue me with her review of The Sudden Departure of the Frasures by Louise Chandlish… actually quite the feat, as I did not add many books from the end of April!  :-D
  • Finally, since Reading, Writing & Riesling informed me that I (and all her other readers!) had to read The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer, I obediently added it to the TBR!  :-D

So what did I read in April?  Actually, a fairly decent little pile of books.  Some of them were too boring/unengaging for me to bother keeping around and have already been shipped back to the library, but below are a few of the highlights – books I fully intended to write regular reviews for but…  well, it just isn’t going to happen.  And I can’t keep renewing them forever!  :-D

//Pollyanna in Hollywood//by Elizabeth Borton//published 1931//

Well, this book marked the end of a beautiful relationship for me: it is the last Pollyanna book I’m reading.  :-/  I’m actually quite saddened by the rather abrupt end – there are technically several more books in the series – I personally own five more – but I barely made it through this one, and have been stalled, halfway through Pollyanna’s Castle in Mexico for over a month.  I just can’t do it.

You may recall that Eleanor Porter wrote the original two Pollyanna books.  After that, the series was authored by Harriet Lummis Smith.  I have absolutely loved Smith’s interpretation of Pollyanna’s character, and her development of Pollyanna’s life/story.  However, a new author picked up the baton with Pollyanna in Hollywood, and it was everything that I initially feared Smith’s sequels would be – sickeningly sweet, boring, preachy, and aimless.  With both Hollywood, and the section of Mexico I managed to plow through, Borton has seized upon the popular trend of the 1930’s – writing more about a place than a story.  She “sells” her story by plumbing her characters down in a completely unlikely location, then introduces them to people who can explain about the place.  The whole thing reads more like a travelogue than anything else – and one pretty poorly written at that.

For instance, in Hollywood, there’s the coincidence of the Pendeltons ending up in Hollywood to begin with.  Then they end up with a perfect house.  Then, on a beach, they just so happen to run into one of the most famous movie stars of the day!  And of course they inspire him! And he becomes their Best Friend and shows them all around Hollywood, explaining, in excruciating detail, all the ins and outs of the movie-production world.

Meantime, because it’s Pollyanna, Borton feels obliged to drag the Glad Game into everything – instead of allowing it to flow naturally through the story, from Pollyanna’s character, it becomes very forced and weird.  Pollyanna becomes a caricature of herself.  So tragic.

And then there’s the fact that Borton basically ignores the history/character development from the last several books – suddenly, Pollyanna is calling her husband “Jimmy Bean!”, James has gone back to Jamie (even though his requesting to be called James instead was a sort of turning point for the maturity/development of his character), and Borton even has the audacity to age Nancy by about 25 years – it’s obvious, from the original books, that Nancy is only a few years older than Pollyanna herself, but Borton turns her into an elderly, ailing old woman (and actually kills her off in the Mexico book!  !!!!)

And so, I have resigned from the rest of the series.  While I highly (highly) recommend the books by Porter and Smith, Borton’s additions to the series are too dreadful for words, and incredibly disappointing.

//Forty Acres//by Dwayne Alexander Smith//published 2014//

18870436I read about this book somewhere initially, and then again when FictionFan reviewed it a while back, and knew that it was a book I wanted to read.  I strongly recommend this incredibly engaging thriller.  I could barely put it down.  I literally dreamed about this book when I was reading it, which almost never happens.  This book got in my head and challenged me at a level that thrillers rarely do.  Smith does an absolutely brilliant job of asking a lot of hard questions, and forcing his readers to realize that there are no easy answers, no clearly defined paths of right and wrong.  There are ways and means to justify every action – the question is, are those justifications …  just?

Definitely scamper over the FictionFan for a more in-depth overview of the book’s plots and finer points.  For this little minireview, I’m just going to hit a few of my personal high points.

First, I really appreciated Smith’s honesty and openness in dealing with these deeply-rooted racial issues.  And it’s easy to see where the justifications for their actions could be appealing.  I absolutely loved the way that the protagonist, Martin Grey, was lured down the path of this (basically) cult.  Each step seemed logical and reasonable, but at some point, he realizes that they’ve crossed a line, even if he isn’t sure where exactly that line was.

Martin couldn’t believe it.  He couldn’t.  “Are you saying that you made Junior your slave?”  

“That is exactly what I’m saying.”

“But that’s – “

“Go on, say it,” Dr. Kasim urged.  “Illegal?”

Martin had another word in mind: wrong.

For me, this book examined something deeper than racial questions – it looked at the very idea of right and wrong.  Are things that are wrong always wrong?  And is it right if the people who were wronged wrong the ones who wronged them to begin with?  Is saying that that’s wrong merely a way for the original oppressors to get out of their just desserts?

Martin was proud to be a member of the black race, but first and foremost he was a member of the human race.  What was true hundreds of years ago was still true today and will forever be true.

Enslaving another human being was an unredeemable act of evil.

I read this book over a month ago, but I really wish that I had been able to review it when it was still fresh.  This is most definitely a worthwhile read.  I personally found the ending to be a bit rushed and slightly inconclusive, but overall this was deep, thought-provoking, engaging, and exciting read.  Smith is definitely an author I will watch out for in the future.

//Big Red//Irish Red//Outlaw Red//by Jim Kjelgaard//published 1945, 1951, 1953//

Kjelgaard-Big Red CoverBig Red is probably Jim Kjelgaard’s most famous book, mainly because Disney made a cheesy movie out of it. (I’ve never watched this movie.  I’m just assuming that it’s cheesy and dreadful.  They always are.)  It’s classic Kjelgaard – poor, woods-wise boy falls in love with intelligent, owned-by-rich-guy dog.  But Danny is a really likable guy, and Red is a beautiful and brilliant dog.  While the story is, in many places, predictable, the story is still engaging.  As with most of Kjelgaard’s books, attributes like loyalty, hard work, and intelligence are emphasized and rewarded.

irish_redIn Irish Red, Danny and his dad, Ross, have to prove the worth of the Irish Setters versus the English setters being supported by the rich guy’s snobby nephew.   Unfortunately, they find themselves dependent on Red’s goofy, slap-dash son Mike to make that point.  This story, as an adult, makes me laugh a little because the character of Mike is much more developed than that of Danny or Ross.  We really have no idea of what happened to Danny’s mother, presumed dead (although perhaps merely not around…  it always reminds of that classic scene in the movie “Support Your Local Sheriff” – “She’s named for her dearly departed mother.”  “I’m sorry, she died?”  “No, just departed.”  HA), and Danny is apparently completely contented leading a bachelor lifestyle in the wilderness, as no lady friend makes an appearance in any of the three books.  (Although a couple of the dogs find romance.)

7e6ab5cf6428da973d1b56c1e16d83d9Kjelgaard actually didn’t do very many sequels, and the fact that he wrote a third book for this series is a sign that either the books were quite popular, or he just really enjoyed Danny and Ross as much as his readers.  Another of Red’s sons, Sean, is the main dog in Outlaw Red.  Accidentally abandoned in the wilderness, Sean has to go from a pampered show dog to a wild survivor.  Of course he manages to do so.  This book has a little bit more tension as the main human element, a backwoods boy who has been working for Danny and Ross, becomes a fugitive due to circumstances beyond his control, so the reader is also engaged in his story.

I actually thoroughly enjoyed rereading these stories, and not just because they bring back loads of happy, nostalgic memories of my childhood.  They are simply fun stories, stories that made me yearn to work as a dog handler when I was a kid.  They are easy reading, relaxing yet engaging.  They aren’t full of deep character study, but they emphasize clean, honest living, and the joy of a hardworking life with good companionship, and I highly recommend them.

//The Chessmen//by Peter May//published 2015//

15832513Okay, so this is the most tragic thing – I’m reducing this book to a minireview!  I AM SO SAD ABOUT THIS.  However, I did not do this book justice at the time I read it, and consequently am not going to do it justice when I review it.  Weirdly, it’s yet another FictionFan rec (?!?!  I promise, she doesn’t completely run my TBR!) She (as usual) does a far superior job of reviewing it, as well.

Guys, I absolutely loved the first two books in this trilogy – The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man.  And don’t get me  wrong – The Chessmen was also definitely fabulous.  The problem was 100% with me, the reader.  I read this book at the beginning of my reading slump, and I just didn’t do it justice.  This book deserved to be read in large, engaging chunks, and I just didn’t have that kind of time.  So I read it in snatches here and there, and that just doesn’t work for this book, especially at the beginning when May actually has three different time/storylines going.  I definitely will reread this book in the future in order to really delve into its depths, because I freaking am in love with Fin.

But the main feels this book left me with were ones of slight sadness – there really didn’t seem to be a lot of resolution for Fin.  I’ve come to love him so much, and I’ve really been pulling for him and Marsaili to work through their past and come out of all this as a team, determined to face the future together.  I wanted to finish these books and feel like Fin might not have all the answers, but was at least finding himself.  And I just didn’t feel that way.  At the end of the book, Fin and Marsaili are still uneasy and uncertain in their relationship, and Fin is still homeless and jobless, plus almost all of his childhood friends have now died/been murdered.  I really wanted to feel like Fin was reestablished in his childhood home, rerooted and ready to grow there, and instead it felt like his future was still bleak and uncertain.

It was additionally frustrating because I did feel like Fin was more committed to his relationship with Marsaili, but that he simply never bothered to tell her??  Like he faces and overcomes these temptations with Mairead (do all women’s names begin with M in Scotland??  Even his exwife’s name is Mona??), but Marsaili doesn’t know that; all she knows is that he went with Mairead when she (Marsaili) asked him not to.

What I did like was the final resolution in the end at the clerical trial.  I actually felt like Fin really got it, and he did a great job of confronting the self-righteousness of the so-called church.

“Your God will judge you, Donald.  And if He’s half the God you think He is, then He probably helped you pull the trigger.”

I was so glad that Donald didn’t lose his faith in the end.

So I definitely liked The Chessmen, and definitely want to reread it when I’m in a better reading mood.  However, I really feel like there could definitely be another book with these characters – I want to see more of them, and to be reassured that Fin and Marsaili go on to live a long and happy life together.

//Conclusion//

So this brings us to the end of the minireview blitz!  I am now caught up on book reviews (well, mostly).  Hopefully May will be more conducive to reading…  although maybe not, since this weekend’s weather looks gorgeous and we already have a million outdoorsy plans!  :-D

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9 thoughts on “Rearview Mirror: April 2015 (+ Minireviews)

  1. Well you read some great books in April, I too was sorry to say goodbye to Fin after reading the last in the Lewis trilogy! I do hope you enjoy Disclaimer and I’m honoured that you mentioned my review for this one and the Louise Candlish. The Defence is great fun too!

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  2. Haha! If I ever open a bookshop I’m going to make sure it’s in your street – I’d make a fortune! So glad you enjoyed Forty Acres – one of those ones that has stayed in my mind. And I also endorse The Shut Eye – she even managed to get me to overlook the stuff about the psychic, which would normally have put me off. Disclaimer’s on my list too based on Cleo’s review, so she’s got us all hooked on that one. And I’m glad you felt The Chessmen was up to standard – when I reviewed it I said I thought it might be the best of the three, but now that it’s a while since I read them, The Lewis Man is definitely the one that has had the longest lasting impact on me…

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    • Yes, like I said, I wasn’t in my personal best reading form when I read Chessmen, but even allowing for that, I think The Lewis Man is my favorite. The chapters from the perspective of Marsaili’s father were just incredibly well done, and his story was incredibly haunting. All and all, just a brilliant set of books, one that I *yearn* to see extended!!

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  3. I really enjoyed your reviews of the Pollyanna series! I totally agree that Lummis Smith’s sequels were worth reading and that Borton’s Mexico and Hollywood sequels were not on a par with them. However, I do believe that you have to read the ninth book of the series, Borton’s Pollyanna’s Door to Happiness: Much better than her previous two contributions! It reminded me of Lummis Smith’s additions to the series: Pollyanna is back in Boston and she meets some really interesting people for whom she acts as an informal counsellor. However, the 10th glad book that Borton wrote next was not as good as the 9th. I am now reading the 13th gladbook–I skipped the 12th for the time being because it takes us back to Pollyanna’s adolescence and I was curious to see what happens as Pollyanna gets older but I have to say that in the 11th and 13th she has become a secondary character as the empahsis is now laid on her chlidren and daughter-in-law.
    Anyway, please read the 9th book and give us your review of it!
    Many thanks!
    Apostolis

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    • Oh my, maybe I should give some of the later ones a try! I actually own a few of them but I really lost heart halfway through the Mexico sequel, but you’ve inspired me to try a few of the ones after that!!

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