Maris // by Grace Livingston Hill

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//published 1938//

So sometimes I’m just in the mood for a book that is 98% fluff, and Grace Livingston Hill frequently fits that bill.  While some of her books are bit too preachy or a bit too saccharine sweet, she has also written stories that fit some of my favorite tropes in a way that make me happy.  Maris was one that edged towards the preachy end of the spectrum, but still managed to pull through as a decent one-time read.

Our story starts with Maris waking up one morning, contemplating her engagement – her wedding is only a few days away, and Maris is suddenly beginning to have niggling doubts about the wisdom of the decision she has made.  Little does Maris know, but, like Job, her whole world is about to fall about that day.  Within just a chapter or two, her mother has been stricken with a nearly-deadly heart attack, her little sister comes home with the measles, her other sister is found eating ice cream with a boy of an undesirable reputation, and probably a few other difficulties that I’ve forgotten.  And at this point of difficulty and struggle in her life, does Maris’s fiancee step up with understanding and sympathy?  Decidedly not!  Indeed, Tilford (seriously?  Maris and Tilford?) instead shows his true colors to be that of a selfish whinybaby.

As the story unwinds, Maris faces the difficulties in her life with bravery and maturity and self-examination, while Tilford continues to pout that things aren’t going his way.  Eventually, Maris breaks off the engagement and, in the end, finds true love in the form of the boy next door who is, of course, a diamond of the first water.

Overall, this was a fine little tale, and there were some actual good conversations and thoughts in it.  But because we meet Maris and Tilford at the moment in their engagement where she is already starting to wonder if she has made a good choice, it is hard to believe that their engagement ever made sense.  Starting this story earlier in the timeline and allowing the readers to see Tilford when he was actually being charming and winsome would have made the story (and Maris’s struggle) make a lot more sense.  Instead, we only ever see Tilford at his worse, which means I spent the whole story super confused about why Maris ever liked him to begin with.

All the feminists would hate this book, I’m sure, with Maris’s entire life revolving around home and family, without a thought to any position beyond that.  Tilford, upon multiple occasions, tells Maris that she must obey him because she is his fiancee, although in fairness, this is part of the reason Maris ends the engagement.  (Hill isn’t clear if Maris feels that she shouldn’t have to obey her husband, or if she simply doesn’t think she could obey Tilford!)

Of course, Hill cannot seem to write a story without going to extremes, and there is a lot of melodrama to keep things moving along.  Maris’s brother is Hill’s favorite stereotypical younger-brother-who-steps-up-to-shoulder-the-manly-mantle, complete with slang and scorn towards Maris’s erstwhile lover; her father is quiet, hardworking, and determined that his family shouldn’t realize how much he is sacrificing his health to make sure they have all the good things they want; mother is a saint; high school sister is teetering between rebellion and maturity (if only Maris was around more to help her through these difficult times!); younger siblings are there for noise.

And while I am completely cognizant of the fact that this entire story is pretty much exactly like every other one of Hill’s tales, I still thoroughly enjoyed all of the adventures, including the kidnapping and dramatic rescue.  This was definitely not a book I’ll ever bother reading again, or even one that I would recommend, but it’s one of those random one-offs that are just fun enough that I don’t feel like I’ve completely wasted my time.  ;-)

The Black Fawn // by Jim Kjelgaard

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//published 1958//

Continuing my read (/most rereads) of Kjelgaard’s works, I was intrigued to pick up The Black Fawn, which I had not read in several years.  (And by that, I mean probably 15?!  How am I old enough to have gone 15 years since reading a book that I last read in high school…!??!?!?)  As an aside, the copy that I have is the exact one that I checked out of the library those many years ago…  I am a huge fan of library booksales and snagging discards.  I love the old cloth-bound library editions, which they don’t seem to publish any more.  This one I picked up back in 2000 at a sale, complete with the library card that I signed back in the day…

Anyway.  This book is about Bud, a young orphan who is “farmed out” to an older couple in the countryside.  I realize that there were a lot of problems with the system that sent older orphans out to the country to help farmers, but in some ways I wonder if we shouldn’t revisit that system, where kids are sent someplace to learn the value of hard work and industry.  But lands on his feet, as Gramps and Gram are a wonderful couple who don’t really need help as much as a young person about the place now that their own pack of kids have grown and gone.

While most of Kjelgaard’s books are about boys who have grown up knowing woodlore, Bud knows nothing about country life, but he picks up quickly as Gramps is a fantastic role model, who loves his wife, his family, his farm, fishing, hunting, and all those other things that make up the stereotypical male of the 1950’s.  (Not that I’m bashing it.  I married a guy straight from the 1950’s stereotype and it’s brilliant; highly recommended.)

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//an actual black fawn//and a link to a webpage that talks about the genetic reasoning behind the coloration//

Anyway, during one of his first evenings on the farm, Bud comes across a newborn fawn who is an abnormally dark color, almost black.  Believing that the fawn has been orphaned and abandoned like himself, Bud stays with it until Gramps comes to find him, and reassures him that the fawn’s mother is close by and will still care for her baby.  Throughout the next several years, Bud continues to believe that his fate is linked with that of the black buck, who has grown into magnificent maturity.  Bud himself grows to love the farm, and wants to become a farmer himself when he grows up.

There were a lot of things about this story that I really liked.  There are a lot more feelings in this book than a lot of Kjelgaard’s books, which tend to be more action-oriented.  The love that creates a family between Gramps, Gram, and Bud is obvious, but Kjelgaard doesn’t pretend that it happens like magic.  Some of Bud’s early days at the farm are rough, and even after he has found his feet, he still struggles with feelings of inadequacy and worries that he is unwanted and that they will send him back.

I also appreciated the fact that, when Bud first goes to school and is belligerent and acting like a tough guy, his teacher actually clocks him.

All at once [Bud] found himself sitting on the floor.  Lights danced in his head.  He blinked owlishly, and as if from a great distance, he heard Mr. Harris say, “Get up, Allan.  Your seat is the third one in the first row.  Take it.”

After school, Mr. Harris takes Bud home and has a man-to-man talk with him:

“You needed that cuffing I gave you.”

Bud said nothing as Mr. Harris continued, “You had it coming and you know it.  I know exactly what you were thinking and why.  Stop thinking it.

“Let me tell you about another boy,” Mr. Harris said, “another orphan.  He was farmed out when he was just about your age, and he went to a new school exactly as you did.  Inside, he was frightened as a rabbit with five dogs and nine cats backing him into a corner, but he was afraid to let anyone else know that.  The teacher reprimanded him and he shouted at him.  Then, because he was convinced that only tough guys can get along, he hit the teacher with a chair.  The boy was twelve when it happened.  he was eighteen when he finally got out of reform school. …  It’s a true story, as I should know.  The boy’s name was Jeffrey Chandler Harris, who now teaches eighth grade at Haleyville Consolidated School.  I’ve wished many a time that that teacher had had sense enough to clobber me when I most needed it.”

Definitely a product of the times!  Do any of you think that there is any time when a teacher ought to be justified in “clobbering” a student….??

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//another pic because gosh he’s cute//

At any rate, even though there were a lot of things about this story that I really enjoyed, it really felt like it could have been fleshed out a lot more.  The story covers about 4-5 years, and it seemed like there was a lot of character development that just sort of was skimmed over.  I would have liked a lot more to the story, but I suppose that this is technically a children’s book, so that may explain it.

Overall, though, I enjoyed this book a lot more than I remembered doing so the first the time (back in the distant mists of time) and would put this at a 4/5.  Kjelgaard does a really excellent job of weaving Bud’s life together with the black fawn’s without making it ridiculous or unnatural.  Bud, Gramps, and Gram are all very likable, yet realistic, characters, and while I would have liked to see more about their development, it was probably about the right amount for a 6th-8th grade level, which is the intended audience for the story.  As always, Kjelgaard emphasizes the importance of traits like diligence, honesty, industry, respect, and independence, and does it (for the most part) in a way that feels natural.  Another solid read for any young people in your life who love animals and the outdoors.

Ice in the Bedroom // by P.G. Wodehouse

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//published 1961//

One of my life goals is still to read all the Wodehouse books I can find, and they crop up on my TBR regularly, mainly because there are so many of them.  And while not every single one is the diamond of the first water, each is brilliant in its own way, and there has yet to be a single one that did not make me laugh out loud on multiple occasions.

Ice in the Bedroom is the tale of Freddie Widgeon, a young man who, according to my Who’s Who in Wodehouse (by Daniel Garrison and, honestly, a must-have if you are a regular Wodehouse reader…  Wodehouse had the habit of creating characters who intersected with other characters and frequently, when a name sounds familiar, it’s because that person really has appeared elsewhere…  Garrison’s book lists all the characters that have ever appeared in a Wodehouse book and tells you which books they were in and how the characters are related.  Absolutely brilliant), is a regular member of the Drones Club and has shown up in other books featuring that fine establishment.

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//While not without errors, this book is nonetheless a delightful addition to any library that also includes at least a half-dozen Wodehouse novels//

In this book, Freddie, who has loved many girls before (after all, “if all the girls he had loved and lost were placed end to end, they would reach halfway down Piccadilly – or further, as some of them were pretty tall”), has found true love at last, in the form of Sally Foster, secretary to the famous novelist Leila Yorke, who has written such famous works as For True Love Only, Heather o’ the Hills, and Sweet Jennie Dean.  Of course, the path of true love never runs smoothly (especially in a Wodehouse novel), and Freddies must convince that Sally that he not a butterfly, flitting from flower to flower, but genuinely committed to her alone…  despite circumstances beyond his control that may indicate otherwise.

The tale has all the Wodehouse hallmarks – a novelist, young love, a few criminals (all named things like “Chimp” and “Soapy”), some stolen gems (“ice”), and plenty of coincidences that lead to the most delightful chaos.  Mr. Cornelius, the eccentric house agent in the suburb of Valley Fields was a delightful touch to this tale, and the criminal element, especially in combination with Freddie’s cousin the policeman, was an absolutely joy to read.

Nothing brightens my day like a good delve into Wodehouse, and Ice in the Bedroom, while a bit formulaic, is nonetheless classic Wodehouse, and an easy 4/5.

The White Dragon // by Anne McCaffrey

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//published 1978//in case you couldn’t tell by the cover art//

In the third book of the “Dragonriders of Pern” trilogy (and the fifth book in the Pern Chronicles…  yeah…), we focus on young Lord Jaxom and his dragon, Ruth.  In Pern, Lords aren’t supposed to become dragonriders, and Jaxom’s bonding with Ruth was a mistake.  Circumstances prevent Jaxom from living in a Weyr and learning how to become a dragonrider in the traditional manner, so Ruth comes to live with Jaxom in his Hold, Ruatha.

Ruth is an anomaly – dragons in Pern are golden (Queens), bronze (who mate with the Queens), green (females who aren’t Queens), browns and blues (males who mate with greens), and there is a specific hierarchy that goes with those colors and their roles in the Weyrs and in fighting the ever-present Thread.  Ruth, however, is a male dragon who is white – an unheard-of color prior to his hatching.  Expected to die soon after he was hatched, because he was weak and small, Ruth defies expectations by growing to adulthood, although he never attains the size of most full-grown dragons.

Our story opens with Ruth and Jaxom finally receiving permission to fly together, and the story follows the pair as they mature into adulthood.  In the meantime, Pern is undergoing many changes and challenges, and Jaxom and Ruth find themselves caught up in the drama and politics.

This is one of, if not the, longest books in the Pern series so far, and there is a lot going on.  I would have been 100% lost if I hadn’t already read all four of the other books, including the first two from the Harper Hall trilogy.  (The third Harper Hall book was published the year after The White Dragon. I read it when I read the other two books a year ago, and even though this book was published first, I’m pretty sure that most of the events in Dragondrums take place after the events from this book…  which is why I generally like to read a series in published, rather than “chronological” order…  thus far, these books have all overlapped a LOT.  I can’t remember for sure, though, and am interested to read Dragondrums again and see how it fits in.)

First off, there is simply the fact that Jaxom is a dragonrider and also a Lord Holder.  Many of the other Lord Holders don’t like this situation, and feel that it’s unfair.

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//I like this cover a bit better//

Then there are the rebellious Old-Timers who were banished in an earlier book.  They were forced to leave the northern continent on Pern, where everyone lives, to go settle in Southern Pern.  However, all of their dragons are getting old, and they are desperate for a Queen who can continue their line.  So desperate, in fact, that they steal a Queen egg from a Northern Weyr, causing much drama and angst.

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//there is a surprisingly large amount of Jaxom-Ruth fanart. They are apparently a popular pair of characters//

Next, there is the problem that Northern is simply running out of room for the population.  Southern is a gigantic continent in comparison, though, so even though part of the banishment agreement was that the Northerners wouldn’t interfere with Southern at all, they basically decide that since the Southerners broke the deal by stealing the egg, they can break the deal and start to look into settling some people in Southern, too.

Add to that the whole thing with Jaxom worried about Ruth’s lack of sexual appetite (more on that momentarily), Jaxom’s illness, the MasterHarper’s deepening interest in the ancients, the discovery of ancient ruins, fire lizard drama, and a few more side plots I can’t remember, and you’ll begin to pick up on the fact that I really felt like there was just too much going on in this book.  It easily felt like it should have been two books, with the themes more thoroughly developed.  As it was, it seemed like there were several loose ends that were never satisfactorily resolved…  they just sort of were introduced, did a few things, and then faded away.  I never really understood what was going to happen with the Old-Timers, or whether or not Lessa was going to be cool with fire lizards, or any other number of things that felt like they could have gone somewhere interesting and instead just petered out.

And then there was the fact that this book definitely had a lot more sexy-time than the others to date.  While not graphic, we definitely had to spend quite a lot of time listening to Jaxom think about the ladies, worry about why Ruth didn’t seem interested in flying either a Queen or a green, and dither about his relationship with both a young holder girl in Ruatha and the sister of the Southern Holder.  I don’t know if it’s because this book was about a teenage boy or what, but I just wasn’t all that interested in that aspect, especially since I still find the whole you-have-sex-with-the-person-who-is-bonded-with-the-dragon-your-dragon-mates-with thing to be weird and a little creepy.  Jaxom thinking about having sex, and then actually having sex and knowing that Ruth is basically in his head while it’s happening just seems super strange to me.

Overall, though, the book was still a good read.  I really liked Jaxom for the most part, and it is always fun to see old friends.  McCaffrey just does an amazing job of building not just a world, but an entire socioeconomic-political system that is complicated yet easy to understand once you get into the groove of the stories.  Reading these books in publication order has definitely been a boon to that understanding.

While I’m not quite ready to consider myself a part of the Pern fandom, I am definitely enjoying the books and looking forward to continuing through the series.

Zel // by Donna Jo Napoli

This retelling of Rapunzel was probably one of the strangest, creepiest, most bizarre fairy tale retellings I have found in a long time.  1/5 for me – I don’t like books that leave me feeling as though I’ve wasted my time and will probably have weird dreams.  Honestly, this whole book read like a weird dream.

Napoli places her tale on a Swiss alm in the mid-1500’s.  Zel, a bright and happy young girl of around twelve, lives with her mother on their small holding, where they grow a garden, raise a couple of goats and rabbits, and only go to town twice a year.  The story is told in alternating perspectives between Zel, her mother, and Konrad (the love interest), although only Mother’s is in first person.  During one of their trips to town, Zel meets Konrad, and he is smitten with her.  This disturbs Mother, who wants Zel’s affection all for herself.  Mother tells Zel that someone wants to kill Zel, and that she must be locked up for her own safety while Mother finds the enemy.  She imprisons Zel in a stone tower.

This story made ZERO sense to me.  The original fairy tale was far more coherent than this book was, and a lot less creepy, and that’s saying something, because Rapunzel always seemed like a dumb story to me, and was creepy as all get-out.  Instead of clarifying the story and making the characters more personable, Napoli creates a situation that makes even less sense, with characters who seemed even more weird and puppet-like than the originals.

I think a big part of why the story didn’t go anywhere was that Zel is only about twelve, and Konrad about fourteen, when they meet.  And even though I understand that in mid-1500’s Switzerland, youths were married as soon as they reached puberty, I couldn’t buy into the fact that they fell in love at first sight, and that Konrad, after a five-minute conversation with Zel, then proceeds to devote the next several years to doing nothing but searching for her.  And would Konrad’s parents really just be like, “Oh, okay, you found this peasant girl that you met for five minutes and are convinced she’s the one so you’re going to do nothing except ride your horse around in the woods for the next couple of years?  Sounds great!  Here’s some lunch!”  I just couldn’t believe that aspect at all.  I had no connection to this driving force of the story.

Mother, who is, of course, the witch, also doesn’t make any sense, despite Napoli’s  backstory.  She made a bargain with demons so she could get a baby?  She stole Zel from her rightful parents?  She can control plants and make them grow?  So if she can make the tree grow to lift Zel into the tower, and make it grow so that she (the witch) can access the tower, why does she make Zel’s hair grow?  Why doesn’t she just use the tree all the time?  If she loves Zel so much and wants to do nothing but spend time with her, why does she lock Zel in a tower and only visit her for one hour every day?  Why doesn’t she just move them into an even more isolated cottage and they can both live there?  After all, she can control plants growing, so she could just grow a hedge around their house?????

Then Napoli skips like two or three years of life, and now we jump ahead to where Zel has literally lost her mind because she’s been locked in the tower, and isn’t that just a joy?  She cuts herself and scrapes herself on the stones, she sits around naked, her thoughts are scattered and completely creepy.

But she wears no skirts now.  Zel laughs and spit flies from her mouth.  It falls on her bare shoulder.  On one arm.  On the other.  On her breasts, her ribs, her stomach.  And now she is out of spit.

She looks at her bucket of feces and urine against the rounded wall.  Each month she leaks blood into that  bucket.  She takes the bucket and dumps it out the south window where the sun enters now.  But she does not stand a second too long in the light.  The sun’s seduction has to be planned against.  The sun tries to make her believe in colors.

What. The. Heck.

And it gets even weirder.  I’ll spare you.

The worst part about this book?  It’s a children’s book.  In the children’s section of the library.  And it’s 100% inappropriate for children.  I wouldn’t let a twelve-year-old touch this book.  It’s gross and it’s weird, and it has absolutely no message.  No story.  Nothing to take away.  And I’m not saying that it’s YA.  It actually was in the Juvenile section.  J FICTION Napoli.  For real.  Ick.

Oh, and also, Konrad of course finds her, climbs up her hair, and has sex with her.  Excuse me?  In a children’s book??  Especially since Konrad realizes that she’s mentally deranged, but then has sex with her anyway?  That’s a lovely lesson for young readers.

Konrad is insatiable.  His hands press along Zel’s hairline and temples, around the shells of her ears.  They follow the crest of her throat and circle the thin stalk of her neck, ever knowing.  He undresses her with trembling insistence.  His mouth finds her perfect.  He believes he tastes the heady maturity of ripe plums; the bitter edge of small, round lettuce leaves; the sweetness of fresh milk. He believes he might die, he might burst like the constellation of Perseus in August – a shower of shooting stars – but for her call, her cry, the knowledge that she needs him as much as he needs her.  The years of deprivation hone the afternoon, the evening, the night.

He lies beside her now.  Beside his true love.  She is a miracle; she is a woman, yet so much of what she says is childlike.  She is without guile.  Konrad knows that Zel has been gravely harmed.  Her talk is disjointed; at times she raves.  And her hair.  No earthly force could make her hair grow so long in two years, in twenty years, in a lifetime.  Zel has suffered under an evil power.  Konrad knows as well, he knows with more conviction than he’s ever known anything else in his life, that their love will restore her, their love will triumph over whatever wickedness the world holds.

So yes.  What I want is for fourteen-year-olds to think that it’s okay to sleep with someone you barely know, even if they don’t really understand what sex means, because “love” fixes everything magically.  What.  Even.  Gah.

Even the end is stupid.  Supposedly, Mother made a deal with these demons yadda yadda and they get her soul.  But when she dies, she somehow magically becomes a part of Zel’s soul instead?  Or something?  I don’t even know.  I only finished this book because it was a very fast read, and because I just couldn’t believe that this was it.  But it was.

Absolutely dreadful, 1/5 (0/5 really), and one of those books that I feel like I should throw in the trash instead of returning to the library where it may lure some other unsuspecting soul into reading it.

Dragonsinger // by Anne McCaffrey // A Pern Novel

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//published 1977//

So, as I mentioned in earlier reviews, I am attempting to read all of McCaffrey’s Pern novels in their published order.  It’s a little more complicated than it sounds, simply because the two trilogies that make up the first six books are actually mixed up??  So while Dragonsinger is the fourth book in published order, it’s the second book of the second trilogy…  go figure.

Dragonsinger continues the story of Menolly, who, at the end of Dragonsong, left Benden Weyr to live at the Harper Hall, to be trained as a Harper.  As with Dragonsong, I found Dragonsinger to be significantly more enjoyable the second time around – with a baseline of Pern culture under my belt, so much more of the story made sense.  The Harper Hall trilogy is not as in-depth as the Dragonriders trilogy; McCaffrey seems to assume that you’ve read her other books and kind of know about the world she’s created.

I really like Menolly, and enjoyed watching her learn about life in Harper Hall.  My two beefs with this book?  The first is that the book supposedly only covers the first week (????) of Menolly’s life in Harper Hall??  It really, really feels like way more time has passed.  In one of the last chapters, it says something like “Menolly couldn’t believe that only a sevenday had passed since she arrived at Harper Hall,” and I found myself thinking, “Me, either!”  I mean, seriously.  The story would have been way more plausible if it had covered, say, a month.  It just seemed a little absurd that Menolly went from knowing absolutely nothing about the Harper Hall culture to being completely accepted and getting promoted to a journeyman in only a week…????

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//way more interesting than the cover I had//

My second personal annoyance with the book is just that McCaffrey makes some of the people annoyed that a girl is trying to be a Harper, with lots of anti-female prejudice, etc.  The reason this annoys me is similar to the reasons it annoyed me in Tamora Pierce’s “Protector of the Small” series – first, women are doing all sorts of awesome things in both Pierce’s and McCaffrey’s worlds – so why is it having a girl do this one specific thing throws everyone into a tizzy??  It just doesn’t seem sensible that women are critically important in the Weyrs, that they work in other trades, that they can fly dragons and fight thread, that they can be Holders – but OH MY GOSH SHE WANTS TO WRITE MUSIC AND PLAY INSTRUMENTS OUR BRAINS CANNOT HANDLE THIS THERE IS NO POSSIBLE WAY THAT A MERE WOMAN CAN DO THIS THING!  ????????????  I just.  I run into this in fantasy a lot.  Either make it so that women are genuinely prejudiced against, so a woman doing a thing is legitimately a big deal, or create a world where women are equal and do lots of things, so a woman doing this thing is, while possibly new, an acceptable thing.  Having women do absolutely everything except for this one thing, and then having everyone flip out about them doing this one small thing, just doesn’t make sense.

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//my favorite out of the random covers I found online//

But anyway.  That is an old annoyance that I rehash frequently.  :-D  Overall, Dragonsinger was a great read, and one that I was honestly sorry to see end.  I’m quite enjoying this series and looking forward to the rest, including The White Dragon, which I just started yesterday!!

Death and Judgment // by Donna Leon // Commissario Guido Brunetti #4

Wow, I don’t even know where to go with this review.  This book was super intense!  I am definitely enjoying the Commissario Brunetti series a lot so far, mainly because I really like Brunetti himself.  He isn’t darkly brooding, or dashing, or particularly heroic.  He’s just a quiet, middle-aged man with a family who does his job faithfully every day because he believes in justice.

In this particular tale, Brunetti is assigned to investigate the murder of an important lawyer – a man who seemingly leads an upright, honest life.  But as Brunetti begins to piece together who this man was behind the public face, and to connect the dots to two other murders, it becomes obvious that no one involved is as honest and honorable as they appear.

These books are not thrillers by any stretch.  There is never a point where I fear for Brunetti’s life, or where I have to stay up until 2a.m. to find out what happens.  But the stories are gripping nonetheless, and Leon is unafraid to kill people off to forward the tale, so I never really feel like anyone is safe, either.  Mixed in with the story is Brunetti’s real love affair – with Venice.  A native of that city, and now pledged to protect her, Brunetti’s love for Venice is a beautiful touch to these stories.

I also love Brunetti’s interactions with his family.  His wife is a delight, his daughter sweet with just enough rebellion dashed in to keep her realistic, and his son working hard to become a man as well.  Many of the underlying themes are revealed through Brunetti’s conversations with his family – it is a way for Leon to reveal different layers of what is at play behind the mystery.

Death and Judgment is a bit grim, if I’m honest.  It is a book that felt like it should have come with a warning – there is an incredibly disturbing rape/murder scene that was far more gruesome than anything else I’ve found in these books so far.  This mystery dealt a lot with sex trafficking and prostitution, and while Leon handles the subject well, she also challenges her readers to really think about the horror of this modern-day slavery.  Brunetti is sickened by it, and so was I.

Leon also isn’t afraid to emphasize the many miscarriages of justice.  There is never a guarantee with her writing that the bad guy is actually going to get what he deserves.  While the stories conclude solidly, I am still sometimes left, as I was with this tale, with a vague feeling of disquiet.

But through it all, Brunetti does his best to do his job faithfully, unafraid to quietly challenge his superiors when needed.  I can definitely recommend this series so far, but be forewarned about Death and Judgment – Leon is also unafraid to quietly challenge her readers to realize that we are not as civilized as we like to think, and perhaps we ought to be doing something about it.

Rearview Mirror: July 2015

So yes, I’m scheduling July’s rearview for August 3 in order for there to be time for the rest of my July reads to post.  (Guys, seriously, learning how to queue posts has changed my blogging life!)  Besides, if I didn’t wait for those queued posts before posting this, basically my entire Rearview would be nothing but links to everyone else’s reviews!  :-D

July was a pretty busy month.  It mostly centered around getting ready for, going on, and recovering from vacation!  We drove 24 hours to Colorado and 24 hours back.  And while the drive was just as uninteresting as ever (especially Illinois and Kansas), Colorado itself…!!!!!!!  So stunning!  I’m still working on organizing all of our pictures; hopefully some will be up on the other blog soon…  I’ll let you know, because I’m positive that you all want to see pictures of wildflowers, mountains, and alpine lakes!

We’re back home now, though, and settling back into life.  Waylon is as adorable as ever, although he’s turned into a leggy teenager of a dog and does nothing but stare at me, waiting for me to throw anything for him to fetch.  The gardens got a bit out of control while we were gone, but now we’re harvesting tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and beans, plus I have herbs drying…  I’m super happy.  For real.

As for books, it’s been a pretty average month.  Only five reviews, as I’ve been doing a lot of lazy reading, which involves fluffy stories I don’t admit to reading.  ;-)

Favorite July Read:  Most of July’s reads were rereads, so it’s hard to choose, especially between The Blue Castle and Indiscretionboth of which I specifically read because I knew I loved them already!

Most Disappointing July Read:  Obviously not much competition, but it has to be Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.  While I can understand why many people rave about it, it was just too dull and wordy for me – I like a bit of snap and action in my books.  Incidentally, I usually also enjoy at least some semblance of a point.

Other July Reads:  

  • Hot Water by P.G. Wodehouse – 4/5 – Read Wodehouse.  Today, if possible.
  • Stormy by Jim Kjelgaard – 3/5 – a solid but somewhat unexciting outdoorsy tale.

Random Fun:

Although my blog is basically just book reviews, I enjoy reading other people’s non-review-yet-bookish posts!  This month, I especially enjoyed FictionFan’s uncanny ability to decipher what those little one-line spurts of enthusiasm on a book’s cover really mean!

I’ve also, of course, been reading a lot about To Set a Watchman.  Nicole’s Nine Cents had a review that I especially enjoyed – so insightful and interesting, and actually the first review I read that really made me want to read the book!  (Have to admit… I’m a bit terrified…  so much love for To Kill a Mockingbird!!!!)

Added to the TBR:

You people are KILLING ME with all of your outstanding reviews!  Here are just a couple of the embarrassingly large number of books I added to the list –

  • Claire over at The Captive Reader said that as soon as she finished reading A Desperate Fortune she wanted to start it over again!  I really enjoy a historical/modern duel narrative when it is done well, and this read sounds like it may do just that!
  • The Literary Sisters read a reprint of The Crime at Black Dudleyand it sounded like a great way to try out another author from the Golden Age of Crime Writing!
  • Cleopatra Reads Books tempted me with two titles, The Girls and Pretty Baby.  Both are psychological mysteries that sound quite intriguing.
  • I apparently have to stop following Reading, Writing and Riesling as she is ruining my life with her excellent book reviews!  The Killing of Bobbi Lomax especially sounds good to me, but did I stop there??  No!  Little Black LiesA Time to Run, Oblivionand Charlie, Presumed Dead were all mysteries that also made it on the list.  Carol:  STOP!  :-D
  • Bibliobeth reviewed the sequel to Someone Else’s Skin – now both that and No Other Darkness are on the TBR!
  • For a complete change of pace, HeartFullofBooks inspired me to read a mermaid tale – Lorali actually sounded like it might be a good one!
  • I absolutely loved The Little White Horse when I read it a while back.  Little Bookworm Ali’s review of The Runaways reminded me that I should check out some more of Goudge’s work!
  • Books for the Trees always manages to make me think that I would enjoy reading a book that I might not have picked out on my own. This month, she added three!  The Museum of Things Left Behind, All the Light We Cannot Seeand The Tea-Planter’s Wife.
  • Finally, I loved Lady Fancifull’s description of The Wind is Not a River.  I recently read a nonfiction book about World War II in Alaska, and this historical fiction sounded worthwhile.  I love reading about more obscure theaters of otherwise well-known events.

::whispers::  that’s only some of the books I added….!!!!!!!!!!

Overall, even though I didn’t read as many books in July as I sometimes do, it’s more because I’m doing other super nice things and reading just random silly stuff for fun, not because reading just sounds bleh, like it did back in the spring!

Hopefully all is well with all of you beautiful people…  looking forward to your August reviews continuing to make my TBR an impossible achievement!  :-D

Indiscretion // by Jude Morgan

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//published 2005//

I first read this absolutely delightful book two years ago, and enjoyed it so much that I purchased a copy soon after.  I decided that this would be a perfect vacation book to follow up The Blue Castle.  I was a bit apprehensive, though.  After enjoying Indiscretion so thoroughly, I read two others of Morgan’s books (An Accomplished Woman and A Little Folly), and, while perfectly fine reads, they lacked that magic that made Indiscretion so much fun.  And so, I worried as I approached this book for a second time.  Would it lack that indefinable something that makes a book just as lovely as the first time around?

All that worry was for nothing – Indiscretion won me over completely yet again.  The language is just perfect.  In many ways, it reminds me of a Wodehouse book – just that frothy, verging-on-nonsense dialogue (both external and internal) that had be laughing out loud at multiple points.  Morgan has the knack of describing characters perfectly without bothering to tell us much about their physical appearance (black hair, blue eyes, etc.) –

Her whole demeanour indeed was that of someone just awoken from a refreshing sleep but wondering whether to doze for another half-hour.

Or –

“Parties?  Oh – as to that, Miss Fanny, I am a dull fellow for parties in any event,’ Captain Brunton said; occasioning in Caroline a brief mental review, to see if there were any news that had ever surprised her less.

Caroline herself is a very relateable heroine, being just imperfect enough for me to emphasize with her thoroughly.  Her internal dialogue is not written in lengthy paragraphs, but rather brief little asides (like the one above), that give a glimpse into her true character.

For a better overview of the story, feel free to read my first review.  Suffice to say here, that I was reminded yet again that part of the reason I appreciate Caroline as a character is that I, too, worked as a paid companion for a very rich and very capricious old lady.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to live with her, but I ended up leaving the job as she wasn’t willing to let me switch days with Companion #2 so I could help out my ailing grandmother – needless to say, I felt that I had a strong understanding for Caroline’s position!

I think that one of the things that really struck me this time around is how many people thought that Caroline would be discontent in the country, living a quiet life.  I really liked how, actually, she thoroughly enjoyed it.  She didn’t get bored or pine away, and despite the fact that her relations were completely different from her in every way, she got along with them well and loved them dearly.

While Indiscretion is not a book that is likely to change your life, it is a wonderfully relaxing and humorous read, and one that I highly recommend.  5/5 the second time around also!

The Blue Castle // by L.M. Montgomery

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//published 1926// please ignore this dreadful cover//  Barney would never wear a sweater like that//  good grief //

So, when on vacation, I always take an ambitious pile of books – a pile I know I will never finish reading, but I bring them all anyway.  I love to bring books that are old friends when I go on holiday – books that I can read in a leisurely fashion – returning to old friends in a gentle and relaxed manner.

The Blue Castle is one of my most beloved books.  Although Montgomery is famous for her Anne of Green Gables series (which I most certainly love), I am incredibly fond of The Blue Castle and Jane of Lantern Hill.  This is, perhaps, one of the earliest “romance” books I ever read, but the beauty of this story is that it manages to be innocent and thought-provoking at the same time.  Even though I have read this book many, many times, it never fails to make me laugh, to make me tear up, and to make me pause.

At the age of 29, Valancy is “on the shelf” in old-fashioned Deerwood.  An unimportant member of a large and gossipy clan, Valancy lives with her widowed mother and her father’s cousin, and spends her days trying to do what she is supposed to, living by the dull, strict rules of her mother and the rest of the Stirlings.  Never in love and with no real possibility of it in her future, Valancy is more or less resigned to a long, boring life that will continue along the same road it always has.

But Valancy isn’t as meek and mild as the clan believes her to believe, and when she finds out that she only has a year to live, she grabs the reins of her own life and begins to do what she pleases.  In pre-World War I Canada this isn’t anything too crazy, but it’s plenty crazy enough for her family, who thinks that Valancy has gone out of her mind when she begins speaking up at clan gatherings, purchasing pretty clothes, and sliding down the banister.

However, all of that is just a prelude to Valancy’s real adventure – she agrees to go nurse an old school-mate who is dying of consumption, a decision that changes the rest of Valancy’s life.

My friends, I genuinely love this book.  Valancy is one of my very favorite heroines of all time, and her self-discovery is a wonder to behold.  She is funny, kind, and intelligent.  Montgomery weaves a story around her that is both pathetic and endearing, but never too mushy.  She touches lightly on topics that were a bit daring for the time, like Cecily’s unwed motherhood, with grace and an underbite of challenge.  This is a book that I have always wished had a sequel.

As a sidenote, I will mention that two of my brothers and my dad have also read this book and loved it. Montgomery has the knack of writing about girls/women in a way that has universal appeal – while womanly, they never come across as “girly.”  Valancy, and most of Montgomery’s other heroines, has true grit.  While romantic, it is also tough.  Valancy is no wimp, and her story is one that is challenging and engaging.

It is a quick, light, happy read, but crafted perfectly.  The story unfolds exactly as it should – the timing is exquisite.  Every word in this book is precisely the right one for the moment – not a one is out of place or unnecessary.  I cannot recommend The Blue Castle highly enough.