Rearview Mirror: January 2016

I can’t believe that the first month of 2016 is basically over!  January always goes super fast (and February goes super slow).  This year, the weather has been really mild overall, except for one weekend of snow (not nearly as much as they got southeast of here, though!), so beside the muddy-dog aspect, it’s been pretty nice around here.

Plenty of reading going on, too!!!

209194Favorite January Read:  

I think I’m going to go with The Man in the Brown Suit.  It’s classic Agatha Christie and just so much fun.  I’ve read this book so many times, but still get happy every time I start it.

Most Disappointing January Read:

//published 1962// the book is also set in 1962 //

//published 1962// the book is also set in 1962 //

Probably The Man in the High Castle.  While the premise was super intriguing, I was hoping for a book with a little less moralizing and a little more action.  Honestly, this book just didn’t interest me all that much.  I’m hopefully that the Amazon series will be more exciting.

Other January Reads:

  • The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall – by Anne McCaffrey – 4/5 – a really fun batch of short stories about the early days of Pern.
  • The View from Saturday – by E.L. Konigsburg – 5/5 – almost my favorite January read, and maybe was.  This was my third time reading this book in less than two years.  Everything about it is perfect.
  • The Time Between – by Maria Duenas – 4/5 – an engaging novel that took a little too long to get going, but I still recommend.
  • Sea Swept, Rising Tides, Inner Harbor, and Chesapeake Blue  – by Nora Roberts – the Chesapeake Bay saga was well-written with likable characters, but a little rougher than the lighthearted Bridal Quartet I read in December by the same author.
  • The Dolphins of Pern by Anne McCaffrey – 3/5 – a solid outing that definitely added to Pern’s depth, but Aramina’s irrationality really got on my nerves.

Random Fun:

FictionFan once again spread her creative wings with her three-part mystery – The Case of the Tottering TBR!  The link is to part three, and you can get to parts one and two from there.  Keep writing, FF!

Added to the TBR:

As usual, way too many to mention!!  But here are a few of the highlights that helped kick the TBR up to 717 (not including my personal books, series, or mystery series…!!!!!)

  • Even though I’m not usually into ghost stories, Bibliobeth’s review of Frost Hollow Hall totally enamored me.
  • Cleopatra Loves Books said that The Darkest Secret was a psychological thriller that was a “fantastic and addictive read.”
  • When I get a twofer recommendation, I usually can’t resist adding it to the TBR: both Chrissi Reads and Heart Full of Books said that Moth Girls was an engaging read!
  • FictionFan said that The Dungeon House brought many aspects of the Golden Age mysteries up to date – personally, I love mysteries where “the small town location means there’s a limited cast of suspects and that slightly claustrophobic feeling of everyone knowing too much about their neighbours’ business.”  Perfect.  :-D
  • Sophie over at PaperBreathers said that The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating made her forget that snails are actually slimy and gross.  Sounds like writing worth reading to me!
  • Of course, the book I was most excited to add to the TBR is Peter May’s newest – Coffin Road.  Both FictionFan and Cleopatra had great reviews of what sounds like will be a fabulous thriller.

All in all, January was a great month for both life and reading.  Here’s to a great February – keep those reviews coming!!!  :-D

The Man in the High Castle // by Phillip K. Dick

//published 1962// the book is also set in 1962 //

//published 1962// the book is also set in 1962 //

A while back, we were aimlessly perusing tv shows available on Amazon Prime and came across an Amazon original series titled The Man in the High Castle.  I was 100% intrigued by the premise – the Allies lost World War II, and now, in 1960’s America, the Nazis rule the eastern half of the country, while the Japanese occupy the west.  I absolutely love stories that are parallel to real life – what if one aspect of history changed?

Of course, we have virtually no time to actually watch television, so we haven’t actually seen the Amazon series.  But at the time I told my husband that if it was a book, I would totally read it.  Well, guess what… like every idea on television or in the movies…  it was a book!

Unfortunately, for me this book didn’t deliver.  While the setting was intriguing, there was virtually no plot.  I got the impression that this was one of those really deep books that delight students of literature but annoy straightforward people like myself.  I was hoping to see an occupied America with some kind of underground movement.  I didn’t necessarily need to see the Axis governments overthrown, but just some kind of action??  Instead, I got several rather disjointed threads that sort-of-kind-of-not-really came together.  Even halfway through the book I was still hoping that something would actually happen, but everyone just sort of meanders about living their regular lives, except under the rule of someone else.

So basically this random guy in Colorado – much of the middle of the country is considered neutral and isn’t occupied by either country – writes this book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.  In this book, the Allies win the war.  The book is, naturally, forbidden in the Nazi territory, but is published in the neutral regions and in the Japanese occupied region.  In Grasshopper, the Communists don’t take over just because the Allies win.  Instead, the world is a much better place.  (Better, in fact, than our real life, where the Allies did win.)

So some of Castle is various people reacting to Grasshopper.  Some of Castle is about these guys in San Francisco making jewelry, while another man in San Francisco runs a shop.  An important Japanese businessman makes arrangements to meet with a Swiss man for some business dealings, but it turns out that the Swiss is actually a German using the meeting as a cover to give some important information to a Japanese general.  The guy in charge of Germany dies, and various factions are attempting to take over, but we only get that information secondhand.  Everyone just sort of mucks about, with stories crisscrossing but not really building.

// Occupied USA //

// Occupied USA //

In some ways, I think that that was the point – whatever happens in history, the conqueror always spins the win, reminding everyone how terrible their lives would be if the winner had lost.  In The Man in the High Castle, many people believe that if the Allies had won, Russia/Communists would have taken over the world, and the Great Depression would never have ended.  In short – even though many aspects of their lives aren’t that great, being humans, they accept that what is is what is, and comfort themselves by thinking about how terrible it would have been if what is wasn’t.

In this passage, a man in San Francisco has heard of Grasshopper but not read it yet:

Tomorrow I will have to go out and buy that Grasshopper book, he told himself.  It’ll be interesting to see how the author depicts a world run by Jews and Communists, with the Reich in ruins, Japan no doubt a province of Russia; in fact, with Russia extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  I wonder if he – whatever his  name is – depicts a war between Russia and the U.S.A.?  Interesting book, he thought.  Odd nobody thought of writing it before.

He thought, it should bring home to us how lucky we are.  In spite of the obvious disadvantages…we could be so much worse off.  Great moral lessons pointed out by that book.  Yes, there are Japs in power here, and we have to build.  Out of this are coming great things, such as the colonization of the planets.

I think that the author has placed his own point for the book in this passage.  The worlds in Grasshopper and in Castle are not so different from our own.  Every war in history has victors and losers, and, in the long run, is there really that much of a difference for the common people?  We assume that if the Axis powers had won World War II, the entire planet would be in ruin.  But Castle gives us a story where people go right on living in the normal way for the most part.  Atrocities are committed yes – but atrocities were committed by the Allies as well, and continue to be committed around the world even now.

Most of the book takes place in the region occupied by Japan.  As conquerors, the Japanese are portrayed as much more reasonable than the Nazis, and life is actually pretty normal.  I think that was the other thing that was a little annoying about this book – there isn’t really a whole lot of difference in life.  We’re told, in a vague way, that the Nazis are really terrible, and they went through with their plans to slaughter basically everyone they didn’t like, including but not limited to, Jews, blacks, Slavs, homosexuals, the mentally retarded, and the elderly.  But almost none of the story takes place in the regions occupied by the Nazis, so even though they do come into the story some, it’s not really a driving force of the book.


And in the end?  There isn’t really an end.  This is a bit of a spoiler (as much as you can have one for a book with no plot) so if you want to actually read the book, you may not want to read this – but basically throughout the book, everyone consults a Japanese oracle book called the I Ching.  One asks the oracle a question, and then uses straws or coins to determine which passages in the book answer the question.  In the end, one of the characters finally reaches the author of Grasshopper and asks him how he imagined what he wrote, and he tells her basically the oracle wrote the book because he consulted it the entire way.  So we’re left with this kind of mystic godlike entity that wrote a book through a prophet…???  Kind of???  Except Grasshopper isn’t really causing a revolution or stirring people up, so I don’t really know what the point was of the oracle writing the book.

///end spoiler///

As an aside, I kind of disagreed with Dick’s politics anyway, as he manages to reassure us that FDR was a godlike figure who, if he hadn’t been assassinated in this alternate history, would have gone on to save not just the US, but the world, from the Depression and the Nazis and probably every other kind of horror in the world.  Personally, I hate FDR and basically everything he represented, so I wasn’t really buying all the FDR praise.

All in all, this wasn’t really a waste of a book, but it was a 3/5 for me.  I still may get around to watching the Amazon series at some point, because it sounds a lot more action-oriented than the book (and probably has nothing to do with the book’s story), but I didn’t really feel like Castle was a classic I needed to add to my personal library.

The Dolphins of Pern // by Anne McCaffrey

//published 1994//totally creepy cover//for real//

//published 1994//totally creepy cover//for real//

So guess what!  This is my THIRTEENTH Pern book!  And they just keep going on!  I think that what I’m really enjoying about these books is just watching the world building.  McCaffrey has literally created an entirely different planet, with a culture and politics and social rules and history.  It’s just really fun to read any of these books now, because I already kind of know the basics of what is going on.

In The Dolphins of Pern, we pick up about halfway through the events of All the Weyrs of Pern.  In Weyrs, we followed the leaders of Pern as they worked with Aivas, the AI computer left by the original settlers of Pern, to plan the final defeat of Thread.  (Thread, if you remember, periodically rains down destruction all over Pern; dragons were created to work with their riders to ward off Thread.)  Dolphins follows a few of the secondary characters from Weyrs as they make a discovery that, while not as drastic as the eradication of Thread, is still pretty big: they find out that dolphins can talk.

As the reader, we already know this, especially if you’ve read Dragonsdawnthe book that follows the original settlement of Pern.  Throughout the course of pre-Pern history, humans and dolphins learned to communicate; some dolphins agreed to a genetic modification that also allowed them to learn human speech.  When the settlers of Pern were leaving Earth/our solar system, a group of dolphins volunteered to accompany them.  During the early years of Pern, dolphins and humans worked together, as dolphins explored the coasts and brought information about shoals, storms, and fish.  In return, the humans helped the dolphins when they were injured.  Over the generations, as Thread took its toll, and several epidemics struck the humans, they forgot their ties to the dolphins.  But the dolphins never did, preserving their history and continuing to practice human speech.  They even continued in many of their duties – accompany fishing ships and rescuing shipwrecked sailors, who never realized – or chose to realize – that the dolphins were speaking to them.

In present-day Pern, dolphins are known as shipfish.  There are many tales of shipfish helping humans, and all fishermen know that injuring or killing a shipfish is terrible luck and is never done.  When masterfisherman Alemi and his young neighbor, Readis, are shipwrecked, shipfish rescue them and bring them to shore, speaking to Alemi and Readis quite clearly.  Throughout the book, humans relearn to communicate and work with shipfish, extracting history from Aivas and speaking with the shipfish.

All of this is really interesting.  It’s a great story, and McCaffrey does a really nice job of giving dolphins a voice and intelligence without making them too human, or even too much like her dragons.  I also really enjoyed reading more about some characters from earlier books.  Readis is the son of Jayge and Aramina from Renegades of Pernand Alemi is the brother of Menolly, who was the heroine Dragonsong and Dragonsinger.  I really liked what little I saw of Alemi in Dragonsong, so it was really nice to see him happily settled and living a good life.

The problem with Dolphins is that there just wasn’t all that much of a story.  I mean, yes, people were getting to know dolphins, but…  there isn’t a lot of plot in that.  In order to create some drama/tension, McCaffrey has Readis’s mother, Aramina, completely overreact when Alemi and Readis are originally rescued by the dolphins.  She flips out because he’s the oldest son and is going to the lord holder some day and he has responsibilities and can’t be gallivanting off around the ocean getting almost drowned, etc. etc. etc.  Then she makes Readis (who is like six years old at the time) swear that he’ll never go down to the water alone!  And he promises.  But what Aramina actually wants is for him to not go down to the water at all, because a few years later, when she finds out that he’s been hanging out with the dolphins – always with another person there, too – she flips out again.  And that really annoyed me because you didn’t make him promise not to go at all – you made him promise not to go alone, and he never did…????

Throughout the book, Aramina literally makes no sense, and it was really annoying.  It basically felt like McCaffrey couldn’t come up with any other way to create conflict, so she just made Aramina completely unreasonable, so Readis had to sneak around, when the truth of the matter was that what Readis was doing wasn’t wrong or bad, so him having to be sneaky just felt strange.  Aramina’s husband, Jayge, who is completely reasonable about everything else, basically just sits there like a lump nodding his head whenever she goes off instead of telling her to stop being stupid and let Readis live his own life, especially since this book covers ten or fifteen years, and Readis is an adult at one point, and Aramina is still bossing him around about visiting dolphins.  It was just weird.

Other than that, the rest of the book was great fun.  About half of the book takes place after the conclusion of All the Weyrs of Pern, so there was a glimpse of Pernese life after those big events.  There were also plenty of the main characters from other books in the background of this book, and it all felt like it hung together really nicely.

I still have plenty of Pern books left, so fear not – the reviews will continue!!

The Chesapeake Bay Saga // by Nora Roberts

So after thoroughly enjoying Roberts’s Bridal Quartet in December, I tried another series of hers in January.  While I enjoyed the four Chesapeake Bay Saga books, they dealt with some darker issues and weren’t quite as lighthearted as the Bridal Quartet.  Still, all were enjoyable reads, and Roberts is becoming one of my go-to low-stress authors!



//published 1998//

The series focuses on the Quinn brothers.  Adopted by Ray and Stella, Cameron, Ethan, and Phillip have always been close, even as adults.  All three came from really messed up families before the Quinns took them in, and that’s where most of the darker material in the books happens – in the back stories.  And I mean some pretty dark stuff: abuse, drugs, alcohol, rape, prostitution, you name it.  But Ray and Stella were willing to take a chance on each of these guys, and each of them believes that Ray and Stella saved his life.


//published 1998//

Stella died of cancer several years before the books begin, and Ray dies within the first couple of chapters – his death is what brings the brothers back together in their small hometown of Saint Christopher on the Chesapeake Bay.  Before his death, Ray had taken in another stray boy, Seth, and Ray’s dying commission to his other three sons is that they treat Seth as their brother and make sure that he stays a Quinn.  Seth has also come from a terrible, abusive home, and much of the series is about him slowly learning to adapt to his new home – a place where he is genuinely loved and part o a real family.

Each book, of course, focuses on a brother.  And, fear not, each brother finds love!  But while yes, the love stories were the main part of each book, it was the overarching story of Seth’s adoption, the mystery of his background, and watching him become a Quinn that really made the books special.  From the beginning, there is a suspicion that Seth is Ray’s natural son, which would mean that he had an affair because Seth was born before Stella died.  This, combined with the drama of Seth’s mother being crazy, gave a strong story tying everything together.

//published 1998//

//published 1998//

The first three books all take place within a year of one another, while the fourth focuses on Seth and takes place almost twenty years later.  It was really fun to see the three original brothers and their families and know that everyone is happy and doing their thing.  I also loved how Seth became an artist.

//published 2002//

//published 2002//

Honestly, it was the low-grade swearing that really got on me in these books.  I don’t mind some moderate swearing, but these guys had zero conversations without cursing, and that just gets old to me.  Like, I get it.  You’re tough.  Move on.

While I definitely enjoyed these as a one-time read, they didn’t become instant favorites like the Bridal Quartet.  I gave the series a solid 3/5, with 3.5 for the second and fourth books, my favorites.

The Time in Between // by Maria Duenas


//published 2009//

So quite a while back I came to an embarrassing realization: I had literally no idea what Spain was doing during World War II.  And, as I explored that question, I came across another bit of history I didn’t realize had happened – Spain had a huge, violent, still-divisive-to-this-day civil war in the 1930’s, which only goes to prove that I’m really not that great at history.  Anyway, at the time, I read a really good book on the Spanish civil war called The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution & Revenge by Paul Preston.  It’s been a few years since I read it, but a lot of the high points have stuck with me, as it was genuinely quite fascinating.

The Time in Between is a historical fiction novel set in and around Spain in the 1930s and 40s.  Our story is told by Sira Quiroga, a quiet, controlled voice who reflects back on her life through these pages.  Sira spends a few chapters on her early life and background: the only child of a single mother, no knowledge of who her father is, an apprentice dressmaker following in her mother’s footsteps.  Sira makes a big mistake by running away with a dashing young man who convinces her to leave behind all she knows in Madrid – including her mother and fiancee – to start a new life with him in Morocco.  Of course the young man turns out to be a cad who steals everything she has and basely abandons her.  The rest of our story follows Sira as she builds a new life – and identity – for herself in Morocco and beyond.

If you read the dust jacket flap summary, it tells us that Sira becomes a spy for the British during World War II, and I think that I went into this book thinking that that would be the bulk of the story.  However, that part doesn’t really come into play until maybe two-thirds of the way through the book.  This definitely isn’t a spy novel: it is simply the story of a woman, and part of her story was being a spy.

I really, really enjoyed this book a great deal.  I frequently have trouble with books that have “A NOVEL” on the front, as they tend to be needlessly dire and depressing, but despite the very real troubles Sira faced, the book avoided becoming maudlin.  While Sira is no Pollyanna, she still works hard to provide for herself and those she loves, and I really admired her for that.  The story was not fast-paced, but it very rarely bogged down, and, on the whole, kept my attention for the entirety of its 600-odd pages.

The weirdest thing that happened in this book was this bizarre switch around the middle of the book.  Until this point, Sira has told us about her own life first, and about the political situation in Spain/Morocco/Europe as it directly impacts her.  But suddenly, for two or three chapters, she launches into this rather strange overview of the political situation and main players in Spain, including a lot of personal insider information.  At the very end of this section, she tells us that she got this information from a friend’s letters, which made it make sense, but I spent those chapters wondering what in the world was going on, as Sira was telling me a bunch of stuff that there is no way she could have known.  It really seemed like the section could have been prefaced with the fact that the information was from the friend’s letters or, even better, eliminated completely as they had minimal information that actually had a bearing on the story.

Even though I really wanted to, I couldn’t quite get behind the love story part of this book.  Honestly, the only reason I knew who the love interest even was was because I skipped to the very end of the book to make sure that the author wasn’t planning to kill off absolutely everyone in Sira’s life.  (I very, very rarely read the end of the book ahead, but I have been brutally scarred by novels of this type before, and I really didn’t want to invest 600 pages and then find out that Sira’s business failed, her house burned down, her mother got raped and murdered, and Sira was sold into slavery, all in the last chapter as some kind of poetic justice.)  Anyway, point is, we know this guy for several chapters and it isn’t until he’s leaving that Sira’s like, “Yeah, wow, I really love that guy.  Oh well.”  Like she presents it as her being so wounded by the bad guy who abandoned her that she was unwilling to allow herself to fall in love, but it really came across as a completely unconvincing love story.  When she runs into this guy a few years later, I don’t really get her passionate need to make sure he’s safe.  I don’t have anything against the guy, I just wasn’t convinced that Sira really loved him.

However, I did feel that Duenas did friendship really well in this story.  Sira’s friendship with Rosalinda is really well done.  (Another situation where I kept waiting for Rosalinda to actually turn out to be a terrible person and betray Sira, but she didn’t because Rosalinda is actually a really lovely person.)  I liked watching their relationship develop.

It sounds absurd for a novel of this length, but honestly my biggest beef with this book was that it felt like it ended really abruptly.  Sira finally seemed to be finding her feet with this whole spy-thing, and then she was just like, “yeah and so we just kept on keeping on, good times” and that was the end.  Considering she’s writing all this as a looking-back thing, it would have been nice to have a little “I’m writing this while my 17 grandchildren play out in the yard and later I’m walking across the street for tea with Rosalinda” kind of thing, but there is basically no closure.  It’s not really like anything is left hanging, it’s just that it feels like the story just… stops.  As though it could have ended at any one of several points in the book, and I’m not sure why the author chose this particular one.

Overall though, I definitely recommend this book.  Except for those few random chapters, Duenas works the history into the story really seamlessly, giving us glimpses of Spain, Morocco, and Europe that were really quite fascinating.  The translation, by the way, was faultless.  If I hadn’t known that this book wasn’t originally written in English, I never would have guessed it.  The language is beautiful.

Although it’s a long one, this is a classic historical fiction novel: a well-researched backdrop, a likable – and relatable – narrator, wonderfully drawn secondary characters, and steady pacing.  Recommended.  4/5.

ReRead: The View from Saturday // by E.L. Konigsburg


//published 1996// A Newbery Medal winner //

I first read this absolutely fabulous book in April 2014, and I fell in love.  Konigsburg’s writing is masterful and perfect in every way.

This is one of those books that it sounds like I should hate, as there really isn’t a great deal of plot, and it’s combined with multiple first-person narratives and a completely wonky timeline.  But Konigsburg has the knack of being able to tell a story within a story, while weaving life-lessons in a way that you barely realize you are learning them until you get to the end and find yourself chewing on the book for days afterwards.

One of the stories, the one that ties the others together, is the story of four sixth-graders who comprise their class’s quiz bowl team – a team that beat not only the other sixth grade teams, not only the seventh and eighth grade teams, but have also won district and gone on to state: unprecedented for their age.  The question everyone asks is simple: how did their teacher, Mrs. Olinski, choose them?

Throughout the book, some of the story is told in third person, and there is a first-person chapter for each of the students.  Each child has had something happen to him or her in the past year, something that has changed who they are, has changed their perspective on life.  They are not necessarily events that, objectively, are huge or momentous.  They are, for the most part, everyday circumstances.  But, strangely enough, it is usually everyday circumstances that can change the trajectory of our lives.

A lot of reviews I have read for this book are negative.  People seem to either love it or hate it.  The people who hate it say that it is pointless and disjointed.  And they are right in the sense that there is not necessarily a linear story being told, and so there isn’t exactly a beginning or an end.  But it is a story nonetheless.  This book is one that embraces the realization that life is about giving and accepting, finding and losing, asking questions and providing answers – in short, fitting into your life is about learning to find balance within it.

I wanted to walk the road between Sillington House and mine.  I wanted to mark the distance slowly.  Something had happened at Sillington House …  Had I gained something at Sillington House?  Or had I lost something there?  The answer was yes.

Life itself is not linear, and has no clear beginnings or endings.  Even our births and deaths are not truly our beginnings or endings.  Sometimes the answers to our questions are more questions, and sometimes we find answers to questions we didn’t even know we were asking.

I highly recommend this book. Although it is a short read, it is worth reading slowly.  It is a book to savor and contemplate, and is one that is worth reading more than once.  5/5.

The Man in the Brown Suit // by Agatha Christie


//published 1924//

Sometimes, when I am reading what other people think about Agatha Christie, I read a lot of flack about her spy novels.  Unrealistic, they said.  Improbable.  A bit silly.  A little ridiculous.  Well, those people are absolutely correct, but that doesn’t make the books any less fun.  If anything, Christie’s spy novels are my very favorites.  I love the cloak and dagger silliness, and the humor in those books is always set at perfect.

The Man in the Brown Suit is one of Christie’s earlier novels, and it is one of my all-time favorites.  I have read it multiple times, and never get tired of the humor and theatrics of the story.  Sir Eustace is a fantastic voice, while Anne’s narrative is also fabulous.  Christie weaves the two first-person narratives in a way that keeps both voices completely distinct.  I never have a moment’s confusion as to whose perspective I am reading.

Do I have to suspend belief every time I read it?  Yes, absolutely, but I just don’t care because the story is so much fun.  That’s not to say that there isn’t any grit to the tale.  There are definitely moments of tension and adventure, but it all just makes the big reveal that much more dramatic.

Published shortly after World War I, it’s a strong theme throughout, both in the obvious plot points (evil Germans, for one) and the background of a culture attempting to recover from a time of desperation and, at times, despair.  I love little things that set the book in its time, like the sending of cables and the fact that Anne and her father have a maid even though they have almost no money.  Christie always does a really wonderful job of writing her books in their time.  Read this book 90 years after it was published, much of it is still relevant and the story is still fabulous, but it is also unmistakably set in the early 1920’s, and I love that.  For me, books aren’t timeless because they have no time, but because the story transcends its time even as it embraces it.

All in all, a fabulous little Christie tale that I highly recommend, especially if you’re looking for a bit of an escape.  5/5.

The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall // by Anne McCaffrey


//published 1993//

This book is actually a collection of five short stories, all set during the early days of Pernese history.  Each of them was well-crafted and engaging.  I found myself wishing that I had read this book directly following Dragonsdawn.  The beginning of the book includes a timeline of the first 28 years of settlement on Pern, and places the three stories that occur during this time in their appropriate location.  This was definitely a necessary aid to understanding how these stories fit into the overall history of Pern.

“The Survey: P.E.R.N. (c)” is the first story in the collection.  It takes place before Pern was settled, as it is a recording of the first survey of the planet.  An exploratory group is cruising about the universe checking out different planets to see if they are potentially useful for settlement, mining, or other industries.  This was probably the least interesting of the stories, as it was mostly a way for McCaffrey to *wink wink nudge nudge* the readers with a lot of foreshadowing about Thread.  It also gives her a chance to explain how Pern got its name: an acronym standing for “parallel Earth, resources negligible.”  However, as this story was also only 18 pages long, it was a fine read.

Next was “The Dolphins’ Bell,” which takes place during the Second Crossing, when the settlers are forced to abandon the Southern Continent in order to take refuge in the rockier, cave-riddled Northern Continent.  McCaffrey has touched briefly in several earlier books on the fact that when the original settlers landed on Pern, they brought with them a contingent of dolphins as well.  The dolphins, intelligent and able to communicate with humans, start their own settlement of sorts in the ocean on Pern.  They work with the humans, bringing them information and news about the weather, ocean conditions, and other pertinent information.  In this story, the dolphins and humans are working together to move as many supplies as possible out of the range of the volcanoes getting ready to erupt around the main settlement on Southern.  It wasn’t a story long on plot, but it did give more insight into the hasty removal of an entire colony of people, and, as I mentioned earlier, I think I would have really enjoyed reading this story alongside of Dragonsdawn.  

“The Ford of Red Hanrahan” is set almost ten years after the settlers relocated to Northern.  During this time, they have all been living in one giant cave system, Ford Hold.  However, the population has outgrown this location and is ready to begin dividing into smaller settlements.  Red Hanrahan leads one such group to a new place:  in short, this is the story of the founding of Ruatha Hold.  It was really good to see characters come back and to watch the colony growing and overcoming their many difficulties.

Set ten years after “The Ford,” “The Second Weyr” is a similar sort of tale – now that there are more and more Holds, the dragon colony, still working to protect all of Pern’s citizens from Thread, is also reading to begin establishing new Weyrs.  This chapter focuses mostly on the establishment of Benden Weyr.  Weirdly, this was the only story that really had anything to do with dragons, although they do crop up in “The Dolphins’ Bell” and “The Ford of Red Hanrahan.”

Finally, “Rescue Run” takes place around sixty years after the initial settlement, and ties up a lose end from Dragonsdawn.  In that book, when Thread began to fall, a small contingent of colonists wanted to send a distress beacon back to their home sector.  They were voted down because, among other reasons, it would take so long for a response.  But one sneaky citizen sent off that distress message anyway: “Rescue Run” is the result.  An exploratory spaceship intercepts the distress message and sends a party to Pern to try and determine what happened to the colony.  Even though this story was really good, I think that it was also my least favorite.  Instead of discovering the main colony, which is thriving, the rescuers discover a very small pocket of people who have stayed holed up on Southern and have gone, frankly, a bit mad.  One of the rescuers is the nephew of one of Pern’s initial settlers, Paul Benden.  And I guess the story just made me a bit sad because Benden’s nephew leaves Pern believing that his uncle (also a famous war hero) failed, and that the entire colony perished.  As they leave, they determine that they will recommend flagging Pern as a sector to be avoided due to the Thread, and it is also marked as uninhabited.

Overall, a very solid collection of short stories.  They would make basically zero sense to someone who hasn’t read Pern novels previously, and honestly you probably need to have read Dragonsdawn specifically to get the most from the tales.  But for someone like me, it’s a great little collection of Pernese history that really adds to the depth of the world.  4/5.

Rearview Mirror: 2015

I’ve been reading everyone’s New Year’s posts, and they are so inspirational!  Everyone has, I don’t know, goals and plans.  And here I am, scheduling this post for January 6 because it’s going to take me that long to get through my December posts.  No real goals for the future…  just keep reading and writing!!

Ah well, reading goals just aren’t for me.  I set up a goal on GoodReads for the first time, but it’s more just for a fun thing to see how far I can get, and to try and encourage myself to actually post on GoodReads, which I always forget to do.  I’m actually kind of bad at the internet.  Such is life.

Overall, this has actually been my most “successful” year of blogging, as far as actually having other random people read my posts.  That’s pretty fun, especially since I do almost nothing to encourage visitors, other than linking posts to Twitter (and I’m pretty bad at that).  I mostly keep this blog up for my own personal record.  The secret is, I think I’m hilarious and I love reading back through my own blog posts.  Isn’t that embarrassing??

Overall, I reviewed 92 books in 2015, which is a bit crazy.  (What’s crazier is that I actually read even more than that…!!!)  I also started posting a monthly review (the Rearview Mirrors) every month.  According to those, here were my favorite books of the year:


All of my Pollyanna posts were weirdly popular. They still get the most searches!


2015 5-star Reads

Total:  13

download (1)

Unofficial: ‘A Monster Calls’ may have been my favorite read of the year. So. Freaking. Beautiful.

2015 4-star Reads

Total:  46


Half the reason I enjoyed these crazy werewolf books so much was because the cover art is A+++++++ GORGEOUS!

2015 3-star Reads

Total:  27


I honestly still can’t decide whether or not I actually liked this book.

2015 2-star Reads

Total:  4


Why does everyone think this book is amazing? I found it to be SO. BORING.

2015 1-star Reads

Total:  2


And winner of the creepiest book/most unsuitable for its marketed audience goes to…

And just because I can:  A pie chart, showing which percentage of reads were which number of stars –

meta-chart (1)

All in all, it was a solid blogging year, and, more importantly, a solid reading year.  As you can see, I read a lot of books that I really enjoyed.  I’ll admit that the majority of my 5-star reads were rereads (8/13), so it’s possible that I’m also a biased reader, but such is life.

I really appreciate all of you hanging around and reading my posts from time to time.  It’s super fun being a part of the book blogging community, and I’m excited to see what 2016 brings.  Happy New Year!!!


Rearview Mirror: December 2015

December was busy, but I did a lot of reading nonetheless, even if most of my reviews have come during the first few days of January.  :-D  Still, it was overall a good month.  Christmas is always busy with the family, but I am writing this on January 2 – New Year’s is one of my favorite holidays, super chill and relaxed.  My family watched our two traditional New Year’s movies (While You Were Sleeping and High School Musical), and life is simply really, really good.

Favorite December Read:

//published 2010//

Honestly, I think it was Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts.  Even though it was a bit cheesy, it was also just super happy and relaxing.  Fabulous escapist reading!  :-D  However, I will say that my three childhood rereads were very, very close in the running, as I love all of them a LOT.

Most Disappointing December Read:

//published 2015//

Ugggghhhh this was is harder.  I think I’m going with Carry On simply because it was the book I enjoyed the least this month, but I’m also not sure it’s really the most disappointing as I had super low expectations going in.  It was actually just about exactly what I thought it would be.  I’m not sure if that’s because it was exactly what I thought it would be, or because I decided what it was going to be and then that’s how I read it.  (Whoa, getting deep here.)

Other December Reads:

  • The Renegades of Pern by Anne McCaffrey – 4/5 – Great installment for the series, even if it did feel a bit like McCaffrey was playing catch-up so she could roll into the next book with all her ducks in a row.
  • Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham – 4/5 – a fabulous thriller and a great start to the Tom Thorne series.  I was really planning to blaze through these books, but wasn’t able to finish the second book, Scaredy Catwhich was just too gruesome for my tastes.  However, I’ve been informed by a few other bloggers that the series doesn’t stay as intense, so I may jump back in at a later point, as I quite liked Tom Thorn as a protagonist.
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – by Karen Joy Fowler – 3/5 – I almost liked this book, but I was just a little too weirded out by the overall vibe to rank it as a 4 instead of a 3.
  • Snow Dog and Wild Trek by Jim Kjelgaard – 5/5 –  childhood favorites that hold up to the test of time!  This duology about a wilderness man and his faithful dog are delightful and engrossing reading that still make me wish I was a trapper in the Canadian wilderness.
  • The Searcher by Simon Toyne – 4/5 – A fast-paced thriller with short chapters that had me reading literally as fast as I could.  Definitely some weaknesses in the plot, some situations that were unnecessarily complicated, and a few fact-checking annoyances, but overall a read that I simply couldn’t put down.
  • All the Weyrs of Pern by Anne McCaffery  – 4/5 – Fabulous story that really upped the excitement as everyone on Pern looked toward the idea of actually ridding their planet of Thread forever.  This felt like it could have been the conclusion of the series, so I’m interested to see what happens next!
  • The Small Bachelor by P.G. Wodehouse – 4/5 – I always feel like Wodehouse should be on his own scale, because I can’t give it a 5/5 because I’ve read better Wodehouse books.  However, it’s definitely better than all the other 4/5s on this list!  Classic chaotic Wodehouse with plenty of humor – a read that made me realize afresh that I am always in the mood for Wodehouse!
  • Vision in White, Bed of Roses, and Savor the Moment by Nora Roberts – 4/5 – This series was pure fluff, but super pleasant and happy fluff that I’m adding to my permanent I’m-in-the-mood-for-fluff collection.
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg – 5/5 – A classic runaway tale that everyone should read.  Everything about this book is perfect, and I almost put it as my favorite read of the month.


So this is the part where I usually tell you some of the books I’ve added to the TBR.  But while there definitely have been a lot, I’m also really behind on reading emails/blog posts for the month.  Suffice to say:  There are always a LOT, and the TBR, not including random series of books I’d like to read someday, or the books I actually own on my own bookshelves right now, is at 703.  Ah well.  Half the fun of reading is reading about books I’ll probably never get around to reading.