April Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of minireviews this month, but for some reason I’ve had a lot of quick reads scheduled… or rereads… or the next books in long series… in other words, minireview material!

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – 5*

//published 2011//

I originally read and reviewed this book back in November of 2017, so that entry has more details on my feelings about this book.  I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t find this book to be as magical the second time around, but those fears were 100% unfounded.  This book was, if anything, more magical than it was the first time, now that I didn’t have that nagging worry that the ending wasn’t going to be perfect.  I couldn’t remember exactly how things unfolded, I just knew that I had found it intensely satisfying.  So instead of racing through the pages like I did the first time around, I took some time to really savor the amazing writing.

One of my very few annoyances with this book is that tarot reading is not exactly a huge part of the plot but definitely is a part of the plot, which I could work around a little better if Morgenstern didn’t seem to assume that I’m already familiar with a tarot deck and the basic meanings behind the cards.  Ditto with random phrases and words in French.  (This time, I actually looked up a few things and then scribbled words of explanation in the margins for future reference!)

But those are somewhat nitpicky complaints about a story that is overall spun as closely to perfect as I could ask a story to be.

Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley by Marguerite Henry – 3*

//published 1996//

Regular visitors here know that I had a strong fondness for Henry’s books growing up, and I’ve been rereading my childhood collection of her stories here and there.  Brown Sunshine is one of her more forgettable stories – I feel like a lot of her later books fall into that category – about a girl and a mule.  I think part of the problem with this book (and I noticed it especially in Misty’s Twilight as well) is that Henry tries to write a book that is less than 100 pages long, but covers multiple years.  It means that the story feels a bit thin, and character development is almost nonexistent.  And, as with some of Henry’s other later books, Wesley Dennis had already passed away by the time this one was published, which meant another illustrator created the drawings for this story: pleasant, but not magical.  Overall, not a bad book, but not the one I would choose to use to introduce someone to Henry’s work.

Bruce by Albert Payson Terhune – 4*

//published 1920//

Terhune was another favorite author from my childhood, and a large part of the reason that I’ve always loved collies.  As with much of Terhune’s writing, this book was more episodic in nature than novel-ish, with each chapter another random bit of Bruce’s life.  Although I’m sure I had read this book at some point earlier in my life, I had forgotten that Bruce wasn’t particularly a show dog – instead, he served as a courier dog in the trenches of World War I.  While I am almost completely positive that this book is based on Bruce’s real life, I’m not 100% sure, and the website that I’ve always used to read more about the real lives of Terhune’s collies seems to have, tragically, disappeared.

This book was published very shortly after the conclusion of WWI, and there is definitely a bit of anti-German rhetoric, but I didn’t feel like it detracted from the story, especially considering when it was written.  Terhune is, as always, basically a dog racist who believes collies to be the pinnacle of domesticated dog breeding, but if you can skim through his raptures on the subject, his stories are almost always engaging.  I found Bruce, with its glimpse of a random bit of trench warfare, to be especially so.

Call It Courage by Sperry Armstrong – 4*

//published 1940//

The winner of the Newbury Award in 1941, this children’s book is short but dramatic.  The story focuses on a young Polynesian boy who almost drowned when he was small, and who has consequently feared the sea ever since.  But since the Polynesians live on an island and make their living from the sea, this is a bit of a problem, and Maftu is sensitive to the scorn the rest of the men and boys have for him and his fears.  Determined to overcome them, he runs away via canoe into the ocean.

I was quite caught up in Maftu’s story of survival – I only wish the book was longer as we skim over a lot of details.  It’s kind of Robinson Crusoe lite.  Still, this was a very enjoyable read.  I have a soft spot for survival/wilderness stories, and this was a fun one… that kind of made me want to reread Robinson Crusoe as well!

Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley – 4*

//published 2007//

This is a reread, although it had been several years.  I really love the concept and story of this book – Jake, the narrator, lives in an AU where dragons (and some other critters) exist in what is otherwise are regular, modern world.  Jake’s parents are the directors for a national park/institute that is the home for North America’s only remaining dragons.  Everyone knows they are out there, even though they are rarely seen, despite their huge size.  Seriously, what a fun idea!  The setting is done quite well also.

However, while I always enjoy this book and have read it more than once, it can never quite garner that fifth star from me because Jake is so daggone rambly.  This book could be cut down by about a third and still make perfect sense, and that’s never a good sign to me.  Jake tends to go off on philosophical tangents way too often.  And while a less-than-linear narrative somewhat makes sense, there are times that he is just jumping around all over the place.  Part of it is that the story covers almost ten years of time, which is a lot to cover.

But if you like dragons, and you can put up with a slightly-repetitive narrator, it’s still a very fun and engaging book that genuinely makes me wish there was a Smokehill National Park that I could visit.