December Minireviews – Part I

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So, inspired by the way that Stephanie reviews the unreviewed every month, I think that some months (or maybe all of them!) will get a post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Quite a few this month, so here is Part I – Part II should be revealed at the end of the month…

William Tell Told Again by P.G. Wodehouse

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//published 1904//

When I started this book I just assumed that it was going to be another of Wodehouse’s school stories.  My goal of reading all of Wodehouse’s books in chronological order means that I’ve been wading through a lot of school misadventures and cricket.  However, William Tell is actually a story about…  William Tell!

Now, I must be completely honest – I really don’t know anything about the real story of William Tell.  But Wodehouse’s version was quite entertaining, with plenty of little sarcastic quips and fun characters.  He really made the whole story come to life, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It’s a very short, fast read as well.

I read it as a free Kindle book, and didn’t realize until the end that the original book had multiple illustrations throughout, and, more importantly, each illustration was accompanied by a short poem that actually added to the story!  The poems are available to read in the Kindle edition (although not the illustrations), but are at the very end of the book.  Apparently, I ought to have been flipping back to them throughout.

Fury and the White Mare by Albert G. Miller

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//published 1962//

This is the final book in the Fury trilogy, and followed the same basic pattern as the first two books.  There’s a new neighbor who wants to do bad things (in this case, steal timber), Fury does many clever and intelligent things, and Joey learns more about being unselfish and independent.

The only thing that annoyed me about this book was Joey’s attitude towards the white mare.  Basically, Fury yearns for a mate, and he wants the mare, jumping his corral to go to her.  Joey’s adopted dad, Jim, wants to round up the mare and bring her to the ranch for Fury, because Fury is very upset without her.  But Joey is basically jealous of the mare and doesn’t want her at the ranch.  That’s all fine as far as it goes, but they try to find another companion for Fury and eventually they find a dog that Fury really likes and who helps calm him down…  so why isn’t Joey jealous of the dog??  He makes some halfhearted explanations, but none of them really make sense to me.  It just seems like Joey either should be jealous of everything else that Fury likes, or nothing else.

But on the whole, this was a perfectly fine read and a nice addition to the series.

To Refine Like Silver by Jeanna Ellsworth

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//published 2014//

This was a moderately interesting variation of Pride and Prejudice where Darcy and Elizabeth meet in Derbyshire before the events of the original story.  There, Elizabeth befriends Georgiana, who is recovering from her harrowing experience at Ramsgate.  Darcy is captivated by this kind and intelligent young woman, and things go from there.  This is definitely a story that is heavy on Christian themes, and a lot of the story is comprised of conversations about deep and serious topics rather than anything actually happening.

I read another variation by this author a while back – Mr. Darcy’s Promise – which was also alright. However, Ellsworth definitely needs to find someone else to do her cover art, because they are both just simply dreadful.

If you’re interested, I’ve reviewed this book more fully on my “secret” book blog where I post reviews only of P&P variations, because I can’t stop reading them even though they’re terrible…

Lad of Sunnybank by Albert Payson Terhune

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//published 1929//

Earlier this year I reviewed another book by Terhune, The Way of a Dog.  At the time I gave a bit of background for Terhune, who raised collies at his New Jersey home (Sunnybank) and wrote about the prolifically in the 1920’s and 30’s.  Lad is one of Terhune’s great heroes, and he has several books and numerous short stories about him, of which Lad of Sunnybank is one.  This volume is a collection of vignettes starring this intelligent and faithful companion.

While most of the stories are good (True??  Maybe??  Some of them??), Terhune does have a habit of veering off onto minirants about personal peeves.  It’s not bad if you’re just reading one of his shorts, but if you’re blazing through the whole book, have 2-3 pages per chapter devoted to Terhune’s grumbling sometimes gets rather old.  And it’s not even that I disagree with him – it’s just not really part of the story.  For instance, in one chapter, Lad saves a child from being struck by a car.  Then Terhune goes on for three pages about the dangers of motor vehicles –

A heedless high-school boy – a feather-brained flapper – a drunkard – a degenerate speed-maniac – any or all of these are allowed to drive a gigantic metal projectile of death, through crowded streets or along peaceful country roads.  The examination they have taken in order to get a driver’s license has made no test of their reliability or even of their sanity.  They are turned loose with full chance to kill or maim.

A bit melodramatic, but valid points – also nothing to do with the actual story, so.

But homilies aside, Lad of Sunnybank is another engaging group of stories that make for delightful reading for dog lovers of all ages.

November Minireviews – Part 2

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So, inspired by the way that Stephanie reviews the unreviewed every month, I think that some months (or maybe all of them!) will get a post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

This month I seem to already have accumulated quite a few middling books (or maybe I’m just feeling lazier about writing reviews!) so here is the second batch – I already published a first one earlier this month!

Fury: Stallion of Broken Wheel Ranch by Albert G. Miller

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//published 1959//

So I’ve mentioned before that as a kid I was totally into horses (animals of all kinds, really), so I have quite the stock of horse books, many of which were published in the 1950’s and 60’s, which seems to have been a sort of high-water mark for classic horse books.  Miller wrote a little trilogy of books that center around a huge, black, wild stallion named Fury, and the young boy who tames him, Joey.  While basically unrealistic (most kids don’t just walk up to a dangerous wild stallion and tame him with his mere presence), they are still fun little adventures.

In this book, the first of the series, we are introduced to the main characters.  Jim Newton runs Broken Wheel Ranch, which captures, tames, and sells wild horses.  They catch Fury, but are unable to tame him.  Next, we meet Joey, a 13-year-old boy who lives in a children’s home, dreaming of horses and having a family.  Through a fun series of events, full of convenient coincidences, Joey meets Jim (and Fury), and Jim decides to adopt Joey.

The rest of the book is full of little stories about Joey’s adventures as he adjusts to life on the ranch.  The part where Joey and Jim become a family is actually done really well, as Jim realizes how much he loves having a son.  Jim’s acceptance and trust in Joey is an intrinsic part of the story, as is the part where Joey does his best to live up to the trust Jim has placed in him.  There are some other threads through the story, with a couple of bad guys and whatnot, and it is overall a fun read, especially for kids who have dreamed of living on a ranch with horses, or adults who have very nostalgic feelings about that same dream (or about this book!).  3/5.

PS Here is a funny tidbit that I just learned while looking up a picture for this book – this was actually a television series first and then a book!  The series ran on NBC 1955-1960.  Now I feel like I may need to try and YouTube an episode or two…

The Storyteller and Her Sisters by Cheryl Mahoney

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//published 2014//

In the second installment of Beyond the Tales, Mahoney gives us the story of the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” – with a twist.  In the first book, The Wanderersthe main characters of that story stop by the castle of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, but The Storyteller gives us all the background and takes us on to see what happened to the characters next.

While this book has some overlap in characters, and is set in the same world, as The Wanderers, it also reads just fine as a standalone.

I quite liked our narrator, and the story was well-told and engaging.  I’m already partway through the third book as well.  This book is a 4/5 and recommended.

The Gold Bat by P.G. Wodehouse

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//published 1904//

I am still slowly working my way through Wodehouse’s earlier works, which are mostly school stories.  I was a little scared that The Gold Bat was going to be wall-to-wall cricket, but there was actually a fun little story sandwiched between the sports scenes.  As these stories progress, I see more and more glimpses of what I would consider to be “classic” Wodehouse – sturdy, upright characters whose lives spiral out of their control, bad guys who are more mischievous than actually bad, convoluted yet interconnected plots that all come crashing together at the end, etc.  On the whole, these stories lack the strong humor found in Wodehouse’s later works – while still lighthearted and fun, they don’t have those fabulous similes that make so many of his books so much fun.

Still, The Gold Bat had a fun array of schoolboy characters and plenty of scrapes to go around.  It was a fine one-off read, but not one that I see myself returning to again and again.  3/5.

Fury and the Mustangs by Albert G. Miller

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//published 1960//

The second book in the Fury trilogy is full of adventure and excitement.  Like the first book, there are a few overarching stories, but each chapter also more or less reads as its own little tale.  The two big stories are the major drought in the region and the fact that a new rancher is rounding up and slaughtering mustangs on federal land.

It’s actually rather interesting.  All along, people have been rounding up mustangs to tame and sell, but a few things came together in the 1950’s to suddenly push wild mustangs towards endangerment.  Firstly, factories began buying them in order to put horse meat into dog food, creating a market for the mustangs.  Secondly, accessibility to airplanes and Jeeps meant that the rounding up of the wild horses could be accomplished swiftly and with minimal manpower.  Throughout the decade, airplanes would buzz around, flushing herds into the open and running them down towards the waiting Jeeps.  The Jeeps would then take over the chase, lassoing the horses.  At the other end of the rope would be a heavy tire.  The horses would be forced to run until they collapsed.  Then they would be packed tightly onto a waiting truck and hauled to slaughter.  It was a horrific practice, completely different from the traditional use of men on horses herding the wild horses, selectively culling the herds and leaving some for breeding.

Throughout the story, the people in the neighborhood of the Broken Wheel are working towards legislation to forbid hunting mustangs from airplanes.  One of the driving forces for this campaign, mentioned obliquely in the story, and in more detail in the afterword, was a young woman from Nevada.  Her story is told in excellent detail in Marguerite Henry’s Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West.  Wild Horse Annie overcame many difficulties to do everything in her power to save the mustangs, including testifying in Washington, D.C.  Her campaign was successful, and in 1959 it became illegal to hunt wild horses on federal land from an airplane or motor vehicle.

ANYWAY that’s really all background to the fun story of Fury and the Mustangs.  Fury, of course, does all sorts of things that verge on magical.  Joey is really a delightful young hero – honest, hardworking, and engaging.  There are many adventures with rustlers, bank robbers, forest fires, and more.  In the end, there are dramatic rescues and declarations, and everyone learns important lessons.  All in all, it’s a fun little story that is quite enjoyable, especially for young horse lovers.