The Mysterious Benedict Society Quartet // by Trenton Lee Stewart

I first read The Mysterious Benedict Society back in 2007, when it was first published.  I can’t remember how I initially found it – probably browsing about the library – but I enjoyed it so much that I purchased it soon after.  The fantastic cover art and interior illustrations drew me in, and the story was strong enough to make the read well worth it.  Since then, I’ve read this book several times and enjoyed it more with each reading.

//published 2007//

Our story begins with Reynie, a boy whose parents died before he remembers, and who now lives in an orphanage.  Reynie is basically a genius, incredibly intelligent and keen to learn.  One day, he and his tutor are reading the newspaper – as they do most days – when they come across a rather odd ad:  “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?”  Reynie responds, and soon finds himself involved in a series of tests – and then even more.

This is a children’s book, so much of the writing is rather simple.  However, Stewart has not dumbed-down his story, which has a fabulous villain and lots of action.  As an adult, I found small snippets of it to be verging on polemic, but in some ways I think the almost-spelling-out fits in with the age of the targeted audience.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a preachy book by any means.  Reynie and the trio with whom he soon joins forces (The Mysterious Benedict Society – Sticky, Kate, and Constance) infiltrate a school for the gifted that may or may not be a mere cover for something much, much more sinister.

I love the bit where the kids are first entering the school.  A couple of the older students, Jillson and Jackson, are showing them around.

“It sounds like there are no rules here at all,” Sticky said.

“That’s true, George,” said Jillson.  “Virtually none, in fact.  You can wear whatever you want, just so long as you have on trousers, shoes, and a shirt.  You can bathe as often as you like or not at all, provided you are clean every day in class.  You can eat whatever and whenever you want, so long as it’s during meal hours at the cafeteria.  You’re allowed to keep the lights on in your room as late as you wish until ten o’clock each night.  And you can go wherever you want around the Institute, so long as you keep to the paths and the yellow-tiled corridors.”

“Actually,” Reynie observed, “those all sound like rules.”

Jackson rolled his icy blue eyes.  “This is your first day, so I don’t expect you to know much, Reynard.  But this is one of the rules of life you’ll learn at the Institute: Many things that sound like rules aren’t actually rules, and it always sounds like there are more rules than there really are.”

And I do appreciate Stewart’s apt summation of government schools:

Rote memorization of lessons was discouraged but required; class participation was encouraged but rarely permitted.

All in all, The Mysterious Benedict Society is a fun and engaging story with relatable characters and a solid plot, yet also manages to be thoughtful at a level that is challenging for both its target audience of middle schoolers and older readers as well.  I highly recommend it.  5/5.

//published 2008//

//published 2009//

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma are also enjoyable reads, but not quite as engaging as the first book.  I hadn’t read these two as often as the first book, so I really enjoyed delving back into them.  The entire cast of characters returns for these books as the pursuit of the villain from the first book continues.  These two books lack the deeper level of the first book, but are still well-paced and fun stories, and a lot of the questions from the first book are answered.  I would have appreciated a slightly more involved epilogue, but for the most part solid 4/5 reads.

//published 2012//

The final book, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is a prequel that looks at a formative season in the childhood of Mr. Benedict.  This is actually probably my second-favorite of the four books.  I really like that Nicholas isn’t a perfect kid, and his character development is done very well, especially the way that he learns to see that everyone has a motivation for what he does, and that understanding that motivation before passing judgment is an important part of life.  Another 5/5.

April Minireviews

Usually this space is reserved for books I felt kind of “meh” about, but this time around it’s just a way of trying to catch up on some of the backlog.  I’m ready for summer break!!!

Paper Towns by John Green

//published 2008//

I really was going to write a whole long review complaining about this book, but who has time for that?  I read this book because I felt like I needed to actually read one of Green’s books before dismissing him as a pretentious and condescending guy who just says whatever young adults want to hear so he’ll stay popular.  (These days, they call that “being relevant.”)  Now I can be quite smug about not liking him, because, after all, I have tried his books!

Paper Towns was about what I expected.  The main character was completely unrealistic, a high school senior who cared about grades, grammar, and making his parents proud.  And it wasn’t really those things that made him unrealistic, it was just his entire manner and way of speaking.  He spends most of this book running around trying to solve a mystery, following clues he believes his neighbor/crush has left for him.  I’ve heard Green get a lot of flack for perpetrating the “manic pixie dream girl” method of creating a story, but I’m not sure I buy that.  Like half the point was Quentin realizing that he saw Margo as a manic pixie dream girl (although he doesn’t use those words), and understanding that he’s only ever seen her as a very one-dimensional character instead of an actual person.  Yes, Margo is weird and quirky; and yes, she helps Quentin appreciate his life more fully; and yes, we don’t really get to know her from her own perspective – but I still felt like Quentin’s realizations of her were above the MPDG level.  A little.

Overall, the story was just dumb and kind of pointless.  It was a book that desperately was trying to be poignant and deep, but really just came through as cliched and boring.  I compare that to something like The Scent of Waterwhich doesn’t at all try to be poignant and deep and yet manages just that, and can’t believe that people hail someone like John Green as a genius and brilliant writer.  OVERRATED is the main word that comes to my mind, as this book was desperately boring, the characters were flat, and the entire book read like one long cliche.  2/5.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

//published 1817//

Somehow, I had never gotten around to reading this particular classic, and I’m quite sorry that I waited this long.  While this book didn’t have the character studies of some of Austen’s other works, I found myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions.  Austen’s wry sense ofhumor was at the forefront of this rather frivolous tale, and I loved the way that she poked fun at all sorts of things, but all in such a gentle and kindhearted way.

I purchased the perfect copy of this book, a wonderfully-sized paperback that I love.  My only problem was the “introduction,” in which I was treated to a ten-page synopsis of the story (complete with all the spoilers) and not a word of actual insight or thought!  I’m really heartily tired of introductions that are actually a CliffNotes version of the book.  Just because it’s a classic doesn’t mean that everyone who picks it up has already read it!  I mean really.  If the foreword isn’t going to actually give information, what’s the point?!

But the story itself is adorable and fun, and although this may have been my first reading of it, I don’t anticipate it being the last.  5/5.

Wild Palomino: Stallion of the Prairies by Stephen Holt

//published 1946//

This is another book in the Famous Horse Stories series, and one that I’ve had on a shelf for years and never actually read.  I wasn’t really missing all that much, as Wild Palomino was a wildly impractical tale from page one through the finish.  At the time that I actually read it I kept thinking, Wow, I should make sure to point out that crazy plot twist when I review this book!  But I honestly don’t remember many of specifics as this was an easily-forgotten story.  It’s perfectly fine, and the younger audience for whom it was written would probably enjoy all the drama and excitement, but it was just too implausible for me to really get into.  2/5.

The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1912//

So I mean, sure, some people complain about Wodehouse’s books being a little samey.  I’ve never found that to be an issue for myself personally, because each one has its own unique charm, despite following more or less a set of guidelines.  But I found myself getting major deja vu when I was reading this book, mainly because it wasn’t my imagination – Wodehouse actually used part of one of his other stories!

The part I haven’t been able to figure out completely is whether or not this book or Psmith, Journalist came first, mainly because of the whole thing where Wodehouse wrote lots of his books as serials before printing them as a book, and also tended to have some of his books published first in the U.K. and then in the U.S.  or vice versa.  Either way, this whole book felt weird because of the inclusion of virtually the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist, including a character named Smith!

The Prince and Betty starts as its own story, with Betty’s rich stepfather (or possibly actually father or possibly uncle, I’m not sure which as it has been a while) deciding that his next big scheme is going to be opening a casino on a small European island country.  Complicated hijinks begin, including the rich guy’s attempt to  make Betty marry the prince of said small country.  Of course, Betty and the prince already knew each other from before (except she didn’t know he was a prince… and neither did he!), but Betty thinks that the prince is just trying to appease her father (or stepfather or uncle), so she gets angry and runs away.  So far, so good.

Except next the story takes a strange turn.  Betty lands a job as a secretary for a small newspaper and – well, insert the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist here!  It’s a shame because I actually love Psmith, Journalist  – like, a LOT – but it didn’t feel like it fit into this book at all.  I’m not sure if it’s because I had already read Psmith, or if it really did read like two different books mashed together.  So yes, both halves were good reads, but they didn’t go well together, but that could have just been me…

February Minireviews

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 I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsburg

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//published 2007//

So growing up, Konigsburg’s The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of my favorite books.  As an adult, I discovered her book The View from Saturday and loved that one, too – a lot (I even read and reviewed it again!).  But for me, The Mysterious Edge just didn’t work the way her other two books did.  The plot is disjointed and strange, the characters inconsistent and unrealistic, and the entire premise centers around a lot of coincidences.

I really wanted to like this book – two kids becoming friends while helping an elderly lady clean out her house that’s full of interesting stuff – doesn’t that sound like fun??  But the old lady, Mrs. Zender, is really weird, and so are both of the boys – and not in the realistic, quirky way of some of Konigsburg’s characters in Saturday – just weird, weird: the kind of weird that leaves you scratching your head in puzzlement.

A lot of the story centers around a picture that one of the boys finds, a drawing of a naked woman.  Now we’re informed that this is art, so this is a “nude” which is different from just someone being naked.  But…  it still felt really inappropriate for the age of the characters and the intended readers, and, once again, was just kind of weird.  Like why does the picture have to be of a naked person??

There are almost some good discussions about how people perceive us and how we perceive ourselves, about people who are rich and people who aren’t, about whether or not a government should be able to decide what is or isn’t art.  But none of those conversations really go anywhere, so the whole book feels awkward and stunted.

All in all, 1/5 for a book that I wanted to like but just couldn’t.  I’m still planning to read some more of Konigsburg’s books because I have enjoyed a couple of them so very much, but I don’t see myself ever revisiting this one.

American Gardening Series: Container Gardening by Suzanne Frutig Bales

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//published 1993//

This is one of those random books that I picked up for a quarter at a library book sale at some point.  It’s not a terribly thick book, but it does have a lot of photographs and plenty of good information about choosing plants for container gardens and then keeping them alive after you’ve planted them!  Bales has a lot of enthusiasm for container gardening as it is very flexible and can be done in almost any amount of space.

I’ve been working through several gardening books this month, and I always glean some new tips and ideas.  This one is well worth the shelf space as a great reference book.  I especially enjoyed the chapters that focused on planning container gardens – I think that a lot of times people go into container gardening assuming that you just sort of jam some plants in and it will look great, but this book spends some time talking about not just the color of the plants you are planting, but texture, size, and growing requirements.  Definitely recommended if this is a topic you’re interested in learning more about.

The Princess by Lori Wick

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//published 1999//

This is a (multiple time) reread for me, and I have a more detailed review here.  Sometimes I just need some happy fluff, and this book always fits the bill.  It involves my favorite trope (marriage than love), and just is a happy, gentle little tale that I have read many times and yet always find enjoyable.  I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump here at the end of February, what with starting my new job and being super tired all the time, so The Princess helped get me through!

The House of the Scorpion // The Lord of Opium // by Nancy Farmer

This duology left me with very mixed feelings.  So much of the conceptualization was really intriguing, yet somehow the story didn’t grab me the way I wanted it to.  While I wanted to see how things came together, in the end some of the solutions were just smidge too simplistic for my taste.  These are considered children’s books, but I would definitely put them in the YA category, despite the fact that the main character is only 14.

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//published 2002//

It’s really hard to talk about these books without divulging too much about what happens.  But basically the story starts with Matteo, a little boy who is actually a clone.  He was made from an old man known as El Patrón, who rules a country whose entire purpose is to grow opium.  Matt is being raised by Celia, who loves him, but within the first few chapters Matt ends up at the main house where he discovers that he is not a regular little boy as he supposed, but a clone – and almost everyone considers him a monster, subhuman.

These books delve a great deal into what makes us human, and when we become human.  While much of the discussion is about clones, and another “subhuman” group, the eejits, they are questions that can easily apply to many marginalized groups in today’s society – I found myself regularly marveling at how the statements concerning clones made by the majority of Opium’s population echoed the justifications put forth by pro-abortion advocates today – things like “they can’t really feel pain” or “I decided to create it so I can decide to terminate it” or “it doesn’t really understand what’s happening, so it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s treated well.”

In the first book, Farmer purposely keeps the reader in the dark about a lot of things – sometimes a bit too much, I felt.  However, if you flip open the cover of the second book, you’ll find the answers to many questions in the first few pages – maps and a chronology of events.  These were very helpful by the time I was about halfway through the first book.

All in all, I enjoyed the story in The House of the Scorpion.  It was intense and gritty, yet did so in a way that was completely appropriate for younger (I would say 11+) readers.  Basically, if a reader is old enough to understand the content, there isn’t anything they shouldn’t read.  Some of it is disturbing, but never grotesquely so.  Matt is a well-drawn and engaging character.  Despite the fact that the first few chapters cover the first 13 years of Matt’s life, the story didn’t feel rushed or like an info-dump.  Farmer’s pacing is excellent, giving enough information to keep the story going.  So much of the world-building is discovered through Matt’s eyes (although third person), which was done very well.

However, the ending felt strangely abrupt.  Matt goes through so much and has so many enemies within the house – and then the end.  It felt like a cop-out in some ways.  Not completely dissatisfying, but it almost felt like Farmer wanted a bridge so that she could roll into a second book.  Ending the first book in a more natural way wouldn’t have led into the second book that she wanted to write, so the first book gets a bit of a ??! ending.

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//published 2013//

The Lord of Opium picks up Matt’s story the day after the first  book ends.  In this book, Matt has a lot more difficult decisions, plus he’s battling with a lot of emotions and the aftermath from the ending of the first book.  Farmer brings up a lot more questions about humanity, conservation, drugs, cloning, immortality, slavery, immigration, whether the ends justifies the means, and whether or not we choose our own paths or if they are chosen for us.  These topics are handled very deftly.  I never really felt like she was preaching at me, yet I found myself pondering a lot of the questions she had raised.  Despite the fact that my life is nothing like Matt’s, I still somehow really related to him as a character, and felt like a lot of the dilemmas he faced were once that I could understand.  To me, that’s a sign of solid writing.

Because these are children’s books, we had a happy ending. I  felt like it was a bit of a stretch, but I like happy endings, too, so I was willing to roll with it.  I actually would be totally into another book about Matt to see where his dreams take him next.  All in all, I would go with 3/5 for both books, but a really high 3, like a 3.8, and recommended.

A few spoiler-filled ?!?!? moments below the break – don’t read them until you’ve read the books!  But if you have read the books, I’d love to hear your opinions!

NB: These books were first brought to  my attention by a great review of The House of the Scorpion over on Paper Breathers.  Thanks, Sophie!

Continue reading

Flipped // by Wendy Van Draanen

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//published 2001//

Quite a while back I added this book to the TBR after reading Sophie’s review.   I was really just anticipating a fluffy little story, and while I did get that, there were some solid bones underneath.  Despite the book’s short length, there is really excellent character development in a way that flows naturally and made the story super easy to read.

Juli and Bryce are the main characters of the story, and they tell their tale in alternating chapters – usually about the same event or period of time.  Although the book covers several years, it never felt bogged down or like the story was being rushed.  Instead, Van Draanen does an excellent job of hitting the high points that kept the story moving without feeling like we were just skimming on the top of the characters’ lives.

When Juli and Bryce first meet, it’s because Bryce and his family have just moved in across the street from Juli’s house.  Julie is super excited about having a playmate so close by who is her age (they are both in second grade), but Bryce, as is typical with boys his age, is kind of weirded out by Juli because she is not only a girl, but an extremely enthusiastic and friendly girl.  Throughout the next several years, Juli is convinced that she and Bryce could be the best of friends, while Bryce spends most of his time trying to avoid her.

But this story is so much more than just girl meets boy and boy needs a little persuasion before falling in love.  Instead, it manages to really look a lot at family relationships, at the importance of embracing who you are, and how easy it is to just assume that you know all about a person from just a glimpse of his or her life.

I loved the way that Juli’s parents are presented.  It was so, so refreshing to come across a couple who are still happily married after many years and many hard times.  They are amazing parents, so supportive of their children, but also good at discipline and providing parameters.  A huge part of the reason that I loved this book was because even though Juli’s life and family weren’t perfect, her parents were fantastic role models.

Gah!  I’m doing a really bad job with this book!  I just enjoyed it so much, and I can hardly even explain why.  It was just so well done!  And while it was mostly reviewing lessons that most adults have already learned, I think this would be a great book if you have a middle schooler or even someone a bit older than that in your life.  This book absolutely never comes across as preachy, but does a really great job nonetheless of teaching about looking beyond the superficial in someone’s life – both the negative and positive superficials – to see who they are underneath.

This is a short book that I breezed through in a single afternoon, but still manages to pack a powerful punch.  I think it’s a book that should be added to every elementary school’s reading program.

Midnight: Wild Stallion of the West // by Rutherford Montgomery

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//published 1940//

In the 1950’s and 60’s, Grosset & Dunlap published about 40 books, written by various authors, under the label of “Famous Horse Stories.”  My understanding is that most of these books were already in print at some point (most were from the 1940’s and 50’s originally), but G&D brought them together in a sort of collection.  Several of the authors were quite well known at the time, like Thomas Hinkle, Glenn Balch, and Henry Larom.  Most of the books have a western/ranch setting, although I have come across some set in other “horsey” surrounds, like Dorothy Lyons’s horse show books.

Because I loved horses and horse stories so much when I was a kid, I collected these whenever I came across them.  Back in the day, before the internet was the thing that it is now, finding an out-of-print book that fit into a collection was really a bonanza.  Nowadays I just get onto eBay and type in what I’m looking for and can nearly always find it, even if I’m not willing to pay the price.  But in my teen years, most of my book collecting was done by sifting through piles of books in musty antique shops.  Oh the joy when I found a Famous Horse Story, or a book by Albert Payson Terhune, or a Judy Bolton mystery!  And then the agony – was it really worth $5 or $8 or $13??  (Here is a tip for used-book shopping: you see the book you want on the shelf.  Place your hand on the book.  And then, before you open it or check the price, tell yourself what the maximum amount is that you would be willing to pay to add this book to your permanent collection.  Then check the price!)

At any rate, as part of my (very slow-moving) goal to read/reread all of the books in my personal collection, several of these Famous Horse Stories have come up in my lottery drawing recently, so you can expect to see them on the blog over the next few months.  I own maybe half the titles published under this label, and I’m honestly not sure if I ever read all the ones I own.  And it’s been a very long time since I have read the ones I did read, so if I end up particularly liking an author, it may be a chance to invest in some more of his works (via the easy, eBay way).

And so, on to the actual book for which this review is being written!  Midnight: Wild Stallion of the West.  And already I’m going to start rambling again, because I’ve been struck by how many of the titles from this era employ the [Name]:[Description] style.  Plain old Midnight just isn’t good enough!

Rutherford Montgomery is best known (in 1950’s horse-story circles) for his Golden Stallion series, seven titles revolving around the same horse/characters.  I own several of those, so I’m sure we’ll get to them eventually.  Midnight, however, appears to be a stand-alone, although I have another book by Montgomery, Crazy Kill Range, that I believe may be a loose sequel (as Midnight takes place in Crazy Kill Range), so I’ll be reading that soon.

Montgomery’s books definitely fall into the western/ranch category, and Midnight in many ways is not so much a story as it is several vignettes of western mustang life.  The book opens with Sam, an old prospector, quietly enjoying life on the porch of his cabin.  He lives alone and, we later find out, built his cabin back in the day when all the land was open and public.  Since then, the property has been purchased by a rich rancher named Major Howard, an “Easterner” who doesn’t really understand the culture of his new home.  However, he allows Sam to continue living in the cabin because Sam isn’t really hurting anything.

Major Howard raises cattle and finely-bred horses.  One of his mares, Lady Ebony, likes to graze near Sam’s cabin.  Sam has become very attached to the horse and offers to buy her from the Major.  Major Howard doesn’t want to sell Lady Ebony as he intends to race her.  Sarcastically, he tells Sam that he can buy Lady Ebony for $500, confident that Sam doesn’t have a twentieth of that to his name.  But little does Major Howard know!  Sam actually has a secret little vein of gold up in the hills that he mines from time to time.  He’s kept it quiet so that other people don’t horn in on the region, but he knows that if he spends a couple of weeks up there he can get the $500.  So he packs up his bags and heads for the hills.

While he’s gone, Lady Ebony gets swept up into a band of wild horses.  Their leader, a vicious chestnut stallion, is heading over the mountains for the winter, and takes Lady Ebony with him.  So, when Sam gets back with his money, Major Howard accuses him of stealing the mare and Sam ends up getting arrested.  The rest of the story isn’t really about Sam all that much – instead, we follow Lady Ebony as she is part of the chestnut’s band.  Eventually she breaks free of the herd and returns to the pasture near Sam’s (now abandoned) cabin.  She has a foal from the chestnut, a black colt named (you guessed it) Midnight.  Throughout the book, while we mostly focus on Midnight and his adventures, we also get little snippets of updates of the falsely-accused Sam, pining away in prison, yearning for his freedom.  (I’ll leave you to guess whether or not he is eventually freed, but here’s a hint: it’s a children’s book.)

In a lot of ways, this book reminded me of Jim Kjelgaard’s works.   It was really a story about wilderness life and survival.  And despite the fact that this is a children’s book, so we end up with happy endings for Midnight (and Sam), the story doesn’t shy away from the fact that, in the wild, only the strong survive.  There is a lot of death in this story, but it isn’t really portrayed gruesomely or for dramatic effect: it just is.

One of the animals that is involved in Midnight’s story is an old buck deer.  He is described as being crafty and intelligent.  But eventually, he is overtaken and killed by a pack of wolves.

The end of the monarch was the destined end of all wild dwellers.  The end of a life of struggle and constant alertness.  The law of the wild was fulfilled.  While youth and vigor gave him power and speed the buck lived and went his way, but when that strength slipped from him he went down before the gray killers.

While I didn’t love Midnight the way that I love a lot of Kjelgaard’s books – it somehow lacked the warmth and personal touch of his works – Montgomery’s story was a good one nonetheless.  I feel like so much of children’s literature these days focuses on feelings, and making sure you understand your feelings, and don’t hurt anyone else’s feelings, and remember – your feelings are what define you, and how you feel is what decides what you are, and it’s honestly just plain ridiculous.  I’d much rather have kids read books like Midnight – because somehow his story about how the strong survive also comes across as a reminder that the strong must care for the weak, or the weak will not make it.  He writes a story about balance – the circle of life, if you will – how every living thing has its place, not in a touchy-feely now-we-should-all-be-vegans kind of way, but realistically.  Every living thing has its part to play.  This is a story with a lot of grit and a lot of death, but also a book that is positive and hopeful, because death is also a natural part of life.

And despite all the death, Montgomery’s book still comes across as one written by someone who loves the wilderness about which he’s writing.  His dedication is to “Earl Hammock, who knows the value of the lonesome places” and I feel like that really summarizes a lot of what this book is about.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough.  A decent and interesting read, especially if you like horses or western wildlife, and I’m looking forward to delving into some more of my long-forgotten Famous Horse Stories soon.

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.