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.

The Way of a Dog // by Albert Payson Terhune

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//published 1932//

Long, long ago when I was a little girl, I learned how to read when I was only three, so by the time I was six or seven I was already in the habit of scouring bookshelves for something exciting.  Stuffed away on a shelf in my aunt’s bedroom was a battered hardcover book with the picture of a collie on the front.  The book was Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune, and it made me fall in love with collies.

Terhune wrote in the 1920’s and 30’s, and you can tell by his attitude towards certain groups of people, especially the “hill folk.”  But taking into account the perceptions of the times, Terhune’s writing is quite enjoyable to me still.  he wrote prolifically about his own collies that he raised at his estate, Sunnybank, in New Jersey, as well as making his dogs stars of their own fiction books (I kid you not).  Many of his short stories are about other dogs he knew, and how much of his tale is embroidery and how much is fact – well, your decision probably depends on what you think of dogs.

Collies were Terhune’s passion, and he does sometimes go over the top a bit, waxing eloquently about their intelligence, obedience, and all-around awesomeness, but in some ways it’s endearing to see him so enthusiastic.

Over the years, I’ve collected quite the stash of Terhune books, and I’m honestly a bit surprised that this is somehow the first one that I’ve reviewed on this blog.  While The Way of a Dog isn’t my favorite of his books, it’s still a solid collection of short stories.

The first half of the book is several chapters about one of Terhune’s own dogs, a blue merle named Gray Dawn.  Gray Dawn already made an appearance in another collection of short stories, and these are Terhune’s response to his readers who apparently enjoyed the first batch of tales.  Gray Dawn is, of course, intrepid and intelligent, but Terhune still paints a realistic picture of a dog who, in his own words, was “in the midst of the hobbledehoy age.  In spirit and temperament, too, he was infuriatingly bumptious; the very soul of destructive mischief.”

Throughout his stories, Terhune generally speaks in the third person, referring to himself as the Master and his wife as the Mistress.  In Terhune’s writing, he practically worships his wife.  She is painted as all that is good, gentle, far-seeing, thoughtful, and kind.  She is intelligent, with a strong sense of humor and justice.  If there is ever a difference of opinion between them, it is the Mistress’s inclination that is invariable proven to be the correct one.

And so, it is the Mistress who sees Dawn’s true potential, despite his penchant for “doing the wrong thing, not only at the wrong time, but all times.”  We follow Dawn through a few chapters of adventures, concluding with his death.  Terhune genuinely mourns the passing of his chum – “I missed him, and I still miss him, more bitterly than a mere collie should be missed.  His going took something unsparable out of my life.”  Perhaps only someone who is truly a dog person can understand the sentiment.

The rest of the book – two-thirds, probably – are random stories, each chapter unto itself, of dogs who prove themselves loyal and intelligent.  (Some stories are true, others are fiction. Terhune leaves it for you to decide which are which.)  They are stories that would probably bore someone who doesn’t like dogs, but I always find them to be great fun.  Terhune is a warm writer, able to sketch his characters with a few select lines.  While his books are nothing of depth or intrigue, the fact that Terhune loves collies, and loves people who love them, comes through, and gives life and interest to his writing.  Recommended for all dog lovers.