June Minireviews – Part 5

Part 5?!  Oh my gosh.

Five Children & It by E. Nesbit – 4*

//published 1902//

Nesbit’s work is just classic – children having magical adventures and everything is perfect.  In this story, a group of siblings discover a magical being (the “It” of the title) who grants them one wish a day.  Of course the wishes don’t always play out the way the children anticipate, and sometimes saying “I wish—” without intending it to be your wish causes extra complications as well.  All in all just good, clean fun.

Seaside Reunion by Irene Hannon – 3.5*

//published 2012//

This is a gentle and rather uneventful romance that takes place in a small town in northern California.  A young widow has moved back to town several years ago to help her dad with their family store.  When the story opens, a guy who lived there for just a year or so when he was little comes back for a visit – it was the happiest place of his difficult childhood, and he wants to see it again.  While nothing particularly ground-breaking happens, it’s a nice story to while away some time.

Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren – 4*

//published 2017//

This is a borderline 3.5* and I keep going back and forth.  There was a lot about this book that I really enjoyed, most of which can be categorized as “snark.”  The idea is that both the main characters work for competing companies that represent actors, so despite the fact that they hit it off really well, they aren’t sure that their high-pressure jobs will let them date.  Things get even worse when their companies unexpectedly merge – and Evie’s boss – now also Carter’s boss – announces that the company can only afford one of them, so they’re going to have to basically duke it out to decide who stays.  So their flirting turns into pranking (some of which felt a little ridiculous for two adults) with an undercurrent of seriousness.  My main problem with this book was that the boss was SUCH a horrible jerk.  I literally had to flip to the end of this book to make sure that he got some kind of comeuppance because he made my teeth hurt every time he was on the page.  That plus a little too much sex is what kept this book from being a hearty 4*.  In the end, another fun and fluffy read, but not one that I truly fell in love with.

The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit – 4*

//published 1904//

The sequel to Five Children & It, this book takes place the next year when the children are back to living in town.  They get a new carpet for the playroom, and an odd rock falls out of it – which turns out to be a phoenix egg.  The rest of the book is taken up with regular Nesbit shenanigans, with many wishes not quite going the way one would hope.  Nesbit’s books are always happy and fun, and so relaxing.

The Girl with All the Gifts // by M.R. Carey


//published 2014//

I was pretty skeptical about this book before I started it.  Actually, when I listed my next five reads in November’s Rearview Mirror last week, I mentioned that I thought this book had a high DNF possibility.  This book has been languishing on the TBR since June 2014 when Sophie reviewed it.  I’m the type of person who doesn’t always enjoy being mind-blown by books (so often that’s code for “completely illogical leap off a cliff”), but Sophie and I enjoy a lot of the same books, so the fact that she really liked this one kept it on the list.

Last Sunday was cold and windy and drizzly and the husband and I spent almost the entire day lazing about the house.  I picked up this book and thought I would read the first chapter or two so I could say that I had given it a chance and then move on.  Except once I started reading, I basically couldn’t put it down.  I was drawn in from the very first paragraph:

Her name is Melanie.  It means “the black girl”, from an ancient Greek word, but her skin is actually very fair so she thinks maybe it’s not such a good name for her.  She likes the name Pandora a whole lot, but you don’t get to choose.  Miss Justineau assigns names from a big list; new children get the top name on the boys’ list or the top name on the girls’ list, and that, Miss Justineau says, is that.

!??!?!?!  And for once in my life, the present tense narrative actually made sense.  It was used so very deftly – pushing the plot forward, making every more urgent, intense, uncertain.  Present tense is not for every book, or even for a lot of books.  But every once in a while, it makes a book almost magical, and that’s what it did here.

I read about 3/4 of this book on Sunday, devouring it in huge chunks. I had to work Monday morning, but when I got off, I didn’t get anything useful done around this house until I had finished the book.

This is one of those rare books where you really ought to know as little as possible going in, so I won’t tell you much of anything about the plot.  However, I was quite impressed by the way that plot moved along, and the way that Carey gives us just the right amount of information at just the right time.  The third person narrative rotates between some different characters, so you see multiple perspectives of the story and of the world Carey has created.  This is especially interesting when several disparate characters are forced to work together.

In a lot of ways, this book is a discussion about what makes us human and what we should do with that.  And while I didn’t really feel like this story answered all the questions it raised, it was still a very thoughtful kind of book.

I’ll say that I didn’t agree with the way this book ends.  Melanie makes a decision with far-reaching impact, and I didn’t feel like it was her decision to make, no matter whether her decision was right or wrong.  I’d love to hear from anyone else who has read this book, whether or not you agreed with the ending.

I didn’t enjoy every word of this book.  There were times that I didn’t agree with the direction the story went, and while I didn’t mind some of the moral questions being left unanswered, there were still a few times that I felt like the story itself had some loose ends.  There was also a scene where the main scientist describes in what I felt was incredibly unnecessary detail exactly how she does a dissection of the brain.  Seriously, I do not need three pages of play-by-play on how to remove a brain.

Speaking of the main scientist being female, the discussion questions in the back of this book were amazingly lame.  My personal favorite was asking whether or not I would have liked this character better if she was male.  Asking me if a person who is a total ass would be more likable as a male is honestly rather insulting.

On the whole, though, I think I’m going with a 4/5 for this book.  While I had some quibbles about some of the story – and definitely with the ending – it was overall a pretty un-put-down-able book, and a recommended read… as long as you have a big chunk of time to devote to it, because you probably won’t want to put it down…

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


//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


//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


//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


//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.

Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog!) by Jerome K. Jerome


//published 1889//

This book was first brought to my attention by FictionFan, who has mentioned in a few posts, and reviewed it here.  After reading the first chapter, I couldn’t believe that I had somehow gone my entire life without this book.  Jerome has created a masterpiece of humor, a sort of travelogue with random reminiscences thrown in, and a little spice of thoughtfulness as well.

Published in 1889, the story follows our narrator, J., as he and two of his friends, Harris and George.  Feeling weary of their everyday life, they decide to take a holiday by boating up the Thames.  But the joy of this story is in the narration itself, as J. gives us plenty of asides.  While the book loosely follows their journey, much the book is meandering anecdotes, a style that feels like it ought to be annoying but is honestly just pure delight.  I could not stop laughing while I was reading this book, and probably read over half of it out loud to my ever-patient husband, because so much of this story was just too much fun to keep to myself.

I tried to mark pages to quote for this review, but realized that what I really wanted to do was quote the entire book, which means that you just simply need to sit down and read it for yourself as soon as you possibly can.

One of the things that I loved about this story was how while the setting was obviously dated, the story didn’t seem to be at all.  The adventures and thoughts of these three were completely relatable, right from the first page where J. tells us how he visited the the British Museum and started reading about various diseases and realized that he had them all!  While WebMD may have given us a more modern access to hypochondria, it is most certainly not an issue limited to our place in time!

The whole book is that way.  The classic story of Uncle Podger hanging a picture (who hasn’t known someone just like him?!), the comforting realization that a full stomach makes you feel just as happy and contented as a clear conscience (and so much cheaper and more easily obtained!), the foul and dirty nature of a tow line – Jerome captures our human nature perfectly, and, in the process, reveals that we really haven’t changed that much in the almost 130 years since he wrote this tale.

Besides humorous anecdotes, Jerome also gives us snippets of history and various travel tips that are thoroughly engaging, and also manages to touch on serious topics with a deft hand, somehow slipping it between funny bits without detracting from the story or trivializing the issue at hand.  His few pages on a young, unmarried mother who found that drowning herself in the river was easier than continuing to live under a cloud of shame and poverty genuinely choked me up, and added yet another layer to the fact that human nature – both of those who have been judged and those who judge – really hasn’t changed that much, either.

In short, this is a book that is very much worth reading.  As I said at the beginning, I cannot believe that I have never read it before – or even heard that much about it!  This book is a delight that I think everyone would – and should! – enjoy.  I will definitely be adding a copy to my personal shelves very soon, and the sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, is next in the queue to read.