June Minireviews – Part 3

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!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West – 3*

//published 2013//

I’ve read a couple of Kasie West books, and I really like them.  They’re everything YA chick lit should be – fluffy, funny, a little bit ridiculous, and overall just happy.  They aren’t full of ridiculous amounts of angst or sexual dilemmas, just straightforward little stories with likable characters.  That said, this wasn’t really my favorite book, mainly because I got so tired of Cayman constantly assuming that she already knows what everyone is thinking/what their motivations are… and she’s wrong a LOT.  Consequently, all the misunderstandings seemed like they could have been avoided easily if Cayman would just USE HER WORDS and have some conversations.  Despite my aggravation with her at times, I still liked Cayman and basically everyone else as well.  Perfectly happy for a one-time read, and I really need to delve into some more of West’s back catalog.

Elizabeth Bennet’s Deception by Regina Jeffers – DNF (#20BooksofSummer)

//published 2015//

I don’t usually worry about updating you all on DNF books, but since this was on my original list for my #20BooksofSummer challenge, I thought I would let you know that it was SO terrible that I didn’t even bother finishing!  If you’re interested in the full rant, be sure to check it out on my P&P blog here.  Meanwhile, I’ve selected another book to finish out the 20 Book challenge!

The Holiday Swap by Zara Stoneley – 3*

//published 2016//

This was a free Kindle book that I got a while back.  This summer, when we’ve been taking the Zeppelin out for the weekend, I’ve been loading some super fluffy Kindle books so I have plenty of spares, and this one totally fit the bill.  Two friends have two bad romantic situations and decide to switch homes for a few weeks.  While I enjoyed this story while I was reading it, it didn’t really inspire me to find more of Stoneley’s books, and I don’t really see myself going back to this one.  It was a little too heavy on the “finding the right man fixes all your problems” (and I say this as someone who is happily married), and so it ended up feeling like neither of the women really grew that much – they just switched out their loser boyfriends for nice ones.  It also seemed like it ended kind of abruptly – this is definitely a book that would have benefited from a little epilogue from a few years later talking about how happy everyone is.

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle – 3*

//published 2013//

Yet another book that I really wanted to like more than I did.  While this was a perfectly pleasant sequel focusing on Mary, it was just rather unexciting.  Lydia shows up with a new scandal trailing behind her, but somehow the story just didn’t quite click together.  Many of the characters seemed rather stagnant, and I felt like Henry, in particular, was inconsistent.  I did like Mary and it wasn’t a terrible story, but not one that I particularly see myself returning to.

My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1919//

In my quest to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, this collection of short stories, many of which feature the Bertie/Jeeves combo, was next on the list.  While Jeeves and Bertie made their debut in another short story collection (The Man With Two Left Feet), it is here that they begin to genuinely become the individual characters that are so beloved.

Overall, this collection was much more up to classical Wodehouse levels.  While the Bertie tales were my favorites, there were some other solid little tales in this collection.  This was the first collection where it felt like Wodehouse genuinely decided that all of this worrying about being serious stuff was really nonsense, and instead just embraced the joy of happy chaos.

Swamp Cat by Jim Kjelgaard – 3.5*

//published 1957//

It had been a while since I picked up a Kjelgaard, and this was another one that I hadn’t read as a youth – so apparently our library didn’t have it!  From the title, I assumed that the story was going to be about a Florida panther or a bobcat or some other type of wild cat – but it was actually about a regular domestic cat!  Of course, Frosty isn’t really a REGULAR cat, as he learns to survive, and thrive, in the wilds.  He of course adopts a young man who lives off the land, and I quite enjoyed the parallel story of Andy and the beginnings of his muskrat farm (right??).  All in all, this was a surprisingly engaging tale.  I read it as a free Kindle book, but I would definitely like to add it to my hard-copy collection if I can find a copy.

March MiniReviews – Part 2

Still not feeling the whole blogging thing, so here are some more notes on recent reads.  Part 1 for March can be found here.

The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

//published 1872 & 1883//

These are a pair of adorable little stories that follow the very traditional fairy tale format of the good being very good and the bad being very bad.  That said, I still quite enjoyed them, especially The Princess and the Goblin.  There is a lot of adventure here and some fun characters, even if the ending of the second book was a bit abrupt.

I also didn’t realize that these books were so old, because the edition I have is both stories in one volume, which was published around 1970.  But it turns out that the original stories are from the late 1800’s!

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

//published 2007//

This is technically a standalone novel, but I was quite excited to see my old friend Vincent Ruiz from the Joseph O’Laughlin series make an appearance.  Actually, Ruiz is what kept me reading a lot of this book as it didn’t always completely engross me.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get into the sense of urgency, and I didn’t really like Ali all that well.  Also, Ali has been dating a guy named Dave for quite some time when this book opens, and we continue to see a decent amount of him throughout the story.  But Ali tells us when we first meet him that his nickname is “New Boy” Dave (just like that, with quotations around “New Boy”)… and then proceeds to constantly refer to him as “New Boy” Dave for the entire rest of the book.  I can’t explain why this annoyed me, but it did.  Seriously, does Ali always think of this guy she is really serious about dating/is sleeping with/considering marrying as “New Boy” Dave??  It was SO annoying.   I decided to stop by and talk with “New Boy” Dave on my way home.  What.  Even.

Anyway, the story itself was fine.  I feel like it’s really difficult to write a book about immigrants/refugees without becoming somewhat polemic, and because it is such a complicated and nuanced topic, I don’t always appreciate reading books that turn it into something incredibly simplistic (e.g., all immigrants are precious innocents and if you don’t agree it’s because you are a money-grubbing fat cat), but this book handled the topic fairly well.  All in all, a decent read that I did enjoy, but not as much as some of Robotham’s other books.  3.5/5.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

//published 2001//

Velde introduces her slim volume of short stories by outlining what she perceives as the big issues with the classic fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin:  basically, it doesn’t make any sense.  But she then presents five alternative retellings that help make a nonsensical story feel at least slightly more plausible (at least in worlds with fairies and magic).  While nothing earth-shattering, they were fun stories and a quick, entertaining read.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

//published 1978//

This is an old favorite of mine that I have reread many times over the year.  It’s such a fun retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  A lot of reviewers complain that it’s too slow and that too much time is spent on Beauty’s life before she meets the Beast, but that’s actually the part of this story that I love.  In this version, Beauty’s family is so kind and happy that I would have been perfectly content to spend the entire story just hanging out with them while they adjusted to their new life.  My only real beef with this version is that Beauty spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how plain she is, how ugly, how physically unappealing, etc.  I get really tired of listening to her run herself down, when it’s quite obvious that she just isn’t as stunningly beautiful as her older sisters – probably because she is only fifteen when the book starts and they are in their early 20’s.  Other than that, though, this is a really fun and engaging story, and even if it isn’t action-packed, it has a lot of characters that I love.  4/5.

Rescue Dog of the High Pass by Jim Kjelgaard

//published 1958//

This is one of the rare Kjelgaard books that I didn’t devour as a child, probably because the library didn’t have it.  Recently I acquired it as a free Kindle book, and while it wasn’t my new favorite, it was still an interesting story about Kjelgaard’s theory of the origin of the St. Bernard dogs (an event that is actually lost in the mists of time), which of course involves a young hero and his faithful canine companion.  Nothing amazing here, but an enjoying and interesting little story that I would sometime like to land a hard copy of for my permanent collection.

Forest Patrol // by Jim Kjelgaard


//published 1941//

Forest Patrol was one of the few Kjelgaard books I hadn’t read before.  It’s free as a Kindle book on Amazon, so that was a win.  I actually really enjoyed this story about a young man (of course) who yearns to become a forest ranger and who is working as a trapper to save money to go to school.  However, opportunity comes before then – the chance to work as an interim ranger for a year, as the regular ranger has been given a different assignment for that time.


I quite like this frontspiece

John makes a good protagonist.  Like most of Kjelgaard’s heroes, John is hardworking, industrious, honest, and determined.  He understands that he has much to learn, but also knows his strengths.  While the book sometimes meandered into the territory of a lecture on the responsibilities of a forest ranger in the 1940’s (luckily, that’s rather interesting in and of itself), overall he sticks to just the story of John’s day-to-day life as he learns about and comes to love the land he’s been given to guard and protect.

While Forest Patrol is not as action-packed as some of Kjelgaard’s stories, I still found it interesting and a worthwhile read, and a book I’d like to eventually add to my hard-copy library.  4/5.

A Nose for Trouble by Jim Kjelgaard


//published 1949//

Well, I am almost through my stack of Kjelgaard books.  I’ve saved my two favorites for last – Snow Dog and its sequel, Wild Trek.  However, I was excited to read A Nose for Trouble, as I had never read it before – I found it on Paperback Swap not long ago.  While this story of adventure and poaching was a decent read, it didn’t rise to the top of my favorite Kjelgaard books by any means.

Our story centers on Tom Rainse, who is returning to his home up in the mountains after an indeterminate amount of time for unspecified reasons (Kjelgaard is, if I’m honest, never big on back stories).  Tom isn’t planning to stay long (for unknown reasons), but changes his mind when he discovers that there is a lot of drama going on in his previously quiet mountains.  Times are changing.  For generations, the mountain folk have lived their quiet, hard lives, hunting and trapping as they needed to for food.  Now (in the 1940’s), game regulations are becoming a thing, with specified seasons for different animals, in an attempt to preserve game for future generations as well.  The mountain folk are not open to this kind of interference from the government, and resent the game warden, Buck.  However, Buck has bigger things on his plate than the few deer and rabbits that the mountain folk are shooting out of season – big-time poachers are beginning to realize that they can make a lot of money by harvesting as much game as possible to sell in the cities, and a ring of poachers, headed by a man known as the Black Elk, are shooting everything they can in Tom’s area – and they’ll do whatever it takes to protect their interests.

This book had a little more drama than a lot of Kjelgaard’s books, with a couple of attempted murders and a lot of angst between the mountain folk and the game warden.  Tom, who has spent time outside of the mountains and understands how the world is changing, believes in the work the game warden is trying to accomplish, and gets caught in the midst of the fight between the warden, the Black Elk’s gang, and the antipathy of the mountain folk towards both parties.  Throughout, Tom is able to work to catch the Black Elk thanks to the assistance of his bloodhound cross, Smoky.

While the story was decent, and Tom a likable protagonist, the plot was rather loose and fairly unbelievable.  I enjoyed it as a one-time read, and would like to get my hands on the sequel, Trailing Trouble, but overall not one of Kjelgaard’s strongest works.  3/5.

The Black Fawn // by Jim Kjelgaard


//published 1958//

Continuing my read (/most rereads) of Kjelgaard’s works, I was intrigued to pick up The Black Fawn, which I had not read in several years.  (And by that, I mean probably 15?!  How am I old enough to have gone 15 years since reading a book that I last read in high school…!??!?!?)  As an aside, the copy that I have is the exact one that I checked out of the library those many years ago…  I am a huge fan of library booksales and snagging discards.  I love the old cloth-bound library editions, which they don’t seem to publish any more.  This one I picked up back in 2000 at a sale, complete with the library card that I signed back in the day…

Anyway.  This book is about Bud, a young orphan who is “farmed out” to an older couple in the countryside.  I realize that there were a lot of problems with the system that sent older orphans out to the country to help farmers, but in some ways I wonder if we shouldn’t revisit that system, where kids are sent someplace to learn the value of hard work and industry.  But lands on his feet, as Gramps and Gram are a wonderful couple who don’t really need help as much as a young person about the place now that their own pack of kids have grown and gone.

While most of Kjelgaard’s books are about boys who have grown up knowing woodlore, Bud knows nothing about country life, but he picks up quickly as Gramps is a fantastic role model, who loves his wife, his family, his farm, fishing, hunting, and all those other things that make up the stereotypical male of the 1950’s.  (Not that I’m bashing it.  I married a guy straight from the 1950’s stereotype and it’s brilliant; highly recommended.)


//an actual black fawn//and a link to a webpage that talks about the genetic reasoning behind the coloration//

Anyway, during one of his first evenings on the farm, Bud comes across a newborn fawn who is an abnormally dark color, almost black.  Believing that the fawn has been orphaned and abandoned like himself, Bud stays with it until Gramps comes to find him, and reassures him that the fawn’s mother is close by and will still care for her baby.  Throughout the next several years, Bud continues to believe that his fate is linked with that of the black buck, who has grown into magnificent maturity.  Bud himself grows to love the farm, and wants to become a farmer himself when he grows up.

There were a lot of things about this story that I really liked.  There are a lot more feelings in this book than a lot of Kjelgaard’s books, which tend to be more action-oriented.  The love that creates a family between Gramps, Gram, and Bud is obvious, but Kjelgaard doesn’t pretend that it happens like magic.  Some of Bud’s early days at the farm are rough, and even after he has found his feet, he still struggles with feelings of inadequacy and worries that he is unwanted and that they will send him back.

I also appreciated the fact that, when Bud first goes to school and is belligerent and acting like a tough guy, his teacher actually clocks him.

All at once [Bud] found himself sitting on the floor.  Lights danced in his head.  He blinked owlishly, and as if from a great distance, he heard Mr. Harris say, “Get up, Allan.  Your seat is the third one in the first row.  Take it.”

After school, Mr. Harris takes Bud home and has a man-to-man talk with him:

“You needed that cuffing I gave you.”

Bud said nothing as Mr. Harris continued, “You had it coming and you know it.  I know exactly what you were thinking and why.  Stop thinking it.

“Let me tell you about another boy,” Mr. Harris said, “another orphan.  He was farmed out when he was just about your age, and he went to a new school exactly as you did.  Inside, he was frightened as a rabbit with five dogs and nine cats backing him into a corner, but he was afraid to let anyone else know that.  The teacher reprimanded him and he shouted at him.  Then, because he was convinced that only tough guys can get along, he hit the teacher with a chair.  The boy was twelve when it happened.  he was eighteen when he finally got out of reform school. …  It’s a true story, as I should know.  The boy’s name was Jeffrey Chandler Harris, who now teaches eighth grade at Haleyville Consolidated School.  I’ve wished many a time that that teacher had had sense enough to clobber me when I most needed it.”

Definitely a product of the times!  Do any of you think that there is any time when a teacher ought to be justified in “clobbering” a student….??


//another pic because gosh he’s cute//

At any rate, even though there were a lot of things about this story that I really enjoyed, it really felt like it could have been fleshed out a lot more.  The story covers about 4-5 years, and it seemed like there was a lot of character development that just sort of was skimmed over.  I would have liked a lot more to the story, but I suppose that this is technically a children’s book, so that may explain it.

Overall, though, I enjoyed this book a lot more than I remembered doing so the first the time (back in the distant mists of time) and would put this at a 4/5.  Kjelgaard does a really excellent job of weaving Bud’s life together with the black fawn’s without making it ridiculous or unnatural.  Bud, Gramps, and Gram are all very likable, yet realistic, characters, and while I would have liked to see more about their development, it was probably about the right amount for a 6th-8th grade level, which is the intended audience for the story.  As always, Kjelgaard emphasizes the importance of traits like diligence, honesty, industry, respect, and independence, and does it (for the most part) in a way that feels natural.  Another solid read for any young people in your life who love animals and the outdoors.

Stormy // by Jim Kjelgaard

//published 1959//

//published 1959//

In this Kjelgaard story, we meet Allan.  He lives, of course, in the wilderness.  He and his father work as hunting guides in an area known especially for its duck hunting.  Unfortunately, a few months before the opening of our book, Allan’s father was arrested and imprisoned for getting into a fight with a neighbor that nearly did the neighbor in.  Allan, a quiet youth presumably around twenty, is doing his best to carry on.  But their property is landlocked by the now-feuding neighbors, who have reduced Allan’s right-of-way to a mere footpath, which means – no hunters and no income.

But Allan carries on, planting a garden, running a trapline, and, in general, eking out a living as best he can from the land, all while traipsing into the city to visit his father on visiting days.  Allan’s peaceful routine is interrupted when a dog shows up on his property – a dog that Allan soon discovers is also an outlaw – wanted for attacking a man.  Allan befriends and earns the trust of the dog, whom he names Stormy, and they work together to survive the long winter.

In many ways, this book is a little different from some of Kjelgaard’s other works.  Despite his woodlore, Allan is not a perfect figure – he struggles to control his temper when provoked by the neighbors, and wrestles with what to tell his father when asked how hunting season is going.  He doesn’t always make smart decisions, and has to live with some poor choices.  More so than most of Kjelgaard’s other books, Allan is a loner, and a lot of the book is his internal dialogue.

The story is also slightly preachier than others that I have read, with a very strong emphasis on the importance of balanced and humane wildlife management – which means that there simply must be some hunting done by humans.  At one point in the winter, Allan comes across deer that have “yarded” – as a herd, they keep a certain area of snow trampled down, but as the snow deepens, they are unable to leave that yard and thus have a limited amount of food to get them through the winter.  Allan reflects on the fact that, with a lack of natural predators, the number of deer have increased.

Allan thought suddenly of a magazine story he had read.  It was an impassioned and over-sentimentalized plea for wildlife and at the same time a vitriolic denunciation of hunters.  The author painted vivid word pictures of wild creatures shot down.  He called deer “the forest’s innocents,” and railed about the viciousness of shooting them with firearms.  Allan decided as he walked along that he would like to bring that author to this yard about the middle of March and let him see for himself what happened to many of “the forest’s innocents” when there was too little browse to go around.  A bullet offered a far kinder death than slow starvation.  If deer were harvested sensibly rather than sentimentally, a fair share of those that died every winter anyhow would provide valuable food for humans.

While not jarring, many of these little side musings are not integral to the story.  And although I generally agreed with the sentiments, I sometimes found myself skimming a bit to get to the next bit of action.

But if I’m honest, Stormy really isn’t terribly long on action.  While there is a certain level of suspense as to what will happen to Allan and Stormy long term, most of the book is just the two of them meandering around doing a bit of this and that.  It’s a book that would probably only be interesting to those who are intrigued by woodlore and the idea of living off the land.  While I give it a 3/5 for a decent read, I would definitely recommend some of Kjelgaard’s other works – like Wild Trek and Lion Hound – first.

Haunt Fox // by Jim Kjelgaard

After Lion Hound and Wild Trek, I believe Haunt Fox was the next Jim Kjelgaard book that I read.  My name and phone number are still inscribed inside the battered Bantam-Skylark paperback that I own, but no date, although from my handwriting I would guess somewhere around 10 or 11.  (Mainly because I remember learning to write my name in cursive sometime around that time so that I could get a library card!)


//published 1954//


This story is mostly about a fox named Star.  We meet him as he is experiencing the first snowfall of his life, and follow him through the raising of his first litter.  Parallel to Star’s story is that of Jack Crowley and Jack’s foxhound, Thunder.  Throughout the book, all three youngsters learn, in their own way, what it means to be an adult.

My handwriting has only improved moderately over the years.

My handwriting has only improved moderately over the years.

Like most of Kjelgaard’s books, this is not a tale of great depth and intrigue.  However, it has those gentle life-lessons that seem to so frequently be lacking in children’s books these days – the importance of honesty, hard-work, frugality, honor, loyalty, and compassion.  Jack’s parents are portrayed as simple, kind, honest people, and Jack wants to be just like them.  He sees their good, solid, respectable life and wants the same thing for himself.  He doesn’t spend the entire book carrying on an internal  monologue about how out-dated his dad is, or how he doesn’t understand what Jack is going through.  Instead, he looks to his dad as a role model – someone he loves and trusts.  Jack’s dad, in turn, gives Jack opportunities to prove himself.  Some of those Jack fails, but ultimately he succeeds in learning the rather vague lesson of what makes a man a good man – something that cannot really be described in so many words, but is known when someone is.

In the meantime, we have the story of Star.  The fox learns many lessons as he grows, for Mother Nature is a harsh taskmaster as well, leaving little room for mistakes.  Star finds a mate, defeats his arch-enemy, learns to run from the hounds, out-thinks the hunter, and raises a family.  Kjelgaard paints a simple yet complex picture of wilderness life.  He always does an excellent job catching essence of animals – he doesn’t try to make them have actual conversations with words, but describes an animal’s more simplistic way of viewing life in a way that makes the animals more real – not only are we learning about Star, we are learning about foxes in general, including foxes I may see in my own woods.

Haunt Fox is one of my favorite Kjelgaard books, and an easy 4/5.  If you have animal-loving children in your life, I highly recommend this book.  There is some violence and some death, yes, but that is the way of nature.  Kjelgaard balances this with the importance of thoughtful hunting and trapping as a means of preserving a natural balance of life.  A truly great conservationist, Kjelgaard shows rather than tells how critical it is for humans to take responsibility for the nature upon which they have infringed, to preserve and protect it, not just for the sake of nature, but for the sake of ourselves as well.

May Minireviews

Gah, so yes, I’m always so behind on reviews, even though I haven’t been reading nearly as much!!  Is it June 4?  Yes it is.  Have I been working on this same post for days?  Yes I have.  Does it only have three minireviews so it really shouldn’t have taken that long?  Yes it does.  Ah well!  Better late than never! :-D

//Dragonflight//by Anne McCaffrey//published 1968//


A while back I read a trilogy by McCaffrey set in the world of Pern.  While I enjoyed the series, I found much of it complicated and involved.  However, as I did some more research, I found out that McCaffrey wrote a LOT of books that take place in Pern.  I decided to start at the beginning and start reading through them and see if they made more sense that way.

Apparently, even though the trilogy I read (Harper Hall) were technically a stand-alone trilogy, they are set later in the history of Pern than the Dragonrider trilogy, which is the first trilogy McCaffrey wrote.  I’m working on reading the Pern books in their published order (which is roughly, but not completely, chronologically, from my understanding).

All that to say, Dragonflight is the first Pern book McCaffrey wrote, and I actually really enjoyed it.  And, bonus, it made my retrospective reading of the Harper Hall trilogy more enjoyable as well, as a lot of what was going on in those stories make way more sense in the context of these earlier books.

These are definitely high fantasy in the sense that the world-building is extensive and the tone is somewhat serious.  However, besides the dragons, there really isn’t a lot of “fantasy.”  The people of Pern do not have magic or wizards or spells or witches.  They are simple farmers, craftsmen, and dragonriders.

I’m looking forward to delving more into Pern; I just started the second book (Dragonquest) today.  McCaffrey weaves a strong story, doing a good job of making Dragonflight a whole book while still building for the next.

//Girl Missing//by Tess Gerritsen//published 1994 as Peggy Sue Got Murdered; this edition 2004//


I originally read about this book in a review over at Reading, Writing & Riesling, so thanks!!

Girl Missing is what I think of as a “lite” thriller.  While there is definitely a mystery and some edge, I never reached a point where this book would have kept me up all night.  It’s actually a really fast read, and a solid 3/5 for me.

The protagonist, Kat, is a medical examiner.  When a Jane Doe shows up at the morgue it isn’t too unusual – but when several more bodies crop up, Kat is afraid that a new drug of some kind is sweeping through the streets on the “bad” side of town.  But because they’re “just druggies,” Kat’s boss, the mayor, and Kat’s ex-husband (who is also the DA), are way more concerned about the celebrating the city’s bicentennial and making themselves look good than they are about pursuing the possibly-but-not-proven connected deaths of some local lowlifes.

Like I said, this was overall a decent read, but it lacked something for me. I never really felt connected with Kat or with what was going on with her.  She was from that “bad” neighborhood, but we never really got a lot of back story as to how she got out.  We’re told that her mother wanted her to be a doctor and come back to the neighborhood, but Kat is basically like “yeah, not for me” and that’s kind of the end of it.  She meets a rich dude and they become the unlikely duo, but because Kat isn’t sure if she can trust  him or not, I wasn’t sure if I could trust him or not, so I ended up not connecting with him, either.  Somehow this book was just a little too fast, so it felt like a lot of things kind of glossed, and while the ending made okay sense, it didn’t make brilliant sense – I didn’t really feel like Gerritsen had given me a lot of clues, so it kind of felt random.

Also, speaking of random, I was completely distracted by the original title and kept waiting for Peggy Sue…  who never appeared.

So yes, a definite middle-of-the-road read for me.  Enjoyable, but not super engaging.  It didn’t really drive me to read any of Gerritsen’s other works…  does anyone out there have a suggestion for a favorite of hers that they think is a better representation of her writing??

//Hidden Trail//by Jim Kjelgaard//published 1962//


I’m still working my way through all the Kjelgaard books that I own.  Hidden Trail is a typical Kjelgaard read, with plenty of wilderness adventure.

Jase is the hero of this story.  He’s a photographer for the Conservation Department, and is assigned by the government to take pictorial record of various natural happenings in parks, national forests, etc.  Along with his faithful companion, Buckles the Airedale, Jase heads out into the wilderness at the drop of a hat, often for weeks at a time.

When our story opens, he is being sent to record the migration of elk from their summer feeding grounds in a big national park to their winter feeding grounds.  Along the way, they have to face hunting season (outside the park), plus plenty of natural predators and dangers.  However, a secondary project for Jase is figuring out why there are so many more elk at the summer grounds than the winter grounds.  The difference (over a thousand elk) cannot be accounted for by hunters.  How could that many elk simply disappear?  Jase formulates a theory, and follows a rogue herd of elk east instead of south, encountering dangers – including poachers – along the way.

This is an interesting little story, perhaps more interesting fifty years after it was written.  Several pages are devoted to Jase’s careful choosing of various photographic equipment and explanations of how he can make it work despite cold and possibly damp weather.  How far that kind of thing has come over the decades!

While this is a great adventure, it bogs down a bit when Jase discovers that the Indians are hunting some of the elk illegally.  He’s befriended by an Indian, then they are caught by poachers, then Jase escapes and then…  his Indian friend is just gone for a while?  And then shows back up?  And then the whole story just ends really fast.  So while it was a fun story, it felt a little disjointed and rushed at the end.  Some of the time, Kjelgaard puts a little too much emphasis on conservation/natural history, interfering a bit with the flow of his story.  This book wasn’t too bad, but there were definitely points where it felt a little preachy about the importance of preserving a natural balance.

Still, I always enjoy Kjelgaard, if for no other reason than all the happy memories they bring back, of a time when I was convinced that my future life would be lived out in a small trapper’s cabin in the wilderness with no companions other than my faithful dogs!

Desert Dog

//by Jim Kjelgaard//published 1956//

51PUgcyBgXL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_So, as I mentioned the other day, I recently reread one of my childhood favorites by this author, Lion Hound.  Many of Kjelgaard’s books were my companions when I was growing up, and I’ll probably be reading them all within the next month or so – Snow Dog, Haunt Fox, Wild Trek, Big Red, and more.  (Not sure why Kjelgaard loves those two-word titles, but he does…  and even his chapters reflect that – “Fred Haver,” “Puppy Stake,”  “The Desert,” “High Country,” etc.)

However, despite my love for Kjelgaard’s work as a child, Desert Dog was one I had never read before.  Apparently, my library didn’t own a copy.  But I came across it on Paperback Swap the other day and ordered it.  It was actually pretty fun to read a Kjelgaard book I hadn’t read when I was a kid.  I own one other that I’ve never read, so I’ll get to that one, too.

But here’s the thing – while Desert Dog was a perfectly acceptable read, it didn’t really do a lot for me. It was a pretty solid 3/5.  So the question is – was this just a more mediocre example of Kjelgaard’s works, or are my readings of his other books simply colored with my warm childhood memories??  Quite the mystery….

Desert Dog is about Tawny, a racing greyhound.  At the beginning of the book, Tawny’s trainer, to whom Tawny is completely devoted, dies.  Of course Tawny doesn’t really understand this, or the changes in his life because of Haver’s death.  We meander through a couple of chapters of Tawny being confused, of Tawny running a race, and of Tawny’s owner getting ready to sell him to someone else.  But when Tawny’s owner and the potential buyer go out to the desert to see Tawny run, something snaps in the dog, and he takes off.  The rest of the book is about his adventures surviving – and even thriving – in the desert.

Kjelgaard is usually a bit vague about where his  books take place.  He sometimes makes up names rather than using real ones (I just finished reading Big Red, and apparently the Wintapi Wilderness isn’t a real place!?), so he doesn’t really tell us specifically where Tawny’s desert is – but it’s definitely in the States, so it’s presumably somewhere in the southwest.  It’s a rugged terrain, but Tawny was bred for desert life, and he is able to survive where a lesser dog would not have.

I think that the reason that I didn’t enjoy Desert Dog as much as some of Kjelgaard’s other works is that the story wasn’t as cohesive.  For instance, in Lion Hound, while it may be a bit corny, Buck is determined to track and kill the lion who killed his master.  We also have the story of Johnny, who loves Buck, and loved Buck’s owner, and who wants to find and care for the dog.  Many of Kjelgaard’s books follow a similar theme – intelligent dog striving for a goal of some kind + hardworking boy who loves dog + wilderness.  But Desert Dog doesn’t have that type of story, mainly because Tawny doesn’t really have a story.  He’s just sort of meandering about trying not to die, and even that isn’t too exciting because Kjelgaard stresses how the greyhound was built/bred for this type of life, so it comes naturally to him.  Things pick up a bit when Tawny runs into the wild dog pack, though, so the last half/third of the book was more engaging, but still lacked the drive of some of Kjelgaard’s other books.

While Desert Dog will never be a favorite, it was still a decent read and a book that would definitely have appealed to my younger, dog-crazy self – a book that would be enjoyed by any other young dog lover out there.

Lion Hound

//by Jim Kjelgaard//published 1955//


When I was probably 11 or 12, I found some old books in a closet at my grandma’s house.  The books had belong to my dad and his sister.  Those books were my introduction to Marguerite Henry (Misty of Chincoteague), Jean Craighead George (My Side of the Mountain), and, perhaps most importantly, Jim Kjelgaard.  Two of his books were in that closet – Lion Hound and Wild Trek.  They were older copies, hardcover, from the Scholastic Book Club, and had originally belonged to Grandma’s mom, who was a school teacher.  While I eventually ended up with Wild Trek (and My Side of the Mountain), I have no idea whatever happened to Lion Hound.  And then, the other day, I realized that I really, really wanted to read it again.  Thanks to the power of the internet, I had no trouble finding a copy, although the Bantam-Skylark paperback version isn’t the same as the old hardcover Scholastic – even the cover picture was more exciting on the hardcover!

61u9QVXXtZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_But no matter.  The important part is that I found it again and 100% enjoyed my trip down memory lane.

Jim Kjelgaard has been weirdly influential in my life.  His books encouraged me to cherish and enjoy the outdoors, to learn as much about wildlife as I could, to appreciate the balance that responsible hunters and trappers provide, and to realize that dogs are far superior to cats in almost every way (sorry, Mary Rose).

 But I didn’t realize, the first time that I read Lion Hound, that I was reading a book that would stick with me for the rest of my life, and would cause me to snap up every Jim Kjelgaard book I came across.  I just knew that I enjoyed the story.

Johnny lives out in the mountains somewhere west.  He lives with his grandpa, who used to be a bounty hunter (for animals, not people…  hunters would get paid for killing livestock-eating animals, like mountains lions and coyotes).  Johnny has grown up loving the outdoors, but recognizes that the day of the bounty hunter is drawing to a close.  He is planning to attend college and work in the forest service.

But for now, in high school, he is an average student who enjoys spending his weekends, whenever possible, hunting with Jake Kane.  Jake, an older man (but not elderly like Grand Pop), is a bachelor who lives with his hounds a little ways from Johnny and Grand Pop.  Jake is the last  bounty hunter of the region, and knows the wilderness like the back of his hand.  Although the area is more populated than it used to be, mountain lions are not uncommon, and Jake spends a great deal of the winter hunting them.

At the beginning of our story, a big lion has come into the neighborhood.  Kjelgaard tells us what the humans in the story never know – the lion’s back-story, and why he has an extra dose of hatred for men and dogs.  At the beginning of the story we also meet Jake’s new litter of hound puppies, including a little red one, Buck.  Johnny is very impressed by Buck and wishes he could have a dog just like him, but Buck is a one-man dog, and that man is Jake Kane.

 I’m not sure I can explain why I love this story so much.  As an adult, I realize that it is really a rather strange story in many ways.  We never find out why Johnny lives with his grandpa, or what happened to his parents.  We don’t know exactly where he lives, or really very much about him at all.  The same is true with Jake.  How did he become the bounty hunter that he is?  When did he start raising hounds?  Why is Sallie his favorite one?  It is, really,  a rather sparse story.  We know more about the lion’s childhood than Johnny’s.

However, that seems to fit what Kjelgaard is doing.  He is writing a story about straightforward, hardworking men and their dogs, who live in a sparse, rugged country doing difficult, dangerous work.  And the story works.  I didn’t wonder about any questions of background or character backstory.  Kjelgaard told what needed to be told in order to tell the story.  And despite the fact that I don’t know anything about Johnny’s parents, Kjelgaard manages to paint a vivid character study of Johnny himself, and the two men in his life.

There aren’t really any females in Lion Hound.  Most of Kjelgaard’s stories are about boys and dogs and their adventures.  Somehow, despite the lack of female role models in the stories, though, I devoured them as a child.  I read constantly nowadays about how critical it is that girls read stories about girls doing amazing things, otherwise girls won’t be able to realize that they, too, can do these amazing things.  And while I have nothing against female protagonist, I don’t really understand this kind of reasoning.  Even though Kjelgaard’s stories were about boys, I never doubted that I could do everything they did.  I knew that I was just as intelligent as they were, and that I could learn to do anything any boy could learn how to do.  I daydreamed and wrote stories about living in the wilderness, and had an imaginary pack of dogs at my heels every time I played outside.  I climbed trees and built forts and dams, and learned about birds, animals, trees, and edible plants.  Even though there weren’t any girls doing those things in Kjelgaard’s stories, even as a child I had no doubts that Kjelgaard wrote about boys because he was a boy, but that I was a girl and could anything any boy could, if I cared to try.  I didn’t need a female protagonist to take me by the hand and reassure me, and I don’t think most girls do.  It seems rather insulting, really, to say that girls will only realize that they can do things if they read/see/hear about other girls doing them, as though they are too stupid to make the connection otherwise.

But I digress.  The point is, Kjelgaard’s books are a delight to me.  Some I loved more than others, but I’m getting ready to binge by reading every Kjelgaard book I own, so you’ll be hearing about those in due time.

 Lion Hound was a childhood favorite, but it was well worth the read as an adult.  A simple, rugged story of a boy, a dog, and an enemy, with quiet lessons about hard work, loyalty, and integrity.  5/5.