September Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, reviewing September books in November actually feels not completely unreasonable haha At least we’re in the same season!! September was actually a really slow reading month for me, so it shouldn’t take me too long to get through these!!

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!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Duke’s Disappearance by Margaret Summerville – 3.5*

Another paperback from my box of eBay Regency romances, this one was actually one of the better ones I’ve read from that pile.  While it didn’t become a new favorite that I wanted to read again and again, the set-up actually felt plausible and the story was a lot of fun.

Fallen by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2021//

Ever since I read the Kate Burkholder series in 2019, I’ve tried to stay on top of reading the new installments as they appear.  Fallen was an overall solid thriller, although there was one point where the bad guys had an opportunity to kill Kate outright and not doing so felt a little unrealistic for the situation lol  I really enjoy this series a lot as Castillo does such a great job with the Amish community in her writing.  I highly recommend reading these in order – I think they would work individually, but reading them as a whole gives us a real picture of Kate as a person.  I have loved seeing her grow and work through various issues in her life.  Also, I’m still in love with Tomasetti haha

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton – 4*

//published 2021//

I literally don’t even know how to review this book.  It’s set in Regency-ish times and there are pirates and flying houses and a homeless pirate and romance and betrayal and tea and rogues and genteel ladies and just absolute insane amount of shenanigans.  There’s a blurb on the front cover that says, “Delightfully bonkers” and I honestly can’t think of a better way to sum this one up.  If you’re looking for something sensible and orderly, give this one a miss.  But if you’re willing to just set aside any hope for logic and plausibility and go along for the ride, this was a pretty fun read.  And the cover!!!

Flint Spears by Will James – 4*

//published 1938//

A while back I read James’s most famous book, Smoky the Cow-Horse, and was surprised at how engaging and readable it was.  The following fall, we were on vacation and stopped at a bookstore in Wall Drug, South Dakota, where I saw a reprint of another of James’s books and decided to add it to my collection.  This one didn’t have much of a plot, but I found myself drawn into the story nonetheless.  James follows the career of a cowboy named Flint Spears who is around when rodeos were first becoming a commercial enterprise.  And… that’s pretty much the whole story.  If you think about someone’s life, it doesn’t exactly have a plot, it’s just you going around doing your everyday thing and hoping for the best, and that’s pretty much what happens here.  I really liked Flint a lot and learning about the origins of the rodeo and seeing how different aspects of it developed was really interesting, but there wasn’t a big finale or anything like that.  James also decided to kill off a character I really liked and it honestly broke me up a lot.  I loved James’s illustrations (he drew them himself), and despite this story just being kind of meandery and not really going anywhere, I would definitely read another of his books.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling – 5*

September saw the conclusion of my reread of the Harry Potter series.  I still really love how everything comes together in the end, and still think Snape was a terrible person despite some redeeming qualities.  Sorry, a teacher who verbally and emotionally abuses students every chance he gets isn’t a good person, period.  I was struck this time, probably because I was reading it a chapter-a-day instead of as fast as I could, how much of the book not much is actually happening, the trio are just wandering around trying to figure out what they should do.  It was an interesting way to write the book, and I feel like an honest way, if that makes sense.  Sometimes you don’t know what to do, and you just go along and hope for a breakthrough.  On the whole, this series definitely has its weaknesses, but I still enjoy it nonetheless.

Smoky the Cow Horse // by Will James

It seemed like Mother Nature was sure agreeable that day when the little black colt came to the range world and tried to get a footing with his long wobblety legs on the brown prairie sod.  Short stems of new green grass was trying to make their way up thru the last year’s faded growth and reaching for the sun’s warm rays.  Taking in all that could be seen, felt, and inhaled, there was no day, time, nor place that could beat that spring morning on the sunny side of the low prairie butte where Smoky the cold was foaled.

//published 1926//

So begins the tale of Smoky, born on the Rocking R range in the early 1900’s.  In a lot of ways, this book is kind of like a western version of Black Beauty, although Smoky doesn’t narrate his own story (and the horses don’t talk to one another).  Instead, James tells us about Smoky’s life, from his birth out on the range onwards.  At first, James’s method of writing like he talks, with a sort of western drawl, including things like saying “tho” instead of “though” and writing out words like he pronounces them (“cayote” instead of “coyote” etc) really got on my nerves, but once I kind of got into his groove I really enjoyed the story.  As a kid, I LOVED stories about animals, and I’m not sure how I never got around to reading this one – possibly because it’s a Newbery Award book – I have an inherent distrust for books with awards as they tend to be depressing deeply meaningful.

Like Black Beauty, James draws attention to methods of horse handling, both good and bad.  He explains the reasoning behind the cowboy way of “breaking” a horse, and talks about misconceptions of that method.  But he also presents men who did want to break a horse’s spirit, and paints their methods as despicable. Smoky himself lives life on the range for the first several years of his life, although he isn’t technically a wild horse – at the time (and still, actually), many ranches simply let their horses do their own thing until they were needed.  Every year a roundup was held wherein that year’s colts were branded and gelded, and the horses now old enough to be broken were cut out and kept.  The brood mares, younger horses, and retired horses were all let back out on the range until the next year.  This story follows Smoky through his early years on the range, where he runs into all kinds of wild critters, to his training to become a true cow horse.  Later, Smoky is stolen and sold.  He works in a rodeo and as a rental horse in a tourist town, and, like Black Beauty, drops lower and lower in the ranks of horses through age and mistreatment, before ultimately being reunited with friends from better days.

It’s been almost a hundred years since this book was published, so there are some instances of language that a current-day reader may find insensitive or offensive, most notably when Smoky is rustled by a thief who is “a half-breed of Mexican and other blood that’s darker, and [mistreatment of his horse] showed that he was a halfbreed from the bad side, not caring, and with no pride.”  While James has other non-white characters who are not “bad guys”, his method of referring to this character as a “darky” or “half-breed” throughout this portion of the story is a little uncomfortable, even as it is a reminder of how different our sensibilities are now than they were in 1926.

James himself is an interesting character – born in a covered wagon in 1892, self-educated, cowboy/illustrator/author.  (He did his own drawings for the story.)  I think that one of the reasons that James’s voice in this book stopped annoying me was because it was so sincere.  James wasn’t trying to sound this way: it’s just the way he sounds.  It didn’t take long for me to hear this entire story being told in a nice, deep, western drawl – a campfire story about a gutsy little horse.

While Smoky didn’t become my new favorite book, it was still an easy 4* read.  It’s an interesting look at a slice of life written by someone who was there, and if you have a horse-crazy kid in your life, this would be a great read for a slightly advanced reader, or as a discussion book as there are a lot of adventures to unpack.

NB: This was originally a title I picked to read for #20BooksofSummer.  Better late than never, right??