Mini-Reviews–prose, undercover operatives, and the Black Death

Hello, friends!

So….time is a thing. A lot of it has diminished and passed into the undying lands since I last graced you all with my presence. I’ve been quite busy–and I’m not exactly about to get LESS busy…but what else is new?

A short update of the past few months:

  • My youngest sister got married. *distant screaming*
  • Yes, I’ve definitely fully processed this mentally and emotionally and I’m totally used to the fact that she’s a married woman now, why do you ask???
  • (Also marriage means I HAVE A BROTHER NOW. I’ve never had one of those before.)
  • I taught a musical theatre workshop. In other words, I taught choreography to children. There were mosquitoes, eight-year-old boys with very short attention spans, the blazing heat of the SUN, and the general stress and panic of teaching choreography to a large group of children for the first time. But it was great fun. Golly, I love dancing.
  • I re-read The Lord of the Rings for the first time since I was….fourteen. I have thoughts. Some unpopular opinions and a great deal of angst, but also HOBBITS ARE SO WHOLESOME.
  • WordPress…declared war on me? A few weeks ago I psyched myself up to get back into blogging only to be beset by technical difficulties. (For example, it wouldn’t let me comment on a post without re-logging in–and then re-logging in AGAIN. And again. And basically it just wouldn’t let me post a comment. [booooooo]).
  • [Also, I keep thinking I’m going to get back into blogging, but then I think I need to read and comment on ALL THE POSTS that have happened since I disappeared, and…I am overwhelmed. And unnecessarily guilty? Why am I like this????]

Anyhoo, I think it’s high time we talked about books, because that is always a desirable topic of conversation.

It has been ages since I wrote a mini-reviews post, and some of these books I read as far back as…April? Will I remember the finer details of the plots? Will I remember the main characters’ names? Who can say??

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger

My Very Informative Summary: Jeremiah Land can work miracles. Reuben knows this because he has seen them happen. This family is very dear, but Things Happen (things I will not give away even though the stinkin’ back cover does [don’t read the back cover, kids]), and they decide to take a roadtrip across the midwest.

(I can see this is not going to be a good day for informative summaries, but okay)

I Am Here For:

  • the PROSE
  • Leif Enger knows how to write. The prose is so solid I could cry
  • SWEDE. I love her dearly. I love her smart remarks and her vocabulary and her poetry and her typewriter and pretty much everything about her
  • Reuben. Being a child and being oblivious and making mistakes and being a DEAR
  • Gosh, I love Reuben
  • Jeremiah Land just lovin’ the lord and taking care of his kids
  • Davy, noooooooo
  • Miracles
  • Writing about God, Christianity, and spirituality without being preachy or cheesy. So thoughtfully and elegantly handled. I have so much respect.
  • What’s her name with the goats. She was excellent
  • The western influence/elements. I used to have no interest in westerns and now I begin to predict that I will be slowly converted by Swede and my new brother in law (not to mention that one subplot in CSO 2 and Sarah Seele…)
  • Parts that made me laugh out loud, but also parts that made me want to WEEP

Not So Here For:

  • Not 100% sold on the description of the place toward the end, but what can you do? I certainly don’t think I could have done any better. It’s just a really hard thing to pull off.

Conclusion: Such a solid book. Possibly the best I’ve read so far this year. I adore the characters and the prose and the just the way it makes you THINK about things.

Assignment in Brittany by Helen MacInnes

My Very Informative Summary: Hearne is a very wholesome undercover operative, posing as the Frenchman Charles Darnay Bertrand Corlay. We really hope he doesn’t get caught by the Nazis.

(No, there is no remote relation to Charles Darnay, but I have Tale of Two Cities on the brain at the moment, so that sentence ran away from me. You’ve gotta listen to the first ten seconds of this song to get the full effect)

I Am Here For:

  • How could you not love Hearne. He’s so wholesome
  • WWII spy novel WRITTEN IN 1941
  • I’m still geeking out about this
  • Hearne not knowing everything about the person he is pretending to be (may cause difficulties…)
  • Kerenor, Albertine, Anne, Mrs. Corlay, and…other characters whose names I cannot recall?
  • Random people one meets while traveling across the countryside
  • Hearne repeatedly blowing his cover just by being such a swell guy
  • Matthews…who isn’t even in it really? But I somehow became greatly attached to him through only the handful of times he was referenced

Not So Here For:

  • This isn’t actually a flaw, but I WANTED TO MEET MATTHEWS
  • The ending was a tad rushed, methinks?
  • There was one death (of an antagonist) that I had…issues with. Not that I don’t think that person should have died, but the way it happened…I was not a fan.

Conclusion: Did I mention it’s a WWII spy novel written DURING WWII? And did I further mention HEARNE??

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

My Very Informative Summary: It’s the 2050s and SOMEONE thinks it’s a good idea to send an undergrad back in time to the Middle Ages. That someone is not Mr. Dunworthy. No indeed. Mr. Dunworthy knows this is a VERY bad idea.

I Am Here For:

  • Mr. Dunoworthy. I literally came here for Mr. Dunworthy
  • COLIN. This kid.
  • Mr. Dunworthy being so overprotective and knowing that sending someone back to the middle ages is a BAD IDEA
  • Aunt Mary who thinks that children want mufflers for Christmas
  • Finch just Doing Everything
  • Mr. Dunworthy instantly adopting Colin, being determined to keep him safe and make sure he has Christmas presents, etc.
  • Did I mention Colin?? Colin being such an actual child who wants to run around Oxford without an umbrella in the middle of a pandemic
  • I love Colin so much
  • “You should have told me.” “I did tell you!” <<-MY HEART *screaming*
  • Colin, you dear child

Not So Here For:

  • ….So I didn’t want to read a book about the Black Death. But I thought, “Hey, I’ll try it.”
  • I respect all Connie Willis’s research and everything–kudos to you for the historical accuracy and details–but I really Really REALLY don’t want to read about giant swelling buboes and black slime in people’s mouths and blehhhhhhhhh
  • Also just the middle ages in general. Most of it was kind of horrible (twelve year old girls being married off to old men, etc.) I don’t really want to read about that.
  • And then everyone dying of the Black Death, so there’s that
  • In some ways, I wish I had read this pre-2020, because at this point reading about people wearing masks and stepping off the sidewalk when they see someone coming the other way…ugh. I read fiction to ESCAPE this stuff
  • Mr. Dunworthy sometimes being not as great as usual? Sad.
  • The weird Dunworthy/Kivrin to God/Jesus parallel? And the whole “God wouldn’t have sent Jesus to earth if he had known what people would do to him” because wHat???
  • Through reading this, I also realized I have issues with Connie Willis’s writing style in general. To Say Nothing of the Dog is (to the best of my memory) excellent, but Blackout, All Clear, and Doomsday Book all suffer from a habit of things often happening excruciatingly slowly. And it’s not just that it’s slow. It’s that she has to write out the entire thought process of the character–all the possible answers to a question, solutions to a problem, courses of action, etc.–have them land on what they think is true/the best way to move forward, and then be like “But they were WRONG”. And repeat that SIX MILLION TIMES. Or the characters keep jumping to the conclusion that something is resolved (when you know it obviously isn’t), spend a few pages explaining why the resolution is probably true, and then say “But it WASN’T.”
  • I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s very tiresome
  • (Side note: I think To Say Nothing of the Dog actually does this too, to an extent, but I think it works better there because it’s a comedy)

Conclusion: COLIN. Colin is the best. Mr. Dunworthy is sometimes great, but the rest is ehhhhhhhhh

The Bear House by Meaghan McIsaac

My Very Informative Summary: Ursula and Aster are the daughters of the Major (the ruler of…whatever this land is called). They’re probably a little spoiled and probably should be more respectful of bears, but Death and Destruction are coming their way, so they’ll probably learn some things.

I Am Here For:

  • Noble houses based on constellations
  • ….various world-building things? Some of it was cool?
  • (But do I remember it now??)
  • The religion. I mean, they were worshiping stars which I don’t particularly encourage, but I generally liked the way it was handled
  • Quotes from in-world writings at the start of every chapter
  • Cousins! Not the greatest cousin content I’ve ever seen, but it gets points just for the existence of cousins
  • Children of royal houses running for their lives from hostile takeover
  • That one kid whose name started with a Q. Don’t remember his name, but he was nice. He had a dragon.
  • Lorc. What a kid. (The potential for angst here)

Not So Here For:

  • I liked a lot of the ideas in this book, but the execution was somewhat lacking? It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. It was solidly Okay.
  • “Oooh, Nightlocks! Scaaaaary Nightlocks! Foreshadowing terrible things that will happen with Nightlocks!” …..and then nothing much happening with the Nightlocks
  • But I wanted them to meet Dev’s ma though

Conclusion: Like I said, it was solidly Okay. I liked a lot of the worldbuilding, and while I didn’t get as attached to any of the characters as I would have liked, I still had a fondness for several. I wouldn’t call them my children, but they can be my nieces and nephews or something.

So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger

My Very Informative Summary: Monte wrote a book. It was swell and everyone loved it, but then they wanted another one? And he can’t seem to make it work, even after five years? Sounds like it’s high time to take an impromptu cross-country roadtrip with an ex-convict whom you just met in your backyard.

I Am Here For:

  • The prose, naturally. After Peace Like a River, I came back for more prose
  • Cross-country road trip (though they’re not actually using roads half the time…)
  • Glendon’s determination to Set Things Right
  • Monte being unassuming but wholesome
  • Western vibes
  • Actually all the vibes–the time period (19teens, methinks?), the various settings
  • They way it develops from slow-moving every day life to adventure
  • Hood Rivers being so respectful
  • (Hood Rivers, guys)
  • Charles Siringo. This man is…kind of terrifying
  • The baptism scene
  • Things being Complicated. You can’t just Fix Things
  • That one bit where he walks into the post office or whatever it is in that one town and–er–I don’t want to spoil it. But he makes a loud proclamation and the guy is like, “….okay?” And I found it quite funny.

Not So Here For:

  • It did start out pretty slow. It was a while before I really got into it

Conclusion: While not as good as Peace Like a River, this book was still full of lovely writing, thought-provoking pictures of humanity, and lowkey western-flavored adventure

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

My Very Informative Summary: A 13ish-year-old boy (who DOES have a name, but do I remember it? [No. The answer is no.]) runs away from a bad family situation and runs into a bad weather situation. The good news: he comes across a house in the middle of the woods. The bad news: said house is the home of an evil wizard.

I Am Here For:

  • Urban fantasy with magical bookstores and motorcycle gang were-cyotes
  • Small coastal town vibes

Not So Here For:

  • You know the trope where there’s the grumpy old man who’s like “I don’t care about anyone! I’m a horribly evil person!” but it’s all a front and they’re really a sweetheart? They’re a dear who would never hurt anyone and will do anything to protect the people around them? I feel like this book was trying to put Smallbone in that category, but no. I have issues with this
  • He’s not all bark and no bite, because he actually is kind of awful
  • You can’t kidnap random children who find your house in the woods
  • You can’t transform them into animals and objects for days at a time when they annoy you
  • You can’t, in front of this child, tell everyone that the child is deceitful and fundamentally bad and should be shunned and distrusted by everyone
  • It’s not okay
  • Also, some of the magic bothered me. Sometimes I’m fine with magic, and sometimes I’m not? (It was like The Satanic Mill except…it’s all good?)

Conclusion: Professor McGonagall says it all: “We NEVER USE TRANSFIGURATION AS A PUNISHMENT.”

Network Effect by Martha Wells

My Very Informative Summary: Murderbot needs to protect the stupid humans. Again.

I Am Here For:

  • Murderbot. Obviously
  • I really like Murderbot, okay
  • Murderbot definitely NOT caring what the humans think, because who cares about stupid humans?
  • (But stupid humans don’t trust it, and wow, why does that hurt so much)
  • While all the other Murderbot books are novellas, this is a novel-which means more pages, more plot, more Murderbot
  • (More Murderbot is always a plus)
  • When it’s just going along and–ah yes, the trauma still exists by the way
  • Murderbot having extremely mature comebacks: “You’re emotionally compromised.” “No, I’m not. You’re emotionally compromised.”
  • (Murderbot being emotionally compromised)
  • When friends are jerks and you kinda want to murder someone
  • Three, because poor dear. *starts knitting sweater*
  • The few short snippets we get of the interview transcripts (particularly the part about the logos)

Not So Here For:

  • Marriage only existing as something that involves at least three people, because no
  • Preservation supposedly being Perfect in Every Way. Because a) I don’t believe it, and b) a kitchen sink to Martha Wells is not a kitchen sink to me. It’s one thing if you’re reading a book and the author’s general ideas of a perfect society don’t match up with yours, but if they show you the society and keep aggressively telling you how perfect it is, it doesn’t leave room for another opinion.
  • A few comments toward the end about the relationship between two characters…I wasn’t quite sure what the intention was, but hm

Conclusion: It has its issues, to be sure. But it also has Murderbot, so…


WELL, this post has been sitting here 2/3 of the way finished for a while. (By which I mean, I’ve read an 800+ page novel since starting it?) Reading back over what I’d written, I got to the part about how I wasn’t about to be less busy and HA. Ha. Why am I so busy, wow.

What have you been reading lately? Who are some of the most wholesome characters you know? Do you like westerns? What’s a book you’ve read that has excellent prose? Do you think it’s okay to turn children into rocks when they displease you? Do tell!


6 responses to “Mini-Reviews–prose, undercover operatives, and the Black Death”

  1. Congrats to your sister on getting married! I’m sure, though, that it was a lot of upheaval for y’all, in addition to the excitement.

    It’s so hard after a hiatus, intentional or otherwise, to get back to commenting! Cuz like…do you go through the backlog? Do you only comment on your friends’ posts? Do you just pretend no one posted anything while you were gone? I BECAME A BLOGGER TO ESCAPE SOCIAL ANXIETY. (Well, not really, but it’s USUALLY a side-perk.)

    Okay, Peace Like A River sounds really great, and it’s on my TBR, and I will make sure not to read the back cover. XD

    Assignment In Brittany! Is awesome! (I also, however, have trouble remembering the names, lol.)

    The Bear House is actually one that my younger…brother? maybe it was my sister…had out from the library and then LOST and my dad was paying fines until I found it, so that is my association with that book. XD

    Liked by 1 person

    • HAHA, yes, the upheaval is real. But we’re very happy for them 🙂
      I know! I feel like it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but the ANXIETY. Why does it provoke such anxiety??
      Peace Like a River is so very good. DO read it! (And don’t read the back cover, of course XD)
      Haha, that’s great that that’s you association with that book. When my sisters and I were younger we use to check everything out on my mom’s card and then…forget what we had checked out and re-discover various books months later after there were so many fines my mom’s card was frozen XD


  2. “some unpopular opinions and a great deal of angst”…? I want to know, Anne.
    Hobbits ARE so wholesome, though. It’s truly wonderful. (Ents are also so wholesome. Ents combine what I love best about hobbits and elves, possibly, which is possibly why they’re my favorite??)

    Welcome back!!! It’s lovely to see you. And yeah. I don’t know how one does the whole getting-back-into-blogging thing. I usually read people’s old posts but don’t necessarily comment on them, because that’s overwhelming I shall start off with a CLEAN SLATE this time and never again go missing from the merry halls of the blogosphere…oh look I disappeared for two months again. ‘Tis a cycle.

    I WANTED TO MEET MATTHEWS TOO. He and Mr. Dunworthy both have that more-experienced-but-understanding-the-enthusiasms-of-youth-mentor-who-is-a-terribly-interesting-character-in-his-own-right energy.
    I know I already squealed about Hearne’s wholesomeness to you, but iMMA DO IT AGAIN BECAUSE I LOVE THE MAN.

    Hey hey hey I read Doomsday Book this summer too!! And I actually kinda loved it, oops. I agree with all your cons (except I like her prose – I would probably get tired of it if I read a lot of her books in a row or if it wasn’t a comedy like To Say Nothing of the Dog or a slice-of-life-kinda book that’s explicitly ABOUT people being people wherever they are and just…the ordinariness and specialness of /people/, like Doomsday Book, but in those two of her books, which are probably the only two I’ll read, I really really liked it. Being in Kivrin’s confused [later frantic] head the way I was in Ned’s sleep-deprived one worked REALLY well for me, as far as emotional connection and feeling immersed in the story), but the pros hit me harder I guess? Also I was blindsided by the plague, which I think made it an entirely different reading experience, because at one point I knew it was about the plague I think?, but by the time I started reading it I didn’t necessarily remember that for sure and then oh okay it’s definitely pre-plague, that’s great, I didn’t want to read about the plague anyhow, and then oh NO oh no no no no NO. So yeah. My emotions might’ve been a liiiittle all over the place.
    But…Father Roche, though. Wholesome, complex, genuinely good Christian characters? *weeps* I need more of them.
    Also I agree that Colin is the best and I love him. My friend and I saw Thor: Love & Thunder in theatres this summer (we knew we wouldn’t like it…it was a Thing) and there were some kids in this movie and we were in AWE at how the movie wrote the children characters. “Wow, whoever wrote this script must have so many kids. At the very least they’ve hung out with kids a ton. This is exactly how kids act and talk. *camel’s back breaking under the sheer weight of the sarcasm*” Colin was kind of like…the opposite of that.

    “You can’t, as the alleged Good Guy, kidnap children.” That book I read recently, what’s its name…Island of the Aunts! Island of the Aunts needed to hear this (you would think obvious..???) lesson.

    Ooh, you read Network Effect. It was enjoyable. I am glad and one day I will read it when I just need a tad more Murderbot in my life. The MARRIAGES, though. I mean. WHY.
    Also “a perfect society that to you is actually horrifying but it’s supposed to be utopian” is EXACTLY why I’ve always considered myself a true-blue hater of sci-fi. I don’t know why this is so common in sci-fi or why the supposed utopias are always so awful???

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, yes well maybe I’ll share them at some point. I didn’t think I could consolidate all my thoughts into a mini-review. (Ents are wholesome though)
      Thanks! Sometimes I read the old posts without commenting on them too–and then I think, “Gosh, why don’t I just write a comment? It’s not like it’s THAT hard” ….except that commenting always takes way longer than I think it’s going to and then I am Overwhelmed again, oops
      HOW IS MATTHEWS SO GREAT? Seriously. For a man who is never “on screen” and is referenced only a handful of times, it’s impressive how much I love the guy.
      (Also Hearne. We love Hearne.)
      Haha, I’m glad you loved Doomsday Book. My issues with her writing style are weird, because I actually like the prose itself? And it took me a really long time to even realize there was something about the writing I didn’t like? There was something that occasionally bugged me in Blackout and All Clear, but I couldn’t figure out what it was until my dad read Blackout and started talking about it (which happened to be while I was reading Doomsday Book). I think it bugs me even more because, overall, I really like her writing and her books. I just think they could be streamlined a smidge.
      Ok, I think it would have helped if I hadn’t known it was about the plague. (In retrospect, maybe shouldn’t have put that in my review, because spoilers, oops.) Once again, we see the crimes of the back cover. Because, upon fated cover, there were snippets from reviews talking about Willis’s depiction of the plague being spot on. So I KNEW what I was getting into. And from the very beginning when Badri says “Something is wrong”, I KNEW what was wrong, and it drove my crazy that it took hundreds and hundreds of pages for the characters to catch up. Shame on you, back cover.
      Ok, but Father Roche was kind of great. *sniffles*
      Wow, I’m really tired and I was reading that thinking, “Good kid characters? Maybe there will be one good thing about that movie?” But no. The sarcasm. I see it now. (Honestly, the more I hear about that movie, the more I wonder if I ever need to see it at all…)
      But Colin though. What a kid. I love the character-who-has-angst-but-is-really-happy-most-of-the-the-time dynamic, and he’s such a dear.
      (Okay, but despite my issues with some of the writing, I actually really like Blackout and All Clear. When I was reading Assignment in Brittany, Hearne was actually reminding me of one of the characters in those books. [I’m not saying Mike is as wholesome as Hearne, but he’s still pretty wholesome]. Also, COLIN is in it.)
      Why is this lesson not obvious to some people?? The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre (which I reviewed on a day when I was feeling aggressively positive and so didn’t go into all the issues it had) had the same problem, and WHY are there so many books where people kidnap children and it’s supposed to be okay???
      Awful utopias are so bothersome. Why can’t you just write a book about a normal flawed society and then we can form our own opinions about what is flawed and what is ideal??
      But Murderbot though. We love Murderbot.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Commenting actually does take a stupidly long time. I don’t like it. I mean, if I had the time to spare, I’d like it fine. But do I have the Time to Spare? No, Jeeves, I Do Not.

        Curses upon thee, back cover!! Canst thou never innocuously provide the necessary information without wreaking havoc???
        Yeah, I see how that would be…frustrating. To say the least. It’s the plague, guys, it’s the plague! It’s the plague, it’s the plague, it’s the – aAARRRHGHHGLHKLHKJHGHG. <-me, probably, in your shoes

        Colin is in those books?? HEARNE RESEMBLANCES??? Oh noooo. You're making me want to read them. Despite the fact that they combine two of my least favorite fictional things ever?? (Time travel and WWII. Well, time travel is fictional. WWII isn't, so much…but you know what I mean.)

        Do you think, possibly, there is a cave deep in the mountains where all the middle-grade authors live, being grouchy and kidnapping children and writing books to convince the world that it's okay and they're actually Very Good People? Cuz this is a suspiciously high number of cases of this exact occurrence, I'm just saying.

        Liked by 1 person

      • HOW commenting manages to take so long, is still an utter mystery to me, but it is the TRUTH. And Time is a thing I don’t have enough of.
        It pains my soul to think of the hundreds of authors who work really hard and write a book that unfolds slowly and artfully–and then end up with half their meticulously crafted plot points being given away on the back cover. It’s just…so sad. *weeps*
        Oh, dear, I wouldn’t want to make you want to read a book about WWII if you don’t like reading about WWII. I will provide discouragement! Colin is only a side character! And he is OLD! (Well, seventeen, but you know) And Mike never digs up potatoes, so he’s really NOTHING like Hearne.
        I think you’re on to something here with this cave business. We should start scouring these awful middle-grade books for secret messages slipped in by the poor children.

        Liked by 1 person

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