Category Archives: Reviews

Rereading: FISH HOOK ISLAND MYSTERY by Wendell Farmer

The actual author of this book is Lavinia R. Davis, who wrote over 40 books, most under her own name, this is one of three using the Farmer pseudonym. Davis wrote excellent books about children and animals like “Hobby Horse Hill” as well as some teenage romance titles, adult mysteries, picture books for younger readers, and short story collections. The Farmer books all came out during World War Two, have wartime elements, and fewer animals.

Three children come together with a common interest in the wild wetlands at the northern end of their peninsula on the New Jersey shore: Mose is the youngest, and loves to fish, Dorry and her mother live in a former lighthouse nearest to the small group of marshy islands called the Fish Hooks, and Chat likes to be the leader of the group as much as he loves to talk, but he does have good ideas about their secret club. They explore what seems an abandoned shack, but inside it’s been repaired and used for storing something. Chat suspects it’s being used by smugglers. After a passing hurricane nearly drowns Mose and Chat, the three find an abandoned sailboat called Wood Pigeon, and do what they can to rescue it. Two men from town are also after the boat, even though the kids believe they don’t own it, and before long there’s a dangerous competition going on to see who can possess the boat. Dorry is particularly interested in a puppy they found onboard with a collar and name tag, Scallop, who follows them everywhere. When another storm approaches, Chat and his crew make a dangerous plan to sail Wood Pigeon to his uncle’s boatyard where it will be out of danger, but can they escape the much faster motorboat of their opponents?

This book is purportedly set on the southern New Jersey coast, though the settings and map are unlike any real places here in the area where I live. Despite that, I enjoyed rereading it, there’s lots of action, and each of the three kids has moments to shine. Recommended if you can find it.

Fish Hook Island Mystery by Wendell Farmer

Rereading: THE GHOSTS OF THE HEAVISIDE LAYER AND OTHER FANTASMS by Lord Dunsany

Cover and illustrations by Tim Kirk

This 1980 posthumous collection from Owlswick Press is nicely packaged, but the contents are quite a mixed bag. First there are a number of short ghost stories, the kind you might enjoy on a quiet evening by the fireside with a glass of something. Several are told by Jorkens, Dunsany’s pub tale spinner. I enjoyed these, but found none very memorable. Next there are quite a few essays, mostly short, in which the author rails against things he dislikes, celebrates nature, and talks about his hobbies and occupations, including play writing. The best of these is a memorial to his illustrator Sidney Sime, but many I found dull and only skimmed. Finally there are two plays, a very short humorous one, and the longer “Lord Adrian,” which at least has the trappings of fantasy, and touches on some of the same elements as his novel “The Blessing of Pan.” I enjoyed that.

In all, the writing is mildly recommended, though the illustrations by Tim Kirk are excellent.

Ghosts of the Heaviside Layer by Lord Dunsany

And Then I Read: INTERESTING TIMES by Terry Pratchett

Rincewind, the reluctant and unskilled wizard, is my least favorite lead character in the Discworld series, so I wasn’t expecting too much from this title featuring him, but there are enough other characters of interest, places of interest, and amusing situations to have made it a fun read. Rincewind is generally not tied to the wizards of Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork, but here he’s magically sent by them as a “representative” to the distant Counterweight Continent, which it turns out is much like imperial China in our own history. Rincewind arrives suddenly, and almost immediately is running for his life, as usual, from all kinds of trouble and commitment, but he’s gathered in by a band of ancient mercenaries led by Genghis Cohen who have plans to invade the imperial city and palace. There the Grand Vizier Lord Hong is plotting to kill the Emperor in a devious way that will put the blame on others so he can take control of the empire himself. A ragtag band of idealistic peasants make up his main opposition, and Rincewind is soon involved with them as well, since one of them is an old companion. The hapless wizard tries to convince everyone around him to run away while they can, but of course they don’t listen. And as usual, Rincewind finds himself at the center of the battle that’s about to begin.

Entertaining and recommended.

Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Rereading: FREDDY THE PILOT by Walter R. Brooks

Cover art by Leslie Morrill

While I much prefer the interior art by Kurt Wiese, this new cover for the paperback edition is not bad.

If you were reading this series from the beginning, or at least early on, you gradually came to accept that Freddy the talking pig from the Bean Farm in upstate New York could master just about any skill, but in this book he breezes right by driving a car to piloting a small plane, somehow. One of the reasons is to help his friends at the Boomschmidt circus, who are being harassed by another plane dive bombing their big top shows and scaring the audience, forcing Boomschmidt to give their money back. Soon he’ll be broke, and Freddy and his friends want to prevent that. The dive bombing is the work of rich Mr. Condiment, who has a crush on the circus’s bareback rider Miss Rose, and is willing to shut down the circus in order to get her to marry him. The animals want to prevent that, too. Mr. Condiment is a comic book publisher from Philadelphia, and Brooks has plenty of digs at comics in this book, which I found amusing, and which was a popular trend in 1952, when it was written.

Other storylines involve Mr. Bean’s brother, Uncle Ben, who is trying to invent a new bombsight to sell to the Army, but it turns out to be a treasure detector instead. Sniffy the skunk and his family become fans of Robin Hood, and take up staff fighting and doing good deeds. Both Freddy and his detective partner, the cow Mrs. Wiggins, put on disguises to try to scare away Mr. Condiment, and there’s plenty of action in Condiment’s secret airstrip when Freddy and his agents take on Condiment’s men there.

Great fun, recommended.

Freddy the Pilot by Walter R Brooks

Rereading: THE CROWN OF DALEMARK by Diana Wynne Jones

Cover art by Geoff Taylor

The final book of the Dalemark Quartet is a long one, my copy has 494 pages, and it ties together all the characters and storylines of the previous three books as well as introducing a new character from the present time.

Maewen Singer lives in a modern Dalemark, with railroads, telephones, and all the devices and culture of mid-20th century Britain. Her mother is an artist, her father a diplomat in the capital city’s royal palace. When she goes to visit him there for a few weeks, she explores the history and artifacts displayed in the royal castle, as well as paintings of past rulers and their friends. This is a Dalemark of no-nonsense, but the days of the godlike Undying are remembered by historians like her father. One aide of her father, Wend, is happy to show Maewen some of the artifacts, taking them out of their cases, but he has a hidden agenda. When he hands her the golden statue of The One, Maewen is suddenly transported about 200 years into the past, where she finds herself in the middle of a revolution, and where she is seen and accepted as Princess Noreth, the leader of that revolution, who she apparently looks exactly like. The real Noreth has disappeared, and Maewen struggles to fill her place, with help from close advisors: Mitt and Navis from Drowned Ammet, Moril the Singer from Cart and Cwidder, and Wend is also there representing The Undying, tied to The Spellcoats family, acting as a guide on the green roads they follow. Maewen is also given advice by a voice that may be The One, but the advice is often horrible, so is it really from the evil spirit Kankredin? The prophecy says a new king can unite all of Dalemark if the royal tokens are gathered: a ring, a cup, a sword, and a crown, and that’s the quest Noreth was about to begin when Maewen found herself in Noreth’s place. Can she and her band really do all that, while evading capture by forces rising to stop her?

I enjoyed rereading this, though the plot is complicated and I sometimes got lost among all the characters and references. It seems more plot-driven than the other books in the series, but in the end is a satisfying conclusion to the epic fantasy tale. Recommended.

The Crown of Dalemark by Diana Wynne Jones