Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books I've Read So Far in 2015


I've never participated in Top Ten Tuesday before -- a link-up hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  But a lot of blogs I read do, and so, I'm trying it out myself :-)  This week, the theme is Favorite Books I've Read So Far in 2015.  Here are mine:

Persuasion by Jane Austen -- my favorite Austen novel.  I read this as part of a read-along at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine in January and February.  Re-read, of course, and a book I dearly love.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell -- my first time reading this.  I fell in love with the BBC adaptation earlier this year, and just had to read the book.  Not disappointed, for sure!

Hamlet:  Poem Unlimited by Harold Bloom -- an eye-opening musing on various themes in Hamlet.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd -- a delicious concoction of magic, mystery, and friendship.  Junior fiction, yes, but you should read it.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott -- another re-read, this time for my own read-along.

Laura by Vera Caspary -- and another re-read.  One of my favorite mysteries, and the basis for one of my favorite movies.

A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz -- awesome look at how reading Jane Austen's novels changed a grad student's views of himself and the world around him.

Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King -- the latest novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes finds them in Japan, solving mysteries.

Corral Nocturne by Elizabeth Grace Foley -- a western retelling of the Cinderella story.  It's a novella, and only available in ebook form right now, but I totally loved it.

The Light of Western Stars by Zane Grey -- the first ebook I ever read!  And an enjoyable western, to boot.

Monday, June 29, 2015

"Saint Anything" by Sarah Dessen

I first heard of this book on Reading in the Dark, and Hannah made it sound quite interesting, and even heart-warming in a way, so I got it to read for myself.

It kind of reminded me of a Jodi Piccoult book.  I read a whole bunch of her books 7 or 8 years ago, and this has a similar approach in that it's about a family grappling with a serious modern issue.  In this book, it's what happens to a family when one sibling goes to prison.

Sydney's older brother drives drunk and hits a young teen with his car.  He was already on probation, so he has to serve time for it.  Sydney's parents spend all their time thinking about her brother and ignoring her.  She decides to switch schools because she's tired of being known simply as the sister of her popular and infamous brother.  At her new school, she makes friends with two siblings, Layla and Mac, who welcome her into their circle of friends.  They're nice to the point of almost being too perfect, though they do have a flawed older sister.  

Then there's Ames, Sydney's brother's friend who creeps her out.  Getting into spoiler territory here, so skip to the next paragraph if you don't want spoilage.  I was actually annoyed that creepy Ames did end up assaulting Sydney because it felt rather cliche -- teen has creepy feeling about someone and it turns out they're evil.  Happens so much in YA.  I'd have much preferred if she'd had a creepy feeling about him, but he never actually did anything horrible, because that would have been much more realistic.  I've known a lot of people that gave off a creepy vibe to me, but weren't actually creepers.  I know that it's important that teens learn to trust their gut instinct because creepers do exist, but I feel like this is so prevalent anymore that teens could start believing, "Oh, I thought that person was creepy, and I need to trust my instincts, so clearly that person is bad!"  Which ain't necessarily so.  However, this is fiction, and there are certain things you have to do in fiction -- if you spend lots and lots of time throughout the novel discussing how creepy someone is, they'd better turn out to actually be a creeper cuz your audience expects it.

Okay, mild rant over.  For the most part, I liked this book a lot.  One thing I absolutely loved about it is that there's zero sex.  Not only that, but even though Sydney gets a new boyfriend, and they do kiss, there's never any suggestion that either of them were even considering sleeping with each other.  It's not simply a given, which feels kinda rare for modern teen fiction.  

Particularly Good Bits:

I'd done the right thing.  I always did.  It just would have been nice if someone had noticed (p. 61).

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for themes of teen alcohol and drug use, a scary moment, and mid-level profanity, including taking the Lord's name in vain.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Winners!

We have winners!  We have a LOT of winners :-)  Thank you to everyone who entered my big book giveaway -- I only wish I had enough books (and money for postage) so that everyone could have have gotten a book.

Here they be:

Adventure Books

Fear is the Key -- D. Johnson
Master and Commander -- Lois Johnson
Where Eagles Dare -- Eva Schon

Blank Books

Rainbow stripes -- Olivia
Leather -- Sarah Margaret
"Shakespeare Never Tweeted..." -- Hannah of Reading in the Dark

Classics

The Black Arrow -- Tully Family
Damon Runyon Favorites -- Naomi
Dear Enemy -- Jennyfer
North and South -- Bzee

Mysteries

And be a Villain -- Stormi
Friday the Rabbi Slept Late -- Lois Johnson
In the Teeth of the Evidence -- Vellvin
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution -- India
The West End Horror -- D. Johnson

Poetry

Paradise Lost:  Books I and II -- Rose
Selected Poetry of Keats -- Jessica Prescott
The Sonnets:  Poems of Love -- Olivia

Westerns

Gunfighters of the Old West -- Heidi Peterson
The Virginian -- Emma, Plain and Tall

There you have it!  I will be emailing all the winners over the course of the day to ask for your mailing address.  Just for fun, would you like to know what countries all these books are going to?  The US, Canada, Belgium, Indonesia, Australia, and Denmark.  The Post Office is gonna looooooooove me!

EDIT:  Winners, I need you to respond to my email within one week (by July 2nd) with your mailing address, otherwise you will be disqualified and I will choose a new winner for your prize.  Thanks!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Laura" by Vera Caspary

It's so hard to talk about this story without giving away any of the plot twists.  This is me, doing my best.

Laura opens with NYC Detective Mark McPherson arriving at the home of Waldo Lydecker, a famous columnist and the close friend of Laura Hunt, who has just been murdered.  McPherson isn't usually a homicide detective -- he specializes in taking on corrupt businesses and organized crime, but he got stuck on this case by a spiteful superintendent.  He's a working-class guy and snobbish about the high-class people he's investigating, who in turn look down their noses at him.

Laura Hunt was a career girl, important in the advertising industry, and also a member of "good society" thanks to Waldo taking her under his wing.  She was engaged to Shelby Carpenter, who worked for the same advertising firm as she did, and who was something of an opportunist.  According to everyone McPherson interviews and investigates, everyone loved her.  No one had any motive for killing her.  She was beautiful, gracious, generous, kind, talented, and warm-hearted.  So much so, that McPherson begins to fall in love with her, even though she's gone.

This story was first released as a serial in Colliers magazine in 1942, then released in book form in 1943, made into a movie in 1944, and re-released as a book that same year too.  I have the 1944 edition, which I picked up at a library book sale for probably 50 cents years ago.  Mine doesn't have the cover I pictured here, it's a plain brown hardback.  I just looked it up on Abe Books and there's an identical one selling for $75, so that's pretty cool.  Not that I'd sell mine -- I love this story too much.  

(My copy)

But anyway!  Why do I love this story?  First, of course, it's a mystery, and I love those.  Second, it's got a forbidden love thing going on, with Mark in love with the memory of Laura.  Third, Mark McPherson.  Which is pretty much due to Dana Andrews in the role, because I saw the movie first.  (My equally spoiler-free review is here.)

(Dana Andrews as Mark McPherson)

Like I mentioned last week in my Inkling Explorations post, this book starts out being narrated by Waldo Lydecker.  Then it switches to other narrators, including Mark McPherson, which is my favorite part of the book.  Him trying to reason his way through falling in love with a dead person is just a wonderful bit of character development.  Love it!

Particularly Good Bits:

Although I spread butter lavishly on my brioches, I cling religiously to the belief that the substitution of saccharine for sugar in my coffee will make me slender and fascinating (p. 11.)

Whereas a detective may be a unique and even trustworthy friend, one must always remember that he has made a profession of curiosity (p. 46).

Clues to character are the only clues that add up to the solution of any but the crudest crime (p. 220).

I'm not reporting our actual language because, as I mentioned before, I haven't had a college education and I keep my writing clean (p. 223).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  a light PG-13 for murder, very vague allusions to sexual activity, and some mild curse words and several instances of taking the Lord's name in vain.

Monday, June 22, 2015

"A Snicker of Magic" by Natalie Lloyd

I believe it was Kara of Flowers of Quiet Happiness who first brought this book to my attention.  But I can't find her post about it to link to here.  ANYWAY!  Some blogger I follow who reads junior fiction loved this.  I saw it at the library last week, picked it up to read the first couple pages, and knew I had to get it before I'd finished the first chapter.

The best word to describe this book is definitely "spindiddly."  Which happens to be a word the main character, Felicity Pickle, uses a lot.  Instead of "cool" or "awesome."  I like it.  I'm saying it in real life.  Try saying it yourself!  It's very fun to say.  As is "Felicity Pickle," actually.  And so many other words in this book.  It's clearly written by a word-lover, one who remembers childhood vividly.  I liked it very much indeed.

Okay, so this is a book about a lonely sixth-grade girl, Felicity, whose mom moves her and her little sister around all over the US, never staying anywhere for very long.  Dad walked out years ago and hasn't been heard from since.  They arrive back in her mom's home town of Midnight Gulch, Tennessee, and move in with Aunt Cleo.  Mom gets a job at the local ice cream factory.  Felicity and her little sister go to yet another new-to-them school.  And on the very first day, something magical happens:  Felicity makes a friend.  She's painfully shy, and she even stutters sometimes when she has to talk to strangers, but a boy befriends her nonetheless.  Through him, she gets to know the other eccentric people in Midnight Gulch, learns the history of the place, and solves a mystery concerning one of her forebears.

Also, there's magic.  Magic woven all through the story -- helpful and benign, completely original and made-up magic, as it turns out, but that IS why I read this first before letting Sam read it.  Never know about magic in books -- as a Christian, I am always wary of it, and want to familiarize myself with what's going on in a book that contains magic before I let my kids read it.  

What kind of magic is this?  Felicity can see words, see them when people say them, see them around people and things like an aura.  She collects them by writing them in a book, on her shoes, on her arms, wherever she's got a spot.  And is that not one of the best descriptions of a writer ever?  Other magic involves ice cream that brings back memories, music only a few people can hear, memories captured inside objects... no spells cast, no Dark Arts.  Very imaginative and imaginary.  Whimsical, kind of like Edward Eager in a way.

When I'd finished this, I let Sam read it.  He polished it off in an afternoon, and his first comment to me about it was, "Is there another one?"  Not yet, but I found Natalie Lloyd's blog this morning, and she says there could be a sequel some day.  She has another book getting published before long, but it's not a sequel.

Particularly Good Bits:

And I think if you're lucky, a sister is the same as a friend, but better.  A sister is like a super-forever-infinity friend (p. 10).

Because home is where shabby hearts like ours belong (p. 52).

And some miracles, the very best miracles of all, show up wearing cowboy boots (p. 101).

"Stories aren't peaceful things.  Stories don't care how shy you are.  They don't care how insecure you are, either.  Stories find their own way out eventually.  All you gotta do is turn 'em loose" (p. 146.)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G for gumdroppy goodness.  Clean and charming -- like I said, I let my 7-year-old read it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

"Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper" by SARK

Last month at the book store, I went looking for a book to give our oldest niece, who will turn 13 this summer.  She likes to write, and I wanted something to encourage her in that pursuit.  I thought this might be just the book, all bright and friendly and cheerful.  So I bought it but, being a prudent aunt, I thought I'd better read through it first, to make sure it would be appropriate for her.  Which, it turns out, it kind of isn't -- I may just hang onto this for her until she's like 16, if she's still into writing then.

Now, if you're a writer who isn't going to be shocked by the use of the word "vibrator" in the introduction (no descriptions of what it's used for) and the inclusion of an amateur drawing of a partially-topless woman much farther in (drawn by a guest contributor, not by SARK), then you might really like this book.  It's vibrant and playful, and most definitely encouraging.  I'm on the verge of beginning a new short story, and this helped me gain enthusiasm to be bold and truly begin it, not keep putting it off.

I really dug SARK's quirky, almost child-like style, with every page hand-written and hand-drawn.  This is from my favorite page in this book:



I need to print that out and paste it above my writing space.  Too often, I feel like I need to wait until everything is perfect before I write (I'm talking about fiction here, not blogging -- I blog in stolen moments throughout the day, which SARK calls "micro-movement"), but for first drafts especially, I need to concentrate on getting the story down on paper and not worry so much about whether I'm wasting time or doing "valuable" writing.

SARK's advice is a little more touchy-feely than some might appreciate, and gets a little humanistic in places ("good is within everyone," "everyone is capable of creativity," that sort of thing).  But if you want a jolt of creative juiciness, you might want to try this out.

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for the aforementioned inclusion of the word "vibrator" and a non-salacious sketch of a semi-nude woman, and also for non-detailed references to a child being abused.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Gripping Story Opening -- Inkling Explorations for June

Heidi Peterson has a monthly link-up on her writing blog, Sharing the Journey, and last month I answered it on my Soliloquy blog because I was so busy with the Little Women read-along over here and didn't have post space.  This month is focusing on books, so I'm posting over here, though if there's another time when I answer about movies, I would probably do that on the Soliloquy instead just because that blog has more about movies.

So anyway, this month's focus is on "A Gripping Story Opening in Literature."  I've decided to share the opening from Vera Caspary's Laura:


The city that Sunday morning was quiet.  Those millions of New Yorkers who, by need or preference, remain in town over a summer week-end had been crushed spiritless by humidity.  Over the island hung a fog that smelled and felt like water in which too many soda-water glasses have been washed.  Sitting at my desk, pen in hand, I treasured the sense that, among those millions, only I, Waldo Lydecker, was up and doing.  The day just past, devoted to shock and misery, had stripped me of sorrow.  Now I had gathered strength for the writing of Laura's epitaph.  My grief at her sudden and violent death found consolation in the thought that my friend, had she lived to a ripe old age, would have passed into oblivion, whereas the violence of her passing and the genius of her admirer gave her a fair chance at immortality. 
My doorbell rang.  Its electric vibrations had barely ceased when Roberto, my Filipino manservant, came to tell me that Mr. McPherson had asked to see me. 
"Mark McPherson!" I exclaimed, and then, assuming the air of one who might meet Mussolini without trepidation, I bade Roberto to ask Mr. McPherson to wait.  Mahomet had not rushed out to meet the mountain.  

It poses so many questions, doesn't it?  Who on earth is this snooty-sounding Waldo Lydecker, who clearly is almost as infatuated with words as with himself?  Who is Mark McPherson?  And who, above all, is this murdered woman, Laura?


If you've seen the movie, you know the answers.  And, if you've seen the movie, but not read the book, you're probably going, "Whoa, whoa, wait -- Waldo Lydecker narrates the book?!  Is this genius or madness?"  At least, that was my response the first time I read it ;-)  And actually, IIRC, Mark McPherson narrates part of it too, though I must admit it's been more than 6 years since I read this.

I KNOW Heidi said this wasn't supposed to be about movies this month, however!  The 1944 movie version is so perfectly cast I must include a couple pictures from it.  (Heidi, please don't whack me with a broom or anything.)

Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker

Gene Tierney as Laura and Vincent Price as Shelby, in a flashback

Dana Andrews as Mark McPherson

Monday, June 15, 2015

I'm Giving Away Twenty Books

It's here!  My giveaway, which is part of the Great Book Giveaway Bonanza, has begun!  Please go to this page to find links to all the other blogs that are also hosting book giveaways right now.  Enter as many as you like!



Please note!  You DO NOT have to be hosting a giveaway yourself to be eligible to win books from me here.  I will give you an extra entry if you are part of the GBGB, but that's NOT the only way to enter.

Once again, I'm giving away twenty books.  How do I end up with all these extra books?  Sigh.



(You're going to count those books and point out that there are only 19 books pictured, and I just said 20 books.  I've added one since I took the photo.)

Like last year, I'm breaking them up by genre, since I know people who like poetry might not like mysteries, and so on.  You can enter as many or as few of the giveaways as you want.  I'll be drawing one name per book, but obviously some people might win more than one book.  Also, if you choose to blog about this giveaway and/or the GBGB to earn extra entries, you can just blog about it once -- that counts just fine for multiple giveaways.  You don't have to post six different times if you want to enter all six giveaways :-)


This IS open world-wide!

This giveaway runs through Wednesday, June 24th.  I'll draw the winners on Thursday, June 25th.  PLEASE be sure you provide a CURRENT email address to the Rafflecopter widgets so that if you win and I email you to ask for your mailing address, you get the message.  Any winner who does not respond within one week (by Thursday, July 2nd) will be disqualified, and I will pick a new winner.  


Be aware that all these books are USED, except the blank books, and some of them do have things written in them.  Again, all the blank books are NEW and have nothing written in them.  If I've reviewed a book on my blog, I'll link its title to my review so you know what I thought of it.


Enough.  Here are the books.



Adventures


Fear is the Key by Alistair MacLean -- paperback in nice condition.  My favorite Alistair MacLean book, all about underwater treasure and assassins and someone avenging murders.  Probably contains some mild bad language.

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian -- trade paperback in lovely condition.  First book in a series that I adore and hope to reread next year.  Warning:  they do have some language and allusions to adult situations, though nothing dreadful.


Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean -- paperback in nice condition.  My second-favorite Alistair MacLean book, such a rollicking good time, all about WWII, with Allied spies trying to stop Nazis from getting info about D-Day.  (There's a delicious movie version too, with Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton, which I greatly enjoy.)  Also probably contains some mild bad language, and a little innuendo IIRC.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Blank Books


1 smallish blank book with rainbow-y stripes.  Paperback, ruled pages.  5 1/2" tall and 4" wide.

1 medium blank book with genuine leather cover.  Ruled pages.  7" tall and 5" wide.

1 larger blank book with "Shakespeare never tweeted a sonnet." on the cover.  Paperback, ruled pages.  8 1/2" tall and 6" wide.



Classics


The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson -- paperback, somewhat worn.  Rousing good story of knights and derring-do, etc.

Damon Runyon Favorites -- paperback, quite worn.  I love Runyon's quirky style, and I discovered recently that I have two copies of this book, just with different covers.  This was published in 1945 and says it is "a wartime book" and published in compliance with government mandates about paper usage.  Don't know who Damon Runyon is?  The musical Guys and Dolls is based on one of his stories.

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster -- trade paperback, some worn edges.  This is the sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs, but I haven't read it yet.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell -- trade paperback, somewhat worn.  Romance, class conflict, friends, families -- this book has it all :-)  NOT about the American Civil War, in case you didn't know.  This is what the Richard Armitage BBC miniseries is based on, and it's magnificent.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Mysteries


And be a Villain by Rex Stout -- paperback, pretty nice condition.  One of the Nero Wolfe mysteries I love so much.  This one is about a radio talk show guest who dies while on the air, and of course Wolfe gets called in to solve the case.

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman -- paperback, has a few marks inside and a scuffed up cover.  This is the first of the Rabbi Small mysteries, published in the 1960s, which I've read I think 3 of, and which are about a Jewish rabbi who solves crimes.

In the Teeth of the Evidence by Dorothy L. Sayers -- paperback, nice condition.  I haven't read this particular book, but it's a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, and those are always amusing and entertaining.


The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer -- hardcover, with a dust jacket, and my book plate in the inside cover.  Wonderful Sherlock Holmes pastiche, one of the best, all about Holmes' cocaine addiction and how he overcomes it with the help of none other than Sigmund Freud.

The West End Horror by Nicholas Meyer -- hardcover, ex-library book with attendant markings.  A sequel to The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and also good, though I don't like it nearly so well as TSPCS.  This one involves Jack the Ripper, as I recall, though I haven't read it for several years.


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Poetry


Paradise Lost:  Books I and II by Milton -- hardcover, ex-library book, with attendant stickers and markings.  Old!  The copyright for this edition is 1898.

The Selected Poetry of Keats -- paperback, from 1966, in fairly nice condition.

The Sonnets:  Poems of Love by William Shakespeare -- hardcover, with dust jacket that shows some wear.  Pages are beautifully clean.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Westerns


Gunfighters of the Old West -- hardcover, quite large, part of a Time-Life series.  Wonderful non-fiction account of what real gunfighters were like, from the Gunfight at the OK Corral to the Daltons to the James brothers, and on.  Filled with photos and paintings, and completely awesome.  I've been collecting this series as I find them, and accidentally got two of this one.  If you like learning about the Old West, I can't recommend this highly enough.

The Virginian by Owen Wister -- hardcover, ex-library book, with attendant markings.  Often considered the first true western novel, written by a friend of President Teddy Roosevelt, and so delightful.  All about a young woman who goes west to teach school and falls for a ranch foreman, and so on.


a Rafflecopter giveaway


All right, let's do this!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

"Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories" by Elizabeth Grace Foley

I initially bought this as an e-book, but then liked it so well I went ahead and bought the paperback too.  I'm finding that's what happens with me and the occasional e-book I read on my phone:  if I like it a lot, I buy a "real" copy.  If they're available, that is -- sometimes I read out-of-print books on my phone cuz that's the only way to get them.

Anyway!  Time to discuss this book!  Like Foley's earlier collection, The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories, this is a mix of several short stories and a novella.  My favorite was the novella, "Wanderlust Creek," and I also liked "Single-Handed" and "The Rush at Mattie Arnold's" especially well.

"Wanderlust Creek" is about a newlywed couple trying to make a go of ranching on a small spread that butts up against a very big ranch.  There are disputes over water, an attempted lynching, and all sorts of exciting goings-on.

"Single-Handed" follows a famous gunman who has returned to a town he knows well, harboring a secret he's afraid will make his acquaintances turn their backs on him.  It has a splendid ending.

"The Rush at Mattie Arnold's" takes place in a little restaurant, where a couple young cowhands get accused of armed robbery, and it's up to the proprietor and her waitresses to figure out if they're innocent or not.  I liked the somewhat unusual setting in particular -- not a lot of western stories set in an eatery.

Once again, Elizabeth Grace Foley has created some clean, enjoyable, highly readable western fun.  I just hope she includes "Corral Nocturne" in her next collection, because that's my favorite story of hers so far!

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for mild western violence.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Final "Little Women" Giveaway Winners

Celebration time!  Here are the winners for the five Little Women gift sets:

Good Company -- Bzee
Adventures -- Ashley
Loving Hands -- Rose
Families -- Lois Johnson
Elegance -- Kelly-Anne

Congratulations to all the winners!  Please check the email address you provided, because you should have an email from me by now.  

And my heartiest thanks to everyone who made this read-along such a resounding success.  Right now, I'm thinking I'll start the Hamlet read-along at the beginning of October, after the Tolkien blog party.  Just so you know!

Everyone, don't forget to come back next week for the Great Book Giveaway Bonanza!

"Little Women" Read-Along Index

For future reference, here are all the links to all the posts for the Little Women Read-Along.  Thanks for making this so much fun!  


Bonus Posts

Beth by Olivia (Arwen)

"The March Family Letters" Review by Birdie
1978 Movie Version by Hamlette
Marmee by Kelly-Anne
Amy by Heidi
Meg by Rose
Jo by Hamlette
1949 Movie Version by Heidi


Chapter Posts

Book One


1.  Playing Pilgrims

2.  A Merry Christmas
3.  The Laurence Boy
4.  Burdens
5.  Being Neighborly
6.  Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful
7.  Amy's Valley of Humiliation
8.  Jo Meets Apollyon
9.  Meg Goes to Vanity Fair
10.  The P.C. and P.O.
11.  Experiments
12.  Camp Laurence
13.  Castles in the Air
14.  Secrets
15.  A Telegram
16.  Letters
17.  Little Faithful
18.  Dark Days
19.  Amy's Will
20.  Confidential
21.  Laurie Makes Mischief, and Jo Makes Peace
22.  Pleasant Meadows
23.  Aunt March Settles the Question

Book Two


24.  Gossip

25.  The First Wedding
26.  Artistic Attempts
27.  Literary Lessons
28.  Domestic Experiences
29.  Calls
30.  Consequences
31.  Our Foreign Correspondent
32.  Tender Troubles
33.  Jo's Journal
34.  Friend
35.  Heartache
36.  Beth's Secret
37.  New Impressions
38.  On the Shelf
39.  Lazy Laurence
40.  The Valley of the Shadow
41.  Learning to Forget
42.  All Alone
43.  Surprises
44.  My Lord and Lady
45.  Daisy and Demi
46.  Under the Umbrella
47.  Harvest Time

This is my 21st book read and reviewed for the Classics Club.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Harvest Time (Ch. 47)

Wow.  We did it.  We did it!  We finished the whole book.  Well done, everyone :-)  

Before I get into this chapter, let me mention that Heidi has posted a review of the 1949 Little Women movie here on her blog, just in time for the end of the read-along!  It's a charming review, so please go read it.

Now, on to the final chapter.

I really love the Bhaers' school at Plumfield, and reading this chapter is like a wonderful lead-in to Little Men, which I love since I like that book even better.

Did you catch the fact that they admitted a black student?  Alcott uses the word "quadroon," which was another word for someone who is a quarter black (I know cuz I Googled it, you see).  The notes in my copy say that Alcott's father ran a private school that had to close because they enrolled a black student, and white families pulled their children out of the school in protest.  So I'd say this is Alcott's way of fictionally righting that wrong.

Favorite Lines:

For a year Jo and her Professor worked and waited, hoped and loved, met occasionally, and wrote such voluminous letters that the rise in the price of paper was accounted for, Laurie said (p. 431).

"Think what luxury -- Plumfield my own, and a wilderness of boys to enjoy it with me" (p. 432).

"I do think that families are the most beautiful things in all the world!" burst out Jo, who was in an unusually up-lifted frame of mind just then (p. 434).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Have you read Little Men and/or Jo's Boys?  Which is your favorite of the three?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Jo March

Jo
by Hamlette

I've always identified with Jo, from the first time I read an abridged version of Little Women when I was seven or eight years old.  She desperately wanted to be a boy instead of a girl, and so did I.  Her best friend was a boy, and so was mine (until I was 8 1/2, anyway).  She was a writer, and I already liked telling stories, though I didn't identify myself as a Writer until I was about 14.  She liked writing and acting out plays, and so did I.  She whistled, got told she wasn't ladylike enough, and felt generally irked by societal constraints, and so did I, though I wouldn't have put it in quite those words at the time.


I think that anyone who has felt awkward, out of place, or annoyed with the way the world works can sympathize with Jo.  She wants to be accepted and liked, but she doesn't want to have to do things the way everyone else does just because that's how they do them.  She spends her adolescence feeling at odds with the world around her, but in her young adulthood, she finally learns to accept that she's different and find people other than her family who appreciate her for who she is.


When I was a young girl, I struggled with the difference between how I wanted to do things and how I was told I was supposed to do things.  An officious stranger once told me I couldn't sit backwards on a chair with my elbows resting on the back because that wasn't ladylike -- it was cowboylike, and I wanted to be a cowboy, not a lady.  I liked playing with cap guns more than Barbie dolls.  I flipped pancakes "backwards" and tied twisty-ties "backwards" and didn't smile for pictures when riding merry-go-rounds because I was too busy imagining I was a cowboy.


Like Jo, I was blessed with parents who generally accepted my personal quirks and let me live my life on my own terms for the most part.  Marmee March, in particular, seems to sense that if she doesn't push Jo to conform for the sake of conformity, Jo would eventually stop being contrary for the sake of contrariness.  At the beginning of the book, Jo behaves in unladylike ways specifically to annoy her sisters, but by the end, she has dropped her unconventional habits like saying "Christopher Columbus."  Yet she still does things like accept a mixed-race student into her school despite people insisting it's a bad idea.  She marries Professor Bhaer, a poor man wildly older than herself and not generally considered a "good match."


Over the course of the book, Jo learns that living life your own way doesn't mean doing things the opposite of everyone else all the time, but only when it's necessary.  That's a lesson stubborn me is still working on, I'm afraid.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Only One Week Until the GBGB!

Don't forget that the Great Book Giveaway Bonanza starts next Monday!  If you've been thinking about signing up, there's still time -- the official page is here

You don't have to give away only books!  Book-related items of any other sort are also welcome.  That would include movie adaptations, book-themed jewelry, etc.

All participants, please note that you need to do the following things:

  • Notify me that you're participating so I link to your blog on the official list!
  • Start your giveaway on June 15
  • Include one of the GBGB buttons in your giveaway post
  • Link back to the official page OR link to all the other participants

It is totally up to you how you want to run your giveaway.  You decide if you're opening it up worldwide or doing US-only (or UK-only, etc.)  You set your end date.  You decide whether you're doing a drawing or just saying these books are up for grabs and the first person who asks for a title gets it, etc.  You decree how people can enter.  

And above all, have fun!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Under the Umbrella (Ch. 46)

Okay, that's it -- THIS is my favorite chapter!  It's delicious from beginning to end.

From Jo imagining there's no reason for her to not take evening walks just because she runs into Professor Bhaer astonishingly often to her wandering around the counting houses and banks, it's funny and sweet and believable.

Honestly, this is one of the best proposals ever, with both of them muddy, the rain, the ruined bonnet and limp hatbrim... it's one of the most ceaselessly unromantic proposal situations ever, and I love it.  Especially since "[p]assers-by probably thought them a pair of harmless lunatics" (p. 424), which I find adorable.


From the 1978 version

Favorite Lines:

...she felt that, though it was too late to save her heart, she might her bonnet (p. 420).

"Thank Gott, we Germans believe in sentiment, and keep ourselves young mit it" (p. 425).

Jo never, never would learn to be proper, for when he said that as they stood upon the steps, she just put both hands into his, whispering tenderly, "Not empty now," and stooping down, kissed her Friedrich under the umbrella (p. 430).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Why do you think Jo tore up the poem Professor Bhaer had taken his hope from?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Daisy and Demi (Ch. 45)

A sweet interlude of a chapter, huh?  I cracked up several times here, especially when Alcott observed that "the twins got on remarkably well together, and seldom quarreled more than thrice a day" (p. 413).  That sounds awfully familiar to this mother of several small ones -- Daisy and Demi are three, which is exactly how old my Tootie is right now :-)

And of course, the chapter ends so deliciously, with Jo and Professor Bhaer practically flirting! 

Favorite Lines:

Daisy and Demi had now arrived at years of discretion, for in this fast age babies of three or four assert their rights, and get them, too, which is more than many of their elders do (p. 412).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Do you know any adults who, like Professor Bhaer, "are at home with children" and get along with them uncommonly easily?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Final Little Women Read-Along Giveaway

We're almost there!  By the time this giveaway ends, I think we'll have finished reading Little Women.  Anyway, I'm giving away something a little different this time!  I have five prize packs, each of which contain a bookmark, a big bumper sticker, and a key chain.  I bought the bookmarks from Hayden (aka Story Girl) via her Etsy store, Home to Highbury, and I bought the stickers from the Etsy store Book Fiend.  I made the key chains myself :-)

All the stickers are oval, 3 1/2" x 5", and outdoor-rated for 4 years, being water- and UV-resistant.  They all look like this:



All the key chains are 1 1/2" across, and the fronts are all different, but the backs all look like this:



Here, then, are the five individual prize packs.  One way to enter the giveaway is to leave a comment on this post telling me which TWO you would most like to have -- winners are first-drawn, first-served, so you might not get your first choice, so please do tell me what your second choice would be as well.


Good Company



Adventures



Loving Hands



Families



Elegance

This giveaway is open world-wide.  I will choose five winners one week from today, on Friday, June 12, 2015.  I will then email the winners at the address provided to the widget, and they will have one week to reply with their mailing address.  If a winner does not reply by Thursday, June 18th, I will disqualify them and pick a new winner.

PLEASE make sure your information for the giveaway widgets includes your current email address so that if you win a prize, you'll get my email informing you that you won!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: My Lord and Lady (Ch. 44)


I do like Amy and Laurie together.  Much more than I used to!  They tease each other, help each other, and are generally sweet.  And aren't the oblique references to them getting all smoochy kind of cute and hilarious at the same time?  They seem truly happy together, and I'm glad.  To be honest, I'd completely forgotten this chapter, and I am so pleased by how well they get on together.

Favorite Lines:

Jo had grown her own saucy self again since Teddy came home (p. 407).

"Come away, Impertinence, and don't shock my family by calling me names before their faces," answered Amy (p. 408).

"Don't laugh, but your nose is such a comfort to me," and Amy softly caressed the well-cut feature with artistic satisfaction (p. 409).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Are they any parts of this book that you'd forgotten, if you've read it before?  Or that you like better or worse than you used to?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Meg March: A Guest Post by Rose

Meg
by Rose

I’ll admit that I have never before thought much of Meg as a character. I liked her well enough, but compared to Jo, and later Amy, she didn't strike me as very interesting.  However, upon this rereading I suddenly realized that there is a lot more to her than what I thought at first, and now I find her quite a fascinating character.


When you look at Meg, she is everything a young, proper woman of this time period ought to be. She is motherly to her younger sisters, she dreams of romance but is almost unrealistically innocent and proper when it comes to courtship, and her biggest dreams are to have beautiful things and luxuries.
But apart from that, she is a character who has a lot difficulties while learning to be content with her situation in life, and her journey towards that goal and how she accomplishes it is what I in particular like about her.

Meg's struggles are very well summarized in the following:
"She was fond of luxury, and her chief trouble was poverty. She found it harder to bear than the others, because she could remember a time when home was beautiful, life full of ease and pleasure, and want of any kind unknown. She tried not to be envious or discontented, but it was very natural that the young girl should long for pretty things, gay friends, accomplishments, and a happy life. At the Kings she daily saw all she wanted, for the children's older sisters were just out, and Meg caught frequent glimpses of dainty ball-dresses and bouquets, heard lively gossip about theatres, concerts, sleighing parties, and merry-making of all kinds, and saw money lavished on trifles which would have been so precious to her. Poor Meg seldom complained, but a sense of injustice made her feel bitter toward every one sometimes, for she had not yet learned to know how rich she was in blessings which alone can make life happy."

In a time where your class very much defined your identity and your expectations from life, it must have been really hard on Meg to suddenly readjust her entire way of thinking when her family lost their fortune. To suddenly find many of her dreams out of reach, and yet be surrounded by acquaintances who had all the luxuries she dreamed of, must have been almost like being stuck in the middle between two classes, and I think that is one of the main reasons she has such a hard time being content with her situation.


Though she quickly learns that being rich doesn't necessarily means being happy, it isn't until great hardships are thrown upon the family that she realizes how rich she is "in love, protection, peace and health, the real blessings of life."  After Meg has had that realization, it seems she has finally found the key to being happy with her situation, and when we see her 3 years later on the brink of entering her new life it is obvious she has grown a lot in that aspect.
"Somehow envy and discontent soon vanished when she thought of all the patient love John had put into the little home awaiting her, and when they sat together in the twilight, talking over their small plans, the future always grew so beautiful and bright that she forgot Sallie's splendour, and felt herself the richest, happiest girl in Christendom."
Even though contentment is something she keeps fighting with throughout the book, the little glimpses into her married life shows us how she keeps growing.

Many readers today may think that Meg got the least exciting story of the sisters, and though it is true she never got to travel much and see the world, that doesn't mean she didn't get any adventures. She got to experience the great adventure that is marriage and later motherhood, things that most girls dreamed of at that time.

But most importantly, she is a fine example to show that when you are rich in the things of true value, you can be truly happy and content with a simple life.


(Hamlette's Note:  Thanks for this lovely character sketch, Rose!  Meg is easy to overlook, and you've shown us some excellent reasons why she deserves our attention.)