Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"The Annotated Big Sleep" by Raymond Chandler, edited by Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson, and Anthony Dean Rizzuto

Well, this was fantastic.  I've never read a fully annotated novel before, just annotated versions of Hamlet, but I am now a firm fan.  It's like a movie with a commentary track, but as a book.  It was absolutely fascinating.  I learned SO many cool things from these notes!  From explaining slang to discussing the LA setting to exploring the major themes, this book's notes had everything.

And I do mean everything, so if you don't want the more seedy subtext of the the book brought forward, don't read this.  It will delve into the depravities that Chandler only hints at, and that's definitely not something everyone would want to read.  So do be aware of that, okay?

It took me like two weeks to read this, but that's only because I was enjoying it so much that I read it in little bites and nibbles so as to make it last as long as possible.  

If you want to know what The Big Sleep is about, I reviewed it pretty fully here in 2017.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for the book's text, R for the annotations.  No sexual explicitness, exactly, but definitely discussions of sexual topics, drugs, violence, etc.

This is my fourth book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring Fling

The prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl for Top Ten Tuesday this week is "Books on My Spring 2019 TBR."  So here are ten books I hope to read (or reread, or finish reading) this spring:

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery  (re-read)

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien (finish re-reading)

The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien  (re-read)

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame  (re-read)

Murder at the Mikado by Julianna Deering

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (re-read)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald by J. K. Rowling

Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit by Amy Stewart

Flora of Middle-Earth by Walter S. Judd and Graham A. Judd

(From my Instagram)

A little fantasy, a little junior fiction, a little sci-fi, a little mystery, and some cozy re-reads.  Should be an awesome spring!  If I actually read all of these, lol.  There are five here I'm confident I'll read (or finish reading) and five that... we shall see!  I'm very much a mood-reader, so reading plans like these often fall off the rails pretty quickly.

Are you a mood-reader?  Or do you plan out your reading?  Or do a bit of both?

Monday, March 18, 2019

"Homer Price" by Robert McCloskey

If you're thinking to yourself, "Wow, Hamlette has been reading an awful lot of YA/Middle-grade/Junior fiction lately, hasn't she?" you are not wrong.  I have been.  It's because I'm teaching two lit classes twice a month for our homeschool co-op, and I'm revisiting a lot of really wonderful books in the process.  And I am loving it!  Though I'm not loving how it cuts into my unstructured "I read what I want" pattern of reading.  But whatever, I'm still reading things as the mood strikes me, just more slowly.

Anyway.  Homer Price.  I loved this book (and its sequel, Centerburg Tales) as a kid, and I love it now.  It's like The Andy Griffith Show, but told from Opie's perspective.  (That's one of my top fave shows, so this is high praise, folks.)  Homer Price, his family, his friends, and all the townsfolk go about their small-town, middle-America, middle-century lives with joy and curiousity and good humor.  I would love to live there.

Homer gets into a jam now and then, like when his pet skunk tangles with four armed robbers, or when he "fixes" his uncle's doughnut-making machine and then it won't stop making doughnuts, but he always uses his quick wits and friendly nature to come through just fine.  McCloskey's storytelling is simple, direct, and laced with humor.  I chuckled aloud a couple of times, but I remember laughing heartily over it as a kid.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Good, clean, wholesome fun.

This is my thirtieth book read and reviewed for my second go-round with the Classics Club!

Monday, March 11, 2019

"Lord of the Flies" by William Golding

I read this back in high school, like so many of you probably have.  I hated it.  Hated it in the, "Why does this exist, why did I have to read it, and how soon can I forget it?" way I hated Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.  

But I've been wondering about Lord of the Flies lately.  During my thirties, I've re-read and re-watched books and movies I disliked in my teens and early twenties and discovered that I now like a lot of them.  Even love some of them.  So I wondered if this had also suffered the "I'm not ready for this book" problems that had plagued my initial readings of The Old Man and the Sea and The Great Gatsby, which I now very much enjoy.

Also, I'm a big fan of Lost, and I knew that the writers had credited this book as being an inspiration for the show.  I mean, my beloved Sawyer even mentions it at least once within the show itself.  So... I decided it was time to give it another go.

I still hate it.

Actually, maybe I don't hate it.  Maybe I just... find it heavy-handed.  I read it this month for the 9th-grade literature course I'm teaching at our homeschool co-op, and during our discussion for this book, I realized what is probably the main reason I don't care for this book.  It's supposed to make you all shocked and startled that oh my goodness, these boys are acting like savages -- are people inherently evil or something? And... thanks to my Biblical understanding of human nature, that's not a shocker.  That's something I already knew.  Romans 3:10 reminds us, "There is no one who is righteous; no, not one."  Psalm 51:5 says, "Surely I am sinful from birth; sinful from the time my mother conceived me."  So Golding spends lots and lots of time convincing us of something I didn't need convincing of.

Plus, it's so loaded with Important Symbols.  I really don't like obvious or heavy-handed symbolism in my books.  Give me instead writers like Tolkien, whose symbols function perfectly within the story whether you see them as symbolic or not.

So, yeah.  Like with Of Mice and Men, I'm agreeing with my teenage self that this book is not one I enjoy, like, or want to spend any more time thinking about.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: a hard PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, mild bad language, and creepy scenes.

This is my 29th book read and reviewed for my second time through with the Classics Club.

Monday, March 4, 2019

"The Lady in the Lake" by Raymond Chandler

I inhaled this book in a day and a half like a drowning woman whose been handed an oxygen tank.  It was everything I needed right now -- sparkly and gritty and grim and delicious.  

You know by now that I adore Raymond Chandler's books.  I try to read one a year (I have all seven of his novels, plus two collections of his other writings, like short stories and essays), which means it's about nine years between readings, and that lets me forget a lot of what the plots involve.  Keeps them fresher, you know?  Works for all of them except The Big Sleep, cuz I've watched the movie half a dozen times and know the story really well by now.  

Anyway.  I really think The Lady in the Lake is my favorite of Chandler's novels.  Maybe it's that part of it is set away from the grimy city.  Maybe it's that a down-home country sheriff plays a substantial, heroic part that I thoroughly enjoy.  Maybe it's that Marlowe is just a little sweeter in it than some others.  I don't know.  But wow, I dig it to pieces.

Philip Marlowe gets hired to find a rich man's missing wife.  Not to bring her back, just to be sure she's okay.  Body after body piles up, starting with the titular drowned woman, and Marlowe has to do some pretty fast thinking to stay alive, much less ahead of the bad guys.

Particularly Good Bits:

I like a drink, but not when people are using me for a diary (p. 41).

"However hard I try to be nice I always end up with my nose in the dirt and my thumb feeling for somebody's eye" (p. 137).

"I'm all done with hating you," I said.  "It's all washed out of me.  I hate people hard, but I don't hate them very long" (p. 243).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence, bad language, and much discussion of people having extramarital affairs.  As usual, Chandler manages to handle tasteless subjects in a surprisingly tasteful manner.

This is my 28th book read and reviewed for my second time around with the Classics Club.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

"Life Beyond Measure" by Sidney Poitier

I've been a fan of Sidney Poitier for many years, beginning with the first time I saw the movie Blackboard Jungle (1955).  I've seen him in so many amazing movies since then -- In the Heat of the Night (1967), To Sir, With Love (1967), Buck and the Preacher (1972), and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), to name a few.  But I had no idea until a couple weeks ago that he'd written any books!  I saw this on a display of books for Black History Month at my local library and immediately snatched it up.  Sidney Poitier reminiscing about his life in letters written for his great-granddaughter?  I'm so there.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book immensely.  There were a few parts I skimmed, mostly ones where he did a lot of speculating about the history of the universe and whether or not there is a God.  But the rest of the book fascinated me, as Poitier unspooled the story of his life in a relatable, readable way.

Born into an impoverished familyin the Bahamas, Poitier spent the first decade of his life living without electricity or running water.  At 15, he was sent to live with his older brother in Miami, but had difficulty dealing with the rampant racism there or in staying out of trouble, so made his way alone to New York City, where he lived hand-to-mouth for a year.  He joined the army, then returned to existing on the edge of homelessness until he discovered acting.

I never knew anything at all about Poitier's life, and so my favorite parts of this book were definitely his looking back at how the events of his life shaped him.  He's written two memoirs, The Measure of a Man and This Life, and they're on my TBR list now.

Particularly Good Bits:

Though I was a fantastic, formidable daydreamer, the possibility that I could envisage one day traveling far from there was severely limited by lack of exposure to other places (p. 4).

Heroes and role models are important, especially because when you think of them they have the ability to buoy your spirits and ignite your energies to move you onward (p. 181).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG.  Very little bad language, no uncomfortable scenes.  Does discuss things like alcoholism, gambling addiction, petty theft, minor violence, and dealing with racism.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"Five Poisoned Apples" edited by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Yes, it's true.  I have finally finished reading all five stories in Five Poisoned Apples.  Yes, it took me months.  Let me 'splain.

I started reading it immediately on my Kindle the night it was released in early December.  When my paperback copy arrived, I finished reading "Falling Snow" by Skye Hoffert, the first story in the collection.  And then I got busy, and Christmas happened, and so on, and when I picked the book back up again in January... well, the trouble, you see, is that I love "Falling Snow" by Skye Hoffert so much that I just read "Falling Snow" all over again.  

But then I was a good, well-behaved reader and did move on and read the rest of the stories.  I had to stop between a couple of them because of other need-to-be-read-now books, which happens a lot to me right now.  But anyway, I loved the whole collection.  It's gorgeous.  In fact, I feel a little bad about having such a huge favorite in this collection, because all 5 stories are excellent.  And all so different!  But the truth is, "Falling Snow" speaks to me in a way that few fairy tale retellings have, and so... I love it best.

Full disclosure time.  I was on the judging panel for this contest.  There were multiple judges for the first round, so I only got to read like a sixth of the stories submitted.  I chose my top 5 from the ones I read, plus some honorable mentions.  And then the contest was out of my hands, and others made the final decision of which stories would win and be in this collection.  However... three of the stories in this book are stories I selected as the best from the 20+ I read.  Which makes me feel a special sort of protective love for this collection.  Obviously, this had nothing to do with how good a judge I am, but the fact that I mysteriously got better stories to read than the other judges, it would seem!

My absolute top pick was "Falling Snow."  The first time I read it, it knocked my metaphorical socks off.  The writing was so vivid and unique, the characters intriguing, the plot complex -- I loved it immediately.  I read it a second time, just to savor its special dark-and-zesty flavor.  I let the final judges know in no uncertain terms that I was convinced it should be a winner, and that I would cry if it didn't make the final cut.

But that's as far as my influence could go.  I waited for months, hoping against hope that this story I loved so much would be chosen.  In the meantime, I became friends with Skye Hoffert.  She's such a sweet, humble, talented faun stepping out into the wide world and learning to share her words beautifully, one tiptoed step at a time.  

The night they announced the contest winners, I participated in a live reveal on Facebook, learning in real time who the winners were as the Rooglewood Press team shared them with us one by one.  They saved "Falling Snow" for last, I'm convinced just because they knew it would torture me.  And when they announced that it won, I cried anyway.  Tears of joy and relief and exultation for this beautiful, sharp-edged bauble that would now be shared with the world.

Okay, so this is turning into less of a review and more of a Hamlette-sniffling-quietly-to-herself song of maudlinity.  Time to actually review things.

"Falling Snow" by Skye Hoffert sets the Snow White story in a magical circus where all the performers and circus workers are magical beings... except one young girl.  She works as a clown but aspires to be a tightrope walker, and she has no idea that everyone else is magical.  And she has no idea she's in mortal danger.  But with the help of the circus owner's son and a mysterious newcomer, she almost could have a chance to overcome the evil forces surrounding her.  This story is so sharp and pointy, but also sweet and soft, and altogether dark and delicious... I love it dearly.

"Raven's Heir" by Jenelle Hovde is more what I think of as straight-up fantasy, and it has this little tinge of Robin Hood flavor that I dig.  An orphaned princess seeks to unite her kingdome against her step-mother, who has been ruling as regent ever since the king's mysterious death.  She escapes the castle and finds help from a band of rangers, one of whom turns out to be the boy she was betrothed to when they were both very young.  I liked this one a lot, especially the heroine who disguises herself as a boy, as that's a favorite trope of mine.

"The Fairest One" by Cortney Manning is also straight-up fantasy, but with a very different texture.  Here, humans enslave dwarves and use their magic for their own purposes.  But a young princess befriends a dwarf when she's but a child, and as they grow up, she comes to rely on his friendship and wisdom more and more.  Eventually, he helps her escape her greedy stepmother and seek assistance from the dwarven council to overthrow the evil queen and free the enslaved dwarves.  It's kind of got a bit of the story of Queen Esther from the Bible woven in as well, because there's an emperor seeking a queen who holds a beauty contest that figures into the story as well.  Also a really fun twist on the story.

"Red as Blood" by Maddie Morrow is my other favorite in this collection.  It involves vampires, and I really like vampires.  This story is told from the point of the view of an assassin who's tasked with hunting down and killing a member of the royal family, but not told why, and the near-disastrous results.  It really takes the familiar parts of the Snow White story and twists them in new and fascinating ways.  But it does definitely get dark and a little bit scary.

"Snowbird and the Red Slippers" by Rachael Wallen is the eeriest of these five stories.  It mixes the fairy tale The Red Shoes with Snow White and sets the whole story in a prestigious ballet school in New York City, with a poor North Korean dancer at the center.  Passion, obsession, culture clashes, and envy all play a part, and I found it to be a stunning conclusion not only to this collection, but to this series as a whole.

(From my Instagram account.)

Particularly Good Bits:

I was always performing and I didn't even need a crowd (p. 13, "Falling Snow").

Chayse was a razor blade, sharp and alluring.  To touch him was to accept the risk of getting cut.  And I was already bleeding (p. 19, "Falling Snow").

She was supposed to be just another piece in mother's treasure trove.  A valuable to be coveted, a walking jewel begging to be taken, but to touch it was to ask for death (p. 22, "Falling Snow").

The truth was sharp and cut my tongue as it slid off (p. 77, "Falling Snow").

When exposed to a dangerous adversary, she came at him with everything she had, even if it was just a pocket knife (p. 85, "Falling Snow").

The ceiling wept glittering stalactites, its cold tears ending in jagged points (p. 131, "Raven's Heir").

Lifting the lid, she reached inside and pulled forth the rainbow of beautiful embroidery, her only keepsake of her mother (p. 249, "The Fairest One").

Tingles ran up his spine and blood pounded in his ears.  In her hands was one final message.  If she kisses you, you will die (p. 353, "Red as Blood").

This was home.  Her floors -- the wood flexing under her leaps, dusted with rosin and sticky with sweat.  Her walls -- the severely honest mirrors and the barre, her first pas de deus partner (p. 433).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG/PG-13 for violence, suspense, young people in danger, and some mild romance.  I just handed off my copy to my 11-year-old and I think he'll be fine.  So maybe like a PG-10?

This is my third book read and reviewed for this year's edition of the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.