Sunday, January 17, 2021

That Curious Sense of Freedom: January 2021 Inklings!

You may remember that, a few years ago, Heidi Pekarek hosted a monthly link-up series called Inkling Explorations.  It was a low-key way to share book and movie scenes around a common theme, once a month, and it was really fun.  Heidi revived the series (now called Inklings!) recently, and I'm joining in this month!

The January prompt is a new beginning in book or film.  Since I recently reread The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery, which is all about new beginnings, I thought I would share this passage from the end of chapter eight, when Valancy Stirling makes a momentous decision that changes her life forever.

"I've had nothing but a second-hand existence," decided Valancy.  "All the great emotions of life have passed me by.  I've never even had a grief.  And have I ever really loved anybody?  Do I really love Mother?  No, I don't.  That's the truth, whether it is disgraceful or not.  I don't love her -- I've never loved her.  What's worse, I don't even like her.  So I don't know anything about any kind of love.  My life has been empty -- empty.  Nothing is worse than emptiness.  Nothing!"  Valancy ejaculated the last "nothing" aloud passionately.  Then she moaned and stopped thinking about anything for a while. One of her attacks of pain had come on.

When it was over, something had happened to Valancy -- perhaps the culmination of the process that had been going on in her mind ever since she had read Dr. Trent's letter.  It was three o'clock in the morning -- the wisest and most accursed hour of the clock.  But sometimes it sets us free.

"I've been trying to please other people all my life and failed," she said.  "After this I shall please myself.  I shall never pretend anything again.  I've breathed an atmosphere of fibs and pretenses and evasions all my life.  What a luxury it will be to tell the truth! I may not be able to do much that I want to do but I won't do another thing that I don't want to do.  Mother can pout for weeks -- I shan't worry over it. 'Despair is a free man -- hope is a slave.'"

Valancy got up and dressed, with a deepening of that curious sense of freedom.  When she had finished with her hair she opened the window and hurled the jar of potpourri over into the next lot.  It smashed gloriously against the schoolgirl complexion on the old carriage-shop.

"I am sick of fragrance of dead things," said Valancy.

If you haven't read The Blue Castle yet (or lately), it's a perfect book for January, when our thoughts turn to new beginnings, resolutions, and attempts to change ourselves or our lives.

(Mine from my Bookstagram account)

Check out this post on Heidi's blog about the Inklings! link-up and join in the fun yourself!  Or just see what other people have been contributing.

Friday, January 15, 2021

"The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins

I tried to read The Moonstone a couple of years ago, and just couldn't get into it.  Don't know why.  Wasn't in the right mood, maybe?  Still, I knew I wanted to read it, since it's widely hailed as one of the first great mystery novels.  I got this lovely copy with a gift card, and it sat on my TBR shelves for months and months because I was hesitant to try it again, if you must know. 

But some friends on Bookstagram decided they wanted to do a very laid-back read-along of it, just reading it at our own pace in the month of January, and I decided it was time for me to tackle it again.  I read it in a little over a week, all 673 pages of it.  (These editions are pretty small, so the pages add up fast.)

Parts of this book made me laugh aloud, especially in the first third or so, which is narrated by a snarky, observant old servant named Betteredge.  His asides made me think of Jane Austen because of their wry satirical wit.  And his obsession with Robinson Crusoe was always funny.

Parts of this book made me wish they would be over quickly, especially the section narrated by Miss Clack, who was a pharisaical, puritanical busybody.

The plot revolved around a giant diamond looted from India and later given to a young lady on her 18th birthday.  And then it promptly gets stolen.  Collins spins the mystery out for what feels like forever, but he does finally resolve it.  For a while there, I thought he was going to just end it with us never knowing what happened to it, and if that had happened, I would have thrown my book across the room.

I'm not sure how this book managed to simultaneously feel as if it was dragging on far longer than necessary, and yet kept up a galloping sense of suspense.  I kept saying, "Why isn't this book over yet?" and "I have to know what happens next!" at the same time.  That's a rather odd mix, I have to say.

I really haven't figured out yet if I actually liked this book or not.  I definitely want to read more by Wilkie Collins, though.

(Mine from my Bookstagram)

Particularly Good Bi

The more money he had, the more he wanted; there was a hole in Mr. Franklin's pocket that nothing would sew up (p. 35).

We had our breakfasts -- whatever happens in a house, robbery or murder, it doesn't matter, you must have your breakfast (p. 128).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG.  Lots of suspense, some mild violence (people getting tied up, that sort of thing), and mention of a man having a mistress.

This is my 13th book read for my 3rd Classics Club list and my first for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

"Black Heroes of the Wild West" by James Otis Smith

This is a fantastic book!  It tells the stories of three Black Americans and their real-life adventures in the Wild West.  And it does it in a graphic-novel-like style that is engaging and fun.  I found it at the library and might just have to pick up a copy to add to my homeschooling history shelves.

The three heroes it features are "Stagecoach Mary" Fields, Bass Reeves, and Bob Lemmons.  I actually got this from the library because I'm working on an article about Mary Fields for my next Prairie Times column, and I thought this was going to be just a standard biography, text and maybe a few illustrations.  But nope!  Full-color, fully illustrated little biographies.  AND it has real photographs here and there of actual Black cowboys and pioneers.  AND it has a six pages at the end about other famous Black westerners.  Yup, I really think I'm going to need a copy of my own.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG because it does include some violence and a tense moment or two, albeit non-gory and brief.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Looking Back; Looking Forward

Most of the time, I do one post wrapping up the last year's reading challenges and such, and another declaring my intentions for the new year.  However, a lot of my new challenges are just carrying on from last year, so I'm doing them all in one post this year.

A Literary Christmas (hosted by In The Bookshelf)

I said I wanted to read and review three Christmas books for this event, and I actually read six and reviewed five!  You can read them all here.  I'm sure I will participate in this event again next December, as it's always such fun to read and share Christmas books.

(All pictures are mine from my Bookstagram account.)

My Year with C. S. Lewis

I challenged myself to read at least five books by or about C. S. Lewis in 2020.  I read seven, though two of those were Narnia books, so they weren't new to me and I didn't review them on my blog.  You can read my five reviews here.


I started the year with 537 unread books.  I read more than 50 of them, and yet, I ended the year with 527 books on my unread shelves.  Um, yeah.

The lockdowns did help in that I didn't go to bookstores or thrift stores or library book sales nearly so often, but I bought quite a few books online, and some of those were the fault of lockdowns because I was comfort-buying.  I did finally start to get a handle on how to resist buying so many books, at least -- I am committed now to not buying books that just "look good," but rather to buying ones I already know I want to read.  

My original goal was to read 24 of my unread books and clear off a whole shelf in my bedroom.  Well, I read more than double that many, but I didn't clear off a shelf, so this was a half-success, half-failure.  You can read all my book reviews for this challenge here.  (I did read several that I never reviewed...)


I'm doing this challenge again this year!  You can learn more about it here at The Unread Shelf blog.  My goal this year is to read 36 books off my unread shelves AND truly clear off a whole shelf.  I have plans to move some books from my library up to my bedroom to ease my crowding problem down there, and I think that will help keep me motivated to NOT buy more books all the time.

Heidi's Lord of the Rings read-along

We are just about finished reading The Fellowship of the Ring together at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine.  Obviously, we will be continuing this for the next few months, as we read The Two Towers and Return of the King and discuss it together there.

My Year with Harry Potter

I want to reread all 7 Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling in 2021.  I have not read any of them since the last book came out in 2007!  It's high time I revisited that magical world.

Sense and Sensibility read-along???

I am contemplating hosting a read-along of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen here this spring or summer!  It's been a couple years since a led a read-along, and I'd like to get back to it.  I'd be doing it chapter-by-chapter like before.  If that interests you, stay tuned!

Did you have any goals for last year?  Did you meet any of them?  Do you have goals for this year?  Do tell!

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Smashing and Dashing 2020 Character Awards

Katie of I'm Charles Baker Harris (And I Can Read) didn't actually tag me with doing this, but she did encourage me to do it, so I'm going to!  You can read her post here.

The idea is to answer these with characters from books you read in that particular year.  If you want to do this too, go right ahead!  I'm not going to tag anyone, but I will provide a copy-able list of the questions at the bottom of the post.

All right.

Most Relatable Character 

I'm taking this to mean the character *I* related to the most.  And that would be Anne Elliot in Persuasion by Jane Austen.  She's quiet, shy, helpful, loyal, and generous, which are all things I either am or strive to be.

(All book photos are mine from my Instagram account.)

Most Pure Animal Companion 

Baloo the bear in All the Mowgli Stories by Rudyard Kipling.  Baloo isn't my favorite -- that's Bagheera -- but Bagheera is too much of a cat to be called pure.  So, Baloo it is.

Fiercest Fighter 

Little Bear in The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks.  I mean, he stabs a giant.  And bosses a giant around.  And demands things of a giant.  Gutsy as all get-out.

Am Surprised That I Loved You?? 

Am I surprised that I love Barney Snaith, that sarcastic, sardonic, devil-may-care sweetheart of a rogue in The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery?  No, I am not.  Are we surprised that I am currently reading it for the fifth time, even though I just read it last January?  No, we are not.

Best Antihero 

I'm not sure at all that Philip Marlowe is exactly an antihero.  A pretends-he's-not-a-hero, maybe?  A doesn't-believe-heroes-exist, maybe?  He certainly gets reluctant about hero-ing from time to time, so I'm putting him here.  He wasn't particularly well-behaved in The Little Sister, which was my Raymond Chandler book this year.

Best Sassmaster 

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  Oh, the sauciness!  The sassiness!  The withering scorniness of her casual jabs and jibes!

The Best Friends of All 

The siblings in The Railway Children by E. Nesbit are such jolly chums.  I used to like imagining I was their friend and having little everyday adventures with them.

Best Villain TO HATE 

Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  He's so easy to hate.  So deserving of it.  Miserable, vomitous mass of a man.

Award for Best vs Worst YA Parents 

It appears I didn't read any YA in 2020 besides my own new book, One Bad Apple, so I will have to answer from it.  Best would be Uncle Drew and Aunt Phoebe Dalton, and worst would obviously be Mrs. Lucretia Mallone.

Ship of All Ships in 2020 

I'm going to take this to mean the couple I love together best of the new ones I encountered in 2020 because otherwise it would just be one of my usual favorite couples (::cough:: Valancy+BarneyOrJane+Edward ::cough::).  But my favorite new-to-me couple was Juliette + Neil in the Two Blue Doors trilogy by Hillary Manton Lodge.  I was very glad they did finally get together for good.  And I loved their small, quiet wedding.

Most Precious 

Jerusha Abbott in Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster is a veritable ray of sprightly sunshine, and I defy anyone to believe otherwise.

Must Be Protected 

Anybody who lays a hand on my girl El from Rook di Goo by Jenni Sauer will have an angry Hamlette to reckon with.

Honestly Surprised You’re Still Alive 

It's really astonishing that Mina and Jonathon Harker survived in Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Award for Making the Worst Decisions 

Mary Yellan in Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier is an utter nincompoop and ought to be slapped.

Most in Need of a Nap 

Thomas Lovell, the king's enforcer/chief spy/master assasin/general handyman in Charity Bishop's novel-like renderings of Tudor history, specifically in the two I read this year: The Secret in the Tower and The King's Falconer.  The poor man is always so dreadfully busy averting disasters.

Want to Read More About You

I would love to read a sequel to Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park!  Especially since the ending felt abrupt to me.  I could have used at least one more chapter.

That's it for tonight, friends!  If you want to do this tag yourself, go right ahead!  Here are the questions, for ease of duplication:

Most Relatable Character 
Most Pure Animal Companion 
Fiercest Fighter 
Am Surprised That I Loved You?? 
Best Sassmaster 
Best Antihero 
The Best Friends of All 
Best Villain TO HATE 
Award for Best vs Worst YA Parents 
Ship of All Ships in 2020 
Most Precious 
Must Be Protected 
Honestly Surprised You’re Still Alive 
Award for Making the Worst Decisions 
Most in Need of a Nap 
Want to Read More About You

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

"A Holiday by Gaslight" by Mimi Matthews

What a fun finale to my Christmas reading this year!  I polished off this novella in about a day, and it was like a nice dessert -- satisfying, but not over-satiating.  It has a little bit of a North and South flavor to it, intentionally, with a young lady falling for a man in trade.  I'm going to be rereading Gaskell's book in February, and this nicely got me in the mood for that.

In this case, the young lady is being courted by a merchant who is stiff and formal around her, causing her to misunderstand the level of his affection for her.  She breaks off their courtship, but has second thoughts and tries to get to know him while he spends the Christmas holidays with her family.  It was fun, generally clean, and I enjoyed it.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some old-fashioned swear words, mentions of a man admiring a woman's figure, and a few detailed kisses.  Tiptoes along the line of clean or not, and mostly stays on the clean side.

This was my 5th Christmas book read and reviewed for the Literary Christmas reading link-up and my 57th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020!!!  I was really only hoping to read 24 off my shelves, and then I kept upping my goal whenever I hit my new one, and yeah... I am agog.  Now if only I hadn't bought nearly 50 books this year, this would mean I cleared off a couple of shelves!  But, there's always next year, right?

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

My Favorite Reads in 2020

Time for an end-of the-year reading wrap-up!  I'm linking up with Top Ten Tuesday from That Artsy Reader Girl for this.  

As has been my habit for the last few years, I'm doing two lists, my top ten new reads and my top ten rereads.  If you want to see my previous lists, they're all on this page.  

If I reviewed a book this year, I've linked the title to that review.  There are a few here that I've reviewed previously and didn't review again this year -- you can look up my previous reviews in my review lists if you want.

Okay, on to the fun!

New Reads

(Yes, I listed three books all together in one slot.  They form one cohesive story, so I figure that's fair.)

1. Christmas with Anne by L. M. Montgomery (G) -- a collection of short Christmas stories (not about Anne), plus two sections from the Anne books that are about Christmas.

2. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (G) -- four tired British women rent an Italian villa and change their outlooks on life.

3. The Two Blue Doors trilogy (book 1, book 2, book 3) by Hillary Manton Lodge (PG/PG13/PG13) -- a restaurateur and a doctor start a long-distance relationship and travel to France and Italy. This trilogy made Lodge an auto-buy author for me.

4. Marsalis on Music by Wynton Marsalis (G) -- a fun and fascinating exploration in which the famed jazz trumpet player guides children and adults alike through the forms and functions of music.

5. Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd (PG) -- magical realism involving dust monsters, flying horses, and people who can weave starlight.

6. Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker (R) -- my new headcanon for what Edward Rochester's life was like before he met Jane Eyre, while he knew Jane initially, and how everything ends up.

7. Aslan's World by Angus Menuge (G) -- a Bible study that explores Biblical themes in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

8. Rook di Goo by Jenni Sauer (PG-13) -- quirky sci-fi with a found family, Cinderella overtones, and a beautiful depiction of living with clinical anxiety.

9. Old Ramon by Jack Schaefer (PG) -- quiet story of a boy learning about life from an old mann two dogs, and a herd of sheep.

10. The Secret in the Tower by Charity Bishop (PG-16) -- Katherine of Aragon seeks to remain in England after the death of her husband, Prince Arthur, and various political machinations arise from the situation. Also, Thomas Lovell continues to be awesome in this installment of the Tudor Throne series.


(You will note that two books tie for second place and two for sixth.)

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (PG) -- my favorite novel.  A young woman continually resists men's efforts to control her, and obeys God and her own conscience instead.

2. The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery (PG) -- a downtrodden young woman finds a new zest for living when she learns that she is dying.  Also, this book has my favorite fictional romantic hero in it.

2. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (G) -- a loquacious orphan gets adopted by an old-fashioned woman and her shy brother.  No one is ever the same again. 

4. Persuasion by Jane Austen (G) -- a woman and man who had once been engaged, then broke up, learn that second chances are a beautiful thing.

5. All the Mowgli Stories by Rudyard Kipling (G) -- adventures of a boy and his animal friends.  Also includes the story about Mowgli as an adult, which I'd never read before!

6. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (PG) -- a na├»ve young woman makes new friends and learns that not everyone is as nice as they seem to be (but if a guy acts like a jerk, he's totally a jerk).

6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (PG) -- two people keep insisting they don't like each other even though they actually do like each other, a lot.

8. The Princess Bride by William Goldman (PG-13) -- true love, death, resurrection, pirates, the greatest swordsman of all time, a giant, the most beautiful girl in the world, a prince, a six-fingered man, a Sicilian, and the fire swamp.  You think this happens every day?

9. Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery (G) -- a girl gets to know her father and, at the same time, figures out who she is too.

10. All-of-a-Kind Family by Sidney Taylor (G) -- a Jewish family in turn-of-the-century NYC with lots of kids who have adventures.

This was a wonderful year of reading!  I read 94 books (new personal adult record!), I discovered some new favorite authors (Hillary Manton Lodge and Elizabeth Von Arnim), and it was just altogether a lovely year, book-wise.