Thursday, January 16, 2020

"All the Mowgli Stories" by Rudyard Kipling

Ohhhhh, how I love this book.

As a teen, I read The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book over and over and over, mainly skipping the non-Mowgli stories and just reading about his adventures.  Which made reading this collection like a little journey back in time to my teen years, curled up in the basement with Bagheera and Mowgli and Kaa and Baloo.  Bagheera was ever my favorite back then, and he remains my favorite now, all wise and mysterious and sleek and a little mischievous.  I love black cats, and had several as a child and teen, but never named any Bagheera, weirdly enough.  If ever we get a black cat again, I will totally name it that.

Anyway.  There's one story in this, "In the Rukh," that I'd never read before!  That was such a surprising delight!  I learned from the Afterword that "In the Rukh" is actually the first Mowgli story Kipling wrote, and his first published story!  But chronologically for Mowgli, it's the last story, and involves him getting married and more or less settling down, his four wolf brothers still with him.  I really loved that story, as the end of "The Spring Running" is much too sad, with him having to leave the jungle and his wolf family.  And that's what I thought the last Mowgli story was, because it's the last one in The Second Jungle Book.  I'm SO glad that it's not!

Why do I love these stories so much?  Because they're fun, but they've also got a lot of wisdom in them.  Can you find a place to belong and build your own family from beings who are unlike you and unrelated to you?  Will that "found family" last forever?  What if it doesn't?  How does growing from a child to an adult both change a person and solidify who they have been from the beginning?  How do you take advice you don't like from someone you trust and love?  Oh, there's so much wonderful stuff in here.  I almost want to just begin at the beginning and read them all over again right now :-)

Particularly Good Bits:

Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody cared to cross his path; for he was as cunning as Tabaqui, as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant.  But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down (p. 7).

"Let them fall, Mowgli; they are only tears" (p. 16).

One of the beauties of Jungle Law is that punishment settles all scores.  There is no nagging afterward (p. 39).

Here there was some little difficulty with the catch of the door.  It had been very firmly fastened, but the crowd tore it away bodily, and the light of the torches streamed into the room where, stretched at full length on the bed, his paws crossed and lightly hung down over one end, black as the Pit, and terrible as a demon, was Bagheera.  There was one half-minute of desperate silence, as the front ranks of the crowd clawed and tore their way back from the threshold, and in that minute Bagheera raised his head and yawned -- elaborate, carefully, and ostentatiously -- as he would yawn when he wished to insult an equal.  The fringed lips drew back and up; the red tongue curled; the lower jaw dropped and dropped till you could see half-way down the hot gullet; and the gigantic dog-teeth stood clear to the pit of the gums till they rang together, upper and under, with the snick of steel-faced wards shooting home round the edges of a safe.  Next instant the street was empty; Bagheera had leaped back through the window, and stood at Mowgli's side, while a yelling, screaming torrent scrambled and tumbled one over another in their panic haste to get to their own huts (p. 88).

"I was rolling in the dust before the gate and dawn, and I may have made also some small song to myself" (p. 89).  (I loved this line so much as a teen, I memorized it.  I still quote it.)

A large, warm tear splashed down on his knee, and, miserable as he was, Mowgli felt happy that he was so miserable, if you can understand that upside-down sort of happiness (p. 145).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for danger and suspense and some violence.

This is my 40th book read and reviewed for my second go-'round with the Classics Club!  Only ten left to hit my goal!  I am really hoping to finish this list by the end of the year... so I can start all over again :-)

Monday, January 13, 2020

"Dear Author: Letters from a Bookish Fangirl" by Laura A. Grace

This is one of the sweetest little books I've read in a long time.  It is exactly what the subtitle says: a collection of letters to unspecified authors by a woman who loves their books.

Because Grace never reveals what letter goes to what author, I felt like some of them were written to me.  And that was incredibly encouraging.  In fact, I saved this book to read when I dug back into rewrites on One Bad Apple after taking a hiatus in December.  I'm so glad I did, because it really gave me a little dose of creative oomph every time I opened the cover and read a couple of letters.

If you're an author OR a bookish fangirl, I think you'll dig this book.  I saw on Laura A. Grace's Instagram account that the e-book version is FREE today ONLY, January 13, 2020.  So if you've been thinking of getting this, now would be a perfect day to do so!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G because it's totally clean and sweet and innocent.

And yay!  This is the first book I've finished for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020 :-)

Monday, January 6, 2020

"The Blue Castle" by L. M. Montgomery (yet again)

This is my fourth time reading The Blue Castle.  This is the fourth time I have inhaled this book in two days.  I simply cannot read it slowly.  I really thought I was going to savor it over the course of a week or so this time, since I reread it last spring.  But nope.  Nothing doing.  Started it January 1 and finished it January 2.

Valancy Stirling continues to astonish me with her depth of character development.  I love characters who undergo a metamorphosis, and that's her whole story.  Dowdy, mother-hen-pecked, and joy-starved old maid at the beginning, she blooms into a contented, happy, useful, loving woman.  And her transformation is totally believable.  Wow, such good writing.

Also, Barney Snaith is officially my favorite fictional romantic hero.  Sorry, Mr. Rochester. 

Word to the wise: don't get buy the copy with the cover I've featured here.  It's riddled with typos. Very disappointing.  The edition from Tundra books is much better.  So is the one from Sourcebooks Fire -- I recommend either of those ones.

(Mine from my Bookstagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

She brushed the old years and habits and inhibitions away from her like dead leaves.  She would not be littered with them (p. 91).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for a couple of old-fashioned curse words, alcohol use, and discussion of an unmarried girl becoming pregnant.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

"Before Freedom: When I Just Can Remember" edited by Belinda Hurmence

This slim volume is subtitled Twenty-seven Oral Histories of Former South Carolina Slaves.  It's a selection of remembrances collected up during the Great Depression -- part of the Federal Writers' Project that provided work for writers in need.  They interviewed former slaves and made detailed notes about their memories.  All their interviews are preserved at the Library of Congress, but those are inaccessible for most people, so Hurmence put a selection of them in this book so people like you and I can read them.

And they're fascinating.  Everyone in this was at least 10 when the Civil War ended, so they had clear memories of slavery.  But that's about all they have in common -- every story is different.  Some sadder than others, some clearer than others, some more bitter or more angry or even more wistful than others.

If you're at all interested in American history, this book presents some really wonderful first-hand accounts.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for discussions of violence, such as whipping, terror at the hands of the KKK, and so on.

Friday, January 3, 2020

"The Indian in the Cupboard" by Lynne Reid Banks

This is one of my absolute favorite books of all time.  I loved it as a kid and I love it now.  I hadn't read it in more than a decade, but I pulled it out to read aloud to my kids, and they loved it too, especially my daughters.

Omri's friend Patrick gives him a little plastic Indian for his birthday.  Omri's brother gives him an old cupboard he found in the alley.  Omri's mother finds him an old, old key that fits the lock on the cupboard, and he's delighted because now he has a place to put things.  Don't we all love places to put things?  I know I do.

Anyway, Omri puts his plastic Indian in the cupboard and locks it and goes to sleep.  And when he wakes up, he discovers that the Indian has come alive.  But is still only a couple inches tall.  But totally alive.  His name is Little Bear, and he is the most demanding, fierce, bossy tiny person you've ever heard of.  But also endearingly brave.

My favorite parts of this book are all about Omri scrambling to provide things Little Bear needs.  A tiny campfire, bark for a longhouse, food, and so on.  I love miniature things, which is a big part of why books like this and The Borrowers appeal to me.  And why I love playing with my kids' Calico Critters with them and keep buying them more for their birthdays.  Anyway, when Omri tells Patrick about this magical event, Patrick wants a tiny person too and sticks a plastic cowboy in the cupboard.  And the cowboy, Billy "Boohoo" Boone, is my other favorite thing about this story.  He's cantankerous and belligerent and softhearted.

I love everything about this book, and I've read three of the sequels too, though I didn't love them as much.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some tiny acts of violence and for taking God's name in vain a few times.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

My Favorite Reads from 2019

Over this past year, I have read 76 books.  Wowsers.  That may be some kind of record for adult me.  Especially since one of those was War and Peace.

As always, I can't pick just ten favorite books from all those.  So here are my ten favorite new-to-me books from 2019, and also my ten favorite rereads.  I'm linking this up with Top Ten Tuesday from That Artsy Reader Girl.

I've decided it would be nice to have a place to gather these lists together, like I have my movie top tens all listed on one page, so I've created a new page here that collects my end-of-the-year top ten lists from 2014 to the present.

Every title here is linked to my review of that book, though some of the rereads, I've linked to older reviews of mine because I didn't re-review them this year.  All photos are mine from my bookstagram account.

Top Ten New-to-Me Reads of 2019

1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman -- The Jungle Book retold with ghosts and a vampire.  PG-13.

2. The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay -- three women learn from and lean on each other. PG-13.

3. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum -- fairy tale about Santa Claus.  G.

4. Mycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse -- two brothers solve a series of opium-related murders.  PG-13.

5. Five Poisoned Apples ed. by Anne Elisabeth Stengl -- five delicious retellings of Snow White.  PG-13.

6. Adventures of the Woman Homesteader by Suzanne K. George -- nonfiction collection of letters and the life story of Elinore Pruitt Stewart.  PG.

7. The Racketty-Packetty House by Frances Hodgson Burnett -- dolls in an old dollhouse find someone who values them.  G.

8. The King's Players by Charity Bishop -- King Henry VII and Sir Thomas Lovell search out spies.  PG-13.

9. Grateful American by Gary Sinise -- memoir about Sinise's career as an actor and patriot.  PG-13.

10. The Undertaker's Assistant by Amanda Skenandore --  a black woman embalmer takes a job in New Orleans and searches for clues to her past.

Top Ten Rereads of 2019

1. Hamlet by William Shakespeare -- something is rotten in the state of Denmark.  PG-13. 

2. The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery -- woman shakes off her oppressive family and finds her own life.  PG. 

3. The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler -- Philip Marlowe investigates a drowning.  PG-13.

4. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien -- something about a dark lord and the end of the world.  PG-13.

5. The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks -- toys come alive in a magical cupboard.  PG.

6. Shane by Jack Schaefer -- stranger helps a family fight off a greedy neighbor.  PG.

7. Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George -- retelling of Much Ado About Nothing set during Prohibition.  PG-13.

8. A Room with a View by E. M. Forster -- young woman learns to think and feel for herself. PG.

9. Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart -- nonfiction collection of folksy letters about life on the frontier.  PG.

10. A Flame in the Dark by Sarah Baughman -- young man seeks advice from Martin Luther to help navigate life and love. PG-13.

Here's to another great year of books to read and enjoy and love in 2020!

Monday, December 30, 2019

"The Undertaker's Assistant" by Amanda Skenandore

Historical Fiction BooksI grabbed this off the New Releases shelf at the library without knowing anything about it except what the jacket flap told me: set in Reconstruction-era New Orleans.  That's all I needed to know.

As you may know, I'm writing a retelling of Snow White that's set in the Old West, called One Bad Apple.  It's set in the early 1870s, and most of the characters are African-American.  One of them hails from New Orleans.  So I figured this novel would be a good chance to do a little research of sorts, pick up some flavors and knowledge and so on for my own book, which I'm currently revising.

I was totally right.  Also, this was an excellent book.  It's all about a young African-American woman named Effie who is an embalmer.  She was raised by a white doctor up north, after running away from her owners during the Civil War and being rescued by him while he was a surgeon in the Union Army.  But she's returned to New Orleans because she believes she was born near there, and she wants to find out if she still has any relatives.  Thanks to several traumatic events, she blocked out most of her memories of her childhood before finding the Yankee soldiers who rescued her, but she knows they found her near that city.

Over the course of the story, Effie does gradually remember much of her past.  She makes new friends.  She falls in love.  She gets a job working for a white undertaker, and she gets involved with people working to protect the rights of black people in Louisiana as a whole.  This was an engrossing read, and I finished it in just a few days.  However, due to the subject matter, it is not what I would call a "nice" book, so approach with caution if you are squeamish or easily offended.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R.  There's a LOT about dead bodies and how to embalm them, there's a lot of violence both shown and mentioned, and there's some sexual content.