Monday, November 20, 2017

"Film Noir: Light and Shadow" edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini

This book is a delight.

It's absolutely crammed with pictures.  (Yes, as my Goodreads friends know, I got entirely stuck on page 132 because it was a full-page picture of a certain beloved actor, and I didn't want to turn the page on him.)  It's also crammed with details and observations and information and trivia and facts and theories and... yeah, it is completely wonderful.

But what do you expect from a book with a cover that boasts Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney from my fave film noir ever, Laura (1944)?

The only real problem with this book is that now I have dozens more noir films on my to-be-watched list.  Such a problem to have, huh?  

Basically, the whole book is essay after essay devoted to the visual aspects of film noir.  The essays have titles like "Rooms like Reveries: Interiors and Interiority in Film Noir" (Imogen Sara Smith), "The Gangster and Film Noir" (Alain Silver), "Fragments of the Mirror: Hitchcock's Noir Landscape" (Alain Silver), and "Women's Song and Dance Performances in Film Noir" (Christophe Gelly and Delphine Letort) -- you can see how enticing they are to someone who enjoys this film style!

By far, my favorite essay was "Nothingness and Purpose: Light and shadow in It's a Wonderful Life" by Todd Erickson.  I've always felt that Wonderful Life was a much darker movie that it gets credit for, and so much darker than most Christmas movies -- I heartily agree with Erickson that it has noir in its heart.  

If you're a fan of film noir and love learning about how movies are made, love delving into what's going on below the surface of a story, or just generally love reading about movies, you will probably enjoy this book.

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It: a hard PG-13 for some bad language (quoting movie lines, mainly) and non-explicit discussions of adult themes and sexual undercurrents in films.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Another LOTR Read-along: A Short Cut to Mushrooms (FOTR 1, 4)


I absolutely love the title of this chapter. It makes me laugh, and it also alerts readers that this is going to be lighter than the previous one. I love mushrooms myself, so I'd definitely like to know of any shortcuts to get to some.

Pippin continues to be concerned about the Black Riders' sniffing, and rather put out that Frodo didn't ask the Elves about it. I'm amused.

This is the chapter where I start to really love Sam. It chiefly begins with this:
"If you don't come back, sir, then I shan't, that's certain," said Sam. "Don't you leave him! they said to me. Leave him! I said. I never mean to. I am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon, and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they'll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with, I said. They laughed." (p. 85)
Oh, Sam. How perfectly wonderful you are! I really feel like Sam has the greatest character arc in the whole book. He goes from humble gardener who's never been out of the Shire to a brave hero who helps save Middle Earth. Such an amazing guy. (Warning: I'm going to natter on about him a lot. He's my second-favorite character.)

Frodo notices that Sam is already growing and changing. Shortly after that bit,
Frodo looked at Sam rather startled, half expecting to see some outward sign of the odd change that seemed to have come over him. It did not sound like the old Sam Gamgee that he thought he knew. But it looked like the old Sam Gamgee sitting there, except that his face was unusually thoughtful. (p. 85)
The Sams, they are a-changin'.

Speaking of wonderful characters, isn't Farmer Maggot awesome? I read an internet discussion once where people tried to figure out who could have taken the ring if Frodo and Sam hadn't been able to, and it was almost universally agreed that Farmer Maggot could have done it too. But anyway, he's a great example of a pattern throughout the trilogy: reversed expectations. Frodo is scared of him, but he's friendly. His name sounds icky and rotten, but he's kind and lively. This is a huge theme for Tolkien -- I think it reflects the fact that he was a Christian. It really brings to mind those passages about how the wisdom of God is foolishness to man, or how the least will be greatest and the greatest will be least, and that the Son of God came to earth humble and poor.

So keep an eye out for that theme as we go.

Favorite Lines:

"I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire" (p. 85).

Discussion Questions:

Do you like mushrooms?

What other things can you think of from LOTR that go with the theme/pattern of reversing expectations? 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"The Usurper's Throne" by Charity Bishop

When I first heard about The Usurper's Throne, I figured it was going to be a little similar to The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, since they both deal with British history in a novelized way.  I read The White Queen a few years ago and liked it okay, but I ended up getting bored by the court intrigue and how hard it was to tell the characters apart, since so many of them have similar names.  So I was a little worried that I might get lost in all the names in The Usurper's Throne, since British history is not one of my strong points.

I am overjoyed to say that my worry was completely unfounded.  While I wished The White Queen would have been about a hundred pages shorter, I wished The Usurper's Throne was a hundred pages longer.  It's that engrossing!

Happily, since I wanted more and more, this is book one in a projected series about the Tudor monarchs.  I eagerly await the next book!  Ms. Bishop had better write fast, because I want to dive into the next adventure right away.

The story here revolves around the marriage of Prince Arthur of England to Princess Katherine of Spain.  Prince Arthur's father, King Henry, is desperate to secure his children's position as rightful heirs to the English throne, but he's beset by traitors.  He hopes the alliance with mighty Spain will help dissuade potential usurpers.  Together with his chief enforcer, Sir Thomas Lovell, he seeks to keep order in England at any cost.  But a determined Duke of Suffolk wants to take the throne for himself, and various devious schemes twine through this book as Suffolk and the king try to thwart each other.

If all that sounds kind of confusing, don't worry!  I had very little trouble telling various characters apart even though I am not well-versed in English history.  Bishop's characterizations are sharp and vivid, and she's also included a list of characters at the beginning of the book, with their names, ages, what side they're on, and other useful facts.

I had two favorite characters in this book:  Meg Pole and Sir Thomas Lovell.  One is a heartsick, worried woman whose brother dies a traitor's death in the opening chapter, and the other is a wily, cunning, devious, but ultimately sympathetic cynic.  Because I'm not very knowledgeable about English history, I had no idea if either of them were going to survive to the end of the book, which was very suspenseful!

Particularly Good Bits:

"Books are friends that never change even when abandoned."


"Never let an opportunity for benevolence pass unnoticed."

"There are many prisons in life, Margaret... I cast people into them as often as I pluck them from their depths."

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  a soft R for a lot of sensuality and some language.  It never quite crosses over to where I felt uncomfortable reading it myself, but I would not let a teen read it.  There's a lot of suggestive dialog and sexual situations that are not described in detail, but are still more involved than I would recommend to anyone under 18.  A lot of the plot revolves around whether or not Arthur and Katherine's marriage was ever consummated. 

Full disclosure:  I received an ARC copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which I have given here.

You can pre-order the Kindle edition here, and the paperback should be available to pre-order soon.  The official release date is November 24!  Meanwhile, you can also check out the Goodreads page here.



This is my 11th book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge 2017 hosted by Heidi at Along the Brandywine.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The "Cloaked" Kindle Giveaway!


It's true. I'm giving away three Kindle copies of my book Cloaked right now! Click here to go to the Amazon giveaway page and enter. No purchase necessary, void where prohibited, and only open to US residents because that's what Amazon allows, I'm afraid.

The giveaway runs through November 14, and three winners will find the e-book automatically added to their accounts on November 15.

Need something to read while you travel to visit relatives for Thanksgiving? Looking for something to while away those homework-free hours during your fall break? Or want something to amuse you while people nap in front of a football game after the big meal? This would work well for all three!

Another LOTR Read-Along: Three is Company (FOTR 1, 3)


Now we hit the place where the book begins to be substantially different than the movie. (Or, really, where the movie began to trim things, though the extended edition does have Frodo and Sam seeing elves at one point.)

And so the adventure really begins! Frodo says goodbye to Bag End (sniffle sniffle), and he sets off for Crickhollow. Is that not the coolest name for a house? I would love to have a house some day near a creek and a hollow so I could name it that.

But I digress. Not only do Frodo, Sam, and Pippin begin their journey, but we get introduced to the Black Riders too! I prefer to call them 'Nazgul,' but 'Ringwraiths' sounds cool too. They are ultra creepy, and I can see why they kind of get copied in other fantasy novels. It amuses me how Pippin fixates on the way the Black Riders sniff after Frodo -- when he says, "But don't forget the sniffing!" (p. 77), I always laugh aloud. Dear, dear Pippin.

And we meet our first elves! I have to admit that the Elves are not my favorite Middle Earth race. They're a little too cold or remote or reserved or something. Yes, too reserved for me to be friends with. But they fascinate me, nonetheless. And I do like their way of speaking. Not so much Elvish itself, though it's cool, but just their almost oratorical style.

There's a lot of poetry in this book, as you'll have discovered now. I will tell you a dreadful secret: I read the short poems and skim the long ones. I'm fine with you doing the same if you don't want to read the really long ones (which we haven't gotten to yet, these were all short).

One thing to keep in mind as we read is that Tolkien basically made up what we think of as "fantasy" today. There were fairy tales and "fairy stories" for kids back then (like The Hobbit), but the fantasy genre of today is rooted in The Lord of the Rings. It was pretty much the first fantasy book for adults to be at all successful or taken seriously.

Favorite Lines:

The road wound away before them like a piece of string (p. 72).

They passed slowly, and the hobbits could see the starlight glimmering on their hair and in their eyes (p. 78). "A star shines on the hour of our meeting" (p. 79).

Sam walked along at Frodo's side, as if in a dream, with an expression on his face half of fear and half of astonished joy (p. 80).

"The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out" (p. 82).

"But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger."
"And it is also said," answered Frodo: "Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes" (p. 82-83).

"Courage is found in unlikely places" (p. 83).

"...may the stars shine upon the end of your road!" (p. 83).

Discussion Questions:

What do you think of the elves?

Who do you like better so far: Frodo, Sam, or Pippin?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Shadow of the Past (FOTR 1, 2)


What always surprises me in this chapter is how much time passes between Bilbo leaving and Gandalf figuring out that the ring is, well, The Ring. This is probably because I saw the movie before I read the book, and in the movie, there are maybe a few months between the two, or so it seems to me. But here we learn that it's seventeen years!

Anyway, things start heating up a bit in this chapter. Things are changing in and around The Shire, and we learn all about how the Ring was forged, something of the power it wields, and the twisty path it took from Sauron's hand to Frodo's. We also get to hear about some other characters we'll be running into more soon, like Aragorn and Saruman and Gollum.

And we get into one of the bigger themes of the book: pity/mercy versus punishment/justice. Bilbo pitied Gollum and did not kill him when he had the chance, even though Gollum was planning to kill him. Gandalf says: "It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity" (p. 58). He goes on to say, "the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many" (p. 58).

We also see the beginning of another major theme here: being chosen for something you don't believe you can live up to. Frodo says, "I am not made for perilous quests," and I can agree with that to some extent: he's a hobbit, used to a comfortable and quiet life in the country. Gandalf insists, however, that "you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have."

Favorite Lines:

Everything looked fresh, and the new green of Spring was shimmering in the fields and on the tops of the trees' fingers (p. 45).

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us" (p. 50).

"Well, well, bless my beard!" said Gandalf (p. 62).

Discussion Questions:


What do you think about the theme of mercy/pity versus punishment/justice? Can anyone deserve mercy?

Have you ever felt like Frodo, that you can't possibly do what you must do? How did you get through that time?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

"Flashes of Splashes" by Elizabeth McCleary

Sometimes when I get really busy in Real Life, I don't have time to sink my teeth into a novel, so I grab an anthology of short stories because I know I can read individual stories here and there, as I have time.  If you like doing that too, and you're looking at your calendar for the next couple of months and thinking you're going to be awfully busy... then this might be the book for you.

Flashes of Splashes is a collection of flash-fiction stories, which means they're all VERY short, only a couple of pages each.  They all involve water in some way.  Thirty-one very different stories (well, two of them actually tell the same story from different sides) about water.  Many of them are speculative fiction -- fantasy or sci-fi.  Some of them are totally grounded in reality.  Most of them have a surprise twist at the end that makes you see the story in a new light.

My six favorites were:

~ "B is for Bubbles" -- it made me chuckle

~ "G is for Gulf" -- I loved the ending

~ "V is for Vortex" -- it surprised me

~ "Z is for Zawn" -- it's about pirates!

~ "Dancer" -- so sweet

~ "Water" -- I loved the twist at the end

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for a few mild curse words.  I will probably marker over them and then let my 10-year-old read this if he wants to.