Friday, March 29, 2013

"Nothing Daunted" by Dorothy Wickenden

The full title of this book is Nothing Daunted:  The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West.  It's the story of how two young women from Connecticut (one of them the author's grandmother) went to Colorado in 1916 to teach school for a year.  In telling their story, the author also includes a bit of a history of that part of Colorado, the life stories of several of the people they meet there, and what happens to the two girls during the rest of their lives. 

Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood both came from wealthy families, graduated from college, spent a year together in Europe, and did not want to marry right away and raise families.  They wanted to make a difference, to be helpful and useful to other people outside their own circles.  So they answered a request for teachers at a new school in a rural Colorado community.  Despite having no teaching experience or training, off they went, embarking on an adventure that would gain one of them a husband and both of them a new outlook on life.  They taught those children about the world, about reading and writing and arithmetic.  But those hardy families still living the pioneer life while the rest of the world was tumbling toward World War I -- they taught Dorothy and Rosamond what strength of character and will really meant.

I love history, and I love reading about pioneers and cowboys, so this book fitted my interests very nicely.  I also really liked the contrast between these women's ideas on things like marriage and the way people view them today.  For instance, when one of them received a marriage proposal, she realized "I really was very much in love with him and he was the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with" (pg 140).  Do you see that?  She wasn't swayed only by emotion and sentiment -- she was also ready to make a lifelong commitment to this man, and had turned down other suitors previously because she could not see herself spending her whole life with them.  I was particularly struck by how both of these women insisted on marrying not merely for love, but for the rest of their lives.  If only more people were like that today!

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  G.  Nothing objectionable whatsoever!

You might enjoy this if you like these:  the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder or Christy by Catherine Marshall.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"A Study in Scarlet" by Arthur Conan Doyle

This is the very first Sherlock Holmes story ever written.  In it, we get the superlative delight of seeing Holmes and Watson first meet, rent the iconic apartment on Baker Street, and get acquainted.  We learn a bit about Holmes' eccentric brilliance, Watson's steadfast dependability, and Mrs. Hudson's long-suffering patience.  And we get to see Holmes solve a baffling murder case.  Great fun!

Now, I think this novel is wonderful, but there's this long digression in the middle that smacks of filler.  I think that five chapters detailing events years and years before could have been summed up in a couple of pages.  It's supposed to make us sympathetic with one character, but I think that could have been accomplished equally well by having him just tell his story to his listeners in a more natural way.  Yes, it's usually better to "show" rather than "tell," but it's also true that brevity is the soul of wit, and I spent those five chapters thinking, "Well, this is interesting, but can't we get back to the real story?"  Like I said, it felt like filler material written to beef up a too-short story.

But please don't think that I dislike the book!  I don't -- I like it ever so much.  It's tightly plotted, the characters and dialog are superb, and of course, the deductions are amazing.  But I think that some of his later stories are paced much better.  It's great, but not brilliant.  However, the first time I read it, as a preteen, I thought it was wonderful.

Particularly Good Bits:  "...where there is no imagination, there is no horror."

"What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence," returned my companion, bitterly.  "The question is, what can you make people believe that you have done?"

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  PG.  There's a murder, after all, but it's not particularly gruesome.

Friday, March 22, 2013

My Forty Favorite Novels

Inspired by a question on the WXROZ blog a few days ago, I decided to update my list of my ten favorite novels, as I hadn't really listed them off for a few years and I knew it probably had changed a bit.  But I had so much trouble narrowing it down to ten, and felt so bad about some of the books I had to leave off, that I decided to expand it to my top fifty.  But then fifty was too many, so I finally settled on forty.  I have read each of these books at least twice, and many of them I've read over and over and over and over.  They are all dear friends, and there are only two here that I don't own a copy of.  Yet.

Anyway, here they are:

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
3. The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
4. The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss
5. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
6. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
7. The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
8. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
9. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
10. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
11. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
12. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
13. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
14. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
15. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
16. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
17. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
18. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
19. Persuasion by Jane Austen
20. King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
21. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
22. A Family Affair by Rex Stout
23. The Long Goodbye  by Raymond Chandler
24. The Hound of the Baskervilles by A. Conan Doyle
25. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
26. An Antic Disposition  by Alan Gordon
27. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
28. Homer Price by Robert McCloskey
29. Shadows Over Stonewycke by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella
30. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
33. Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
34. Anne of Windy Poplars by L. M. Montgomery
35. Henry Reed, Inc. by Keith Robertson
36. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
37. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
38. The Man in the Box by Mary Lois Dunn
39. The Boxcar Children  by Gertrude Chandler Warner
40. Fear is the Key by Alistair MacLean

Have you read some of these?  Loved or hated them?  What're your favorite books?  Post your list in the comments here, or on your own blog and leave me a link -- I love learning about other people's favorite books!

I'm planning to do a list of my favorite authors soon, one of my favorite nonfiction books, maybe a list of my favorite series, my favorite genres... and on my other blog I'll do a long and updated list of my favorite movies soon.

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Cousin Phillis and Other Tales" by Elizabeth Gaskell -- A Partial Review

Rarely do I stop reading a book halfway through.  I usually either quit after a couple of chapters because it just doesn't appeal to me for whatever reason, or else I finish the book.  But today, I quit reading this book.  Right in the middle of a short story, in fact.


Because the stories were following an alarming trend.  Bad things kept happening.  And then worse things.  People died, people were mistreated, children died, children were mistreated... it was horribly depressing!  And each story seemed to get darker and sadder.  So I quit.  Because the last two books I read were sad and dark, and I was hoping that this would be an antidote for the gloom left in my imagination by the previous books.  But instead, it deepened the gloom.  So I'm giving it up in favor of a nice, cheerful murder mystery.

The trouble is, these stories are quite well written.  The characters are believable and relatable, especially the titular heroine of "Lois the Witch."  And then all manner of horrid things befall these nice people, and I kept getting sadder and sadder.  Sometimes I'm in the mood for sad.  But this is not that time.

Kara of Flowers of Quiet Happiness did a post today asking her readers if they are "moody readers."  And I am.  If I'm not in the mood for a book, I don't enjoy it much.  So I'll usually set it aside for another time.  Because this is a library book, I'll just return it, and try another of Elizabeth Gaskell's books some other time.  If you have any recommendations, I'd love to hear them, as this is the first thing of hers I've read.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain

Two sad endings in a row!  I need to pick up something cheery next, don't you agree?

The Paris Wife is a fictionalized portrait of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage, told through the eyes of his wife, Hadley Richardson.  From the first couple of pages, I was entranced.  This book hit a lot of sweet spots for me -- an unlikely romance with a significant age difference (Hadley was 8 years older than Ernest), Ernest Hemingway, details about someone's everyday life, etc.  Much of the book takes place in Paris during the time period that Hemingway himself described in his memoir A Moveable Feast, my favorite of his books.  But instead of a side character like she is in that book, Hadley is front and center here, talking about what it's like to be married to a soon-to-be-famous writer.  The pair interact with other members of the Lost Generation, like Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, drink copious amounts of alcohol, and try to make sense of life.

The book follows their relationship chronologically, from the time they met in Chicago shortly after WWI through their divorce after five years of marriage.  I knew, of course, that Hemingway was married four times, and that this book would not end well.  That didn't make their disintegrating marriage any easier to watch, though.

Particularly Good Bits:  But the war had come and stolen all the fine young men and our faith, too.  There was only today to throw yourself into without thinking about tomorrow, let alone forever (pg xi).

In Paris, everyone was so drastic and dramatic, flinging themselves into ditches for each other (pg 212).

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  R for suggestive dialog, semi-explicit love scenes, alcohol use, and strong language.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"The Cove" by Ron Rash

Isn’t it interesting what will get someone to read a book? We all have things that automatically interest us in a book. One of mine is the state of North Carolina. My parents moved there when I was 12, to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I did my real growing up there, and it still feels like home to me. When I read the description of Ron Rash’s The Cove, I was drawn to it by the fact that it is set in those mountains.
The Cove begins with a man in the 1950s walking into a shadowy, creepy cove, which in this book is a dark valley, not a place where you keep boats. He stops at an abandoned homestead to draw a bucket of water from the well and finds something in that well that tells readers that this will not be a happy book, that it will not end well, that something very bad indeed has happened here.
Then the book flashes back to that same cove, but in early 1919, when the cove is the home of a sister and brother, Laurel and Hank. Laurel has a large, purple birthmark on her shoulder that has led the superstitious mountain folk to believe she is either cursed or a witch. As a result, most people shun her, and she is very lonely. Hank lost an arm in the early part of WWI, and is having a hard time patching up their farm as a result. A stranger arrives in the cove, a speechless man bearing a flute, sixty dollars, and a note explaining that his name is Walter. Hank hires him to help fix up the farm, Laurel falls in love with him, but an ominous shadow looms over all the happiness springing up in the cove. As I read this, I always had that opening scene in the back of my mind, the well’s contents and what they could mean.
I can’t say much more, as I’d be spoiling the story for anyone who would like to read it. If you like beautiful writing and learning about the impact our decisions have on the lives of others, The Cove could delight you. However, the characters do engage in activities that some readers may not appreciate. And it is dark and sometimes bleak, I will warn you of that, though it deals with joy and happiness as well. I found it a good book for the end of winter, when I am weary of grey skies and bare trees, but know spring will brighten the world again soon.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate it:  PG-13 for non-explicit sexual situations and alcohol use.  Also contains a few swear words.

(Originally published on Novel Book Ratings on March 7, 2013.)