Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ten Favorite Books of 2014

I read 46 books in 2014, which rather astounds me.  That's almost four a month!  Wow.  I've decided to do a quick post about what my top ten favorites were this year, and I'm breaking it up into two sections, new-to-me books and re-reads.

My favorite new-to-me books were:

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster -- so adorable!  Funny and sweet and quirky, an instant favorite.

Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Grace Whitson -- another for my list of absolute favorites!  Which I need to revise one of these days.  I loved how this wasn't focused on romance so much as friendships.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger -- I never knew what to expect next from this book.  And I could only read it a chapter or so at a time because I had to digest every new twist and turn before I could move on.

The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley -- I love the Zorro story, and I was delighted to find that the original story was crammed with the happy-go-lucky bravery I was hoping for.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool -- I found this book so useful for understanding 19th-century life that I asked for (and got) a copy for Christmas.

Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright -- sweet and heart-warming, with some of the most believable sibling characters I've read in a long time.

My favorite re-reads were:

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien -- yeah, yeah, I read The Fellowship of the Ring last year, but I read the other two this year, so I'm counting it as a whole for this year.  This was my sixth read-through, and it continued to astonish me with new nuances and depths I hadn't found before.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by A. Conan Doyle -- my favorite canonical Sherlock Holmes story.  It's unparalleled in its use of atmosphere and location to build suspense.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King -- my favorite non-canonical Sherlock Holmes story.  It has several mysteries and great character development, and the series that follows is very dear to my heart.

A Family Affair by Rex Stout -- my favorite Nero Wolfe mystery, with a shocking solution that makes me think of Joss Whedon.

And I've decided that 2015 will be My Year with Robin Hood.  You may recall that I spent 2013 (and into 2014 because I didn't start until March of 2013) in the company of Sherlock Holmes, and I focused on Jane Austen in 2012.  I really missed having an overall theme to my reading this year, so that's my challenge to myself for 2015:  read at least 6 books that involve Robin Hood.  You can see in my sidebar that I've already begun -- I started Angus Donald's Outlaw yesterday and immediately knew I'd found my theme for 2015.  I've loved Robin Hood stories since I was a little kid, but it's been a while since I read anything about him.  Time to remedy that!  I kind of collect Robin Hood books and movies, so I have several retellings I've never read, and I bet my enthusiasm will once again bleed over into my movie watching, like it did for Austen and Holmes.  So don't be surprised if I start reviewing Robin Hood movies on my other blog!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories" by B. J. Novak

I quite liked Saving Mr. Banks (review here), and one of my favorite parts of it was B. J. Novak's portrayal of Robert Sherman as an increasingly annoyed songwriter.  He got my second favorite line from the whole movie:  "Does.  It.  Matter."  Loved that part.  And overall I got the sense, from the two times I watched that movie, that he was a very thoughtful, intelligent actor.  So when I learned that Novak wrote a book of short stories, I wanted to read it.  And when I learned that he is a Harvard graduate with a degree in English and Spanish Literature, I really wanted to read it.  So I did.

Did I love this collection?  No.  Did I heartily enjoy several of the stories?  Yes.  In fact, I read one of them aloud to Cowboy and my mom because I knew it would amuse them as much as it did me.  It's first on this list of which stories I liked best:

"'Everyone Was Singing the Same Song':  The Duke of Earl Recalls His Trip to America in June of 1962" -- funny and sweet, a bit rambly, but with a smile-inducing ending.  Also, I now have the song "The Duke of Earl" stuck in my head.  Thanks, B. J. 

"Quantum Nonlocality and the Death of Elvis Presley" -- I have accepted this as my head-canon of what happened to Elvis because I've always been really sad over how he died, even when I was a little girl.  Thanks, B. J.  I'm not being sarcastic this time.

"Never Fall in Love" -- adorable.

"They Kept Driving Faster and Outran the Rain" -- cheerful.

"The Literalist's Love Poem" -- teensy and hilarious.

"Great Writers Steal" -- silly and predictable, but fun.

I also liked how "The Ambulance Driver" and "The Girl Who Gave Great Advice" meshed together.

Alas, there is a LOT of bad language in this book, though not in those eight stories.  A few others were also very clean, but many of them had a variety of curse words.  It also involves some sex, though nothing graphic.  For that reason, I really can't universally recommend this.  But if you'd like to try a grab-bag mix of sometimes off-beat, often humorous, and always thought-provoking short stories and don't mind the language and some sexual references, then by all means, give it a try!

Particularly Good Bits:

He kissed her for an eternity, which was fine, because heaven had eternities to burn.  Then he kissed her for another.  (From "No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg")

Sad that he could never live in the Paris he remembered once dreaming of in his youth, he let his mind wander off across life and literature until it settled almost independently on the gnawing notion that perhaps the most true and timeless version of Paris, for everyone, might be a version of this one -- the Paris filtered through remembered dreams.  (From "J. C. Audetat, Translator of Don Quixote)

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R for language and some sexual references.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

History Reading Challenge 2014 Wrap-Up

And this is the one I have failed.

I hate failure.  Failure is one of my least-favorite things ever.  

I hate not finishing something I start.  Bugs me a lot.  

But I failed this challenge.

I did read two of the three books I set out to read:  Shakespeare's Restless World by Neil MacGregor and Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley Adkins.  But I'm only 47 pages into A Decent, Orderly Lynching:  The Montana Vigilantes by Frederick Allen, and I know I'm not going to finish it before the end of the year.

The reason I failed this challenge is that I had to choose what books I would read right from the get-go, I couldn't read what history I felt like in the moment.  I chose Lynching for the third book because it's research I need to do for my next novel, and I figured I would be ready to begin that novel before the end of the year.  But I'm not, I'm rewriting the ending of my last novel right now and working on other revisions for it.  The time has not been right for me to read Lynching, and I plan to dig back into it in a couple of months.  If I had been able to just read whatever history book I felt like reading at the moment for this challenge, I would have been fine.

So what did I learn from this?  Don't do challenges that make me keep to a strict, predetermined list.  I don't read that way.

I do thank Fanda of Fanda Classiclit for hosting this, as I love history and anything that encourages people to learn about it is a good thing!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I Love Library Books Challenge 2014 Wrap-Up

I did it!  I finished another challenge!  Actually, I surpassed my original goal for this one.  I originally signed up for the "Chapter Book" level of 12 books, but when I passed that up in the summer, I reset my goal to be the "Middle Grades" level of 18 books.  And I finished that level!  Hooray!

Here are the books I read for the I Love Library Books Challenge, broken down by month:

A Memory Between Us by Sarah Sundin

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool

Flappers and Philosophers by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Blue Skies Tomorrow by Sarah Sundin

Longbourn by Jo Baker
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Vanishing Girl by Shane Peacock
Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King
Ernest Hemingway:  Complete Poems edited by Nicholas Gerogiannis

Paper Towns by John Green

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster
Spiderweb For Two by Elizabeth Enright

Like the Mount TBR Challenge, this is definitely a challenge I would participate in again some year when I felt like doing challenges.  But in 2015, I'm taking a break from them and instead challenging myself to read at least six books I've been putting off for many years.  More about that later.

"Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze" by Elizabeth Enright

My seven-year-old son, Sam, loves this book.  And by 'loves' I mean he's read it probably six or seven times through since we first got it from the library.  We just keep renewing it so he can read it again.  But I'd never read this book before.  I know I read a couple of the others in the Melendy Quartet when I was a kid, namely The Four-Story Mistake and The Saturdays.  But I definitely never read this, which is a shame, because I would have loved it so much.  Perhaps the library system simply didn't have it.

Since Sam loves this series so much, I decided to read one of the books myself.  I asked him which one he thought I should read, and he said this one.  I liked it so well, I plan to read the other three books too, as I have the time.  They are enchanting.

Spiderweb for Two is about two siblings, Oliver and Miranda "Randy" Melendy, who spend many months following little clues on a treasure hunt.  Their older siblings have all gone away to school, and at the beginning of the book, Randy and Oliver think they're going to have a terrible year because they're the only ones left at home.  Randy thinks Oliver is childish, and Oliver thinks Randy is boring.  Over the course of the book, thanks to having to work together to solve riddles and find more clues, they grow to truly like and appreciate each other, which was my favorite aspect of the whole book.

First Line:  Randy was certain that this was going to be the worst winter of her life.

Particularly Good Bits:

The truth was that the young Melendys were acquiring a taste for old cemeteries.  There was something very peaceful, they thought, about the quiet places; the tilted stones patched with lichens, standing in a bee-humming tangle of myrtle and wild asters (p. 48).

Oliver slept late and no one woke him as it was Sunday.  He came down at nine fifteen, hungry as a wolf, and indulged in a waffle orgy (p. 111).

"When you were what?" said Father, setting down his coffee cup.  "I wonder if everyone's children act like this;  I always thought children just lived normal lives:  eating, playing baseball, reading books... not taking waterfalls apart and mislaying their parent's mail." (p. 137)

The children sat on the floor, breathing steamily, utterly absorbed in these different distant people who had been themselves (p. 146).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G for good, clean fun.

This is my 17th book read and reviewed for the Classics Club, and my 18th book for the I Love Library Books challenge, which means I've completed that challenge too!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Birthday Blog Party for Sherlock Holmes

I've been tossing around the idea of throwing a blog birthday party for Sherlock Holmes -- traditionally, his birthday has been assumed to be January 6, though I'm not entirely sure how they determined that.  But whatever.  The point is... I'm going to do it.  I'm going to throw a one-day shindig, like a shorter version of my Tolkien blog party, with a bunch of questions that participants can answer on their own blogs, a link-up, maybe some kind of trivia game or something, and a giveaway.

If you think that sounds like fun, please add this badge to your blog or post about this to spread the word :-)  And if you feel like chiming in here and saying, "That sounds fun!" then I would have a bit of an idea on how many participants to plan for...

Friday, December 12, 2014

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" Read-Along Index

Here are links to all the chapter posts and bonus posts from the Baskervilles read-along.

Bonus Posts

Interview with NYT best-selling author Laurie R. King 
Concluding Link-Up and Goodies

Chapter Posts

1.  Mr. Sherlock Holmes
2.  The Curse of the Baskervilles
3.  The Problem
4.  Sir Henry Baskerville
5.  Three Broken Threads
6.  Baskerville Hall
7.  The Stapletons of Merripit House
8.  First Report of Dr. Watson
9.  Second Report of Dr. Watson
10.  Extract from the Diary of Dr. Watson
11.  The Man on the Tor
12.  Death on the Moor
13.  Fixing the Nets
14.  The Hound of the Baskervilles
15.  A Retrospection

LOTR Read-Along Index

I don't know why I didn't do this as soon as the LOTR read-along ended -- I guess I wasn't really planning on hosting more read-alongs at that point.  But now I've realized that having a page dedicated to each major read-along is going to clutter up the area under my page header, so I'm transferring them to their own blog posts, and then I'll just have one page linking to those index posts.  

TL;DR:  links to all the LOTR read-along posts are here now, not on a "page."

Bonus Posts
Aragorn by Birdie
Boromir by Hamlette
FOTR Book vs. Movie by James the Movie Reviewer
My Copy of The Lord of the Rings by Hamlette
Dipped in a Story by Sarah
Faramir by Heidi
TTT:  Book vs. Movie by James the Movie Reviewer
Frodo by Heidi
EconomOrcs by Cowboy
Samwise Gamgee by Miss Jane Bennet
ROTK:  Book vs. Movie by James the Movie Reviewer

The Fellowship of the Ring

Prologue:  Concerning Hobbits, and other matters

Book One
1.  A Long-expected Party
2.  The Shadow of the Past
3.  Three is Company
4.  A Short Cut to Mushrooms
5.  A Conspiracy Unmasked
6.  The Old Forest
7.  In the House of Tom Bombadil
8.  Fog on the Barrow-downs
9.  At the Sign of the Prancing Pony
10.  Strider
11.  A Knife in the Dark
12.  Flight to the Ford

Book Two
1.  Many Meetings
2.  The Council of Elrond
3.  The Ring Goes South
4.  A Journey in the Dark
5.  The Bridge of Khazad-dum
6.  Lothlorien
7.  The Mirror of Galadriel
8.  Farewell to Lorien
9.  The Great River
10.  The Breaking of the Fellowship

The Two Towers

Book Three
1.  The Departure of Boromir
2.  The Riders of Rohan
3.  The Uruk-hai
4.  Treebeard
5.  The White Rider
6.  The King of the Golden Hall
7.  Helm's Deep
8.  The Road to Isengard
9.  Flotsam and Jetsam
10.  The Voice of Saruman
11.  The Palantir

Book Four
1.  The Taming of Smeagol
2.  The Passage of the Marshes
3.  The Black Gate is Closed
4.  Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
5.  The Window on the West
6.  The Forbidden Pool
7.  Journey to the Cross-roads
8.  The Stairs of Cirith Ungol
9.  Shelob's Lair
10.  The Choices of Master Samwise

The Return of the King

Book Five
1.  Minas Tirith
2.  The Passing of the Grey Company
3.  The Muster of Rohan
4.  The Siege of Gondor
5.  The Ride of the Rohirrim
6.  The Battle of Pelennor Fields
7.  The Pyre of Denethor
8.  The Houses of Healing
9.  The Last Debate
10.  The Black Gate Opens

Book Six
1.  The Tower of Cirith Ungol
2.  The Land of Shadow
3.  Mount Doom
4.  The Field of Cormallen
5.  The Steward and the King
6.  Many Partings
7.  Homeward Bound
8.  The Scouring of the Shire
9.  The Grey Havens 

Monday, December 8, 2014

"Letters from Pemberley: The First Year" by Jane Dawkins

At last!  A Pride and Prejudice continuation that does not involve Mr. and Mrs. Darcy's marriage falling to pieces!  And Lizzie hasn't lost her satirical wit, nor has she become a basket case because she now has to assume the duties of mistress of Pemberley.

I'm not saying I loved this book, but I definitely enjoyed it.  I thought Jane Dawkins captured the characters very well, possibly as well as Amanda Grange.  I happen to like the epistolary format for books, though I know it bugs some people.  The whole story is told in letters from Elizabeth to her sister Jane, and since I can well imagine the two of them exchanging long, detailed letters, my credulity was not unduly stretched by that format.

However, I did find it silly how the author played "guess what other character from a different Austen novel I'm renaming and inserting here" for the new characters she introduced.  Of course the Darcys have many neighbors and must receive them as visitors, go to balls and parties, etc.  For some reason, Dawkins decided it would be terribly clever to grab characters from other Austen books, give them new names, and plop them down in the story.  I didn't find it clever; I found it stretched my suspension of disbelief too far.  Also, I don't like guessing games, which is what they felt like.

But overall, I really did enjoy the book, enough so that I intend to read the sequel.  I liked the characters, the plot, the pacing, the writing style.  Definitely something I'd recommend to Austen fans.  I will say that this Lizzie and Mr. Darcy felt much more like the 1995 portrayals than the 2005, which I think will please many people.

First Line:  My dear Jane, Can it really be only several weeks since our joyful nuptials and tearful farewells?

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Innocent and nice.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Daddy-Long-Legs" by Jean Webster

Put this at the top of the list of books I started reading with a ho-hum attitude and wound up absolutely loving.  Lots and lots of bloggers have recommended this to me over the past couple of years, so when I saw it on the shelf in the Junior Fiction section at the library, I decided to try it.  But I wasn't sure at all that I would like it.

At first, I thought it was cutesy.  And, let's be honest:  the idea behind it is cutesy.  An orphan gets sent to college by an anonymous benefactor who pays her way on the condition that she write him regular letters detailing her progress.  Pretty far-fetched and, well, quaint.  But that orphan, Jerusha "Judy" Abbott, won the hearts of her benefactor and yours truly with her buoyant worldview and wonder-filled description of life outside the orphanage at last.  She was sarcastic, yet sweet; studious, yet playful.  I've been enchanted, I tell you.

I did see the plot twist of sorts coming, and was a little annoyed at first that Jerusha didn't.  But then I realized that if I was in her position, I would be like, "No way.  That could never happen.  It would be too big a coincidence."  So I figure that's what she thought.

I found a copy of the sequel, Dear Enemy, at the thrift store, so I'm hoping to start that before too terribly long.

First Line:  The first Wednesday in every month was a Perfectly Awful Day -- a day to be awaited with dread, endured with courage, and forgotten with haste.

Particularly Good Bits:  

Anybody can rise to a crisis and face a crushing tragedy with courage, but to meet the petty hazards of the day with a laugh -- I really think that requires spirit (p. 49).

But aren't the streets entertaining?  And the people?  And the shops?  I never saw such lovely things as there are in the windows.  It makes you want to devote your life to wearing clothes (p. 87).

PS.  This is one of those wicked anonymous letters you read about in novels (p. 130).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Clean and light and fun.

This is my sixteenth book read and reviewed for the Classics Club and my seventeenth for the I Love Library Books challenge.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2014 Wrap-Up

I'll be posting a little wrap-up musing as I finish each challenge I participated in this year, or don't finish them, as the case may be.  Overall, I've found the challenges to be fun, but also a bit of work.  Having to remember to mention what challenge a book went toward in my blog post AND update my counter on my blog page AND go submit the link to the hosting blog's link-up... extra steps mean extra time, and I don't always have much extra time.

Be that as it may, I've already finished one challenge!  I challenged myself to read 12 of the books I owned but hadn't read yet, and I have done so.  Just for fun, here are the books I read:

Shakespeare's Restless World by Neil MacGregor

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Two Guys Read Jane Austen by Steve Chandler and Terrence N. Hill

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley Adkins
Edmund Bertram's Diary by Amanda Grange

Homicide Trinity by Rex Stout
The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Vincent Starrett

The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick

Mr. Knightley's Diary by Amanda Grange

A Family Affair by Rex Stout

I also read quite a few other books that I own but bought this year, but this challenge is supposed to be about reading books you already owned before the challenge began, so I didn't count them.

I think I'm going to take a break from doing challenges like these in 2015, other than the Classics Club.  But if I decide I want to do some again in a year or two, this is definitely one I'd participate in again.  I liked that you don't have to submit a list of intended books to read, and since my stack of unread books that I own keeps growing and growing, it was nice to have an incentive to choose from my own shelves instead of borrowing or buying more.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fifty Classics Club Questions: 26-50

Part two of my answers to the ginormous question survey thingie from the Classics Club.

26.  Which classic character reminds you of your best friend? Lassiter in Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey.  Always five steps ahead, always knows what needs to be done, and will ride to the ends of the earth to avenge a wrong done to someone else.

27.  If a sudden announcement was made that 500 more pages had been discovered after the original “THE END” on a classic title you read and loved, which title would you most want to keep reading? Or, would you avoid the augmented manuscript in favor of the original? Why?  All these things where I have to choose ONE are getting very tiresome.  I want more for ALL my favorite stories!  I always want more!  Sometimes Often I make up more in my own head because I'm loath to leave beloved characters.

28.  Favorite children's classic?  Hmm.  I kind of take issue with the whole idea of "children's classics."  First, because a lot of people think old books are all clean and nicey-nice, so kids can totally read them.  (Granted, when I read The Count of Monte Cristo at age 11, I didn't understand any of the stuff about drug use, missed the sexual undertones, and blithely fell in love with the adventurousness of it all.)  Second, because a lot of people think that any book that has a child protagonist is only for kids and is beneath adults.  (Books like A Little Princess and Anne of Green Gables and The Jungle Book have a lot to say to adults too!)

Or is this supposed to mean, like, picture books?  Then I'd say the original Railway Series by the Rev. W. Awdry.  These are the original Thomas the Tank Engine stories, and they are far superior to the modern stories.  They're quirky and funny, and the trains have train-ish problems, not just interpersonal problems that any sort of character could have.  We bought this complete collection at a library book sale for only $5, and it is splendid.

29.  Who recommended your first classic?  My mom.  She used to read aloud to my brother and I for an hour before our bedtime every night, and she usually read something a reading level or so above us so that we'd get to experience books we might not otherwise be quite ready for.  Stretched our vocabularies and imaginations beautifully.

Later, in high school and so on, she introduced me to classics simply by owning them and saying, "Sure, you can read any of my books."  That's how I first read Jane EyreRebecca, and The Big Sleep.  I'm doing something a bit similar for my seven-year-old now -- I've got particular book cases that I've told him, "You can read anything on here.  These are all books I love.  Pick what interests you."  He's currently finishing up From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler :-D

30.  Whose advice do you always take when it comes to literature. (Recommends the right editions, suggests great titles, etc.)  I'm not sure I have anyone whose advice I always take.  I don't know anyone who has exactly my taste.  I'll try anything my mom recommends, though.

31.  Favorite memory with a classic?  Just one.  Really.  One most favorite memory.  Well, one of my many favorite memories of reading a classic is the first time I read The Fellowship of the Ring.  I read it after seeing the movie for the first time in the theater.  While I read it, my fiance (now husband) wrote down a list of all the different kinds of fantastical creatures in it so I wouldn't get confused by orcs versus goblins and so on.  He'd read it before, several times, and I hadn't, and it was such a sweet thing for him to do.

32.  Classic author you've read the most works by?  William Shakespeare -- I've read 17 of his plays.  Next would probably be L.M. Montgomery (8 "Anne" books and 3 "Emily" books), Raymond Chandler (7 novels and 2 volumes of other collected works), and A. Conan Doyle (the entire Holmes canon and The White Company).

33.  Classic author(s) who has(have) the most works on your club list?  Elizabeth Gaskell (4) and William Shakespeare (4).

34.  Classic author you own the most books by?  Also William Shakespeare.  I have a volume that contains all of his plays, poems, and sonnets, unabridged.  I also have two separate copies of Much Ado About Nothing, a really old, pretty copy of Romeo & Juliet, and fifteen separate copies of Hamlet, not counting two graphic novel retellings.

35.  Classic title(s) that didn't make it to your club list that you wish you'd included? (Or, since many people edit their lists as they go, which titles have you added since initially posting your club list?)  I'm totally adding to my list as I go -- right now it has 74 titles!  I figure I'll just keep adding things to it, and when I've read 50, I'll trim off all the things I didn't read.  And maybe start over with them!  But I really don't know anymore what was originally on there and what wasn't.

36.  If you could explore one author's literary career from first publication to last — meaning you have never read this author and want to explore him or her by reading what s/he wrote in order of publication — who would you explore? Obviously this should be an author you haven't yet read, since you can't do this experiment on an author you're already familiar with. :) Or, which author's work you are familiar with might it have been fun to approach this way?  Hmm.  I haven't read anything by Baroness Orczy, or Anne Bronte, or Edith Wharton, or Leo Tolstoy...

37.  How many rereads are on your club list? If none, why? If some, which are you most looking forward to, or did you most enjoy?  Right now, there are fifteen.  It was the fact that you could do rereads (plus that you could change your list as you go) that convinced me to join the Classics Club!  I've enjoyed all my rereads so far, and I'm really excited to start rereading Persuasion with a friend's read-along in the new year.

38.  Has there been a classic title you simply could not finish?  I answered this already, in a way, but yes.  I couldn't bring myself to finish The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner OR Cousin Phillis and Other Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell.  Both of those were before the Classics Club, though.

39.  Has there been a classic title you expected to dislike and ended up loving?  I don't tend to read books I think I will dislike.  Back in college, I had to sometimes, but that's a long time ago, and I can't remember any specific instances that relate to classics.  I didn't expect to love the Harry Potter books, but I don't consider them classics yet, so they don't.

40.  Five things you're looking forward to next year in classic literature?  A friend hosting a read-along of Persuasion here starting January 5.  Me hosting a read-along of Little Women in March and a read-along of Hamlet in July.  Beyond that, I have no concrete plans.

41.  Classic you are DEFINITELY GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?  Yeah, but see... I don't plan what I'll read in advance unless I'm hosting or joining a read-along.  So... who knows?  Possibly Moby-Dick just cuz I'm psyched for In the Heart of the Sea and that might give me the impetus to read it at last.

42.  Classic you are NOT GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?  War and Peace.

43.  Favorite thing about being a member of the Classics Club?  Meeting other bloggers who are as passionate about literature as I am.

44.  List five fellow clubbers whose blogs you frequent. What makes you love their blogs?  Ruth at A Great Book Study, Emily at Classics and Beyond, Dale at Mirror with Clouds, Carissa at Musings of an Introvert, and Ruby at We'll See How This Goes.  All of them read a wide variety of literature and are interested in trying new authors and books.  And they all write interesting, thought-provoking book reviews.

45.  Favorite post you've read by a fellow clubber?  Again with thinking I have one favorite!  I can't think of a favorite and I'm not going to go digging for one and claim it's my favorite.  Pass.

46.  If you've ever participated in a readalong on a classic, tell about the experience? If you've participated in more than one, what's the very best experience? the best title you've completed? a fond memory? a good friend made?  So far, I've only participated in read-alongs that I myself hosted.  Those were for The Lord of the Rings, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Hound of the Baskervilles.  They were amazingly positive experiences, and I love how many things we all taught each other through our discussions.

47.  If you could appeal for a readalong with others for any classic title, which title would you name? Why?  Hmm.  A read-along for Don Quixote would be cool if someone else was hosting it.  It would give me incentive to read it at last.

48.  How long have you been reading classic literature?  For as long as I could read, so probably 28 years or so, in one form or another.

49.  Share up to five posts you've written that tell a bit about your reading story. Reviews, journal entries, posts on novels you loved or didn't love, lists, etc.  Okay.  One, two, three, four, five.

50.  Question you wish was on this questionnaire? (Ask and answer it!)  Do you ever get tired of discussing books?  And the answer is, no, I don't.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fifty Classics Club Questions: 1-25

I've been lax about joining in the Classics Club monthly discussions and memes and such for a while, but I really love filling out surveys and answering questions, so there's no way I'm missing this one!  It's REALLY LONG, though, so I'm splitting it into two parts.  Here's the first half!

1.  Share a link to your club list.  Link!

2.  When did you join The Classics Club? How many titles have you read for the club? I joined on January 4, 2014, and I've read 15 so far.

3.  What are you currently reading?  Middlemarch by George Eliot, Light of the Western Stars by Zane Grey, and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes edited by Laurie R. King & Leslie S. Klinger.  The latter isn't for the Classics Club, but they didn't specify, so I'm mentioning it :-)

4.  What did you just finish reading and what did you think of it?  I just finished Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster and I loved it!  Review coming soon.

5.  What are you reading next? Why?  A Decent, Orderly Lynching by Frederick Allen.  It's research for my next novel.

6.  Best book you've read so far with the club, and why?  The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.  It's so rich and complex and fully realized.

7.  Book you most anticipate (or, anticipated) on your club list?  By-Line:  Ernest Hemingway.  I read the first fifty pages or so last year and really want to start it all over and read the rest.

8.  Book on your club list you've been avoiding, if any? Why?  To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, because I read Mrs. Dalloway years ago and it gave me headaches.  But I want to be fair and give Woolf another chance.

9.  First classic you ever read?  I have no idea.  I've been reading classics for as long as I've been reading.

10.  Toughest classic you ever read?  Hardest to get through would probably be Mrs. Dalloway, as mentioned before.  It gave me headaches, literal, actual headaches.  I only stuck with it because I'd really liked The Hours, movie and book, and wanted to know how it all tied together with that book.

11.  Classic that inspired you?  Too many to count.  Most recently, probably Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which made me see how much more interesting my prose could be.

...or scared you?  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I don't read a lot of horror, but the illustration of our sinful nature given a grotesque life of its own was pretty scary.

...made you cry?  Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace.

...made you angry?  The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, though I was more annoyed than angry.  With myself, for not liking it as well as everyone else I know.

12.  Longest classic you've read?  Ever?  Les Miserables.

...longest classic left on your club list?  Probably Middlemarch, which I'm working through slowly with a friend.

13.  Oldest classic you've read?  Again, I'm taking this to mean ever, not just since I started the challenge.  I've read parts of The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer.

...oldest classic left on your club list?  Don Quixote

14.  Favorite biography about a classic author you've read — or, the biography on a classic author you most want to read, if any?  I really love A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's autobiography about his life in Paris.

15.  Which classic do you think EVERYONE should read? Why?  I hate this sort of question.  There is no one fictional book that everyone in the world should read or would like.  Pass.

16.  Favorite edition of a classic you own, if any?  I love my copy of The Lord of the Rings so much I wrote a whole blog post about it, which you can read here.

17.  Favorite movie adaption of a classic?  At the risk of beating a drum too often here, I love Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies.

18.  Classic which hasn't been adapted yet (that you know of) which you very much wish would be adapted to film.  Well, Jane Austen's Persuasion has been adapted several times, but never to my liking, so I wish they would make a better adaptation.

19.  Least favorite classic? Why?  Hmm.  Probably The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner.  I couldn't finish it.

20.  Name five authors you haven't read yet whom you cannot wait to read.  Leo Tolstoy, Anne Bronte, John Le Carre, T. H. White, and James Fenimore Cooper.

21.  Which title by one of the five you've listed above most excites you and why?  Probably T.H. White's The Once and Future King, mostly because it gets mentioned a bunch in X-Men 2.  And I love King Arthur stuff anyway.

22.  Have you read a classic you disliked on first read that you tried again and respected, appreciated, or even ended up loving? (This could be with the club or before it.)  The first time I read The Old Man and the Sea I didn't like it at all.  But when I reread it to prepare for the read-along I hosted this summer, I liked it quite well :-)

23.  Which classic character can't you get out of your head?  Hamlet is always with me.

24.  Which classic character most reminds you of yourself?  Hmm.  Jo March from Little Women, probably.

25.  Which classic character do you most wish you could be like?  Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, because he's so pure and forgiving.

More to come!  Probably not until after Thanksgiving, though :-)  I do intend to finish it off before the end of the month.  Meanwhile... Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!  And a very merry unbirthday to everyone else :-)

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Peace Like a River" by Leif Enger

I'm not entirely sure how to talk about this book.  I finished reading it almost two whole weeks ago, and every time I thought, "Oh, I have time to write a book review," I'd then think, "But what can I say about Peace Like a River?"

So this is me doing my best.

Cowboy's youngest sister sent me this book when I was recovering from my surgery back in September.  I started reading it, got through two chapters, and decided I did not want to read more.  The narrator kept warning that the story was not going to be a happy one, that seriously bad things were going to happen, and that his ordinary, happy childhood was going to be irrevocably changed by the events he was about to relate.  And I didn't really want to deal with any of that.  So I put it away.

But then I thought that surely my sister-in-law wouldn't have sent me a depressing book to cheer me up while I recuperated.  So I gave it another chance.  And in chapter three, the narrator's younger sister began writing an epic western poem.  And I identified so strongly with her love of the romanticized wild west that I read the whole book.  And I'm so glad that I did.  Because this book is lyrical and beautiful and haunting.  Yes, it's got sadness.  Yes, it's got pain.  But it also has love and warmth and joy and miracles.

Actual miracles.  Thanks to them, I'd almost characterize this as speculative fiction, or maybe even magical realism.  The narrator's father reads his Bible and prays and talks about God a lot, but there's little mention of Jesus, if any, so I wouldn't classify this as Christian fiction.

A quick summary of the plot might be in order.  Except I don't want to spoil things.  Suffice it to say that when the narrator's older brother's girlfriend is assaulted at school, violent act piles on violent act, culminating in bloodshed, an epic journey, and a lot of self-discovery and growing up for all involved.

Did I love this book?  I think so.  It's very different from the books I read most of the time, but in a good way.  

Particularly Good Bits:

Let me say something about that word:  miracle.  For too long it's been used to characterize things or events that, though pleasant, are entirely normal.  Peeping chicks at Easter time, spring generally, a clear sunrise after an overcast week -- a miracle, people say, as if they've been educated from greeting cards.  I'm sorry, but nope.  Such things are worth our notice every day of the week, but to call them miracles evaporates the strength of the word (p. 3).

I remember it as October days are always remembered, cloudless, maple-flavored, the air gold and so clean it quivers (p. 40).

Cole Younger?  Butch Cassidy?  John Wesley Hardin?  Maybe these fellows were just flush with Christmas spirit, but I'd never heard about it.  I mentioned these doubts to my sister (p. 118).

"What is spookism, anyhow?" I complained.  The word conjured a scary version of faith in which a person believed mostly in malicious unseen fellows who might creep up behind you and breathe on your neck hairs (p. 204).

When I thought about it, a dead fellow doing sit-ups in your yard might make you faint just as handily as one strolling (p. 222).

The infirm wait always, and know it (p. 290).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence and suspense.  I can't remember any bad language, but there may have been some mild curse words.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" by A. Conan Doyle (again)

Because I wrote a full review of this only last year (read it here), today I'm going to answer the questions I provided for the read-along link-up and say just a few other things.

Have you ever read any Sherlock Holmes stories before?

Yes.  I've read the entire canon, most of it twice, much of it many times.

Have you read this before?  If so, why did you decide to re-read it?

This is the first Sherlock Holmes story I ever read, back when I was 12 or 13.  Since then, I've probably read it five or six times, most recently in August of last year.  I decided to re-read it because I get in the mood to either read or watch it every autumn, and I thought it might make for a good read-along. 

At the end, Watson calls this adventure a "singular narrative, in which I have tried to make the reader share those dark fears and vague surmises which clouded our lives so long and ended in so tragic a manner."  Did he succeed in making you share them?

Even though I have read this so often, and watched adaptations of it equally as often, which have made me very familiar with the story and what will happen next... yes, the dark fears are still there.  The descriptions of the setting are so masterfully dismal and bleak, so evocative of the unknown that I get a thrill of pretend-fear just thinking about it.

Have you seen any film adaptations of this story?  If so, do you recommend any?

Yup.  I've seen the Granada version that stars Jeremy Brett probably more often than I've read the book.  (I reviewed it here back in December.)  It really matches my mental images for the book, and if you're looking for a solid, faithful adaptation, you can get it brand-new on DVD for about $10 online.

I've also seen the Sherlock episode that was inspired by this story, "The Hounds of Baskerville."  (I reviewed it here in January.)  Although I didn't love it, I thought it was amazingly well done, and lately I've been wanting to watch it again, now that I know how it all comes out.

What did you like best about The Hound of the Baskervilles?

I think I especially like how much Watson gets to do.  He's not just an observer, but an active participant in the investigation.  I also love the atmosphere, the cleverness of the antagonist, and the character of Sir Henry Baskerville.

Was there anything in the story you didn't care for, or think could have been done better?

I said here that I thought the last chapter had a bit too much recapping, but I've since decided that's probably just because I'm so familiar with the story, and if I had never read it before, or only once or twice, I would probably love Holmes' full explanation there.  So nope, wouldn't change a thing.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for suspense and scary images.

This is my 15th book read and reviewed for The Classics Club!