Monday, February 29, 2016

Time for Mailbox Monday

Look what we got in our mailbox last week!!!  It's Natalie Lloyd's new book, The Key to Extraordinary.  Sam and I both loved her debut novel, A Snicker of Magic, sooooooo much that I pre-ordered this one.  

Sam just happened to be wearing a perfectly matching shirt when this arrived, so I snapped a shot of him holding it before either of us dug in.  So far, I've definitely been enjoying it!  Lloyd's writing is so quirky and sweet and imaginative.  This is not a sequel to A Snicker of Magic, but it's got some similarities:  a young girl protagonist with an odd family, magical little town in the Appalachian mountains, and heaps of fun.

I'm happy to be linking up with Mailbox Monday for the first time in a while.  I'm sure I'll be reviewing this fairly soon, too, so if it intrigues you, please check back!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

"Anne of Avonlea" by L. M. Montgomery

I remember my mom reading this aloud to our whole family in the car when I was young, and my dad remarking at one point that it seemed to him that Montgomery had "run out of creative juices," a favorite phrase of his for describing sequels or series that got less wonderful as they went along.  I hate to have to say it, but I think he was right.  

Anne of Avonlea picks up right about where Anne of Green Gables leaves off:  sixteen-year-old Anne Shirley is the new teacher at the Avonlea one-room school.  She meets some new pupils, makes some new friends, and helps Marilla raise twins.  Twins do seem to be Anne's lot in life, don't they?  These are named Davy and Dora, and I only vaguely remembered them from reading this book twenty-some years ago -- in fact, in my memory, I'd confused them a great deal with Daisy and Demi from Little Men by Louisa May Alcott.  

Anyway, back to that idea of running low on creative juices.  To me, it feels like Montgomery took the imaginative, scrape-prone Anne and split her in half.  Her little pupil Paul is her imagination embodied, and Davy gets into more mischief than Anne ever did.  The book as a whole is diverting, and I enjoyed it very much, just not as much as its predecessor.

Particularly Good Bits:

"I'd like to add some beauty to life," said Anne dreamily.  "I don't exactly want to make people know more... though I know that  is the noblest ambition... but I'd love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me... to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn't been born" (p. 54).

"It does people good to have to do things they don't like... in moderation" (p.  56).

"You're never safe from being surprised till you're dead" (p. 58).

"...I think," concluded Anne, hitting on a very vital truth, "that we always love best the people who need us" (p. 84).

When Anne arose in the dull, bitter winter morning she felt that life was flat, stale, and unprofitable (p. 95)(I love that allusion to Hamlet!)

"If a kiss could be seen I think it would look like a violet," said Priscilla (p. 105).

"We make our own lives wherever we are, after all..." (p. 131).

"Don't you know that it is only very foolish folk who talk sense all the time?" (p. 151).

"Having adventures comes natural to some people," said Anne serenely.  "You just have a knack for them or you haven't" (p. 160).

She seemed to walk in the atmosphere of things about to happen (p. 248).

"You lose all the fun of expecting things when you're surprised" (p. 256).

"What is an imagination for if not to enable you to peep at life through other people's eyes?" (p. 268).

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

This is my 33rd book read and reviewed for the Classics Club and my 4th for the Women's Classic Literature Event.

And here are this month's discussion questions from Elyssa at Purple Ink Studios:

Q:  Anne of Avonlea introduces a cast of new characters including Mr. Harrison, Miss Lavender, Davy & Dora, Paul Irving, and Charlotta the Fourth. Which new character(s) was the most endearing to you? What do you like about them?

A:  I'm amused by Mr. Harrison, want to hug Miss Lavender, am glad I'm not raising Davy and Dora, want to adopt Paul Irving, and could use my own Charlotta the Fourth.  I think Miss Lavender was the most endearing to me because she's the sort of older woman I hope I can be someday, still full of life and wonder.  Also, I'm a sucker for stories of lost love refound, which is part of why Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel.

Q:  Anne has such high hopes and ideals when she sets out to teach Avonlea school. However, she’s in for a few surprises. What do you think about expectations and ideals when approaching a new situation? What do you think Anne discovered in this season as a school teacher?

A:  I think it's useful to have expectations about any new situation, but important to know that you might need to adjust them to reality.  Ideals are trickier, and harder to adjust, I think.  Anne realized that sometimes reality requires more harshness than she would like, but that many of her idealized notions about teaching were more helpful than others predicted.

Q:  What do you think of Miss Lavender’s romance? Do you agree with Gilbert’s comment on what could have been?

A:  I love that she gets a second chance, but oh, how sad that they spent decades apart.  I think that time was wasted, like Gilbert.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Giveaway Winners!

Well, folks, the winners of the Western Classics Giveaway are as follows:

Shane -- Lois Johnson

Silverado -- Carissa

3:10 to Yuma -- Ekaterina

Whispering Smith -- Annie

Congratulations!  You'll be getting an email from me this morning, at whatever email address you provided to the widget, to get your mailing info.  Please reply by Thursday, March 4, or I'll have to disqualify you and pick a different winner for your prize.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

"Shane" Read-Along Index

For future reference, here are all the individual posts for this read-along.  If anyone wants to discuss it at some future date, I'm always willing to go back and discuss a book again!

Chapter Posts

Chapter 1

Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16

This was my 32nd book read and reviewed for the Classics Club.

"Dear Mr. Knightley" by Katherine Reay

My goodness, I like each Katherine Reay book I read better than the last.  I liked The Bronte Plot quite a lot.  I liked Lizzy & Jane even better.  But I like Dear Mr. Knightley the best of all.

I think part of this has to do with the heroines' chosen professions.  Lucy buys and sells books and antiques, and while I do buy a lot of books, I don't sell them, and I'm not into antiques.  Lizzy is a chef, and while I love to cook, I don't do it for a living.  But Samantha Moore in Dear Mr. Knightley is a writer, and I'm a writer.  Although she does the journalism thing and I do the fiction thing, I related to that aspect of her character a lot.

However, I also liked this book better because it's inspired by Daddy-Long-Legs, and I enjoyed seeing how Reay updated the idea.  Also, it's somewhat more serious -- Sam is a former foster child struggling to adjust to adult life away from the safety of the group home she lived in through her older teen years and college.  Although a nameless benefactor gives her the money to go to grad school and a nice apartment, she does not have an easy time.  She's socially awkward, has a hard time coping with the rigors of grad school, and finds it hard to distinguish between people who are genuinely nice and kind versus those who are pretending to be nice because they want something.  

This is a more interior, personal book than Reay's two other novels, more about a person's struggles within themselves and less about their interpersonal problems, if that makes sense.  Not saying I don't like books about interpersonal problems, cuz I do, but I liked this even better.

A couple of my blogging friends have said they think it was unrealistic that a guarded person like Sam would have written such intimate thoughts to an unknown person, but I think Reay did a good job setting that up from the beginning with Sam writing passages like, "Honesty is easier when you have no face and no real name.  And honesty, for me, is very easy on paper" (p. 5).  Later, Sam writes, "And now I trust our one-sided, soul-purging relationship.  I depend on it" (p. 130).  Like any epistolary novel, you have to suspend some disbelief because most of us don't write letters that detail full conversations, but my credulity was never stretched beyond comfort.

Favorite Lines:

He showed me the real Kyle, and I crushed him.  Is this the adult I've become? (p. 26).

I've heard all sorts of things about a kiss (melting, fireworks, music), but no one ever told me it's a conversation:  asking, accepting, deciding, inviting, giving... Questions posed and answered (p. 93).

"Talking through stuff before I get it into the manuscript depletes the tension and magic.  I have to keep it compressed or it flops" (p. 218)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13.  Sam has a boyfriend who pressures her to spend the night, and they make out several times, though those are not described any more in-depth than the passage above.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Unmasked at Last: Inkling Explorations for February, 2016

This month, the topic for Heidi's Inkling Explorations series is "A scene involving a disguise in book or film."

I've decided to share one of my favorite moments of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  It's kind of long, and it comes from very close to the end of the book.  If you don't know the story, I'll just tell you that a young man named Edmond Dantes is falsely imprisoned at the beginning of it, and escapes prison to wreak fantastical vengeance on the people who conspired to imprison him.  He uses a hidden treasure to transform himself into the wealthy, mysterious Count of Monte Cristo and sets about his dark work.  Here, at the end of the book, he confronts one of them, a Monsieur de Villefort, and reveals his true identity.  In fact, he has to shed two disguises to do so.

     When Villefort entered, Noirtier seemed to be listening, attentively and as affectionately as his paralysis allowed, to Abbe Busoni, who was as calm and emotionless as ever.
Seeing the abbe, Villefort put his hand to his forehead.  The past returned to him like one of those waves which in its rage raises more foam than any of its fellows.  He recalled the visit that he had paid to the abbe the day after the dinner in Auteuil and the visit that the abbe had paid him on the day of Valentine's death.
     "Are you here, Monsieur!" he said.  "And do you never appear except in the company of Death?"
     Busoni rose to his feet.  Seeing the look on the lawyer's face and the fierce light burning in his eyes, he realized, or thought he realized, that the events at the assizes had taken place.  He knew nothing of the rest.  
     "I came to pray over the body of your daughter," Busoni replied.
     "And today?  Why are you here today?"
     "I have come to tell you that you have paid your debt to me and that from now on I shall pray God that He will be satisfied, as I am."
     "That voice!" Villefort cried, shrinking back with a horrified look on his face.  "It is not Abbe Busoni's!"
     The abbe tore off his tonsured wig and shook his head, so that his long black hair fell freely across his shoulders, framing his masculine features.
     "That is the face of Monte Cristo!" Villefort exclaimed, looking aghast.
     "Not quite, Monsieur.  Look harder, and further back."
     "That voice!  That voice!  Where did I hear it for the first time?"
     "You heard it first in Marseille, twenty-three years ago, on the day of your wedding to Mademoiselle de Saint-Meran.  Look in your files."
     "You are not Busoni?  You are not Monte Cristo?  You are that hidden enemy, deadly and implacable!  I did something to harm you, something in Marseille!  Oh, woe is me!"
     "Yes, you are right, you are absolutely right," the count said, crossing his arms over his broad chest.  "Think!  Think!"
     "But what did I do to you?" Villefort cried, his mind already hovering on the borderline between reason and madness, in that mist which is no longer a dream but not yet wakefulness.  "What did I do to you?  Tell me!  Speak!"
     "You condemned me to a slow and frightful death, you killed my father, and you deprived me of love at the same time as you deprived me of freedom, and of fortune as well as love!"
     "Who are you?  Then who are you?"
     "I am the spectre of an unfortunate man whom you locked up in the dungeons of the Chateau d'If.  When this spectre finally emerged from its tomb, God put on it the mask of the Count of Monte Cristo and showered it with diamonds and gold so that you should not recognize it until today."
     "Ah!  I recognize you, I do recognize you!" the crown prosecutor said.  "You are..."
     "I am Edmond Dantes!"

Oooooh, I get such delicious shivers from that final line.  The Count of Monte Cristo is my second-favorite book of all time, and I'm starting to feel like I'm due for a reread.  Or at least to watch one of the two movie versions I love, the Richard Chamberlain or the Jim Caviezel.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Western Classics Giveaway

To celebrate finishing the Shane read-along, I'm giving away a brand-new copy of the movie, which stars Alan Ladd as Shane and Van Heflin as Joe Starrett.  And then I kind of got carried away at the used book store and found three more westerns that are somehow related to Shane and decided to give those away too.  So here are the prizes:

Shane (1953) -- pretty faithful adaptation of the book we just read, about a stranger who comes to a small Wyoming town and sides with the homesteaders against a pushy rancher.  You can read my review of it here.  (Once I pick a winner and get their mailing address, I will order a brand-new copy of this and have it shipped straight to the winner from Amazon.)

+ Silverado (1985) -- four men team up to rid a town of a pushy rancher who's trying to run everything and everybody.  A rousingly enjoyable western.  This one's rated PG-13, mostly for violence, but it does have some cussing and very brief innuendo.  You can read my review of it here.  (This is a USED copy -- it works in my DVD player, but of course, I can't guarantee it'll work in yours.)

3:10 to Yuma (1957) -- this one stars Van Heflin, who's also in Shane, as a struggling rancher who takes on the job of ensuring a dangerous outlaw gets put on the train to the state prison in Yuma.  It's a fascinating character study as well as a beautiful western.  You can read my review of it here.  (This is a USED copy -- it works in my DVD player, but of course, I can't guarantee it'll work in yours.)

Whispering Smith (1948) -- this one stars Alan Ladd, who's also in Shane, as a railroad detective who has to try to stop his erstwhile best friend from attacking and looting trains.  I only just saw this for the first time this week, but my goodness, I like it a lot!  It's a solid western, and Ladd is wonderful in it.  I haven't reviewed it yet, sorry.  (This is a USED copy -- it works in my DVD player, but of course, I can't guarantee it'll work in yours.)

Okay, so this runs through the end of Thursday, February 25th. I will draw four names on Friday, February 26th, and post the names of the winners that day, as well a notify them by email.

Sadly, shipping rates went up last month, and I can only send these to US addresses.  If you live outside the USA and have a friend who lives here that is willing to have it shipped to them for you, that's fine, but I can't send them internationally.

PLEASE make sure your information for the giveaway widget includes your current email address so that if you win a prize, you'll get the email informing you that you won! If you don't reply to my email by Thursday, March 4th, I will choose another winner and award your prize to them instead.

The first way to enter, as you see, asks you to leave a comment telling me your top two prize choices.  If you DO NOT want to win any of these, please say so in your comment as well!  I'd rather not send you a movie you already have, or have seen and decided you don't want to own it, or have no interest in.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can enter either here or on Hamlette's Soliloquy -- both work!  Because these are movies and that's my movie blog, I figured I should post it both places :-)

Shane Read-Along: Chapter 16

And so, it ends.  Shane is gone, and yet Shane's essence remains.  A quiet, contemplative end to a powerful story.

Favorite Lines:

He belonged to me, to father and mother and me, and nothing could ever spoil that (p. 118).

I would see him there in the road, tall and terrible in the moonlight, going down to kill or be killed, and stopping to help a stumbling boy and to look out over the land, the lovely land, where that boy had a chance to live out his boyhood and grow straight inside as a man should (p. 118).

He was the man who rode into our little valley out of the heart of the great glowing West and when his work was done rode back whence he had come and he was Shane (p. 119).

Possible Discussion Questions:

What did you think of this book?  Is there anything else you'd like to discuss that we haven't touched on yet?

How do you think knowing Shane helped Bob "grow straight inside as a man should" (p. 118)?  

Be sure to check out the giveaway I'm holding to celebrate the end of this read-along!  I'm giving away the 1953 movie version of Shane (which I've reviewed here) and three other westerns that are somehow related to it.

Thank you so much for reading this with me!  This has been the most satisfying read-along I have ever hosted.  Thank you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Shane Read-Along: Chapter 15

Poor Joe.  Having to live the rest of his life with the knowledge that his friend has (probably) died in his place.  That's going to be tough.

Shane's kind of a Christ-like figure, in some ways, isn't he?  He's flawless.  He comes from nowhere and goes off into the unknown again.  He lays down his life for his friends, of his own accord.  I'm not often a big fan of Christ-like figures in literature, as they're often too clumsy, too didactic, too obvious.  But not here.  How about you?

And the whole struggle with the stump comes back again.  Joe and Shane may have uprooted it at the beginning of the story, but now, thanks to the time Shane spent with them on that homestead, the whole family has grown roots that go deep down into the ground.  Marian says, "We have roots here now that we can never tear loose (p. 117).

We talked a lot, earlier, about just what that stump symbolized.  I think, in the end, it shows that when you remove one thing, something else has to take its place.  They uprooted the stump, and replaced it with themselves, in a way.  It's gone, but they're here to stay.  What do you think?

We've only got one chapter left.  I'll probably post it tomorrow.  And start the giveaway.

(One More) Possible Discussion Question:

Why do you suppose Shane rode off alone to die?  Or do you think he'll survive that wound?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Shane Read-Along: Chapter 14

And Bob follows Shane to town.  He has to, from a storytelling standpoint, since Bob's our narrator, and it would be absolutely terrible not to see the culmination of this story.  But I love what it says about Bob too, about his devotion to Shane.  He can't stand for Shane to go up against them truly alone.  Even though he can't help, and he could end up a hindrance, he has to be there with him.  And so we, through Bob, get to see Shane's magnificent, doomed stand against the forces of evil in this valley.

It's a good fight, don't you think?  He faces Wilson down square and even gives him a chance to live, though Wilson doesn't take it.  And he gets that sidewinding Fletcher too.

Unfortunately, he doesn't escape unscathed himself.  Sob.

Favorite Lines:

I went softly down the steps and into the freedom of the night (p. 104).

He was tall and terrible there in the road, looming up gigantic in the mystic half-light.  He was the man I saw that first day, a stranger, dark and forbidding, forging his lone way out of an unknown past in the utter loneliness of his own immovable and instinctive defiance.  He was the symbol of all the dim, formless imaginings of danger and terror in the untested realm of human potentialities beyond my understanding.  The impact of the menace that marked him was like a physical blow (p. 105).

There was the Shane of the adventures I had dreamed for him, cool and competent, facing that room full of men in the simple solitude of his own invincible completeness (p. 108).

He gazed down at me and into me and he knew.  He knew what goes on in a boy's mind and what can help him stay clean inside through the muddled, dirtied years of growing up (p. 112).

A cloud passed over the moon and he merged into the general shadow and I could not see him and the cloud passed on and the road was a plain thin ribbbon to the horizon and he was gone (p. 114).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Shane says, "A man is what he is, Bob, and there's no breaking the mold" (p. 113).  Do you agree?  Can people change?

He also says, "There's no going back from a killing, Bob.  Right or wrong, the brand sticks and there's no going back" (p. 113).  We've seen that even though Shane arrived in a community where he was a complete stranger, people knew what sort of man he is, that he has killed and could kill again.  Do you think Shane wanted people to know this about him, or could he have hidden it?  I'm not phrasing this quite right -- do you think that he could have hidden it and didn't want to, or was it going to be obvious no matter how he dressed and behaved?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Shane Read-Along: Chapter 13

(I'm stepping up the pace for these last few chapters, if that's okay with everyone -- I figure if I post one chapter every-other-day, we can finish this book by the end of the week and not leave anyone hanging much longer!)

Poor Bob.  He seems so young and lost as he wanders around the farm, unable to make himself actually do anything, but also unable to sit down with the adults until he's exhausted a few restless options.

But returning to the adults isn't much better.  Joe's making speeches about how he knows Shane will take care of Marian and Bob, which of course sends Shane off to the barn to put on his gun, his old clothes, and his former self.

And I love Shane here, more than ever, as he prepares to go take down the baddies in Joe's stead.  He makes me want to cry -- he's so Shakespearean, somehow.  Makes me think of Hamlet's "The readiness is all" speech.  He knows what needs doing, and he's ready for whatever may happen in the process.

Favorite Lines:

They knew that talk is meaningless when a common knowledge is already there (p. 98).

All that mattered was the length of the shadows creeping across the yard as the sun drove down the afternoon sky (p. 99).

"Things could be worse.  It helps a man to know that if anything happens to him, his family will be in better hands than his own (p. 100).

You could see now that for the first time this man who had been living with us, who was one of us, was complete, was himself in the final effect of his being (p. 101).

Slim and dark in the doorway, he seemed somehow to fill the whole frame (p. 102).

"There's no man living can tell me what I can't do.  Not even you, Joe" (p. 103).

"Tell him no man need be ashamed of being beaten by Shane" (p. 103).

"We have battered down words that might have been spoken between us and that was as it should be" (p. 104).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Joe believes that if he faced down Wilson and Fletcher and died in the process, Shane would marry Marian and take over the ranch.  Do you think that would actually have happened?  Could Shane have stayed there as a farmer/rancher?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Shane Read-Along: Chapter 12

Up until this chapter, I think Marian's been kind of viewing this the way Bob has:  Joe says everything will be fine, so of course it will be.  But then Shane says, "Give him time and he'll be mayor (p. 94), and even though he didn't quite mean it that way, suddenly Marian understands that... Joe might not have time.  Everything might not be fine in the end.  She could lose her husband.  

And right there is where I know that no matter how fond she is of Shane, it's Joe that Marian truly loves. 

The rest of this chapter is weirdly satisfying to me.  I love that Stark Wilson and Shane get a chance to look each other over.  I love that Shane saves Joe by confronting Wilson in the boldest, baldest way.  I love that Joe was going to shoot Wilson over his insinuation that Marian might belong to another man some day.  Do you think that people have been gossiping about Marian and Shane, and Wilson's heard that and used it to fuel that remark?  Or was it just him making the obvious play, threatening a man's wife to get under his skin?  Do you think Joe and Shane wondered if he was implying there was something going on between Shane and Marian?  I'm so undecided!  That can be our Possible Discussion Questions for the day.

Favorite Lines:

"But Marian," father objected mildly, coming to her.  "What better reason could a man have?"

"Yes," said Shane gently.  "What better reason?"  He was not looking just at mother.  He was looking at the two of them.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Shane Read-Along: Chapter 11

I'm having some trouble writing about this chapter.  It's just so awful, isn't it?  Fletcher has hired this Stark Wilson person, who's basically an evil version of Shane, and they've killed off a homesteader, and it's just horrible.  Because you know Shane's going to have to Do Something, and Joe's going to want to Do Something to save him from having to do that, but but but but...

Like I said, I'm having some trouble writing about this chapter.

Favorite Lines:

"When there's noise, you know where to look and what's happening.  When things are quiet, you've got to be most careful" (p. 82).

I was pressed close to mother, grateful for her arms around me.  I noticed that she had little attention for the other men.  She was watching Shane, bitter and silent across the room (p. 87).

"Now he'll head straight for the one real man in this valley, the man who's held you here and will go on trying to hold you and keep for you what's yours as long as there's life in him" (p. 88).

     "You seem to know a lot about that kind of dirty business," Ed Howells said, with maybe an edge of malice to his voice.
     "I do."
     Shane let the words lie there, plain and short and ugly.  His face was stern and behind the hard front of his features was a sadness that fought to break through (p. 89).

"We've got to be the kind of people Shane thinks we are" (p. 92).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Joe says, "Shane won his fight before ever he came riding into this valley.  It's been tough enough on him already.  Should we let him lose just because of us?" (p. 91).  What fight do you think he's talking about here?  What might Shane lose if they stay and take Fletcher on?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Guest Post for the Little House Blog Party

I've got a guest post up today on Ashley's blog, A to Z.  It's my review of the Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker, and you can read it here.  Ashley asked me to write up the post as part of her Little House Blog Party that's running all this week, and I was happy to be able to contribute :-)  I've loved the Little House books for as long as I can remember! 

If you haven't checked out the blog party yet, please do so!  The kick-off post is here, which includes a giveaway and a tag to copy and fill out.  I posted my tag answers here on my other blog :-)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

"Lizzy & Jane" by Katherine Reay

Um, yes.  Two reviews of Katherine Reay books in just over a week.  Because I got this from the library last Saturday and began devouring it immediately.  And I do mean "devouring" -- this book's protag, Elizabeth/Lizzy, is a chef.  And while I like learning about interior decorating now and then, which featured prominently in The Bronte Plot, I love to cook and adore baking, so that's one reason I liked this book even better than that one.

Now, I don't consider myself a "foodie" because I'm not into gourmet food, I don't grind my own herbs and spices (unless I've grown them myself), and I don't make up my own recipes very often.  But I do have a recipe blog, and I truly enjoy preparing and eating food.  Reading this book made me hungry.

So anyway, about this book.  Lizzy is a chef and runs an expensive restaurant in New York City.  But she's been thrown off her groove lately because her sister Jane has cancer.  Their mom died of cancer, so she's pretty freaked about this.  She takes a sort of stress break from work and flies to Seattle to see her dad and sister, with whom she doesn't have exactly a close and warm and loving relationship.  And then she meets a guy, and she cooks a lot of food, and she works through her relationship problems with her sister and figures out stuff about her past and gets to know her niece and nephew and brother-in-law better, and that all sounds kind of boring and/or depressing, but it's not.  It's beautiful.  I liked The Bronte Plot, but I loved Lizzy & Jane.  

I also cried a lot over it, but in a good way, if that makes any sense.  Not happy crying, but more "what if it was me facing the potential of leaving her kids for good."  I'm going to be flying most of the way across the country without my kids this summer, leaving them for almost a week for the first time ever (well, we left 2 of them at Grandpa and Grammy's overnight once...) and I'm kind of wigging out over the idea that what if I died on that trip and they had to live the rest of their lives without me?  Something I'm doing a lot of praying about already, even though my trip is six months away.  So somehow, reading this book helped me kind of figure out exactly what was concerning me the most about that impending trip and know better how to pray about it.

Anyway, good book.  Also, in case you can't tell by now, this is not a retelling of Pride and Prejudice.  Jane Austen's books do figure into the story, but if you haven't read them, you'll still enjoy this book.  If you have read them, you'll get what the characters are talking about when they discuss the books, but it's not a prerequisite.

One thing did bug me about this, though.  It's supposedly a work of Christian fiction, and it does contain more discussions of God and living a godly life than The Bronte Plot did.  A Bible verse reference here and there.  But they were all about how God makes our lives better or helps us endure things.  Nothing about Jesus.  No law, no Gospel.  Nobody in this book ever goes to church.  Nobody says, "Hey, you know, because we're forgiven by God for our sins, we need to go forgive other people too.  Maybe you should think about that."  It's nominal Christianity only, vague and more Deistic than anything, and that bugged me.  

I'm not a fan of Christian fiction that has sermons sandwiched into every third chapter, an obligatory conversion story line, and a required quotient of Jesus references.  But if characters are supposed to be Christians, I expect them to act more like God truly matters in their lives.  "By your fruits, you will know them" (Matthew 7:16), in other words.  However, if you don't think of this as "Christian fiction" and instead "fiction that Christians would be comfortable reading," then it works well.

Particularly Good Bits:

Without ever losing sight or diminishing Anne's reality and social limitations, Austen gave her and all of us the soft, steady hope of second chances, happiness, true love, and the promise that life might be better close to thirty than it was at eighteen (p. 241).

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for a brief discussion between sisters about how cancer affects your hormones and sex life.  It's not salacious, it's matter-of-fact and minor, but it's there.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Shane Read-Along: Chapter 10

This chapter is a continuation of the scene from chapter 9, so I'm going to go ahead and post them back-to-back.

You know one of the coolest things about being friends with a guy like Joe Starrett?  If you need him to, he can just carry you around.  He can pick you up and hold your unconscious body in his arms for a bit while he argues with the saloon owner over who's going to pay for all the damage you and a bunch of yahoos just caused, and think nothing of the fact that he's standing there holding a full-grown man.  And then carry you out to his wagon and heft you up on the seat.  Not load you in the wagon bed, which would be way easier, but actually put you way up on the seat.

I don't think they make men like Joe Starrett very often.

And then later on, when his wife as much as admits that she's got feelings for you, instead of going out to the barn and shooting you, he'll say you're a better man than him and then hug his wife.

You ask me, it's Joe Starrett who needs the hug.  Lots of hugs.

Favorite Lines:

The one man in our valley, the one man, I believe, in all the world whose help he would take, not to whom he would turn but whose help he would take, was there and ready.  Father stepped to meet him and put out a big arm reaching for his shoulders.  "All right, Joe," Shane said, so softly I doubt whether the others in the room heard.  His eyes closed and he leaned against father's arm, his body relaxing and his head dropping sideways.  Father bent and fitted his other arm under Shane's knees and picked him up like he did me when I stayed up too late and got all drowsy and had to be carried to bed (p. 77).

She always knew when to talk and when not to talk, and she said no word while we watched father lift Shane to the wagon seat, climb beside him, hoist him to sitting position with one arm around him and take the reins in the other hand (p. 78).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Joe says he's known that Marian is growing attached to Shane.  Why do you think he seems okay with this?  

What's your reaction to the whole confusing situation?  What would you do if you were in Joe's place?  In Marian's?  In Shane's?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Shane Read-Along: Chapter 9

Shane fights dirty.

And I love him for it.

I'm not sure what that says about me, but it's probably nothing good.  Anyway, I don't know about you, but I read this chapter twice through all in one lump this afternoon.

"'So you have it all planned,' Shane said softly" (p. 71).  Did you ever hear of a neater way of thumbing your nose at someone while sounding perfectly polite?  Oh, that line thrills me.  I'm getting goosebumps again just remembering it.  

And then the fight begins, and what a glorious fight it is!  Shane using his smarts and experience and agility against their brute strength, one man holding his own against five for quite some time.  And yes, he fights dirty.  Knee to the groin here, glass of whiskey to the eyes there, anything he needs to do.  It's that willingness to wade in with no holds barred that makes me love Shane so much in this fight -- he keeps nothing back.

But even wonderful, mythical, heroic Shane can't win against five men who also are willing to brawl however necessary.  And just in time, in comes our other hero.  Joe "was past anger.  He was filled with a fury that was shaking him almost beyond endurance" (p. 73).  And here's why I love that they cast Van Heflin in that role for the movie version.  Because he is a big, barrel-chested man, and he so completely suits this moment of righteous fury where he grabs a man and picks him up over his head and throws him like a straw bale.  

Alan Ladd as Shane is small and lithe and quick, just like in the book, and look at that photo above, how Van Heflin towers over him like the mountains behind them, solid and weathered and formidable.  My husband (Cowboy) is built a lot like Van Heflin -- broad shoulders, barrel chest, brawny arms, 5'11", big head... anyway, he's as gentle and kind as can be, but I have no doubt (having seen him lifting weights in our basement) that if he wanted to, he would be "big and terrible" like Joe Starrett, could pick up a man and throw him like that.  

Okay, enough sappy musing about my husband.  Let's just say that if I was Marian, and Cowboy was Joe, my eyes would have been glowing too.

Favorite Lines:

He picked up his drink and savored it, one elbow on the bar, not shoving himself forward into the room's companionship and not withdrawing either, just ready to be friendly if anyone wanted that and unfriendly if anyone wanted that too (p. 69).

He was somehow happy, not in the pleased and laughing way, but happy that the waiting was over and what had been ahead was here and seen and realized and he was ready for it (p. 70).

"Bobby boy, would you have me run away?" (p. 70).

I don't really have any discussion questions today.  Unless you want to speculate as to why a meek, mild, quiet woman like me is so attracted to violent stories...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Becoming Jane Eyre" by Sheila Kohler

I've had this for a couple years now, but never got around to reading it until now.  (I should post a picture of my TBR bookcase so you can see just what I'm up against.)  I decided the time had finally come, as I'm gearing up for my Jane Eyre read-along that starts in May.  The back cover said it was a sort of fictional biography, which I liked the sound of, as I don't know much about Charlotte Bronte herself, I must admit.

Becoming Jane Eyre traces Charlotte's writing of her famous novel, her efforts to publish it, and how its success changed her life.  It also shows Emily and Anne publishing their first novels before her, only to be eclipsed by their sister's success.  Their father's health problems and their brother's mental disturbances also play significant roles.

I really wanted to like this book, but alas, I didn't.  It was well-written, thought-provoking, insightful, and intelligent.  I feel now as if I knew a good bit of what life was like for Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte.  I sympathize with them greatly.  Kohler did a masterful job of weaving the Bronte novels in with their lives, showing how reality influenced story for them, and vice versa.  It was quite fascinating, really.

But I didn't like it solely because there was the occasional sordid passage that would sort of pop up unannounced, though none of them involved the sisters themselves.  These were entirely unnecessary, jarring, and made me blush.  So now you know.

However!  Sheila Kohler did make one observation that I loved, and I'm hoping I remember to bring it up again during the JE read-along.  Here it is:

Jane must choose between love without marriage or marriage without love (p. 147).

Not the entire point of the novel, but for part of it, that's huge.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R for explicit sexual material, and alcohol and drug use.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Historically Speaking

This week's prompt, from The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Historical Settings You Love.

I love books set in the past, as you know by now.  Whether they were written long ago, or are what I consider to be "historical fiction" (set in a time prior to the age the author lived in), I love learning about how life was different in time gone by, and how it was also the same as what we have today.  People haven't changed much since the fall into sin, and that saying that "the more things change, the more they stay the same" definitely feels true when I'm reading historical fiction.

Anyway, here are the settings I'm most drawn to, in chronological order:

4000 BC-100 AD -- Biblical times.  I don't read a lot of fiction set then, though I do really love The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare and Ben-Hur:  A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace.  But I do read quite a bit of nonfiction about it -- right now, I'm working my way through When Christ Walked Among Us by James F. Pope.

500-1500 -- Middle Ages.  Basically anything involving Robin Hood, King Arthur, knights and ladies and castles.  The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle and so on.

1600s -- Elizabethan England.  If it involves Shakespeare, I'm interested.

1700s -- American Colonial Era and Revolution.  The Felicity books, The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, Sarah Bishop by Scott O'Dell, anything involving Daniel Boone.

1800s -- Napoleonic Wars, British Regency, American frontier life.  Jane Austen, Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series.  Streams to the River, Rivers to the Sea by Scott O'Dell, anything about Davy Crockett and Kit Carson.

1860s -- American Civil War.  Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, books by Shelby Foote, memoirs of soldiers, etc.

1870s-1900 -- American Old West.  My favorite era for movies, and the one I love writing in the most.  I'm very fond of Zane Grey, getting fonder of Louis L'Amour, and want to try out Max Brand.

1900s -- Victorian Era Britain.  I love Sherlock Holmes!

1920s -- the Jazz Age.  I love Fitzgerald and Hemingway, books by them or about them.  Especially The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast by Hemingway, and Tales of the Jazz Age and Flappers and Philosophers by Fitzgerald.  

1940s -- WWII.  Basically, anything set during WWII grabs my attention.  Sarah Sundin, Raymond Chandler, anything historical about WWII.  The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan, Shadows Over Stonewycke by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella, anything by Bill Mauldin or Ernie Pyle.

That's only 9, but that's all I've got :-)

EDIT:  No, it's not!  I realized that I was thinking mostly about fiction, but I do read non-fiction (and a bit of fiction) about Biblical times, so I'm adding that to the top of this list.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Shane Read-Along: Chapter 8

This chapter is like that too-still, calm feeling the world gets before a really bad storm hits.  The storm clouds have been gathering a while, and you've maybe had a bit of rain and some wind already, but suddenly the leaves on the trees don't even flicker, and you know something awful is coming -- you just stand there, watching the sky to see if it's changing color, if you need to head for shelter.  Somehow, you begin to wish it would go ahead and just storm already.  (Okay, that's what you do if you live where tornadoes exist, anyway.)

And besides wanting things to go ahead and just happen, I'm feeling pretty sad for Shane.  He was feeling comfortable and maybe even happy, and now that's all ruined.  Grrrrrrr.  Makes me want to go punch a few bad guys myself.  

I love that Marian has the courage to ask him to stay, though, don't you?  She knows they need him, and she knows that she's manipulating him a bit by asking with Joe not around... but she knows he knows he's being manipulated, so it's all kind of okay somehow.  At least, that's how I feel.  You?

Favorite Lines:

"A man can keep his self-respect without having to cram it down another man's throat" (p. 64).

Possible Discussion Questions:  What do you think about Shane calling Marian Starrett by her first name?  What does it say about how he fits into their lives?