Friday, September 30, 2016

Small is Beautiful -- Book Blog Edition

I'm snurching this idea from Kara at Flowers of Quiet Happiness.  She recently featured three blogs with fewer than 100 followers, and I thought this was a great idea!  I have a lot of blogging friends with not-so-well-known blogs that I wish others would "discover."  So I am doing this tag even though I wasn't tagged with it.  (In fact, I'm doing it twice!  Once here, and once on my other blog.)  Here are five book-related blogs (that Kara didn't already feature) that don't have a ton of followers, but that I am very fond of indeed:

Bookshelves and Daydreams -- Carissa Horton

Carissa turns a sharp eye on books, speaking plainly about what she does and does not like about them.  She digs deeper than a simple "oh, this was enjoyable" sort of review, and often discusses whether something fits with her Christian worldview or not.  And how cool is this?  She did a whole series on Christmas books last year (list of reviews here)!  I'm hoping she'll do that again this year :-)

Holds Upon Happiness -- Jennifer

Jennifer posts book reviews, musings on life, and lots of nifty photos. She likes to travel to England, and often describes her adventures there.  (And by "adventures" I mean things like "how she got lost in the most amazing London bookstores.")  Like me, Jennifer is a mother, and she has a great appreciation not only of children's books for all ages, but also for classics both ancient and modern.  Reading her blog is like hanging out with a friend over steaming mugs of tea or coffee and discussing books.

Mirror with Clouds -- Dale

Dale's reviews are concise and well-focused, and I can generally tell from his posts if I'm going to like the book he's reviewing or not.  He reads a LOT, and such a cool variety!  Classics, modern short stories, and everything in between.

The Once Lost Wanderer -- Joseph

Joseph's reviews amuse me greatly. He has a fairly similar taste to mine when it comes to book choices, and yet, we quiet often have very different reactions to books, which is always fun to explore.  And once in a while, he lets his grandsons "review" books that he's read to them.

On Stories and Words -- Meredith

Meredith reviews books, and sometimes movies too.  She also posts fun musings on life, the occasional game, and other bits of amusingness.  Also, she's met Christopher Paolini, so yeah... you know she's cool ;-)

If you want to do this too, here are the "rules:"

1. Feature 3-5 blogs with fewer than 100 followers.
2. Write 1-3 paragraphs about each blog, including information like what the blog is about, a brief bio of the blogger, and/or why you recommend their blog. Don't forget a link to their blog!
3. Include an image for each blog, whether it's a blog button, profile photo, header, or simply a screenshot of the blog.
4. Thank the blogger who featured you, and include a link to their blog. If you like, you can even include them as one of the blogs that you feature (especially if they joined the tag without having been featured by someone else).
5. Include the tag image somewhere in your post.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Bookworm Gardens

While on vacation this month, we visited Bookworm Gardens in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  We'd never been there before, and I found it utterly enchanting.  So I'm going to share a few photos of it with you.  As well as this map, so you get an idea of what it's like:

(Click on image to make it bigger.)

Basically, they have different areas dedicated to different kinds of children's books, with structures and flowers and hands-on activities that relate to them.  I didn't take photos of nearly all of them, but here are some I captured.

This is "Jack and the Beanstalk," and in the background is the "Hansel and Gretel Learning Cottage" where you could buy souvenirs and lots of books.

Houses for each of the "Three Little Pigs" (and Cowboy inside one to demonstrate scale).

Winnie-the-Pooh's house, where he lives under the name of Sanders, as per A. A. Milne.

You can go in a lot of the structures, and some of them have stuff to do inside.  Pooh's house has stuffed animals and a bit of furniture.

The Little House in the Big Woods display has stools, kitchen sundries, and other things you can load into the wagon.

This is for a book I've never read, A Playhouse for Monster by Virginia Mueller, but it's so cute, I had to include a photo.  (That's my friend ED in the foreground, wearing the cape.  Because she's cool like that.)

The Magic School Bus!!!  You could go inside, raise and lower windows, open and close doors, and pretend to drive.

Pagoda from Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr:

Display for The Tin Forest by Helen Ward:

Some books just had a little statue or small display, like this tiny duck for one of my favorite books, The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Weise:

Scattered throughout are these pillars with a little metal door marked "books."  When you opened them, you would find laminated copies of books brought to life nearby, or of selections from the books if they were too long to include all of.  That way, if you weren't familiar with some of the books and wanted to read them, you could!

There are a LOT more displays at Bookworm Gardens, but this at least gives you a taste of what it's like.  If you're ever in eastern Wisconsin, and you love children's books (or have some kids along), definitely check this place out!  It's free (with a request for a free-will donation), and you can spend a couple of hours there without getting bored.

Also, they have a Little Free Library :-)  We saw three of these on our vacation, and I find them enchanting!  I donated books to two of them, and Cowboy took one book.  I kind of want one of these in my neighborhood, don't you?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Jane Eyre Read-Along: Chapter 27

Um, yeah, so I went on vacation for a two-week whirlwind tour of friends and family in the midwest, and hosted a blog party at the same time, and poor Jane Eyre got neglected.  I will do better now!  Even though, now that I'm home and not going anywhere for a looooooong time and can focus on the book, we're heading into one of my less-favorite sections.  But that's okay.  We can finish this book.  We can!!!

So, off Jane goes, "cracking my heart-strings in rending them from Mr. Rocheter's" (p. 349).  Er, I mean, her heart-strings.  And mine too, fictionally.  I haaaaate leaving Mr. Rochester behind :-b  It means I have to put up with snuffy St. John now, and I'm frowning at the thought.  (I'm very hard on St. John.  Because he deserves it.  But who knows, maybe I'll like him better on this reading?)(You know what "fat chance" means, St. John?)

I find it so interesting that Jane admits she "wanted to be weak" (p. 347) so she could avoid leaving the man she loves.  Not only leaving him, but hurting him by leaving him, perhaps driving him to desperation.  He tells her he once contemplated suicide, and she obviously suspects he may try that again if she leaves.  But she knows it would be wrong to stay.  She knows it will be hard to leave.  She doesn't want to do the hard thing.  But she does it anyway.  Jane Eyre, ladies and gentlemen, is made of steel.  She knows no one will help her do the right thing, so she does it herself because it needs to be done.

And that, folks, is why Jane Eyre is my favorite novel.  Because of this small, indomitable woman who does very hard things even though she doesn't want to.  She is superbly stubborn in all the best ways, and since I'm very stubborn myself, I admire that she puts her stubbornness to the best possible use.  She insists on doing what is right, she refuses to be cajoled into doing wrong, and wow... I admire her so very much.

But, in her stubbornness, she is not mean or cruel or hard-hearted.  She forgives Mr. Rochester.  She still loves him.  She doesn't take the easy way out by hating him or being angry with him -- and how much easier it would be to leave if she could call him a skulduggerous seducer and say good riddance to bad rubbish.  But no, she loves him and forgives him, and then leaves him anyway.  With much pain and sorrow, since although she is steely, she isn't stony.  It's not easy for her, and that's what makes her so believable, even in her indomitability.

(I'm making up words today.  Blame my head cold.)

But anyway, isn't it nice to learn that Mrs. Fairfax and the other servants didn't really know that Bertha was Mrs. Rochester?  They haven't all been conspiring to corrupt Jane.  Whew.

And Jane stands up for Bertha -- she says that Rochester's hatred of her is cruel because "she cannot help being mad" (p. 351).  I think Jane sympathizes with Bertha, don't you?  Bertha has been locked up for years and years, and Jane knows what it's like to be trapped and imprisoned.  

Speaking of which, we get not one but two moments in this chapter that remind me of that moment in chapter 23 when she insisted, "I am no bird, and no net ensnares me" (p. 297).  First, Mr. Rochester says, "Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it, the savage, beautiful creature!" (p. 370).  He's referring to her body, that no threats of violence to her body would make Jane's spirit submit to him, but it's an interesting choice of words.  And then second, when Jane steals away in the early morning, "[b]irds began to sing in brake and copse; birds were faithful to their mates; birds were emblems of love.  What was I?" (p. 374).  She realizes that, in leaving Mr. Rochester and her life at Thornfield, she is changing herself, not just her location.  Although she protested otherwise, she basically was a bird in a cage there.  But now, as she said herself earlier in the chapter, "All is changed about me, sir; I must change too" (p. 350).

Favorite Lines:

Reader! -- I forgave him at the moment, and on the spot (p. 348).

"Now for the hitch in Jane's character... Now for vexation, and exasperation, and endless trouble!" (p. 352).

"You are my sympathy -- my better self -- my good angel; I am bound to you with a strong attachment (p. 367).

I shook, I feared -- but I resolved (p. 368).

"I care for myself.  The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained, I am, the more I will respect myself" (p. 369).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Do you think Mr. Rochester would come to despise Jane if she became his mistress, like he despises Celine Varens and the others?

Why couldn't Mr. Rochester divorce Bertha because she was mad?  Does anyone know?

Mr. Rochester says, "I tried dissipation -- never debauchery; that I hated, and hate" (p. 362).  What's the difference between the two?

Monday, September 26, 2016

"The Outsiders" by S. E. Hinton

I first read The Outsiders when I was fourteen, same age as the protagonist, Ponyboy.  I had known that I led a safe, sheltered life, but it wasn't until I read this book that I truly realized how different my life was from what it could be.  It's one of the first books I can remember reading that felt very real to me, not like a made-up story.   I didn't learn until many years later that this was inspired by actual events, but somehow it has always felt real, right from the first reading.

Ponyboy Curtis lives with his older brothers Soda and Darry -- their parents died in an accident eight months earlier.  They live on the poor side of town (Tulsa, Oklahoma, though the book never explicitly states that) and are called "greasers" because they grease their hair back.  Basically, they're hoods, only they don't consider themselves to be.  They and their friends look out for each other, but don't have an actual gang.  But they constantly battle the "socs," who are the rich kids from the other side of town.  

Late one night, a bunch of socs jump Ponyboy and his friend Johnny.  They try to drown Ponyboy, and Johnny knifes a soc to save his friend.  The two boys run away so Johnny won't have to go to jail and so the social workers won't make Ponyboy go live in a foster home instead of staying with his older brothers.  They end up labeled heroes for rescuing some children, and then there's all this tragedy, and... yeah, it's an emotional rollercoaster.  Eva called it "breathtaking," and it is all of that.

Even now, reading this for the umpteenth time, I'm amazed by how realistic these characters feel.  I've read a lot of YA novels, a lot of books about juvenile delinquents, and a lot of books written by fairly young writers, but none of them have matched this book for capturing how teens think and feel.   I am perpetually fascinated by the way it presents a gritty, raw world without using shocking language or rubbing our noses in filth.  And yet, it also doesn't try to idealize the characters -- none of them are innocent or to be pitied.   Hinton doesn't want us to feel sorry for Ponyboy, or for Johnny or Dally, either.  She wants us to try to understand them. And that's what I love best about The Outsiders -- that it helps me understand a little bit about how people live and think, people who are very different from myself and live in very different circumstances. I may never meet someone who has lived a life as hard and painful as Ponyboy's, but this book helps me understand him a little bit even so.

I've probably read The Outsiders close to twenty times in the past twenty years.  I remember I read it three times in a row when I first discovered it.  I still have that same copy, which someone had given to me after they were through reading it for high school.  It had their name on the sides in black marker, and after I finished my first reading of it, I found a black marker and made all the edges of the pages black so that their name was completely obliterated.  I had a great need to make my copy mine alone.  Then I censored out the three (very tame) bad words in it and read it over and over.  When my brother was old enough, I let him read it too.  Every time we had a birthday, we'd talk about which character we were the same age as.  When I turned twenty-one and was older than Darry, I was glum.  My gift to my brother when he turned fourteen was his very own copy of the book.  We also watched the excellent 1983 film adaptation many, many times, and I recently replaced my almost-worn-out VHS copy with a DVD.  

So, um, yeah, this is one of my favorite books ever, and I expect it always will be.

Particularly Good Bits:

I lie to myself all the time.  But I never believe me (p. 19).

"You greasers have a different set of values.  You're more emotional.  We're sophisticated -- cool to the point of not feeling anything.  Nothing is for real with us (p. 35).

Tow-headed and shifty-eyed, Dally was anything but handsome.  Yet in his hard face there was character, pride, and a savage defiance of the world (p. 54).

I liked my books and clouds and sunsets.  Dally was so real he scared me (p. 68).

I wish I could say that everything went back to normal, but it didn't.  Especially me (p. 146).

If This a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for violence, teen drinking and smoking, and three minor curse words.

This is my 46th book read and reviewed for the Classics Club, and my 15th for the Women's Classic Literature Event.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Tolkien Giveaway Winners!

Good morning!  (And yes, I mean it is a morning to be good on, a morning on which I feel good, and a morning that is good in and of itself, etc.)  Thank you, everyone, for making this party so much fun :-)  Even though I only managed two games, I think it went really well, and this is such a relief to me -- now I know that even if I'm horribly busy next year again, I can still host this for a fifth time!

So, now it's time to reveal the winners of the bookmark giveaway.  Thank you all for your sweet compliments on these!  I'd never tried making thong bookmarks before, but I think they turned out fairly well.  And here's who they now belong to:

#1 -- Phyl
#2 -- Mary Horton
#3 -- Meredith J.
#4 -- Art3mis Took
#5 -- Miss Meg


I will be emailing you this morning to ask for your mailing address so I can get these sent off to you :-)

Answers to the Tolkien or Not? Quotation Quiz

Here are the answers to the quotation quiz, and everyone's scores!


#1 All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

#2  All that is gold does not glitter.

#3  The better part of valor is discretion.
Not! (It's from Henry IV Part One by William Shakespeare.)

#4  Short cuts make long delays.

#5  Though this be madness, yet there is a method in it.
Not!  (Also from Hamlet by William Shakespeare.)

#6  Happy is the man who finds wisdom.
Not!  (It's from the book of Proverbs.)

#7  The hands of a king are the hands of a healer.

#8  Stolen water is sweet, and food eaten in secret is delicious.
Not!  (Also from the book of Proverbs.)

#9  Twice blessed is help unlooked-for.

#10  Courage is found in unlikely places.


10 -- Cordy
10 -- Miss Meg
10 -- RM Lutz
9 -- DKoren
9 -- Ekaterina Egorova
9 -- Erudessa Aranduriel
8 -- Art3mis Took
8 -- Meredith
8 -- Savannah
7 -- Livia Rachelle
7 -- The Elf
3 -- MovieCritic

I'm so glad you enjoyed this game, as it's one I totally made up, and so different from the kinds I've done in the past.  Y'all were great at this!

Answers to the Tolkien Family Relationships Quiz

Here are the answers and scores for the Tolkien Family Relationships Quiz I posted earlier this week!  Well done, everyone.  Thanks for playing!


#1  Which of these pairs are NOT father and son?
     c.  Bilbo and Frodo

#2  Which of these pairs are NOT siblings?
     d.  Bifor and Bofur
(but they are cousins)

#3  How are Merry and Pippin related?
     b.  they are cousins

#4  How are Elrond and Galadriel related?
     c.  they are in-laws
(Elrond married Galadriel's daughter)

#5  What is Theoden's son named?
     a.  Theodred

#6  What are Arwen's brothers named?
     b.  Elrohir and Elladan

#7  Eowyn is Theoden's __________.
     c.  niece

#8  Which of these pairs are NOT married to each other?
     a.  Ioreth and Imrahil

#9  Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton named their first child __________.
     d.  Elanor

#10  Bilbo Baggins' parents were named ____________.
     a.  Bungo and Belladonna


10 -- Erudessa Aranduriel
10 -- Manette
9 -- Cordy
9 -- DKoren
9 -- Miranda Jo
9 -- Savannah Grace
8 -- Fawnabelle Baggins
8 -- Livia Rachelle
7 -- Ekaterina Egorova
7 -- Elizabeth Anne D.
7 -- Miss Meg
6 -- E
6 -- Mary Horton
5 -- Phyl
4 -- Meredith
4 -- The Elf
3 -- MovieCritic

Thanks for playing!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Tolkien or Not? A Quotation Quiz

Here's one more game I whipped up for this week.  Playing is simple:  you get to decide if each of these quotations was written by Tolkien... or not.  Put your guesses in the comments, and I'll post the answers at the end of the week.

#1 All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

#2  All that is gold does not glitter.

#3  The better part of valor is discretion.

#4  Short cuts make long delays.

#5  Though this be madness, yet there is a method in it.

#6  Happy is the man who finds wisdom.

#7  The hands of a king are the hands of a healer.

#8  Stolen water is sweet, and food eaten in secret is delicious.

#9  Twice blessed is help unlooked-for.

#10  Courage is found in unlikely places.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Tolkien Family Relationships Quiz

It's game time!  Here is a little quiz I made up about all different family relationships in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  You can leave your guesses in the comments (I'm moderating comments for this reason), and then I'll post the answers and everyone's scores at the end of the week.  Have fun!

#1  Which of these pairs are NOT father and son?
     a.  Gloin and Gimli
     b.  Thranduil and Legolas
     c.  Bilbo and Frodo
     d.  Bard and Bain

#2  Which of these pairs are NOT siblings?
     a.  Eomer and Eowyn
     b.  Balin and Dwalin
     c.  Boromir and Faramir
     d.  Bifor and Bofur

#3  How are Merry and Pippin related?
     a.  they are siblings
     b.  they are cousins
     c.  they are in-laws
     d.  they aren't related at all

#4  How are Elrond and Galadriel related?
     a.  they are siblings
     b.  they are cousins
     c.  they are in-laws
     d.  they aren't related at all

#5  What is Theoden's son named?
     a.  Theodred
     b.  Eomer
     c.  Thengal
     d.  Eothud

#6  What are Arwen's brothers named?
     a.  Glorfindel and Gildor
     b.  Elrohir and Elladan
     c.  Haldir and Fingon
     d.  Beregond and Bergil

#7  Eowyn is Theoden's __________.
     a.  daughter
     b.  granddaughter
     c.  niece
     d.  sister

#8  Which of these pairs are NOT married to each other?
     a.  Ioreth and Imrahil
     b.  Tom Bombadil and Goldberry
     c.  Celeborn and Galadriel
     d.  Beren and Luthien

#9  Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton named their first child __________.
     a.  Rose
     b.  Daisy
     c.  Goldilocks
     d.  Elanor

#10  Bilbo Baggins' parents were named ____________.
     a.  Bungo and Belladonna
     b.  Pongo and Perdita
     c.  Drogo and Delphinium
     d.  Frodo and Frieda 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Tolkien Blog Party -- 2016

Happy Tolkien Week, dear friends!  Let the fun begin :-) 

Although there will be fewer games this year, I do still have some fun up my sleeve for later this week.  But more importantly, here's the 2016 tag!  Copy these questions onto your own blog and answer them, add your post to the linky thingie here, and then join me in toasting Bilbo and Frodo -- their birthday is on Thursday! Some of these are repeat questions from past parties, and some are new -- if you want to repeat your answers from a previous year for some of them, you may.

The Tolkien Tag 2016

1.  How many books by J.R.R. Tolkien have you read?

2.  Have you seen any movies based on them?

3.  Are there any scenes/moments that make you cry?

4.  Are there any scenes/moments that make you laugh?

5.  Have you ever chosen a Middle Earth name for yourself?  If so, what is it?

6.  Who would you want to party with/marry/fight to the death? (pick three characters)

7.  When was the last time you visited Middle Earth, via books or movies?

8.  Do you consider Gollum to be a villain?  Why or why not?

9.  How would you sum up what Tolkien's stories mean to you in one word?

10. List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotes from the books or movies.

Once you've added a link to your post to the linky widget above, leave a comment below so we all know there's something new to read :-)  Then follow the links to read other people's posts and celebrate with them! And go enter the giveaway! I will be posting a game later this week, too.  If you've got any kind of Tolkieny fun going on at your blog this week, please leave a link in the comments here too so we can join you.

Happy Tolkien Week!

EDIT:  You can find a few more badges/buttons in by following this link if you want different ones!

Giveaway for the 2016 Tolkien Blog Party

I'm giving away five prizes this year, and here they are!  Five "thong" bookmarks that I made for this happy occasion:

#1  Hobbit Door, Sting, and the Arkenstone

#2  Smaug, some treasure, and Sting

#3  Map of the Shire, Hobbit door, and the word "Grow"

#4  Sting, the word "seek," and a map to the Lonely Mountain

#5  Stone that looks like a Hobbit door, Sting, and the word "courage"

This giveaway is open WORLDWIDE.  I'm mailing these all myself, and they're small, so no matter where you live in this wide world, you are welcome to enter.

The main way to gain entries is to participate in the party, in other words, to copy the questions I posted (here) and answer them on your own blog, then add your post's link to the Mister Linky widget at the bottom of that official party kick-off post. But that isn't required! You can also earn entries by telling me your prize choices and by commenting elsewhere on my blog.  I do my best to match winners with their choice of prizes, but that doesn't always work out -- that's why I ask for your top two choices.

This giveaway runs through the end of Friday, September 23. I will draw the winners on Saturday, September 24 and post the names of the winners that day, as well a notify them by email.

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 Saturday, October 1, I will choose another winner and award your prize to them instead.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Jane Eyre Read-Along: Chapter 26

Well, here we are.  The awful truth is out:  Mr. Rochester has a wife yet living.  He can't marry Jane.

There was a time when I would imagine a whole alternate version of this book, where I waylaid Mr. Mason and kept him from interrupting the wedding, and Mr. and Mrs. Rochester lived happily ever after.  Except, as I said in the post on chapter 25, I think now that they would have been miserable had they married at this point.  So, while this chapter is still heartwrenchingly hard for me to read, I no longer daydream about besetting Mason with highwaymen.

And yeah, Rochester doesn't behave much like a bridegroom, does he?  I know Jane was pretty used to his being strange and abrupt, but she's awfully trusting not to suspect something is up.  He gives the impression of a desperate man about to commit a crime, come what may.  Which, of course, he is.

But I just can't hate him.  Or even be terribly angry with him.  Maybe because I understand him so much here.  I know what it's like to want something you can't have.  I know what it's like to come up with a plan you think will gain you what you can't have.  And I know what it feels like to have that plan destroyed by something unexpected at the very last minute.  It's beyond infuriating.  Do I approve of Rochester's bigamous plans?  No.  Do I understand why he made them?  Yeah, I do.

As for Jane, wow, does she have a wealth of calmness?  She's so composed, even as her world crumbles around her.  Do you think her very innocence, the fact that she "never dreamed she was going to be entrapped into a feigned union with a defrauded wretch" (p. 341), makes her able to endure this jolt so calmly?  Or is it her inner strength we've remarked on before?  That can be our Discussion Question for the day.

I had totally forgotten that the whole reason Mr. Mason found out about the marriage was because Jane wrote to her uncle in Madeira!  In fact, it wasn't Mason's idea to bust things up -- it was Jane's uncle trying to rescue her from a false marriage!  So now I'm really sorry I kept imaginarily kidnapping Mason, since it wasn't his idea at all.

And finally, when Jane locks herself in her room and finally can think and feel, in the flood of her emotions, "One idea only still throbbed lifelike within me -- a remembrance of God" (p. 345).  Oooooh, that gives me chills.  Jane is strong, but not invincible, and when she is broken and distraught, she prays something out of the Psalms:  "Be not far from me, for trouble is near; there is none to help" (p. 346).  That's from Psalm 22, and you know... this is why we memorize Scripture, isn't it.  So that, when we can barely form a coherent thought, we still have God's Word in our hearts and minds without having to think.

Favorite Lines:

"Bigamy is an ugly word!  I meant, however, to be a bigamist" (p. 340).  (Yeah, this is a weird line to have as a favorite.  But I love it anyway.)

"And this is what I wished to have (laying his hand on my shoulder); this young girl, who stands so grave and quiet at the mouth of hell, looking collectedly at the gambols of a demon" (p. 343).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

"The Dragon Turn" by Shane Peacock

Like the other books in this series, The Dragon Turn finds an adolescent Sherlock Holmes attempting to solve a mystery that baffles authorities.  Unlike most "kid power" books and movies where the kids are smart and the adults are bumbling fools, the mystery here baffles Sherlock just as much as his counterparts at Scotland Yard.  I very much appreciated that, as even when I was a kid myself, I thought "kid power" stories were sometimes fun, but always unrealistic.

As for the plot, there's this mediocre magician with a fantastic new trick involving a dragon.  All of London is going nuts about him.  Then he's accused of murdering a rival magician, the very one who ran away with the first guy's wife a few years ago.  The police are convinced the first guy murdered the second guy, but all that was left at the crime scene was blood and some bits of flesh.  They have no idea how the murder was done, and Sherlock tries to figure it out for them.

Particularly Good Bits: 

Boredom is like a monster to Sherlock Holmes, like a troll hiding beneath a bridge, waiting to attack him (p. 18).

"If a sword of justice is needed," he says, even louder, not caring who hears, "...then I shall be it!" (p. 220).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence and intense situations.  There's no black magic involved here -- just sleight-of-hand and stage tricks.

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Glimpse of the Tolkien Giveaway Prizes

Just in case you've been eaten up with curiosity about what I'm giving away this year for the Tolkien Blog Party... now you can see that they are bookmarks!  Which I made myself.  They are thong bookmarks, so they have something on each end of a piece of cotton cord, and they should fit most hardcover books.  If you're wondering what's on the other end of each of these... you'll find out on the 18th :-)

(And yes, this giveaway will be open world-wide.)(And no, I'm not giving away the books too, sorry.)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

"I, Claudia" by Charity Bishop

This is one of the best books I've read all year.  And I don't say that merely to curry favor with Charity Bishop, who is my Femnista editor.  

Claudia is a Roman girl who suffers from terrifying, seemingly prescient nightmares.  She marries a Roman officer, Lucius Pilate, thinking the nightmares will cease once they've consummated their marriage.  They move to Judea when Pilate is appointed the governor of that region, and if you know your Bible history at all, you know whose trail he eventually must judge.  But Charity Bishop doesn't stop with Christ's death and resurrection -- she continues their story beyond that, to its own conclusion.

The characters here are well-rounded and compelling -- I even got attached to some of the secondary characters, like Claudia's servants.  The pacing and plotting were good as well.  But Bishop's best work was with her details of the Ancient Roman world.  She clearly did a massive amount of research, and I could have read another 200 pages set in this place, with these characters.

If you read my other blog, then you know I was very, very impressed by the film Risen (2016).  Coincidentally, my husband chose that for our Friday night movie right while I was reading this, and I enjoyed contrasting the two presentations of Christ's death and resurrection from a Roman point of view.  The two Pilates in Risen and I, Claudia are very different, but both are believable expansions of the person we read about in the Bible.

Particularly Good Bits:

"Life is like driving a chariot, Claudia.  You can do it alone and feel every flinch and tug of the lines.  You can fight the horses or you can learn from them.  It's easier if you have help" (p. 25).

"Religion forbids a lot of things but it never stops anyone" (p. 26).

"Who but the son of God could take away hatred and replace it with love in those who follow him?" (p. 166).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for a lot of suggestive material, scary scenes, pagan magic, demon possession, and violence.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Jane Eyre Read-Along: Chapter 25

Does anybody else just NOT want to read the next chapter?  Just stay living here in this slightly uneasy, but still happy section?

No, I'm not quitting the read-along.  I'm just not looking forward to chapter 26.

Anyway, getting pretty Gothic here, folks.  Jane has her creepy dreams.  The weather is stormy and violent.  And she thinks her wedding dress looks like a wraith or a ghost.  Creeeeeepy.

And then we read about her nighttime visit from someone truly horrific.  Okay, I know we have a couple people reading this for the first time -- I don't know if they're still reading along, but just so you know, this post is going to have LOTS of SPOILAGE.  So don't read any more of it until after you've read the following chapter, okay?

Can't say I didn't warn you.

Okay, so I have read a lot about Bertha Mason Rochester over the years, about what her ripping of Jane's veil means and so on.  You can find lots of theories and scholarly opinions online, if you're so inclined.  Here's what I think:  I think she was warning Jane.  Not just warning her that Rochester is already married, and she's about to commit bigamy, however unwittingly.  No, I think she's warning Jane that marrying Mr. Rochester is a terrible idea because of who Rochester is.  And you know I say that with a great deal of love for Rochester.  But he isn't just damaged and broody at this point in the book -- he is rotten.  He's lying to Jane, he's manipulating her -- he's selfish and greedy and spoiled.  And he's not going to improve just by marrying Jane.  In fact, if he and Jane had gotten married, how long before Jane started feeling stifled by his attentions?  Or how long before he tired of her?  

I think Bertha is trying, in her own addled way, to protect Jane.  She could have ripped up the wedding dress.  She could have attacked Jane.  But no, she only rips up the veil that Rochester bought for Jane.  The veil that Jane says was a clear sign of Rochester's vanity and pride.  Who knows but that Bertha may have had a similar veil once.  At any rate, she recognizes it as a symbol of her husband and of marriage, and rips it apart.  As if she's trying to rip Jane and Mr. Rochester apart.

It's significant too, I think, that the last time Bertha escaped her keepers, she attacked another symbol of marriage:  Rochester's bed.  She didn't stab him, she set fire to his bed.  And then awakened Jane with her laughter and left a candle in the hallway as a clue.  That was right when Rochester was starting to fancy Jane, and Bertha seems to have somehow sensed or learned of this.  She didn't strike out at Jane in jealousy, just like she doesn't harm her now.  I think she wants Jane to flee the snare Rochester is setting for her.  I know he loves her and thinks he's going to make her happy, but let's face it:  she spends the month before their wedding "handling" him and keeping him cross and irritable in order to feel at peace herself.  Is that a healthy relationship?  Not on either side.

It's not until Jane can escape her cage entirely, grow into a full-fledged adult who doesn't rely on anyone else for affirmation or affection or anything else, that she can safely enter marriage.  And it isn't until Rochester has learned to put others before himself, to value himself for only who he is inside and not what he has or can acquire, and to accept help from others that he is ready for a real marriage.

Okay, that's enough for today.  I don't have any favorite lines in this chapter, and I don't have any questions for you, other than... what do you think about my ideas on Bertha's motivations and so on?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Jane Eyre Read-Along: Chapter 24

So much foreboding in, with, and under the happiness.

Jane wakes up feeling like his proposal was a dream.  His pronouncement that she will be Jane Rochester strikes with something akin to fear.  She's convinced that "Human beings never enjoy complete happiness in this world" (p. 302).  And his insistence on telling her she is beautiful makes her uneasy.

Speaking of which... do you just want to take Rochester aside and tell him to stop treating her like a new toy, already?  Cuz I do.

In other news, Rochester is familiar enough with Hamlet to semi-quote it.  He says, "I lay that pleasant unction to my soul" (p. 307), which of course refers to Hamlet telling his mother to "lay not that flattering unction to your soul That not your trespass but my madness speaks" (III, 4).  It's a telling reference, isn't it?  Hamlet is warning his mother not to lie to herself that the guilt she's feeling is due to his madness and not her own conscience accusing her.  Mr. Rochester's conscience must be bothering him, don't you think, that he uses that particular phrase?  

By the way, that song Rochester sings... if you feel like wow, it just fits this whole situation so perfectly!  Yeah, Bronte wrote it, this wasn't a popular song or anything.  

And then we have a bit more foreshadowing, with Jane admitting that she was so wrapped up in Mr. Rochester that she basically worshiped him.  To quote Hamlet myself, "it cannot come to good" (I, 2).

Favorite Lines:  

Nature must be gladsome when I was so happy (p. 301).

Possible Discussion Questions:  

Jane says, "I like rudeness a great deal better than flattery" (p. 306).  What does that tell us about Jane?

Why does Jane object so much to Mr. Rochester showering her with gifts?