Monday, August 14, 2017

Announcing This Year's Tolkien Blog Party!

Yes, I'm totally doing a Tolkien Blog Party for the fifth year!  Like every year, there will be a tag you can fill out, a giveaway, and some games.  It will run for all of Tolkien Week, which is September 17-23 this year.

Here are some buttons for you to share!

Hope to see you there :-)

Friday, August 11, 2017

"Every Frenchman Has One" by Olivia de Havilland

I have been having such a delightful string of books lately!  Been a good summer for reading, I guess.  Maybe it's because I've been reading a lot off my TBR shelves, and I wouldn't have bought these books if I hadn't thought they sounded like something I'd enjoy?  I don't know.

Anyway, about Olivia de Havilland's memoir.  It's hilarious.  Like, Dave Barry hilarious.  I laughed aloud soooooooooo many times while I read this book!  I wish it was four times as long, because I was absolutely not ready for it to be finished.

Ms. de Havilland wrote this in 1962.  She had married a Frenchman and moved to France a few years earlier, though she still came back to the US to make movies now and then.  The only one she really mentioned was The Proud Rebel (1958), which pleased me no end, of course, because that co-stars my beloved Alan Ladd.  She never talked about him, but whatever.  The book is all about what it's like to adjust to living in France after living in the USA all your life.  And when I say she can make the story of repainting their new home into a laugh-inducing tale of woe, you know this must be good, right?

Oh, another thing that made me laugh was the title of the very first chapter:  "I'm not at all sure if you know that I'm alive..."  That cracked me up because fifty-five years after this book was written, she's still alive.  Ms. de Havilland turned 101 in July, and she still lives in Paris.  Astonishing woman.

More than anything, this book made me want to hang out with her and be her friend.  I am not more firmly a fan of hers than ever, and I wouldn't be surprised if she became one of my ten favorite actresses before long.  

Oh, and what does every Frenchman have?  Not a mistress or a drinking problem or a beret.  It's a liver.  Every Frenchman has a liver.  If you want to know what on earth she could find to write about that, read the book.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: a gentle PG-13 for a few tastefully handled anecdotes about somewhat bawdy subjects.  

This is my fifth book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

#RebelliousWriting -- Where Have All the Clean YA Books Gone?

If you read my other blog, you may have read this post last week, in which I announce that I'm joining the #RebelliousWriting movement, which is all about encouraging writers to create clean fiction for teens and younger readers.  I'll be posting more about this in the future, like when the official website launches on August 9.  

For the past few years, I've been putting a movie-style rating on the books I review here, and mentioning what kind of content the book has so that my blog readers will know if they'll be comfortable reading it.

Today, I'm debuting a brand new page for this blog!  If you look up at the top of the page, you'll see a page marked "#RebelliousWriting Reading List."  That is exactly what it sounds like -- my suggestions of clean, enjoyable books that I think teens (and adults) would enjoy.  Some of them are classics.  Some of them are brand-new.  Some of them fall in between the two.  But every book on it would NEVER receive a rating higher than PG-13 if it were a movie.  I will add new books to that list as I encounter them, so whenever you're looking for something new to read, that list might give you some ideas.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"Snow White" by Matt Phelan

Does it ever happen to you where someone mentions a book, and you're like, "Whoa, that could be cool!" and then you get it... and it is way cooler than you could possibly have imagined?  And then you love it so much, you re-read it immediately.  And then you re-read it again quick before you have to take it back to the library.

Yeah, that's totally what happened with this book, for me.  Someone in the Rooglewood Fairy Tale Contest Facebook Group mentioned this graphic novel that turned the Snow White story into a noir story set in the 1930s, and I was like, "I MUST READ THIS."  And the library had it!  So I got it.  And I read it.  And now I've read it three times, and I want my own copy.  Because wow, it is just brilliant.

I was going to scan in some of my favorite panels, but then I found the official book trailer on YouTube, and it has so many of the good ones that I'm just sharing that here instead.

See?  It's no wonder I fell in love with this book.

If This was Actually a Movie Instead of Me Just Wishing It was, I Would Rate It: PG for some images that would probably scare young children, like the stepmother as an old hag and the guy chasing Snow with a knife.

Monday, July 31, 2017

"The Big Sleep" by Raymond Chandler

I always have a terrible problem when reading Raymond Chandler.  I want to zip through to the end because his mysteries are so gripping, but at the same time, I want to read them slowly so I can savor his writing.  I want to pause and relish the flavor of his words, roll them around in my head, revel in their distinctive wonder.  But I also want desperately to know what happens next.  Even though I've read all his novels and short stories before and vaguely remember how they go, I still get sucked straight into them.

The Big Sleep is the first thing by Raymond Chandler I ever read.  I read it in high school, in a collection of "great mysteries" that my parents had on a high shelf in our basement.  That collection was also my first introduction to Leslie Chartris' Simon Templar and Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, and I devoured the collection secretly, stealing time to read between school assignments.  (I probably could have finished high school in two years if I hadn't done this sort of thing all the time.)

I have to admit, the first time I read this, around the age of 17, I just zipped through it and on to the next book in the collection.  I liked the noir feel of it, I knew Philip Marlowe was a famous detective, and I knew there was a movie version of this starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall that I'd been wanting to see for a while.  But I didn't exactly savor and relish and revel in the words.  Not yet. But eventually, I wised up.

What draws me to Chandler's novels, besides the perfect, unexpected, gleaming writing?  It's not the plots -- this one is twisted, yet thin, and Chandler himself admitted he had no idea who killed that poor chauffeur.  Nope, it's Philip Marlowe himself.  You know I have to want to be friends with the characters in a book if I'm going to love the book, and that is 100% the case here.  I would love to befriend Philip Marlowe.  He could use a good friend.  He's such a complex guy -- such a brilliant mix of cynicism and hope.  He has no faith in people, but he wishes that he did.  He's in a dirty business, but he's not a dirty guy.  As Chandler said in an essay about hardboiled mysteries, "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid."  That's Marlowe all over -- not mean, not afraid, and not tarnished by all the foul things he has to investigate, encounter, and do.  Man alive, I love that guy.  I once named a camera after him, actually.

And that's what separates Chandler from my other two favorite writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.  I admire all three of them for the way they write, but I also love what Chandler writes, whereas Fitzgerald and Hemingway's stories are generally not things I love.  (Yes, I'm the same person who just led a read-along of The Great Gatsby.  I don't love Gatsby, but I do enjoy that one, at least.  I enjoy a couple of Hemingway's too.)  Interesting that they were all writing in the early part of the 20th century.

I suppose I should mention what the plot of The Big Sleep is.  Well, there's this old millionaire with two badly behaved daughters.  He hires Marlowe to figure out who's blackmailing him about some gambling debts one of the daughters incurred.  But really he wants to know if his ex-son-in-law is behind it.  By the time Marlowe solves things, he'll have to deal with pornographers, murderers, extortionists, gamblers, and those wayward daughters.  All handled in a remarkably tasteful way, really.  Except for his homophobia -- that's not tasteful, but it's also not surprising given this was written in the 1930s.  Many modern readers would find it shocking, I'm sure.  Much as I love Marlowe, I admit he's not perfect.  He wouldn't be realistic if he was.

Particularly Good Bits:

Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness (p. 150).

I was as empty of life as a scarecrow's pockets (p. 159).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  A hard PG-13 for sexual matter handled in a non-explicit way, bad language, and violence.

I know a lot of people don't consider Chandler's books to be classics.  I do.  I think we'll be reading and marveling over them for hundreds of years, long after we've forgotten who lesser crime fiction authors ever were.  And I'm not just saying that out of loyalty to him because he's my favorite author -- I really think he's that good.  So this is my 11th book read and reviewed for my second go-round with The Classics Club.

This is also my 7th book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge hosted by Heidi Pekarek.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"Careless People" by Sarah Churchwell

I started reading this during my read-along for The Great Gatsby because it's all about what was going on in F. Scott Fitzgerald's life and the world around him while he was writing, editing, and publishing Gatsby.  I didn't have time in June to finish it because it was much more intensive and engrossing than I was expecting.  I thought I'd skim through it for the more salient points, but nope, I had to read the whole thing.  It was too good to skim!

The subtitle of this book, "Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby," refers to what is called the Hall-Mills murder case, a real-life unsolved murder in New Jersey that took place in 1922 right about the same time Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald moved to New York City for a time.  The case was huge news, and Fitzgerald certainly read about it in the papers, for Churchwell found instances where he referred to it in correspondence and so on.  The two murder victims were having an extra-marital affair with each other that bears some resemblance to Tom Buchanan's affair with Myrtle Wilson in The Great Gatsby, and Churchwell draws out many similarities between the cases, making the point that it may have influenced Fitzgerald as he came up with the ideas behind Gatsby.

But the book is about much more than that.  Churchwell also delves deeply into Gatsby and the themes of wealth, power, and social class.  She shows the world around Fitzgerald that he was trying to capture and the many things and people that influenced him as a writer.  Then she goes on to discuss the critical and popular reception of The Great Gatsby and how perceptions of it changed over the years.  There's way more in this book than I can discuss here, so I just want to touch on two things Churchwell discussed about Gatsby that really interested me.

First, I was fascinated by the parallels she drew between the characters of Myrtle Wilson and Jay Gatsby.  I had not noticed them until this, but now they're so obvious I don't see how I missed them.  Churchwell succinctly says, "[Myrtle] wants what Daisy has.  Myrtle is the mirror image of Gatsby, who wants what Tom  has.  They are both upstarts, trying to foist themselves upon high society, poseurs who lead double lives (p. 67).  Myrtle does a lot of the same things he does -- wants power and position and money, tries to get a better life for herself, throws parties, runs around with a married person, and insists on believing her lover will change her life.  So fascinating.

Second, Churchwill points out this interesting tidbit: "When Tom realizes that Gatsby wants to supplant him, he gives Gatsby precisely what he thought he wanted: Gatsby is put in Tom's place, taking the fall for both Buchanans' crimes, Daisy's careless driving and Tom's affair with Myrtle" (p. 281-82).  Whoa.  I kind of sensed that before, but never saw it so clearly until now.

This book as a whole has increased my appreciation for Fitzgerald's writing, and I definitely recommend it if you're a fan of his, or of The Great Gatsby.

Particularly Good Bits:

Their story would prove that if you make yourself up, you can be undone, as well: being self-made risks unraveling (p. xxi).

A nation so fixed on progress will always be pulled, Nick begins to see, back into nostalgia, reaching for what lies ahead yet longing for what lies behind (p. 257).

Gatsby hangs suspended between chasing the future and longing for the past: the present means nothing to him.  But Daisy is defined by the present.  She needs immediacy, for she dwells in the shallows of time, drifting unrestfully and without purpose from moment to moment (p. 272).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for discussions of alcohol abuse, violence, and sexual topics in a non-explicit way.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The "100 Books the BBC Think Most People Haven't Read More than 6 of" Tag

Olivia at Meanwhile, in Rivendell, tagged me with this recently, so here goes!

(I snurched this from Movies Meet Their Match)


1. Be honest.
2. Put an asterisk next to the ones you have read all the way through. Put an addition sign next to the ones you have started.
3. Tag as many people as there are books on the list that you have read.

Because I've reviewed quite a few of these, I'll be linking titles to my reviews as applicable, okay?


1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen * 
2. Gormenghast Trilogy - Mervyn Peake
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë *
4. Temple of the Golden Pavilion - Yukio Mishima
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee *
6. The Story of the Eye - George Bataille
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë *
8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell 
9. Adrift on the Nile - Naguib Mahfouz
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens *
11. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott *
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller*
14. Rhinoceros - Eugene Ionesco
15. Baron in the Trees - Italo Calvino
16. The Master of Go - Yasunari Kawabata
17. Woman in the Dunes - Abe Kobo
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger *
19. The Feast of the Goat - Mario Vargas Llosa
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot *

(John Wayne)

21. Gogol's Wife - Tomasso Landolfi
22. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald *
23. Magic Mountain - Thomas Mann
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. Ferdydurke - Gombrowicz
26. Narcissus and Goldmund - Herman Hesse
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky 
28. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll *
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame *
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy 
32. The Jungle - Upton Sinclair
33. Tom Sawyer / Huck Finn - Mark Twain **
34. Emma - Jane Austen *
35. Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe *
36. Delta Wedding - Eudora Welty
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini 
38. Naomi - Junichiro Tanizaki
39. Cosmicomics - Italo Calvino
40. The Joke - Milan Kundera

(Sir Ian McKellen)

41. Animal Farm - George Orwell *
42. Labyrinths - Gorge Luis Borges
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving 
45. Under My Skin - Doris Lessing
46. Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery *
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy 
48. Don Quixote - Miguel Cervantes 
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding *
50. Absalom Absalom - William Faulkner
51. Beloved - Toni Morrison
52. The Flounder - Gunther Grass
53. Dead Souls - Nikolai Gogol
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen *
55. My Name is Red - Orhan Pamuk
56. A Dolls House - Henrik Ibsen *
57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens *
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Idiot - Fyodor Dostoevesky 
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

(Clint Eastwood)

61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck *
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63. Leaves of Grass - Walt Whitman +
64. Death on the Installment Plan - Celine
65. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas *
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Pedro Paramo - Juan Rulfo
69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens *
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker *
73. The Metamorphosis - Kafka
74. Epitaph of a Small Winner - Machado De Assis
75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76. The Inferno - Dante 
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome +
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. To the Light House - Virginia Woolf 
80. Disgrace - John Maxwell Coetzee

(William Powell and Myrna Loy)

81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens *
82. Zorba the Greek - Nikos Kazantzakis
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84. The Box Man - Abe Kobo
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert +
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. The Stranger - Camus
88. Acquainted with the Night - Heinrich Boll
89. Don't Call It Night - Amos Oz
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pychon
94. Memoirs of Hadrian - Marguerite Yourcenar
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas *
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare *
99. Faust - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe +
100. Metamorphosis - Ovid 

So... that's 29 read, I believe.  Not quite a third, but then, I'm possibly done with just over a third of my life, so I guess that's okay :-)

(Alan Ladd and his daughter Alana)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"The Trials of Sherlock Holmes" by James Moffett

When I found out that James Moffett of the wonderful blog A Tolkienist's Perspective was also a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I was pretty excited.  You may remember that I very much enjoyed participating in his read-along of The Silmarillion, and I continue to appreciate his insights into Tolkien.  I've also enjoyed his new Holmes-related blog, A Palace for the Mind

So I was eager to read James Moffett's own foray into Sherlock Holmes pastiche.  And I'm happy to say that the mysteries here are more twisty than any I could ever come up with.  They also all tie together into one unified puzzle pretty nicely.  

If you are a fan of the BBC series Sherlock, you will probably like this.  It's got the Victorian London setting of the canonical stories, but I found the characterizations to be very much informed by the BBC show.  The Holmes in this book is "cheeky" (p. 119) and "mischievous" (p. 145), and other anachronisms such as a kitchen in the 221B apartment also seem derived from the show rather than the book.  

In the end, I found this book a fun way to pass the time.  Just right for a little light summer reading.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for various dangerous situations.  No bad language, no adult situations, nothing gruesome.

Monday, July 17, 2017

"Conspiracy of Silence" by Ronie Kendig

Imagine a story that's a cross between an Indiana Jones movie and Jack Reacher book, and you've pretty much nailed what Conspiracy of Silence is like.  You've got archaeologists discovering Biblical artifacts and unleashing a plague.  You've got a bunch of top-notch modern warriors going after lots of scary bad guys who want to weaponize that plague.  You've got a female FBI agent who specializes in detecting deception who helps figure out who's lying to the warriors and who truly wants to help them.  Oh, and one archaeologist is the sister of one of the warriors, and that warrior's brother used to be married to the FBI agent's sister.  Just to tangle everything up more, because more tangling is always good for a thriller.

This was a very engrossing book, one that sucked me in a bit slowly, but then held me fast.  Also, the Knights Templar are just always a good time, aren't they?  I can't remember any story involving them that I haven't liked, from Ivanhoe to The Maltese Falcon.  This is the beginning of a series, so while the central problem is resolved, there are still some loose threads left that will continue into the next book.

Particularly Good Bits:

Some people had emotional baggage.  Cole Russell had an entire department store (p. 272).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for a lot of violence.  Many, many fight scenes, shootings, deaths, etc.  

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for me to read while judging the INSPY awards. In no way did I agree to review this book in exchange. These are my honest opinions.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Classics Book Tag

Jillian tagged me with this rather enchanting blog tag three months ago.  Thanks, Jillian!  I don't think I've ever done a blog tag devoted entirely to classics.  I'm sorry it's taken me so long to fill it out.

1. An over-hyped classic you really didn't like:  Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.  I loathe it for its deliberate, gleeful cruelty.

2. Favorite time period to read about:  America's Wild West and the Jazz Age both fascinate me.

3. Favorite fairy tale:  "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" and "Cinderella" are high on my list.

4. Most embarrassing classic to admit you haven't read:  The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.  Everyone talks about how it's one of the best early mysteries, but I just haven't read it yet.

5. Top 5 classics you want to read:  Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather, The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper, The Once and Future King by T. H. White, The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.

6. Favorite modern book/series based on a classic:  Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay is a fantastic modern retelling of Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster mixed with various other things.

7. Favorite movie version/tv series based on a classic: The Lord of the Rings trilogy directed by Peter Jackson is pretty hard to top.

8. Worst classic-to-movie adaptation:  Possibly the 1969 adaptation of Hamlet starring Nicol Williamson.

9. Favorite editions you'd like to collect more of:  I'd like to have a matching set of all of Patrick O'Brien's naval novels about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.  I own all of them, but most of them are matching trade paperbacks... and three aren't.  It bothers me they don't match.  Or, one day I could trade up for this wonderful edition:

10. An under-hyped classic:  More people need to read The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

It took me a very long time to fill out this tag, so I'm not going to tag anyone.  If you'd like to do this tag yourself, go right ahead :-)  It's certainly a fun one!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"When Death Draws Near" by Carrie Stuart Parks

I can't recall ever before reading a mystery written from the point of view of an artist who does facial reconstructions for law enforcement.  That was such a unique and cool angle to look at cases from, in and of itself, but add in an Appalachian setting, and you know I was hooked.  Though the rest of the series doesn't take place in Appalachia, I'm hoping my library has the previous books, because I also quite liked the protagonist, forensic artist Gwen Marcey.

I also appreciated that, although some of the cases Marcey investigated were rapes, there was no gratuitous or graphic description of the crimes.  For a modern-day thriller/mystery in the vein of Kathy Reichs, it was not squeamishness-inducing, which I very much liked.

Basically, Gwen Marcey gets called in by the sheriff of a small Kentucky town to help draw identifying sketches of a rapist from descriptions provided by his victims.  She winds up investigating a snake-handling church and unraveling a decades-old murder.

My one real quibble with this book is that Marcey has a teen daughter who is fairly stereotypical, especially at first, and mostly seems just there to be put in danger so the protagonist has someone to feel protective of and something more than her own life to lose.  Not enough to make me stop enjoying the book, though!  I fully intend to read more of this series.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for discussion of rapes and murders, characters in grave danger, and violence.  Also, snakes and spiders.

Note:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher for me to read while judging the INSPY awards.  In no way did I agree to review this book in exchange.  These are my honest opinions.

Friday, July 7, 2017

"Great Gatsby" Read-Along Index

Here are the links to my individual chapter posts from this read-along, for easy reference in the future:

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Final Thoughts

Just because I've finished posting about The Great Gatsby does not mean you need to stop commenting on the posts!  I know some of the participants haven't finished the book yet, and that is totally fine.  I am happy to continue discussing this book for as long as you like.

Winners of the Gatsby Giveaway

For the first time ever, I had more prizes than I had people competing for them!  That makes the whole name-drawing process very painless for me (I always feel sad for the people who don't win one of my giveaways), but it leaves me with a spare set of prizes.  I'm going to divide the extra set evenly among the winners, so you'll each be getting a little something extra as a surprise.

Oh yes!  The winners are:

Emma L. -- stickers

John S. -- greeting cards

Dale B. -- greeting cards

Sarah H. -- postcards

I'll be emailing you this morning to ask for your mailing addresses so I can send you your prizes.  And your surprises!

Thanks for playing, folks!  And thanks for participating in the read-along -- I know some people aren't finished reading yet, and that's fine.  I'll merrily continue to discuss the book as long as you like!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"Dressed for Death" by Julianna Deering

I've been wanting to read Julianna Deering's mysteries starring Drew Farthering for several years now, but I've just never gotten around to them.  And now I've read the fourth book in the series first, which is a bit topsy-turvy, but I fully intend to go read the first three books soon.  Possibly later this summer, as this was a fast and enjoyable read.

Drew Farthering and his wife Madeline attend a house party at the home of one of Drew's old classmates, Tal Cummins.  A week-long house party with a Regency theme, so they have to dress and behave like they're in a Jane Austen novel for a week, basically.  That's all well and good, but when another guest dies, secrets get revealed that change the lives of many people there, and Drew finds he can't necessarily save the day for everyone there.  

Also, there's a kitten.

This was such a fun mystery!  Yes, there was death and ruin and so on, but it never got ugly or terribly sinister.  Definitely not creepy.  And the Christian faith of the main characters was integral to the story, not an afterthought, but woven very naturally into it, the way real faith permeates the life of non-fictional Christians.  I especially appreciated the way the theme of Christian vocation was discussed several times -- Drew questioned whether he ought to be trying to solve mysteries, or if perhaps he needs to give that up, and so on.  Very nicely done, and something I ponder myself a lot.  I'm a wife and mother -- but I'm also a writer.  How much time and energy should I be putting into my writing right now?  How much can I do without it detracting from my family calling?  And so on.  In fact, you'll see below that my two favorite lines from the whole book dealt with this issue.

I really cannot wait to read more of this series. 

Particularly Good Bits: 

"Doing what you're made to do the best you can do it, even if it's not the usual thing, glorifies God more than pushing yourself into a role you're not suited for" (p. 105).

"Don't let anyone despise the gifts you've been given, and don't you do so, either.  They may not fit anyone else's idea of a calling, but the world has all sorts of needs, and God has provided for each of them to be filled, if we all do our part.  It would be a shame if your part were left undone" (p. 303).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  a soft PG-13 for violence, drug use, and dangerous situations.  No bad language or innuendo at all.  People kiss several times.

Note:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher for me to read while judging the INSPY awards.  In no way did I agree to review this book in exchange.  These are my honest opinions.

Monday, July 3, 2017

"Destry Rides Again" by Max Brand

If you have ever seen the movie Destry Rides Again (1939), you  might think you know what this book is about.  I know, because I love that movie, and so I picked up this book at a cute little used bookstore up in the Shenandoah Valley thinking it would be similar to the movie.  After all, the cover even touted it as the basis for the movie, as you can see.

Um, yeah, not so much.  Now, the main character in both the book and the movie does have the last name 'Destry,' and there's a moment in both of them where he's in a bar and he orders a non-alcoholic drink and gets laughed at.  

But that's it.  Everything else, completely different.  However, that doesn't mean I didn't dig this book!  Because I totally did, once I got through the first couple chapters and realized that the movie does not follow the book at all.  (There's a 1932 movie that looks a bit more like the book, but I haven't seen it.)

In the book, Harry Destry is a proud and boastful punk who likes to go around proving he can out-ride, out-shoot, and generally out-do any man he meets.  He gets blamed for a train robbery he didn't commit, and the jury sentences him to prison because they don't like him.  When he gets out of prison, he sets about ruining or killing the jurymen... and if you're thinking this sounds like a western version of The Count of Monte Cristo, well, I thought so too.  And, as that's my second-favorite book of all time, I very much enjoyed that similarity!  But unlike Edmund Dantes, Harry Destry has one worth opponent who nearly bests him. 

Also unlike Edmund Dantes in Monte Cristo, Harry Destry discovers the emptiness of revenge before he loses the woman he loves or the boy who has helped him survive the frightened wrath of those he's hunting.  The ending of this book was so full of shiny awesome that I know I'll be re-reading this book again and again in the coming years.

Particularly Good Bits:  

Then silence gathered the house softly in its arms (p. 99).

Bullets fired from the saddle on a galloping horse are rarely more dangerous than a flight of wild sparrows (p. 108).

The wolf on the trail is a sleepy thing, and the wildcat is totally unobservant, compared with the eye of a young boy (p. 178).

Too much is made of guilty consciences.  They generally begin to work on criminals after the stern hand of the law has grasped them by the nape of the neck (p. 224).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  A strong PG for western violence of many sorts, some mild bad language, and a lot of suspenseful situations.  

This is my sixth book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald (again)

I know I've spent nine whole posts nattering on about this book, delving into all the things I find interesting or odd or cool or confusing.  But I'd like to do one final post to put down a few of my final thoughts on the book as a whole.

Why do I like this book?  I didn't like it the first time I read it.  I admired it the second time.  But this time through, yes, I liked it.  Quite a lot, really.  Which is odd, because I don't really want to be friends with any of the characters, and that's what usually makes me like or love a book.  That's probably what keeps me from quite loving it. 

I realized while reading this that I am drawn to a specific sort of tragedy.  I only truly like tragedies that feel inevitable to me.  That don't give me a sense of, "Oh, if only the main character weren't being so stupid, this wouldn't have happened."  This is part of why I love Hamlet, but not King Lear or MacBeth or Othello -- I can't point at Hamlet and say, "If only he hadn't been so stupid, none of this would have happened."  If only King Lear hadn't been so blind to his daughters' true natures.  If only MacBeth hadn't been so power-hungry.  If only Othello hadn't been so insecure.  But, like with Hamlet, I don't think I can point at Gatsby and say, "If only he hadn't been so stupid."  Sure, he dreamed a dream that couldn't come true.  Sure, he was into some illegal stuff.  But the events in this are like an inevitable catastrophe, a natural disaster we can't stop, we just have to watch.

I'm not sure if I explained that well or not -- it's something I'm still turning over in my mind.

I also realized that I want to rescue Gatsby.  I want to just hop into this book and grab Jay Gatsby by one arm, Nick Carraway by the other, and say, "Boys, let's go to California for a few weeks and let things here just cool down and blow away for a while."  (I have a similar wish to whisk Hamlet away back to Wittenberg at the beginning of the play.)  So, in that sense, I do want to be a part of the story.  And I do wish I could prevent the tragedy.  

The writing in this book still astonishes me with its vibrant, gauzy beauty.  Fitzgerald is amazing.

Somebody asked me why I think this book is worth reading.  Such a good question.  All kinds of bad stuff happens in this, from lying to adultery to manslaughter to murder.  There's some bad language.  Why read it? 

To me, it's worth reading because it is a very poignant meditation on what it means to lose a dream.  We all have dreams.  We all have illusions.  And I think this book shows how important it is for us to recognize what is real and what can never be real.  If we get so wrapped up in how we imagine life should be or could be, we run the risk of jeopardizing the people around us, our own lives even, in pursuit of something that isn't even real.  

And yet, the message of this book isn't "Stop dreaming."  Not at all.  I think the message is that we need to be careful not to mistake our dreams for reality.  That we need to be able to separate fact from fiction, to know what is and isn't possible.  Dream, but be careful as you pursue your dream.  Don't lose sight of what is while you're chasing what might be.

There's all kinds of other stuff going on in this, about class disparity and rich versus poor and East versus West, but I went into that a lot in the read-along and don't feel like repeating it. 

I've already listed off dozens of favorite lines during the read-along, so today I'll skip posting favorite lines.  I have many of them, so very many.

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for alcohol use, a traumatic death, implied sexual activity, extramarital affairs, and some language.

This is my tenth book read and reviewed for my second go-round with the Classics Club.

The "Great Gatsby" Giveaway

We have finished the Great Gatsby read-along!  And in less than a month, just as I'd hoped.  Time to celebrate with a giveaway.  PLEASE NOTE: This is open to everyone, world-wide! Not just participants of the read-along :-)  Here are the prizes:

TWO sets of THREE Art Deco-style postcards showing three lovely flappers.  I will draw TWO winners who will each receive three postcards as shown above. 

TWO sets of THREE greeting cards featuring something to do with The Great Gatsby.  The cards are blank inside and come with brown envelopes.  I will draw TWO winners who will each receive three greeting cards as shown above. 

ONE set of FOUR stickers featuring lines from The Great Gatsby.  Though I've realized that the one on the top right that says "I wish I'd done everything on earth with you" is actually a line from the 2013 movie -- I don't think it's in the book, is it?  But it's a cool anyway.  ONE winner will receive all four of these stickers.

I bought all of these prizes from -- totally cool place where I spend more money than I ought to, hee.  

In the comments, please give me your first and second choices for prizes!  I do my best to match winners to prizes they say they want, but it's not always possible.  I make no guarantees.

This giveaway runs through the end of Thursday, July 6. I will draw the winners on Friday, July 7, 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 Thursday, July 13, I will choose another winner and award your prize to them instead.

This giveaway is open worldwide!

Enter via this widget:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter IX

After Gatsby dies, people go right on making up crazy stuff about him.  Nick says most of the reports about his murder were "a nightmare -- grotesque, circumstantial, eager, and untrue" (p. 173).  That sounds just like all the stories people told about him at his parties, doesn't it?  But somehow, it's kind of fitting, isn't it?  James Gatz made up Jay Gatsby, so why shouldn't other people make up their own stories about him?  Kind of that "what goes around comes around" vibe.

I'm rather proud of Nick in this chapter.  He's probably proud of himself as well -- the only one who stuck by Gatsby with "that intense personal interest to which everyone has some vague right at the end" (p. 174).  Well, I'm glad Gatsby had Nick, at least.  

I'm very interested by Nick imagining that Gatsby tells him he "can't go through this alone" (p. 175).  Gatsby went through almost his whole life alone, or feeling alone, anyway.  Didn't fit in with his parents, didn't fit in with Daisy's world, didn't fit in with his own partygoers -- he was always alone, even in those crowds.  

Nick seems to generally think well of people, doesn't he?  He's quite sure Wolfshiem will come to the funeral, that Daisy will at least send flowers -- and again and again, people disappoint him.  No wonder he's a little cynical two years later as he writes this down.  Gatsby's not the only one who had illusions stripped away from him.

Nick goes through some interesting stages in this chapter.  First, he feels "responsible" (p. 174) for taking care of Gatsby's funeral arrangements.  Then he begins to have "a feeling of defiance, of scornful solidarity between Gatsby and me against them all" (p. 176).  And when people keep giving excuses for why they can't come to the funeral, he feels "a certain shame for Gatsby" (p. 180) because no one cares about him anymore.

And then there's Gatsby's dad, Henry Gatz.  Oh, I feel sorry for him.  And I'm rather proud of Gatsby -- his father says that Gatsby went home to see him and bought him a house a couple of years ago.  I'd forgotten that.  I thought that he left home and never looked back, but obviously he cared enough about his family to go provide them with a house once he was wealthy.  Good boy, Gatsby.  Was he also doing that to show off how rich he was?  Sure, but it was still kind of him.  It sounds like he'd been supporting them too, that "ever since he made a success he was very generous" (p. 183) toward him.

As for Gatsby's final father-figure, the man who "raised him up out of nothing, right out of the gutter" (p. 182), Wolfsheim remains wolfish to the end, doesn't he?  Refusing to be involved in Gatsby's funeral in any way.  Nice guy, that Wolfsheim.

Oh, that issue of how many clothes you have pops up one more time!  Wolfsheim says that when he first met Gatsby, he "was so hard up he had to keep on wearing his uniform because he couldn't buy some regular clothes" (p. 181).  Yeah, the millions of shirts makes more and more sense, doesn't it?

I like Nick's musings at the end on how where you're born makes a difference in where you belong.  He says that "Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life" (p. 187).  While I thought of Daisy and Jordan as Southerners, they certainly weren't from the east coast (and where was Tom from, anyway?  Chicago?).  This interested me very much, because I am from the Middle West (as Nick calls it) myself, and I lived in Connecticut for three years as an adult -- we moved there when Sam was 2 months old -- and I never, ever felt like I belonged there.  I was not a bit sad to move away, and that's unusual for me.  I guess I was subtly unadaptable to Eastern life too.

I think Nick grew up a lot over the course of that summer, don't you?  He didn't have the guts or determination to break off his relationship with the girl he left behind when he came east.  But he goes and makes his break permanent from Jordan.  I'm intrigued by her final remarks.  She says, "I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person.  I thought that was your secret pride" (p. 189).  Hang it all, I still think he's honest and straightforward -- and I think his making sure Jordan knows they're finished only increases that.  On the other hand, he never went forward and told the cops that it was Daisy who killed Myrtle, so maybe that's what Jordan's talking about?  Did she perhaps want Daisy to have to take responsibility for her actions at long last?

I definitely agree with Jordan about Nick's secret pride, though -- he's rather enjoyed looking down his nose at the shenanigans of everyone around him, hasn't he.  And he continues doing so, telling Tom off about siccing Wilson on Gatsby.

And here we are at the end.  I don't have anything wonderful to say about the book's final lines.  They're amazing and give me goosebumps, those last couple of paragraphs, but that's about all I have to say about that.  

Thanks so much for joining in this read-along, everyone!  I've really enjoyed drinking up the beauty and splendid sadness of this book, and sharing thoughts with you all.  I've learned quite a bit from you too, which is my favorite part of read-alongs :-)  This afternoon, I'll be starting up a giveaway to celebrate our completing the book, so be sure to watch for that.

Favorite Lines:

"Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead" (p. 182-83).

I wanted to leave things in order and not just trust that obliging and indifferent sea to sweep my refuse away (p. 188).

There was nothing I could say, except the one unutterable fact that it wasn't true (p. 190).

He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.  He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark field of the republic rolled on under the night (p. 192).

Possible Discussion Questions:

What do you think of James Gatz's childhood resolutions and daily regimen?  Do you think he stuck to those?  His father says he "always had some resolves like this or something" (p. 184).  Do you think he had them as an adult too, to help him on his quest to reclaim Daisy?

Speaking of quests, I've never read Don Quixote, but I've seen a movie version and know the basic gist of the story.  Do you think Quixote and Gatsby have any similarities?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"If I Run" by Terri Blackstock

How is it I've never even heard of Terri Blackstock before?  Oh my word!  This book is a freight train barreling into the night.  I know there's a sequel coming, and I am definitely going to read it.

Casey Cox's good friend has just been murdered, and she's being framed for it.  Doesn't help that she's the one who discovered the body, and her DNA is all over the crime scene.  She runs, convinced that she'll either go to jail for a murder she didn't commit or else get killed herself.

Dylan Roberts is a recently discharged soldier battling PTSD from his days in the Middle East.  He's also a childhood friend of the dead man, and he gets hired by the grieving parents to find Casey and bring her to justice.

Then there's Laura Daly, a girl who disappeared two years ago, when she was only fourteen.  Casey stumbles on evidence that could lead to Laura's discovery and rescue, but only if Casey risks being found herself.

This book literally had my heart pounding during the last few chapters.  It's been a long time since I read a book that did that.  If you're into suspenseful mysteries that don't wrap up entirely neatly by the end, but lead to future books, definitely read this!

Particularly Good Bits:

Doubts crest like vultures in my mind, circling my theories, swooping to feed on them.  They make me second-guess my competence, my objectivity, my skills (p. 233).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence and suspenseful situations, references to alcohol, and spousal abuse.  No bad language, no racy scenes, but there is an unwed mother involved.

Note:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher for me to read while judging the INSPY awards.  In no way did I agree to review this book in exchange.  These are my honest opinions.

2017 INSPY Award Winners!


The winners of this year's INSPY Awards have been officially announced!  I had such a great time judging the Mystery/Thriller category, and I absolutely love the book that we chose as the winner:  If I Run by Terri Blackstock.  I'll be posting my review of it in a few minutes.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"Waiting for Normal" by Leslie Connor

I very nearly loved this book.  I certainly love the girl it's about, Addie.  She's one of the coolest, gutsiest, realest YA characters I've read in a very long time.  I will re-read this book.

However, I will not be letting my kids read this book until they're in their teens.  First, because the protagonist, a girl named Addie, gets her period and starts wearing bras, and I'm pretty sure they won't be comfy reading about that until they're older -- especially Sam, heh.  But second because there's a secondary character who is gay.  He has a boyfriend, and it doesn't go into any detail about this, but that's another conversation we're not going to have for a few years yet, thanks.

So anyway, Addie is amazing.  Like, the most spunktacular kid I have read about in years, but in a totally realistic way.  Her dad died when she was tiny, and her mom remarried a very cool guy.  They had two daughters together, and then got divorced.  Because Addie's mom has problems.  I don't know if she's manic-depressive or bi-polar or what, but I do know she is an unfit mother.  

Addie and her mom move into a tiny trailer home, basically a camper, courtesy of her ex-step-dad, who tries to remain in Addie's life because she clearly needs a stable adult around somewhere.  Addie's mom spends most of her time on the internet, staying up late and then waking up sometime in the afternoon, about when Addie gets home from school.  Addie does basically all the cleaning and all the cooking.  All the laundry.  Everything.  Her mom sits in front of the computer.  That is, she does when she's home.

The woman disappears for days at a time.  Addie fends for herself with the help of new friends she makes, the people who run a gas station nearby.  And the most amazing thing?  Addie doesn't feel sorry for herself like 99% of the time.  This is her life, so she lives it.  She's resourceful, she's intelligent, she's savvy, she's cheerful.  She has trouble studying because she has dyslexia, but she learns quickly aside from that.  Oh, and she's compassionate and quick to forgive too. 

But she's also just a twelve-year-old kid.  Bad stuff happens, and she tries to cope the best she can, but... she can't fix everything.  She can't be a mother to her own mom.  She can't save her neighbor who's dying of cancer.  Addie is a mighty girl, but she's not a superhero.  She's real, she's flawed, she's lonely and scared and brave and sad and all kinds of wonderful.  I want to adopt her or befriend her or something!

Happily, Addie gets a happy ending.  I was worried for a long time she wouldn't, but she does.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for the issues I described above, adults smoking, and a short sequence involving very real danger to a child.