Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"April Twilights and Other Poems" by Willa Cather

I always try to read a collection of poetry in April, since it's National Poetry Month here in the US.  And how could I resist a book with April in the title?  It was too perfect to pass up when I spotted this at the library earlier this month.

According to the foreword, Cather originally published a collection of poetry called April Twilights in 1903.  She later revised and republished it.  In this volume, you get the revised versions of those poems, and also a lot of unpublished poems and some early, uncollected poems she wrote before 1903.  I actually liked more of those early poems than her later ones, as they were more playful and spontaneous.  But I did like a great many of her poems -- I marked ten poems to re-read, altogether.  They were "Shakespeare," "Bobby Shafto," "In the Garden," "Broncho Bill's Valedictory," "The Namesake," "Sonnet," "L'Envoi," "The Swedish Mother," "A Silver Cup," an "Remembering is Like a Crimson Rose."

Of those, I think "In the Garden" was my favorite.  Certainly it was the most timely, as I read it only a day or two after Easter, and it concerns Mary Magdalene going to the tomb with spices to embalm Jesus' body, only to meet him alive there.  Here's the middle verse, because it's so lovely:

She found Him in the garden, 
   Before the morning broke.
From out the night above the grave 
   He came -- ah, God! -- and spoke.
Walked as of old His garden, 
   Where sobbing night winds yearned,
Where trembling lilies waited 
   And pale narcissus burned.

The imagery there really struck me, the way she's naming flowers and talking about light and wind, using them to represent the emotions of Mary and the other believers.

Cather wrote about a wide range of subjects: immigrants, cowboys, children, the elderly, romance, grief, and so many other things.  I think her finest poems were the ones where she spoke about life on the prairie and in the wilderness.  Some of the others come off as affected attempts at what poetry "ought" to be like, and I'm guessing those are some of the ones she liked less when she got older.

This volume also collected many of Cather's letters that discussed poetry and writing.  I didn't find them nearly as interesting as her poetry, but a fan of hers probably would enjoy them.  I've been trying to like Cather for a long time, and I'm happy to say she's slowly growing on me.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Nothing scandalous here.

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

Happy Poetry Month!

Friday, April 21, 2017

I'm an INSPYs Judge!

I screwed my courage to the sticking place a few months ago and submitted an application to judge the INSPY Awards for 2017.  And they accepted me!  

If you don't know what the INSPYs are, they're "The Bloggers' Award for Excellence in Faith-Driven Literature."  If you visit the official site here, you can see the post that welcomes me and the other 2017 judges, and learn more about the awards as a whole.

I'll be judging the Mystery/Thriller category, and I'm so excited about this whole process!  I get to read the five short-listed books in that genre and then work with two other judges to determine which one was The Best.  It's certainly going to be an adventure.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend" by Glenn Frankel

The subtitle of this book makes it sound like this will be 340 pages about how the 1956 movie The Searchers was made.  But actually, only the last few chapters are about filming the movie.  Instead, the book begins by trying to sort fact from fiction regarding the real-life abduction by Comanche warriors which inspired the book that was in turn made into the film.

On the cover, you see a picture of John Wayne from the movie on the left.  On the right is a photograph of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was captured by the Comanche as a girl, and who lived with them for more than twenty years, married one of her captors, and bore several children with him.  She was then recaptured by white people and returned to her relatives in Texas, but she was not happy living with them and died a few years later.  One of her uncles tried to find her for many years, which is what eventually inspired a writer named Alan LeMay to write a book about an uncle relentlessly seeking his abducted niece.  And that's the book that John Ford turned into a movie.

I happen to be quite fascinated by stories of people being raised in cultures far different from their own, as well as stories of people trying to survive on the frontier, so the book as a whole kept me quite interested.  If you only want to learn stuff about the movie, then skip to part IV, called "Pappy and the Duke."  You'll learn a ton about the careers and friendship of John Ford and John Wayne, especially how those informed the making of the film.

I learned so much from this book, not just about the making of The Searchers, but about the history of Texas, the endless problems when two disparate cultures rub up against each other, and the way people tell stories to suit their own agendas.

Particularly Good Bits:

Whatever the particular plotline, the Western was grounded in the enduring foundational myth that the American frontier was an untouched, pure new world, and a place to test one's mettle and faith.  The land was a metaphor for the mission:  taming the savage wilderness, after all, meant taming one's own soul (p. 186).

Frank Nugent said he learned a lot from John Ford.  "Character is not shown so much by what is said as by what is done," Nugent wrote when he first started working with Ford.  "Characters must make decisions" (p. 255).

The writer's primary job, he adds, is simple:  "To look long and hard at his story and see whether it can be reduced to terms of the upsetting of the status quo" (p. 256).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R for many, many discussions of violence and rape, and some language.

This is my second book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge 2017.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Wizards, Hobbits, and Harry Potter" edited by Mark Whitlock

This book was not exactly what I was expecting.  I thought it was going to be all about the bad and evil things contained in fantasy fiction, and why we should stay away from them.  The subtitle of "What Your Family Needs to Know" certainly made it sound that way.  But actually, it was a thoughtful discussion of what the Bible says about magic, the power of storytelling, and also how to read fiction in a discerning manner.  My copy also includes a CD of an audio discussion of these same topics, but I haven't listened to it yet.  

This book also discusses the first four Harry Potter books, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Narnia series.  It gives a summary of each book, questions to think about or discuss as a family, and Bible verses that relate to various issues faced by characters in each book.  

I thought I was going to read through this quickly, then put it in the box of books I'll be selling at my yard sale.  Instead, I want to share the discussions of Narnia with my son, as he loves those books, and I know I'll be using some of the questions about LOTR next fall when I read through those books with my niece for her high school lit class.

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

"Something Rich and Strange" by Ron Rash

It took me a verrrrrry long time to read this book, considering it's only 434 pages long.  That's because most of the short stories included were, well, rich and strange.  I would read one a day, maybe.

I absolutely loved that nearly all the stories took place in the mountains of western North Carolina.  Them's my stomping grounds, folks.  Many stories mentioned towns like Boone and Blowing Rock that I have spent many happy hours in (including my honeymoon).  Some involved actual places like Mast's General Store that I have also been to.  And one took place in a fictionalized version of Tweetsie Railroad, this wonderful wild-west-themed amusement park that I went to many times as a kid, and now go to with my kids and my parents whenever we visit down there in the summer.

I did not love all the stories, though.  I wasn't meant to.  Most of them involve harsh things like drug use, poverty, and death.  He seems to be saying that life on the edge of existence is not very pretty.  But neither is it always ugly.  

Rash's writing is vivid and thought-provoking.  I was continually amazed at how much character development he could pack into just a few pages.  I read this collection as much to study his writing as to enjoy the stories he told.

My favorite stories are all ones with happy endings:

"Lincolnites," in which a young mother whose husband is away at the Civil War encounters an enemy and triumphs over him.

"Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes," in which some old coots obsessed with catching an enormous fish actually do, but can't prove it.  That one reminded me of "The Old Man and the Sea," but humorous.

"The Dowry," in which a pastor takes his role as servant and protector of his flock very seriously, and makes a great sacrifice for two of his church members.

"Twenty-six Days," in which two parents work two jobs each to save up money so their daughter, who is away on a tour of duty to Afghanistan, can go to college when she gets home.

"The Harvest," in which people secretly harvesting cabbage's from a widow's field turn out to not be stealing them, but harvesting them for the widow without her having to tell them thank-you.

Particularly Good Bits:

Easier for the victors than the vanquished to forgive, Pastor Boone knew (p. 230, from "The Dowry").

The young could believe bad times would be balanced out by good.  They could believe the past was something you could box up and forget (p. 328, from "Last Rite").

Fog could stay in our valley for days.  It was like the mountains circling us poured the fog in and set a kettle lid on top (p. 383, from "The Harvest").

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  either a hard PG-13 or a soft R.  There's a lot of drug use, mostly meth, always portrayed in a very negative way.  There are some sexual situations, none detailed.  There's some bad language.  There's some violence.  Individual stories would probably mostly be PG-13, but a few instances might bump that up to R.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Tag -- I'm It!

The two books I'm reading right now are loooooooooooooooooong. Long in pages, and long in time it takes to read them.  Which means I've been neglecting this blog dreadfully. I was just thinking, "Wouldn't it be nice if I had a bookish tag sitting in my drafts I could finish off?" And I didn't, which made me frowny. But then I was playing catch-up on reading the blogs I follow, and look what I found on Flowers of Quiet Happiness! Kara was so kind as to tag everyone in the blogosphere, which includes me, so... here we go!

RULES: You must be honest. You must answer all the questions. You must tag at least 4 people.

1. What book has been on your shelf the longest?  If I'm not counting children's picture books, junior fiction, or middle grade fiction, then it would be my copy of Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert.  I bought it at a rummage sale when I was 7 or 8, too young to quite read it, but so fascinated with Robin Hood that I tried anyway.

The binding was already messed up when I got it, and my fervent loving didn't help it any.  There's actually no copyright or printing date inside!  Just says "Books, INC. Publishers, New York."

2. What is your current read, your last read, and the book you’ll read next?  I'm currently reading Something Rich and Strange by Ron Rash (a collection of short stories) and The Searchers:  The Making of an American Legend by Glenn Frankel.  The last book I finished reading was The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson.  And if I ever finish the books I'm reading right now, I'll start Hood by Stephen Lawhead.

3. What book did everyone like, but you hated?  Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.  I don't so much hate it as have a great distaste for all but one of the main characters.  And I know a lot of people who love it.  I refused to see the movie for years, but finally got persuaded to watch it, and whaddaya know?  I loved the movie!

4. What book do you keep telling yourself you'll read, but you probably won't?  Oh, probably something by Charles Dickens.  I tell myself I will read all his books, but there will probably be one or two that I just die without ever getting around to.

5. What book are you saving for retirement?  Possibly Don Quixote or Moby-Dick.  Or War and Peace.  I've been meaning to read those for years and years, but haven't gotten to them yet.  I certainly hope I'll read them before I'm retirement age, but at this rate....

6. Last page: read it first, or wait 'til the end?  Wait for the end!  On the very rarest of rare occasions, I will skip to the end -- I can remember doing this once in the last forever.  I did flip to the back of And Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field to be sure that it would end basically the way the movie did, because if it didn't, I would be angry.

7. Acknowledgement: waste of paper and ink, or interesting aside?  Um, yeah, I tend to skim or skip.

8. Which book character would you switch places with?  Dr. Watson!  I would LOVE to be Sherlock Holmes' trusty sidekick, chronicler, and friend.

9. Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life? (Place, time, person?)  So many!  I attach memories to objects, so most of the books I own hold some kind of memory for me.  To pick one, The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King reminds me of several specific VeggieTales songs (and the songs remind me of it) because, when my son was very young, I would let him watch five Silly Songs a day on YouTube, and he picked the same ones over and over.  I would sit by the computer with him on my lap and read while he watched.  "Monkey" and "The Biscuit of Zazzamarandabo" are particularly linked to that book in my head.

10. Name a book that you acquired in an interesting way.  Hmm.  Um.   Hmm.  I think I've acquired all my books in pretty normal ways -- by buying them or getting them as gifts.  I've never stolen a book, or had one sent to me by a secret admirer, or found one on a train.  Oh!  I know!  When we were little kids, we used to get books from our church's library, and when my little brother was like two, he scribbled all over inside one of the books.  And got in biiiiiiiiiiiiig trouble, believe you me.  So my parents bought a replacement copy for the church library, and then we got to keep the ruined one, only they didn't want to give it to my brother because that would be like a reward for being naughty, so they gave it to me.  Which means I have a copy of this book because my brother vandalized it:

11. Have you ever given a book away for a special reason to a special person?  Yes.

12. Which book has been with you most places?  Every book I got before the age of 4 and still own has gone from Iowa to Michigan, to North Carolina, to Minnesota, to Wisconsin, to Connecticut, to Virginia.

13. Any “required reading” you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad later?  Not exactly.  I didn't have a lot of "required reading" in high school -- I was homeschooled, and my mom basically gave me this list of great books and said, "Read at least half of these over the next four years."  So I did.  But I got to pick and choose.  There were books I read that I disliked -- especially Lord of the Flies by William Golding and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte -- but I disliked them so much, I've never felt the urge to re-read them.

However!  There are two books that are often "required reading" for people who are in high school that I first read after I was already done with high school and really disliked.  They're The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  First time I read them, blech.  Second time, wow.  In fact, I like them so much now that I lead a read-along for Old Man a couple of years ago, and I'm leading a read-along of Gatsby in June.

14. Used or brand new?  Both!

15. Have you ever read a Dan Brown book?  No.  What a weirdly specific question.

16. Have you ever seen a movie you liked more than the book?  Inkheart, but I said that already.  Oh, I know!  North and South.  I like the book, but I love the movie way more.  This is almost entirely Brendan Coyle's fault.

17. Have you ever read a book that’s made you hungry, cookbooks included?  So many.  Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Lizzy & Jane and A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay.  Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen.  And don't get me started on cookbooks :-9

18. Who is the person whose book advice you’ll always take?  My mom.  If she says I'll like a book, I pretty much always do.

19. Is there a book out of your comfort zone (e.g., outside your usual reading genre) that you ended up loving?  Okay, so... I read almost every genre.  I've even dipped a very hesitant toe into horror.  I've never read a bodice-ripper, though I did read a couple of Victoria Holt books in college that got way more swoony than I needed.  So what is my comfort zone?  I mean, mysteries are my favorites, and I love historical fiction and classics.  But I'll also read fantasy and sci-fi and chick lit.  Hmm.  And it has to be one I ended up loving.  Hmmmmm.  I guess I'll go with the Harry Potter books, because I didn't like the first one when I read it in college, but then I tried them again a few years later and, once I got past the first book, started really getting into them, and now I love the series.  Does that work?

I hereby tag:

Abby P. at Lavender Spring
Kathryn at The Language of Writing
Oliva at Meanwhile, in Rivendell...
Meredith at On Stories and Words
Miss March at Sunshiny Corner

Play if you want to!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Fandom-onium

Today's topic from The Broke and the Bookish is a "fandom freebie."  I'm choosing to focus on ten literary worlds that can count me as a devoted fan.

I'm thirty-six, so I tend not to use the term "fangirl" to describe myself.  But I absolutely use the verb "fangirling" to describe my behavior at times -- I can act all fangirly even if I'm not exactly a fangirl.  Just drop a character name or quote a line, and *boom!* I'm ready to discuss, dissect, drool, or daydream.  Also bounce and make happy noises.  Pretty much this:

I belong to a multitude of fandoms, both literary and filmed, but today I'm going to limit myself to talking about my top ten book fandoms because, after all, this is my book blog.  And I have to draw the line somewhere, or we'd be here all summer.

1.  Sherlock Holmes

I'm a Sherlockian.  Or a Holmesian -- I'll answer to either :-)  I first started reading his stories in my early teens and have grown to love the canon dearly.  I also love Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels by Laurie R. King, the Granada Television show starring Jeremy Brett, and much of Sherlock.  But the canon is the best.

2.  Lord of the Rings

I came to LOTR backwards.  My college friends dragged me to the theater to see The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001, and I bought a copy of the books that same week.  I've read the trilogy six times, and am calling 2017 My Year in Middle Earth because I'm reading it again, and digging into several other books about Tolkien or Middle Earth as well.

3.  Anne of Green Gables

I've been an Anne fan since one of my mom's friends introduced us to the books when I was probably seven or eight.  We watched the movies over and over as I was growing up, but I like the books best, especially Anne of Green Gables, Anne of AvonleaAnne of Windy Poplars, and Anne's House of Dreams.  I dream of visiting PEI one day.

4.  Raymond Chandler

My absolute favorite author.  I've read all his novels and short stories numerous times, and re-read one now and then just for the pure delight of soaking in his amazing descriptive power.  People ask me what my favorite Chandler novel is, and the truth is, I don't truly have one.  My favorite tends to be whichever one I read the most recently.

5.  William Shakespeare

This one's pretty obvious, given that I've taken my blogging name from one of his plays.  I love Hamlet the most, and also Much Ado About Nothing and Taming of the Shrew, but I get a lot of joy from many of his works.

6.  Jane Austen

Ahh, the divine Jane.  I prefer being called an Austenite rather than a Janeite, but either way, I'm a fan.  She makes me laugh, she makes me think -- it's all good.  I love Persuasion the most <3

7.  Nero Wolfe

I came to Rex Stout's mystery series backwards too -- first, I started watching the A&E series starring Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin and Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe, then I found some of the books at the library and tried them.  How I love those books!  They're my bookish version of comfort food.

8.  Robin Hood

I've been a fan of Robin Hood in books and on film since I was very tiny.  It started with the Disney read-along book that came with a record, which I totally still have -- my kids listen to it now.  I've had to tape the cover of the book back on like three times.  Then I progressed to the Great Illustrated Classics version, which I wore out.  Except the last chapter.  I never read the last chapter in any Robin Hood retelling that is going to involve Robin Hood d-y-i-n-g.  If I don't read it, it doesn't happen.  Just the fact that the chapter is titled "The Death of Robin Hood" or something equally dismal doesn't make it so, as long as I don't read it.  My favorite book version so far is definitely Howard Pyle's, which delights me to no end.

9.  Harry Potter

Yup, I'm a Potterhead.  (Is that still what HP fans get called?)  My favorite characters are Sirius Black, Severus Snape, and Ron Weasley.  My favorite book is Prisoner of Azkaban.  I like some of the movies too.

10.  Jack Aubrey & Stephen Maturin

I read all 20 of Patrick O'Brian's naval novels more than a decade ago, before there was a movie, and I have been itching to re-read them.  Maybe I'll dedicate the next two years to them or something.  I love hanging out with those characters!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mini March Reading Tag -- Summary

You may recall me posting briefly about this event.  I decided just to do one summary post at the end of the month about what I read for each author, since I didn't read anything new or big.

For Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I read "A Scandal in Bohemia" and "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches," both of which are in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  I'm teaching ninth-grade literature and creative writing to our oldest niece, and those were both things I assigned to her.

For William Shakespeare, I read the first two acts of Hamlet.  I meant to read the whole thing, but children and life intervened.  

For J.R.R. Tolkien, I finished a chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring today.  I'm considering suspending my LOTR read for right now because I might be teaching it to my niece next fall, and I don't know that I have time to read it twice in one year.  Which isn't me giving up on My Year in Middle Earth, just sort of splitting it up.  I won't decide until I've discussed the idea with my in-laws and niece.  She loves fantasy and hasn't read it, and I think it would be an excellent way to teach things like theme and world-building and foreshadowing and... we shall see!

Anyway, my thanks to Joseph at The Once Lost Wanderer for setting up this mini reading challenge!  Without it, I wouldn't have dipped into Hamlet this month, I'm sure.

Friday, March 24, 2017

"The Merchant's Daughter" by Melanie Dickerson

So many of you have recommended Melanie Dickerson's fairy tale retellings to me over the past few years, and I have several of her books on my to-read list.  When the price for the e-book version of Dickerson's version of "Beauty and the Beast" dropped recently, I decided to give it a try.  And I read the whole thing in only three days, which necessitated a couple of extra battery rechargings for my phone.

So, yes, I definitely enjoyed this book!  The Beast, Lord Ranulf le Wyse, reminded me a lot of Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, but with a less lurid past.  And the Beauty, Annabel, was a sweet blend of curious and patient.  She learned a good lesson about the importance of honest, and he learned not to expect others to judge him by his appearances.  I liked both of them a great deal, and if I should find this book in paperback at some point, I might just buy a copy.  (I infinitely prefer reading real books over battery-dependent e-books, and if I really like a book and know I will want to re-read it in years to come, I want that book on my physical bookshelves.)

I'm reading some Hemingway and Fitzgerald short stories right now too, for the high school lit class I'm teaching our niece, who is in ninth grade.  And I know I've said before, here and elsewhere, that while I absolutely love the way both those gentlemen write, I don't always love the stories they tell.  I bring this up, because The Merchant's Daughter was exactly the opposite for me -- the story and characters grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let go, but Dickerson's writing itself was pedestrian.  And that's okay -- I'm certainly no Hemingway or Fitzgerald myself.  I would have liked some more subtlety in the emotional changes within both characters, but my taste is not everyone's taste.

If I have one real quibble, it's that Lord le Wyse had an almost historically impossible grasp of God's love and forgiveness, the way that his grace extends to sinners.  The story is set in 1352, 165 years before the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and while the parish priest holds the kinds of views I would expect in the pre-Reformation era, le Wyse is impossibly enlightened and Reformed in his understanding of Scriptures.  Dickerson talks in her Author's Note at the end about the research she did into Medieval England's judicial system and societal customs -- it's my opinion she would have done well to research Medieval theology as well.

Particularly Good Bits:

Her servant status could almost be a blessing.  This thought surprised her.  She'd felt abandoned by God, but maybe He had actually been taking care of her by sending her here.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for repeated assaults against a woman's virtue, talk of women tempting men, and some discussion of feeling desire for others.  Nothing really risqué, as my mother would say, but also not appropriate for children.

This is my first book read and reviewed for Heidi Pekarek's Adventure of Reading Challenge!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Black, White, Other: In Search of Nina Armstrong" by Joan Steinau Lester

Jamie at Books and Beverages reviewed this recently and made it sound so good, I put a hold on it at my library right away.  Culture clashes, and the way people navigate them, have fascinated me for a long time, probably since I moved from Michigan to North Carolina when I was twelve and discovered people who thought, talked, and behaved in ways different than I did.

Nina Armstrong's dad is black.  Her mom is white.  And they just split up.  Nina now lives with her mom in the same house she grew up in, but her brother Jimi lives with their dad in a very different neighborhood.  Also, Nina just started ninth grade, and her best friend has been acting oddly, hanging with some new people.  All this fills Nina with a whirlpool of teen angst.  She lets her emotions control her, finally convincing herself that the only way to make sense of her situation is to gain some distance from it by running away to the house of a friend who moved several hours away.

We never learn precisely why her parents split, or even if they're separated or divorced or what.  We get hints that her mom thinks her dad has become obsessed with his black heritage and doesn't like it, and that her dad thinks her mom should care more about his heritage, but we readers remain as confused as Nina about what's going on with her parents.  Which serves to emphasize a major theme of the story, which is that confusion causes people to make bad decisions.  Not that Nina figures out all the answers to her problems by the end of the book, but she definitely learns that seeking answers and asking questions is better than just allowing your confusion to compound.  

Woven throughout the book is a fictionalized version of her great-grandmother's journey from slavery to freedom.  Nina's dad is writing the story and asks for her opinion on it, but her mom asks her not to read it.  Torn between the two, Nina does read the book, and gains comfort and insight into her own problems from it.

I'm not biracial.  And I haven't been a teen for a long time now.  Yet, I could relate a to some of Nina's difficulties.  I've also had friendships disintegrate.  I've been treated as an outsider.  I've struggled to figure out where I fit in.  These are universal problems, but for Nina, they're exacerbated by her difficulty feeling at home in either the white or black communities.  Joan Steinau Lester uses those universal difficulties in a very compelling way to help us understand how hard life can be for someone like Nina who feels torn between two different heritages.  

There's a good bit of discussion about faith and God throughout the book, but it's kind of generic -- I can assume Nina's been raised with some kind of Christian faith, but Jesus is only ever talked about as a source of love and peace, not as the Savior.  I'm okay with that for the most part, as this is not a conversion story, but I think the book could have been stronger if some adult, like the priest Nina talks to at some point, would have reminded her that her problems are earthly, and she has the assurance of eternal salvation through Jesus.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some mild bad language (but not taking God's name in vain), some violence and danger, and some mild innuendo.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring in the Air!

Actually, we're in the middle of a winter storm here, so all the flowers are coated in ice and look very bedraggled.  But it's supposed to warm up this afternoon, so I'm really hoping no permanent damage has been done to our peach and cherry-plum trees.  They're so laden with blossoms that I've been hoping for lots of fruit.

Be that as it may, spring officially begins next week, and the list prompt from The Broke and the Bookish reflects that fact.  Here are the top ten books on my spring TBR list!  By summer, I want to have all ten of these read.

Beyond the Great Snow Mountains by Louis L'Amour -- I haven't read any L'Amour for a few years, so grabbed this collection of short stories off the library shelf a couple weeks ago.  Hope to start it soon.

Black, White, Other by Joan Steinau Lester -- reading this right now on the recommendation of a friend.

By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman -- reading this aloud to my kids right now -- it's so fun!

Hood by Stephen Lawhead -- a friend loaned me this when she learned I love Robin Hood.  Looking forward to it.

Jane and the Stillroom Maid by Stephanie Barron -- I've been wanting to get back into this series for over a year, so picked this up at the library the other day.

One Thousand White Women:  The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus -- I've long been fascinated by stories of white settlers who got adopted by natives.  This is a fictional account of true events that looks so good.

Something Rich and Strange by Ron Rash -- I'm about a quarter done with this.  The stories are so varied!  I love how most of them take place in the North Carolina mountains around places I'm very familiar with like Boone and Lenoir and Blowing Rock.

Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan:  The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate by Rick Bowers -- The whole story of how comic book writers took on the KKK and beat them fills me with joy, and I can't wait to read a whole book about it.  Fiction writers can change the world!!!

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome -- Lots of people insist my kids and I will love this, I just need to find time to read it.

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien -- I'm sooooooo far behind on the read-along I'm participating in.  I'm not even finished with The Fellowship of the Ring yet, and I ought to be well into TTT by now.  On the other hand, I'm enjoying savoring it and not really pushing myself to read faster.  But I also need to not neglect it.

What's on your TBR list for this spring?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"The Phantom of the Opera" by Gaston Leroux

It's Beauty and the Beast Week over at Meredith's blog, On Stories and Words!  Be sure to stop over there to see all the fun posts, games, and so on.  For this event, I am reviewing The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, the gothic novel that inspired the famous Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.  While The Phantom of the Opera is not strictly a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, it does share a lot of similarities, which I will explore here.

I became a fan of the musical thanks to an art teacher who used to play the original cast recording while we were painting together when I was thirteen or fourteen.  She owned two copies on cassette and graciously gave me one when she realized I loved it and had never heard it before.  I listened to that recording over and over, trying to figure out the story line from the songs alone.  I came to several very erroneous conclusions by doing so, like I thought that Christine's song "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" was her singing about the Phantom, not her father -- that song seriously confused me for years.  Because y'all, this was the mid-'90s, and no one had made a movie version yet.  I didn't have the means to get to Broadway to see it performed live.  It didn't tour anywhere near where I lived.  And so, the story line remained what I could make of it until April 6, 1999, when I found this book at Barnes and Noble, bought it, devoured it, and finally understood the plot!

(Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford in the stage musical)

Gaston Leroux claims in the novel that he based this on real events, and that he interviewed all sorts of people involved, but from what I've been able to dig up on the internet, really he just took the fact that there really are all sorts of underground layers to the big Paris Opera House where a skeleton was found, and then made up a story to go with it.  

Young soprano Christine Daaé debuts at the Opera House in Paris to rapturous acclaim.  Viscomte Raoul de Chagny, who knew Christine when they were children, becomes enamored of her, but she insists she cannot become romantically involved with him.  Her vocal teacher, the mysterious Angel of Music, demands she remain single.  Meanwhile, the opera's managers try to figure out who is sending them demanding notes signed Opera Ghost.  Christine disappears, reappears, disappears again.  Raoul valiantly attempts to rescue her, with the help of a man known as The Persian.  

(Mary Philbin and Lon Chaney in the silent film)

What does all this have to do with "Beauty and the Beast"?  Christine Daaé is beautiful, innocent, and kind.  The Angel of Music, or Opera Ghost, is actually a disfigured man called Erik who lives under the Opera House.  He wears a mask to cover his hideous face, but he is a musical genius and has helped Christine perfect her singing voice.  He falls possessively, obsessively in love with her and whisks her away to his hidden home, where he surrounds her with luxuries and begs her to love him for himself, despite his ugly appearance.  Doesn't that sound a lot like the Beast, with his castle or palace, who yearns for the beautiful girl he holds captive?

Christine does not love Erik.  But she pities him, and comes to feel kindly toward him.  Eventually, she agrees to marry him, initially to stop Erik from killing Raoul and the Persian, but she does feel grateful toward him and does not try to escape him.  Erik then rewards her honorable pity by releasing her from her promise and sending her off to live happily ever after with Raoul.  Which might sound rather different from the ending of "Beauty and the Beast," but both beautiful girls find their feelings toward their captors changing when they come to understand him better.  Pity, kindness, and gratitude all come into play.  And while Erik doesn't physically change from a beastly monster, he undergoes a radical transformation inside, changing from utterly selfish to capable of selfless kindness.  Instead of forcing Christine to marry him and spend the rest of her days in his underground lair, he frees her.

Thanks to the wonders of the digital age, you can read this book for free here via Project Gutenberg!  If you like the musical, or gothic novels, I highly recommend it.

(Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler in the movie musical)

Particularly Good Bits:

None will ever be a true Parisian who has not learnt to wear a mask of gaiety over his sorrows and one of sadness, boredom, or indifference over his inward joy (p. 49).

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

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

"Rogue One" by Alexander Freed

I had basically given up reading movie novelizations until I read this book.  In fact, I initially had zero interest in reading this because I'd tried reading the novelization of The Force Awakens last year and hated it so virulently that I'd sworn off reading movie-into-book stuff.

The trouble is that, when I watch a movie, especially when I watch it over and over like I did Rogue One, I write it in my head as I watch.  I will absolutely have an internal voice-over of sorts going on that narrates bits of the action, fills in what people are thinking and feeling, and generally novelizes it for me.  One of the hazards of being a writer I guess.  Also, it really bugs me when a writer feels the need to improve a movie's dialog by changing it a ton.  If they want to add more, fine, but also give me the dialog that is in the movie the way it's said in the movie.  I absolutely do not want to spend my time thinking, "But that's not what they said!"

Actually, it was a movie novelization that made me realize, when I was 18, that I was actually getting to be a good writer.  I read the book version of The Mask of Zorro (1998) on the plane ride home for Christmas from college, and I kept objecting to the way it was written and wanting to improve it.  That was the first time I ever read a book and thought, "I could have written this better."  (And before I sound too arrogant, let me add that I've only thought that maybe a dozen times in the 18 years since.  This is a rare and generally irksome occurrence, and usually one I get with children's books.)

However, DKoren read this and loved it, for the most part.  She assured me that, while she also couldn't make it past the first chapter or two of The Force Awakens, she inhaled this book in a single day.  So I got it from the library and gave it a try.

You may have noticed that it has been listed in my sidebar as something I'm reading for weeks.  Maybe a month.  That's not because I was dragging my feet about reading it, or having trouble getting into it.  Quite the opposite!  I have enjoyed this book so much, I have read it just a scene or two at a time, so as to savor it and prolong my enjoyment.  And also because reading it was almost like watching the film.  Since it's gone from theaters now, this was the best way I could find to maintain the joy I got from watching the movie over and over.  In fact, I bought my own copy, which arrived yesterday.  I know I'll be reading it over and over in the years to come.  Especially the first scene in chapter 13.

Am I perfectly happy with this book?  No.  There are a few things I would have written differently.  I interpreted a few character reactions to events in ways this author did not.  But for the most part, I found it a wholly satisfying experience.  There were a couple of times where Freed even used the exact word to describe something that I had picked for it while watching, which tickled me.

If you read my other blog, you know I fell in love with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) the first time I saw Rogue One.  Obviously, that meant the characterization of Cassian was going to be make-or-break for this novel.  I approved if it.  In fact, all the characterizations were awesome, and some of them even made me like a character better than I do in the movie.  Especially Lyra Erso (Jessica Prescott will be happy to hear this) -- I still object to her behavior, but I understand her choices a little better now.  Similarly, I don't find General Draven quite so horrid as I did before.  He's still a black-handed bossypants, but I get where he's coming from now.

The only thing I truly disliked about this book, to be honest, was the fact that it does have some bad language.  Not a lot, but one of the things I love about the film is that it has zero bad language.  I wish the book had been the same.

Particularly Good Bits:

The tragedy of K-2SO's existence was this:  The skills he most cherished were skills his rebel masters disdained; and the skills he considered crude and trivial were skills his masters were helpless to learn (p. 144).

He was tired of crimes he never answered for (p. 153).

Steam spilled from the iris, and as Krennic's eyes adjusted he heard a new sound:  a hollow, metallic rasp that resonated in the chamber; the desperate, hungry breathing of a creature that should not have been alive (p. 189).

Dozens of vessels winked into existence against the shroud of space, filling the void as if some mythological deity had upturned a bottle of fresh stars over the heaves (p. 252).

It was, in a sense, a delaying tactic, but delay defeat long enough, and a triumph  might eventually find its way home (p. 265).

Was this hope?  Facing fear after fear, for oneself and for friends and for the galaxy, all out of some desperate need to accomplish the impossible?  (p. 271).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence and language.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Upcoming Events

Time to do a post about all the cool stuff I'll be participating in soon.  I know I have buttons in my sidebar for them, but I want to talk a bit more about them too.

First up is Beauty and the Beast Week hosted by Meredith at On Stories and Words.  I'll be reviewing Gaston Leroux's classic novel The Phantom of the Opera for this.  This is next week!!!

Next, Joseph at The Once Lost Wanderer is hosting the Mini March Reading Tag.  Whether you want to read something by all three authors, or just one or two of them, it's a fun way to band together around these three wonderful authors.  You know I'm a big fan of all three, so there's no way I would miss it!  Not sure yet just what I'll read for this, though.

And third, I'm participating in the Adventure of Reading Challenge hosted by Heidi at Along the Brandywine.  I've signed on for the Wrangler Level, which means I aim to read 10-12 books before the end of the year.  Specifically, I intend to read Hood, Scarlet, and Tuck by Stephen Lawhead, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and then whatever else I please.

Which brings me to my final announcement.  I haven't set a start date yet, but I'm definitely going to host a read-along of The Great Gatsby this summer!

Monday, March 6, 2017

"J.R.R. Tolkien: The Mind of a Genius"

I picked up this magazine at Toys 'R Us last week.  It's pretty nifty -- lots of lovely pictures and interesting text.  it's divided into three sections:  Creating Middle-Earth, Exploring Middle-Earth, and Celebrating Middle-Earth.

Creating Middle-Earth tells all about how Tolkien came up with the idea for his fantasy world, drawing on his love of myths and languages, his wartime experiences, and his dissatisfaction with modern fantasy stories at the time.

Exploring Middle-Earth had lots of maps and some timelines.  I especially liked the timelines, as sometimes I get a bit lost as to what events happened in which age and so on.  I suspect that I will be referring to those from time to time.

Celebrating Middle-Earth is about how popular Tolkien's fiction still is, the adaptations people have made, and so on.  
I have only one quibble with this magazine/compilation/thing, and that's about this sentence from page 41:  "In Middle-earth's version of the Big Bang, the 'Music of the Ainur' created the physical universe."  Um, no... pretty sure that's the Middle-earth version of the creation story from the Bible.  In the Bible, God speaks the world into existence, and in The Silmarillion, Illuvatar sings it into existence, and the Ainur embellish on his work.  The magazine/compilation/thing earlier talked about Tolkien's Catholicism and how it informed his fiction, so I was pretty disappointed in the obvious mistake here.  But it's one sentence out of 90+ pages, not enough to make me recommend avoiding this if you're a Tolkien fan.  Don't avoid it!  It's a fun and pretty collection, and like I said, I'm sure I will be referring back to it.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

"The Trouble Begins at 8" by Sid Fleischman

Sid Fleischman has been one of my favorite authors since I was probably ten or so.  My mom read By the Great Horn Spoon! aloud to my brother and I, and she had to stop reading over and over because we were laughing so hard, we couldn't hear her.  I read every book of his I could get my hands on after that, and have a deep and abiding fondness for him.  I read his memoir, The Abracadabra Kid, a few years ago and loved that too.

So it comes as no surprise that, when I spotted this on the junior nonfiction shelves at the library last week, I snatched it up.  It's also not surprising that I read the first three chapters before we even left the library.  Or that I swallowed up the rest of it in no time at all.

Fleischman's own love of the absurd, the fanciful, and the ridiculous-yet-believable makes him the ideal biographer for Mark Twain.  Both Twain and Fleischman are able satirists, great at telling a funny story that you laugh and laugh over, only later to realize that they were teaching you something at the same time as they were tickling your funny bone.  The Trouble Begins at 8 focuses on Samuel Clemens' metamorphosis from human tumbleweed who acquired and abandoned jobs freely to a celebrated humorist, lecturer, and novelist.  Yes, this is written at a middle-grade level, and yes, adults will get a big kick out of it too.

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for mentions of drinking alcohol, smoking cigars, and western violence.