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.