Thursday, November 30, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: In the House of Tom Bombadil (FOTR 1, 7)

For many years, I was not a huge fan of this section of the book. I knew a lot of people loved it, and so every time I read it, I felt like I was missing something. I kept getting hung up on the religious imagery I saw, but couldn't figure out how it all tied together with the rest of the story.

For instance, at the end of the previous chapter, Tom hops away singing, "Tom's going on ahead candles for to kindle" and "Fear neither root nor bough! Tom goes on before you" (p. 118). To me. that sounds so much like when Christ told his followers, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2b). And when the hobbits ask Goldberry who Tom Bombadil is, she simply says, "He is" (p. 122), which sounds an awful lot like God telling Moses that his name is I Am (Exodus 3:14). And then, when the hobbits leave, Tom teaches them something to say if they get in trouble that sounds awfully prayer-like, ending with "Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us!" (p. 131).

So I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who Tom Bombadil was supposed to represent, what this section was supposed to mean, and so on. I knew Tolkien had said this wasn't an allegory, but Tom Bombadil just didn't make sense in my head. Some people said he was based on a figure from Norse mythology, basically a guardian of the woods. And I think probably Tolkien wove that into this story, as he was fascinated with Norse mythology.

But the book Finding God in the Lord of the Rings by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware suggests that he's also in some ways a personification of hope. "Hope" is a huge theme in this book. It delves a lot into what it means to hope, how one deals with losing hope, what someone does if their hope seems pointless, and how people behave if there seems to be no reason to hope anymore. And I do like the idea of Tom Bombadil being hope personified, because I think it shows that hope can be separate from what's going on in the world, even if it's also subject to the effects of events.

So anyway, we have a peaceful interlude here, which is nice. Also, reading about all that yummy food makes me hungry :-)

Favorite Lines:

The sound of her footsteps was like a stream falling gently away downhill over cool stones in the quiet of the night (p. 123).

As far as he could remember, Sam slept through the night in deep content, if logs are contented (p. 126).

Discussion Questions:

Any thoughts on Tom Bombadil, or Goldberry? Did they strike you as being more meaningful than just random cool people they run into?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Winter is Coming

This week's prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is "Top Ten Books on Your Winter TBR List."  So here are the ten books I want to read next.

For once in my life, I am NOT listing these in any particular order.  It's possible I've had too much coffee already this morning.  Somebody stop me -- I'm being spontaneous!

1. The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien (technically, I'm already reading this, but who's counting?)

2. The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien (which I obviously would begin right after TTT.)

3. The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay (will be starting it SOON -- possibly today?)

4. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham (my pick for this year's Literary Christmas Challenge.)

5. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood (I've read the first chapter aloud to my kids already, and it is So Much Fun!)

6. The Brass Compass by Ellen Butler (I got to hear the author speak this fall!)

7. How the West was Worn: Bustles and Buckskins on the Wild Frontier by Chris Enss (looks like it will be incredibly valuable for research purposes, but also fun.)

8. Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles by Elizabeth Ward and Alain Silver (cuz you know I love all things Raymond Chandler.)

9. If I'm Found by Terri Blackstock (because I loved the first book, If I Run, and really need to read the sequel before book 3 comes out!)

10. Death by the Book by Julianna Deering (I really dig the Drew Farthering series!  I've read books 1 and 4 and am now filling in the gaps.)

(Via Pinterest)

What's on your winter TBR list?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Old Forest (FOTR 1, 6)

To be honest, this is one of my least-favorite chapters of all the books. I find the Old Forest really creepy, for one thing. But also, even considering how much danger befalls Merry and Pippin, it's kind of a slow chapter. For me, anyway. It makes me sleepy!

And here we meet someone who is not in the movies at all: Tom Bombadil. I remember there was a great deal of fan outrage when The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) came out over the fact that he was entirely cut out. I can understand that, since he gets several chapters in the book and is a fascinating character. But I can also understand why Peter Jackson cut him out, because you can't put e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in a movie that's in a book (unless it's a very short book, which this isn't), and the whole point of this chapter and the next two is that the hobbits have gotten sidetracked already, and they're barely out of the shire. Sidetracks are not great for a fast-moving movie.

Anyway, the hobbits get sidetracked. They start out with the best intentions, right? Let's avoid the road and go through the Old Forest so that we can avoid danger. But the Old Forest turns out to be dangerous too, much more dangerous than they ever dreamed.

Now, we know that Tolkien didn't mean this book to be an allegory of Christian life. But we certainly can see things in the book that remind us of Christian truths. Since Tolkien was a Christian whose faith infused every part of his life, naturally it would be reflected in his writings. And I think that the whole part in the Old Forest is a very good representation of how good intentions can go wrong.

It's so easy to think we're avoiding something bad, only to ensnare ourselves in something worse. That's one of the worst part of living in this fallen world, I think. Good intentions aren't enough. Especially if you don't know much about the decision you're making. None of the hobbits have been very far into the Old Forest. They don't know what they're getting into. They're naive, and that almost costs them their lives. The Bible tells us to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" -- to be aware of the dangers and sins around us, so aware that we know not to get involved in them.

Okay, so that's one thing that the Old Forest chapter has going on. The other is that it's a great image of the fact that we live in a fallen world. The forest was once part of a perfect creation. But now it's corrupted, twisted, evil. Just like our fallen world, it actively works against Frodo and his companions, deceiving them and harming them, finally trying to kill them.

But they get rescued. "Frodo, without any clear idea of why he did so, or what he hoped for, ran along the path crying help! help! help!" (p. 116). He behaves like a Christian crying out in prayer, not seeing any way that God could help, but asking for help all the same. And help comes to the hobbits in the form of Tom Bombadil. We'll talk a lot about him in the next chapter post

Favorite Lines:

Sleepiness seemed to be creeping out of the ground and up their legs, and falling softly out of the air upon them (p. 114).

Other Discussion Questions:

1. Did you get sleepy during this chapter?

2. Can you think of any ways Peter Jackson could have included Tom Bombadil in his movie?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

"The Screwtape Letters" by C. S. Lewis

I've wanted to read this book since the year 2000.  One of my roommates my sophomore year of college read it for a class and said she laughed all the way through it, and it was just so witty and brilliant, and she insisted I would love it.

And it's taken me seventeen years to finally read it.  Partly because I didn't have a copy for a long time, and kept forgetting to get it from the library, and partly because I was pretty worried it was not going to live up to the hype she bestowed on it.  I even bought a copy last year, and then just... didn't read it.

Sometimes, I'm so lame.

But now, I've read it!  And wowwowwow.  Witty?  Yes.  Brilliant?  Yes.  Funny?  Not so much.

I mean, I can see how it could be funny, but it wasn't funny to me.

In fact, it was downright terrifying in spots.

Why?  Because I saw so much of myself in this book.  Complacent, distracted, and not very invested in my faith?  Yeah, that is me just FAR too often.  This was a very convicting book for me, and made me take a long look at how habitual my faith can become.  Which is great, because it made me examine my prayer life, my Bible-reading habits, and my investment in my vocations and see so many places where I am not doing what I should to thank and praise, serve and obey my Savior.

Which is not to say that it didn't make me laugh, because it did make me laugh a couple of times.  But it made me think much more than laugh, which I was not expecting, but which I appreciate so much.

In other words... this was way better than I had hoped.

If you've never read it, the whole book is letters from a demon named Screwtape to his nephew, a demon named Wormwood who is trying to prevent a human from remaining a Christian, but instead to win his soul for Satan.  Fascinating concept that's executed so masterfully.

Particularly Good Bits:

It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out (p. 16).

The duty of planning the morrow's work is today's duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present (p. 77).

If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas (p. 136).

A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others (p. 142).

It is not fatigue simply as such that produces... anger, but unexpected demands on a man already tired (p. 166).

(I underlined a LOT more than these, but they give you a taste, anyway.  Fantastic book!)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for non-explicit discussions of human sexuality.

This is my 12th book read and reviewed for my second stint at The Classics Club, and my 11th for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017.

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Literary Christmas Challenge 2017

I had so much doing the Literary Christmas Challenge last year that I'm signing up most eagerly this year!  It's hosted by In the Bookcase once again -- click here if you're interested in joining it yourself.

This year, I am challenging myself to read:

~ Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

~ One more unspecified Christmas book (I like keeping my options open)

I would sign up for more, but I know I'm going to get lots of entries for the Rooglewood Press contest to read and judge in December, so I'm not going to set myself up for feeling guilty by saying I'll read a bunch of books I might not have time for.  Sound good?  Good!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Disney Princess Book Tag

I'm taking this from Rissi at Finding Wonderland -- she did it a while back, and while she didn't tag me with it personally, she did tag "anyone else who wants to join in," so I'm counting myself among those.  I snurched the pretty graphic from her post too.

1. Snow White - Name your favorite classic

That one's easy!  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

2. Cinderella - Name a book that kept you reading well past your bedtime

A couple of years ago, I stayed up until like 2 am to finish reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.  I regret nothing.

3. Aurora - Name your favorite classic romance

Persuasion by Jane Austen!

4. Ariel - Name a book that's about making sacrifices and fighting for your dreams

Song of the Ean by Emily Nordberg, especially regarding Auria.

5. Belle - Name a book with a smart and independent female character

Oh, I'll use Jane Austen again and name Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice :-)

6. Jasmine - Name a book with a character who challenged the social conventions of his or her world

I think Mary Russell in The Beekeeper's Apprentice (and the whole series) by Laurie R. King nicely fits that description.  Whether she's wearing trousers, hanging out with a cantankerous "retired" detective, getting a university degree instead of sitting around spending her fortune, or keeping cheese in her dresser drawer, she's always defying conventions she sees as unimportant.  And that's all just in the first book.

7. Pocahontas - Name a book with an ending that was a roller-coaster of emotions

A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin.  (I much preferred the movie Mr. Holmes.)

8. Mulan - Name a book with a kick-a** female character

I'll go with Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart.  Title kind of says it all, doesn't it?

9. Tiana - Name a book featuring a hardworking, self-made character

True Grit by Charles Portis.  That's Mattie Ross to a 't'.

10. Rapunzel - Name a book that features an artist

Middlemarch by George Eliot has an artist: Will Ladislaw.

11. Merida - Name a book that features a mother-daughter relationship

How about one book with many mother-daughter relationships?  I speak, of course, of The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick.  I've read 3 books in the series and thoroughly enjoyed all of them.

12. Anna and Elsa - Name a book that features a great relationship between siblings

Lizzy & Jane by Kathrine Reay is such a beautiful look at two sisters struggling to adapt to the absolutely wretched reality that one of them has cancer.

I wasn't tagged with this, but I'm going to tag a few of my bookish friends because I haven't tagged anyone with anything for a long time, and I'm overdue.  Since there were 12 questions, I'm going to run mad and tag twelve people!  So I hereby tag:

The Beckoning Hills
Book Geeks Anonymous
Bookshelves and Daydreams
Coffee, Classics, and Craziness
Greenish Bookshelf
The Language of Writing
Lavender Spring
Movies Meet Their Match
Of Bookshelves and Daydreams 
She Hearts Fiction
You, Me, and a Cup of Tea

There, now you have something to do over the long Thanksgiving weekend!  

Which reminds me... Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: A Conspiracy Unmasked (FOTR 1, 5)

I love the contrast between this chapter's title and the previous one. We go from the whimsical "A Short Cut to Mushrooms" to the rather ominous "A Conspiracy Unmasked." There's nothing truly ominous about this chapter, however -- just Frodo coming to realize he's not as clever as he thought.

And now I'm going to talk about Sam some more. Here, he's the first to leave his comfort zone, crossing the Brandywine for the first time and striking out into territory that, while still in the Shire, is unfamiliar to him. Frodo, Merry, and Pippin have been here before, so for them, it's not that big a deal, but to Sam, wow. Enormous.

But before you can get yourself all comfortable with the idea of Sam Gamgee as a simple, one-note country lad, you find out he's a spy! And granted, he's just been spying on Frodo in a fairly innocuous way, but I think it would be harder to spy on someone who knows you well than on a stranger. Not that I'd know anything about such goings-on, of course ;-)

And we learn what lovely, loyal friends Frodo has. Merry and Pippin and Sam, of course, but also Fredegar "Fatty" Bolger, who got cut out of the movies and isn't in the book a whole lot either, but is equally doughty when it comes to pitching in to help his friend. What marvelous hobbits they all are.

Finally, I really like the little song Merry and Pippin got ready for the occasion of their departure. It really does work with the tune used in The Hobbit (2012).

Favorite Lines:

Sam was the only member of the party who had not been over the river before. He had a strange feeling as the slow gurgling stream slipped by: his old life lay behind in the mists, dark adventure lay in front (p. 97).

"We can't begin life at Crickhollow with a quarrel over baths" (p. 99).

Discussion Question:

Merry describes friendship this way: "You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin -- to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours -- closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo" (p. 103). What do you think constitutes true friendship?

Quick Note:  This will probably be the only chapter I post this week, as I've just finished having company and will be hosting a big Thanksgiving meal on Thursday, so... I'm kinda swamped.  

Monday, November 20, 2017

"Film Noir: Light and Shadow" edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini

This book is a delight.

It's absolutely crammed with pictures.  (Yes, as my Goodreads friends know, I got entirely stuck on page 132 because it was a full-page picture of a certain beloved actor, and I didn't want to turn the page on him.)  It's also crammed with details and observations and information and trivia and facts and theories and... yeah, it is completely wonderful.

But what do you expect from a book with a cover that boasts Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney from my fave film noir ever, Laura (1944)?

The only real problem with this book is that now I have dozens more noir films on my to-be-watched list.  Such a problem to have, huh?  

Basically, the whole book is essay after essay devoted to the visual aspects of film noir.  The essays have titles like "Rooms like Reveries: Interiors and Interiority in Film Noir" (Imogen Sara Smith), "The Gangster and Film Noir" (Alain Silver), "Fragments of the Mirror: Hitchcock's Noir Landscape" (Alain Silver), and "Women's Song and Dance Performances in Film Noir" (Christophe Gelly and Delphine Letort) -- you can see how enticing they are to someone who enjoys this film style!

By far, my favorite essay was "Nothingness and Purpose: Light and shadow in It's a Wonderful Life" by Todd Erickson.  I've always felt that Wonderful Life was a much darker movie that it gets credit for, and so much darker than most Christmas movies -- I heartily agree with Erickson that it has noir in its heart.  

If you're a fan of film noir and love learning about how movies are made, love delving into what's going on below the surface of a story, or just generally love reading about movies, you will probably enjoy this book.

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It: a hard PG-13 for some bad language (quoting movie lines, mainly) and non-explicit discussions of adult themes and sexual undercurrents in films.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Another LOTR Read-along: A Short Cut to Mushrooms (FOTR 1, 4)

I absolutely love the title of this chapter. It makes me laugh, and it also alerts readers that this is going to be lighter than the previous one. I love mushrooms myself, so I'd definitely like to know of any shortcuts to get to some.

Pippin continues to be concerned about the Black Riders' sniffing, and rather put out that Frodo didn't ask the Elves about it. I'm amused.

This is the chapter where I start to really love Sam. It chiefly begins with this:
"If you don't come back, sir, then I shan't, that's certain," said Sam. "Don't you leave him! they said to me. Leave him! I said. I never mean to. I am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon, and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they'll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with, I said. They laughed." (p. 85)
Oh, Sam. How perfectly wonderful you are! I really feel like Sam has the greatest character arc in the whole book. He goes from humble gardener who's never been out of the Shire to a brave hero who helps save Middle Earth. Such an amazing guy. (Warning: I'm going to natter on about him a lot. He's my second-favorite character.)

Frodo notices that Sam is already growing and changing. Shortly after that bit,
Frodo looked at Sam rather startled, half expecting to see some outward sign of the odd change that seemed to have come over him. It did not sound like the old Sam Gamgee that he thought he knew. But it looked like the old Sam Gamgee sitting there, except that his face was unusually thoughtful. (p. 85)
The Sams, they are a-changin'.

Speaking of wonderful characters, isn't Farmer Maggot awesome? I read an internet discussion once where people tried to figure out who could have taken the ring if Frodo and Sam hadn't been able to, and it was almost universally agreed that Farmer Maggot could have done it too. But anyway, he's a great example of a pattern throughout the trilogy: reversed expectations. Frodo is scared of him, but he's friendly. His name sounds icky and rotten, but he's kind and lively. This is a huge theme for Tolkien -- I think it reflects the fact that he was a Christian. It really brings to mind those passages about how the wisdom of God is foolishness to man, or how the least will be greatest and the greatest will be least, and that the Son of God came to earth humble and poor.

So keep an eye out for that theme as we go.

Favorite Lines:

"I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire" (p. 85).

Discussion Questions:

Do you like mushrooms?

What other things can you think of from LOTR that go with the theme/pattern of reversing expectations? 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"The Usurper's Throne" by Charity Bishop

When I first heard about The Usurper's Throne, I figured it was going to be a little similar to The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, since they both deal with British history in a novelized way.  I read The White Queen a few years ago and liked it okay, but I ended up getting bored by the court intrigue and how hard it was to tell the characters apart, since so many of them have similar names.  So I was a little worried that I might get lost in all the names in The Usurper's Throne, since British history is not one of my strong points.

I am overjoyed to say that my worry was completely unfounded.  While I wished The White Queen would have been about a hundred pages shorter, I wished The Usurper's Throne was a hundred pages longer.  It's that engrossing!

Happily, since I wanted more and more, this is book one in a projected series about the Tudor monarchs.  I eagerly await the next book!  Ms. Bishop had better write fast, because I want to dive into the next adventure right away.

The story here revolves around the marriage of Prince Arthur of England to Princess Katherine of Spain.  Prince Arthur's father, King Henry, is desperate to secure his children's position as rightful heirs to the English throne, but he's beset by traitors.  He hopes the alliance with mighty Spain will help dissuade potential usurpers.  Together with his chief enforcer, Sir Thomas Lovell, he seeks to keep order in England at any cost.  But a determined Duke of Suffolk wants to take the throne for himself, and various devious schemes twine through this book as Suffolk and the king try to thwart each other.

If all that sounds kind of confusing, don't worry!  I had very little trouble telling various characters apart even though I am not well-versed in English history.  Bishop's characterizations are sharp and vivid, and she's also included a list of characters at the beginning of the book, with their names, ages, what side they're on, and other useful facts.

I had two favorite characters in this book:  Meg Pole and Sir Thomas Lovell.  One is a heartsick, worried woman whose brother dies a traitor's death in the opening chapter, and the other is a wily, cunning, devious, but ultimately sympathetic cynic.  Because I'm not very knowledgeable about English history, I had no idea if either of them were going to survive to the end of the book, which was very suspenseful!

Particularly Good Bits:

"Books are friends that never change even when abandoned."

"Never let an opportunity for benevolence pass unnoticed."

"There are many prisons in life, Margaret... I cast people into them as often as I pluck them from their depths."

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-16 for a lot of sensuality and some language.  It never quite crosses over to where I felt uncomfortable reading it myself, but I would not let a teen read it.  There's a lot of suggestive dialog and sexual situations that are not described in detail, but are still more involved than I would recommend to anyone under 18.  A lot of the plot revolves around whether or not Arthur and Katherine's marriage was ever consummated. 

Full disclosure:  I received an ARC copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which I have given here.

You can pre-order the Kindle edition here, and the paperback should be available to pre-order soon.  The official release date is November 24!  Meanwhile, you can also check out the Goodreads page here.

This is my 11th book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge 2017 hosted by Heidi at Along the Brandywine.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The "Cloaked" Kindle Giveaway!

It's true. I'm giving away three Kindle copies of my book Cloaked right now! Click here to go to the Amazon giveaway page and enter. No purchase necessary, void where prohibited, and only open to US residents because that's what Amazon allows, I'm afraid.

The giveaway runs through November 14, and three winners will find the e-book automatically added to their accounts on November 15.

Need something to read while you travel to visit relatives for Thanksgiving? Looking for something to while away those homework-free hours during your fall break? Or want something to amuse you while people nap in front of a football game after the big meal? This would work well for all three!

Another LOTR Read-Along: Three is Company (FOTR 1, 3)

Now we hit the place where the book begins to be substantially different than the movie. (Or, really, where the movie began to trim things, though the extended edition does have Frodo and Sam seeing elves at one point.)

And so the adventure really begins! Frodo says goodbye to Bag End (sniffle sniffle), and he sets off for Crickhollow. Is that not the coolest name for a house? I would love to have a house some day near a creek and a hollow so I could name it that.

But I digress. Not only do Frodo, Sam, and Pippin begin their journey, but we get introduced to the Black Riders too! I prefer to call them 'Nazgul,' but 'Ringwraiths' sounds cool too. They are ultra creepy, and I can see why they kind of get copied in other fantasy novels. It amuses me how Pippin fixates on the way the Black Riders sniff after Frodo -- when he says, "But don't forget the sniffing!" (p. 77), I always laugh aloud. Dear, dear Pippin.

And we meet our first elves! I have to admit that the Elves are not my favorite Middle Earth race. They're a little too cold or remote or reserved or something. Yes, too reserved for me to be friends with. But they fascinate me, nonetheless. And I do like their way of speaking. Not so much Elvish itself, though it's cool, but just their almost oratorical style.

There's a lot of poetry in this book, as you'll have discovered now. I will tell you a dreadful secret: I read the short poems and skim the long ones. I'm fine with you doing the same if you don't want to read the really long ones (which we haven't gotten to yet, these were all short).

One thing to keep in mind as we read is that Tolkien basically made up what we think of as "fantasy" today. There were fairy tales and "fairy stories" for kids back then (like The Hobbit), but the fantasy genre of today is rooted in The Lord of the Rings. It was pretty much the first fantasy book for adults to be at all successful or taken seriously.

Favorite Lines:

The road wound away before them like a piece of string (p. 72).

They passed slowly, and the hobbits could see the starlight glimmering on their hair and in their eyes (p. 78). "A star shines on the hour of our meeting" (p. 79).

Sam walked along at Frodo's side, as if in a dream, with an expression on his face half of fear and half of astonished joy (p. 80).

"The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out" (p. 82).

"But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger."
"And it is also said," answered Frodo: "Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes" (p. 82-83).

"Courage is found in unlikely places" (p. 83).

"...may the stars shine upon the end of your road!" (p. 83).

Discussion Questions:

What do you think of the elves?

Who do you like better so far: Frodo, Sam, or Pippin?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Shadow of the Past (FOTR 1, 2)

What always surprises me in this chapter is how much time passes between Bilbo leaving and Gandalf figuring out that the ring is, well, The Ring. This is probably because I saw the movie before I read the book, and in the movie, there are maybe a few months between the two, or so it seems to me. But here we learn that it's seventeen years!

Anyway, things start heating up a bit in this chapter. Things are changing in and around The Shire, and we learn all about how the Ring was forged, something of the power it wields, and the twisty path it took from Sauron's hand to Frodo's. We also get to hear about some other characters we'll be running into more soon, like Aragorn and Saruman and Gollum.

And we get into one of the bigger themes of the book: pity/mercy versus punishment/justice. Bilbo pitied Gollum and did not kill him when he had the chance, even though Gollum was planning to kill him. Gandalf says: "It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity" (p. 58). He goes on to say, "the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many" (p. 58).

We also see the beginning of another major theme here: being chosen for something you don't believe you can live up to. Frodo says, "I am not made for perilous quests," and I can agree with that to some extent: he's a hobbit, used to a comfortable and quiet life in the country. Gandalf insists, however, that "you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have."

Favorite Lines:

Everything looked fresh, and the new green of Spring was shimmering in the fields and on the tops of the trees' fingers (p. 45).

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us" (p. 50).

"Well, well, bless my beard!" said Gandalf (p. 62).

Discussion Questions:

What do you think about the theme of mercy/pity versus punishment/justice? Can anyone deserve mercy?

Have you ever felt like Frodo, that you can't possibly do what you must do? How did you get through that time?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

"Flashes of Splashes" by Elizabeth McCleary

Sometimes when I get really busy in Real Life, I don't have time to sink my teeth into a novel, so I grab an anthology of short stories because I know I can read individual stories here and there, as I have time.  If you like doing that too, and you're looking at your calendar for the next couple of months and thinking you're going to be awfully busy... then this might be the book for you.

Flashes of Splashes is a collection of flash-fiction stories, which means they're all VERY short, only a couple of pages each.  They all involve water in some way.  Thirty-one very different stories (well, two of them actually tell the same story from different sides) about water.  Many of them are speculative fiction -- fantasy or sci-fi.  Some of them are totally grounded in reality.  Most of them have a surprise twist at the end that makes you see the story in a new light.

My six favorites were:

~ "B is for Bubbles" -- it made me chuckle

~ "G is for Gulf" -- I loved the ending

~ "V is for Vortex" -- it surprised me

~ "Z is for Zawn" -- it's about pirates!

~ "Dancer" -- so sweet

~ "Water" -- I loved the twist at the end

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for a few mild curse words.  I will probably marker over them and then let my 10-year-old read this if he wants to.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Top Ten Tuesdays: Where You Lead, I Will Follow

This week's TTT topic from The Broke and the Bookish is "Ten Characters Who Would Make Great Leaders."  I'm tweaking that a little to list off my top ten characters who lead so well, I would follow them.  So here we go!

I've put them in order by first name because... I have to have some sort of order.  Also, I spent like twenty minutes trying to decide if I should put Bard or Boromir first, and failing to come to any satisfactory conclusion.

+Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

+Bard the Bowman from The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

+Boromir from The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

+Faramir from The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

+Captain Frederick Wentworth from Persuasion by Jane Austen

+Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

+Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling

+Captain Jack Aubrey from the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian

+Robin Hood, especially from The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

+Roran Stronghammer from the Eragon books by Christopher Paolini

Um, yeah, there's a lot of Tolkien here.  Probably because I'm re-reading LOTR right now!  I just started another LOTR read-along, so if you're interested in joining that, you're hereby invited to do so!

Did you do a TTT list?  What leaders did you talk about?  Leave me a link to your list if you want to!

Monday, November 6, 2017

"As You Wish" by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden

I vividly remember the first time I saw The Princess Bride, even if I don't quite know when it was.  I know it was, at the very latest, July of 1992.  My mom, my brother, and I went to visit my aunt at her house one afternoon, just to hang out.  One of my cousins was there, a boy two years older than I was who very kindly did not tend to dismiss me for being younger or for being a girl.  He had made some sort of dessert that involved pudding and crumbled cookies.  For a special treat, he and my aunt offered to introduce my brother and I (and my mom) to a movie they absolutely loved and thought we would love too.

My brother, my cousin, and I all sat on the floor in front of the TV.  My mom and aunt probably sat in chairs -- I don't really remember that detail.  And we ate our dessert and watched The Princess Bride and by the end of the movie, I knew my life would not be the same.  Some stories are like that -- there's my life before them, and my life after them, and those lives are different.

Fast-forward about twenty-five years, to 2017, when my brother and I went to see The Princess Bride on the big screen.  We took my son, who is ten, and who had never seen it before.  Wonderful.

So anyway, I've wanted to read this book since it first came out, being a devoted fan of The Princess Bride.  (My brother and I named our second dog Westley after the title character.)  When I knew for sure that I'd be seeing it on the big screen this fall, I got this from the library, intending to have it all read before we went so I could regale my brother and son with fun stories from the production. 

Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuut life intervened.  Been kind of a weird fall for reading, in that I've been in the middle of several long books for a long time, and had very little reading time overall.  But I wedged this into my reading time, now I've finished reading this at last, and wow, I totally loved it.  The whole book is joyful, a celebration of how much fun it was to film this movie.  It's peppered with reminiscences from all the surviving cast members, the director (Rob Reiner), and the screenwriter (William Goldman, who also wrote the original book).  

Basically, if you love the movie, you will enjoy this book.  Especially if you enjoy learning about how films are made.  

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for a couple occasional mentions of alcohol use and some mentions of rude humor and so on.  I don't recall there being any bad language, but there might have been some.

This is my tenth book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge 2017 hosted by Heidi at Along the Brandywine.  I signed up for the "Wrangler" level of 10-12 books, so I've hit the low end of that goal.  Let's see if I can read and review two more adventurous books by the end of the year to hit twelve :-)

Another LOTR Read-Along: A Long-expected Party (FOTR 1, 1)

This chapter delights me. I love learning about the customs and day-to-day life of other cultures, and every culture in Middle Earth is so thoroughly thought-out that they seem completely real. Sometimes I almost forget this is fiction and not a sort of sociologically and linguistically inclined history.

Aren't Hobbits just the best? On their own birthdays, they give other people presents. They know How Not To Be Seen. They're good at gardening and farming. I want to be Hobbit, I admit it. (I also want to be one of the Rohirrim, but we haven't gotten to them yet.)

Did you notice all that foreshadowing going on in this chapter? The Gaffer warns Sam Gamgee that he'll land in trouble too big for him, Gandalf's real business is described as "more difficult and dangerous" than conjuring cheap tricks, etc. Very subtle and nicely done.

Don't you want to see some of Gandalf's fireworks? They sound magnificent, and way better than even what they conjured up in the movies.

I don't know how many of you have read The Hobbit, but just thought I'd mention a random cool thing. The first chapter of The Hobbit is called "An Unexpected Party." The first chapter of this is "A Long-Expected Party." So fun.

Favorite Lines:

Before long the invitations began pouring out, and the Hobbiton post-office was blocked, and the Bywater post-office was snowed under, and voluntary assistant postmen were called for (p. 26).

The art of Gandalf improved with age (p. 27).

"I might find somewhere where I can finish my book. I have thought of a nice ending for it: and he lived happily ever after to the end of his days" (p. 32).

"I am as happy now as I have ever been, and that is saying a great deal" (p. 35).

"It was a compliment," said Merry Brandybuck, "and so, of course, not true" (p. 38).

"Look out for me, especially at unlikely times!" (p. 40)

Discussion Questions:

Frodo, Bilbo, and Sam are all unlike other hobbits. What are some clues in this chapter that tell us that? How do other hobbits view them?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: Prologue: Concerning Hobbits

Welcome to Another LOTR Read-Along!  As you know, I'm adapting these posts from the course I'm teaching my niece for high school.  The truth is, I'm actually using a lot of things from my first LOTR read-along to teach her, so if you compare these posts with those, you'll find a lot of similarities.  But I think I've got almost entirely different people participating here from that original foray, so I'm assuming that won't be a problem :-)

Today, November 1, is also the beginning of Nanowrimo.  I know a lot of people are participating in that, myself included.  To make this read-along feasible for several of our participants, I am only planning to do two chapters a week until December.  Then I'll up that to three a week until around Christmas, when it will dip again.  After New Year's, we'll go back to three posts a week (give or take) until we've finished the trilogy.  Hope that works for you!

If you've never done one of my read-alongs before, you might wonder how this works.  I'll post about each individual chapter with my own thoughts and observations, as well as some things I've learned in other books.  I'll always include my favorite lines and a question or two to get discussions going.  You then respond in the comments with your own thoughts, discuss what I've said, and engage each other in conversation.

Let's go!

Ahhh, Hobbits. Aren't they delightful? I love how Tolkien speaks of them as if they're real, saying they "are becoming hard to find." Helps me slip into the fictive world so easily.

Please don't get scared away by all the place names and different breeds of Hobbits listed here. You don't need to remember them; I won't quiz you on them. Anything and anyone important will get brought up again later. 

I don't know about you, but my house is full of mathoms, and I love the description here of them.

Favorite Lines:

But in the days of Bilbo, and of Frodo his heir, they suddenly became, by no wish of their own, both important and renowned, and troubled the counsels of the Wise and the Great (p. 2).

...they were, perhaps, so unwearyingly fond of good things not least because they could, when put to it, do without them... (p. 5).

...they liked to have books filled with things that they already knew, set out fair and square with no contradictions (p. 7).

Discussion Questions:

Do you usually read prologues and/or forewords?  Did you find this one useful or enjoyable?