Saturday, March 31, 2018

"Loving Isaac" by Heather Kaufman

I'm finally coming out of my book hangover from this book.  Four days of book hangover -- that's how powerful Loving Isaac is.

Single mom Hana moves in with her sister Kara's family in Oklahoma, bringing with her an autistic son named Isaac and a wagonload of emotional baggage.  She makes new friends, rekindles her relationship with her sister, and begins to find hope for her future.  She also starts attending church for the first time in years and finds healing and friendship there as well.  Plus, she finally opens her heart to the possibility of falling in love again after enduring a lot of abuse and pain for a long time at the hands of her now-ex-husband.

This was not an easy book to read, for me.  I stopped after almost every chapter just to absorb what had happened and adjust my emotions before reading the next one.  When I finished the penultimate chapter, I put the book down and told Cowboy, "If the last chapter isn't awesome, I'm going to throw this book in the recycling bin because it has shredded my heart like a used Kleenex." 

Happily, the very last chapter is very wonderful, so this will be living on my shelf next to Kaufman's first novel, The Story People, rather than being consigned to the recycling bin.  Whew.

Heather Kaufman has an amazing way with words, weaving them into a world that feels very real, in good ways and bad.  I saw a lot of myself in characters in this book, which was both reassuring and a good wake-up call to avoid some behavior I've lapsed into.  Behavior like always talking to the people I already know at church.  Just because I'm shy doesn't mean I can't be kind and welcome new people.  Time to work on that.

Particularly Good Bits:

Kara's was a prettily packaged life, the kind with ribbons and a bow that catches your eye.  Hana's was a banged and dented UPS box left on the wrong doorstep (p. 21).

People, she realized once again, were surprising.  Sometimes that ended in tragedy.  And sometimes that ended in hope (p. 227).

Self-reliance was completely counter to the dependent Christian life.  This thought was both humbling and such a very great relief (p. 236).

(From my Instagram)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for flashback scenes of physical and emotional abuse.  Those were very tense and hard to read, and I think they might scar younger readers.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Muster of Rohan (ROTK 5, 3)

Isn't Merry great in this chapter? He starts out feeling oppressed by all the mountains and "long[ing] to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire" (p. 774). He's sad because his friends "have all gone to some doom" (p. 779), and I get kind of melancholy myself over the course of this chapter. But he doesn't let that sadness get him down -- he refuses to be left behind, and when Theoden says he can't ride to war with the Rohirrim, he says, "It is a long way to run; but run I shall, if I cannot ride, even if I wear my feet off and arrive weeks too late" (p. 784). Sad and lonely, but undaunted. Dear, wonderful Merry.

Favorite Lines:

Now all roads were running together to the East to meet the coming of war and the onset of the Shadow (p. 774).

Discussion Questions:

Dernhelm tells Merry, "Where will wants not, a way opens" (p. 787). (In this case "wants not" means "is not lacking.") Can you think of other instances in this story so far where that's been true?

Housekeeping Note:  I probably won't post another chapter until next Monday.  Going to be pretty busy this weekend with Easter stuff.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"An Atlas of Tolkien" by David Day

This is an extremely cool little book if you're into the world of Middle-earth like I am.  It's a total overview of the entire history of Tolkien's fantasy world, and I wish I'd had it when I read The Silmarillion a couple years ago, because I think it would've been really helpful for keeping people and events straight.  

I've had this on my shelf for a while, but when I sent my niece her own copy to celebrate the end of our studying The Lord of the Rings together, I decided I should read it myself instead of just looking at the pretty pictures once in a while.  So happy I did!  

(From my Instagram)

This doesn't go into great depth about any of the happenings in Tolkien's books, nor does it cover every event and mention every character.  It's just an overview, like I said. But it's a really good overview, and I enjoyed it a lot.  I also feel like I have a better grasp of Middle-earth history now than I did before, so yay!  It fit in nicely with my personal "My Years in Middle-earth" reading challenge, too.

This is my fifth book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Passing of the Grey Company (ROTK 5, 2)

Another looooooong chapter. Good thing there are some shorter ones ahead.

I love when Halbarad and the other Rangers arrive -- it's such a bright spot of joy for Aragorn amidst all this Very Important Stuff that's been going on. And it's so cool that Elrond's sons, Elladan and Elrohir, come too. They're quiet, but intriguing. And have grey eyes. You knew I was going to mention that, of course. And I did.

Interestingly, Aragorn says that the Men of the Mountains "had worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years" (p. 765). As far as I can remember, that's the only time the word "worship" gets used in this whole trilogy. They talk about power, they talk about Sauron having control of places and people, but I do not recall any other place where someone is said to have worshiped him. Hmm.

Poor Eowyn. She yearns for Aragorn so much, and he keeps trying to tell her that his heart is not available. He even tells her, "Were I go to where my heart dwells, far in the North I would now be wandering in the fair valley of Rivendell" (p. 766). And yet, she still keeps hoping. She really makes me so very sad here.  Still, maybe Aragorn could have been a little more direct?  You know, said, "I'm in love with someone else." Stopped paying her compliments like, "I walked in this land ere you were born to grace it" (p. 766). I mean, it's one thing to be gentlemanly, Aragorn, but it's totally another to say nice things to someone you obviously know liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiikes you.

Anyway, I love the way Theoden treats Merry, don't you? With kindness and respect and interest. It's so completely the reverse of how Denethor treats Pippin. And both Merry and Pippin swear fealty to a powerful ruler, but for totally different reasons. Pippin does it out of obligation, honoring not Denethor, but Boromir. Merry does so out of love and respect for Theoden. I've talked before about how there are a lot of mirror-image things going on in these books, events in one book being repeated in a different way in another book. This is the clearest instance of that, I think. As Jane Chance pointed out in The Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power, Theoden and Denethor's names even kind of reflect each other. The-o-den. Den-e-thor. One is a kind and loving leader who "commands through respect and love," and the other is a "tyrant [who] commands his followers by edict, rule, law" (p. 90 in TLOTR: The Mythology of Power). I find comparing the two of them so fascinating.

But moving right along, there's one thing about the whole Paths of the Dead section that has always bugged me. Legolas says he will go with Aragorn because he "[does] not fear the Dead" (p. 764). And when they reach the Dark Door, it says "there was not a heart among them that did not quail, unless it were the heart of Legolas of the Elves, for whom the ghosts of Men have no terror" (p. 769). But what about Elladan and Elrohir? They're Elves too! Has Tolkien totally forgotten about them for a while? I kind of feel like he has, because a few paragraphs later, Gimli says, "Here is a thing unheard of... An Elf will go underground and a Dwarf dare not!" (p. 769). Shouldn't he say, "Elves will go underground" instead? And then at the end of the chapter, it says, "No other mortal Men could have endured it, none but the Dunedain of the North, and with them Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas of the Elves" (p. 772). Um... AND Elrohir and Elladan! (I actually have that written in my copy.)

One last thing: I so sympathize with Gimli. As they walk the Paths of the Dead, "he was ever hindmost, pursued by a groping horror that seemed always just about to seize him" (p. 770). That is exactly what chases me up the stairs if I have to be the last one going to bed at night.

Favorite Lines:

"He was tall, a dark standing shadow" (p. 757).

More than ever he missed the unquenchable cheerfulness of Pippin (p. 762).

And she answered: "All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death" (p. 767).

Discussion Questions:

Do you think Tolkien forgot about Elrohir and Elladan?

Eowyn is very upset that she has to stay with her people and be their leader instead of riding to danger and glory with Aragorn. Do you think being leader of all Rohan in the king's absence is unglorious? Why does Eowyn?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: Minas Tirith (ROTK 5, 1)

Here we are at Minas Tirith at last. This chapter makes me a little melancholy. First, because Boromir isn't here, returning to aid the city he loves. And second, because Minas Tirith is a very sad place. It's half empty, even before the women and children leave, a withering place filled with long grief.

Anyway, we get to learn about about one of my favorite minor characters: Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth. Tolkien says that his folk are "tall men and proud with sea-grey eyes" (p. 734). How sea-grey eyes are different from just grey eyes is beyond me, but maybe they're got a bit of blue to them? Cowboy and our youngest child have grey-blue eyes, so maybe they're descendants of the people of Belfalas :-D  Later on in the chapter, Prince Imrahil arrives, and we also learn he's a kinsman of Denethor. In fact, if I recall correctly, he had a claim to the stewardship of Gondor if Denethor's line failed.  Denethor married his sister?  Or aunt?  Phooey, I don't remember.

But getting back to Boromir. Gandalf says that Denethor "loved him greatly: too much perhaps; and the more so because they were unlike" (p. 737). That's such a relief to me! Denethor is this dreadful, lurking spider sort of person and I really can't stand him, so I'm very relieved that we get an explicit report here that Boromir was unlike him.

We get some cool insight into Gandalf and his purpose in Middle Earth here too. He tells Denethor that "the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward" (p. 742). I love that idea of Gandalf as the steward and caretaker of all Middle Earth.

Also, I think my favorite moment in this book is when Gandalf laughs suddenly, and Pippin looks up at him and sees that "under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth" (p. 742). I think that might be the moment where Gandalf first became one of my favorites. I love happy people, being overall quite cheerful myself, and that joy lurking under his solemnity is so delightful.

And here we learn a bit more about Faramir's seeming ability to "read" Gollum's mind back in the last book! Gandalf says that "the blood of Westernesse runs nearly true" in both Denethor and Faramir, and that Denethor "has long sight. He can perceive, if he bends his will thither, much of what is passing in the minds of men" (p. 742-43). I assume since Faramir has an equal amount of Westernesse-ness with Denethor, he can do the same.

Goodness, this is getting long! And I haven't even mentioned Beregond and his splendid son Bergil. Such a meaty chapter! (And a long one.) I really like Bergil -- he's just about the only youngster in this book, isn't he? And he's such a cheerful kid. I'd like to hang out with him myself. I chuckle repeatedly over all the stuff about him threatening to stand Pippin on his head.

Favorite Lines:

"Courage will now be your best defense against the storm that is at hand -- that and such hope as I bring" (p. 733).

"If you have walked all these days with closed ears and mind asleep, wake up now!" (p. 737).

"The Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn" (p. 755).

Discussion Question:

What do you think of Pippin impulsively offering his fealty to Denethor?  Good idea, or bad?

Thursday, March 22, 2018

"Uncommon Type" by Tom Hanks

Uncommon Type is a collection of exactly the kind of short stories I would expect Tom Hanks to write.  Charming, wry, compassionate, aggravated, humorous, offbeat, and sometimes just a bit weary.  Three of the stories are interconnected, about a group of thirty-something-ish friends.  There are also numerous "Our Town Today with Hank Fiset" editorial-column pieces that feel the most like they could be narrated by Hanks.  The rest are unconnected short stories on various subjects.

Well, mostly unconnected.  Every single one of these stories involves a typewriter somehow.  Whether it's being used by a character or just mentioned casually, there's a typewriter somewhere in each one.  Which lends an old-fashioned whimsy to even the modern-day-set stories.

These were my favorite stories:

+ "A Month on Greene Street" follows a single mother who moves into a new neighborhood and discovers new things about herself and her preconceived notions about people.

+ "At Loose in the Big Apple" is one of the 'Hank Fiset' editorials, and it discusses whether or not New York City is superior to a small town.

+ "These are the Meditations of My Heart" shows how learning to use an old-fashioned thing like a typewriter can help a modern young woman understand herself better.

+ "Back from Back in Time" is another of the 'Hank Fiset' editorials, and it ruminates on all the different times typewriters have been important in one aging writer's life.

+ "Stay with Us" is written as a screenplay, and it is a cute meditation on seeing new possibilities in old things, places, and people.  I want it to be made into a short film starring Tom Hanks, Famke Janssen, and Chris Hemsworth.  And directed by Ron Howard.  Please?  Thank you.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  mostly PG and PG-13, but stories "Three Exhausting Weeks" and "Go See Costas" would get an R for content and language.

I happen to love old typewriters myself, so I really liked the loving way they got used in so many of these stories.  This is a picture of the library copy I read on top of my mom's old portable typewriter! It was her high school graduation present from her parents in 1970.  When I was about six, I started typing my first stories on it, and I used it for many years before graduating to my mom's old electric Smith-Corona as a teen.  This is a manual typewriter -- you provide all the power yourself.  Love it!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Choices of Master Samwise (TTT 4, 10)

How far we have come. More specifically, how far Samwise Gamgee has come. He began as a humble gardener, a simple hobbit, but now, thanks to his "indomitable spirit" (p. 713) and his rage over what has happened to his dear Master Frodo, he not only faces down a terrifying monster, he prevails against her with "a fury... greater than any she had known in countless years" (p. 711).

And yet, once Shelob disappears, so does Sam's sudden transformation. "Sam was left alone," (p. 713) and as he kneels beside Frodo, he says what I think are the saddest words in this whole trilogy: "Don't go where I can't follow!" (p. 713). That gets to me every time. I'm tearing up all over again as I flip through the pages to write this post. Sam feels abandoned, bereft. Alone.

One thing I didn't notice the first few times I read this: Sam briefly considers trying to follow Frodo. "He looked on the bright point of the sword. He thought of the place behind where there was a black brink and an empty fall into nothingness" (p. 715). For a moment, Sam wonders if he's more an antique Roman than a hobbit, if he should just end his misery then and there. Happily, he instantly sees that "[t]here was no escape that way" (p. 715) and starts figuring out what he should do next.

Anyway, when Sam puts on the ring, Tolkien says, "[c]ertainly the Ring had grown greatly in power as it approached the places of its forging; but one thing it did not confer, and that was courage" (p. 717). How interesting that having power -- even awesome, earth-shattering power -- doesn't give you courage. Power is not courage. Such a cool observation.

And... we did it! We finished The Two Towers!!! I always feel like this is the hardest one to get through, and it's all getting more fun from here on out.

Random fun thing: When the paperback version of the trilogy came out in the '60s, the hippies fell in love with these books, and they started doing this crazy, silly thing. They ran around spray-painting "Frodo lives!" everywhere, wearing it on t-shirts and buttons, putting it on bumper stickers, etc. I find this extremely funny -- could you imagine walking down a grungy city street and seeing graffiti that just says, "Frodo lives!" Like this is a super cool fact we all need the world to know! Dunno, it just amuses me.

So anyway, Frodo lives, but he's been captured by the enemy, and isn't that just a terrible place for a book to end? Good thing we can dive right into the next one!

Favorite Lines:

Sam did not wait to wonder what was to be done, or whether he was brave, or loyal, or filled with rage (p. 711).

"Will he?" said Sam. "you're forgetting the great big elvish warrior that's loose!" (p. 724).

Discussion Questions:

When Sam learns that Frodo is still alive, he reprimands himself with this: "The trouble with you is that you never really had any hope" (p. 723). What on earth? Sam's the most hopeful character here! Does he not see that himself? What do you think this part's supposed to mean?

Leaving Frodo, his employer and friend, "was altogether against the grain of his nature" (p. 716), and Sam later berates himself for the decision: "Never leave your master, never, never: that was my right rule. And I knew it in my heart. May I be forgiven!" (p. 724). But... if Sam had stayed by Frodo, he probably would have been captured too, wouldn't he? Are there times when following logic instead of instinct can be a good thing?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: It Might as Well be Spring

This week's TTT prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "Top ten books on your spring TBR list."  Here we go!

The Birthday of the World and Other Stories by Ursula K. LeGuin

Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte

Loving Isaac by Heather Kaufman

MatchUp edited by Lee Child

A Pioneer Woman's Memoir: Based on the Journal of Arabella Clemens Fulton

Prelude for a Lord by Camille Elliot

The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd

The Story Girl by Lucy Maud Montgomery

What's on your spring TBR list this year?  Have you read any of these?

(All photos are my own.  They're all from my Instagram account.)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: Shelob's Lair (TTT 4, 9)

You'd think this would be one of my least-favorite chapters, what with this having a giant spider in it and me loathing spiders so much. But actually, I find it quite exciting. Maybe it's just the change after all that endless walking and climbing? It helps that even though the text talks about her enormous legs and that she's spider-like, my imagination kind of turns her more into a crab and saves me from getting too creeped out.

Anyway, I think I'm never fonder of Frodo than I am here, when he holds up Galadriel's Phial and his sword and advances toward Shelob. Wow! That's so courageous. I'm getting goosebumps just remembering it. "Then holding the star aloft and the bright sword advanced, Frodo, hobbit of the Shire, walked steadily down to meet the eyes" (p. 705). Wooooooooow.

I find the bit of backstory on Shelob really fascinating. She "was there before Sauron" (p. 707) -- craziness!

Random other thing: it says here that Sam is smaller than Gollum! Not how I picture them (thanks to the movies). Huh.

And we return again to the idea of doing what must be done if there is no choice. Frodo says, "Orcs or no, if it's the only way, we must take it" (p. 701), which sounds so much like what Gandalf said before entering Moria: "However in may prove, one must tread the path that need chooses!" (p. 289).

Favorite Lines:

They walked as it were in a black vapour wrought of veritable darkness itself that, as it was breathed, brought blindness not only to the eyes but to the mind, so that even the memory of colours and of forms and of any light faded out of thought. Night always had been, and always would be, and night was all (p. 702).

Discussion Questions:

Tolkien says Sam hides the Phial out of "his long habit of secrecy" (p. 709). I don't recall Sam being secretive -- I tend to think of him as rather open. Does this strike you as incongruous? Or am I missing the secretiveness up until now? Or by 'secrecy' is he maybe referring to Sam's habit of hanging onto stuff and not bothering to mention he has it, like the rope?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Guest Post: I am No Man, but I'm Still Important

(Note from Hamlette:  This is an essay my niece wrote for the high school literature class I'm teaching her.  It's so good, I'm sharing it with you as part of my Another LOTR Read-Along.  Enjoy!)

I Am No Man, But I’m Still Important
by V. Kovaciny

When reading The Lord of the Rings, many readers have wondered: Where are the female characters? Where is the femininity and romantic love? There are no women in the Fellowship, and feminity is spread thinly throughout the many pages of The Lord of the Rings. Some readers say the women that do appear are stereotypical and distant, and that they let the men do the work and fight the battles. This has caused some readers to criticize Tolkien’s work and even argue that he is sexist. But are these criticisms valid? Is Tolkien really a bigot, or are his readers, fans, and critics being too nitpicky?

The short answer is yes, we are being unjust. Why? Well, fortunately for you, I’m here to discuss several reasons why.

The most obvious evidence is the case of Eowyn. Like Disney’s Mulan, she is told to stay behind and let the men fight the war. She refuses to lie idle while the world is at stake. She is told to lead the kingdom while her male relatives are away. But she longs for the glory of battle and the admiration of Aragorn, so she dresses up as a man to go with them to war. Her disobeyment actually makes her a more well-molded character. By having her be imperfect, reckless and brave, she is more complex and more...human. Her boldness pays off; she and Merry succeed in killing Witch-King, which was a major blow to the Enemy. Lastly, if the men of Gondor and Rohan (as well as Tolkien) were sexist, wouldn’t Eowyn have been scolded for doing a “man’s job”? She was not, and she was praised for her bravery instead of being accused of insubordination.

Another strong woman in The Lord of the Rings is Galadriel. She is certainly not subservient to her husband, Lord Celeborn. They both share a mutual respect and love for the other. Tolkien does not paint her as less important than him. In fact, story-wise, she plays a bigger role than he does. She is portrayed as wise and powerful, and is also the owner of a ring of power, not her husband. Not only that, but she has strong willpower. Unlike several male characters, such as Boromir, Gollum, and even Frodo, she is able to resist the power of the Ring. She is respected by her people and her husband and succeeds in resisting the ring, which many men failed to do. Not exactly weak and frail, is she?

Arwen too, has a strong willpower. She is faced with a difficult choice: immortality or love. In the end, she chooses a mortal life to be with Aragorn. Her dilemma makes her all the more interesting. Her choice just goes to show that she is perfectly capable of thinking for herself.

A short point that should be made is the importance of the Entwives. While not present in The Lord of the Rings, they are important even in their absence. The Ents miss them deeply. Because the Ents and the Entwives had different interests, the Ents neglected and ignored their wives, and their love dwindled. Tolkien is touching on the value of marriage and union, and how without maintaining love, it will fail. Without the Entwives, the Ents are doomed to extinction.

Take a moment to think about the scenarios and the kinds of relationships Tolkien is writing about. Tolkien was in World War 1, and his characters are also in a war. And historically, more men enlist in the military. As for the relationships, The Lord of the Rings is about friendship, not romance. Tolkien is painting a wonderful story of how friendship can stand through trials just as well as romance can. Romance is second to friendship in The Lord of the Rings. In the end, friendship saves the world.

The women in The Lord of the Rings are not depicted as useless and weak. From Eowyn’s courage, Galadriel’s wisdom, and the Entwives’ love, they each play a part in the world of Middle Earth. Don’t let your views of what makes a strong female character ruin this wonderful story for you.

Friday, March 16, 2018

"If I Live" by Terri Blackstock

Well, that didn't take me long, did it?  I'm all done with this book after like 3 days, which means I'm also done with the If I Run series!  

Overall, I liked the series a lot.  Blackstock has an engaging writing style with great energy and flow.  Her characters were human, relatable, and likeable.  Her dialog stayed crisp through the series.  Her pacing got a little lax in a few places -- there were a couple spots where I felt like monkey wrenches got thrown into the plot just to make the books longer.  However, in the author's note at the end of If I Live, Blackstock said that this series was initially inspired by the classic TV series The Fugitive and the way that Dr. Kimball (David Janssen) would find a modicum of peace and comfortability somewhere doing a job or helping someone, maybe even start to make friends, and then the police or the one-armed man would show up and he'd have to flee again.  Once I read that, I was like, "OH!  That's what she was going for.  Okay."  In retrospect, it really did have that feel to it, so if you're a fan of that series (::cough:: Eva ::cough::), you would probably dig the way this is set up.

This book had a lot of nice, believable, non-mushy romance in it to go along with the thrill ride, which was extra fun :-)  I also liked how it didn't end with the end of the manhunt for Casey, but went on to show the aftermath of the whole plot, how it affected not only Casey and Dylan, but people in Casey's family, the bad guys' families, and the families of victims too.  It didn't wind up too quickly, which some suspence novels do, and I liked that.

I didn't like the amount of decision-based theology that this one had, though.  The first two books stayed pretty neutral, theologically, but this one definitely weighed in on the "you have to make a choice/decision to believe in Christ" side in a heavy way.  

(From my Instagram)

As an individual book, I liked If I Live better than If I'm Found, and maybe better than If I Run too, just because it has a very satisfying ending.  As a series, these books gave me a good ride.  I'm going to see if the library has more of Blackstocks books, as I'd really like to try more of her stories.

Particularly Good Bits

"I'm more myself when I'm with you than I've ever been with anybody else" (p. 226).

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

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Stairs of Cirith Ungol (TTT 4, 8)

I have nightmares like this chapter. Impossibly steep steps, winding trails going through mountains -- but usually someone's chasing me in those dreams, and at least no one's directly chasing Frodo and Sam here. Still, it's very tense and nail-biting-inducing.

I love the part where Sam and Frodo are talking about their journey like it's part of a story. Partly because they literally are in a story, so it's a neat moment just cuz it's true, but also because a lot of time, I feel like I'm living in a story. And in a way, I am. The ongoing story of people on earth. And the parts I don't enjoy may one day be the parts most worth remembering -- the hard or dangerous or unhappy parts might end up being the most important.

But I'm very sad over the moment where Gollum comes up to the sleeping Frodo and is almost a hobbit-like creature again, quiet and old and pitiable. And then Sam wakes up and speaks less-than-kindly too him and, without knowing it, pretty much sets Gollum's feet irretrievably on a dark path. Phooey.

Favorite Lines:

Frodo and Sam were plodding along with heavy hearts, no longer able to care greatly about their peril (p. 688).

Discussion Questions:

Sam says that all he's hoping for is "plain ordinary rest, and sleep, and waking up to a morning's work in the garden" (p. 697). Does going through something hard, or even going away on vacation for a while, make you value normal life more? Or does normal life make you value adventure more?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: Journey to the Cross-roads (TTT 4, 7)

I like how Faramir's farewell to Frodo and Sam includes "the manner of his people, stooping and placing his hands upon their shoulders, and kissing their foreheads" (p. 680). That is exactly how Aragorn said farewell to Boromir when he died, and I love that detail, that Aragorn knew enough of Gondorian ways that he knew how to properly say farewell to a man of Gondor, in the Gondorian custom.

Although we spend most of this chapter slogging on through bleak, unfriendly environs, at the very end of the chapter, we come to an unexpected moment of beauty and hope. The setting sun finds a break in the clouds and sends them a brief beam of actual light. And it lights on a statue, something like the giant statues of the Argonath that the Fellowship passed between in their canoes so long ago. Although the rude inhabitants of Mordor have knocked down its head and painted graffiti all over the rest of it, nature finds a way to heal their hurts just a little. A vine with white flowers gives the fallen king's head a new crown.

And that, to me, is such a gorgeous symbol of Aragorn's whole story. Sauron and his minions may have knocked the rightful kings of Middle Earth off their throne when Isildur was murdered centuries ago. But Isildur's line endured, even though separated from the throne. Son after son lived on in secret, waiting, hoping for the right time to reclaim the throne. And the time has come for one of them, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, to come forth. The sword that was broken is reforged. Aragorn has begun telling people who he is, and folk are showing him allegiance. He's not king yet, just like that statue's head is not yet back on its shoulders. But he's recognizable as royal, like the stone head with a circlet of flowers. "'Look, Sam!' he cried, startled into speech. 'Look! The King has got a crown again!'" (p. 687). It's a great bit of foreshadowing, too.

Favorite Lines:

"A waiting silence broods over the Nameless Land" (p. 679).

"Maybe," said Sam; "but where there's life there's hope, as my Gaffer used to say; and need of vittles, as he mostways used to add" (p. 685).

Discussion Questions:

Sam dreams he's back at Bag End, heavily burdened and tired. Frodo sleeps "unquietly" and mutters Gandalf's name. What do you think their contrasting dreams say about their own mindsets at this point?

Faramir calls the region of Mordor they're about to enter "the Nameless Land" (p. 679). Like "No Man's Land" in World War One, like "He Who Must Not Be Named" in Harry Potter, sometimes the fact that a place has no name or no owner, or their name is not to be spoken, tells us a lot about them. What can we tell about this place from the fact that it has no name?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"If I'm Found" by Terri Blackstock

So, you might have been wondering why, if I loved If I Run so much, it took me NINE MONTHS to read the second book in the trilogy.  I will tell you.  It's because I was waiting for book 3 to be released, because I knew once I finished book 2, I would want to dive right into book 3.  And I was right.  As soon as I finish writing this review, I'm going to start reading If I Live, which came out last week.

All told, I didn't like this one quite as well as book 1.  Partly that's because I tend not to like middle stories in trilogies because they frustrate me with their lack of resolution.  But in this case, it's also because there's an abused, probably molested child at the center of the story.  And ever since I had kids of my own, I've had a really hard time with stories that involve any kind of child abuse, especially molestation.  Even though this is only suspected abuse, and it never goes into detail as to what might be happening to the child, it was still very hard for me to read.  I almost quit reading in the middle, to be honest.  (SPOILER) Happily, by the end of the story the child has been rescued, at least.

The story is a continuation of If I Run, of course, with Casey Cox still running from the corrupt police officers who have framed her for the murder of her best friend.  Dylan Roberts is still on her trail, but he's convinced of her innocence now and is trying to find her so they can pool the evidence they've independently gathered that will take down those corrupt police officers.  Of course, since there's a whole book to go, they don't manage to do more than meet up yet.  Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut they start to develop romantical feelings toward each other, which makes things even more interesting and injects some welcome light into an otherwise bleak story.  Also, Casey is continuing her journey toward faith in God, and Dylan is finding some help in battling his PTSD, so yeah, there's some good news in amongst the bad.

Particularly Good Bits:

I don't know where I am, but when you have no destination, it doesn't really matter if you get lost (p. 3).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence, including guns and hand-to-hand fights; for suspenseful situations; for innuendo regarding a man having an extramarital affair; for discussions of suicide; for drug use (shown to be evil); and for alleged child abuse/molestation.  There's no bad language.

This is my 4th book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018.  Yay!  I'm a third of the way to my goal already!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Forbidden Pool (TTT 4, 6)

I'm sorry I haven't posted a new LOTR post in almost a week, and I haven't replied to a whole bunch of comments either.  My 10-year-old came down with the flu on Friday, and my 6-year-old came down with it today.  The influenza flu, not the stomach flu.  So my life is filled with doctor visits and medicine and thermometers and trying to keep people hydrated.  :-(

BUT I have 5 minutes before I need to start making supper, so here we go!

I hate this chapter. Hate it hate it hate it hate it. All those warm fuzzies from last chapter? Gone. This is pretty much the only time I truly sympathize with Gollum -- how betrayed he must feel when Frodo coaxes him closer and then strange men pop a bag over his head and tie him up. It's awful! Hate it! Yeah, yeah, it's necessary for the plot and whatever. But I'm still sitting here glaring.

When Faramir says "I will declare my doom" (p. 675) to Frodo and then says he's going to let Frodo and Sam and Gollum go free, I always took that to meant that he was dooming himself to death if Frodo and Co. didn't behave themselves, that it was his doom. Like Eomer letting Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli go with the warning that his own life would be forfeit if they proved false. But that's not it, is it. He's declaring his decision, a doom for them, a verdict. Huh. Fascinating the things you re-understand when you re-read a book!

Favorite Lines:

"It is a place of sleepless malice, full of lidless eyes" (p. 677).

"I must take such paths as I can find" (p. 678).

Discussion Questions:

Do you think there's any way that Frodo could have kept Gollum from feeling so betrayed?

Have you ever re-read a book (or re-watched a movie) and discovered you'd misunderstood something the previous time(s) through?

Thursday, March 8, 2018

"Girl in Disguise" by Greer MacAllister

I've had such a great string of reading luck lately -- book after book that have been awesome!

Girl in Disguise is a fictional book based on the life of Kate Warne, the first woman detective hired by the famous Pinkerton Agency back before the American Civil War.  She walks into the Pinkerton agency to ask for a job, wows Mr. Pinkerton himself, and goes on to become one of his finest operatives.  Her career takes her all over the US and spans decades, though most of the book occurs during the Civil War while she is spying for the Union Army as part of her Pinkerton duties.

I finished reading this and set out to find a non-fiction biography of Kate Warne because I wanted to know just how much of this book was based in reality and how much was made up.  And then I learned something disturbing:

There aren't any biographies of Kate Warne.

In fact, we know almost nothing about her.  We don't even for sure have any photographs of her.  All we know was she existed, she was the first woman detective, Pinkerton hired her and eventually made her head of his female detective division, she worked as a spy for the Union during the Civil War and helped Pinkerton smuggle Abraham Lincoln through Maryland on his way to his inauguration, and that she's buried near Pinkerton and his family.


So much for me learning all about Kate Warne.  Or learning more about her, anyway.  Still, I really, really enjoyed this book and look forward to re-reading it one day.  

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for bad language, some violence, and a lot of innuendo and adult situations.  It never crossed the border into explicitness, but it sure danced around that border a lot.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Window on the West (TTT 4, 5)

This is more like it! Finally, we're talking about Boromir again!

Okay, honestly, even if Boromir wasn't mentioned, I would be so happy with this chapter. A brief reprieve from wandering around in the grey dismality of Almost-Mordor. Food and rest for poor Sam and Frodo. Whew.

And hello, Faramir! It's weird, but for many years, I never paid a whole lot of attention to Faramir. I tended to just think of him as Boromir's little brother, and isn't it nice how much he loved his brother, etc. But during my previous read-through, I was really struck by just how grand Faramir really is. He's like a knight out of a King Arthur story, chivalrous and honorable to a fault.

And he listens better to the old stories than Boromir, for Faramir says of Lothlorien, "few of old came thence unchanged, 'tis said" (p. 652), while Boromir said, "it is said that few come out who once go in; and of that few none have escaped unscathed" (p. 329). Aragorn, of course, corrected Boromir thus: "Say not unscathed, but if you say unchanged, then maybe you will speak the truth" (p. 329). Faramir got it, but Boromir didn't. Interesting.

He's something of a paradox, this Faramir. He's obviously a good warrior, since his followers told us in the last chapter that "he leads now in all perilous ventures" (p. 645), yet he himself says, "I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory" (p. 656). Unlike Boromir, he doesn't enjoy deeds of valor for their own sake, but does them out of necessity.

Oh, and... Faramir has grey eyes! Pattern still holds.

Favorite Lines:

"We are a failing people, a springless autumn" (p. 662).

"Your heart is shrewd as well as faithful, and saw clearer than your eyes" (p. 666).

"...the praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards" (p. 667).

He planted himself squarely in front of Faramir, his hands on his hips, and a look on his face as if he was addressing a young hobbit who had offered him what he called 'sauce' when questioned about visits to the orchard (p. 650).

Discussion Questions:

Faramir says, "We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor. We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt" (p. 665). How does that differ from what Eomer said back in "The Riders of Rohan," when he claimed that "the Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived" (p. 424)?

Why does Tolkien place this great emphasis on truth-telling?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit (TTT 4, 4)

I quite like this chapter. Why? Because Frodo and Sam get to eat their herbs and stewed rabbit! That makes me so happy. (In the movie, they get interrupted, and that saddens me deeply.) Also, we finally get to walk through some more pleasant countryside. And more happens than just trudging and being weary.

And here we meet a new character: Faramir, Captain of Gondor. You'll learn a lot about him in the next chapter. For now, we have learned that since Boromir left, Faramir "leads now in all perilous ventures" (p. 645).

Favorite Lines:

"Know, little strangers, that Boromir son of Denethor was High Warden of the White Tower, and our Captain-General: sorely do we miss him" (p. 641).

"Wise man trusts not to chance-meeting on the road in this land" (p. 644).

"May the light shine on your swords!" (p. 644).

To his astonishment and terror, and lasting delight, Sam saw a vast shape crash out of the trees and come careering down the slope (p. 646).

Discussion Questions:

Do you like potatoes?

As they walk through more pleasant environs, Sam laughs "for heart's ease, not for jest" (p. 636). Why do you think Tolkien includes the explanation of why Sam laughed? What does it tell us about Sam?

Saturday, March 3, 2018

"The Family Under the Bridge" by Natalie Savage Carlson

My friend Jennifer sent my son this book last year.  He read it, and I wanted to read it, but I was busy with other books and just kept putting it off.  Well, the whole reason that I joined the OldSchool KidLit Reading Challenge was to motivate me to read the classic kids' books like this that I keep pushing aside, so yay!  That plan worked!  I have now read this.

It's a sweet, mellow story of an old homeless man in Paris who is aggressively happy with being homeless and alone.  Three children befriend him against his will, and their kindness toward him thaws out his curmudgeonly heart.

The illustrations by Garth Williams are just as wonderful as you would expect from him -- I especially love the way he drew the gypsies who figure into the story later on.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Clean and sweet.

This is my third book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Challenge 2018 and my second for the OldSchool KidLit Reading Challenge 2018.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Black Gate (TTT 4, 3)

Frodo waxes rather philosophical in this chapter. As they face the Black Gate, he says, "I am commanded to go to the land of Mordor, and therefore I shall go... If there is only one way, then I must take it. What comes after must come" (p. 624). It quite reminds me of the point toward the end of Hamlet where Hamlet discusses death with Horatio. He says:
"If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all. Since no man knows aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes? Let be." (V, 2)
That's one of my favorite moments in the play, when Hamlet finally stops fighting against everyone and everything and accepts that there's not a lot he can do anymore except see this mess through. And that's exactly what Frodo seems to have decided.

But then there's Sam. Sam's thoughts are still all centered on home, wanting to see his Gaffer one last time, and so on. Sam "never had any real hope in the affair from the beginning; but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed" (p. 624). And so now that everything looks like it's ending, he's going to stick by Frodo and see this through too. The readiness is indeed all.

Of course, Gollum's not anywhere near ready to just give The Ring up -- he still has hope of regaining it, and he convinces them to go elsewhere. So the hobbits take fate back into their own hands and struggle on. Frodo believes that "if both led to terror and death, what good lay in choice?" (p. 630). And indeed, it seems pretty pointless right here, though we who know how the story ends can nod our heads and look wise.

Favorite Lines:

Another dreadful day of fear and toil had come to Mordor (p. 623).

Discussion Questions:

When pondering whether to go through the Black Gate or follow Gollum elsewhere, Frodo thinks "[i]t was an evil fate" and "[t]his was an evil choice" (p. 630). Why do you think Tolkien uses the word 'evil' here instead of 'unpleasant' or 'difficult'?

Sam and Gollum both misunderstand Frodo a bit, "confusing kindness with blindness" (p. 626). Do you think this helps or hinders Frodo in his efforts to fulfill his quest?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

In Which I Join Instagram and #MiddleEarthMarch

I keep hearing good things about #bookstagram, and this post from Musings of Jamie prompted me to just take a flying leap into the world of Instagram.  (Well, that plus I just got a new phone with a decent camera on it, which will make posting to Instagram a lot easier.)  I joined, I started posting pictures, the whole shebang.  And I promptly joined an Instagram challenge called #MiddleEarthMarch, which basically is just posting Tolkien-related pictures all through March based on various themes.  What themes?  These themes:

I promise my feed won't be continually Tolkien-related -- there will be plenty of bookish pictures, photos of flowers (I'm addicted to flower photography), probably pictures of things I bake or places I go or whatever.  But for this month, yeah, gonna be a lot of Tolkien stuff.  I thought it fit nicely with my current My Years in Middle Earth reading challenge and the LOTR read-along I'm hosting here, etc.

I joined under my real name, so you'll find me @RachelKovaciny there.  I've loved photography for years, but I'm obviously entirely new to the whole Instagram thing, so this is a new adventure!  Looking forward to finding new friends there and also those of you I already know via the blogosphere :-)