Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: An Addition Problem

I think we can all agree that the biggest problem with being a book addict is the endless list of books we want to read, but which haven't crossed our paths yet for one reason or another.  Today's prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl asks us to list the ten books we've added to our TBR list most recently.  So I've pulled ten books from my Goodreads, Amazon, library, and Instagram accounts that I've added to my wishlists over the past month or so.  Here they be.



Have you read any of these?  What have you added to your TBR list lately?

Monday, January 28, 2019

"Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions" by Amy Stewart

I loved Girl Waits with Gun.  I adored Lady Cop Makes Trouble.  But I only enjoyed Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions.  And I think the main reason is that it was not told in the first person by Constance Kopp!  Instead, it was third-person.  And it delved into the point of view of not just Constance, but also Fleurette Kopp and a variety of other characters.  And those characters were central to the story, but they weren't wonderful like Constance.  I'm happy to see that the next book in the series, Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit, looks to be back solidly in first person.  I hope to read it soon.

Don't get me wrong -- Constance Kopp is still the sort of resourceful, level-headed, determined woman I have always striven to be.  And she's finally a full-fledged deputy, with a badge and everything.  I just wish she'd been more central to the story.  Instead, we spent a lot of time with two women who got themselves arrested on charges of improper behavior, basically.  One of them was innocent.  One of them was not.  The book spends a lot of time delving into why a young woman would want to strike out on her own, how limited her options for self-sufficiency were in the early 1900s, and how unfair it is that, even though it takes two to tango, the men involved are never called to account for immoral behavior.  Not that I'm adverse to delving into such unfair truths about the past.  But... I missed Constance.

Still, I flew through three hundred pages of this in just a few days, so it was not boring or something I'm sorry I read!  I just wasn't enchanted by it.  I did really love the historical notes at the end, where Amy Stewart detailed what was totally historical and what she'd fictionalized here and there.  And I liked that World War I played a role in the distance.

Particularly Good Bits:

Mothers go about constantly wondering:  How did this child of mine become a man -- or woman -- of the world? (p. 116)

Nothing -- not a tour with a theater troupe, and certainly not an offer of marriage -- stood a chance against Norma's formidable vocabulary of refusal (p. 151).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  A very stern PG-13 for a lot of discussion of unmarried people behaving like married people.  None of it is lascivious or meant to be titillating, but it's more information that even young teens might need to read about.  Can we call it PG-16 instead?  Anyway, no bad language and not really much violence to speak of at all.  For mainstream fiction, it's astonishingly clean, just like the previous two books in the series.

This is my second book read and reviewed for the 2019 Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Friday, January 25, 2019

"Grateful American" by Gary Sinise

I'm fumbling around for words to describe or explain or praise this book.  I want to do all three, but it's such a thoroughly good book -- and I enjoyed it so much -- that it's hard for me to write about it without descending into what will sound like sentimental hyperbole.

But I'll try.

I became a fan of Gary Sinise in 1995, when my parents took my brother and I to see Apollo 13 in the theater.  He played astronaut Ken Mattingly, and my brother and I glommed onto him as someone we just wanted to protect and defend, of that makes any sense at all.  Mattingly doesn't get to go on the mission to the moon like he was supposed to, which was a huge disappointment at first, but turned out to be a godsend, as he was on the ground to help figure out ways to get his crewmates back.  Sinise plays Mattingly with a beautifully grounded, sensible, can-do attitude that endeared the character to us from our very first viewing (an emotional event I detailed here in my review of the film).

Later on, I saw Forrest Gump (1994) and The Quick and the Dead (1995) on VHS, and they cemented Sinise in my mind as a Good Guy.  Something about him came across as genuinely upright, more than just a role or behavior he was playing at.  As if he was a nice guy in real life, the sort who would be kind and helpful and, well... an all-around Good Guy.  I've seen him in other roles over the years, and he's long been one of those actors whose presence I can count on to elevate whatever material he's working with.  I can count on him to be interesting and watchable, you might say.

I learned a few years ago of Sinise's work with the Lt. Dan Band, entertaining American troops at home and abroad, working with the USO, and raising money to benefit wounded veterans.  All of which added to my idea of him being a Good Guy.  So I joined the launch team for his memoir and waited with a fair measure of anticipation to receive my advance copy, and I expected to enjoy the book. 

What I didn't expect from this book was liking it so much that I carried it around with me for several days so I could read it while my kids were at swimming lessons and various other appointments.  I didn't expect it to make me laugh AND cry, sometimes within the same page.  I didn't expect it to touch my heart.

In simple, direct, honest words, Gary Sinise lays out his life story.  How he grew up in Chicago, a wild, rudderless teen who found direction and purpose in high school theater classes.  How he and a bunch of friends started the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, now one of the most-respected theatre groups in the country, but originally a bunch of actor pals practicing their craft in a basement.  How he dabbled in alcohol and drugs in the '70s, and drifted through his personal life even while his professional life gained momentum.  And how he eventually found meaning by coming to faith in God and joining the Catholic church, and by finding ways to aid and support military personnel, first-responders, and their families.

Intertwined throughout the book is Sinise's lifelong respect for those who put their lives on the line to defend others.  The military, police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel are often taken for granted in the United States, and Sinise insists we need to change that.  He's made it his mission to let them hear his gratitude loud and clear, to know that they are not forgotten or taken for granted.

I'm not in the military, nor is my husband.  But I have an uncle who served in Vietnam, two cousins who were/are in the Air Force, and some great uncles who served in WWII (one even hit Omaha Beach during the D-DAY invasion).  I also have friends in the military, and many members of our congregation are active duty or retired military.  And I've realized that I almost never thank them for their courage and sacrifices and willingness to preserve our freedom.  I'm not sure yet how I can do that, but thanks to this book, I'm starting to look for ways.  I used to send care packages to some friends and relatives when they were deployed overseas, but no one I know personally is deployed right now.  Still, even if it's sending an encouraging note to a friend whose husband is deployed, or inviting another friend and her kids over for a meal when her husband is away at training, I'm sure that I, like Gary Sinise, can "do a little more" (p. 260).

(From my Instagram account)

Particularly Good Bits:

...when joy connects to mission, a life's purpose begins to take shape (p. 187).

Freedom is not something all human beings simply get to have and enjoy.  A price must be paid, and I am grateful to those who are willing to pay that price, sometimes the ultimate price.  Because of these special Americans, I have been able to live out my dreams, succeed at my chosen career, and turn that success into something positive for others (p. 273).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG.  This is one of the cleanest memoirs I've ever read.  Drugs and alcohol make appearances, and dealing with an alcoholic in the family takes center stage for a time.  There is one curse word. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

"Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson

I remember liking this book as a pre-teen, and I own a couple different movie versions because I love pirates (Disney's 1950 classic and the 1990 one with Charlton Heston and Christian Bale, if you're curious).  So I was excited to re-read it as an adult, and I decided to go ahead and read it aloud to my kids while I was at it.  They love pirates too because one of the few computer games we own is Sid Meier's Pirates, and they all love playing it.

This book did not disappoint.  It didn't disappoint me, as at it may be even more awesome than I remembered.  And it didn't disappoint my kids because it had all the piratical thrills they were hoping for, and then some.  My almost-9-yr-old says this is her new favorite book.  She actually grabbed it and hugged it when we finished it.

I also taught this book to my high school lit students, and while prepping for that, I learned that Stevenson wrote the first fifteen chapters in fifteen days.  My mind is properly boggled by that.  No wonder this book gallops along at a breathless pace!

And yet, it doesn't sacrifice character development for thrills.  Jim Hawkins starts out as a somewhat heedless teen boy who doesn't appreciate the stability and peace of his life at the inn he and his mother run.  By the end of the story, he's matured into a person who recognizes his mistakes and learns from them.  He's also changed from trustful and credulous to being able to see through the machinations of adults.  Most of the adult characters don't have much of a character arc, but it's not really their story, so that really doesn't matter.  To me, anyway.

I suppose there might be a few people here who don't know the basic plot of Treasure Island.  It involves a teen boy named Jim Hawkins and a bunch of adults, some honest and some pirates, all going to an island to try to find a fabulous treasure buried there by Captain Flint.  Long John Silver, the one-legged gentleman of fortune, is the prototype that almost all our modern notions of pirates are based on.  The book as a whole more than earns its reputation as a rip-roaring adventure yarn.

(My Bookstagram photo of my copy)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some piratical violence, including a boy being threatened and having to shoot guns to defend himself, plus lots of drunkenness and perilous situations.  I had no qualms about reading it aloud to my kids, the youngest of whom is 7, but kids younger than that might find it too tense.

This is my 26th book read and reviewed for my second Classics Club list.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

"Letters of a Woman Homesteader" by Elinore Pruitt Stewart (again)

I first read this just a little over three years ago, and I loved it immediately.  I'm happy to report that I love it still.  How absolutely delightful it is!  I smiled and chuckled and cheered throughout it.

Elinore Pruitt Rupert, a widow with a young daughter, took a job keeping house for a man named Clyde Stewart out on the plains of Wyoming in 1909.  She wanted to try homesteading for herself, but knew she'd need some way of keeping herself and her daughter until she had her homestead up and running, so hit upon the idea of keeping house for some established rancher or farmer to begin with.  She ended up marrying Mr. Stewart quite soon after moving there, but insisted on homesteading on her own to see if a determined woman could make a go of it.  And make a go of it, she certainly did.

For me, the chief delight of this book is how intrepidly and joyfully this woman faces life.  She goes about having adventures, helping people, making the very best of life in every situation.  Even though her life certainly isn't easy, and she faces heartache, she does not lose her hope or her joy or her faith.  Amazing woman.

(My Bookstagram pic from today)

Particularly Good Parts:

...although I married in haste, I have no cause to repent.  That is very fortunate because I have never had one bit of leisure to repent in (p. 86).

It is true, I want a great many things I haven't got, but I don't want them enough to be discontented and not enjoy the many blessings that are mine (p. 89).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for frontier hardships, a few bits of mild bad language in transcribed dialog, and a discussion of Mormons practicing polygamy.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

"The 100 Dresses" by Eleanor Estes

There are some stories that I think of as Important.  I don't remember the first time I thought of a story that way, but I know that by the time I read this, probably around the age of ten, I already had the idea that some stories were Important.  Capital I, bold letters, and all.  

Important stories are ones that each me to look at some aspect of my behavior or the world around me in a new and different way.  They teach a moral lesson, but without preaching.  It's hard to teach moral lessons without being preachy -- as an author, I know that full well.  But some stories pull it off beautifully.  This is one.

(What other stories have earned the label Important over the years?  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  A Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter.  Movies like Rebel Without a Cause, Blackboard Jungle, A Gentlemen's Agreement, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?)

It's a very simple story.  A group of schoolgirls tease Wanda Petronski every day.  She's poor, she wears the same shabby dress every day, and she claims to have a hundred dresses in her closet at home.  Wanda never gets angry about the teasing, never reacts in any way but to eventually walk away.  One girl, Maddie, is self-aware enough to eventually realize that she joins in teasing Wanda because she's afraid if she doesn't, they'll tease her instead.  The book as a whole focuses on Maddie's journey from timid joiner to resolute individual.  It accomplishes this with 78 pages, half of them filled with illustrations.  It's a masterful example of sparse storytelling with nothing extra, nothing unnecessary.  A good story, well-told.  Which is my favorite kind.

Oddly enough, I remembered this book ending differently than it does.  I've been convinced for years that Wanda died at the end, and that's how they discovered the truth about her hundred dresses.  But she doesn't.  I'm really wondering now why I thought that.  Huh.

I read this as part of the 2019 Newbery Read Along hosted on Instagram by @lollipopsandlyrics and @happylittlebirdy.  If you also love classic children's fiction, please join us!

(My bookstagram)
Particularly Good Bits:

Wisps of old grass stuck up here and there along the pathway like thin wet kittens (p. 53)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Appropriate for all ages, though most appreciated by first grade on up, I think.

This is my 25th book read and reviewed for my second go-round with the Classics Club!  I'm halfway there!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Join Me for We Love Shakespeare Week!

Over on my other blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy, I host a week-long blog party of some sort the week of Valentine's Day every year.  This year, the subject is Shakespeare!  If you love the Bard, check out this post to find out all about this year's celebration and how you can participate.

Friday, January 4, 2019

"Old West Christmas Brides: 6 Historical Romances Celebrate Christmas on the Frontier"

This was a fun collection!  My own personal Cowboy said that he thought this was the most Hamlette-ish book he'd ever heard of, since Christmas and the Old West are two of my very most favorite things :-)

Here's a bit about each novella,  and how I liked it:

+ A Pony Express Christmas by Margaret Brownley featured a stubborn young woman trying to find her brother, who used to be a Pony Express rider.  She rescues a man from lynching and gets him to help her on her quest.  This was a nice way to ease into the collection, but didn't strike me as particularly wonderful.

+ A Wife in Name Only by Rosey Dow was definitely my favorite story.   I thought it was going to involve a marriage of convenience, but it completely surprised me by not going that direction at all.  Also, it had lots of cooking and homemaking stuff going on that just delighted me.  In it, a young woman must find a job to help support her parents and siblings, but the rancher who needs a new housekeeper insists on hiring only a married woman, so she lies and says she IS married.  I usually hate stories where all the complications are based on a lie, but this one didn't bug me at all, and I'm still trying to figure out why.

+ Lucy Ames, Sharpshooter by Darlene Franklin was about a female sharpshooter who joins a wild west show, basically becoming the Texas version of Annie Oakley.  While this collection as a whole is overtly Christian, this story preached and preached and preached at me in a very wearisome way, and I didn't care for it much at all.

+ A Badlands Christmas by Marcia Gruver was another favorite for me.  An Australian gentleman and his two daughters move to the Dakotas to begin again after he loses his fortune in New York City.  I've got a fondness for Aussies, and I just visited the Badlands this summer, so I really enjoyed those angles as well as the overall story here.

+ Unexpected Blessings by Vickie McDonough was my third favorite in this collection.  A governess tries to find the uncle of her two recently orphaned pupils.  I loved the supporting cast in this one, as a small town opens its arms to help these two bereaved children and their determined chaperone.

+ A Grand County Christmas by Debra Ullrick was rollicking fun, and I did enjoy all the German words and culture in it, but the whole story hinged very strongly on coincidences, so I didn't like it quite as well as other stories here.  In it, a starving woman stumbles into contact with a widower, who takes her home to his three children and his mother, and she falls in love with all of them and never wants to leave, basically.

(From my Instagram account)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some kissing and some dangerous situations.  Otherwise quite clean.

I didn't manage to finish it before the end of the year, so it doesn't count toward my Literary Christmas Challenge, but since I read more than half of it after January 1, I can count it toward Mount TBR 2019 instead!  One down, twenty-three to go.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

"Blizzard at Three Bears Lake," a FREE New Story!

I've written a new short story, and you can read it for free right here on my website, www.rachelkovaciny.com.

"Blizzard at Three Bears Lake" retells Goldilocks and the Three Bears as a western, with Mary Rose O'Brien from my book Cloaked as the heroine.  But you don't have to know Cloaked to enjoy this story, though obviously it does kind of give away who survives to the end of Cloaked

Adventurous, imaginative Mary Rose simply wants to explore a little more of the Wyoming mountains around her grandmother's ranch. She knows that once winter arrives, she'll be stuck at the ranch for months and months. She seizes her chance for one last autumn outing and heads for a beautiful lake her new friends have told her about. But a blizzard descends while she's out riding alone, trapping her in a cabin inhabited by three fierce and furry strangers.

Subscribers to my mailing list got this story for Christmas.  If you want first dibs on stuff like this, but you haven't subscribed to my mailing list yet, you can do that on my website too!

Once you've read "Blizzard at Three Bears Lake," I'd love to hear what you think of it!  You can tell me here on my blog or leave a review on Goodreads.

Happy New Year!

Wrapping Up Mount TBR 2018 and Signing Up for 2019

I signed up to reach Pike's Peak by reading 12 books I already owned in 2018, and I actually read sixteen!  Hurrah!

My Reader's Block, which hosts this challenge, has once again provided a fun little "complete the phrase" challenge where you use the title of a book you read this year to complete a commonplace saying.  Those are always fun, so here's my attempt at it:

A stitch in time... The Harvest Raise(s)
A penny saved is... Twenty and Ten
All good things must come... If I'm Found
When in Rome... Death Comes for the Archbishop
All that glitters is not... The Choir Immortal
A picture is worth... A Gathering of Days
When the going gets tough, the tough get... The Torrents of Spring
Two wrongs don't make... Murder on the Orient Express
The pen is mightier than.... A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War
The squeaky wheel gets... The Broken Gun
Hope for the best, but prepare for... Death by the Book
Birds of a feather flock... (to) The Family Under the Bridge

And here I go again, signing up for this challenge yet again.  This year, though, I'm aiming higher!  I'm going to climb to Mount Blanc, which means reading 24 books that I owned prior to January 1, 2019.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My Ten (?) Favorite Books of 2018

Today, I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for the first Top Ten Tuesday of 2019!  The subject this week is Best Books I read in 2018.  I read sixty-nine books this year!  And reviewed the vast majority here or on Goodreads.  That astonishes me.  Wow

The title of this post is a lie.  I read so many wonderful books this year that I've got two lists of ten here, one of new-to-me reads and one of rereads.  So in reality, this is my TWENTY favorite books of 2018.

As always, titles are linked to my reviews.  All artsy pictures are from my Bookstagram adventures.  I've provided a bit of info about the genre, audience, or subject matter, plus my movie-style rating for each.

Top Ten New-to-Me Reads of 2018

1. A Flame in the Dark by Sarah Baughman -- Protestant Reformation, Christian fiction, PG-13

2. A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White -- WWI, Christian fiction, PG.

3. Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George -- Roaring '20s, Shakespeare retelling, PG-13

4. Soldier On by Vanessa Rasanen -- Christian fiction, modern military fiction, PG-13

5. Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery -- classic, coming-of-age, G

6. Loving Isaac by Heather Kaufmann -- Christian fiction, parenting an autistic child, PG-13

7. A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Laconte -- nonfiction, literary history, PG-13

8. Guns of the Timberlands by Louis L'Amour -- historical fiction, western, PG

9. Girl in Disguise by Greer MacAllister -- biographical novel, spy novel, Civil War history, PG-13

10. Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge -- Christian fiction, Jane Austen retelling, PG-13

Top Ten Rereads of 2018

1. Persuasion by Jane Austen -- classic, romantic love, G

2. The Hound of the Baskervilles by A. Conan Doyle -- classic, mystery, PG

3. The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery -- classic, romantic love, PG

4. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton -- coming-of-age, young adult, PG

5. Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright -- slice-of-life, middle-grade, G

6. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen -- classic, coming-of-age, PG

7. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin -- mystery, middle-grade, PG

8. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder -- classic, history, PG

9. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury -- classic, dystopian, sci-fi, PG-13

10. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis -- classic, fantasy, PG

I've been doing top ten lists of books read each year for a while now.  Click on the year to read my lists from 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014.

How about you?  What favorites, new or old, did you read in 2018?