Thursday, February 28, 2019

"Life Beyond Measure" by Sidney Poitier

I've been a fan of Sidney Poitier for many years, beginning with the first time I saw the movie Blackboard Jungle (1955).  I've seen him in so many amazing movies since then -- In the Heat of the Night (1967), To Sir, With Love (1967), Buck and the Preacher (1972), and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), to name a few.  But I had no idea until a couple weeks ago that he'd written any books!  I saw this on a display of books for Black History Month at my local library and immediately snatched it up.  Sidney Poitier reminiscing about his life in letters written for his great-granddaughter?  I'm so there.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book immensely.  There were a few parts I skimmed, mostly ones where he did a lot of speculating about the history of the universe and whether or not there is a God.  But the rest of the book fascinated me, as Poitier unspooled the story of his life in a relatable, readable way.

Born into an impoverished familyin the Bahamas, Poitier spent the first decade of his life living without electricity or running water.  At 15, he was sent to live with his older brother in Miami, but had difficulty dealing with the rampant racism there or in staying out of trouble, so made his way alone to New York City, where he lived hand-to-mouth for a year.  He joined the army, then returned to existing on the edge of homelessness until he discovered acting.

I never knew anything at all about Poitier's life, and so my favorite parts of this book were definitely his looking back at how the events of his life shaped him.  He's written two memoirs, The Measure of a Man and This Life, and they're on my TBR list now.

Particularly Good Bits:

Though I was a fantastic, formidable daydreamer, the possibility that I could envisage one day traveling far from there was severely limited by lack of exposure to other places (p. 4).

Heroes and role models are important, especially because when you think of them they have the ability to buoy your spirits and ignite your energies to move you onward (p. 181).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG.  Very little bad language, no uncomfortable scenes.  Does discuss things like alcoholism, gambling addiction, petty theft, minor violence, and dealing with racism.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"Five Poisoned Apples" edited by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Yes, it's true.  I have finally finished reading all five stories in Five Poisoned Apples.  Yes, it took me months.  Let me 'splain.

I started reading it immediately on my Kindle the night it was released in early December.  When my paperback copy arrived, I finished reading "Falling Snow" by Skye Hoffert, the first story in the collection.  And then I got busy, and Christmas happened, and so on, and when I picked the book back up again in January... well, the trouble, you see, is that I love "Falling Snow" by Skye Hoffert so much that I just read "Falling Snow" all over again.  

But then I was a good, well-behaved reader and did move on and read the rest of the stories.  I had to stop between a couple of them because of other need-to-be-read-now books, which happens a lot to me right now.  But anyway, I loved the whole collection.  It's gorgeous.  In fact, I feel a little bad about having such a huge favorite in this collection, because all 5 stories are excellent.  And all so different!  But the truth is, "Falling Snow" speaks to me in a way that few fairy tale retellings have, and so... I love it best.

Full disclosure time.  I was on the judging panel for this contest.  There were multiple judges for the first round, so I only got to read like a sixth of the stories submitted.  I chose my top 5 from the ones I read, plus some honorable mentions.  And then the contest was out of my hands, and others made the final decision of which stories would win and be in this collection.  However... three of the stories in this book are stories I selected as the best from the 20+ I read.  Which makes me feel a special sort of protective love for this collection.  Obviously, this had nothing to do with how good a judge I am, but the fact that I mysteriously got better stories to read than the other judges, it would seem!

My absolute top pick was "Falling Snow."  The first time I read it, it knocked my metaphorical socks off.  The writing was so vivid and unique, the characters intriguing, the plot complex -- I loved it immediately.  I read it a second time, just to savor its special dark-and-zesty flavor.  I let the final judges know in no uncertain terms that I was convinced it should be a winner, and that I would cry if it didn't make the final cut.

But that's as far as my influence could go.  I waited for months, hoping against hope that this story I loved so much would be chosen.  In the meantime, I became friends with Skye Hoffert.  She's such a sweet, humble, talented faun stepping out into the wide world and learning to share her words beautifully, one tiptoed step at a time.  

The night they announced the contest winners, I participated in a live reveal on Facebook, learning in real time who the winners were as the Rooglewood Press team shared them with us one by one.  They saved "Falling Snow" for last, I'm convinced just because they knew it would torture me.  And when they announced that it won, I cried anyway.  Tears of joy and relief and exultation for this beautiful, sharp-edged bauble that would now be shared with the world.

Okay, so this is turning into less of a review and more of a Hamlette-sniffling-quietly-to-herself song of maudlinity.  Time to actually review things.

"Falling Snow" by Skye Hoffert sets the Snow White story in a magical circus where all the performers and circus workers are magical beings... except one young girl.  She works as a clown but aspires to be a tightrope walker, and she has no idea that everyone else is magical.  And she has no idea she's in mortal danger.  But with the help of the circus owner's son and a mysterious newcomer, she almost could have a chance to overcome the evil forces surrounding her.  This story is so sharp and pointy, but also sweet and soft, and altogether dark and delicious... I love it dearly.

"Raven's Heir" by Jenelle Hovde is more what I think of as straight-up fantasy, and it has this little tinge of Robin Hood flavor that I dig.  An orphaned princess seeks to unite her kingdome against her step-mother, who has been ruling as regent ever since the king's mysterious death.  She escapes the castle and finds help from a band of rangers, one of whom turns out to be the boy she was betrothed to when they were both very young.  I liked this one a lot, especially the heroine who disguises herself as a boy, as that's a favorite trope of mine.

"The Fairest One" by Cortney Manning is also straight-up fantasy, but with a very different texture.  Here, humans enslave dwarves and use their magic for their own purposes.  But a young princess befriends a dwarf when she's but a child, and as they grow up, she comes to rely on his friendship and wisdom more and more.  Eventually, he helps her escape her greedy stepmother and seek assistance from the dwarven council to overthrow the evil queen and free the enslaved dwarves.  It's kind of got a bit of the story of Queen Esther from the Bible woven in as well, because there's an emperor seeking a queen who holds a beauty contest that figures into the story as well.  Also a really fun twist on the story.

"Red as Blood" by Maddie Morrow is my other favorite in this collection.  It involves vampires, and I really like vampires.  This story is told from the point of the view of an assassin who's tasked with hunting down and killing a member of the royal family, but not told why, and the near-disastrous results.  It really takes the familiar parts of the Snow White story and twists them in new and fascinating ways.  But it does definitely get dark and a little bit scary.

"Snowbird and the Red Slippers" by Rachael Wallen is the eeriest of these five stories.  It mixes the fairy tale The Red Shoes with Snow White and sets the whole story in a prestigious ballet school in New York City, with a poor North Korean dancer at the center.  Passion, obsession, culture clashes, and envy all play a part, and I found it to be a stunning conclusion not only to this collection, but to this series as a whole.

(From my Instagram account.)

Particularly Good Bits:

I was always performing and I didn't even need a crowd (p. 13, "Falling Snow").

Chayse was a razor blade, sharp and alluring.  To touch him was to accept the risk of getting cut.  And I was already bleeding (p. 19, "Falling Snow").

She was supposed to be just another piece in mother's treasure trove.  A valuable to be coveted, a walking jewel begging to be taken, but to touch it was to ask for death (p. 22, "Falling Snow").

The truth was sharp and cut my tongue as it slid off (p. 77, "Falling Snow").

When exposed to a dangerous adversary, she came at him with everything she had, even if it was just a pocket knife (p. 85, "Falling Snow").

The ceiling wept glittering stalactites, its cold tears ending in jagged points (p. 131, "Raven's Heir").

Lifting the lid, she reached inside and pulled forth the rainbow of beautiful embroidery, her only keepsake of her mother (p. 249, "The Fairest One").

Tingles ran up his spine and blood pounded in his ears.  In her hands was one final message.  If she kisses you, you will die (p. 353, "Red as Blood").

This was home.  Her floors -- the wood flexing under her leaps, dusted with rosin and sticky with sweat.  Her walls -- the severely honest mirrors and the barre, her first pas de deux partner (p. 433).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG/PG-13 for violence, suspense, young people in danger, and some mild romance.  I just handed off my copy to my 11-year-old and I think he'll be fine.  So maybe like a PG-10?

This is my third book read and reviewed for this year's edition of the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Underloved Favorites

Today's Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "Top Ten Books I LOVED with Fewer than 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads."

Turns out I love a lot of books with fewer than 2,000 ratings there.  So narrowing it down was tricky, but here we go!  Please note that I'm putting them in alphabetical order by title because I didn't have time to suss out which ones I loved more than others.  I love all ten of these so much that I own my own copies.  Can't bear to rely on the library to have books I love right when I NEED to read them again, you know?

I usually link titles to my book reviews here on my blog, but this time I've linked them to their Goodreads pages :-)  And I'm sharing a line or two from the book's blurb there as well.

A Flame in the Dark: A Reformation Novel
A Flame in the Dark by Sarah Baughman 

The Reformation changed the world—and the lives of ordinary people.

And Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field

Emily Blair is rich and deaf.  Doctor Vance, who grew up poor in Blairtown, is working on a serum to cure deafness which he tries on Emily.

Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service
Grateful American by Gary Sinise

The moving, entertaining, never-before-told story of how one man found his calling.

Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility
Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

In this modern spin on the Austen classic, Sense and Sensibility, the Woodward sisters must contend with new ingredients in unfamiliar kitchens, a dash of heartbreak, and the fragile hope that maybe home isn't so far away.

Loving Isaac
Loving Isaac by Heather Kaufman

The story of a pastor who was set in his ways and happy about it, a mother who was saddened by her life circumstances, and a little boy who helped them learn that God's will is sometimes surprising and always delightful.

A Name Unknown (Shadows Over England, #1)
A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White

How does one steal a family's history, their very name?

Soldier On (Hearts On Guard, #1)
Soldier On by Vanessa Rasanen

He's fighting for his country. She's praying for his safety. When tragedy strikes, can their marriage and faith survive?

Speak Easy, Speak Love
Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George

Six teenagers’ lives intertwine during one thrilling summer full of romantic misunderstandings and dangerous deals in this sparkling retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

The Usurper's Throne (The Tudor Throne Series, #1)
The Usurper's Throne by Charity Bishop

His last, best hope for England may destroy them all.

With Blossoms Gold (Fairytale Novellas, #1)
With Blossoms Gold by Hayden Wand

She never wanted to leave the tower. He never wanted to rule the country.

There you have it!  Ten books I adore that have too few ratings and reviews on Goodreads, which makes me think they have too few readers in general.

How about you?  Have you read any of these?  Did you share a Top Ten Tuesday list this week too?  Please share below!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

"Cloaked in Red" by Vivian Vande Velde

Someone recommended Vivian Vande Velde's fairy tale retellings to me not long ago, and I discovered my library had a few of them, so I got this one to try.

Oh, my Elvis.  This book made me laugh so hard!  It's actually a collection of eight different retellings of Little Red Riding Hood, and since I retold that myself as a western called Cloaked, I was really excited to read some very different variations on the story.  Some of these were exciting or thrilling, and some were just light and funny.  But all of them were great fun.

My favorites were:

"Little Red Riding Hood's Family" has a big surprise about Granny's identity.

"Granny and the Wolf" involves a comely young granny fending off an unwelcome suitor.

"Why Willy and His brother Won't Ever Amount to Anything" has two brothers who get fact and fiction confused fairly often.

Overall, this was a fast, delightful read, and I hope to find more of Vande Velde's books at the library, because I very much enjoyed this one.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some nudge-nudge-wink-wink moments of very mild innuendo that would go over the heads of most innocents.  Also, some violence and tense situations with people in danger.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"Words of Wisdom: Quotes from Shakespeare" Coloring Poster Book

One of  my blogging goals for 2019 is to start reviewing adult coloring books again.  So today I'm reviewing the Words of Wisdom: Quotes from Shakespeare book of posters to color.  These are big sheets -- 9 1/2" x 12" and can be framed -- I love the bigger format!  I got this book from Usborne/Kane Miller here, and I'm not sure if it's available elsewhere or not.

The pages are thick like cardstock, so they're perfect for gel pens, which is what I've been using with it.  But if you're into pastels or watercolors, it would work really well with those too, I think.

They've got a nice selection of plays, not just the super-famous ones, and quotations on lots of different topics.  I'm highlighting two lines that involve love today, just cuz it IS We Love Shakespeare Week, after all.  

One of my favorite things about this book is that, on the back of each poster, it tells you a little about the play that line is from!  This is what's on the back of the "Love comforteth like sunshine after rain" poster above:

The posters are in a wide variety of styles.  There's only one with a line from Hamlet, and I haven't colored it yet, but it reminds me a little of Monty Python:

I'm saving this one to color in October because it's so Halloween-y:

This post is one of my contributions to We Love Shakespeare Week, which I'm hosting on my other blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy.  Come join the fun!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The We Love Shakespeare Tag

It's We Love Shakespeare Week over on my other blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy!  I'm doing my bit to celebrate by filling out the official tag, and I'll be reviewing a version of Hamlet later this week, reviewing a Shakespeare coloring book... and I've posted two games over on my other blog too.  You can read everyone else's tags and other posts right here.  Come join the fun!  There's a giveaway too, which is open world-wide.

1. When and how did you first encounter Shakespeare's plays?

When I was in my mid-teens, our homeschool group went to a local community college to watch a travelling theatre troupe present something about Shakespeare.  This would have been around 1996 or so.  They did a few scenes and speeches and talked about common phrases we use today that come from Shakespeare.

And I discovered that afternoon that there were LOTS of titles of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes that come from Shakespeare.  "The Conscience of the King" and "Dagger of the Mind" and "By Any Other Name" and The Undiscovered Country (okay, that's a Trek film instead).  I was fascinated.  I decided to read ALL of Shakespeare's plays to find ALL of the titles and other allusions from Shakespeare that were used in the series.

I got a giant, red faux-leather-bound volume of the complete works of Shakespeare out of the library and simply began with the first play in it, which was Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Not a stellar place to start, but I stuck it out and determinedly read my way through a dozen or so of his plays, renewing the book as often as I possibly could.

So, yup, I owe my fascination with Shakespeare to Star Trek.  

2. What are your favorite Shakespeare plays? (Go ahead and list as many as you like!)

1.  Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
2.  Much Ado About Nothing
3.  The Taming of the Shrew
4.  The Merchant of Venice

3. Who are some of your favorite characters in his plays? (Again, list however many suits you.)

Hamlet, Horatio, Laertes, Ophelia, Beatrice, Benedick, Hero, Don Pedro, Portia...

4. Have you seen any of his plays performed, whether live or on film?


I've seen 15 different filmed versions of Hamlet (complete list here) because I'm a wee bit obsessed with it.  And I've seen movie versions of Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V, Richard III, Love's Labours Lost, The Taming of the ShrewTitus Andronicus, and two versions of Romeo and Juliet.  I've also seen retellings of The Taming of the Shrew (10 Things I Hate About You and Kiss Me, Kate), Romeo and Juliet (West Side Story), and Othello (the opera Otello).  

Because I studied Shakespeare, literature, and drama in college, I got to go to a lot of live performances of his plays for classes, including The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and Antony and Cleopatra.  Plus, my college's theatre department put on A Midsummer Night's Dream while I was there, which was so much fun.  And since college, I've seen Hamlet performed live twice (in 2009 and in 2018), and Much Ado About Nothing.

5. Have you read any of his plays?

Yes.  I've read 17 of them.  And I've read my favorites multiple times, especially Hamlet, heh.  Definitely more for me to read and enjoy in the years ahead!

6. Share a dream cast for one of your favorite Shakespeare plays.

We need Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender in a new version of Taming of the Shrew, and we need them NOW.

7. What draws you to Shakespeare's plays? (Language, themes, characters, the fact that they're famous, whatever!)

The characters and the dialog, as always.  I enjoy reading his plays for their clever wordplay and wonderful dialog, but the ones I read over and over, I read because I love the characters.

8. Do you have any cool Shakespeare-themed merchandise, like t-shirts or mugs or bookmarks, etc? Share pictures if you can!

Um.  Yeah.  Um, so... the truth is... I have a ton of Shakespeare stuff.  Most of it is Hamlet-related.  I have four different Hamlet-related shirts, a Hamlet Christmas ornament, a whole bookshelf of books about Shakespeare in general and Hamlet in particular, a couple of Shakespeare coloring books... and I have this gorgeous and hilarious mug that my sweet friend Olivia gave me for Christmas a couple months ago.

9. How do you go about understanding his language? (Do you prefer copies with translation notes, look things up online, or just read so much stuff written in Elizabethan English that you totally know what everyone's saying?)

I definitely like copies with little footnotes so I can check on the meanings of words and phrases if I'm unsure of what they mean.  I'd rather not have to go look things up on the internet or in a dictionary, so if there aren't footnotes, I'll just plunge on without checking on stuff and understand the general gist of it anyway.  I've never really found Shakespeare hard to understand overall, even as a teen, but I definitely understand him better when I see his stuff performed than when I just read the text.  I'm a very visual learner.

10. What are some of your favorite lines from Shakespeare? (Maybe limit yourself to like ten, okay?)

I have so many favorites -- what was I thinking when I wrote this question???  Okay, I'm going to take my cue from DKoren's answers to this tag and list off lines I say in real life (or think in my head a lot).  I'm doing these from memory, not looking them up, so forgive me if I miss a word here and there, or if I punctuate them oddly.

"Oh, horrible, horrible -- most horrible!"  (Hamlet)

"The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold.  It is a nipping and an eager air."  (Hamlet)

"Against my will, I am sent to bid you come in to dinner."  (Much Ado About Nothing)

"How all occasions do inform against me!"  (Hamlet)

"Sigh no more, my lady.  Sigh no more."  (Much Ado About Nothing)

"Now could I drink hot blood."  (Hamlet)

"Once more unto the breach, my friends!  Once more."  (Henry V)

"The game's afoot."  (Henry V) (Hahaha, you thought that was from Sherlock Holmes!  Well, it is, but he's quoting Shakespeare there.  Holmes quotes Shakespeare quite a lot, really.  I catch him tossing bits of Hamlet around all the time.)

"A horse!  A horse!  My kingdom for a horse!"  (Richard III)

"Adieu!  Adieu!  Remember me!"  (Hamlet)

Monday, February 4, 2019

"The Four-Story Mistake" by Elizabeth Enright

I know I read this as a kid, but I really didn't remember much of it, except that they had a cupola on their house.  I was kinda obsessed with cupolas as a kid, mostly thanks to the Samantha books from American Girl.  Truth be told, I'd still like one. 

Anyway, this is an utterly charming book.  I chose it for my 3rd-6th graders to read for our homeschool co-op this month, so of course, I had to reread it myself.  And I'm so happy I did.  I read one of the later Melendy books, Spiderweb for Two, a few years ago, and found it delightful too.

In this one, Mr. Melendy sells their home in the city and moves his four children, their housekeeper Cuffy, and the furnace man Willy out to a great big house in the countryside.  It has three actual stories and a cupola on top to be the fourth story, and it is full of surprises and secrets and joy. 

The four kids spend the book having all sorts of adventures.  This takes place during WWII, and they spend a good deal of time and energy thinking up ways to earn money to buy war stamps and war bonds.  They put on a play, one person finds a treasure, two of them get jobs... this is a slice-of-life story at its finest.  And I love that sort of book that just has people living out their ordinary lives in an interesting way.

Particularly Good Bits:

None of them wanted to leave their house.  None of them, that is, except seven-year-old Oliver who always greeted the future as a friend and never gave a hang about anything in the past (p. 6).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Good, clean, wholesome fun.

This is my 27th book read and reviewed for my second time around with the Classics Club.