Friday, June 28, 2019

"Curtains for Three" by Rex Stout

I love Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries.  They relax and rejuvenate me.  Just hanging out with Archie and Wolfe and Fritz and Saul and Fred and Orrie and Inspector Cramer in the Brownstone on West 35th Street is like a little vacation for my inner being.

This is one of the collections of three short mysteries that are especially delightful when I'm very busy.  If I have to set the book down between stories, I won't have to worry I'll forget what's going on, as the stories won't be related in any way.

Of the three in this book, "Disguise for Murder" was my favorite because it had a pretty big surprise in it that I didn't see coming, though in retrospect, made so much sense.  I love mysteries that do that.  Also, Archie got to engage in some thrilling heroics, which is always extra delightful.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for murder, violence, peril, and vague discussions of people having extramarital affairs.

This is my 9th book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR 2019

This week, That Artsy Reader Girl is asking us for the top ten books on our TBR list for the summer.  I must be honest here:  I'm a mood reader.  I can make TBR lists all day long and into the night and then discard them the minute I finish a current read and look around for my next book.  

So I make no promises about whether or not I'll actually read any of these.  Except one, because my church's book club is discussing that next month, so I simply must read it.

That being said, here are ten books I HOPE to read this summer:

+ The Baronet's Song by George MacDonald (book club book)

+ Captain Newman, MD by Leo Rosten (because I love the movie so much)

+ Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (I like semi-fluffy period drama in the summer)

+ Grace Alone by Ruth E. Meyer (because there's a sequel coming out and I haven't read this yet)

+ The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (and then someone else can be the last person on earth who hasn't read it)

+ The Lone Star Ranger by Zane Grey (I actually started this a couple days ago, but am only 3 chapters in)

+ Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit by Amy Stewart (hoping I like it more than book 3)

+ Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering (the last one of this series that I haven't read yet)

+ The Number of Love by Roseanna M. White (so excited to read this one!)

+ Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd (her books are so cute!)

How many of these will I actually read this summer?  Only time will tell.  Maybe one.  Maybe all ten.  We shall see!

Monday, June 24, 2019

"The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder" edited by William Anderson

Oh.  My.  Word.

So, my mom picked up this book at the Wall Drug bookstore in Wall, SD, a couple months ago.  She showed it to me when I was visiting her last week, and I ended up reading the whole thing over the course of about three days.  It was fascinating and encouraging and wonderful.

It was fascinating because of how well I feel like I got to know the woman behind the books I've loved basically all my life.  These letters start in 1894 and go 1956, and they are staggeringly varied.  Some are to friends, some to her husband Almanzo, some to her daughter Rose, some to perfect strangers who sent her fan mail.  The ones I liked best were the ones to children who wrote her about her books.

It was encouraging because she struggled so hard with writing By the Shores of Silver Lake, which is my favorite of her books.  I'm struggling with the book I'm writing right now, and knowing that I'm not the first writer to struggle with a book that's a ways into a series is a comfort.

It was wonderful because Laura Ingalls Wilder was such a sweet, tart, friendly, shy, intelligent, obstinate, REAL person, and you get that sense of her from these letters.  I'm so happy I read this book.  I might have to get a copy of my own.

Particularly Good Bits:

As you read my books of long ago I hope you will remember that the things that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then.  Courage and kindness, loyalty, truth and helpfulness are always the same and always needed.  (1950 letter to the Pomona Public Library) (p. 323)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG.  There's a very light smattering of strong language.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"Speak Easy, Speak Love" by McKelle George (again)

This is the perfect summer read.  Breezy and witty, filled with summer's sunshine and shadows, and crammed with characters I adore.  Lots of substance, but also lots of fun.

I mean, that's my personal definition of a perfect summer read, anyway.

I reviewed this pretty fully last year when I first read it, so if you want to know more about the plot, you can read about that in my other review.  This post is going to be more about gushing about all the things I love.

First of all, it's a retelling of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, which is my other favorite of his plays.  So I obviously dig seeing all the ways George draws on that.  The characters share names and personality traits with the ones in the play, except for John, who is one of my favorites here, while I cannot stand Don John in the play.  George changes a lot of things, but in ways that suit the story and serve the characters.  This isn't a straight-up retelling, but more like a jazz riff, so it totally works.

Then there's the setting.  I'm not sure why I dig the Roaring Twenties so much, but I do.  Maybe it's all the juicy, meaty stories it provides, with Prohibition and Women's Suffrage and Jazz and people trying to forget The Great War... I don't know.  But I really love reading books set in that era.  Big part of why I enjoy F. Scott Fitzgerald so much. 

This book often makes me think of The Great Gatsby because it has some outward similarities:  young writer observing people, lots of parties at a big house with illegal liquor flowing freely, and so much glitz and glamour masking unhappiness.  But the people in this are so utterly different than the ones in Gatsby.  They all have moral centers, for one thing.  While they do all have dreams they're chasing, they're also all willing to give up a dream if need be, not fruitlessly cling to it.  And nobody engages in any adultery.

Anyway!  The whole story centers around a failing, genteel speakeasy called Hey Nonny Nonny.  It's run by Hero Stahr, her depressed father, her jazz-singer friend Maggie, and virtual orphan Pedro "Prince" Morello.  Hero's cousin Beatrice gets kicked out of school and arrives on their doorstep at the same time as Hero's friend Benedick and his rich pal Claude run away from prep school and arrive there too.  Together with Pedro's half-brother John, they set about trying to save Hey Nonny Nonny from slowly tottering into extinction, but also work toward their own futures.

Did I mention that all of these characters, except Hero's dad, are in their late teens, just finishing high school?  They seem more like college students, to be honest, but I cut the story a little slack here because these are teens from a hundred years ago, when people matured faster and were expected to behave as adults much sooner than they are now.

So.  I love this book.  If you're looking for something fun but also meaty to read this summer, find it!

(From my Bookstagramming)

Particularly Good Bits:


What a tricky, tangled science (p. 92).

Family was family, but you didn't always do more than politely stand each other when it came to things like fun and conversation (p. 216).

Benedick sat up, bone tired but mind still crisp as a cold apple (p. 303).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for some violence, lots of alcohol consumption by adults and minors, some innuendo (kissing and some mildly suggestive dialog), and bad language.

Monday, June 17, 2019

"Orphan Train" by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train intertwines the stories of two girls searching for a home, one a child in foster care in present-day Maine, the other sent west on an orphan train in the 1920s.  As the story unfolds, we can see parallels between their situations, even though they're nearly a hundred years apart.  Also, the two main characters interact in the modern-day sections, which is especially neat.

I did like a lot about this book.  The writing is good, the characters are fully fleshed out and kept me invested in their lives, and I liked the way both story lines resolved.  But it's not a book I feel I'll want to read over and over.  Which is kind of exciting, in a weird way, because it's been on my TBR shelves for several years, and now it's not only off those shelves, but I won't have to find a space for it on my to-keep shelves either!  So, I'm glad I read it, but I won't be keeping it.

(From my Instagram account)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for the depiction of a man trying to violate a ten-year-old girl, a make-out scene, and some bad language.

This is my 8th book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Challenge 2019.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

"Shane" by Jack Schaefer (again)

I hadn't reread this since I led the read-along for it back in 2016, and I decided it was high time I revisited it.  I loved it even more this time through, if that's somehow possible.  Partly, of course, that's because I know how Alan Ladd residing so firmly in my head that I could envision him throughout the book, which was a delightful bonus.  

The story is deceptively simple.  At its core is a plot of comfortable familiarity:  a stranger rides in out of the unknown, and everything changes.  Which is basically my favorite plot, to be honest.  The Starrett family, Joe and Marian and their little boy Bob, live on a small, struggling farm in Wyoming.  They and their farmer neighbors have had difficulty with the big rancher across the river, but so far he and his cowboys have just been annoying, not overtly violent.

Into this uneasy situation rides a stranger, slim and lithe and obviously dangerous.  He says they can call him Shane, and although he is clearly not a farmer, he decides to stay on at the Starrett farm as their hired hand.  Together, he and Joe transform the farm into something to be proud of.  But his presence there tips the uneasy balance between the ranchers and the farmers, and his non-farmer skills make all the difference in the end.

What makes this story so rich and meaty is all the subtext, the emotions and fears and desires and hopes all simmering just under the dialog and actions of these four brave, bruised, stalwart people.  If Ernest Hemingway had ever written an actual western, it would have felt very similar to this.  This writing style feels to me so much like real life, when people hide their true thoughts and feelings behind masks, smile when they're sad, and keep their deepest wants and needs hidden.

The 1953 movie differs slightly here and there, but is the same in essence, and I adore it.  It plus one other movie are what made me an Alan Ladd superfan :-)

(Mine from Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

"What a man knows isn't important. It's what he is that counts" (p. 33).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some violence and low-level bad language.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: I Love a Mystery

I love mysteries.  I've got more than a hundred posts on this blog tagged "mystery."  It's my favorite book genre, no question about it.  So for today's Top Ten Tuesday prompt ("Books from Your Favorite Genre") from That Artsy Reader Girl, I give you My Ten Favorite Fictional Detectives

1.  Sherlock Holmes from the canonical books and stories by A. Conan Doyle, and also in the Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King.

2.  Philip Marlowe from the books and some of the short stories by Raymond Chandler, who is my favorite author of all time.

3.  Archie Goodwin & Nero Wolfe from the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout, which I love so much I've collected all of them.  (I know technically these are two people, but they work as a team.)

4.  Frank & Joe Hardy from the Hardy Boys by F. W. Dixon, which I read over and over and over as a kid.  (Again, totally a team.)

5.  Jack Reacher from all those books by Lee Child, which I guess are classified as thrillers and not mysteries, but he always solves a mystery in them, so that's how I view them.

6.  Trixie Belden from the series by Kathryn Kenny, which I also read over and over and over as a kid.  I loved Trixie's gang of friends, the Bob-Whites, and use to pretend I was one of them!

7.  Drew Farthering from the series by Julianna Deering, which is one of the best Christian mystery series I've ever encountered.

8.  Gwen Marcy from the books by Carrie Stuart Parks, the other best Christian mystery series I've found.

9.  Jane Austen from the series by Stephanie Barron, which I thought was going to be dorky and irksome, but actually turned out to be really fun!  

10.  Irene Kelly from the series by Jan Burke, which I started reading a few years ago and really ought to finish one of these days.

(All photos are mine, from my Instagram account.)

Who are YOUR favorite fictional detectives?  Do we share any favorites?