Wednesday, July 31, 2019

"Lies Jane Austen Told Me" by Julie Wright

I seem to be most in the mood to read cute romance stories in the summer and around Christmas.  Other times of year, not so much my thing.  Hmm.  Anyway!  It's summer, this is a cute romance, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!  I loved the Jane Austen connections, and I loved that it was clean.

Emma Pierce is a rising executive for a gym chain.  She loves Jane Austen's books, but she's been hurt emotionally in the past, and when her boyfriend Blake disappoints her, she decides Jane Austen has been lying to her, true love is a myth, and men are all Mr. Wickhams, not Mr. Darcys.  

So, of course, she meets a genuinely nice guy.  Like two minutes after she breaks up with her boyfriend.  Because the nice guy is the boyfriend's brother.  And then he starts working at her firm as a consultant.  And then they have to go on a business trip together.  And then they become friends.  And then all sorts of nonsense happens, of course, but they eventually fall in love.  

And did I mention it was clean?  A little kissing, some talk of people being physically attractive, and some suspicions of people having love affairs with others, but nothing that made me uncomfortable.  I'm absolutely going to seek out more of this Proper Romance Series in the future, like around Christmastime.  Or next summer.

Particularly Good Bits:

I understood how Jane had ended up alone at the end of everything all those years ago.  You can believe in love, believe that it works.  You can want love, want it with your whole soul.  But you can't force it.  You can't force it on yourself.  And you can't force it on anyone else (p. 251).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for discussions of drug addiction, single parenthood, and unwed mothers.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

"Curse and Consequence" by Savannah Jezowski

As you may have noticed, I am an Austenite.  I've got a shelf overflowing with books by and about Jane Austen, and that has led me to enjoy other books set in the Regency era as well.  Books like this!  I guess you could call this magical historical realism fiction?  

Curse and Consequence is set in the Regency era, but it's filled with magic.  Two brothers, Hugh and Sedgwick Whitby, both fancy the same girl, Rea Abernathy.  Rea is their mother's ward, and she spends most of her time tending the animals on their family's estate.  Because she loves them, not because she needs to, you understand.  Well, one brother decides he just has to have her for himself, so he pays a faery to put some kind of mild blight on his brother... or so he thought.  The curse ends up hitting more than one person, and then the curse gets changed, and everyone ends up having to be honest about their thoughts and feelings and who they are inside before it all gets sorted out.  

This was a fun, quick read, and I think my daughters will be charmed by it when they're old enough to be interested in boy+girl stories.

Particularly Good Bits:

She let the thought sink into emptiness, into that aching hollow where she kept all her secrets, where she kept her true self, the self she never let anyone see (p. 21).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some mild, magical danger to the characters.  The romance is very mild and clean, just a kiss or two exchanged toward the end.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

"By the Shores of Silver Lake" by Laura Ingalls Wilder

As a kid, this was my favorite of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books.  I think that miiiiiight have had a little to do with the fact that there's a horse on the cover of my copy.  But also, nothing terribly bad happens in this one.  Locusts don't eat up their crops, they don't have to leave the home they built 3 miles too far west, and they don't almost starve.  This one and Little House in the Big Woods were my favorites as a kid, because they were so peaceful, and they're still my favorites now, as I've been reading them aloud to my family, one book a year or so.  Turns out I still love peaceful books that describe everyday life but don't have terrible things happening!

(My best friend is laughing and nodding her head vigorously at that description of my tastes, I just know it.)

My mom used to read these books aloud to us in the car.  I looooooooved them.  So, a few years ago, I took one along to read aloud during the car trip portion of our family vacation.  My husband had never read them, and he and our youngest are very in love with them now too, and they insist I bring one along every vacation.  I am more than happy to oblige.

I was really excited to get to revisit this one this year, and it definitely lived up to my remembered fondness.  Laura starts to grow from a little girl into a young woman, and she makes some really hard decisions, like accepting the fact that she's going to be a teacher in a few years, even though she doesn't want to be one.  That takes a lot of guts and maturity, and I really respect her for being able to accept her parents' requirement like that.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Wholesome family fare.

This is my 35th book read and reviewed for my second go-'round with the Classics Club!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

"The Racketty-Packetty House" by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.  Y'all, this is the sweetest book.  I can't believe I'd never heard of it before I picked it up off the shelf at the library, completely at random!  I mean, it's by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  How did this never cross the path of the little girl who memorized whole passages of The Little Princess and pretended she had her own Secret Garden???  I guess our libraries just didn't have it, and book blogs, Bookstagram, Booktube... those weren't things when I was growing up in the dark ages of the 1980s.  So unless the library had a book, or my mom had read it as a kid, or I found it at a yard sale... I would never find that book.

Anyway.  This is a short chapter book, great for like 1st and 2nd grade readers.  The 100th Anniversary Edition I read has beautiful illustrations by Wendy Anderson Halperin that added so much whimsical joy to every page.  But the story itself is what shines.  

A little girl gets a big, fancy castle-style dollhouse filled with beautiful dolls.  She shoves her old dollhouse, which had been her grandmother's, behind a chair and says she doesn't want it anymore.  This worries the dolls who live in that house, though they can't manage to stay worried about anything for long because they are jolly little people who find joy in the smallest things and know that appearances don't matter, only your love for your fellow people.  But the maid wants to burn their house in the furnace because it's not needed anymore, and the queen of the fairies (who narrates the book and loves those ragged doll-people for their relentless cheerfulness) has to work hard to keep the house and the dolls from getting destroyed.

See?  Utterly charming.  And with such good messages of being cheerful in the face of adversity, lending a helping hand to those in need, being kind to those who have not been kind to you, and looking beneath the surface to find a person's true worth.  There's a LOT packed into this little book!  I've read 300-page adult novels that had less to say.  

Particularly Good Bits: 

If you make a fuss over trouble and put it to bed and nurse it and give it beef tea and gruel, you can never get rid of it (p. 40).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G  Gorgeous, sweet, innocent book.  One of the best books I've read this year.

Although this book is not famous and not long, I am counting it for my Classics Club list because it is worthy of the honor AND it's by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  So this is my 34th book read and reviewed for my second go-'round with the Classics Club!

Friday, July 19, 2019

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman

Once in a while, I like to pick up a book to read that I've never heard anything about.  I like to browse the library stacks, pulling off books and reading their dust jacket flaps until I find one that interests me.  That's how I found this book.  Yes, I've read things by Neil Gaiman before, but I'd never heard of this particular book of his.  It looked and sounded interesting, so I checked it out and read it.

I'm not always a huge fan of magical realism.  I mean, sometimes I am -- I'm an ardent devotee of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and the Harry Potter books.  But a lot of times it doesn't work for me.  Well, this is one of the times that it totally did.  This is a short book, but so jam-packed with flavor and atmosphere I gobbled it up as quickly as I could.

The protagonist recalls things that happened when he was seven years old.  He met some magic-wielding women who lived at the end of his lane, he accidentally let an evil being into the world, he dealt with the aftereffects of that evil being's presence, and he survived it getting cast out of this world again.  Somewhere along the way, he grew up.  A lot.  But remained seven and still a little boy in many ways too.

Gaiman's descriptions and way of weaving magic in to the real world were astonishingly wonderful.  I'm so glad I pulled this book off the shelf last week.

But despite the fact that the main character was seven when most of this happened, this is NOT junior fiction.  Definitely YA.  Please keep that in mind.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for scenes where a 7-yr-old witnesses two adults engaged in adult activity (not described explicitly, but what they're doing is very obvious), scary scenes, and suicide.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

"Tales from Alegaesia: The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm" by Christopher Paolini

It's been a decade since I read Eragon by Christopher Paolini, though not quite long since I finished the Inheritance Cycle, but it's definitely been a minute or two since I visited AlegaĆ«sia.  I very much enjoyed the series as a whole -- it's one of the few fantasy series I've been able to get really into -- so it was a big treat to discover this new book at Walmart while on vacation!

This book has three short stories bound up within the framework of Eragon and Saphira helping to build the home of the new Dragon Rider training academy.  Eragon is struggling with his new duties, and each of these stories teaches him something that will aid him in his work.  Of the three, "The Worm" was my favorite, though I enjoyed all three of them.

The cover says "Tales from AlegaĆ«sia: Volume I" which makes me super hopeful that there will be more like this!  Also, now I want to dive back into the series, so I'm bumping them way up my re-read list (which is entirely in my head and subject to change at my slightest whim, like the fact that I just joined an IG read-along for War and Peace that starts in about a week, but whatever).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for fantasy violence and peril.

Monday, July 15, 2019

"The King's Players" by Charity Bishop

This series just keeps getting better and better.  And that's saying something, because The Usurper's Throne and The Welsh Gambit were totally engrossing and enjoyable.  But The King's Players made me truly care about some of its characters, not just observe them, and that makes it a cut above, in my opinion.

This book is all about King Henry VII and his loyal, ruthless, wily enforcer, Sir Thomas Lovell (#youlikemebecauseimascoundrel), who are trying to discern if Sir William is a traitor like his brother, the Duke of Suffolk, or if he's innocent and just wants to live a peaceful life with his new wife, the much-older Lady Keelyn.

Into the mix come a troupe of actors seeking a new patron.  One of them falls in love with a local girl who serves Lady Keelyn.  Also, people die.  Also, there's a shipwreck.  Also, there's an assassination attempt.  Like the two preceding books, this book moves at a fast pace and I didn't want to put it down to do mundane things like fold laundry or make supper or go to sleep at night.

(From my Bookstagram account)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for some off-page lovemaking, spouses appreciating one another's appearances in a sexual way, people talking about illegitimate children and mistresses, a little mild cursing (I think -- I can't remember specific instances, I just feel like there was some), and scenes of violence and suspense.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

"A Worthy Rebel" by Jody Hedlund

I have mixed feelings about this book.

On the one hand, I like the message it conveys:  that you don't need to try to be like other people in order to be important.  But on the other hand, it's a lot more focused on romantic feelings than I generally enjoy.  It's not quite my flavor of tea, if that makes sense.

Beautiful, delicate Lady Isabelle runs away from the cruel man her stepmother wants her to marry.  Cole Warwick, a handsome woodcutter, rescues her. 

Actually, that's what I especially didn't care for in this book:  how much emphasis the author and the characters put on physical appearances.  I don't mean the sexual attraction, which can happen between non-beautiful people too, but the fact that both Isabelle and Cole were very, very pretty to look at, and they knew it.  Long hair, delicate features, and a pleasing figure for one, and a strong jaw, tousled hair, and bulging muscles for the other.  Like, I get that this is written for teens, but... it felt too shallow, like it was pandering to looks-obsessed teen girls.  And reinforcing the idea that to be a hero or heroine, you ought to look like a cover model.

Anyway, the story itself was a nice look at class conflict, duty versus desire, and learning to trust God to bless you in all circumstances.  There was too much emphasis on good works for my taste -- the idea that if you try really hard, God will bless you for your efforts, which is not what I believe, personally.  But the writing was fast-paced, and I enjoyed it about as much as I enjoy any romance-centered book.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence, including violence against children and non-graphic torture, as well as a lot of swoony scenes where people felt heat pooling inside them or felt sparks shooting through them because of how someone looked at them, etc.  And quite a bit of kissing.  It's teetering on the edge of "clean reads."

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

"The Adventures of the Woman Homesteader: The Life and Letters of Elinore Pruitt Stewart" by Susanne K. George

So, y'all already know that I dearly love Elinore Pruitt Stewart's two collections of letters, Letters of a Woman Homesteader and Letters on an Elk Hunt.  They're flavorful and fascinating and fun.  And the fact that they're mostly based in fact is just sooooooo cool to me.

Well, this is a combination biography of Stewart and a collection of MORE of her letters.  It shows just how much care she put into crafting her writings, more than I'd realized, but also highlights her brave pioneer spirit.  Yes, she consciously wrote many of her letters specifically to reach a wider audience than just the person the letter is addressed to.  Yes, she mixed fiction with facts when recounting some things.  Yes, I like her and her writing even more after learning more about her real self.

I've read a few negative reviews of Stewart's books that seemed like those people felt somehow cheated or deceived by her writing because she did write things specifically for publication.  As if her letters were no longer as true, or that they couldn't trust her.  I don't see her writing that way at all.  I now view her letters as almost like blog posts.  I write my blog intending for many people to read it.  When I recount real-life events like going to a live show, I'm not making up that I went to the show.  But I'm consciously crafting my words.  I'm adopting a bit of a persona -- I might not use the same words and descriptions when telling the story in a private letter to a close friend as I will when writing it up for my blog.  I'm writing as Hamlette, just as she was writing as the Woman Homesteader.  I think her readers in the day understood that, just as you, my blogging friends, understand that.  

Anyway.  Stewart had an amazing, adventurous life.  She chose to share that lifestyle with others through letters both public and private, and the fact that we can read those letters today fills me with joy.

Particularly Good Bits:

To get away from every one is a blessing to be eagerly seized some times and I was deeply enjoying cave man freedom (p. 154).

I must warn you, though, that I cannot be a lady.  I'm just me.  I cannot put on airs (p. 164).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for descriptions of illnesses, accidents, mild violence, and general hardships.

This is my tenth book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

"Olivia Twist" by Lorie Langdon

This is such a cute, fun book!  I mean, it's not cute in the fluffy-kittens-and-chirping birds way, but it's just filled with adorable people who happen to be stuck in some pretty dire situations.  The people are cute and adorable, even if everything going on around them is desperate and dangerous.  Does that make sense?

Basically, it picks up where Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens ended, sorta.  It's hard to explain.  It uses the story of Oliver Twist as its backstory, only it turns out that the orphan called Oliver was actually a girl named Olivia disguising herself as a boy to stay safe on the nasty streets of London.  Once she finds a home, then her disguise ends and she can grow up into a young lady.  Except she still disguises herself as a boy and goes out into the streets to help care for other street kids.

And then one day, she runs into a guy now called Jack who used to be her friend the Artful Dodger.  Sparks fly.  Lots of sparks.  The "I want to punch your face until my hand turns numb" kind of sparks AND the "I want to kiss you until I can't breathe" kind of sparks.  Which made this kind of the perfect summer read for me, because I'm way more willing to read about romantic sparkage in the summer than I am any other time of year.

There's all this plot stuff about Olivia getting engaged to this other guy, and Olivia trying to protect some street kids from a big baddie, and Jack trying to steal things because of reasons, and this Big Bad trying to ruin their lives because they're in his way.  But I know when I re-read this one day, I'll be reading it for the characters, not the plot, as they're what I liked so very much.

Particularly Good Bits:

Olivia blinked up at Max and wished she didn't have another's kiss to compare his to (p. 120).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for a lot of kissing scenes, some violence, and some innuendo.  This is leaning toward the adult side of Young Adult while still hovering on the outward edges of Clean Fiction.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

"The Edge of Over There" by Shawn Smucker

I think this book would have been easier to get into if I'd read the book that precedes it, The Day the Angels Fell.  But I haven't.  And I didn't have time to go find and read that one first because I was reading this for the INSPY awards and I was on a deadline.  So the first hundred and fifty pages felt like I'd never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer before, and somebody grabbed a random disc from season 5 of the show and made me watch it by myself, with no friends or internet to fill in background info for me or even explain what in the world was going on.

However.  I did eventually wrap my head around this book's worldbuilding and, by the end, it did make sense.  And I liked it a lot.  More for the writing than the story itself, though I did enjoy the story.  It actually reminded me a lot of Buffy and Angel, which are some of my favorite shows (though, when I started watching Buffy, I had friends to explain stuff to me during the commercial breaks, as I joined the fandom when season 4 was airing).

Basically, there are angelic and demonic beings trying to help and hinder people on earth, and there's a problem with the demonic ones trying to raise trees that will make humans sorta immortal, and there are some semi-immortal humans who created a sort of purgatory world halfway between this earth and eternity.  And some teens have to try to stop them.

Does that make any sense?  Sigh.  I'm really bad at explaining Buffy too.  Can I just say that this book was cool, and I enjoyed it once I got into it?  Smucker has a very lyrical, evocative writing style that I definitely liked.  Oh, and my fellow judges and I chose it as the winner for the YA category for the INSPY Awards this year!

Particularly Good Bits:

We want things to stay the same, but the roads between "now" and "back then" are always changing, and by the time you manage to return home, if you can ever find your winding way, you realize it was never actually yours, not forever (p. 23).

Time stumbles under the weight of deep sadness (p. 68).

"Maybe children are the only ones brave and true enough to save the world" (p. 118).

"Words should only be used as a last resort, a final attempt to communicate when all else has failed.  They are unsteady ground.  Words are nothing more than manipulated air" (p. 150).

Cemeteries are the one place on earth where people can stop talking whenever they want and no one will press them for more.  Which makes sense, since cemeteries hold so much unfinished business (p. 161).

"Stories will do that if we let them.  They'll work their way inside, to the deepest parts, and they'll live there, and they'll change us" (p. 360).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for danger, violence, suspense, and scary imagery.