Monday, November 25, 2019

"Nutcracker and Mouse King" by ETA Hoffmann AND "The Tale of the Nutcracker" by Alexandre Dumas

I'm reviewing these together because The Tale of the Nutcracker is Alexandre Dumas' French translation of the German story Nutcracker and Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann.  And the edition I read has them both together, translated into English by Joachim Neugroschel.

I'd never read either of these before -- my knowledge of the Nutcracker story comes from the ballet by Mikhail Baryshnikov that we watched on PBS every winter when I was a kid, and which I now watch on DVD with my own kids.  It was interesting to see the differences not only between these two versions of the story, but between them and the ballet!

E.T.A. Hoffman's is the original, and it has this very bold, brash feel to it.  And it's kinda dark.  Very German-winter-near-the-old-and-scary-forest sort of vibe.  It's all about a little girl named Marie who has a somewhat creepy godfather, Herr Drosselmeier, as well as a bratty brother named Fritz and a snobby sister named Luise.  They get a huge number of fabulous presents for Christmas, including a mechanical castle made by Drosselmeier, who is a Chief Justice, but seems to spend most of his time making fantastical toys and fixing clocks.  He also gives the family a very ugly nutcracker. 

Marie loves the Nutcracker.  She stays up late playing with him, gets attacked by lots of mice led by a seven-headed Mouse King, the Nutcracker and all of Fritz's toy soldiers come to life and have a battle with the mice, and Marie gets injured in the fray, but saves Nutcracker from the ravages of the Mouse King by throwing her shoe at him.  She faints from blood loss, and has to spend a week in bed recovering.

While she's stuck in bed, Herr Drosselmeier comes to visit.  No one in her family believes Marie's story of how she hurt her arm, but Drosselmeier seems to.  He tells her a long story about a princess named Pirlipat, some wicked mice, and a brave young man who tried to save the princess from the mice, only to get turned into a nutcracker.  Marie is convinced this story is about her new Nutcracker, especially when she gets visited by the Mouse King for several nights running.  Mouse King demands she sacrifice all her candies and cookies and marzipan treats to him, or else he'll gnaw on Nutcracker.  Marie tearfully complies, until all her goodies are gone.  But then Nutcracker comes back to life, defeats the Mouse King once and for all, and takes Marie on a journey to the Land of Sweets, which he rules.

After seeing many delightful things there, Marie falls asleep, and wakes up back at home in bed.  Her whole family laughs at her when she tells them about her journey.  But then Herr Drossellmeier returns, with his handsome nephew who has just returned from a long journey, and who obviously is the Nutcracker released from the enchantment for good.

Marie, though only 7, accepts this nephew's offer of marriage.  One year later, they get married, and live happily ever after in the Land of Sweets.

Um, yes.  Child bride and all that.  Hmmmmmmmm.  It's a weird, wacky story, obviously not meant to be taken seriously, so I guess we're just supposed to shrug and be cool with it.

Alexandre Dumas' translation is fairly similar, but he takes out a lot of the scary or weird parts, or tames them down.  Yes, the same Alexandre Dumas who wrote The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers tried to make a more-child-friendly version of the story when he translated it.  Which amuses me.  Basically the same things happen, except the mice are way less icky and the whole thing has a more sparkly, bright feel.

I definitely preferred Dumas' version because it was more whimsical, yet a little less nonsensical.

Overall, the story reminded me of a blend of The Wizard of Oz, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland, plus the game Candy Land.

You know how, in the ballet, about half the time is taken up with the girl and the prince watching his subjects dance while in his magical kingdom?  That's like one paragraph in this story.  Which also cracks me up.

One thing I like better about both of these than the ballet (at least the Baryshnikov version, which is the only one I've seen) is that they make it clear that the Nutcracker really DOES come to life, and the girl DOES get to marry him and live happily ever after.  I don't always hate the "it was all a dream" kind of ending, as it does work for some stories, but I've never liked its use in the ballet.  So I shall imagine the ballet ends this way from now on.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some scary/creepy stuff involving mice gnawing on, or threatening to gnaw on, people.

This is my first entry into the Literary Christmas challenge and my 38th for my second go-'round with the Classics Club.

Monday, November 18, 2019

"South by Java Head" by Alistair MacLean

While this won't ever be a favorite MacLean book for me, it was definitely a thrilling ride!  It's got spies (more than you realize), daring rescues, extreme escapes, a cute little kid, several nurses, some treachery, several heroes, and various exotic locations.  Also, terrible storms at sea.  Also, submarines.  Also, various explosions.

Basically, the Japanese are overrunning Singapore during WWII, and a bunch of British soldiers (many of them wounded) need to quick get out of there before they get captured and tortured and killed.  Also, there's a spy who has Very Important Information he needs to get to the Allies.  Also, there are nurses and an orphaned little boy.  They leave, they have many brushes with the enemy, people get captured, people escape, and then the whole thing ends VERY abruptly, with basically no denouement at all.

As always, the make-or-break thing for me with this book is the characters.  While I got fond of several, I never really wanted to be friends with any of them, which is why it's not going on my list of favorite Alistair MacLean books.  But it was still worth reading, and I had fun with it.

Particularly Good Bits:

The wind had dropped away now, the rain fined to a gentle drizzle and a brooding hush lay over the darkened city as it faded swiftly into the gloom of the night (p. 34).

Beyond anger lies fury, the heedless, ungovernable rage of the berserker, and beyond that again, a long, long step beyond the boundary of madness, lies the region of cold and utterly uncaring indifference (p. 266).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for wartime violence, some bad language, hints at what might happen to the nurses if their enemies captured them, and a few discussions of torture (but none depicted).

This is my thirteenth book read and reviewed for the 2019 Mount TBR Reading Challenge!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Literary Christmas Challenge 2019

Yes!  Tarissa is hosting my favorite Christmas book blogging event again this year!  Check out her kick-off post at In the Bookcase to find out all the whereases and wherefores.  

I'm hereby signing up to read at least three Christmas-related books.  And one of them is a combined volume of both E.T.A. Hoffmann's original story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, plus the more-familiar translation/retelling by Alexandre Dumas.  The other two... will be other things, lol.  Not decided on those yet.

Oh, and there's a giveaway.  Info here about that

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Seven Question Book Tag

I'm in the mood to fill out blog tags.  And Eva tagged me with this a while back, so I'm going to seize this mood and fill this out!


  • thank the person who tagged you (thanks, Eva!)
  • answer the questions given
  • create new questions
  • tag bloggers to answer your questions

(All pics are mine from my Bookstagramming adventures.)


What’s the first book you can remember reading?

By myself?  Um.  I have memories of reading this little paperback version of "The Little Red Hen" when I was very small.  Probably some sort of early-reader book, and I was about five.  I also have memories of a comic book someone gave me before I could actually read -- I remember lying in my bed counting squiggles of particular shapes in the speech bubbles, which I didn't recognize as letters yet.  I would've been like three then.

First person or third person POV?

I like both :-)  For years, I only wrote in third person, and some books just require that distance, but I've become better at writing first person with practice.  For reading, though, I like both.

What’s the longest series you’ve ever read? (It can be in terms of page numbers, amount of books in the series, or any other method of calculating.)

For adult novels, the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian.  There are twenty of those.  (I mean, I've read way more Hardy Boys and Trixie Beldens and Mandie books, but those are not adult books.)

What book world would you least like to enter?

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens depressed me a lot.  Nobody there I want to hang out with.  No desire to travel there.

Do you own any autographed-by-the-author books?

I do!  Several, in fact.  I got my copy of Fahrenheit 451 autographed by Ray Bradbury when I was in college, and I got my copy of The Beekeeper's Apprentice autographed by Laurie R. King about ten years ago.  I also have a couple others that I bought that were signed, and some written by friends who signed them for me.

What is your favorite place at which to buy books?

The 2nd and Charles here in our city is really fun because I can often sell back a bunch of books and movies there in exchange for store credit, and then the new ones I buy don't cost very much.  And I love Mermaid Books down in Williamsburg, VA, and Royal Oak Books up in Front Royal, VA.  So, yeah, used book stores are my jam, but I like new books too.  I love Barnes & Noble -- we have two that are less than an hour away, so I get to them three or four times a year.  If we had a Barnes & Noble here in our city, it would be my favorite, but since they're farther away, they're a special treat instead of a regular place to visit.

Who is your favorite sibling duo/trio/etc in literature?

Boromir and Faramir from The Lord of the Rings.  We never get to see them on page together, but their brotherly bond shines clear even so.


1.  Villain you wish would turn good so you could like him in good conscience.
2.  Hero you don't think is worthy of the title hero.
3.  Heroine who deserved a better ending.
4.  Sidekick who ought to get a spin-off.
5.  Series that you wish could have gone on for just one more book.
6.  Author you'd like to thank for a book that is meaningful to you.
7.  Dream cast for your favorite book.

I TAG the following bloggers:

Play if you want to!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

"Lady of Quality" by Georgette Heyer

This book was just what I needed right now.  It's a frothy, jolly frolic that made me laugh aloud more than once.

Miss Annis Wychwood is a woman after my own heart, and no mistake.  She knows her own mind, she's Sensible, and she's Kind and Helpful.  She even has a penchant for playing fairy godmother, though it's never put in exactly those terms.

But Annis is also Unmarried and twenty-nine whole years old, which makes her practically Unmarriageable in Regency England.  She's wealthy in her own right, not dependent on her brother Sir Geoffrey for anything but friendship, and she wants to live in her own house instead of with his family.  So she gets herself a house in Bath, which scandalizes her brother and threatens to scandalize all of Good Society. An unmarried woman simply cannot live on her own!  It isn't Done.

So when Annis moves into her new home, she brings along her aging cousin, Miss Farlow, to be her chaperone and prove that she's still Respectable.  Miss Farlow's tongue may not be hinged in the middle, but you can't prove it by me.  Before they ever reach Bath, Annis and I were both thoroughly exasperated by Miss Farlow, and exasperated we remained.

On the way to Bath, Annis passes a pair of Young Persons who are in need of Assistance.  Young Miss Lucilla Carleton, orphan heiress, is running away from home, unaided and unassisted and unabetted by her childhood friend and Not-Fiance, Ninian.  I can't remember Ninian's last name.  It's okay.  He's a ninny, and should thus only ever be called Ninian anyway.  Annis takes Lucilla under her wing and into her home, temporarily, until Lucilla's affairs can be sorted out.  She's being pushed into marrying Ninian against her will by his parents and her aunt, and she's run away to avoid this.  Ninian came along because he's actually rather a brick, and he doesn't want to marry her either, and he simply can't allow her to run away alone because it isn't Done.  

Annis makes Lucilla into a Pet Project, or tries to.  Imagine Emma Woodhouse ten years older and still taking in Harriet Smiths.  Except I really love Annis, and Emma drives me batty.  Anyway, it turns out Lucilla has an uncle, Mr. Oliver Carleton, who is actually her guardian, and who is very rude, cross, disobliging, rich, handsome, and possessed of a Very Bad Reputation.  He comes to Bath to find out what's going on with Lucilla, and he and Annis get into a series of Extremely Witty Arguments.  And everyone knows that a series of Extremely Witty Arguments can only lead to one result.

It really is as if Emma Woodhouse from Emma had fallen in love with Mr. Palmer from Sense and Sensibility.  Can you hear me cackling with Glee?  I cackled with Glee a good deal while reading this book, I assure you.  And chortled.  Possibly even guffawed once or twice.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Particularly Good Bits:

"We can't all of us be bookish, can we?" (p. 45).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some occasional, mild oaths and some mentions of Mr. Carleton's reputation for dallying with women.  Oh, and the word "rape" got used twice, in the context of it being something someone was NOT in danger of.

This is my 12th book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge this year.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman" by Dorothy Sterling

I got a copy of this from a yard sale when I was a kid, and I read it and read it and read it and read it.  Harriet Tubman was a big hero for me -- I bonded to her stubbornness, I think.

Anyway, I went to see Harriet (2019) this weekend (my review here), and it made me want to re-read this book so that I could reacquaint myself with the truth of her story, since I knew the moviemakers were smooshing things together and reimagining some of her life.  So I re-read it this afternoon, and I loved it all over again.

If you're looking for a good place to start in learning about Harriet Tubman's life, or if you want your kids to know more about her, this is the book for you.  It's awesome.  It touches on the evils of slavery in ways that kids can understand, it shows Harriet's faith in God and her indomitable drive to be free.  And it gives you a great sense of how she wanted freedom for her people so much, she was willing to risk recapture and even death to help as many as she could to reach freedom too.

This is written like a story or novel, not a dry recitation of facts, which makes it very readable and enjoyable.  I loved it as a kid, and I love it now.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for a couple mild cuss words and depictions of violence such as beatings.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Cover Reveal for "Dear Author" by Laura A. Grace

I've hung out with Laura A. Grace online for a while now.  She blogs, she's on Instagram, she's on Facebook -- we run in the same online literary circles, basically.

And now, she's written a book.

But not just any book.  Not a novel about unicorns or quests, oh no.

Laura has written a book that is a love letter to authors.  That takes a look at different aspects of the writing journey and encourages writers who might be in one or more of those stages.  It's SUCH a cool idea for a book.  I kind of wish I'd thought of it.  I can't wait to read it.

And today, I have the honor of participating in her cover reveal.  All right, let's do this!  Are you ready?  I hope so, cuz this cover is super cute.

SEE?  Super. Cute.

Here's the official cover blurb:

Think your words might not matter? Think again.

Words have the power to change lives, especially when they are used to create meaningful 
stories. In this collection of letters, bookish fangirl Laura A. Grace addresses topics related to every writer’s journey. From “character conversations,” to embracing one’s unique writing style, to celebrating a release day—there is a letter for every author no matter where they may be in sharing their story with others.

“Dear Author” includes six illustrations by Hannah S. J. Williams.

You can pre-order Dear Author now, and its official release date is December 3.

Important Links for Purchasing and So On
Signed PaperbackAmazonBarnes & Noble — Book Depository (Coming soon!)

Also, if you pre-order her book, she'll send you a bunch of cool stuff.  What kind?  THIS kind! 

Go to her Pre-Order Goodies Form to get in on all that.

Laura A. Grace did a cover reveal video on her YouTube channel today, which you can watch here:

About the Author
Laura A. Grace had a lifelong dream of getting to know authors behind the covers of her favorite reads. Little did she know that one day she would become an author too! Now an avid book blogger at Unicorn Quester and writer of clean, Christian manga, Laura creatively balances her passions of supporting indie authors and feeding her readers new stories. In between, she wields plastic lightsabers with her children and binge-watches anime with her husband. Join her quest to find wandering unicorns for your favorite authors at!

Laura's Social Media Links
WebsiteNewsletterFacebook — TwitterInstagramYouTube