Wednesday, December 30, 2020

"A Holiday by Gaslight" by Mimi Matthews

What a fun finale to my Christmas reading this year!  I polished off this novella in about a day, and it was like a nice dessert -- satisfying, but not over-satiating.  It has a little bit of a North and South flavor to it, intentionally, with a young lady falling for a man in trade.  I'm going to be rereading Gaskell's book in February, and this nicely got me in the mood for that.

In this case, the young lady is being courted by a merchant who is stiff and formal around her, causing her to misunderstand the level of his affection for her.  She breaks off their courtship, but has second thoughts and tries to get to know him while he spends the Christmas holidays with her family.  It was fun, generally clean, and I enjoyed it.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some old-fashioned swear words, mentions of a man admiring a woman's figure, and a few detailed kisses.  Tiptoes along the line of clean or not, and mostly stays on the clean side.


This was my 5th Christmas book read and reviewed for the Literary Christmas reading link-up and my 57th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020!!!  I was really only hoping to read 24 off my shelves, and then I kept upping my goal whenever I hit my new one, and yeah... I am agog.  Now if only I hadn't bought nearly 50 books this year, this would mean I cleared off a couple of shelves!  But, there's always next year, right?

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

My Favorite Reads in 2020

Time for an end-of the-year reading wrap-up!  I'm linking up with Top Ten Tuesday from That Artsy Reader Girl for this.  

As has been my habit for the last few years, I'm doing two lists, my top ten new reads and my top ten rereads.  If you want to see my previous lists, they're all on this page.  

If I reviewed a book this year, I've linked the title to that review.  There are a few here that I've reviewed previously and didn't review again this year -- you can look up my previous reviews in my review lists if you want.

Okay, on to the fun!

New Reads

(Yes, I listed three books all together in one slot.  They form one cohesive story, so I figure that's fair.)

1. Christmas with Anne by L. M. Montgomery (G) -- a collection of short Christmas stories (not about Anne), plus two sections from the Anne books that are about Christmas.

2. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (G) -- four tired British women rent an Italian villa and change their outlooks on life.

3. The Two Blue Doors trilogy (book 1, book 2, book 3) by Hillary Manton Lodge (PG/PG13/PG13) -- a restaurateur and a doctor start a long-distance relationship and travel to France and Italy. This trilogy made Lodge an auto-buy author for me.

4. Marsalis on Music by Wynton Marsalis (G) -- a fun and fascinating exploration in which the famed jazz trumpet player guides children and adults alike through the forms and functions of music.

5. Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd (PG) -- magical realism involving dust monsters, flying horses, and people who can weave starlight.

6. Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker (R) -- my new headcanon for what Edward Rochester's life was like before he met Jane Eyre, while he knew Jane initially, and how everything ends up.

7. Aslan's World by Angus Menuge (G) -- a Bible study that explores Biblical themes in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

8. Rook di Goo by Jenni Sauer (PG-13) -- quirky sci-fi with a found family, Cinderella overtones, and a beautiful depiction of living with clinical anxiety.

9. Old Ramon by Jack Schaefer (PG) -- quiet story of a boy learning about life from an old mann two dogs, and a herd of sheep.

10. The Secret in the Tower by Charity Bishop (PG-16) -- Katherine of Aragon seeks to remain in England after the death of her husband, Prince Arthur, and various political machinations arise from the situation. Also, Thomas Lovell continues to be awesome in this installment of the Tudor Throne series.


Rereads

(You will note that two books tie for second place and two for sixth.)

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (PG) -- my favorite novel.  A young woman continually resists men's efforts to control her, and obeys God and her own conscience instead.

2. The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery (PG) -- a downtrodden young woman finds a new zest for living when she learns that she is dying.  Also, this book has my favorite fictional romantic hero in it.

2. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (G) -- a loquacious orphan gets adopted by an old-fashioned woman and her shy brother.  No one is ever the same again. 

4. Persuasion by Jane Austen (G) -- a woman and man who had once been engaged, then broke up, learn that second chances are a beautiful thing.

5. All the Mowgli Stories by Rudyard Kipling (G) -- adventures of a boy and his animal friends.  Also includes the story about Mowgli as an adult, which I'd never read before!

6. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (PG) -- a na├»ve young woman makes new friends and learns that not everyone is as nice as they seem to be (but if a guy acts like a jerk, he's totally a jerk).

6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (PG) -- two people keep insisting they don't like each other even though they actually do like each other, a lot.

8. The Princess Bride by William Goldman (PG-13) -- true love, death, resurrection, pirates, the greatest swordsman of all time, a giant, the most beautiful girl in the world, a prince, a six-fingered man, a Sicilian, and the fire swamp.  You think this happens every day?

9. Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery (G) -- a girl gets to know her father and, at the same time, figures out who she is too.

10. All-of-a-Kind Family by Sidney Taylor (G) -- a Jewish family in turn-of-the-century NYC with lots of kids who have adventures.


This was a wonderful year of reading!  I read 94 books (new personal adult record!), I discovered some new favorite authors (Hillary Manton Lodge and Elizabeth Von Arnim), and it was just altogether a lovely year, book-wise.  

Saturday, December 26, 2020

"Hercule Poirot's Christmas" by Agatha Christie

I have discovered a newfound appreciation for Hercule Poirot over the last couple years.  I entirely blame Kenneth Branagh and his 2017 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express.  

I read almost this whole book yesterday, and it was great fun!  I mean, great fun considering it's a book about a severely dysfunctional family and murder and so on.

Poirot isn't even in the first third or so of this book, which is all about this old man and his children, most of whom hate each other.  The old man gets killed, Poirot and some British policemen get called in to solve the crime, and the rest of the book is about that.

This was a fast read, and I'm happy to say I did not solve the crime before the hero did, which is the sort of mystery I like best.

Particularly Good Bits: 

"I believe the present matters -- not the past!  The past must go.  If we seek to keep the past alive, we end, I think, by distorting it.  We see it in exaggerated terms -- a false perspective" (p. 33).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for a lot of talk about a man having illegitimate children through his many love affairs, and a pretty gory murder.

This was my 4th book read and reviewed for the Literary Christmas reading link-up hosted by In the Bookcase, my 13th for my third Classics Club list, and my 51st for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

"Yuletide: A Jane Austen-Inspired Collection of Stories" edited by Christina Boyd

This was a diverting collection of short Christmas stories.  They all center around Pride and Prejudice, which I didn't realize at first -- I thought there would be a mix of all of Austen's novels, but nope, all P&P.  Some of the stories retold Pride and Prejudice in a modern setting.  Others were a Christmasy sequel to the book.  Still others wrote an alternate version of the book where Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy fell in love in a different way from the original.  Many of the stories were good, a couple were great, and some were only okay.

My favorites were, in order of how they appear in the book:

"The Forfeit" by Caitlin Williams -- Mr. Darcy is stranded near Meryton at Christmas and must spend the holiday with the Bennet family while waiting for the weather to clear.  During the festivities, he and Elizabeth spend a great deal of time together, much to their mutual satisfaction.  (An alternate ending for P&P)

"By a Lady" by Lona Manning -- Elizabeth Darcy endeavors to make friends with her husband's cousin, Anne, and they discover a mutual interest in books.  (A sequel to P&P)

"The Season for Friendly Greetings" by Anngela Schroeder -- Lizzy and Jane Bennet attend a ball and get to know Col. Fitzwilliam and learn the truth about a mutual acquaintance, Mr. Wickham, thus learning to understand and appreciate another mutual acquaintance, Mr. Darcy.  (An alternate ending for P&P)

(From my Instagram)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some stories and PG-13 for others.  The modern-set ones are more PG-13 and the Regency ones are more PG.

This is my third book read and reviewed for the Literary Christmas Reading Link-Up hosted by In the Bookcase and my 50th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020

Thursday, December 17, 2020

"We are the Ship: The Story of Negro Baseball" by Kadir Nelson

This book was awesome!  If you'd like to learn more about Black baseball athletes and the history of American baseball in general, this middle-grade nonfiction book will give you a great overview.  If you've seen Ken Burns' documentary Baseball, you'll be familiar with some of the names here, but I expect that you still will learn quite a bit of new info from it.  I certainly did!

I feel like most people only know about Jackie Robinson being the first Black baseball player to break the color barrier, but not about all the other Black baseball players who came before him.  I myself know Robinson's story pretty well -- I really love his autobiography, I Never Had it Made, and the biopic 42 (2013) with the late Chadwick Boseman playing Jackie Robinson.  So I loved the chapter that told some of his story in this, but I also loved that it did not spend the whole time talking about him, because Robinson's story is not the whole story.

Not only does Kadir Nelson tell this history in an engaging way, using a first-person voice to pull the reader close, but his breathtaking full-page illustrations fill this book to bursting with wonderful visuals too.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG.  No bad words or objectionable content, though it does mention that some players would curse or chase women or smoke or drink.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

"A House to Let" by Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Adelaide Anne Proctor, and Wilkie Collins

 

Well, this was an interesting premise for a novella, anyway.  Charles Dickens and his writer friends Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Adelaide Anne Proctor all got together to write a book in several pieces that got stitched together later with a narrative framework.

It begins with "Over the Way," co-authored by Dickens and Collins, which tells of an elderly woman who moves to London and becomes fascinated by the house across the street from her new home.  It's up for rent, or "to let," and she thinks it contains a mystery, so she asks her butler and an old friend to both find out the history of the house.

Elizabeth Gaskell picks up the story with "The Manchester Marriage," which is part of the house's history, all about a widow who remarries a kind man, but inadvertently causes heartache.

Charles Dickens adds to the house's history with "Going into Society," about sideshow performers who turned the house into an attraction for a time (think The Greatest Showman).  One of them tries buying his way into society, but discovers that society only wanted to be friends with his money, not him.

Adelaide Anne Proctor continues the list of unhappy happenings with a series of narrative poems called "Three Evenings in the House" about a woman who continually gives up her own chances at happiness to help her brother.

Proctor's other contribution, "Trottle's Report," brings in the current history of the house and the mysterious goings on there.  Another tragedy is in the works, but perhaps it can be averted!

Dickens and Collins end the whole story together with "Let at Last," which does at least have a happy ending, so the whole thing ends on a good note.

Having different authors for the different bits gives them the flavor of being stories told to the characters by very different people, which worked very well for this sort of story -- better than I expected it to, in fact!  I liked "Going into Society" best, I think, because it didn't end totally sadly, but more in a realistically melancholy sort of way.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some sadness, deaths, and child abuse of the sort you commonly find in Dickens.

Several of the stories-within-the-story take place around Christmas, as does the main narrative that frames them, so this is technically a Christmas story, and thus it is my 2nd book read for the Literary Christmas reading link-up hosted by In the Bookcase.  It's also the 11th for my 3rd Classics Club list and my 49th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Monday, December 14, 2020

"Christmas with Anne" (and Other Holiday Stories) by L. M. Montgomery

This is a book I hugged.  I think it may even have edged out Tolkien's Letters from Father Christmas as my favorite Christmas book.

It's a collection of short Christmastime stories by L. M. Montgomery, along with the Christmas parts of two different Anne books, Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Windy Poplars.  Those happen to be my two favorite Anne books, and I'm starting to wonder if the inclusion of Christmas in them might be part of why they're my favorites.

Anyway, not every story in this is perfectly, incandescently wonderful... but several of them are, and the others are enjoyable too.  Several of them brought tears to my eyes, and several made me laugh aloud.  

Mine from my Instagram account

My favorites, besides the Anne chapters, were "Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas Basket" and "The Josephs' Christmas," with "Christmas at Red Butte," "The End of the Young Family Feud," and "Ida's New Year Cake" rounding out my top five.

If you love heartwarming stories of good people sharing joy with each other, bringing comfort and cheer to others, or making peace with someone at last, then you will doubtless enjoy these as much as I did.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Clean and wholesome.

This is my 48th book read for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020, my 10th for my 3rd Classics Club list, and my first for this year's Literary Christmas link-up from In the Bookcase.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The 12 Days of Christmas Book Tag

I created this tag for movies on my other blog last year and realized that it would work beautifully for books too, so I'm doing it all over again, but here on this blog this year!  

All pictures are mine from my bookstagram account My reviews are linked to titles where applicable :-)  

Rules: 

#1 Use a different movie for each prompt 
#2 Add photos and/or explanations of how your choices fit the prompts 
#3 Tag a few friends to play along 

(They're more like guidelines, actually. Just so you know.) 

1. A Partridge in a Pear Tree -- book that involves agriculture 

Shane by Jack Schaefer is about a farming family that befriends a lonely gunman, and the ways they help each other.  I love it more every time I reread it.



2. Turtledoves -- book about a long-lasting relationship 

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott shows Jo and Frederich Bhaer's lovely marriage off in such wonderful ways.  They're one of my favorite fictional married couples.


3. French Hens -- book that takes place in France 

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas takes place pretty much entirely in France.  AND it's my second-favorite book of all time.



4. Calling Birds -- book where people talk on the phone 

Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George has several instances of people talking to each other on that newfangled device, the telephone.



5. Golden Rings -- book with multiple romances 

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen has a whole lot of romances in it!  Two for one sister, in fact.


6. Geese A-laying -- book with a birth or that features babies 

Anne's House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery involves Anne and Gilbert welcoming their first baby.  It's beautiful, but bittersweet.



7. Swans A-swimming -- book where someone goes swimming 

A Room with a View by E. M. Forster has a very memorable scene involving a bunch of guys swimming out in a pond in the woods.


8. Maids A-milking -- book with cows 

Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery is about a girl who must overcome her fear of cows.  I mean, there's more to the book than just that, but those cows are a pretty important part.



9. Ladies Dancing -- book with a dance scene 

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis has a big ball toward the end that is a high point of the whole book.



10. Lords A-leaping -- book about athletes 

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton isn't exactly about athletes, but Ponyboy is on the track team at his high school.



11. Pipers Piping -- book with someone playing a musical instrument 

A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White is all about musicians, especially two particular violinists.


12. Drummers Drumming -- book with characters in the military

Soldier On by Vanessa Rasanen is about a man in the military and the wife he leaves behind when he's deployed.


Now it's your turn!  I tag:


If YOU want to do this tag too, feel free!  Here are the questions, for anyone who's going to do this:

1. A Partridge in a Pear Tree -- book that involves agriculture 
2. Turtledoves -- book about a long-lasting relationship 
3. French Hens -- book that takes place in France 
4. Calling Birds -- book where people talk on the phone 
5. Golden Rings -- book with multiple romances 
6. Geese A-laying -- book with a birth or that features babies 
7. Swans A-swimming -- book where someone goes swimming 
8. Maids A-milking -- book with cows 
9. Ladies Dancing -- book with a dance scene 
10. Lords A-leaping -- book about athletes 
11. Pipers Piping -- book with someone playing a musical instrument 
12. Drummers Drumming -- book with characters in the military

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Christmas Reads: A List

(My picture from my Instagram account.)

I thought it might be fun to round up all the Christmas books I've reviewed here over the past few years.  If you're looking for something festive to read this December, maybe one of these will strike your fancy!

You'll discover that I didn't love all of these, by the way.  But I did love several, and liked many more.

Children's Books

Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti, illustrated by Michele Lemieux


Fiction

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

Blessed are the Cheesemakers by Tricia Goyer and Cara Putman

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The Innkeeper's Wife by Savannah Jezowski

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans

Nutcracker and the Mouseking by ETA Hoffmann

Old West Christmas Brides by Rosey Dow, Marcia Gruver, et. al.

The Quiet Little Woman by Louisa May Alcott

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

The Tale of the Nutcracker by Alexandre Dumas

Where Treetops Glisten by Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Sarah Sundin

A Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs


Nonfiction

Christmas in Williamsburg by K.M. Kostyal and Lori Epstein

Christmas: The Coloring Book of Cards and Envelopes by Rebecca Jones

Monday, December 7, 2020

"Jamaica Inn" by Daphne du Maurier

What is the point of this book supposed to be?  I don't even know.  Maybe that smugglers are evil?  I can get behind that.  But man, that's about all I can get behind for this book.

It starts out when a young woman named Mary Yellan's mother dies, leaving her to the care of her aunt and uncle.  She's never met her uncle, but she remembers her aunt as a happy, carefree, lovely woman and thinks it will be nice to live with her.

Hey, guess what?  Her aunt married a foul, vile smuggler and lives in a derelict place on the Cornish moors called Jamaica Inn.  Her life is now a pit of despair.  Mary could just run away from the suffering and evil that she finds there, but she wants to rescue her aunt, which is commendable.  Only instead of rescuing her, she kind of just hangs around despising her.

Then Mary meets Jem, her uncle's younger brother.  Jem is a weird mixture of nice and nasty -- he's not a smuggler, he's a horse thief, which is obviously so much better.  And he's generally kind and decent to Mary, except when he's making fun of her.  I don't like Mary, but I really don't like Jem.

Oh, and then there's the rector in the next village, an albino named Mr. Davey.  SPOILER ALERT: He turns out to be the most evil of all of the characters.  I am so ridiculously tired of ministers turning out to be bad guys, y'all.  Maybe in 1936, this was not such a hackneyed thing, but I'm not sure.  And why are people with albinoism always ending up being villains too?  I can't think of a single good albino character in book or film, but I can think of several bad ones (especially in the movies The Princess Bride and The Da Vinci Code).  Grrr.

But the thing that bugged me the most about this book was the attitude toward being a woman that du Maurier gave Mary.  She was constantly railing internally about how people didn't take her seriously or treat her fairly because she was a woman and they viewed women as illogical and weak and passive... and then she would turn right around and do something illogical or weak or passive.  And she would deride herself for having emotional reactions to things like near-death experiences -- you're in shock, Mary!  That has nothing to do with being female or male!  I don't know, it was just weird how du Maurier seemed to be decrying the attitudes toward women in the 1800s, but she constantly reinforces the stereotypes she's supposedly angry with.  I don't get it.

So, yeah... I actively disliked this book.  I'm sorry if you really like it, cuz I know a lot of people do, but I didn't like a single character in it, and it annoyed me repeatedly.  I will say, though, that the last 75 pages or so were very gripping, and I finished the book because I just had to find out how it all ended, so that aspect of the writing, I can respect, anyway.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for violence, passionate kisses, and descriptions of people dying in pretty horrible ways.

This is my 9th book read and reviewed for my 3rd Classics Club list and my 48th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Joining A Literary Christmas Challenge 2020

I'm joining the Literary Christmas Challenge hosted by In the Bookcase again this year.  I love this event!  I'm already reading my first Christmasy book, so I'm sure I'll be posting a review of it soon.  If you want to join this event too, just click here to visit the official kick-off post.

I plan to read the following books:

  • Christmas with Anne by L. M. Montgomery
  • A House to Let by Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, et. al.
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I might read more than that to, but we'll see how the month goes!

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

"Marsalis on Music" by Wynton Marsalis


I bought this book on Ebay on a whim while looking for something completely unrelated for my kids for school.  I've been a fan of Wynton Marsalis ever since we watched Ken Burns' documentary Jazz (2001) years and years ago.  I'm a sucker for a good trumpet player, and Marsalis is all that and more.  So I thought hey, this might be a cool book to use for my kids.  The seller said it came with the companion CD with listening cues, which sounded cool.

What the seller didn't say?  This book is autographed by Wynton Marsalis himself.  You should have heard me shriek when I got it in the mail and discovered that little fact!!!

I started to flip through this over the weekend, to see how I could use it for school, and which of my kids it would work for.  And guess what?  I ended up reading the whole thing, cover to cover.  It is fantastic!  What's more, it taught me a whole lot of things.  I've been playing the piano since I was six years old, I've played flute in a college band, I've sung in college choirs and college musicals, and I've loved music for longer than I can actually remember.  I've taken courses on it, I've taught my kids to play piano, and I consider myself a more-than-averagely musical person.  But brother, did I ever learn stuff from this book!  Like, I never knew that a sonata and a symphony are the same musical form, it's just that if an orchestra plays it, it's a symphony, but if only one or two instruments play it, it's a sonata.  Say what?  I did not know that.  Wow.

Anyway.  In this book, Marsalis explains in kid-friendly ways the concepts of rhythm and form, the history of band music in America, and tips and tricks to make practicing really work for you.  He also has biographies of notable composers whose music he describes and discusses.  This is a companion to a PBS series of the same name, and man, would I like to see that!  Unfortunately, it's kind of expensive now, so I'll have to keep my eye out for a reasonable used copy, I suppose.  Meanwhile, I will be using this book and its CD with all of my kids later this month, as a fun break from some of our more textbook-based subjects as Christmas approaches.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Meant for and suitable for kids, but good reading for adults too.

This is my 46th book read for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

"Aslan's World" by Angus Menuge

I. Loved. This. Book.

This Bible study is broken into six sections that each tackle some part of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and the Biblical truths that are presented fictionally by C. S. Lewis in that book.  I learned a lot from it, and I'm going to have my son use it for school later this year.  It's aimed at probably middle school on up, but younger kids could get a lot from it too, with more help from an adult or parent.  

There's a leader guide at the back with some explanations and answers, and also a list of additional resources for those looking to dig deeper.  My Christmas wish list just got longer, friends.

This was published in 2006 in book form, but it's out of print now, except as a downloadable Bible study offered by Concordia Publishing House.  However, you can find used copies other places.  I heartily recommend it for anyone who wants to dig deeper into the first Narnia book, or the Narnia world as a whole.

This has been another book read for My Year with C.S. Lewis, and also my 44th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Monday, November 23, 2020

"Tales of the Black Widowers" by Isaac Asimov

My father-in-law recommended Isaac Asimov's mysteries starring the Black Widowers to me because he knows I like mysteries and he considers these some of the best.

Please note that my copy of this book had a much bigger picture of a spider on the cover and I had to cover it with a sticky note so I could read it in comfort.  Ugh.  I wish I would have had this much smaller spider picture, though I probably would have put a sticky note over it too.

Annnnnyway, this was a pretty entertaining collection of stories.  The Black Widowers are a bunch of men in and around NYC who get together once a month to have dinner in a restaurant's private room, no women allowed.  One month, one of them tells the others about a mystery they can't solve.  Their waiter, Henry, solves it.  Next month, same thing.  Every month, one of them presents a problem or puzzle or mystery, and Henry the waiter inevitably solves it.  It's a cute premise for a short story series.  And some of the mysteries were quite clever.  

But I figured out a third of them before they ended, and I'm always a bit dissatisfied if I figure out a mystery before the reveal.  It feels like I've been cheated, somehow.  You see, I don't TRY to figure it out.  But if the answer is there, jumping out at me, well, then I feel like the author could have done better, I'm afraid.

Also, I didn't really like most of the characters.  Many of them were rude or unkind to each other, and the only one I liked much was Henry.  But we never got to know Henry at all, he's always in the background, and so I couldn't connect with him, even though I would have liked to.  I can see why f-i-l likes these, as they're very cerebral little puzzles, but I need more than that from a mystery to make me like it enough to want to read more in the series.  So I'm going to see if he wants my copy of this and one of the follow-up volumes that I also had picked up at a used book store at some point.

And that means I got TWO books off my unread shelves by reading one!  This is my 43rd book read for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020, huzzah.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some mild curse words and mild innuendo in dialog, and for some discussions of crimes, including murder.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

"A Very Bookish Thanksgiving" by Kelsey Bryant, Sarah Holman, J. Grace Pennington, Rebekah Jones, and Amanda Tero

This is a charming collection of five novellas, each revolving around a different classic book, and each centered around giving thanks for blessings, especially on Thanksgiving Day.  If you're looking for something clean and heartwarming to read as you prepare for Thanksgiving yourself, this is a great pick!  I can't think of many books that revolve around Thanksgiving, so it was really refreshing and different that way.

A Promise of Acorns by Kelsey Bryant and A Fine Day Tomorrow by Amanda Tero were definitely my favorites here, but all five stories were enjoyable.  I handed this to my 13-yr-old son when I was almost done with it, and he liked it a lot too.

A Promise of Acorns by Kelsey Bryant is about a young nanny at her first real nannying job, caring for two grandchildren of a reserved and remote art professor.  He asks her to teach his grandchildren about Thanksgiving traditions, and all of them learn many things by the end of the story.  This one is inspired by Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

As Long as I Belong by Sarah Holman is about a young woman with a less-than-ideal family life who is befriended by another family.  As she grows up, she grows closer to one of their sons while working together on the family campground/pumpkin patch, but newcomers make her feel unwelcome, and she wonders if it's time to move on with her life.  This one is inspired by Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.  This was my son's favorite.

The Windles and the Lost Boy by Rebekah Jones is about a trio of siblings who help protect a runaway boy with the help of a mysterious man with a reputation for helping lost people.  This one is inspired by Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, and was my son's other favorite.

Grand Intentions by J. Grace Pennington is about a young woman who dreams of being an author, but whose life always seems to get in the way of her having the time to write.  When her grandmother asks her to house-sit for her while she goes on a long trip, the girl believes she'll finally have time to really write.  But she learns that the lack of time is not what's holding her back.  This one is inspired by Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

A Fine Day Tomorrow by Amanda Tero is the only piece of historical fiction here.  Set during WWI and the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919, it follows four sisters as they struggle with many troubles both personal and societal.  Their father is a chaplain in the army, and one sister's fiance is also in the army.  The story focuses on that sister and her attempts to help others despite not being quite healthy and strong herself.  This novella has a lot of heartbreak, but also a lot of hope and love and joy.  And, since we're still battling our own pandemic, it's a timely read as well.  This one is inspired by Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

I loved the idea for this anthology, of not so much retelling classic books as using them to highlight similar struggles that the characters in these stories face.  Each book plays a role in the story it inspired, which was also a neat touch.  

This is a "limited edition" collection, which I assume means it will not be available forever.  It also appears that there will be more collections in the works! You can learn more from the Instagram account A Very Bookish Holiday.

(Mine from my Instagram account)

Particularly Good Bits:

What a pity I wasn't in a novel where my author fed me words woven with pen, ink, and contemplation (p. 45, A Promise of Acorns by Kelsey Bryant).

While some might find sewing the same thing over and over a boring, tedious job, Essie enjoyed the monotony. She found an odd comfort in the little, reliable things in life. A quarter-inch seam was a quarter-inch seam. Its plans wouldn't be changed (p. 365, A Fine Day Tomorrow by Amanda Tero).

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

This is my 42nd book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

"Over the Moon" by Natalie Lloyd

How ridiculous of me to have this book sitting on my unread shelves for a whole year.  I kept wanting to read it and always having some other thing I "needed" to read, like a book for a book club or a buddy read, or something due at the library, or whatever.

Well, anyway, I've read it at last.  And I loved it.  I didn't love it for like the first two-thirds of the book, I just liked it a lot, but that ending!  I had tears in my eyes repeatedly during the last couple of chapters.

Twelve-year-old Mallie lives in a mining town that has lost hope.  And lost light.  They live in a gloom caused by mysterious dust that blocks out the sun.  Monsters prowl the woods, scaring children and keeping people from trying to leave.  Once, their world had magic, light, and joy, but now it is a place of creeping despair.

Until.

Until Mallie and her friends take on a dangerous mission, uncover some highly unpleasant truths, and soar above the gloom and fear that has consumed their lives.  

Also, this book has flying horses, and I LOVE FLYING HORSES.  They aren't in nearly enough books, and I'm so glad this book has them :-)

Particularly Good Bits:

I'm still learning many things about myself, but I already know this much: I'm wild and brave on the inside, a fire-popper in a glass jar (p. 7).

As sure as I know my name, I also know this much is true: I am still brave enough to dream (p. 16).

Denver takes my hand, and it's a perfect fit, a key inside a trusted lock (p. 28).

"You," I breathe, "are wonderwow" (p. 82).

"It's a pet peeve of mine, when people say girlish or boyish like it's an actual insult" (p. 163).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for danger, peril, some scary monsters, and abusive behavior toward children.

This is my 40th book read from my unread shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020!!!  And that was one of my goals for that challenge!  My other goal is to have 12 fewer unread books OVERALL in my house by the end of the year, and I'm still working on that one...

Saturday, November 7, 2020

"The Long Winter" by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Any time I start to feel like my life is horribly hard, I need to reread this book.  Covid and lockdowns and cancelled plans and no vacations are hard, yeah... but I'm not watching my kids slowly starve.  I'm not twisting hay into sticks to keep my house just warm enough so that my family can starve instead of freeze to death.  I'm not facing down day after day of numbing misery while trying to keep the spirits of my children from faltering.

I can barely imagine the kind of fortitude.  I don't think anyone in this country really can anymore.

I read this aloud to my husband and kids this fall.  My husband has never read these books, and he's more engrossed in them than my kids are.  That makes it extra fun for me as a reader :-)

Particularly Good Bits:

"We wouldn't do much if we didn't do things that nobody ever heard of before" (p. 32).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Although the subject matter is heavy, it's written in a non-scary way.


This is my 8th book read for my third Classics Club list.

Monday, October 26, 2020

"Dracula" by Bram Stoker

An appropriate read for October, don't you think?

I first read Dracula in May of 2000 while on tour in Canada with my college's choir.  I was freshly in love with the TV show Angel and its titular vampire hero, and I decided I ought to read the greatest vampire novel of all time.

Maybe this is not a good book to read while riding on a bus for hour after hour.  Or while missing your first real boyfriend, whom you've been dating for like a month.  Or when you're twenty.  I don't know.  I just remember thinking this book was boring and being mad because my favorite character died.

Reading it again at age 40, after spending half my life intrigued by vampires, but also after having read a whole lot more Victorian fiction?  I reeeeeally dug it.  Boring?  Not at all!  I found it tense and fast-paced, with a excellent suspense that mounted page after page.

And this time, my favorite character didn't die.  Because this time, my favorite character was Abram Van Helsing.  (Sorry, Texan.)  My goodness, what a fount of courage, knowledge, and resourcefulness!  I've never been prouder to be half Dutch.

I really liked the epistolary format that Stoker uses, because it made this feel like everything was happening right now.  Very immediate, and great for building suspense toward the end as different characters told what they were doing, and you know what was happening to others, but they didn't.

(My photo from my Instagram account.)

Particularly Good Bits:

The real God taketh heed lest a sparrow fall; but the god created from human vanity sees no difference between an eagle and a sparrow (p. 142).

What a fine fellow is Quincey!  I believe in my heart of hearts that he suffered as much about Lucy's death as any of us; but he bore himself through it like a moral Viking (p. 238).

We are all drifting reefwards now, and faith is our only anchor (p. 424).

How can women help loving men when they are so earnest, and so true, and so brave! (p. 486)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for scary situations, suspense, and some icky stuff about eating bugs and spiders, plus quite a lot of blood.  It's not gory or graphic like a modern horror novel or thriller, but it's intense sometimes.

This was my seventh book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list.

Friday, October 23, 2020

"A Man Called Peter" by Catherine Marshall

This is a loving tribute of a biography.  Catherine Marshall, famous to us today for her novel Christy, wrote the story of her husband Peter Marshall's life after he passed away, publishing it two years after he died.  It traces his growth from a Scottish boy working in a factory to his calling to become a minister in America, on through his schooling here in the US and his career as a minister that eventually led to his being the chaplain for the U.S. Senate.  

I think both Marshalls had beautiful faith, and I think I would have liked them both as people.  I really enjoyed this biography, though I'm not sure I would read it a second time.  But I'm eager to see the movie version now that I've read it, as it stars Richard Todd, an actor I'm quite fond of.  In fact, I read much of Peter Marshall's dialog in Todd's voice in my head because Todd has a delightful Scottish accent, which Marshall reportedly had also.

I must confess that I did not read the sermons and prayers included at the end of this book.  As is to be expected, since I am a Lutheran and they were Presbyterians, I did not agree with some of the theology presented in the bulk of the biography, and did not feel like wading through sermons and prayers I would undoubtedly spend a lot of time disagreeing with.

Particularly Good Bits:

"But it's no sin to be tempted," Peter loved to say.  "It isn't the fact of having temptations that should cause us shame, but what we do with them.  Temptation is an opportunity to conquer" (p. 49).

Dreams carried around in one's heart for years, if they are dreams that have God's approval, have a way suddenly of materializing (p. 68).

"Lord, where we are wrong, make us willing to change, and where we are right, make us easy to live with" (p. 139).

Peter was exceedingly realistic and consistently Christian in his attitude toward death.  In his mind, the soul and the body were two completely separate things.  "You and I are souls," he reiterated frequently, "living in bodies" (p. 231).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Clean and lovely.


This is my sixth book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list, and also my 39th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Monday, October 12, 2020

"A Grief Observed" by C. S. Lewis

It's been a while since I read one of CS Lewis's books, and if I'm going to make my goal of reading six of them this year, I'm going to have to get reading, as I think this is only number four.  No, wait, we just finished listening to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe audiobook -- so this would make five.

Anyway, so, this is a really hard book to read.  It's excruciatingly personal.  Lewis was devastated by his wife Joy's death, and he wrote down his feelings and thoughts and questions and fears as he moved through the grieving process.  And then he shared them with us.  I'm glad this book is short, because there's so much raw pain in its pages, and I don't think I could have handled much more of it.

I am glad that Lewis was able to work through the spiritual crisis brought on by losing his wife, and that he shows others that just because you ask God a lot of hard questions doesn't mean you have lost your faith.  And also that just because you don't like what God seems to be giving you for answers also doesn't mean you're not still a Christian.  I think those are easy traps to fall into, and it's important to help people understand them.

But I don't think I will ever brave reading this book again.  I'm glad I did read it, though.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for dealing with some really hard situations that kids aren't going to want to read about anyway.  It's clean, it's just... heavy.


This is my 5th book read and reviewed for my third ride with the Classics Club and my 38th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

"If Only They Could Talk" by James Herriot

 If, like me, you see the title of this book and gasp, "Wait, there's another James Herriot book I haven't read yet?!?!?" let me allay your questions.  When the Herriot books were originally published in the UK, publishers in America thought they were too short to be a hit over here, so they combined short books into bigger ones and retitled them.  So If Only They Could Talk and the next UK book, It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, were combined into All Creatures Great and Small in the US, basically.

Anyway, I've read all of Herriot's books, but long ago.  Like, more than twenty years ago.  I'm teaching high school lit to another niece this year, and she likes animals, so I thought this might be a fun author for her to read.  But I didn't want to intimidate her with a big, thick book, so I got her this smaller one instead.  And got one myself, while I was at it, since I semi-collect these MacMillan Collector's Library editions.  They're so cute and pretty and fun to read and... yeah. 

Well, naturally I had to reread this book before I could teach it.  And I am happy to say that I loved it all over again.  Herriot had me laughing at least once a chapter.  Sometimes, I laughed so much, I had to put my book down and wipe my eyes.  I adore his humor, so dry and absurdity-based and British.  My goodness, what writing.

If you've never read these, I suppose you might want to know what they're about.  James Herriot (actually James Wight) was a veterinarian in Yorkshire, England.  In this book, he first arrives there, fresh out of veterinary school, and encounters many unusual people and many interesting veterinary cases.  Some of which are fairly serious, and others of which are simply funny.  (And some of which are pretty icky, so don't read it if you think animal poop is too gross to ever be mentioned in print.)

I always thought that these were strictly non-fiction, told in a funny way, but I learned recently that Herriot did fictionalize some of his stories.  And many of the ones that supposedly occur in the 1930s and '40s are based on things that actually happened in the '60s and '70s, when he was writing.  You know what?  I don't even care.  It's Herriot's writing that delights me, after all, not whether or not these things actually happened exactly as he sets them down.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for a lot more cussing than I remember.  Maybe they cleaned it up some for the American edition?



This is my 4th book read and reviewed for my third go-'round with the Classics Club.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

"To Tame a Land" by Louis L'Amour

So.  Um.  Hmm.

The thing is, I really quite liked this book until the last chapter ruined everything.  You've got a coming of age story where a guy called Rye starts out as a boy, and life is really hard because he loses both his parents young and in miserable ways, but he gets through that with the help of a nice guy named Logan who mentors him and kind of semi-adopts him until he's old enough to go out and be his own man.

And Rye does, he goes out and lives a full life on the frontier and does what he needs to survive, and he falls in love with a girl.  And he eventually gets a pretty steady job as a lawman and wants to go back and find that girl and see if she'll marry him.

All well and good.  I was 100% on board.  Good stuff.  Lovely character development.  Nice story arc.  Very episodic, but I like episodic.  Kind of ramble-y, especially for a L'Amour, but I like ramble-y.

And then, that last chapter.  

SPOILER ALERT: I am discussing the ending here and I am not going to pull punches and I am going to be crabby about it.

Yeah.  That last chapter.  When it turns out that -- surprise! -- the big crime boss that our hero has to go up against, the one that's been leading all the baddest of bad criminals in the area for a few years, and who has now kidnapped the woman Rye loves... is his old mentor, Logan.  Which, you know, that's a thing -- boy grows up and has to face the fact that the guy who raised him is not as heroic and wonderful as he remembered.  It's not a trope I generally like unless it's done just right, but it's a thing.  Oedipus and all that.  Whatever. 

Except it didn't make any sense.  Like, at all.  This mentor he had?  Logan?  Was a nice guy?  Yeah, he had to leave home back east fast after a duel, but he was clearly a good guy?  And got married to a really nice lady, and settled down, and was all set to continue being a good guy.  Only, unbeknownst to anyone until Logan tells Rye this at the end, his wife died a few years ago, in childbirth, and then, obviously, he turned to evil and became an outlaw kingpin because that completely makes sense.  Very logical.  Much natural reactionness occurring here.

WHAT THE HECKITY HECK HECK HECK?  

I mean, if his wife had died in a train wreck, and so he started robbing trains because he thought the train company had been at fault, that would make sense.  Or if his wife died during a bank robbery and the bankers cared more about the stolen money than her life, so he started robbing banks, yeah, okay.

She died in childbirth, y'all.  It happens.  Still today.  It is not a reason to go become a crime boss.

Sigh.

Yeah.  You can just see that L'Amour had this really great idea for a plot twist and he couldn't resist using it, and he tossed in the girl being wooed by both Rye and Logan to hammer the whole Oedipal thing home even harder, and... and I hate seeing the author working.  I should not be able to do that.  I should not, in the course of a book, see what the author is doing.  They must be invisible.  If I see them, they're doing it wrong.  And L'Amour is too doggone good for this kind of thing to just get shrugged off as, "Well, you know, the idea was good..."

Nope.  I'm not having it.  Sorry, folks.  I don't believe the character arc, I see the author tiptoeing around, and I am all kinds of disappointed.

The thing is, I realized after I'd finished the book that L'Amour had totally set up a different plot twist, and it would've been totally cool.  Logan had left the east after killing a guy in a duel over this rich girl Logan loved, but her family didn't want her to marry him.  And Rye's mom was a rich girl who married Rye's dad against her family's will and left them to be with him.  So... what if that was the same girl?  What if losing Logan made her determined not to let her family make her decisions for her anymore, and when she fell in love with another guy and her parents pulled that same stunt again, she just left?  And what if Rye looked enough like his mom that Logan was reminded of her, and so on?  I mean, Rye carries his mom's picture around with him forever, and Logan could even have seen it and known this was the son he almost had, and that's why he takes him in and everything, but he doesn't want to tell him until he's older, whatever.

But noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

(Happily, I read another L'Amour book right away and liked it heaps, so don't worry, I'm not going to quit reading him just because of one unsatisfactory ending.)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for western violence and peril to women and stuff like that.  And some low-level cussing.

This is my 37th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.