Monday, June 29, 2020

"The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" by Victor Hugo

Um, yeah.  So, the best thing I can say about this book is that, now that I've read it, I never have to read it again.

It's not that I don't enjoy tragedies.  I mean, this is the person who has seen nineteen different versions of Hamlet, many of them multiple times.  I like a good, sad story.

So it's not the tragicality that made me dislike this book.  It's the fatalism.  The bleak flavor that permeates it.  Hugo seems to be saying that fate dictates how everything will turn out, what everyone will do, and that is absolutely the opposite of my belief in the gift of free will.  The characters become puppets for the author to move around, and Hugo uses them to try to convey the idea that all people are puppets, jerked and shoved about by fate.

If fate dictates everything, there are no consequences for actions, no accountability.  Right and wrong are sapped of their meaning, and everything is dictated by the whim of some made-up, nameless, uncaring power.  Feh.

Even with the fatalism aside, this is a book full of people doing really stupid things that ::surprise!:: lead to bad results.  I hate that kind of tragedy.  I only enjoy tragedies that feel inevitable, where the events set in motion by the villains lead to sadness and badness that the heroes mitigate the best they can, but which eventually overwhelm them because they're flawed themselves.

(From my Instagram)

So, yeah.  I loved Les Miserables when I read that twenty years ago, and I'd like to revisit it one of these days.  But I have no desire or need to revisit The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.  Ever.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R for lascivious desires and intentions and behavior, scenes of torture and violence, and voyeurism. 

Some happy news!!!  This is my 50th book read and reviewed for my second go-'round with the Classics Club, which means it's my 100th book for the club as a whole!  I have sent up a third list of 50 books and will embark upon it in July.

This is also my 24th book read for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

"Chronicles of Avonlea" by L.M. Montgomery

How is it that I never read this book before?  Why, when I was first introduced to Anne of Green Gables as a child, didn't anyone say, "By the way, there are some books of short stories that have Anne Shirley and other characters in them too."  WHY?

Anyway.  I heartily enjoyed this sweet book.  It was just the antidote I needed when I was in the middle of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and getting somewhat depressed by it.  This book was like a balm.  I kind of wish I hadn't inhaled it in basically one afternoon, because I like to savor things, but the fact that I did that tells you just how much I needed it.

I don't think I have a favorite story in this.  I enjoyed them all -- some more than others, of course, but all of them were delightful.  I look forward to revisiting them.  There's a definite theme of "second chances" running through them.  Second chances at love, at a family, at happiness.  There are a lot of middle-aged people finding love for the first time or having love return to them after all hope of it had been lost.  I really liked that.

Particularly Good Bits:

He had learned the rare secret that you must take happiness when you find it -- that there is no use in marking the place and coming back to it at a more convenient season, because it will not be there then (p. 95-96).

The more I saw of men, the more I liked cats (p. 122).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G for good, wholesome, sweet, and lovely.

This is my 49th book read and reviewed for my second go-'round with the Classics Club!  One more book, and I'll have finished my second list of 50!!!

This is also my 23rd book read for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

"Desert Death Song" by Louis L'Amour

This is a collection of short stories by Louis L'Amour, many of which are not easy to find in book form because they were first published under his pen name Jim Mayo during the early part of his career.

Of these eleven stories, my favorites were:

+ "His Brother's Debt" -- a man is accused of being yellow so often, he convinces himself he must be even though he subconsciously has a very good reason for avoiding fights.

+ "Dutchman's Flat" -- a posse trails a man accused of murder and gradually comes to respect him and question whether he's guilty after all.

+ "Desert Death Song" -- a posse chases a man accused of robbery until he hides in the desert.

+ "Riding for the Brand" -- a stranger assumes the identity of a dead man in order to help honest folks keep a ranch out of the hands of bad guys.

+ "McQueen of the Tumbling K" -- bad guys do take over a ranch, but good guys get it back eventually.

Particularly Good Bits:

From the desert they had carved their homes, and from the desert they drew their courage and their code, and the desert knows no mercy ("Dutchman's Flat," p. 59).

It was a weird and broken land, where long fingers of black lava stretched down the hills and out into the desert as though clawing toward the alkali lake they had left behind ("Dutchman's Flat," p. 66).

He smiled into the darkness.  Since his early boyhood he had lived in proximity to death.  He was not foolhardy nor reckless, for a truly brave man was never reckless.  Yet he know that he could skirt the ragged edge of death, if need be, as he had in the past ("Riding for the Brand," p. 124).

Gunfighters are admired by many, respected by some, feared by all and welcomed by none ("Man Riding West," p. 167).

His was the grave, careful look of a man accustomed to his own company under the sun and in the face of the wind ("The Turkeyfeather Riders," p. 221).

Off to the right Iron Creek hustled over the stones, whispering wordless messages to the rocks on either bank ("The Turkeyfeather Riders," p. 232).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for western violence, occasional vague threats to womanly virtue, and maybe a few mild cuss words (I don't remember any for sure, but I finished reading this almost a week ago).

This is my 22nd book read off my TBR shelves for #theunreadshelfproject2020.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

"Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors" by Sonali Dev

Well, this was a roller coaster.  I actually had to put it down for a couple days because it was making me too tense!  Wow.  Been a while since I had a book do that.

Yes, this is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  Yes, it's set in the modern day, and it does a gender-swap on many of the characters, which was neat.  And yes, it was a lot more emotionally intense than I was expecting.

Indian-American neurosurgeon Trisha Raje can't stand DJ Caine, the brother of one of her patients AND the talented chef who is catering Trisha's brother's fundraising events.  Her brother is making a bid for the governorship of California.  DJ's sister Emma is about to die of a brain tumor that Trisha can remove, but only at the expense of Emma's sight.  Emma is an artist and is convinced she can't live without her sight.  DJ is convinced Trisha is an entitled jerk.  Trisha is convinced DJ is a judgmental jerk.  You see where this is going.

What made it all so extremely tense is Julia Wickham, formerly Trisha's college roommate, now trying to get revenge on all of Trisha's family and using DJ and Emma to do it.  She makes Mr. Wickham from P&P look like a nice guy, y'all.  I fear manipulative people like her, and she was so scary-real I had to take a break from reading.  But I did pick it up and finish it, never fear.

All the descriptions of food made me very hungry while reading this, even though I don't have a lot of experience with Indian food, so I just had to kind of imagine a lot of what the food discussed must have tasted like.  I really liked the characters and how the story ended, and the writing was very engaging.

(From my Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

"Guilt is a waste of time.  The fact that you have the things you have isn't wrong.  Not understanding what you have is" (p. 5).

Manners aren't about appearance at all... they are about kindness.  You put the other person's comfort before yours, that's good breeding (p. 279).

"Secrets can get heavy.... Undressing a secret makes it naked and takes away its power" (p. 376).

...he was starting to realize that escaping who you were wasn't the same as becoming who you wanted to be (p. 385).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R.  Very R.  Lots of adult dialog, discussions of sexual anatomy, some discussion of sexual activity (no detailed love scenes), and lots of bad language.  Adults only, kiddos.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

"One Bad Apple" Advance Reader Copies Now Available!

EDIT: All my copies are claimed!  You are so awesome!  
Thank you so much!!!

One Bad Apple releases on July 28, five weeks from today!  So it's high time to start rustling up some advance readers.  If you would like to receive an ARC, please fill out this Google Form.  I will not use the email address you provide there for any purpose other than to send you an email with information on how to download your free copy.  You will be able to download your copy by the end of June.

Like my previous books, this is around 250 pages. It's Christian fiction, aimed mostly at teen readers, but enjoyable for adults and some younger readers too. Like every book and story in my Once Upon a Western collection, One Bad Apple is a non-magical retelling of a fairy tale set in the Old West. This time, I'm retelling "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

I'm going to try something new this year.  Instead of me sending an e-copy to advance readers via email, I'm going to use the BookFunnel website.  This should streamline the process for me and help you be certain that any file you download is totally safe because it's from a respected website, not me sending it from my laptop.

I will not be providing unlimited e-copies for free, so this will be a first-come, first-served sort of thing.  Any questions?  Let me know in the comments here!

Stay tuned for information about my upcoming virtual book tour, a giveaway, and more!

Monday, June 22, 2020

"The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett

It's been decades since I read this book last.  I read it multiple times when I was a kid and in my teens, but haven't had time for it since.  Until now!  I nabbed one of the gorgeous hardcover copies from Barnes & Noble when they were having a sale and decided it would be a perfect book to read aloud to my kids.

And we definitely enjoyed it!  I had fun trying to do the Yorkshire accents (which I'm sure I butchered atrociously) and they had fun watching Mary and Colin turn from selfish brats into nice people.  Because I love gardening and my kids get to help me in our flower and vegetable gardens, they could relate really well to a lot of what happened in this book.

But I had either forgotten or just not paid attention to the mystical ideas of Magic in this book.  We had some good discussions about how Magic does not make flowers grow or people get well, and how misguided these poor kids were because the adults in their lives weren't teaching them the truth about God.  There's also an emphasis on the power of positive thinking, basically, and some pretty humanistic stuff about people becoming good by trying to be good.  I was a bit disappointed by all that, to be honest, as I hadn't remembered it at all.

Still, it's a lovely story of selfish people learning to care for things and people beyond themselves, and I do still enjoy it.

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

This is my 48th book read and reviewed for my second Classics Club list.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

"Light in the Dark Belt: The Story of Rosa Young as Told by Herself"

Rosa Young was born in poverty in Alabama in 1890.  Her parents were devout Christians; her father was an African Methodist pastor.  She grew up in what she calls a "log hut" (p. 19) with nine siblings. Though she had the opportunity to go to school on and off as a child, she learned more from her father's brother, who had attended Tuskegee Institute, than she did from the school teacher.  She later taught her siblings all she could at night after they worked on the family farm.

Young describes her childhood self as "sickly, suffering with rheumatism" (p. 22) that disabled her for a time.  She was strong enough as a teen to attend high school in Selma, AL, where she excelled despite being the poorest student in her class, and graduated as the valedictorian.  Though she believed in God and read the Bible, she says she didn't really understand how Jesus's death and resurrection had anything to do with her personally at that time.

Rosa Young wanted to teach, for she saw much ignorance and misunderstanding in the lives of the people she grew up with, and she wanted to help other Black people.  So she started a school near her home and, for several years, she was very successful.  She had a building, students, and the support of the community, and her school flourished.

But then, the Mexican boll weevil destroyed the cotton crop in Alabama in 1914.  The economy collapsed, and most students could not pay the meager tuition to cover school books and supplies.  By the end of that school year, she had only $12.85 to pay the salaries of the teachers who had remained with her.  It looked as if she would have to close her school.

(Mine from my Instagram account.)

But Rosa Young was a determined woman.  She wrote to every leader of the African Methodist Church for help, but was given no encouragement.  She branched out and wrote to other Christian denominations.  Finally, she wrote to Booker T. Washington and asked if he knew of anyone who might help her.  He wrote her back himself and advised her to "write to the Board of Colored Missions of the Lutheran Church.  He said they were doing more for the colored race than any other denomination he knew of" (p. 103).  He gave her the address of the board's chairman, and she wrote to them after praying about the decision for two weeks.

Thus began Rosa Young's association with the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod.  They sent evangelists and teachers down to help her get her school back on its feet, supplied books and funds, and equipped her for teaching the Gospel as well as secular subjects.  Rosa Young became a Lutheran herself, after learning from these evangelists about what she calls "the pure Gospel."

Over the next thirty years, she helped found 30 schools, 35 congregations, and Concordia College in Alabama.  God used her to connect these evangelists and teachers with hundreds of people who did not know the saving news of God's love and Jesus's sacrifice to save them from their sins.  She worked tirelessly, even when in very poor health, and suffered a series of nervous breakdowns in her thirties, having to learn to moderate her efforts according to her strength later in life.

Rosa Young's dedication to helping others and her complete trust in God to guide and help her in every situation, large or small, are so inspiring to me.  I highly recommend this autobiography to anyone who wants to know what life was like in the deep South in the early 1900s and how much people there struggled just to feed their families and maybe provide basic necessities, much less give them access to things like schooling.  We take so much for granted in our lives these days, even when we have an economic downturn or a pandemic, and I was humbled to read how much Rosa Young and others like her could accomplish with so little to work with.

EDIT: I just discovered, since finishing this and posting it, that a film documentary about Rosa Young's life called The First Rosa is available to watch or download for free online here.  Can't wait to watch it!

Particularly Good Bits:

Right here in the land of Bibles, thousands of little black children had never seen a happy day; they were growing up like weeds and bushes, children without hope, without God (p. 8).

Never can a Christian say of Jesus that He sent him help, but that it was too late (p. 27).

It makes no difference how circumscribed opportunities my be, show yourself a friend to those who feel themselves friendless (p. 42).

There is no greatness in material things of themselves.  The greatness is determined by the use of them (p. 42).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for descriptions of poverty and mention of sinful behavior such as adultery and drunkenness.  

This is the 21st book I've read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject 2020.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Manga Shakespeare "Hamlet" adapted by Richard Appignanesi, illustrated by Emma Vieceli

Occasionally, I find a graphic novel version of Hamlet that I haven't read before.  Or, as in this case, my husband finds one for me :-)  I've read at least three others -- maybe I ought to do a post here comparing them sometime.

This one is set in the future.  The prologue says, "The year is 2107.  Global climate change has devastated the Earth.  This is now a cyberworld in constant dread of war.  Prince Hamlet of Denmark has come home to face an uncertain future..."  By setting it in a futuristic cyberworld, they were able to emphasize the "truth vs. illusion" aspects of this story really well, I thought.  What's real, and what is someone just trying to convince you of via lies and trickery?

I found some of the trappings a little weird -- people have ports like headphone jacks in their bodies that they can plug what are basically USB drives into to exchange information, rather than reading letters, and so on.  Also, Hamlet had two ports like that in one of his arms, but they never got used or explained.  Hmm.

They used the original text, in abbreviated form, and chopped up/rearranged only a few lines, rather than paraphrasing.

The artwork was good, if you like manga.  I don't love the manga style, but I don't hate it either.  It was all black-and-white except for a semi-colored Dramatis Personae at the front of the book.  They didn't play up the sexier aspects of the story much, so I'm going to let my 12-yr-old read this now that I've finished it.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for scary images (ghosts and skulls, y'all) and violence.

This is my 20th book read for #theunreadshelfproject2020 -- I'm halfway to my goal of 40 books read from my TBR shelves this year!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

"The Secret of Pembrooke Park" by Julie Klassen

I do believe this is the first book by Julie Klassen I've ever read!  I've seen her books around the blogosphere and bookstagram for YEARS, but it wasn't until a friend loaned me this one this spring that I finally got to read one.

All in all, I did enjoy it.  It wasn't wonderful, but I also stuck with it the whole way.  I do feel like about 100+ pages in the middle were unneeded.  I could practically see the author getting a note from her editor saying "Should be longer -- expand the middle" and throwing up roadblocks in front of her characters so they'd have to detour for a while.  I really don't like it when I can "see" an author inside a book that way, so... knocked off some points for me there.

Also, did we need five or six conversion conversations?  No, we did not.

But I liked the main character, Abigail Foster, a great deal.  She made a lot of tough choices, and was very sensible -- she reminded me a lot of Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility sometimes, though she lacked Elinor's clear sight.  But anyway, if you like stories of mysterious old mansions that hide secrets, family drama, and lots of romance (really more romance than I tend to enjoy, honestly), then you'll dig it.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for a lot of smoochy scenes and people *wishing* they were smooching, plus some violent behavior that gets described by its victims and a scene of great peril.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

"Five Seasons of Angel" edited by Glenn Yeffeth

I don't talk about it much on this blog because this is my book blog, not my movies/writing/life blog, but Angel (1999-2004) is my second-favorite TV show of all time.  This spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) follows vampire-with-a-soul Angel (David Boreanaz) to Los Angeles as he seeks to make amends for all the harm he had inflicted on others before being cursed with a soul.  It's kind of a supernatural film noir series, especially for the first couple of seasons.

Angel debuted my sophomore year of college, and my roommates insisted I watch the premier episode with them.  I thought it was okay.  Okay enough that I watched the next few with them too, and by episode three, I was hooked for good.  I started watching Buffy with them too, and became a fan of it as well, though not as devotedly.

This book is a collection of essays in which, as the subtitle says, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite Vampire.  Which is a bit misleading, because several of the essays don't focus on Angel himself at all, so maybe it should say Favorite Vampire Show instead?  But that's just quibbling.  This book, as a whole, delighted me.  Considering I've watched this whole series through twice, once in its initial run and once via DVD, and rewatched many episodes many more times than that, I thought I knew the series and Angel's story arc in it pretty well.  But, in fact, this book taught me some things about the show, pointing out nuances I hadn't noticed, and was generally as informative as it was enjoyable.

My favorite essays were:

  • "Angelus Populi" by Don DeBrandt
  • "That Angel Doesn't Live Here Anymore" by Laura Resnick
  • "A World Without Love: The Failure of Family in Angel" by Jean Lorrah
  • "It's Not Easy being Green and Nonjudgmental" by Abbie Bernstein
  • "Why We Love Lindsey" by Michelle Sagara West
  • "The Good Vampire: Angel and Spike" by Peter S. Beagle
  • "Victim Triumphant" by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
  • "Death Becomes Him: Blondie Bear 5.0" by Nancy Holder
  • "True Shanshu" by Laura Anne Gilman
  • "There's My Boy..." by Joy Davidson

Um, yes, that's like half the essays.  There were SO MANY excellent ones! If you're a fan of this series, definitely find yourself a copy of this book.

Particularly Good Bits:

Sometimes, when reality is too grim, fantasy is all we have (p. 4, "Angelus Populi" by Don DeBrandt).

It's all about pain.  Ridicule is a way to get rid of your own by forcing it upon someone else (p. 6, "Angelus Populi" by Don DeBrandt).

If we look at the opening credits of every Angel episode, we see a graphic representation of Angel's eternal isolation.  Yes, there are some changing shots of Angel interacting with the cast of each season, but the end of the montage never changes.  our final image of Angel remains that dark silhouette walking away from us into the night. Angel alone (p. 62, "A World Without Love: The Failure of Family in Angel" by Jean Lorrah).

Lorne's not stupid -- he understands the advantages of being a good fighter -- but he sees it as just another quality, like an ability to read auras: nice if you have it, but nothing wrong with you if you don't (p. 71, "It's Not Easy being Green and Nonjudgmental" by Abbie Bernstein).

Angel reveals that life's victims -- not heroes, but people just like us -- are all that stand between us and annihilation (p. 137, "Victim Triumphant" by Jacqueline Lichtenberg).

In [Cordelia's] humanity, we see the best points of the Angelverse: not the strong defending the weak, but the weak learning how to be strong (p. 185, "True Shanshu" by Laura Anne Gilman).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R for frank discussions of sexual situations and themes and some bad language.  Not a book kids are going to want to read anyway.

This is my 19th book read and reviewed for #theunreadshelfproject2020 :-)

Thursday, June 4, 2020

"Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule" by Harriette Gillem Robinet

I didn't realize, when I pulled this book off my TBR shelves last week, just how perfectly timed this read would be.  As our nation grapples with difficult problems stemming from racial wrongs and misunderstandings, books like this that can teach adults and children alike some hard truths about our nation's history -- and its present -- are especially valuable.

What a poignant, approachable book this is!  As you know, I've been writing a book, One Bad Apple, that takes place in the 1870s and has a diverse cast -- all but a handful of the characters are black.  Many of them are former slaves.  So I've been trying to find and read as many books as possible, fiction and non-fiction, to help me understand a viewpoint so unlike my own.  And to get a better grasp on aspects of American history I didn't get taught much about in school.  Which is why I picked up this book at a book store a while back.

It's not why I'll be handing it to my kids, though.  That'll be because this book beautifully and gently presents the problems that black people faced all across the South, in particular, during Reconstruction.  Problems that reverberate in our society still today, as we're seeing so clearly this past few days.  Problems that stem from attitudes, misunderstandings, unwillingness to face change, fear, and anger.  I could not have pulled this off my shelf at a better time.

Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule follows a little boy, Pascal, from the day he learns that the Civil War is over and he's free through his journey to find a new life with his brother Gideon and a found family of other freedman.  They travel down to Georgia and are given a farm which they turn into a home, only to face persecution, violence, and heartaches.  Pascal is young, hopeful and fearful at the same time, and questing after understanding his true worth.

While this book does talk a bit about beatings and whippings, it is not graphic, and I'd say it's great for kids 8+, though some younger children might handle it fine, and others might not be ready for it until later.  The reading level was probably 3rd or 4th grade.  It richly deserved the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction that it received, and I'm going to see if I can find more books by Robinet because I really liked her style and sensitive handling of important subjects.

Particularly Good Bits:

Sure, they were free. But if nobody allowed their freedom, what would owning land mean?  This kind of freedom was as bad as slavery (p. 20).

Pascal thought, My brother may be mean sometimes, but he ain't stingy.  Gideon would break one crumb in two to share (p. 21).

"Freedom is all about having dignity.  I don't have to feel shame.  If I don't accept a curse, it returns to the curser" (p. 22).

Maybe nobody gave freedom, and nobody could take it away like they could take away a family farm.  Maybe freedom was something you claimed for yourself (p. 114).

Mama had said that peace was joy resting, and joy was peace dancing (p. 127).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for the aforementioned discussions of violence.  There are also a few killings, on and off the page, which are not graphic.  No cursing, no unwholesome content.