Friday, August 28, 2020

"Frederica" by Georgette Heyer

This book made me laugh so much!  It is light and fluffy and a bit predictable, and it was exactly the tonic I needed this month.  I loved it.  

I especially loved that it surprised me.  Because I kept fearing that the author was just going to throw in some dumb misunderstanding to keep Frederica and Alverstoke apart for the rest of the book, which is a common device in romantic plots, and one I abhor.  Deeply.  But she never did!  I was extremely pleased.  In fact, I think I liked this better than her book Lady of Quality, which I read last year and also laughed a good deal over.

Lord Alverstoke never cares about anything but his own amusement.  He loathes being bored.  But he's almost always bored.  That changes when he meets his distant relation Frederica and her siblings.  Their parents are dead, and Frederica convinces Alverstoke to pretend her father left them to his care so that he can sponsor her sister's debut in the London "marriage market" and assure she'll make a comfortable match.  

Frederica considers herself a spinster because she's in her mid-twenties and has spent years raising her younger siblings.  Alverstoke thinks this is ridiculous of her, but she ignores him.  The two of them develop this hilarious, teasing relationship that's just adorable.  And the way Alverstoke relates to her youngest brothers is wonderfully funny.

Yes, there's romance, but mostly there's lots of witty banter and wry observations about society and family relationships.  Also, there are hot-air balloons and steam engines and early bicycles, as this takes place somewhere between the First and Second Industrial Revolutions.  And there's a very rambunctious dog, a Baluchistanian Hound, that delighted me to no end.

Particularly Good Bits:

"I am seven-and-thirty, ma'am," said Alverstoke, somewhat acidly, "and I should perhaps inform you that I am never of use to anyone!" (p. 31).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for a lot of mild swearing, mostly from Alverstoke, and a sequence of danger to a child.

This is my 32nd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

"Rook di Goo" by Jenni Sauer

Do you like stories that revolve around "found families" at all?  That's one of my favorite storytelling devices, or themes, or what have you.  And Rook di Goo has one.  A delightful found family that the main character stumbles into and is embraced by.  Eventually.

Cadet Elisandra Elis has deserted.  She's run from her military duties, overwhelmed by things she's done under orders.  Haunted by them, even.  She winds up on a rustbucket of a ship captained by someone more important than he seems, and together with her new friends/family, she ends up saving a lot of lives.

And, it's a Cinderella retelling, too.  Plus, one of the best explorations of anxiety and PTSD I've read.  No easy fixes or platitudes or "just think happy thoughts" nonsense here, but instead the sensitive and realistic treatment of what it's like to live with a mind broken around the edges.  Astonishingly good, really.

You probably have gathered that I don't read a lot of sci-fi. I like to watch sci-fi, you understand.  But I don't read it much.  And that's for the same reason that I generally prefer to watch fantasy rather than read it.  I don't like description-heavy writing.  I don't like long passages about what worlds look like or how magic or tech words, or explanations of political and monetary systems.  Worldbuilding doesn't interest me greatly, so when I can just see things on a screen instead of having to read about them, I'm happier.

BUT.  I do like some sci-fi, just like I enjoy some fantasy.  And I enjoy them for the same reason I enjoy other books -- if they have characters I care about.  And if a sci-fi or fantasy book can give me characters I love and show me their world through the eyes of those characters instead of just telling me about them, then I will very likely dig that book.

And Rook di Goo does exactly that.  It first gives me a handful of characters to care about, then slowly unfolds the world they live in by showing it to me through their eyes and as they interact with it.  I dug it so much.

(Mine from Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

She wasn't sure if she should be flattered or annoyed that he seemed to think she always had some sort of master plan in her head.  She usually did, if she was being honest, but they took work to come up with, and the assumption made her feel a little taken for granted (p. 99).

"Surrender is not the same as compliance," the man said, crossing his arms and looking sullen (p. 118).

If you couldn't feel at home where you always had, then were was home supposed to be? (p. 216)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: a soft PG-13 for violence.  No cussing, no racy scenes, and no gore, but quite a lot of remembered violence and some in-story too, including violence that results in the death of children.

This is my 31st book read for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Announcing the 8th Annual Tolkien Blog Party!

Good morning, fellow Tolkien fans!  The time has come to announce my eighth Tolkien Blog Party.  So I shall.

Ahem.  Hear ye, hear ye!  Let it be known that Hamlette shall be hosting her annual Tolkien Blog Party Sept. 20-26 this year, right here at The Edge of the Precipice.  And YOU are invited to join it!

I had such fun with last year's party, with people contributing all manner of nifty posts, that I'm going to run this year's party the same way.  I'll host a giveaway and a game or two, and I'll provide the official tag.  But YOU can contribute to the festivities too!

You can contribute any NEW Tolkien-related post to the party. (Don't link to stuff you posted years ago, or even for last year's party.)  Anything Tolkien-related is fair game, even if it doesn't involve Middle-earth. You could review one of his books, share your thoughts on the movies, discuss how his works have inspired you, whatever!

There's no sign-up sheet.  You can toss ideas around in the comments here if you want to, and you're definitely welcome to share what you've decided to post about.  But you don't have to.  During the party, I'll have a widget for you to use to share links to your contributions, just like last year.

Please share any (or all) of these blog party buttons on your own blog to help spread the word about the party.  The more, the merrier, after all!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

"Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte (again)

Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and decided to read a massive book in a very short space of time?  Like, say, a 627-page book in three days?

If so, you're not alone.

One Sunday, I decided that I could not pass up the opportunity to discuss my favorite novel with one of my favorite living authors, Katherine Reay.  She and a couple other authors direct the "What the Dickens" reading group on Facebook, and Jane Eyre was their latest book to discuss.  And the discussion was slated for Wednesday.

So, Sunday evening after supper, I started rereading Jane Eyre.  Tuesday night around 10pm, I finished it.  It took me 51 hours, but I did it.  And then I got to discuss it last night, and that was nifty.  But know what was niftier than the discussion?

The experience of inhaling my favorite book, that's what.  I am, by nature, a savorer.  I want to read things slowly, draw out the experience.  I can make a decent-sized book series last for years.  I can make a TV series last for decades.  I enjoy anticipation, I enjoy savoring... but I've realized (mostly thanks to The Blue Castle) that devouring a book as quickly as possible can also be a joy.  A different kind, but just because it's different doesn't mean it's bad.

By the end of this reread, I felt like I had words shooting out of my fingers and toes and the ends of my hair.  I had gorged myself on words, and it felt pretty glorious. 

I'm going to try to remember this.  That reading a book really fast does not mean I will necessarily enjoy it less, it just means I will enjoy it in a different way.

And yeah, I love this book.  Sorry that this doesn't say much about what Jane Eyre is actually about.  You can read my review from a few years ago for more on that, I guess.

One random thing I noticed this time that I'm not sure I ever have before -- Jane actually likens the third story of Thornfield to "a corridor in some Bluebeard's castle" (p. 145) the first time she visits it.  How did I never notice that bit of foreshadowing before?

Also, it brought home to me again that it isn't until Rochester "began to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker" and "began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were, but very sincere" (p. 619) that the "miracle" occurred that carried his voice to Jane's ear over all the land that separated them.  Like a benediction that says yes, he is forgiven, and now he and Jane can go on with their lives.

Particularly Good Bits:

" is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear" (p. 72).

"Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs" (p. 75).

"Human beings never enjoy complete happiness in this world.  I was not born for a different destiny to the rest of my species: to imagine such a lot befalling me is a fairy tale -- a day-dream" (p. 357).

"Yes; I feel now that I was right when I adhered to principle and law, and scorned and crushed the insane promptings of a frenzied moment.  God directed me to a correct choice: I thank His providence for the guidance!" (p. 499).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for scary situations, cruel treatment of a child, and discussions of Rochester's possible fathering of an illegitimate child.

Monday, August 10, 2020

"The Queen's Falconer" by Charity Bishop

The fifth book in Charity Bishop's Tudor Throne Series does not disappoint!  Intrigue and treachery still swirl around King Henry VII even while his court celebrates the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Many familiar faces and names return from the previous four books, and I love that I'm really starting to feel like I know King Henry, Queen Elizabeth, Kathrine of Aragon, Prince Harry, and Princess Maggie.  But not Thomas Lovell, because he is, of course #unknowable.  Or so he likes to tell himself.

I was just telling my husband yesterday about how Lovell started out in The Usurper's Throne as this sort of cunning, deceitful, shadowy figure that you told yourself you'd just have to trust even if you weren't sure you should like him as much as you do.  And yet, he was one of my favorite characters in it, and by now, yeah, he's totally my favorite.  In the whole series.  Because you know I love me a guy with a dark, ruthless exterior and a melted-chocolate center.

Anyway.  This book revolves around Lambert Simnel, the titular falconer for Queen Elizabeth.  As a boy, he was used by King Henry's enemies as a Pretender to the throne in one of their many attempts to overthrow the Tudor monarch.  Henry spared his life and allowed him to work in the royal household, no doubt so he could keep an eye on him, and Simnel eventually became their falconer.  All of that comes straight from history.  Bishop weaves a compelling spy tale into this story, with Lovell enlisting Simnel's aid to round up the last cadre of Henry's enemies.

Though the series as a whole has focused a lot on the king and queen, this book makes them its emotional center, as Elizabeth prepares for her confinement and the birth of their latest child.  She and Henry love each other deeply, and the impending separation darkens their yuletide festivities.  Though many things do get sorted out in a satisfactory way by the end of the book, sticking to the historical events means this book has a sad ending, alas.

As always, this book left me wanting more, and I eagerly await book six!

Particularly Good Bits:

"Sin being common does not make it right" (p. 19).

"Never apologize for tears.  I can protect you from many things, but not sorrow.  It is the price we pay for our love... and our mistakes" (p. 65).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-16 for husbands and wives desiring each other, discussions of marital infidelity and love affairs, and violence.

This is my 30th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020

Sunday, August 9, 2020

New Femnista Post about "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society"

The latest issue of Femnista focuses on stories told through letters.  I wrote my article, "Bonded by Words," about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schafer and Annie Barrows, which I have reviewed previously on this blog here and here.  It's a dear favorite of mine, and one I've reread several times.  I also greatly enjoy the audio version of this book!

I have not yet seen the Netflix movie based on this book, so my article concerns the book ONLY, not the film.  I do hope to see that this fall, though.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

"Riviera Gold" by Laurie R. King

It seems like, for the last few years, I've been loving every-other-one of Laurie R. King's novels of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes.  I loved Garment of Shadows, liked Dreaming Spies pretty well, loved The Murder of Mary Russell, and liked Island of the Mad kind of okay.  I'm happy to announce that Riviera Gold continues this pattern -- I loved it!  It's one I will add to my bookshelf at some point, for sure.

This adventure finds Mary Russell cruising up to Monte Carlo with a bunch of friends, but without her husband, who is sleuthing elsewhere.  Although she appears to be in this just for the fun of learning to sail a yacht, she's actually tracking down Mrs. Hudson, who memorably departed Sussex in The Murder of Mary Russell.  

Russell finds Mrs. Hudson all right, and also a whole lot of trouble.  Smugglers, arms dealers, thieves, swindlers, and many actually nice people rub elbows with each other, and with Russell and Holmes.  Actually nice people including people called Scotty and Zelda and Dos.

And, yes, that's F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitgerald, and John Dos Passos.  They don't appear in this book as much as Cole and Linda Porter did in Island of the Mad, but since I'm a Fitzgerald fan (this blog is named after a line of his, after all), I definitely enjoyed seeing them crop up.

Anyway, I was worried at first that Sherlock Holmes wasn't going to be in this book much, since he was off on another case, but he joined Russell before long.  My favorite parts of this series are usually when they're working together, and this book proved no exception.  They did pursue different clues and work on separate angles of the case, but were a team nonetheless.  

Adding this to my listing of all King's Russell/Holmes books in order of favoriteness:

1. The Beekeeper's Apprentice (book 1)
2. The Game (book 7)
3. The Murder of Mary Russell (book 14)
4. O Jerusalem (book 5)
5. Garment of Shadows (book 12)
6. Riviera Gold (book 16)
7. Pirate King (book 11)
8. Locked Rooms (book 8)
9. Dreaming Spies (book 13)
10. Justice Hall (book 6)
11. The God of the Hive (book 10)
12. The Language of Bees (book 9)
13. The Moor (book 4)
14. A Monstrous Regiment of Women (book 2)
15. Island of the Mad (book 15)
16. A Letter of Mary (book 3)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for violence, peril, murder, and a little bad language.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

"The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" by John le Carre

My husband and I watched the 1965 Richard Burton film based on The Spy Who Came in From the Cold a couple of weeks ago, and I decided I wanted to read the book because it had been sitting on my TBR shelves for longer than most of my children have been alive, and that's a nonsensical way to live.

So, I read it.

And I really dug it.  I've never read something by John le CarrĂ© before, and I quite liked his style.  It struck me as a mix of Robert Ludlum's swift pacing, Ernest Hemingway's terse understatements, and Raymond Chandler's overall gloomy-yet-not-depressing outlook on humanity.  I could see myself becoming a le Carre fan.

The story revolves around a British spy, Leamas, who is getting up there in years, but has a lot of fight in him yet.  He's been in charge of the whole British spy network in Germany, and since this is all about the Cold War, that was a pretty important position.  But he's weary, and when he loses yet another agent to the Communists at the beginning of the book, he gets recalled to London.  There, the head of British Intelligence tells him it's perfectly fine if he's tired of being out in the cold, fighting alone in the dark against unseen enemies.  But if he wouldn't mind, they do have one special operation in the offing that he could help with.  One last foray into the cold before he comes in for good.

Leamas accepts.  He doggedly sets his teeth into this project, setting out to ruin his reputation and convince the Communists he's sick of British Intelligence and wants to defect.  And, because he's an expert spy, he does exactly that.  By the way, Richard Burton was perfectly cast as Leamas -- I could hear him saying most of the dialog in my head while I read.  Partly because a great deal of the movie's dialog came straight from the book.  But mostly because nobody could make crabby weariness look appealing like Richard Burton.

Particularly Good Bits:

He met failure as one day he would probably meet death, with cynical resentment and the courage of a solitary (p. 13).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for some scattered curse words, derogatory innuendo about people's sexual orientations, a few bawdy moments, and some torture and violence.

This is my first book read and reviewed for my third go-'round with the Classics Club and my 29th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

"C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children" ed. by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead

Well, now I just want to give C. S. Lewis a big hug and adopt him.  Or have him adopt me.  My goodness, what a delight this little book is!

As you can imagine, C. S. Lewis had many young fans who loved his books, especially the Chronicles of Narnia.  And many of those kids wrote to him, some of them repeatedly!  In fact, he carried on a years-long correspondence with quite a number of young people, even critiquing stories they sent him and so on.  Now, some of these letters were from his godchildren, or the children of friends, but many are from complete strangers.

And the kindness, the warmth, the compassion, and the understanding that he showed them just... endeared him to me in a way I was not expecting.  Lewis clearly remembered what it had been like to BE a child, and since that's something I also vividly recall, I feel a kinship to him now.

This is a wonderful collection, and I loved it.

Particularly Good Bits: 

When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up (p. 5).

Remember that there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do. (1) Things we ought to do (2) Things we've got to do (3) Things we like doing.  I say this because some people seem to spend so much of their time doing things for none of the three reasons, things like reading books they don't like because other people read them (p. 27). is so interesting to hear exactly what people do like and don't like, which is just what grown-up readers never really tell (p. 33).

You see, I don't think age matters so much as people think.  Parts of me are still 12 and I think other parts were already 50 when I was 12 (p. 34).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G for good, clean, wholesome, uplifting, delightful, kind, serious, important, beautiful writing.

This is my 28th book read from my TRB shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.