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.