Friday, December 31, 2021

"A Christmas Party" by Georgette Heyer

I really like Georgette Heyer's Regency novels, the ones I've read.  They're sparklingly witty and sarcastically clever and generally lots of fun.  I tried reading one of her mysteries earlier this year, though, and ended up DNFing it because I couldn't stand any of the people in it and it was altogether rather dull.  But I tried this one because, well, I like Christmas mysteries.  And lots of people recommended it.  And I found it used at a reasonable price.

I did like it pretty well.  I only liked three of the characters, but two of them fell in love with each other, so that was nice.  I didn't figure out the solution of the mystery before the detective did, so I approve of that.

But most of the book was taken up by disagreeable quarrel after disagreeable quarrel, and there was only one real twist to the story.  It was a very good twist, but not enough to make me love the book, I'm afraid.  It was a fun read, and I'm glad I was able to enjoy one of Heyer's mysteries enough to read a whole one.  I've heard that Heyer herself didn't really enjoy writing mysteries, but only did them to please her publisher.  Maybe that's why this wasn't sparkling fun like her other books.  I did laugh here and there, though.

Particularly Good Bits:

"I don't know that the weapon's going to interest me much," pursued Hemingway.  "What with all these thrillers that get written nowadays by people who ought to know better than to go putting ideas into criminals' heads, there's no chance of any murderer forgetting to wipe off his fingerprints.  Sickening, I call it" (p. 184).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for a play about an aging prostitute that gets read/described in one scene (nothing truly salacious), more bad language than I was at all expecting, and a murder.

This has been my 62nd and final book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.  Huzzah!

"Once Upon a Christmas" by Lauraine Snelling and Lenora Worth

There's something about Christmastime that makes me enjoy cozying up with fluffy, festive romances.  Maybe it's because my life often gets busy, so I don't have energy to follow something deep or difficult.  Maybe it's just the generally cozy cheer of the season.  I don't know.  Anyway, Once Upon a Christmas is two fluffy, festive romances in one volume that I probably wouldn't have even picked up any other time of year.  But the week before Christmas, they were just what I wanted.

In "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Lauraine Snelling, an overworked creative consultant with a dog she loves and a family she avoids meets up with a harried computer tech who's just had to take in his toddler niece because his sister landed in jail.  Which all sounds kind of heavy, and there's definitely some depth to this story that I wasn't expecting, but also plenty of cheery fluff to keep the overall atmosphere light.  

In "'Twas the Week Before Christmas" by Lenora Worth, a pretty Southern belle returns to her grandmother's Louisiana manor for a big family Christmas and falls hard for the handsome, scruffy groundskeeper that her grandmother more or less sets her up with.  This one has a lot more oohing and ahhing over muscles and jawlines and eyes and hair, but I kept envisioning Pierre Jalbert as the Cajun groundskeeper, so I would've been oohing and ahhing over muscles and jawlines and eyes and hair if I'd been the belle, too.  

Of the two stories, I liked Snelling's the most, but I enjoyed Worth's too.  I don't think this is a book I'll reread, but it was just what I needed at the time.

Particularly Good Bits:

After two days of fog and rain, which left her feeling out of sorts, the sun felt like a gift she almost didn't open (p. 13, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year").

"I believe we can do anything as long as we trust in God and listen to my grand-mere" (p. 296, "'Twas the Week Before Christmas").

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for quite a bit of admiring of the opposite sex, a few nice kisses, and some discussion in the first story of drug use (not engaged in by any characters on the page).

This is my 61st book read off my shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

My Favorite Reads of 2021

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl to share the best books I read in 2021.  As has been my wont for the past few years, I have two top ten lists for you today: my top ten favorite new reads and my top ten favorite rereads.

I've linked all titles to my reviews; for some of the rereads, that link goes to whatever my most-recent review of the book may be, as I don't always review rereads, especially if I've reviewed them two or three times before.

New Reads:

1. The Beautiful Ones (PG) by Emily Hayse  -- breathtakingly good book two of Knights of Tin and Lead, a series that's retelling the Arthurian legends in a magical Wild West setting.

2. Swallows and Amazons (G) by Arthur Ransome -- enchanting stories of a wild and unfettered island summer for some siblings and their friends.

3. On These Black Sands (PG-13) by Vanessa Rasanen -- rollicking pirate fantasy adventure filled with romance, mystery, and handsome pirates.

4. Elizabeth and Her German Garden (PG) by Elizabeth von Arnim -- semi-autobiographical epistolary novel that makes me laugh a lot.

5. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (G) by Karina Yan Glaser -- delightful, whimsical, kind-hearted siblings having a Christmas adventure in Harlem.

6. These War-Torn Hands (PG) by Emily Hayse -- marvelous first book of Knights of Tin and Lead with achingly wonderful scenery and archetypical characters that I just love.

7. The Last Fire-Eater (PG-13) by Charity Bishop -- the latest installment of the Tudor Throne series is my favorite yet, mainly due to the feisty, friendly title character.

8. Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend (PG-13) by Robert K. DeArment -- biography of the Old West legend that left me wanting more.  Happily, there's a sequel about his later life!

9. Land of Hills and Valleys (PG) by Elisabeth Grace Foley -- vintage-feeling western that filled me with nostalgia.

10. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (PG-15) by Frederick Douglass -- enlightening, electrifying account of Frederick Douglass's early life as a slave and his escape to freedom.


1. The Count of Monte Cristo (PG-16) by Alexandre Dumas -- my second-favorite book of all time.  It gallops along, and I didn't want it to end.

2. The Blue Castle (PG) by L. M. Montgomery (PG) -- I reread this on January 1 and 2, and I plan for it to be my first read of this coming year too.  Because I completely love it, but I don't want to reread it so often that the sparkle dims from over-familiarity.

3. Shane (PG) by Jack Schaefer -- an unfairly wonderful book.  Unfair because I will never write a book this excellent.

4. Jane of Lantern Hill (G) by L. M. Montgomery -- this might now be my kids' favorite LMM book; I read it aloud to them this spring, and I think they've all reread it themselves a time or two after that.

5. The Enchanted April (G) by Elizabeth von Arnim -- this book refreshes me, and I love that about it.

6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (PG) by J. K. Rowling -- my favorite Harry Potter book, which introduces my favorite Harry Potter character!  Just perfect.

7. Sense and Sensibility (PG) by Jane Austen -- I read the annotated version while leading a read-along, and it was such a joy.

8. Little Town on the Prairie (PG) by Laura Ingalls Wilder -- another one I read aloud to my kids, and we all loved it.

9. Trouble is My Business (PG-13) by Raymond Chandler -- none of the these are my favorite Chandler short stories, but they're delicious anyway.

10. North and South (PG) by Elizabeth Gaskell -- I liked it even better this second time through, as I knew about the rushed-feeling ending and was prepared for it.

You can check out my previous end-of-the-year top ten lists on this page.  They go back to 2014!

Did you share an end-of-the-year top ten list?  Drop a link in the comments so I can check it out!

Friday, December 24, 2021

"The Christmas Pig" by J. K. Rowling

Having just finished rereading the Harry Potter series, it was super exciting to have a brand-new Rowling adventure to enjoy before the end of the year!  And The Christmas Pig did not disappoint.

Jack's favorite toy, Dur Pig or DP for short, has been his constant source of comfort throughout his short and sometimes troubled life.  When his father leaves, DP comforts him.  When Jack and his mother move to a new house, DP bolsters his courage.  When Jack gets bullied, when life is unfair, when nothing goes the way it ought to, DP is always there for Jack.

Until he isn't.  DP gets lost.  And, with a new Christmas Pig for a guide, Jack goes on an Epic Quest to find and rescue DP from the Land of the Lost.  And I do mean Epic Quest.  You know Rowling loves her mythology, and this book kept reminding me of the myth of Orpheus descending into Hades to rescue his wife Eurydice.  With a little of Dante's Inferno and Toy Story mixed in.  All of that infused with Rowling's heady creativity, of course.

Did I love The Christmas Pig?  I might have.  I think I will when I reread it.  I certainly laughed and cried over it, and I'm now handing it off to my kids to add to their box of Christmas books.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some intense scenes of peril to a child, themes of loss and broken families, and bullying.  No bad language or other objectionable content.

This has been my 53rd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Monday, December 20, 2021

"The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street" by Karina Yan Glaser

Wow.  Wow, wow, wow.  I'm not even sure how to review this book!  My friend Jennifer gave it to me because she has recently fallen in love with this series, and she thought I would too.  And she was right.

I mean, I basically cried from joy through the last 30 pages, it was so good.

The Vanderbeeker family lives in Harlem in the first two floors of an old brownstone.  The family is devastated when their grouchy, never-seen landlord Mr. Beiderman calls them a few days before Christmas to say their lease is up at the end of the year and he's not going to renew it, he's going to find new tenants.  The five Vanderbeeker kids (Isa, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney) are determined to change Mr. Beiderman's mind.  They try everything they can think of to show him what a wonderful family they are -- they bring him tasty treats, make him gifts, even get up a petition with lots of signatures from people who don't want them to move.  Nothing works.  Christmas comes closer and closer, and the kids start to lose hope, but they never give up.

The Vanderbeekers are one of those lively families I always wanted to belong to when I was a kid.  I would read about the Quimbys and the Melendys and the All-of-a-Kind family and wish I was either a friend to those kids or else their long-lost sister  And this hit me very much the same way, except that now that I'm an adult, I spent half my time wishing I was a kid who was friends with the Vanderbeeker kids and half the time wishing I was an adult who was friends with their parents.  Because their parents are EXCELLENT.  Warm, loving, sensible, kind, firm.  I could totally be friends with them.

Particularly Good Bits:

It was a particular gift of Oliver's that he could say things that adults couldn't hear but his sisters could (p. 70).

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

This is my 52nd book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

"Christmas at Thompson Hall and Other Christmas Stories" by Anthony Trollope

I got this book because the first story, "A Christmas at Thompson Hall," was one of the selections for the  #DickensDecember2021 reading group this year.  And I went ahead and read the whole thing because... Christmas!  I'm not sure that I've read anything by Trollope before, but I really want to read something else of his now because he has a very engaging and conversational style, and I like that.

Anyway, here's what I thought of each story in this collection:

+ "Christmas at Thompson Hall" was hilarious.  I was laughing and laughing aloud over this story.  So much so that my kids asked me what was so funny, so I tried to summarize it, but it's so ridiculously complicated that I only confused them.  They'll just have to read it themselves.  It all revolves around a woman who is dragging her husband back home to England to have Christmas with her family.  And then he catches a cold, and she tries to get mustard to make a mustard plaster for him, and Victorian hijinks ensue.  I really don't want to explain more than that because it would spoil the fun for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but wants to.

+ "Christmas Day at Kirkby Cottage" was kind of a let-down after the bouncing fun of the previous story. Young lovers have an argument about the importance of Christmas and then make up.

+ "The Mistletoe Bough" is about a girl who thinks she shouldn't marry the man she loves because she thinks she's being a better person by denying herself happiness.  If that sounds like a downer to you, well, that's because it is.  It ends happily, at least.

+ "The Two Generals" was interesting because I haven't read any other stories about the American Civil War written by an Englishman.  His perspective of what people on either side of the conflict might be thinking was very interesting, and pretty even-handed.  The story is about two brothers from Kentucky who each become generals during the war... but one in the Union Army and one in the Confederate.  And they both love the same girl.  And they both sneak home for Christmas, and conflict ensues.

+ "Not If I Know It" revolves around a verbal misunderstanding between two friends, one of whom takes terrible offense to the way the other answers a request.  They spend Christmas glaring and grumbling, and it's just kind of a grumpy story all around.

So, clearly, "Christmas at Thompson Hall" was my favorite, and I really liked "The Two Generals" too, but I doubt I'll reread the other three stories.  Still, the first was so funny that I'll keep my copy just to reread it for laughs some future Christmas.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Clean and unobjectionable stories.  But you may never look at mustard pots the same way again, or handkerchiefs, or hotel corridors.

This is my 33rd book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list and my 50th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021!!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

"The Abbot's Ghost" by Louisa May Alcott

I mostly just bought this because of the gorgeous cover painted by Haleigh DeRocher, and the fact that it's something by Louisa May Alcott I hadn't read yet.  I expected to like it moderately well, but not to like it lots and lots.  Maybe that's why I liked it lots and lots!  Low expectations can be a blessing sometimes.

Maurice Traherne was injured saving his cousin Jaspar's life and is now confined to a wheelchair.  Another cousin, the sweet and lovely Octavia, has been Maurice's constant nurse and companion and comfort.  But Octavia's mother wants her to marry someone rich, and Maurice is penniless.  Pretty standard story so far, right?

A handful of friends come to stay with this family at their big English home, which used to be an abbey.  One of the visitors is a woman that both Maurice and Jaspar had loved once, but she's now married to a rich man much older than herself.  She starts to meddle with both young men, flirting with one and antagonizing the other, even though her husband is also a guest there.  Emotions run high, and then the servants start seeing the abbey's legendary ghost!

After the first few pages, I cared very much about Maurice and Octavia, and I flew through this book, hoping against hope that somehow, everything would turn out well for them.  I was fully prepared for a tragic or hopeless or unhappy ending... but surprise!  Everything turns out really well for them!  I won't say how, though.

I love that DeRocher is bringing out these beautiful illustrated editions!  I have her Christmas Carol and Anne of Green Gables too, and I'm hoping to get more of hers eventually.  They are such a nice size, with clear and readable type and lots of full-color illustrations inside.  But the covers are my favorite thing because they are so smooth and clean-feeling.  I just love to hold them.  You can check out this section of her shop to see all the books she's currently offering.  She's been putting out some lesser-known or obscure works by well-known classic authors too, like this, which is so cool.

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

This is my 34th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list and my 51st for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Monday, December 13, 2021

"The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices" by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins

I think the best thing I can say about this book is that... I've read it, so now I never have to wonder if I ought to read it.

Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins went on a trip around the northwest part of England together, and they wrote up a fictionalized version of their trip to include in Dickens's magazine Household Words.  And it's both nonsensical and dull, which is kind of hard to make work, but they do.  The most interesting part, for me, was the beginning where they go hiking up a mountain and one of them sprains his ankle.  That was humorous and lively, and reminded me a lot of going hiking with my kids.  Someone is always lagging behind, someone is always whining, and so on.

There are two ghost stories included in their adventures, one kind of weird and one downright creepy.  I'm not a big fan of ghost stories, but I know the Victorians were, so I guess those were supposed to add some thrills?

Anyway.  If you are a fan of Dickens or Collins (or both), you might find this interesting just because they did collaborate on it, but I will be selling my copy to the used bookstore forthwith.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for those ghost stories, which were too creepy for young kids.

This is my 32nd book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list and my 49th off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.  

Sunday, December 12, 2021

"A Very Bookish Christmas" by Rebekah Jones, Sarah Holman, J. Grace Pennington, and Kate Willis

I liked A Very Bookish Thanksgiving and A Very Bookish 4th of July, but I think A Very Bookish Christmas is my favorite yet.  Probably because I love Christmas so much, I suppose.  Or maybe I just connected to more of the stories?  I don't know!  But I had such a lovely time reading these four novellas.  My favorites were Sincerely, Jem by Kate Willis and Molly and Anna by Sarah Holman, but I enjoyed the other two stories too!

Gingerbread Treasures by Rebekah Jones is kind of inspired by the Sherlock Holmes stories (by A. Conan Doyle), especially his reputation for being aloof and brusque with people who don't know him well.  It's got a mystery and a Christmasy setting, but it never quite grabbed me the way I wanted it to.

Molly and Anna by Sarah Holman is inspired by Pollyanna (by Eleanor H. Porter), and I really loved how Holman tackled the difficult subject of recognizing and working to overcome personal prejudices.  The story was never preachy or unrealistic, but instead showed how a person can have a bias against others for what they feel are legitimate reasons, but still be in the wrong.  And it showed how God can help people overcome prejudice by opening their eyes to their mistakes and misconceptions and filling their hearts with love and understanding.  I thought Holman handled all of that so deftly, while also making me care about the two orphans and the aunt who took them in and learned from them by loving them.

Sylvie of Amber Apartments by J. Grace Pennington is inspired by Anne of Green Gables (by L. M. Montgomery), and I really related to how the young protagonist felt like people around her just couldn't understand her imagination.  I really liked the way she discovered a kindred spirit within her own family, and there was a moment toward the end that brought tears to my eyes because it was so heartwarming.

Sincerely, Jem by Kate Willis is inspired by Daddy-Long-Legs (by Jean Webster) and was the most light-hearted of the four novellas.  I grinned and chuckled my way through it, which was such fun.  I have several pen pals myself, and I like epistolary novels, so that was totally my jam.

(Mine from my Instagram.)

Particularly Good Bits:

Maybe friendships were like Christmas, she decided.  You celebrated them while they were happening and loved the memories you had when it was over (p. 403, Sincerely, Jem by Kate Willis).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G for tackling some difficult things like racism and prejudice in a kind and honest way that is totally child-appropriate.   Like the previous two books I've read from this series, I've handed it off to my 14-yr-old son, who likes them even better than I do.

This has been my 48th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021!!!  I hit my second goal!!!

Saturday, December 11, 2021

"The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern

I've seen It's a Wonderful Life (1946) dozens of times.  I remember first seeing it at my grandparents' house in July when I was probably eleven or twelve.  My aunt found out we had never seen it and insisted on loaning us her copy so we could rectify that omission in our cultural education.  I've been a fan ever since.

But I'd never read the short story it's based on, until now.  Isn't that silly of me?  I must admit I've been a bit hesitant to read it because... what if it wasn't as wonderful as the movie?

Well, it's not.  But how could it be?  It's a Wonderful Life is one of those jewel-perfect movies where nothing could possibly have improved it.  However, the short story is heartwarming and cozy, and it has the same basic message: that each life impacts every life that touches it, and the lack of one person can make a huge difference in the lives of many.  It reminds me a lot of John Donne's famous statement about no man being an island.

The copy I have also contains a history of how Van Doren Stern wrote the short story and its twisting road to moviedom.  He woke up with the whole story in his head one morning, wrote it out, revised it many times, tried to get it published many times, but had no luck. Finally, he had it printed up in a little booklet at his own expense and gave it to friends and family as a Christmas card.  One of those found its way to Frank Capra, freshly back from WWII and looking for his next movie idea.  He called James Stewart, also just discharged from the Air Force, told him the idea, and James Stewart basically insisted they make it together because he loved the idea so much.

The movie does a better job of fleshing out the characters and their lives, so if you have neither read this short story nor seen the movie, I do recommend the movie over the story.  But if you already know the movie, the short story is really lovely because you can kind of trace how the germs of the various ideas and scenes are there, but got expanded and rounded out for the movie.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG because it does open with George Bailey contemplating suicide, though it does not go nearly as dark as the movie does.

This has been my first entry into the It's a Wonderful Life Blogathon hosted by Classic Movie Muse.  Check out her master list for everyone's entries!

This is also my 47th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" by J. K. Rowling

This is only the second time I've read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I read it once back in 2007, the night was released, which was a wild ride.  And now, I've finally read it again.  I liked it better this time through, though I still agree with my original assessment that it's about a hundred pages too long.  It takes a long time to get going, and I think it could have very easily lost fifty pages of preparation for Bill and Fleur's wedding and fifty pages of nothing happening while Harry, Ron, and Hermione wander around looking for Horcruxes.  

But the last two hundred pages or so are breathtaking in their beauty and perfection.  The way Rowling ties together every character arc in such satisfying, yet surprising ways just makes me giddy.  The Battle of Hogwarts can't be improved on, in my humble opinion.  Especially how Neville runs around attacking Death Eaters with plants in inventive and successful ways.  And Mrs. Weasley.  I always loved Mrs. Weasley, but she became my hero in this book.  She's one of the greatest mothers in literary history.  If you know, you know.

I love how the theme of this book is that... you don't have to be perfect to be a hero.  And you can be loved even if you have flaws.  Which is important, because there are no perfect people.  I see so many times these days where people get angry and act all betrayed when they find out someone they've lionized is not perfect.  As if anyone ever could be.  Sorry, folks, but we live in a fallen world, and not one human being is truly, wholly good in and of themselves.  No, not one.  Not you, not me, not Harry Potter or Albus Dumbledore or J. K. Rowling.  And if you can't accept that, you're dooming yourself to a lifetime of disappointment and rage.  Have fun with that.

Anyway.  I did it!!!  I reread all seven Harry Potter books this year.  And I thoroughly enjoyed them :-D  I'd say my biggest surprise this time through is how big a fan of Kingsley Shacklebolt I've become.  I never really noticed him before, but this time he just kept standing out to me as being particularly full of shiny awesome.

Particularly Good Bits:

"I'd say that it's one short step from 'Wizards first' to 'Purebloods first,' and then to 'Death Eaters,'" replied Kingsley.  "We're all human, aren't we?  Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving" (p. 440).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for non-gory torture, lots of death, and some scary imagery.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

"The Beautiful Ones" by Emily Hayse

Remember how much I liked These War-Torn Hands?  Yeah, well, I downright loved The Beautiful Ones.  Everything I loved from book one is still here -- the sweeping vistas, the epic fight of good versus evil, and Jack Selby.  Not a lot of Jack Selby, but still a bit here and there to keep me happy.  Same for Raymond Lacey, who was my second-favorite in the first book.  I'm afraid he's dropped to third now because... Kate Carnegie, man!  Did she ever step up her game in this book!  I want to hang out with her and be best friends and go on adventures and sit quietly by the fire at night not feeling like either of us has to say anything if we don't have anything to say.  My goodness, I loved her.

So, the citizens of Glory Mesa start this book trying to kind of settle into a new, peaceful life now that a whole lot of Bad Guys got cleared out of the Territory.  But it doesn't take long for them to discover that there are more Bad Guys around.  Some of them right in Glory Mesa, in fact, though others are ranging around out in the wild too.  There's a plot to kill the governor, some former enemies become friends, and some relationships fall apart too.  We've got new faces in town, but familiar faces abound.  We get to see new places, including an area that sounds a lot like Yellowstone, but we also hang out in Glory Mesa quite a bit, too.  I really liked that mix of familiar and new.

Of the new characters, I loved Britt and Buck April and Cristobal Newton.  In fact, I identified a lot with Newton in particular -- especially his longing for his home and his loyalty to new and old friends.  I liked that he was a bit enigmatic, but very truthful and straight-talking.  I really hope we see a lot more of him in book three.

I hear that there's going to be one more book in this series, which I must admit disappoints me.  I was hoping for at least four books, maybe even five or six.  I'm enjoying these too much to want them to end so soon!  But I'm also looking forward to seeing how everything winds up, so I won't pout too much.

I especially loved how Hayse wove the question "what does it mean to be a hero" all through the book.  Do brave deeds make you a hero?  Are good intentions enough?  What about self-sacrifice?  Willingness to sacrifice?  Reluctant sacrifice?  Lots of interesting things to chew on and mull over here!

(Mine from my Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

The sun floods the valley between the hills like a mountain river after a storm.  There's a wildness to the land.  Even the peaceful moments mirror the deadly ones (p. 6).

A thrill runs through me.  To be moving to a place where legends are everyday men, where a heart has to be brave to survive -- I don't think I could get any luckier (p. 32-33).

I'm inches from death, and yet all I see is the poetry of it: the dust from the spent bullets rising in the golden light of morning; the smoke from the guns hanging on the air over the rocks like mist; the green, beautiful land cut down the center with a golden stream (p. 69).

"A principle isn't a principle if it gets thrown out in desperate times" (p. 82).

The mountains are mockers.  They stay right there in your sights, never getting closer.  I'm tired to my bones, and it's not trail-weariness (p. 85).

"If it is our fate to go up in flames in the end, we will make it a good end."  He smiles with that strange, boyish light in his eyes that only manages to make him more the man, not less.  "And for now, we wait, and live our lives, as we always have, the best we can" (p. 275).

There is nothing more beautiful than one's home, one's stars, and the smell of the trees standing like sentinels around the land you love (p. 295).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some western violence, a scary encounter with a dragon, and discussions of ancient curses and magic.  No cussing; no smut. 

This was my 46th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Friday, November 26, 2021

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" by J. K. Rowling

Whew.  I blazed through this book at about four times the speed of Order of the Phoenix.  Even though I also cry during this one, it didn't have the same sort of dread for me, so I didn't keep putting off reading it.

These books continue to feel extremely timely, with social and political upheaval disrupting ordinary life, dangers encroaching on wary and unwary alike, and so on.  I particularly loved the themes of standing by your friends and offering grace to your enemies.

I feel like this book might have benefited from a little tighter editing -- there were a few places where discussions of feelings seemed repetitive, or when things got reexplained that readers should be trusted to remember.  But not to the point where I got annoyed.  There really is a LOT going on in this book, both tying together threads from previous books and setting stuff up for the next one, and most of it simply is needed!

This is the first Harry Potter book I bought my own copy of.  It was the first one to get released after I was in the fandom, and I planned to get it from the library to read, not buy a copy.  But I was working overnights at Walmart at that time, and it released at midnight one Tuesday when I was at work.  Our store was offering some kind of excellent deal on it, like 25% off the cover price for release day or something, and I ended up buying it on my way out that morning.  And was not sad that I did :-)

Only one book left in my quest to read all of Harry Potter this year!

Particularly Good Bits:

"...I make mistakes like the next man.  In fact, being -- forgive me -- rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger" (p. 197).

"Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth" (p. 564-65).

"I am not worried, Harry," said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger despite the freezing water.  "I am with you" (p. 578).  (This time through, that line is where I cried the most in the whole book.)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for magical violence, a more liberal sprinkling of bad words than I'd remembered (but still not continuous or severe), and quite a bit of time spent kissing or daydreaming about kissing.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

"The Tall Stranger" by Louis L'Amour

Well, boy howdy.

I grabbed this book off my shelf at random on my way out the door to my daughter's swimming lessons one day, solely because it fit in my back pocket and I was in the mood for a western.  And it did not disappoint.  By page two, I was in love with Rock Bannon.  I think it was this bit that got me:
He had neither woman nor child, nor anyone anywhere.  He had a horse and a saddle, a ready gun and a mind filled with lore of the trail, and eyes ever fixed on something he wanted, something faint and indistinct in outline, ever distant, yet ever real.  Only of late, as he rode alone on the far flank of the wagon train, had that something begun to take shape and outline, and the shape was that of Sharon Crockett (p. 6).  
Rock Bannon isn't an original member of this wagon train.  He crossed their path one day, shot full of holes, and they nursed him back to health.  Out of gratitude, he's remained with the train and protected them through some pretty tough situations.  Well, gratitude coupled with that growing interest in Sharon Crockett.  Of course, there are some bad guys trying to use this wagon train for their own nefarious purposes.  Danger arrives in several different doses, from several different directions, but the book winds up in a very satisfying way.

So, yeah, I chowed through this book in just a couple of days.  It got very tense in spots, but was so short and streamlined that there was never time for me to get worried or stressed out.  Instead, it sucked me merrily along to the finish line.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some western violence.  Possibly a couple of mild cusswords, though I can't recall any.  I would let my tween and teen read it.

This is my 45th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

"Castle Shade" by Laurie R. King

Well, what do you know?  I greatly liked two of Laurie R. King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books in a row!  I very much enjoyed Riviera Gold last year, and I also had a jolly time reading Castle Shade!  That makes me quite happy :-)

Castle Shade picks right up where Riviera Gold left off, with Russell and Holmes on a train heading to Transylvania.  Someone is creating creepy and weird problems for Queen Marie of Roumania, the kinds of problems that make you think of vampires and witches and ancient curses.  Which, Russell and Holmes are convinced, all have very human sources and motivations.

Part of what I liked so much about this book was how escapist it was.  Nothing so suspenseful that I got stressed out on behalf of the characters.  The mystery is solid and entertaining, but even in the most exciting parts, I could read serenely on, confident that all would turn out well in the end.  And I really loved that.

Particularly Good Bits:

In some fairy tales, happily ever after is where things end.

In others, happiness is where the problems begin (p. 29).

I looked at my husband.  "Do you plan on indulging your flair for the dramatic throughout our time here?"

"I expect so," he said complacently (p. 45).  (This part made me stop reading and laugh aloud with delight.)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for allusions to historical instances of people bathing in blood, impaling their enemies, and characters wondering if a sexual assault has taken place.  It hadn't, but it does get discussed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

"The Goblin and the Dancer" by Allison Tebo

This was such a heart-warming, inventive take on The Steadfast Tin Soldier.  I wasn't at all sure what to think about a fairy tale retelling that focused on giving a villain or antagonist a happy ending, but Allison Tebo made it work so naturally and beautifully!  

The Goblin and the Dancer tells the story of a goblin named Grik who works as a janitor at a fancy theater run by elves.  The elves and the goblins don't have much respect for each other, although they do work together at times.  But Grik has fallen in love with a beautiful elvish ballerina, Rosanna.  Rosanna is kind, but sad.  A handsome elvish soldier named Paul begins courting Rosanna, much to Grik's dismay.  Grik envies Paul, then resents Paul.  

One thing leads to another, sending Grik, Rosanna, and Paul on a dangerous journey through the goblin underworld.  They confront various monsters and villains, but their biggest challenges come from inside themselves.  Repentance, contrition, and forgiveness all take turns at the center of the story until all three characters have been healed and renewed.  

This is my favorite thing of Allison Tebo's that I have read yet!  I love The Steadfast Tin Soldier, and her retelling hit all the right notes for me.  My kids kept asking me if they could read this when I finished it, and I am happily handing it off to them.  It's a clean, bright, and lovely story!  

It's also part of an anthology series called A Villain's Ever After that multiple authors have contributed to.  I haven't read any of the other entries, but I have my eye on several!

Particularly Good Bits:

He let the rose drop into the gutter and jumped after it, because that was where goblins belonged (p. 11).

He simply wanted to be different without being wrong (p. 16).

Redemption didn't have to be found in death, but it could be gained through forgiveness.  True love did change how someone saw another... and how one felt about oneself (p. 157).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for scenes of peril and danger, references to war and injuries, and some very thrilling monster fights.

This has been my 44th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Give Thanks for Books Tag

Are you thankful for books?  I'm so thankful for them in so many ways -- for what they teach me, how they transport me, and how happy they can make me.  So I've created this blog tag to share some of the books I'm thankful for.  I'll tag a few friends at the end, and if you like it and want to do it too, go right ahead!

The Rules:
1. Thank the person who tagged you.  (Thank you, me!)
2. Fill out the tag.
3. Share the tag graphic in your post.
4. Tag four friends.
5. Provide a clean copy of the tag for easy copying.

(Note: I've linked book titles to my reviews of them.)

(Another note: All book pictures are mine from my Instagram account.)

The Tag:

G -- A book you're Grateful to a friend for recommending: The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery. So many of my friends, I think particularly Heidi of Along the Brandywine, kept telling me that I HAD to read The Blue Castle.  And they were right.  Thank you, lovely friends!

I -- A book that fires your Imagination: All of Raymond Chandler's books.  I'm so serious.  His way with words just sets my imagination on fire.  My creativity soars whenever I'm reading one of his books, and that's a huge part of why he's my favorite author.

V -- A book with a Vivid setting: These War-Torn Hands by Emily Hayse.  Oh my goodness, the breath-taking beauty of her magical-Old-West setting!  The untamed vistas, the harsh beauty of the landscapes, the hungry wilderness surrounding every character -- it's magnificent.

E -- An Encouraging book:  Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper by SARK was a great shot in my creativity a few years ago.  Lots of good encouragement and advice for how to be and remain creative, whether you're a writer or a visual artist or whatever.

T -- A book that Taught you something:  Marsalis on Music by Wynton Marsalis taught me so many things about music!  For instance, I never knew that a sonata and a symphony have the same form, the only difference is whether they're played by a few instruments or by many.  The book is geared toward kids, but I got so much out of it too!

H -- A Happy book: Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome is such a happy, fun, enjoyable book!  I read it aloud to my kids a few months ago, and we all got such a kick out of it that I ordered the next two books in the series, though we haven't started them yet.

A -- An Amusing book: The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes by Wade Albert White made me laugh and laugh and laugh.  If you want a truly funny middle-grade fantasy book with good humor instead of the stupid potty humor many middle-grade books rely on, give this one a try.

N -- A New-to-you book or author you discovered this year:  I tried out Walter Mosley's hardboiled detective books for the first time this year.  I didn't care for Devil in a Blue Dress, but I really enjoyed Trouble is What I Do

K -- A fictional character you feel a Kinship with:  Anne Elliot in Persuasion by Jane Austen.  Like her, I am quiet, reserved, loyal, and determined inside even if other people don't know how strong-willed I can be.

S -- A book you want to Share with others:  On These Black Sands by Vanessa Rasanen is such a rollicking good time!  If you like pirate stories or fantasy books at all, you need to read it.

Here's a clean copy of the questions for you:

G -- A book you're Grateful to a friend for recommending
I -- A book that fires your Imagination
-- A book with a Vivid setting
E -- An Encouraging book
T -- A book that Taught you something
H -- A Happy book
A -- An Amusing book
N -- A New-to-you book or author you discovered this year
K -- A fictional character you feel a Kinship with
S -- A book you want to Share with others

I Tag:

Play if you want to!

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

"Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend" by Robert K. DeArment

My best friend gave me this book because she loved it and wanted me to read it too.  And, happily, I loved it too!  I read it as research for my November column in the Prairie Times, which focuses on Bat Masterson (you can read my article here on page 6).  I enjoyed this biography so much that now I want to read DeArment's follow-up book, Gunfighter in Gotham, which delves into Masterson's decades in NYC with more depth than is provided here.

This book focuses mostly on Masterson's exploits in the Old West, beginning with his teen years as a buffalo hunter and exploring his various lawman jobs and gambling pursuits in a very thorough way.  It does devote a couple of chapters to his years as a sportswriter and columnist, too.

I was not expecting this, but I began to feel a lot of kinship to Bat Masterson as I read this biography.  A lot of his characteristics felt very familiar, like intense loyalty, a desire to study a situation thoroughly, but a willingness to act quickly if needed, and a great need to defend actions and decisions.  Just so many little places where I thought, "Yeah, I do that too."  Now, I don't enjoy gambling or prizefights, and I've never fired a gun at a person, but in small personality things, yeah, I found a lot of similarities.

DeArment has a clear and enjoyable writing style, and I've got a lot of his books on my TBR list now, thanks to this one.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for not mincing words about subjects like gunfights, wounds, and prostitution.

This has been my 43rd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Monday, November 1, 2021

"Hallowe'en Party" by Agatha Christie

I have discovered that I like Agatha Christie's books about Hercule Poirot, just not so much her Miss Marple books.  This is a Poirot book, so I gave it a go after seeing it around on Bookstagram early in October.  My library had it, so that was a win!

I enjoyed this book pretty well, though it could have been considerably shorter if we hadn't had to read the same information repeatedly.  Whole conversations and experiences were repeated in full instead of summarized, which I found tedious.  Also I was annoyed by the constant harping on "obviously this murder was done by a crazy person."  Way too many characters said exactly the same thing.  And Poirot never believed them, so it was obviously a red herring meant to mislead us, except it was too obvious, so it didn't work.

Sooooooo... this was a fun one-time read, but not a Poirot I'll be buying a copy of so I can reread it.  And that's okay.  My bookshelves are glad of this, hee.

The plot revolves around a girl getting murdered at a Halloween party after boasting that she had once seen someone get murdered.  Semi-retired Hercule Poirot is called in to help investigate, and mystery-solving ensues.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for murder, lots of people assuming the murderer's motive was sexual, and discussion of unwed pregnancy.  It's fairly tame, but not for kids.

This is the sixth mystery book I read for #AMonthOfMystery.  It was such a fun challenge!